Democrats & Liberals Archives

Principle 3: Politics Should Not Be Conducted By Seance

Time seems to march on relentlessly. Only last year, my Grandmother died. My Grandfather is ailing, but he’s 90 years old. My parents aren’t young anymore, and I’m not getting younger myself. My grandfather and I are about sixty years apart in age, so if I live to see his age, I will reach it about 2070. Even now, my Grandfather’s generation is passing from this world forever, and with it the living memory of his life and times. We can put all the deserved accolades on the Greatest Generation we want, but very soon, they will be gone from us, like so many such generations have gone from us before.

A recent myth going around is that the Pilgrims experimented with socialism before coming to their senses and accepting capitalism. Nothing could be further from the truth say the experts: the collectivization of the colony was intended to bring the colony, a corporate endeavor, to a quicker profit! Many of the foundational colonies were financed by what used to be corporations in their original sense: joint stock companies which were dedicated to limited endeavors, such as making money off of the efforts of people who toiled in the faraway reaches of the world. The Pilgrims didn't get a free ride to Plymouth Rock, or a free lunch when they held the first Thanksgiving feast.

Kind of hurts that we can't do what Woody Allen did in Annie Hall with Marshall McLuhan, and pull a pilgrim out from from behind a sign to say, No, Glenn Beck, we were not communists, you know nothing about our culture.

I couldn't do that trick with Marshall McLuhan anymore, he's since gone to the great media seminar in the sky. And have you looked at Woody Allen lately? The guy's 74. Charitably, he doesn't make it past the next quarter century. He might not even last the decade.

His movie didn't even premiere in my living memory. It premiered in 1977. I wouldn't even see it until I was about eighteen, I think. Nelson Rockefeller was dead before I was born. So was Arthur Fiedler, though I would enjoy a number of his recordings in my lifetime. Jean Seberg, the actress who played in Godard's Breathless, was only 40. I was only a month old when Mamie Eisenhower died. She was only four years old herself at the turn of the century.

Even such an event as WWI has all but been erased from living memory, and certainly the recollection of the first progressive era from anything approaching an adult level. The Civil War, and all the personal issues had in those days was already fading in those days from the same time. Given how few people lived to 55 in that age, Even a teenager who joined the union or confederate army in that day would be elderly even by our standards. By the time I was born, they'd all be dead.

The Revolutionary war was itself was dying in living memory, even as the first soldiers fought to keep the union forged in that conflict alive, or sunder it.

The writings live on. The movies live on. The images live on. But they are but shadows of those bygone worlds, and there is a certain madness in insisting that we can or should raise those dead worlds from the tombs of history.

There will always be something incomplete, something lacking in our attempts to resurrect the past. We won't remember the problems of the ages we're nostalgic for, nor the complexities of how things were done. We forget the compromises, often ignore the differences in opinion between ourselves and the people of those times.

I remember somebody criticizing the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Theives for the dodgy accents. Well, if you know your history, you'd know that the standard british accent as we know it is a product of the nineteenth century. What Robin of Locksley, if he did indeed exist, would have spoken at the time was either some form of French, among the Nobles, or Old English. Trust me, you didn't hear this language spoken by the actors in this movie.

Even languages have their lifespans, vowels and consonants, word meanings and accents shifting over time. The King James Bible was intentionally written so that it was anachronistic even for its time, for poetic purposes, so oddly enough, those who enjoy it are actually enjoying a double anachronism for our time. Words like "let" in the tongue of that age, end up having a diametrically opposite meaning. We let somebody do something, and we mean to allow them to do it. But it's other meaning remains in legal language when we are called on to allow something without "let or hindrance".

Time marches on, and with it brings change. Language changes. Literature changes. Style changes. Culture changes. We fight to preserve what is best. We don't always fail, but we at best leave an imperfect reflection of the past.

I believe that to truly preserve the best of the past, we have to understand it for ourselves. To understand it for ourselves in the best way, we must understand that our understanding of the past is alienated from the understanding of those who actually lived it. When we mythologize, make a sacred cow out of the past, when we try to claim it for our own, we do a disservice to our understanding of it. Decisions are not made by superhuman souls dropped in from nowhere. The man who said all men are created equal and are endowed with inalienable rights owned slaves. A fiasco that George Washington was involved in helped start the Seven Years War. Not all of the framers were big on religion, though some were. I think if we understand our founders and framers as human beings who had to face uncertainty, long odds, disasters, setbacks, and all the rest, but triumphed anyways, we can be more confident, as their heirs, in confronting the challenges of today, rather than pining for some vanished golden age of wisdom.

Across the ocean, the French had their own revolution, but that did not do so well. Their revolution became a reign of terror, as the leaders of the revolution, including the infamous Robespierre took the rebellion against authority, and made it an authoritarian force in its own right. This pattern has repeated in many places where revolutions broke out against the old powers. The biggest challenge of many revolutionary governments is to lay down the arms and create a civil, civilian government.

I think our Constitution and the Bill of Rights played a key role in this. They set up a flexible government, balanced between different interests, with rights set up to ensure that no matter who got into power, nobody would ever be able to permanently maintain power, especially if they failed to govern properly. That, I think, is key. Righteous revolutionaries can often get big heads about their own importance, setting up the system to preserve their own power. But a true revolution, a true transition to freedom and Democracy only comes when the people of the country are able to judge their own path for themselves, not after one person succeeds in realizing their vision of an ideal, just government. For the revolution to be truly successful, the new boss has to be different than the old boss.

Washington was a blessing in this respect, a man who was willing to step up to lead, but also willing to step down and step back. He was not a perfect man, nor as unblemished a figure as he is often seen to be. But what he did was essential for American's freedom.

Some see the contentious nature of politics as a threat, and their solution is to bash the other party by all means necessary into the floor, never to rise again. But would that seriously be what happens? No. People's discontents would remain. They'd find some other way to express it. Keeping a government imposed on us like that would inevitably lead to revolt, to a government so backwards in its outlook, so intent on maintaining their particular revolution that they'd fail to see to the needs of the people, more likely than not.

That I think is a problem with making today's government about adhering rigidly to yesteryear's politics. The government of yesterday was the government of yesterday. They dealt with the challenges that face them, some well, some not so well.

The corporations that Washington dealt with and that Adam Smith knew of were limited purpose joint-stock companies that had no legal standing comparable to what they have today. It would take the ratification of the 14th Amendment and a dubious legal precedent to make them into legal persons. Should the government treat the corporations of today, like those of a time when different constitutional law applied? The powers, privileges and wealth of those kinds of business increased in objective terms after the civil war, and their operations became, in many ways, of public concern, as they manipulated markets, monopolized, put them under anti-competitive trusts.

The proponents of free market libertarianism want us to return to some idealized environment of economic freedom, but they forget that those kinds of free markets, in the fullness of time, were rejected by an American public that experienced the nasty side effects of such corporate freedom. It was something Americans tried, found hostile to their interests, and then supported the move to regulate. Some people consider that an evil, irrational thing, but really, if you're seeing your gas prices go up, or your wealth disappear in speculative collapses, or your environment despoiled by the businesses, then you don't quite have the same view of the liberties those leaders and bosses take. Adam Smith himself would tell you that people do the work they do to support their own interests, not merely out of altruistic kindness to yours.

I think we've sort of loss a sense of that need to balance interests, and far too often, folks are asked to sacrifice their interests continually without attaining real gain. That folks in the economic elite expect folks to simply take it for the good of the economy as they see it is naive. Sooner or later, folks are going to want to see their interests spoken to by the policy of this country.

And that is as it should be. American Democracy was not set up to perpetuate the interests of its early leaders, but to provide for the interests of the people going into an open-ended future. Rather than dictate that people obey a rigid, arbitrary authority, or support one party like the Communists and the Nazis had their countries do, America's revolutionaries, either by accident of compromise or consensus of insight created a government that didn't have to bind and constrain the freedom of its citizens to engage in political discourse in order to maintain itself. In fact, this system was built in such a way that it could absorb, respond to, even feed off the direction that the citizens of its country wanted to go. The Founding Fathers created a Republic that its people could actually keep and make it their own, not just a showcase for the vanity of some figure's ideals.

Our world has changed, and we have changed with it. The nation that once could stand pat in its own hemisphere without concern has become involved in world affairs to an extent unthinkable in Washington's times. It's taken up a prominence in world affairs that would be difficult to imagine for the frontiersmen and women who pushed westward. It fights wars now with countries that did not exist in Jefferson's world, with technology that would seem magical, maybe even demonic to a person of his day.

The economy has changed. We no longer have the closed off, mercantile markets of yesteryear. Again, technology allows the scale and complexity of trade and economic activity to simply overwhelm that of the economy that Alexander Hamilton would deal with. The Demographics have changed, too. People live longer, eat better, experience less violence, don't die from the illnesses that once killed them. They're probably a foot or two taller than their ancestors, and a plump stomach is something to avoid and get rid of now, rather than a mark of material success. We are a more urban and suburban people, with transportation systems of speeds that are incredible to a colonial person's eyes, and oure communications networks operate with both a speed and an information load that would beggar belief in that period. Imagine how many times over we could send the books of John Adam's day over the internet, every second.

Our world is alien to the one that the Framers could confidently advise us on how to deal with. They would be lost, under the circumstances, telling us how to deal with the challenges we face. We have the benefit of over two hundred years worth of experience, and a deep familiarity with the technology and challenges we face now. The Framers, however well they prepared us with their constitution, are not the ones whose wisdom is important in this day and age, it's we who must step up to this challenge, we who must make the necessary judgments.

What we need to be discussing right now is not WWJD (What would Jefferson Do?), it's what are we going to do? We're the ones who, not having been spared the burdens of government by death, have to keep up with events, keep vigilant watch on how things are going. We need to be the ones studying and learning about this problem, and we really don't need to be ignoring the storehouse we have of two centuries of experience in this experiment. Americans didn't seek out government because they were weak. They sought it out because they were sick of the same damn problem occuring again and again.

We should have the wisdom to put some problems to bed, rather than let them linger for the sake of those who are nostalgic about the shape of a government whose time long ago passed, and was allowed to fade away into the past by the design of our Democracy.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 26, 2010 8:10 PM
Comments
Comment #314086

Stephen

“The proponents of free market libertarianism want us to return to some idealized environment of economic freedom …”

NO - I want us to move forward to freedom, using the technologies and methods that we have developed. It is the idea that government can manage something as complex and protean as our modern society that is quaint and old fashioned.

Government’s role is to create conditions for the people to prosper. This includes defending the rule of law. The abuses of the old days were done with the active connivance of government at various levels. Those “capitalists” of the past are gone and so are those governments. But it remains that freedom is important.

The great increase in our prosperity over the past century has enable MORE not less freedom. We don’t want to go back to the time when government told us what to do. We want to move forward to the time when government enables us to do what we choose to do.

Posted by: C&J at November 26, 2010 11:04 PM
Comment #314092

C&J-
When I hear people say that technology or whatever has transcended the problems of the past, I get skeptical right off the bat. I’ve heard that refrain before, and still seen people screw up.

Some aspects of the economy are structurally self similar regardless of what mechanisms we employ. If the market won’t pay a certain prices, it doesn’t matter whether the trades are electronic, or whether the traders are human or not. It doesn’t matter whether you have advanced derivatives at work, or ancient bonds, full disclosure or no disclosure.

Sooner or later, you’ll have to face the fact that people won’t pay so much or take so little for a given product or service. And the pattern of how that happens is so essentially the same that it’s one of the examples that Benoit Mandelbrot provide of fractal structures in the real world. It seems utterly unpredictable, but there’s an underlying structure that’s there regardless of what innovations are slid into place.

The main difference, if you don’t have the right laws and regulations, is that problems tend to build to more catastrophic levels than they ought to before something actually happens to correct the market. If severe enough, the strength of that failure can undermine the ability of the system to recover properly, even function. We were on the verge of such a failure.

The financial institutions of the country created a system deliberately built to distort the normal market-corrective forces, to withhold the necessary information from investors who might have done the wise thing.

Measures of risk were deliberately skewed, enabling folks to sell mortgages that might not have otherwise had a market. Because they could sell such things, mortgage lenders, at least at the time, could issue mortgages they knew wouldn’t really pan out. assessments of the quality of the mortgage securities were deliberately laundered to make them seem less risky than they were, so investors that were required to go for safer bets were hooked in, despite their better judgment.

When the proper signals are jammed, the system gets more complex, and not in a good way, especially if people are leveraging up to take advantage of the market. relationships and liabilities get tangled up, and we end up seeing our financial institutions become houses of cards, hollowed out walking corpses that only maintain the illusion of solvency, not the reality.

At least as long as they can.

I think associating economics with some abstract level of freedom is a misleading approach. The real question is, is the economy really functioning all that well in the long term, in its ability to function reliably and honestly? All I’ve seen demonstrated in my life is the tendency of financial organizations to take excessive risks and to stick the taxpayers with the cost of absorbing their failure, lest the economy feel greater harm from letting them fail.

I’ve got a less expensive solution: find what kind of market distorting tricks your people are employing, and put an end to them.

We need an economy that isn’t some taxpayer-dollar subsidized casino. We need something that function in a manner reliable enough to comfortablely support our day to day economic efforts for the long term. The world has had its fill of Wall Street Get-rich quick schemes.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 27, 2010 12:11 AM
Comment #314095

Wow, Stephen, I was impressed how you used fractals to describe our fragile economy.

Still I’m not completely convinced of your argument about the pilgrims. They did tear up the Mayflower compact, but they also began to learn from the Native Americans how completely ignorant and unprepared they were to deal with survival in new England. The story I read was that they formed private property and production soared as opposed to when they were “in it together”. Of course, this analysis is a bit bizarre, in that it forgets a lot of facts, including the weather that winter.

I think business cycles and boom and bust cycles occur as a natural part of economic interaction. Governmental fiscal and monetary policies, as well as regulatory environments, can effect these cycles, but not stop them all together.

As I watch the fighting over scare resources spread around the world, it seems we are locked into behavior patterns that are leading us into economic and political turmoil. When people feel cheated, cooperation ends. The behavior of the Republican party seems bent on repeating the Depression and WWII. Sadly, I think even those that survived the Depression often didn’t understand what caused it. There seemed to be a reticence that was burned into the behaviors of most leaders that eventually eroded away in periods of stability and comfort. It is gone from most people’s memory. We are repeating the behaviors. Those that see it, seem unable to communicate that effectively, or do anything to stop the forward progress of such behavior.

There is a limit on Human intellect to understand itself. Individuals may see into the abyss, but many seem blithely unaware of the fear that dominates their own contributory behavior.

Posted by: gergle at November 27, 2010 1:30 AM
Comment #314101

The proof that individual ownership, without social glue to hold things together, is in the very water that we drink. As our world population continues to grow, the one thing all mankind needs to exist is potable water, and that is something that is shrinking faster than Arctic ice. We gain water in the world, but lose potable water. Soon we must take some action, and that action must by necessity be social in aspect.

Few see water as a threat to humanity unless it is in the form of flood, but the real danger is in shortages. Right now metropolitan water resources are being stretched beyond capacity to fill demand, and as a result water quality is suffering. The places that potable water can be processed from are being polluted faster than we can clean them up.

If the ‘market’ was going to help straighten this problem up, we’d already have seen signs of it happening. We have not even begun to see that action. It will take a concerted effort (read social), and will have to begin soon. If it does not happen, you have never seen rioting like the rioting that will occur when people can no longer find water to drink and cook with, and that is especially true of people who have been spoiled into believing there is water, water, everywhere and all of it to drink.

And, then there is the potential for diseases that spread by way of polluted and soiled waters, through lack of cleanliness and through infestations of vermin associated with lack of water.

If we cannot agree to ‘tribe up’ to whip the impending problem of water shortage, mankind is in for a very rough ride indeed.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 27, 2010 9:36 AM
Comment #314103

Stephen

Technology will never transcend all human problems. Human problems will NEVER be solved. But technology has made us more comfortable and allows us to be more generous and humane. If we choose not to be, that is our fault. But if you have nothing, you cannot be generous.

“if you don’t have the right laws and regulations, is that problems tend to build to more catastrophic levels than they ought to before something actually happens to correct the market.” Indeed. The question is what are the right laws. We are seeing collapses in heavily regulated European economies. The Soviet Union, one of the most heavily government regulated societies in history, collapsed abjectly.

In fact, more centrally controlled enterprises, governments included, are more vulnerable to general collapses. Many of our industries, such as autos, steel and RRs, essentially collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s. Parts came back (freight rail, for example, is very strong); others not. But the whole system didn’t go down.

You seem to assume that more regulation is needed. I think better and maybe less is needed. The example of the Soviet Union shows how well a really regulated place works. It really is not possible to closely regulate large complex systems. We don’t understand them enough to do it. So we need to be loose and quickly adaptive.

Re the Pilgrims - they were initially a communal society. Socialism is a very specific construct, largely limited to the 19th and 20th century, but what the Pilgrims had was like socialism more than like a free market economy. When that didn’t work, they “liberalized,”in the original sense of the word, to avoid starvation.

Gergle

“I think business cycles and boom and bust cycles occur as a natural part of economic interaction. Governmental fiscal and monetary policies, as well as regulatory environments, can effect these cycles, but not stop them all together.”

Yes. Actually the best we can do is decouple parts of the economy so that failure in one part doesn’t take the whole system down.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 9:57 AM
Comment #314105

Marydude

We have seen the market move in water. Prices have risen and so has conservation in many areas. We have a big water problem in the SW precisely because of government subsidies. If you have access to some water, it is almost free. Others cannot get any at all. So they fight and argue, meanwhile a lot is wasted.

A good idea is to give everybody a life sustaining amount of water and then let the rest enter the market to find its most efficient use.

Of course, there is a big caveat with water, since it has both the characteristic of a renewable flow and a static resource. We can never “run out” of water. There is as much water today as there was 10,000 years ago and no matter what we do there will be roughly the same amount 10,000 years from now. It is a matter of location and condition.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 10:02 AM
Comment #314109

C&J-
The common pattern isn’t socialism. After all, you could hardly call what was happening on Wall Street Socialism. The common pattern is the attempt to reject the binding of scarcity in the economic environment by mechanisms of market manipulation.

In the case of Europe, it was less that they had heavier welfare states, and more that they had the same areas of the markets we had deregulated, deregulated just the same: the derivatives market. Banks in those countries were buying into the real estate boom just the same as we did, trading the CDOs and CDSs just the same as we were. The banking crisis, to put it plainly, was globalized. The issue with Greece was that their books were so damn cooked, with Wall Streets help again, that nobody really understood the depth of the economic problem they were in until Greece was hovering over the abyss.

Again and again, the issue isn’t so much that a business cycle went bust, but that it went bust so suddenly, and with such deception around that people who thought their money was safe and well-invested found that they were holding nothing, or worse yet, didn’t know what they had.

With the Soviets, their main problem was that most of their industries were defense oriented, and they didn’t really sell products anybody wanted anymore.

Another thing to consider is just how badly they mismanaged their environment and their worker safety. There are economic costs as well as social costs to doing things the wrong way, and eventually they catch up to you.

As for the Pilgrims? I really doubt their economy was sophisticated enough or based enough on monetary transactions for the distinction really to be all that useful. You should also consider that they were faced with one hell of a bad winter.

I think the worst way to go about the business of managing an economy is to depend on bumper-sticker platitudes and generalizations. I think we should be asking less what quantity of regulation is appropriate, and more what use of regulation is appropriate. Simply saying, oh, I’d rather not regulated, even when you’re faced with an obvious failure of the market to self-police is not a good idea.

One thing we should be considering when we talk about adaptiveness, is that people don’t adapt towards some ideal, they adapt towards things as they are. So, if you’re letting some dysfunction remain in the market, if you’re letting people trade derivatives a certain way, and they’re making money off of it, the basic way the economic adaptation might play out is that people simply go back to doing what they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place, for fear of not being able to compete.

If, however, government steps in, it can shape the landscape of what’s adapted to. If people know they risk and SEC investigation and major costs if they do business a certain way, if they know they can lose licenses, lose money, and if they know that they can’t wriggle their way out of it, they might just change their behavior, adapt to the new environment, and operate in a way that’s less destructive to the system. It’s not a simple or easy system to manage, but we successfully did so for decades.

As for water? It’s not just a matter of subsidies. It’s also a matter of scarce supply.

You talk about water as if we can never run out of it. I think that’s a completely off-base look at things. Not everybody has readily available surface or groundwater. Not everybody lives within range of easy access. Global Cliimate change is reducing the reserves, and drying up some of the reservoirs. Water in the SW is particularly vulnerable because of the dry climate. While on the grand scale of things you’re right, the system doesn’t work on that grand scale, it works on the local scale. If you can’t get people drinking water, or water to irrigate crops, that’s going to cause some serious economic problems. It’s already probably contributing to the issues surrounding the inflation of food costs.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 27, 2010 11:41 AM
Comment #314112

Good water is getting more scarse. Water is not reducing in vulumn. That would be a silly thought. Two dynamics are at work, ie, we are gaining in need via population growth, and at the same time finding less of it attainable in the areas that need it most. My point is that the market will not look at the issue until it is too late for most and reaction time will be tentative. The ‘social’ approach will best suit the issue, and you won’t find that in conservative circles. conservatives really don’t look very far down the road.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 27, 2010 12:55 PM
Comment #314113

Stephen

All those guys weren’t marching in Greece and burning things because they were mad about derivatives. Those are highly government run places.

The Greeks cooked the books. They cooked the books because they were paying out too much in the welfare state. The bottom line is there is less money than they want to spend. The money-men helped them hide this, but this is the problem.

“With the Soviets, their main problem was that most of their industries were defense oriented, and they didn’t really sell products anybody wanted anymore.” They didn’t make things people wanted because … wait for it … the government planned everything. Communism was the ultimate in big government and planned economy. Didn’t work out well.

I understand “just how badly they mismanaged their environment and their worker safety.” Once again … wait again … government monopoly of power and planning.

Re the Pilgrims - they didn’t have much money. Free enterprise is not only about money. It mainly concerns letting people make decisions about things that effect them and about their property. That is what the Pilgrims got after the initial failed experiment with communalism.

“I think we should be asking less what quantity of regulation is appropriate, and more what use of regulation is appropriate.” Yes - sometimes the appropriate is less sometimes more. But government is rarely an “honest broker”. It get involved as a player and creates trouble.

Re SEC - one problem is moral hazard. If people know - or think - government will bail them out, they make riskier moves.

Re water - we can never run out of water. This is true. We can run out of easily accessible water or water in conditions we want to use it. This paradoxical trait is what makes water such an interesting challenge. I have a stream on my land where I like to cool off. I “use” that water, but I leave just as much as before.

In the SW some sorts of agriculture should not be done and the WOULD not be done if water were reasonably priced. They grow humid country crops like cotton near Phoenix because water is artificially cheap, for example. That cotton includes lots of water obtained at what would be below market rates. It is subsidized over and over.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 1:16 PM
Comment #314114

Marysdude

Conservatives have been thinking about this water problem for a long time and we understand the dynamic better than those starry-eyed fools who talk about “rights” to water.

There are essentially three ways to distribute anything and everything is a mix & match of them. You can charge for the thing; you can make people stand in line for it; or you can use some kind of rationing/corruption.

Up until today, water has been allocated by a combination of the first and last ways. You get water by waiting for it and/or by being given it by authority. This does not encourage wise use. We would like to keep some aspects of free/rationing/queuing, but add to that the power of incentives and choice. It is just the smart thing to do.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 1:35 PM
Comment #314115

The myth of Pilgrim communal failure, a slightly more factual, historical parable:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/weekinreview/21zernike.html?pagewanted=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

Posted by: gergle at November 27, 2010 2:08 PM
Comment #314116

C&J,

I’m not sure where you get the idea that water has ever been free, or that rationing is equal to corruption.

Any form of allocation is rationing.

Viaducts to move water long distances is usually paid for by bonds, which of course is paid for by taxpayers.

Water districts treat/chlorinate water and charge for that service.

Farmers and corporations are often subsidized in their large use of water in exchange for the economic benefits they provide.

Drilling your own well is a costly adventure, and of course, illegal or impractical in many watersheds.

Outdated and updated laws are changing the way water is allocated and there is a rising, for profit juggernaut arising in the water provider game. However, since water is essential, one cannot of good conscience deny people water. This means profiteering has limited margins in which it will work before people will revolt.

Elderly and sick people died on the Gulf Coast when Hurricane Ike hit, some due to a lack of electricity. If that becomes widespread people will not tolerate it. Iraq and now Europe is showing us that.

Posted by: gergle at November 27, 2010 2:23 PM
Comment #314117

Gergle

I mean not subject to greater market forces. Water public sources is subsidized. If you get it yourself, you usually have some kind of up front cost (like digging a well) but then variable costs are less significant.

I have a stream running through my property. I can use that water as I wish within an allocation based on common law. If I use less, I don’t get any money back and if I abuse it my neighbors have to take me to court. But I cannot make a deal saying that I will give $10 to use 10 units more water, nor can I “sell” my surplus. This works out just fine in most instances in places like the East where it rains a lot. In the West they often have first come rights. The guy that got it first, keeps it. It is also no market based.

Re Iraq electricity - let me tell you a special thing, a detail. Iraq didn’t have an electricity shortage. It had a shortage of FREE electricity. Saddam had essentially failed to collect bills. This was okay when he rationed other things like air conditioning. But when after the fall of Saddam, Iraqis started to buy electronics. Demand for electricity went sky high, and with no real price discipline, the way to allocate became scarcity/rationing. Villages and individuals bought generators, there were even something like mini-utilities that were created, but customers had to pay. They used that electricity sparingly.

So what happened is that when electricity came from the grid, everybody turned everything on to suck it up as fast as possible. It could actually be cool on the street in summer because of all the air conditioned air flowing from open doors. This I saw with my own eyes. In fact I recall talking to a group of men in the city of Haditha. They were complaining about the lack of electricity while we stood in front of an open door with air conditioned cool air going into the street. I pointed out the apparent contradiction and they honestly said that it didn’t matter because it was the time when the electricity was on.

The lesson of Iraq electricity is that when anything is scarce (like electricity) it needs some price mechanism to discipline use. It would be impossible to keep up with wasteful demand created by a free product except by force, which is essentially what Saddam did. He didn’t control supplies of electricity, but he controlled the devices that used it. Maybe that is the lesson for water too, but we need some control if/when/in places where water is scarce.

The key value of price is not profit, but rather the signals it sends about relative scarcity and the incentive it provides for wise use.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 3:16 PM
Comment #314120

Y’all keep talking about the Soviet ‘government’, and occasionally the Chinese ‘government’. Think again. At one time the Soviets had the world’s largest ‘corporation’ and now the Chinese do. Our own ‘corpaucracy’ is far down the line in size, but is doing as much damage as either of them.

Our problem is not ‘government’, but rather that we cannot seem to keep the hands of Corporate America out of it. The Military Industrial Complex, the recent SCOTUS findings, and the 14th, have about tied our hands (government of the people), to the point we are ineffective. Granted, we (government of the people), have allowed it to happen, but when was the last time our ‘government’ hurt us without the help and encouragement from the ‘Market’?

Posted by: Marysdude at November 27, 2010 3:54 PM
Comment #314122

Most excellent article and perspective, Stephen D., even if belaboring of the point.

Stephen D. wrote: “We’re the ones who, not having been spared the burdens of government by death, have to keep up with events, keep vigilant watch on how things are going.”

Well, there’s the rub, isn’t it. In G. Washington’s day, an education prepared a capable person to be an educated generalist, capable of forming an intelligent opinion on any topic or public policy. Not so, today. The world we live in is the culmination of centuries of division of labor and the development of specialists in very narrowly defined fields of human knowledge, and for good reason, the volume of knowledge to be learned to become expert in these narrowly defined categories of expertise is enormous, not to mention tremendously expensive to acquire.

To keep up with events and remain vigilant on how things are going, is now a full time occupation requiring daily unpaid overtime. We have become a society utterly dependent upon the expertise of hosts of other specialists for our very way of life and nearly every action we endeavor to take. One cannot go anywhere in America without depending upon the expertise of chemists, engineers, electrical technicians, transportation manufacturers, public communications experts, law enforcement and emergency services to clean up the accident barriers in our way, to mention just a few.

Which raises the fundamental question, can a democratically elected government provide for the public welfare when the public lacks, almost entirely, the expertise to comprehend the complexities of public policy alternatives and their consequences?

The public responded to economic crises unfolding in 2008 by voting in Democrats. Was their strategy to vote in Democrats and vote out Republicans, effective in selecting the best economic expertise to lead the nation out of the economic crises then unfolding? Polling on the public satisfaction with the Democrat’s response, says, No.

This month, voters were called on again to determine the best persons to effect a better resolution to our economic crises and they voted overwhelmingly for Republicans. Was this any kind of guarantee that expertise was elected to fashion economic policy for the future of the people and their children?

The American voting public is ignorant of economics, lacking even the math skills to comprehend an introductory course to this specialized area of human knowledge. How is it, then, that democratic elections can work to elect the shepherd’s of economic policy for the people’s future?

The obvious answer is, they can’t, and don’t even try. What the public does, instead, as an electoral shorthand, is to elect persons based on political party. But, are the political parties exercising human resource expertise in selecting the best economics experts to run for political office? Obviously, not!

So, just how is it then, that Americans, or citizens in any modern democratically elected government, are going secure a prosperous economic future for their posterity? Let alone a secure or legally just future which protects both their liberty and security? How is it that the public is going to insure educational improvement for their children when their choice on election day is between novice politician 1 and 2 for school board?

What America is experiencing today, are the fundamental and philosophical limitations of their democratically elected form of government, in the context of a world that is run by specialists in fields so specialized, that we now have to create a new field of specialists who act as translators between the other fields of specialists, in the process of crafting multi-disciplinary solutions to pending challenges.

When DeToqueville wrote of Adam Smith’s concept of ‘enlightened self-interest’ delineated in The Theory of Moral Sentiment, he was speaking in the context of a society and time in history when it was possible to deny suffrage to those who were uneducated and ill-informed, and when education and becoming well informed on the topics of the day concerning governance was possible for the gifted with access to the time and books which would inform them.

Is “enlightened self-interest”, the very foundation for sound voter choice on election day, even remotely possible today when universal suffrage is the law of the land, and the ignorance of the voting the public on the pressing challenges of their day is profound and ubiquitous?

And if “enlightened self-interest” is not possible for the electorate today, then does not our entire form of government find itself built upon quicksand, requiring only the slightest disturbance to shift and yield from beneath its foundations, creating all manner of failures and destructive consequences of public policy at the hands of representatives who know not what they do, or, even why?

Our government hires experts aplenty as public servants to advise and counsel our elected representatives on the specialized knowledge of consequence to legislative policy. But, our political system has evolved to the point that these public servants of expertise no longer have the ear of representatives whose agendas are no longer fashioned on the priorities of the American people or the well-being of the nation going forward.

Is the general public equipped to hold their representatives responsible for turning a deaf ear to these experts the voters and tax payers hire as public servants to advise and counsel their representatives? Enter the anti-incumbent movement afoot in current American politics. The question remains unanswered, as yet.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 27, 2010 4:33 PM
Comment #314125

Marysdude

The big government you yearn for never existed. The big governments in our experience are indeed places like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or various city states of the Middle East. They are indeed a form of corporation in the original sense.

With big government, you get concentrated power among people who can use and distribute other people’s resources. Even if all involved were honest and unselfish (not likely) they would still lack the information necessary to make detailed decisions about the economy. That is why it doesn’t work for a sustained amount of time.

You think our own government (presumable Barack Obama these days) is as bad as the Soviets, Communist Chinese etc. I cannot argue with you, but I would suggest you get out a little more. Governments such as the Soviets and Mao’s China killed millions of their own people, many more than died in all of America’s wars combined. You may also have noticed that we are not so bad off in terms of freedom and prosperity. Nobody on this blog is really afraid that an oppressive government or a “corpocracy” will be able to do him serious harm.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 4:49 PM
Comment #314126

Marysdude and Gergle

My notes from a presentation re water:

Peter Glieck of the Pacific Institute gave me some interesting insights. Here is the link to his talk at the Wilson Center. He focused on the ecological disaster unfolding in China. I will let you read about that at the link if you want. It is scary. They have destroyed 80% of their wetland in N. China, sucked dry many streams and rivers and exhausted or polluted most of the easy accessible groundwater. But I want to concentrate on some of the general ideas.

We can never run out of water, but we can run out of water that you can afford to get or water we can get w/o destroying local ecosystems. Dr. Glieck explained it that water uniquely exhibits characteristics of both a non-renewable stock resource and a renewable flow resource. It is renewable, but can be used up locally.

Regions can and do exhaust or destroy their accessible water supply and some stocks are essentially non-renewable. We call them “fossil water.” Examples include the Ogallala aquifer under the American Great Plains. Water is not a global resource. It is too difficult and expensive to move worldwide in large enough quantities. You can move bottles of drinking water over the oceans, but you cannot base your general water needs on sources that are too far away. (BTW – tap water in most of the U.S. is excellent, often better than what you get in bottles.) In fact, the story exhausted water often goes with the fall of civilizations.

Water and energy are connected. Energy production uses and often pollutes water. It takes water to grow biofuels, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Moving water consumes a great deal of energy. The single biggest consumption of energy in California comes from pumping water from Northern to Southern parts of the state. Water is reused an infinite number of times. Cleaning it and pumping it around is what takes the resources.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 4:51 PM
Comment #314136

C&J,

All that is a given. That is the reason I brought the problem up in this thread. I thought it fit well with the discussion. Apparently I was mistaken…I’ll try again some other time in another thread. Thanks for your input.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 27, 2010 7:38 PM
Comment #314137

>Nobody on this blog is really afraid that an oppressive government or a “corpocracy” will be able to do him serious harm.
Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 04:49 PM

C&J,

Unless you think that breaking the bank is doing serious harm, you may be right. My problem with your statement is that you are thinking of today, and I am thinking of tomorrow, when we find that the broken banking system merely continues down the road to Perdition.

I don’t see it improving itself, and the bought off controllers have lost control, and the regulations are ignored or circumvented. What direction do you see our finance houses going?

Posted by: Marysdude at November 27, 2010 7:45 PM
Comment #314140

C&J-
You cite the spending side of things, but not the revenue side. Greece’s big problem was more corruption than anything else.

And yes, the Soviet government planned everything. Does that make any centeral economic planning bad? No, of course not. Some planning, some direction or force of suggestion is good.

I could go on, but really, everything just seems like a surface gloss, with all the comments pointing towards a rather fixed perspective on how an economy should be run.

As for moral hazards? I think what the last few years, hell, the last three decades should tell us is that the free market is fully capable of creating its own moral hazards.

And that, really, is what I think you don’t fully appreciate. Also, you don’t appreciate that in some cases, there are moral hazards to be had, but the alternative to those hazards could be moral or at least economic hazards themselves.

By the way, you have my agreement with the cotton crop thing. The question, though, is how one disentangles the vested interests there without causing excessive economic hardship. That’s an interesting question, I think, and a necessary one: when there is a true, unambiguous moral hazard, how do you develop alternatives, and how do you implement them in a way that doesn’t put too many people out of work, or depress a region’s economy.

As for Saddam’s electricity? I guess the way I would respond is to say that I am a capitalist, and believe that price mechanisms are useful for dealing with scarce goods. I’m comfortable with government providing some manipulation, but we have to be careful to not distort the market to the point where price signals disappear and people’s behavior becomes unmoderated.

I think what this last economic crisis demonstrated was that private industry could commit the same mistakes.

Essentially, giving out loans became like Saddam’s electricity. Part of it was a huge tax break for first homebuyers, but another element of it, the more predominant one, was the way the mortgage lenders and Wall Street twisted the mortgage market with derivatives to so thoroughly hedge the market that nobody felt any consequences for the failure to properly vet the mortgages, or people’s ability to pay. The market created its own perverse incentives, its own cotton subsidy, so to speak, and the Republicans, with their deregulatory agenda, helped make it worse.

Markets can be and often are self correcting. But not always. Markets, at their lowest levels, are composed by fallible human being who can give in to temptations that help them serve their own interests. People can lose their way, and whole populations can stampede into some pretty stupid situations.

Sometimes it doesn’t even help that people know better, because their own financial circumstances are so dire, that it would be a relief for them, and they just hope their luck holds.

I think we need to consider that some means of growing an economy aren’t worth the cost they have or might have to the economy. I think what we need to realize is that things like socialism, capitalism, and other systems are only schools of thought, that what we really need to be doing is asking the questions we need to ask of the economy within the context of real life, rather than simply delivering pat academic answers to the issues.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 27, 2010 8:22 PM
Comment #314142

C&J,

You said public water is subsidized. By whom? Taxes and utility rates are what pay for it. It is not falsely cheap. Bonds spread the cost over time.

What makes it cheap is it’s mass distribution.

I agree that large populations in desert areas makes little sense. I also think that corporate and farm subsidies regarding water use, need to be looked at. While there is certainly good that comes from such subsidies, when it comes to private corporations and corporate farms profitting from public subsidies, I think that needs to be re-evaluated periodically.

As to Iraq, there are all sorts of issues residual from Saddam, rather like there are issues residual from Bush, but my point is and was that unless you satisfy people’s basic needs, you will have instability.

Posted by: gergle at November 27, 2010 9:44 PM
Comment #314143

Marysdude

I was thinking of us - personally. WE do not fear retaliation personally. None of us would be so brave (or stupid) to do the equivalent i.e. openly criticizing the authorities in Soviet Russia, communist China or the many little dictatorships of history and today)

Stephen

Some planning is good to set general direction. Detailed central planning is bad.

re corruption - big government is what creates the niches for corruption because it gives bureaucrats, officials and politicians control over resources that are not theirs.

Think about a simple case. Can you bribe someone to sell you something that he owns and controls? No, you cannot. All you can do is buy it for a bigger price. A bribe can only be paid when someone is using other people’s resources. Big government creates those opportunities.

Re moral hazards - the free market creates them too, as with insurance, but only government can do it on the massive scale we have seen. private firms just cannot afford it.

Re water-cotton - we have to do it gradually. This is true. We did it successfully with things like tobacco subsidies. It can be done if there is political will.

re Saddam’s electricity - we had a difficult problem, like the water, because people came to expect free or nearly free electricity and thought they would get it even if they used more. Market prices were starting to set in, BTW. I was just explaining the problem.

Re mortgages - it was a failure of markets and of regulations and of politics. We wanted to get more people into homes than could afford to have them. People wanted to make money. We just got lazy and believed the idea that housing wouldn’t go down. There is plenty of blame to go around and at the same time not much blame at all. New rules and innovations happen. Eventually some fail and some fail big.

We had a big housing crash in the late 1980s too. It cost billions and housing did not recover its values for ten years. If you bought a house in 1997, you paid about the same as a person did in 1987. That is when it caught up. Our prices peaked last in 2005. I am not sure how long this wait will be, but I am not surprised that it has not picked up already.

You are a smart guy, Stephen. Thanks for the discussion. Maybe you can yet become a conservative.

Posted by: C&J at November 27, 2010 10:43 PM
Comment #314144

C&J said, apparently without contemplating his own comment: “With big government, you get concentrated power among people who can use and distribute other people’s resources.”

That is the definition of ALL government, large or small. Think about it. Governments have to be funded in order to do anything. Governments mandate their revenues from those in the society over which they govern. Among the governed, will ALWAYS be those who resent being forced to subsidize the government.

Your comment above complains about the very definition of government, regardless of size. That is a predisposition of yours that comes out unintended, from time to time, in your writing and comments.

Which begs the question, Are you an anarchist at the core of your value system in light of your above stated opposition to the very concept of government?

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 28, 2010 2:16 AM
Comment #314150

C&J,

If Stephen is the ‘smart guy’ you say he is, he’ll never return to the dark side.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 28, 2010 6:39 AM
Comment #314153

David

Indeed - all government does this, but of course the bigger it is the more it does it.

The difference between a life giving medicine and a deadly poison is often in the dosage. If some is good, more is not always better, and too much can be deadly.

Marysdude

Return? Unfortunately you guys are there now. I would not say “dark side” re liberals but maybe the foggy end.

Gergle

Subsidized in the sense of some people getting it cheaper because somebody else has paid more. It depends on where it is, of course. In places with plentiful natural water supplies, it is more or less as you say. When you get to more arid places it gets to be a different story.

I don’t know if the situation has changed today, but a few years ago my father, who lived in Milwaukee, almost within sight of the largest complex of fresh water in the world, paid more per gallon of water than my sister in law, who lived in the middle of the desert in Phoenix. When you see something like this, you know there is some distortion going on, and it almost certainly is created with government money. People are making decisions based on this distortion, which can create economic and ecological problems.

Posted by: C&J at November 28, 2010 10:41 AM
Comment #314155

C&J,

That is your assumption, but I doubt it. My water bill in Houston covers my water, sewer and trash pick-up. It recently went up, because the city said that their costs to process water were rising. While I’m sure that may have a grain of truth to it, we all know that city revenues were down. I strongly suspect that may have been the reason for the fee increase. The city just took a bath on red-light cameras that the voters rejected.

I do know cities in the north, like Milwaukee have had to deal with contamination issues relating to Cryptospirilium (I spoke with a city inspector a few years back who had worked there and dealt with these issues). http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/26/us/parasite-found-again-in-milwaukee-water.html

I seriously doubt Milwaukee, or any other city, except perhaps regional ones, has much to do with Phoenix water rates. The only subsidies I’m aware of are for corporate and agricultural uses. Houston has received federal money to upgrade it’s sewer system, which I believed is based on water quality issues. There was a large city wide program a few years back to do that. I’m guessing that revolved around EPA funds, and was probably given to large cities.

I suspect the distortion was more related to the age of the Milwaukee system, problems in Northern cities with contamination, and perhaps local politics. I just found out our water in Houston is an Alpha emitter.

Posted by: gergle at November 28, 2010 12:36 PM
Comment #314159

Gergle

I doubt Milwaukee has anything at all to do with water prices in Phoenix. I am just saying that something is strange when water is cheap in the middle of a desert and more expensive on the shores of a great freshwater lake. There must be a reason and that reason is Federal water projects.

The Feds built big dams and other things. As part of the deal, they require water be made available at rates which probably do not even cover the variable repair costs of the structures, much less the capital costs.

This probably was good public policy in the 1930s, when they wanted to draw people into a sparely populated land. But it essentially did this by making water (and usually electricity) cheaper than would be possible. But as populations grew with this special deal, it got out of hand. It permitted the sucking almost dry of major water systems. Instead of using price to regulate demand, the solution has been government fiat, negotiation and cheating. It is a bad system - expensive and not sustainable.

Posted by: C&J at November 28, 2010 5:06 PM
Comment #314161

C&J-

Some planning is good to set general direction. Detailed central planning is bad.

I don’t think detail is the problem. Sometimes you need to nail thing down specifically. The question is, can the planning work as advertised, or at least close enough to make it worth it.

Re: corruption? Well, mister, one of the most corrupt periods in our nation’s history was the time between the civil war and the end of the roaring twenties. And that was the period of small government. Sure, big government can be corrupted, but size is not what makes a government corrupt. It’s the perversion of government power from uses that benefit mainly the public to uses that mainly benefit the private economic powers, without doing much for the rest of us. Now whether that’s subverted big government or laissez faire small government doesn’t matter. What should matter is that we insist on integrity in government. Shrinking government is not a solution.

Re: moral hazards, well, mister, the derivatives market’s problems were measured in the trillions of dollars. If that’s a small moral hazard, I’d like to see the size of the economy you typically work with, because it must be fricking amazing. The government didn’t create that moral hazard. In fact, it couldn’t have been created if derivatives had been managed as folks like Brooksley Born had wanted them managed.

Re: Saddam’s Electricity? Well, I think one problem was, your people tried to just shift gears too fast on people, use Iraq as a laboratory for those kinds of ideas.

Really, you should recognized that there were certain ideas of how things ran, and that you should just adjust them gradually, subtly, so as to discourage this kind of behavior.

I remember the S&L crisis, which was in part caused by much the same issue. The real thing, I think we kind of set things up in a way where we handed people a lot of money, and didn’t put enough real duties on those who held it to be good stewards of it.

We expected the market to be the judge, jury and executioner of what they did wrong, but as it turns out, the market often starts imposing its penalties after the fact, after everybody’s gotten so invested in the losing propositions.

Me? I think half the battle is making sure that the smart investor has the information they need to make wise decisions, and punish those who mislead investors in this respect. No market based on rational behavior can afford an information poor environment.

Another thing, really, is that you should clear up the relationships and the kind of businesses that can hook up together freely, so you don’t see the people servicing the debt of a corporation selling the shares of that company as well.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 28, 2010 7:07 PM
Comment #314162

If water supply had been left up to trickle-downers, would as many people have trickled water as have it today? Would they be able to afford it? Would they be able to trust it? There is some question about what the phrase, “general welfare” speaks to in the Preamble…I think we just decided that issue. Water is not a commodity, it is a necessity, and the last people you want in charge of a necessity is a supply-sider.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 28, 2010 8:27 PM
Comment #314163

C&J you love to use the medicine analogy, Too little can be just as bad or worse then too much. Take anti-biotics (sp) if you don’t take them the full length of time you end up building up a drug resistant strain the attacks and kills. What most of us are looking for in government is the right balance, small enough to not overburden but big enough to provide effective oversight.
I work in aviation, I can honestly say the FAA is the largest inhibition the the safety of flight (ie modernization); however the alternative is what you get with those big Russian planes. This is one where the FAA is frequently too intrusive but it is better than not intrusive enough. ie too much medicine in this case is better than not enough. Even though at times it makes my job in QC a pain in the ASS! We need protection from ourselves.

Posted by: timesnd at November 28, 2010 8:39 PM
Comment #314171

timesnd,

I’m thinking that C&J will say that if enough planes go down, killing all passengers and crews, that the market will cause carriers to advance the quality on their own. All those lives lost will be meaningless in the scheme of things. The market being free to adjust itself is the end all.

Now let’s see how close I’ve come…

Posted by: Marysdude at November 28, 2010 9:38 PM
Comment #314175

timesend-
I guess another way to put it, is it’s often a pain in the ass to do the right thing, so sometimes in the absence of clear authority forcing you to do it, you get sloppy.

Real legislation is going to tick somebody off, to be an impediment to something somebody wants to do, would prefer they could do. But often, what’s cheap for one person to do is cheap because they’re off-loading some sort of trouble on somebody else. What a polluter does to a stream is the cheapest possible solution to a problem. However, for the people downstream, it’s a rather expensive and problematic mess. If your fish are dying or getting contaminated, if your drinking water has to be cleansed of some toxic element, if your crops are getting contaminated through the irrigation water… Well, somebody else’s cheap solution is your expensive problem.

I’m not some rainbow-happy age of aquarius convergence seeker, but I think we need to have a little more harmony than that between each other’s actions.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 28, 2010 10:13 PM
Comment #314182

C&J,

There must be a reason and that reason is Federal water projects.

Wow. What do you base that on? I just explained to you a local problem that required massive projects in Milwaukee, and you ignore that to go to your forgone conclusion. I don’t claim to be an expert on water resources, or Milwaukee or Phoenix, but I happen to have some personal involvement in water projects, and insight into Milwaukee’s water quality issues.

Yes, Federal Dam projects aren’t always funded through local taxes and fees, but some are. Yet, even you recognize that they were a good thing when they were mostly built. There are very few major dam projects that go on today.

It boggles my mind how people make sweeping statements based on forgone conclusions.

If we are going to discuss why water rates vary, we have to look at facts, rather than make sweeping uninformed statements based on political leanings.

http://phoenix.gov/waterservices/customerservices/payment/rates/index.html

http://phoenix.gov/WATER/drpers04.html

http://ezinearticles.com/?Understanding-Phoenixs-Water-Supply-and-Most-Precious-Resource&id=2589879

http://city.milwaukee.gov/ImageLibrary/Groups/WaterWorks/files/Ratesmonthly_billing_090901.pdf

http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/95703374.html

http://city.milwaukee.gov/water/customer/CurrentWaterRates.htm

While I doubt it was your intent to go into detailed discussion of water supplies, my point is that centralized planning (at least within the water shed) is absolutely necessary when dealing with water. Building dams is more about flood protection and development of resources. It’s rather absurd to use this as an example of Big Government distortions.

Detailed central planning is a matter of degrees. Should local impacts and possible negative outcomes be considered when attempting to give organization to chaos, a direction to resource development? I would think that would be a good thing. Should there be an attempt to predefine incalculable outcomes? Probably not. This is where pragmatism and changes in policy based on facts on the ground come.

I’ve been reading Obama’s Wars. I find it disconcerting the way some decisions are being made in Afghanistan, but the process is what it is. I think I understand why McChrystal shot off his mouth and was fired. The military often has tunnel vision on policy, but the politicians tend to look at political outcomes. The differences are irreconcilable.

The same issues arose at the time of our invasion, and the decision to neglect Afghanistan. The result after the invasion was a failed campaign and policy quagmire. We have now surpassed the time and money the Russians spent in Afghanistan. It is obviously a failure at this point. The negative consequences cannot be avoided without a major shift in policy that Americans would not support. Obama has chosen a course to get us out of the quagmire and reduce those consequences.

We can all sit back and conjecture about specific policy issues, but we have to look at likely outcomes. We have to analyze the facts to make rational arguments.

Given the new Wikileaks releases, unification of Korea as a solution to the failed state of N. Korea seems a very rational long term solution fraught with political problems. It seems something broachable with China. It doesn’t solve the immediate problems with N. Korea, however.

Policy direction and pragmatic solutions can be seen as diametrically opposed, but actually they can work hand in hand. The problem becomes when party politics and predetermined vague ideas like “opposition to big government” or “regime change” become policy ahead of facts and the reality of the situation. This is the biggest problem with the recent Republican party. Rhetoric overrides reason.

While Bush may or may not be deemed right about Iraq, down the line, it was his uninvolved attitude toward analysis in making major policy decisions that bothered me. I think Bush will be deemed a cheerleader President, who was good at communicating steadfastness. The problem was that steady policy is also dependent on good, thoughtful analysis. Something clearly lacking in Afghanistan.

The elitist disconnect is something that his new book seems to expose. He grasped the politics and thick skin of his father, but he never seemed to learn the importance of analysis. He relied on “friends” to do all the analysis, and never had the ability to critically analyze his own decisions. It doesn’t appear he reflects much on them, either. His life of wealth and connection allowed that to “work” for him.

Posted by: gergle at November 29, 2010 2:12 AM
Comment #314183

It looks like my last comment was seized by the comment que. I would appreciate it if the editor would review it and release it.

Posted by: gergle at November 29, 2010 2:15 AM
Comment #314185

gergle,

I think your lost comment became tiny 1s and 0s, then spun into hyperspace to become one of my misspelled words here on WB. :)

Posted by: Marysdude at November 29, 2010 6:23 AM
Comment #314186

Er…cyberspace…see?!? You’d better get that one back, or I’ll never get one right again. :(

Posted by: Marysdude at November 29, 2010 6:25 AM
Comment #314201

“Politics should not be conducted by Séance”, says Stephen.

Apparently Joe Barton agrees with you, Stephen, he believes it should be conducted as a war…WWII to be precise:

John Boehner is Dwight Eisenhower. Eric Cantor is Omar Bradley. And Joe Barton is George Patton. That’s according to a presentation that Barton plans to give to the committee of House Republicans Tuesday that will determine whether he wins the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

From the Republican Caucus.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 29, 2010 3:29 PM
Comment #314205

C&J said: “Indeed - all government does this, but of course the bigger it is the more it does it.”

Thank you! But, your statement is a tautology. Your statement says bigger government is bigger government. Well, yeah! Since, by definition, government governs the affairs of the nation, and in a democratic elected nation, it is the voters, not the government, that dictates, tolerates, and potentially limits the demands on that government and its growth.

America’s problem is with voters holding their own representatives accountable for the collective result of government. Ergo, irresponsible overseers of irresponsible government are elected and reelected time and again.

C&J said: “The difference between a life giving medicine and a deadly poison is often in the dosage. If some is good, more is not always better, and too much can be deadly.”

That analogy is wearing thin. Generally, the appropriate dosage of medicine is a known quantity and established by empirical scientific inquiry. Optimal government size on the other hand, is not established by empirical science, and indeed, cannot be established as a static answer, since, its size is determined by infinite variables, not the least of which is State and municipal, voter and citizen, demand for services. ‘Optimal’ is in the eye of the voter, taxpayer, and citizen, depending, again, on a host of factors to include political sophistry on the topic which portends that their is a measurable answer to optimal size.

By definition of our Constitution and citizen expectation and demand for services, our government is the size it is due to the American public and voters. In many ways, our government must get bigger. The public has a Constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. Our judicial system is vastly too small to meet that requirement today, for example. There are 4 to 5 competitors for every each available job out there, which creates a demand by the people for government to do something about the unemployment rate. That is how democratically elected governments work and how their size is determined.

So, while your analogy with medicine dosage at first appears pertinent, upon closer examination, it fails to parallel on many levels. It is like analogizing a helium party balloon on the wind with human transportation demand and requirements. They both move, and can transport, but, the analogy quickly breaks down beyond that point.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 29, 2010 5:11 PM
Comment #314207

DRR,

Yeah, I’ve heard that business of government being too big, until I’m about to gag on it. Our government…the governing body of the United States of America…is just as big as its majority of citizens demand it to be, and no bigger. I cannot vouch for the intelligence of the American people, and can certainly agree that they know not what they do (witness this last election), but there is nothing in law that shows our government to be too big. I believe this ‘foo big’ thing is a Rovian distraction, like ‘birther’ stuff, etc., set up by right wingers to keep our minds off the goal of bettering America until those self-same wingers can get back in charge and ruin all the good that has happened in their absence.

You, of course will tell me how it makes no difference which party is in charge, we still need to get rid of all incumbents, but I think we should get rid of all Republican incumbents first, then start replacing Democrats. If we do it the other way, we lose.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 29, 2010 6:10 PM
Comment #314221

David

I keep on using the medicine analogy because we keep on talking about size of government. People keep on trying to frame the debate as if those of us who want limited government want to have no government at all.

President Obama did this a lot. He tried to frame the debate as a choice between those who wanted to do something (him) and those who wanted to do nothing. It was a false choice.

So I repeat that I love government - in its proper role. And I think government is so precious that we need to use it sparingly.

You say, “‘Optimal’ is in the eye of the voter …” No, it is not. There are some things that we cannot have, no matter how much we agree that we want it. I believe that any organization stops working well beyond a certain level of size and complexity. There are some things we cannot make work, no matter how smart or honest we are. There are problems with information flow & control that limit effectiveness. Things just don’t work sometimes.

All human organizations have slippage and confusions included. No matter what government wants to do, it has to be carried out by humans, who will get some of it wrong, even when they are smart and honest - and not everybody is smart and honest.

Polls and recent elections indicate that “the people” don’t want bigger government. But even if they did, they cannot have it.

It is very difficult to control the growth of government. For government bureaucrats, all the incentives are to expand duties and numbers. The good and honest officials honestly believe that their jobs are extremely important and that with more resources they could do a better job. That is great if you are looking at only one, but when you add them all together you get an uncontrolled growth potential.

Marysdude & David

Both of you seem to assume that government is somehow not an actor in its own growth or extent. As I wrote above, almost every official has personal incentives to expand his/her job. It is really hard to get promoted by cutting back on your responsibilities, even if you think that some of the things you are doing are ineffective. Politicians get elected by making promises. Few politicians have much experience running organizations besides political ones, where people work for the passion of it and often for free. They sometimes really believe they can deliver.

But everything needs a group to carry out its goals.I don’t know if you guys have actually set up an organization. There are lots of things you need. This includes a lot prosaic functions such as HR - timekeepers, analysts, recruiters etc. In government, none of this is easy. It is subject to extensive regulation to ensure fairness. It can take a year or more from the time you identify a job that needs to be done until the time when somebody can be hired to fill it. And once you get somebody in, you can virtually never fire anybody.

Also consider risk-taking. Most innovation fails. This is not a bad thing. If you invest in 10 things and nine fail, but #10 in Google, you are golden. Government has a fiduciary responsibility NOT to risk or lose taxpayer money. Imagine a government official trying to explain that 9 out of ten of what he does fails. Government has to be circumspect.

This is HOW government works. And it is getting more complex, as we need to protect all sorts of protected groups in hiring and promotions.

Let me suggest an exercise. Go to USA-Jobs. Pick a job you think you might be qualified to do and try to figure out how even to apply for it. Now imagine deploying this sort of system to complex and dynamic parts of the economy.

Government has a specific function and it has developed a cautious and reasonably effective way to do that. But you really cannot ask it to do too many new things, especially when it requires discontinuous change.

Posted by: C&J at November 29, 2010 8:44 PM
Comment #314224

Government does have a hand in its own growth…we are the government, thus it is we who grew the government, and we did so with our eyes wide shut. The majority of Americans want less government just as long as they don’t lose any of their own pet government help or service. Of course the pyramid expands at the base, and CYA is the thought for the day, every day. But, you keep leaving US/WE/OUR/YOUR/MY out of the growth equation.

Government is not the only entity that grows beyond goals. Look at what happened to AIG/GOLDMAN/LEHMAN’s, et al. But, If I say we need more regulations to hold these entities in check, you shout that government is too big, and we should allow market forces to rein them in, and you tout that garbage even in the face of obvious truths.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 29, 2010 8:59 PM
Comment #314235

Marysdude

“We are the government”, not really. The theory is fine, but as soon as you work through representatives and grant, as you must, executive authority to others, you lose some control.

Government develops as a separate interest groups, at best. It can develop into worse things, like tyranny.

You are right that everybody wants to keep “their” part of the government. Bribing people with their own taxes is a way politicians build support for themselves. It is one of the dangers and a milestone on the road to serfdom.

Bad government does not expand by promising to be bad. It becomes bad by promising, and sometimes at first doing, good. This is the insidious nature of power.

We create organizations to do the things we want done. We need them. Any organization, however, can become abusive and must be regulated. This include government, which is the biggest organization of all. And government is the only organization that has the power of legitimate use of coercion. That makes it most dangerous.

We need government and we need to monitor and limit government. Lots of monuments around our country have an inscription with a variation on the theme that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. During the Cold War, many interpreted it as a foreign policy dictum, but it is much older than that. The threats to liberty usually come from our own desires to have someone else (i.e. oftne government) do too much of our work and thinking for us.

Posted by: C&J at November 29, 2010 10:01 PM
Comment #314248


Corruption is a human fault. It pervades all human institutions, large and small. The larger the institution, like the federal government, the more corruption you have, as it pertains to that institution. There is corruption in the smallest of governments, businesses and churches, but the larger the institution, the greater the opportunities for corruption.

Reducing the size of government decreases the number of opportunities for corruption that the government has, but I doubt that it reduces the amount of corruption overall because it increases the opportunities for corruption that other organizations have, increases the amounts of money available to those that would use corruption as a means to an end, and it reduces the governments abilities to investigate and prosecute corruption.

British Petroleum is a corrupt and felonious corporation. The government agencies responsible for ending this corporations corruption and felonious activities has been corrupted by the company.

Reducing the size of government, especially it’s ability to regulate will spur BP and other corporations like it to greater heights of corruption.

Holding your favorite politician personally accountable for empowering these government regulatory agencies and keeping them free from corrupt influences is the key to getting corruption under control.

The chances of the American people seeing improvements in government are slim to none until election rates for incumbents fall dramatically.

Posted by: jlw at November 30, 2010 1:40 AM
Comment #314286

jlw

Government corruption can be more widespread because it puts control of other people’s money in the hands of politicians.

In the private economy, you just pay in a transparent fashion. You cannot “bribe” me to sell something of my own to you for less than the market rate because it will all be my money.

Imagine the scenario. I offer to sell you something for $100. You tell me that you will give me a “bribe” to sell it to you for less. What would that mean?

Posted by: C&J at November 30, 2010 6:05 PM
Comment #314297

>Imagine the scenario. I offer to sell you something for $100. You tell me that you will give me a “bribe” to sell it to you for less. What would that mean?
Posted by: C&J at November 30, 2010 06:05 PM

C&J,

Wellll…if my price is sixty and the bribe is twenty, it’s called haggling or negotiation. Either way, I got it for less than the asking price.

Posted by: Marysdude at November 30, 2010 9:40 PM
Comment #314311

C&J said: “It becomes bad by promising, and sometimes at first doing, good.”

Your belief that good leads to bad, is both illogical and irrational. If politicians promise good things and keep those promises, that is good. Period! If they don’t promise good things, or, don’t deliver on good promises, that is a bad thing, but, a separate act entirely from promising and doing good things. Trying to create a slippery slope to evil by doing good things, as your statement does, flies in the face of all efficacious philosophy throughout time, Eastern and Western.

Yes, pedophiles will offer candy to their victims, but, that act of giving candy is a bad action defined by the ulterior motive. I presume that is the gist of your argument about politicians. But, your argument fails, horribly, by virtue of the fact that most politicians run for office with the firm intent and conviction that they will do good things for our nation. The political process has a corrupting influence over time, on some, over a very short time, and others, virtually, not all.

If politicians did not have to yield to the pressures of their Political Party for reelection support and positions of power within the political structure of government, a great many more politicians would vote to keep the promises made on the campaign trail. The corruption for most occurs after being elected at the hands of their Party’s political machine. And getting elected as an Independent is really tough, if not impossible, today in federal government, but, that may be changing before our very eyes.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 1, 2010 12:46 AM
Comment #314324

C&J,

I’m assuming you don’t like our current government. How long has it been since you’ve actually liked one?

If you were to set out to form a nation, how much differently would you do it than did the founders? If yours would be much the same, how would you keep it from pyramiding like this one has? How many restrictions would you put on it? How would you keep the voting citizens from assisting in its growth?

Just complaining about ‘big’ government has little meaning. It may provide some ammunition against political opponents, but in the end-all, it has very little meaning. A government ‘of’ the people will grow the point the people want it to. If it can not do so, it is no longer a government ‘of’ the people.

There is no more corruption in government than in industry, and no more than there is in the civic life of individual citizens. All that blather is a smoke-screen, created by those who wish to use it as a political ploy in order to gain more power of their own.

Posted by: Marysdude at December 1, 2010 1:34 PM
Comment #314326


C&J, In this country, government corruption is a product of the voters. That is why corrupt politicians and those who are paying for the corruption exert so much energy and expend much wealth distracting and dividing the voters. That is why we do not have election reform that would allow a major challenge to the two major political parties and the corruption that flows through them.

All the voters have to do to bring the corruption under control is ignore their favorite politician and favorite political talking heads, and instead, demand the facts that will allow them to judge the performance of their government and vote accordingly.

I am sorry favorite incumbent, but you voted for a weak government ethics bill that will do very little to curb the corruption that you and others are engaged in. You will not get my vote.

In this country, there is no getting around the fact that the voters are the responsible party. If they choose, as they have, to approach their responsibility in an irresponsible manner, their disillusionment and rage are just scapegoating.

Some voters would vote for their favorite politician if he were running for reelection from a prison cell.

Corruption is the multi-disguised human trait that is always searching for opportunity from ‘Desolation Row’ to Mt. Olympus.

Posted by: jlw at December 1, 2010 2:12 PM
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