Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Growing Gills



I took this photo the other day in New York. Not on some forgotten sidestreet in the south Bronx, not north of 125th, but right in the middle of Manhattan. I passed him, as others did, and kept walking for a minute or two. Then, remembering this incident, I went back to see if I should call an ambulance. By that time the police had arrived. One of the cops asked someone how long he'd been there. The answer: "From earlier today."

During the past couple of years, I've posted several times (presciently, it turns out) about New York City's growing quality of life problem. At this point it's undeniable: from the explosion in panhandling and homelessness, to the traffic congestion, to a mass transit system that's embarrassingly decrepit and disgusting and bursting at the seams. To be sure, New York has always had "issues" even in the best of times. But the city is also a national bellwether, ever more so as the financial industry supplants manufacturing as this country's raison d'être. So the above scene reminded me of the debate in the second video clip here. Bernie Sanders's point, while obviously simplistic, is valid. No, you don't see people prostrate in the streets and ignored by passers-by in Stockholm, Oslo, or Helsinki (and we don't need to spend any time on why that's the case). But nor do you see it in dozens of other large Western cities, some of which rank higher on this list than any city in the U.S. And I may be wrong, but I bet you don't see it in central Beijing either.

Aside from the larger debate about capitalism and utilitarianism, there's a more immediate political issue. If conservatism aspires to be anything more than a debating society, it needs to stipulate that levees and bridges must be maintained and people cannot lie in the streets in broad daylight in the major cities. When Jonah Goldberg advised New Orleans residents to "grow gills" during the early hours of Katrina, it wasn't just bad burlesque. It represented the ceding of responsibility for government's most basic functions to the Left. To do this permanently, either expressly or via the de facto effect of economic policies, would be a terrible mistake. And, ideologically at least, it's unnecessary. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom:

... there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.

Those of us who spent the past few years calling out the Titular Right didn't do so because we like taking long, warm showers with Democrats. It wasn't hard to see that the Republican claim on conservatism would discredit it and eventually lead to higher taxes, bigger government, and interference in free markets. The flawed economic policies imploded, and we got the latter two. The taxes will come next. This will be the legacy of the current administration and its enablers.

Recent events suggest that capitalism sometimes needs to be saved from itself. Looking at photos like the one above, it's hard not to think the same about conservatism.

45 Comments:

Anonymous goldhorder said...

Highway on/off ramps in big and even medium size cities are becoming popular places for beggars again. I remember this from when I was young in the late 70s, early 80s. I read an article the other day stating that American's have finally stopped spending! The writer was horrified about what that would do to the economy! Let's see...we are in a mess due to years of deficit spending both public and private and our solution so far has been to increase our debt even more! Hahahahaha. At least the American people are finally getting a clue...maybe the government will catch up! But than again....

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25812594


It hands the Treasury Department the power to extend the government-sponsored mortgage companies an unlimited line of credit and buy an unspecified amount of their stock, if necessary, to prop up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two companies chartered by Congress. The two companies back or own $5 trillion in U.S. mortgages — nearly half the nation’s total.

7/23/2008 10:06 AM  
Blogger CMike said...

I guess you would say,"At least this makes the news."

(via Corrente)

7/23/2008 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I live in SF and the panhandling here and homelessness is simply amazing. Yet everyone says SF is the most progressive and social city towards these individuals. After being here for 7 months, yea SF might have the most novel approach for health care but their approach to getting these people off the street and into a life is simply horrible. Civic Center is a pool of homeless people - is that a bad thing, yea not b/c they are homeless but b/c the city fails to do anything about it. And please don't say its b/c they have no money - thats simply BS. Just like NYC. I wonder what would have happened to mass transit and all that you talked about if the Olympics were in NYC rather than London.

7/23/2008 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

This is the sort of thing that draws me into long conversations full of philosophical wankery, like I was having with Goldhorder the other day. I will try to keep it brief.

TCR is right to draw a distinction between "conservatives" versus "Republicans" in this post. The latter, modern "movement" conservatives, or whatever you want to call them -- and their Thatcherite British counterparts, etc. -- are not conservatives but radicals. They honestly believe that any co-operation between two people is by definition Evil and Oppression, unless money changes hands. There is nothing conservative about that philosophy at all. Altruistic, voluntary co-operation, in this view, is even worse than enforcement at gunpoint, because it somehow makes slaves of either one group or the other.

They get this philosophy from a line of theorists ranging from John Nash, Friedrich von Hayek, through Ayn Rand -- (Greenspan's old friend!!) -- and these theories are logically and mathematically self-consistent, hence they tend to be popular and resistant to counter-examples. But their premises are false, so their conclusions are false.

Reading only TCR's quote from Hayek, above, I might conjecture that these "Radical Individualists" distort the work of Hayek just like they distort the work of Adam Smith. More to the point, to pick one example, John Nash admitted that he was a medically-certified paranoid schizophrenic when he developed his Economic-Prize-winning theories, and his theories reflect that, by saying that no two people can or do actually co-operate and trust one another. I can't say whether the other authors were also certified mental cases, but their theories are equally wrong. For an interesting exploration of this topic, see The Trap, a BBC documentary by Adam Curtis -- the Wiki page doesn't really do it justice, but you can find it on YouTube if you look hard enough.

And this is where I differ from Goldhorder and others who, while they certainly aren't in the same camp as the "movement" conservative Republicans, also seem to view all institutions as evil and all friendly co-operation as impossible in the long term. See, the problem is, humans are definitely social animals. We are fundamentally different from creatures like sharks or tigers who live alone and never co-operate. Humans naturally and inevitably form tribes, groups, and societies. (The "big institutions" that Goldhorder was decrying yesterday.)

So since humans are pretty much always going to form institutions, the best course of action is to try to plan and regulate institutions, and make them as fair as possible and as beneficial as possible to everyone. By definition, this requires some degree of central planning, or else the definition of "fair" becomes too random. (That Carnegie-Gatto system of faux-Capitalist education that you quoted, Goldhorder, is not gonna just spring into being from nowhere, like a mushroom. It has to be planned and wrought, or else it's never going to happen at all. Individual home-schoolers are never going to just luck into such a system on their own, anymore than the monkeys are going to type Shakespeare.) As fallible humans, we will screw up this process, and make mistakes, even horrific ones. But it's better to try to guide this process than not to guide it.

If we do not -- if we try to deny or suppress the natural tendency to form institutions, and live like individual sharks or whatever -- then there is a power vacuum. Then one of two things happens.

(1) The people who need the social support, start dying by the roadside, like the unfortunate gentleman whose picture is at the top of the post. Ultimately this includes the vast majority of humans, although some can survive much longer than others without a social network.

-- or --

(2) a spontaneous institution arises anyway, from people seeking to insert themselves into the power vacuum and grab that power, another natural tendency. The spontaneous institutions that arise from a power vacuum have a very strong tendency to be aggressive and protect only a few at the expense of many, such as Fascism.

Today, under Republican "leadership", condition #1 basically obtains. And we're all sitting here in fear, wondering if and when condition #2 will show up to fill the power vacuum.

Sorry to run off at the mouth, but I think that is the connection which ties your unfortunate street person to the modern Republicans -- although for sure, Clintonite / DLC Democrats are very, very complicit because they've also swallowed most of this philosophy. Not all, but most. Bill Clinton would have been called a moderate Republican in any other era. Hillary apparently turned into a right-wing "conservative" (modern/radical) Republican, by any sane definition, somewhere around September of 2001. People today who are called "right-wing Republicans" are simply off the logarithmic scale.

7/23/2008 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

"I will try to keep it brief...

FAIL

7/23/2008 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing would induce me to set foot in that sinister Orwellian police state.

7/23/2008 3:18 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Evil as the absence of empathy.

7/23/2008 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The taxes will come next. This will be the legacy of the current administration and its enablers."

Or more likely, the next administration will be blamed for the higher taxes. See, typical Democrats raising taxes again.

7/23/2008 5:19 PM  
Anonymous Cheryl said...

Sometime around the Iowa caucuses I heard a Republican woman at the caucus state she was a Republican because she 'didn't want to pay for the lunches of inner city school children.'

That's image of the GOP that's going to stick in my liberal brain for a long time.

7/23/2008 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Not Sure said...

"See, typical Democrats raising taxes again."

Bingo, that appears to have been the plan all along. So they offer McCain as the candidate. They don't want to win. Poor man, they injured him in 2000 and now they're going to finish the job.

"Tax and spend" vs."Borrow and Spend"

Eventually you have to repay the loans.

7/23/2008 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of capitalism-has-gone-too-far talk going on... and I believe it

7/23/2008 7:45 PM  
Blogger Chris F. said...

Oh man. I love this blog. Mr. Daulton, thank you for your comments. Dead on, brief or not. TCR, keep them coming.

7/23/2008 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The earlier poster is correct. The homelessness problem in San Francisco is horrendous. Took some of the family to ride the cablecars last weekend. We got hussled by no less than three beggars while *standing in line*. Not the "got change" and shuffle along types, but the crazy wild-eyed, babbling stand-in your face for five minutes daring you to say or do something types.

Couple this with the *dozens* you plass sleeping in the streets and it makes visits to SF very unpleasant.

7/23/2008 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the beijing comparison is a bad one.

there's bone-crushing poverty almost everywhere you look. hutongs abound.

they'll clean it up for the olympics though.

7/24/2008 12:09 AM  
Blogger Spider said...

Thank You TCR for another fantastic, insightful post. You really are the "compassionate conservative" that Dubya claimed to be.

And thank you Mr. Headley Bowes for posting a link to the blog post titled "Evil as the absence of empathy." Wow! It explained headlong what is wrong with Dubya and the neo-cons.

Much to grok here. It's going to take a few days to digest.

7/24/2008 8:00 AM  
Blogger Casey Kochmer said...

I left the city back many years ago.

IN the eighties I used wander the streets, talking to people, helping some, laughing with others and learning what it is to truly be human: not in the halls of society, but on the streets in the dirt and grime.

In kindness we discover our humanity. In passing by, we drift without spirit.

Its is a choice we each make, and in each act either become less human or more so.

Its not hard to make a difference, it is in being kind we do so.

Whats so hard about giving a smile or helping hand?

The fact that we have to connect in heart to do so.

I wish you luck in discovering your heart, your humanity. New York City teaches many the truth of life. I hope kindness and peace in yours and any readers path of discovery.

Its never about judgment of what might be or how to fix it. It simply is about kindness in the little actions. Together when enough people live to their heart: then that is the social change that truly makes the difference.

sincerely
Casey

7/24/2008 9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The worst poverty is in remote rural areas, but out of sight is out of mind.

7/24/2008 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember what a German said around the time of Katrina, something along the lines of "we would have been embarrassed" by such a situation. That's one thing I think that is missing from modern American conservativism, i.e., they're big on private morality but have a certain lack of a sense of public morality. I think you would see less of this in Europe not so much because europeans are more compassionate, but because they have a greater sense of public propriety. You should keep the homeless off the street not only out of a sense of compassion, but also because what society with any sense of self-respect allows its people and public places to become so degraded?

7/24/2008 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There but for the grace of God...

As strong as our weakest link?

I agree with the Beijing comment, and it reminded me of this Huffpost blog by Larry Miller, "...That's why I walk, folks, because even in India, a place that has a shattering kind of poverty, someone tells a story about not paying writers, and then laughs about it....".

Very disturbing incidence. We have some mighty big issues to address and they have been ignored and trivialized for some time. It's time for us to grow up and get serious about our communities and building a sustainable Nation. I think Mayor Daley was onto something when he was talking about the $1k rebate had political points, but it's short-term and doesn't solve the problem (Chicago is taking huge steps due to the recession). What folks really want is an infrastructure that creates jobs so they can work and have a life.

CR, you just deposited some positive karma in your account by your thoughtful actions within the Universe. ;-) You have set a good example for others to emulate.

7/24/2008 1:31 PM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar /Helluvafella!) said...

There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.

SI Hayakawa makes a similar point in a chapter on unemployment in his "Language In Thought & Action," published at about the same time as Hayek's work...

7/24/2008 1:38 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Yeah, well, I guess the moral of the story is that SF should try to keep the crazy people out of sight next time you tourists want to visit. Or something. SF is like every other big city, only perhaps more extreme -- more crazy street people, probably, much less visible homeless/poor people, shrinking middle class (I moved to the east bay because I felt it wasn't affordable for me to live in SF).

But, SF aside, I'm with TCR in feeling depressed about the state of things -- we seem to have no empathy, no basic human compassion. And I do blame this largely on modern conservatism. And I don't think there's much of a distinction between conservatism and Republicanism at this point.

I remember the last time a Democrat cleaned things up financially speaking -- he was (baselessly) accused of all sorts of crimes (including murder) and ended up getting impeached over a blow job. And all of his budget balancing was all cancelled out in the first year of the second Bush administration. And when the next Dem gets in office he'll be pilloried for raising taxes. Just like in CA, where Arnie got a bunch of bonds passed which will have to be paid off by some future governor raising taxes, and then that governor will be pilloried, and then . . . the cycle continues.

And hey, most Americans don't seem to want to know how things really work, or what their taxes actually pay for -- they want think of themselves as "innocent" and the politicians as corrupt. They want to believe that they can have infrastructure and various safety-net features without paying for them, and that their individual choices are "free." And they are encouraged in this belief by our political "leaders."

Pardon my ranting. I'm in a bad mood this morning because I just read that Arnie wants to cut the wages of state workers below the state minimum wage. What a prince!

7/24/2008 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am embarrassed. Its pathetic. Especially a city like SF. A homeless guy said "Brother, can I get some change" I said, I'm sorry I have very little change Ill give you whatever I have in my pocket. It was three pennies, but I didn't have change (debit card dependent). He threw it back at me. I know its only 3 pennies, but the mentality that people have towards homeless is given back by the mentality that we 'owe' anyone that asks for change. Sorry buddy, I had three pennies if you caught me today where I have 83 cents - just checked- would you have been better off. Wanker

Go to Helsinki. You don't see this. Go to France, you don't see this. Go to Armenia - for f-sake, you dont see this. The homelessness here is pathetic and sexy Gavin is do nothing.

7/24/2008 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anne Laurie said...

The urban, public homeless people are the leading edge of the Epic Fail that is modern "American Capitalism" -- i.e., a kleptocracy with an unusually expensive infotainment component. Marginal individuals, the ones who fall at the wrong end of the bell curve for any or several of a variety of reasons (bad genes, health problems, social incompetence, substance abuse) were the first ones evicted from the institutions & single-room-occupancy tenements when the Great Conservative Backlash of the 1970s decided it was more cost-effective to bury such "social parasites" dead than alive. As the Greed-Is-Good mantra went from faddish novelty to social underpinning, the definition of Marginality moved from street drunks & bag ladies to working-class families in both urban & rural settings -- the ruling powers in NYC, for instance, decided that Disney-fied tourism & Trump-ery was more profitable than a blue-collar (unionized) base of workers. Now the definition of Marginal, aka "disposable", has crept up the pyramid to encompass all the formerly self-sufficient Knowledge Workers, people with expensive degrees & suburban antecedents, who've discovered that one medical emergency or unexpected layoff can throw them into homelessness. There are still plenty of well-fed, highly-paid Media Village Idiots busy assuring us that such suburban tragedies are an unfortunate abberation, but too many of us know of too many similar failures for the cheerleading to have much effect. In the 1930s, we're told, America could very easily have tilted into either Fascism or Socialism -- the pure murderous revolutionary fervour of either the far-right or the far-left purists. I'm very much afraid that we're heading for another such period of economic-therefore-political turbulence, but this time with a lot fewer national resources upon which to draw.

7/24/2008 10:04 PM  
Blogger David said...

Top down, monopolistic structures axiomatically produce the opposite of whatever it is they're tasked with producing.

If "guaranteeing a minimum standard of life" is tasked to government, you will inevitably get more poverty, more homelessness, more need for more "government." Those who believe otherwise ignore centuries of uninterrupted history.

Is this what TCR is suggesting? If that's conservatism, I'm glad I'm a political anarchist.

Trusting "social insurance" to government is idiotic (even if Hayak, Mr. Nobel Laureate, suggested it). It flies in the face of all experience. It is also completely paradoxical: It presupposes that people, left to their own voluntary charitable impulses, will turn their backs on their fellow man but then proposes that those SAME PEOPLE, using the coercive power of democratic socialism, will (only via the fist of the state) help those less fortunate.

When someone can square that circle, please let me know.

7/25/2008 10:00 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

In a word: Norway. They've properly monetized the wealth of the commons and put it to use in the forms of a safer, better educated, more secure society for all.

If the United States weren't so beholden to corporate power, legislating the give-away of national resources such as energy, minerals, forest products, airwaves, etc AND the continuing corporate welfare doled upon military industries we'd be in much better shape.

7/25/2008 1:07 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Wow, seems like David missed the New Deal. Which helped create a middle class that didn't exist before. And which "saved capitalism from itself," or rather saved us from the capitalist barons. Or something.

If the US were a real democracy as opposed to a corporatocracy (see mr. hedley bowes, above) we'd be able to manage just fine.

And hey, anonymous, get over it already! Sometimes panhandlers are a little angry, or crazy, or whatever. I know from experience that it can be emotionally difficult to deal with the downsides of modern life as personified by a panhandler, but . . . this whole getting-righteously-angry-at-street-people thing is part of what I find so depressing -- it seems very self-absorbed, even narcissistic. And it is certainly misplaced anger. You and your three pennies are much better off than he is, and it's very likely that he had the capacity to think about your motivations.

7/25/2008 1:19 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Oops. Meant to say "very UNlikely . . . "

7/25/2008 1:20 PM  
Blogger res ipsa loquitur said...

The fact that a man as profoundly stupid as Jonah Goldberg passes for an intellectual in Republican and conservative circles tells you all you need to know about the state of the modern Republican party and its conservative counterpart. Goldberg is second generation Wingnut Welfare -- he and his spittle-flecked mummy sort of encapsulate the Republican/conservative problem in a nutshell, don't they?

CR, NY is about to get much worse. See the article in yesterday's NYT about declining tax revenues due to the Wall Street bonuses that won't be coming this year.

7/27/2008 7:38 AM  
Blogger David said...

Mr. Hedley Bowes, I can't say I'm familiar with Norway's situation. I'd guess that it's a homogeneous society where social democracy's usual tendencies toward universal robbery of each interest group by each other interest group haven't had the usual effect (yet). I don't quite understand the term "wealth of the commons." Since all things associated with tranferable wealth are controlled by someone (which is the essence of ownership), I don't see that there is any such thing as common ownership. Unless you're talking about the "tragedy of the commons" which I suggest is the fate of all assets controlled collectively. To the extent that socialism defines Norway's system of production, poverty will inevitably result. Without a market to derive prices, rational allocation of resources is impossible. This is the calculation problem no "centrally-planned economy" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) can address. This debate was settled fifty years ago, although socialism's corpse teters on.

Mary, this is hardly the forum to fully dissect FDR's pork barrel system of national impoverishment. I offer you a few tidbits: 1) The Great Depression lasted far longer in the USA than other countries not afflicted with New Deals of their own, with the collapse of 1938 (how long after the New Deal started? Class? That's 1933 for the first New Deal, and 1935-6 for the second New Deal) being so punishing that it was a depression-within-a-depression, by itself the third worst collapse in 80 years.
2) The government produces nothing of value whatsoever of its own. All the government spends comes from one of two sources, either directly from productive people via taxes or via printing money or creating credit directly, AKA inflation, which erodes the value of money held by citizens in savings and received as wages, and is thus a hidden tax. How does government spending thus "do" for an economy or a citizenry what those citizens can't or won't do for themselves? How does spreading the accumulated production of productive people to productive and unproductive people alike make society wealthier? It's silliness on the level of the Tooth Fairy.

Now, Mary, if you or someone else is wedded to the notion that other people (presumably smarter than you) can more productively spend your money than you can yourself, I'll be happy to forward my address for you to send whatever money you have left at the end of the month...each month.

This is the foundation on which a belief in the efficacy of government spending rests. While I think this is the creed of slaves, I could probably be persuaded to cash your checks.

As to both of your rants against corporations, forgive me for rolling on the floor laughing. Who do you think created the legal entity called a corporation? Who do you think loves "public-private partnership" almost as much as "legislative earmarks?" You both appear to think some mythical government you earnestly hope for will someday save us all from our evil corporate masters. It's about power, folks. The notion that an agency of force won't attract the worst of humanity, won't abuse every prerogative, won't lie, cheat, steal (taxes are the best kind of theft, the kind where the victim doesn't even object too much!)...my god, two millennia of states and people still are largely as Sallust said two thousand years ago:
"Most men do not desire freedom; most only wish for a just master."

Take the red pill. Free your mind.

7/27/2008 10:09 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

I recommend the blue pill, David:

"I can't say I'm familiar with Norway's situation."

Familiarize yourself:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norway#Economy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Norway
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Norway#Petroleum_and_post-industrialism

Norway has nationalized basic industries such as energy, petroleum and aluminum production (a compliment of hydroelectric power). Furthermore, when Norway discovered oil in the 1960s they established two state controlled petroleum corporations that compete with one another. This ensures that each are operating efficiently within a 'free market' paradigm while the profits derived from each accrue to the rightful owners of those resources: the citizens of Norway.

"...usual tendencies toward universal robbery of each interest group by each other interest group haven't had the usual effect..."

Funny, for a moment I thought you might be describing the mortgage loan industry or perhaps the petroleum futures commodoties markets!

"I don't see that there is any such thing as common ownership."

Oh? Mineral resources, petroleum resources, timber resources and airwaves are all recognized as commonly held resources which require the government to auction and license the use/extraction of those resources. Since the late 1800s, the corporations operating in those markets have enjoyed the unique status of 'citizenship' which entitles them to purchase disproportionate influence (compared to individual citizens/citizen groups) in Congress in order affect legislation favorable to their businesses, thereby increasing profits for their private interests at the expense of common wealth. Under this model, corporations legally pay pennies for commonwealth resources then develop and sell them in open markets and reap multiples of privatized profits which have been legislated by Congressional 'representatives' of this superclass of corporate citizens.

How did our Republic of 'all men created equal' come to be railroaded into an oligarchy of corporate citizenship? The railroads, of course.

David, did you know that prior to Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad corporations were formed under license of governing authorities and subject to regulation and jurisdiction under penalty of dissolution? Did you know that corporations that were found, in court of law, to be acting contrary to the common good, in violation of law, or that corporations that engaged in predatory or anti-competitive behavior, were subject to penalty and dissolution?

Where do these imbalances leave us today? Lee Raymond, and ExxonMobil, for example: the extraction of public wealth to the benefit of the private few: even to the extent that they are capable of destroying over a thousand miles of pristine fisheries in Alaska (common wealth resources) and able to litigate away any meaningful reparation.

"Without a market to derive prices, rational allocation of resources is impossible. This is the calculation problem no "centrally-planned economy" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) can address."

Markets exist whether we will them to or not. Perhaps you learned this in economics? Complex markets develop, and in order to maintain 'level playing fields' these markets must be regulated lest malevolent players dominate. In the United States, post-WWII, the largest central planner has been the Department of Defense. Interstate highways, shipping lanes, the space program, computing, automation, etc., are all products of the central planners at the Pentagon who seem to have gone off the rails in the last 8 years. Did you know that the U.S. Constitution requires that no standing Army endure longer than 2 years, and that any renewal charter of a standing Army requires an act of Congress? Why then do we have such an imbalance toward military spending as a component of our economy since the establishment of the National Security Administration in 1947? I refer you back to the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case. Remember Dwight Eisenhower's admonition against the military industrial complex: we are living it, to our collective suffering.

"...this is hardly the forum to fully dissect FDR's pork barrel system of national impoverishment."

Economists have shown that the mechanism of redistribution softens the effects of natural recessions, providing an autonomous flow of cash through the economy when market factors are lagging or failing. If not for Social Security, David, in this 'greatest nation' more might have starved to death than survived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl (another product of a capital bubble: the introduction of easy credit for farm implements and their subsequent overuse), the stagflation of the Nixon/Ford era, the steep recession of the early Reagan years and two (three if your statistics are properly weighted) Bush recessions. This may not matter so much to you, but it matters greatly to a plurality of Americans. Otherwise, why would we pride ourselves on the myth of 'the greatest nation'?

"Most men do not desire freedom; most only wish for a just master."

Might this also be interpreted as 'most only wish for a just leader'? Indeed, even the use of 'just' is telling, in this time when hundreds of years of enlightened jurisprudence are cast away at the whim of an arrogant, egotistical petit tyrant whose occupation of the White House has been long disputed and well overstayed.

David, did you intend the irony? A quote attributed to a historian of that once great Republic of Rome which fell to the depredations of an elite few who would sacrifice the good of the common wealth to the service of their own egos and lust for power?

David, there are many forms of power. Oligarchic power, authoritarian power, autocratic power, republican power, parliamentary power, economic power. The framers of our Constitution attempted to address a proper balance of powers and empower individuals who make up this great nation with these words: "the consent of the governed." We have to believe that these powers are real and vital to the survival of this nation and the better aspects of our collective being. To believe otherwise is cynicism at best, and at worst evil.

7/28/2008 1:57 AM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Humans naturally and inevitably form tribes, groups, and societies. (The "big institutions" that Goldhorder was decrying yesterday.)

Humans naturally and inevitably form small tribes, groups, and maybe even small societies. They do not naturally form "big institutions". They have to be hearded like cattle through mandatory forced public education and then given endless propaganda through nightly TV to keep them docile. IMHO. As I mentioned earlier. I have no problem with human cooperation. Human cooperation becomes impossilble when power is consolidated into the hands of the few. We...as a nation of 300 million people have allowed a small group of people to convince us that it is necessary and proper to allow this group of people more than a trillion dollar budget and control of the most powerful military of all time. We'll see how this "cooperation" will work out for us. Probably not too much better than it did for the Russians.

7/28/2008 2:53 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Double wow. Thanks, Mr. Hedley Bowes, for tackling David's screed. I think the blue pill is really the best suggestion.

Oh, and one more thing: Just because I think our wealthy society would manage better without so much corporate influence in politics doesn't mean I'm optimistic. And just because I deplore the control corporations have nowadays over the political process doesn't mean I think corporations are inherently evil. The fact that corporations are government-created entities means that they are subject (or can be subject, and have been subject) to regulation of various kinds.

And just because I (along with a good majority of Americans) think the New Deal gave us many good things doesn't mean I think it was perfect.

And finally: You, whether you want to believe it or not, are part of a larger group, with various ties and dependencies. Just like the rest of us.

7/28/2008 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Thanks, Mary. I share your sentiments vis corporations. In fact, I'm midway through an MBA program at a top 25 business school, and issues of corporate citizenship are a key component of our study and debate.

I feel strongly about the imbalance of corporate influence at the government level for a number of reasons. Primarily, I feel it perverts the notion of a 'Republic' since most individuals do not possess the resources of a large corporation to affect legislation and policy. So, our chorus of individual voices tends to get outdone by the larger, more amplified interests: mass media after the 1996 telecom deregulation. Second, outsized players of influence are capable of supressing competition through combinations of market power and lobbying influence. Third, these 'free-market' fundamentalists are only evangelical when it comes to profits, but when the losses from their sloppy thinking, hubris, or substitution of market oligarchy for competitive strategy bring losses and apparently bottomless failure they're first in line at the newly overhauled discount window at the Fed or looking for socialized 'medicine' in the form of Federally guaranteed bailouts. As we're seeing now.

After writing my previous post, if found this: http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm

For a nation that hasn't been attacked since 1942, how rational is it that so much of our economy is based on 'defense'? It's corporate socialism of the worst kind. Public investment that should never, in a rational world, be used.

Now that our nation is on the economic brink, it's high time to re-assess.

7/28/2008 3:45 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Mr. Hedley. Norway is lucky they were oil rich and have a tiny population. We'll see how that works when the oil runs out. It probably won't be that bad...since they have other resources and again...such a tiny population. It is easy to share when there isn't that many of you. A smaller population means a shorter distance from the average citizen to their political leaders. When the political leaders aren't removed from the local population you are naturally going to have less corruption. It is the size of things people. Go to your Senator's office and demand a meeting. If you are insistant enough you will probably get shot! LOL. If you try that with your congressman you will propbably only be arrested.

On the otherhand...for a look at how an economy can prosper with virtually no national resources look into the history of Hong Kong(A friggin tiny island with more people than Norway...LOL) or Switzerland. China and India have had nothing but bone crushing poverty for the last several hundred years. Socialism can't be much help when your country is poor and they don't produce anything. Is anybody questioning that capatilism hasn't helped China and India? Sure China may have a middle class of 350 million out of a population of 1.3 billion but that is a great deal better percentages than the everbody is poor and starving except the government days of Mao. You can't have socialism unless you have a strong enough economy to support it...or you are rich in some resource the rest of the world wants. In recent world polls, China and India have one of the few country's citizens who responded positively to the question "Do you think your country is headed in the right direction?" They are actually producing sizable middle classes now. Government programs didn't do that.

That being said only small countries are the only ones I trust. All the others are in danger of being taking down by their ruling elite. Given first choice of being born anywhere again I would pick Switzerland...but for all the socialists out there Norway and Finland wouldn't be far behind. The political leaders in India, China, The US, Russia...they might make things better for their citizens for ahwile...but eventually the thing goes to their heads and it is only a matter of time as to when it will all blow up.

I don't have any problem with community socialism. Hell I buy Amish furniture...eat amish bread, cheese, potato salad, etc. They are about as socialist as it gets. But you see...they don't point a friggin gun to my head and demand a tax tribute so their community leaders can afford private jet travel. LMFAO. They keep their socialism to themselves. They actually believe in socialism enough to form and keep their own communities. Why don't you guys try it rather than stealing from me?

7/28/2008 3:49 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Let me point out...by making things better. I mean getting out of the way...spending less on the military and allowing the countries resources to be used in the manufacturing sector instead of the military sector or selling their resources overseas to the highest bidder. When a large countries leaders do something it is to focus its citizens on doing productive work at home. Usually they only do this when the people are hungry and mad.

7/28/2008 3:56 PM  
Blogger David said...

Mr. Bowles & Mary.

Unintentional irony abounds; I suppose neither of you recognizes the "red pill, blue pill" reference since the blue pill is the one that might be termed, "living in the delusion."

Sorry, I've better thing to do with my time than debate this crap with you. Reality is. Your take on it or mine notwithstanding, reality will be what it is, and my government-free world is no closer than your statist Utopia.

I still have to laugh, though. You talk as though people are somehow different when they are engaged in "public service" vs. private enterprise. You seem surprised when a more overt and open fascism (under GWB) arises, and I somehow suspect you think LBJ, JFK, or FDR were public-spirited non-self-interested men of character.

Do you know who "invented" social security? Bismarck. The Iron Chancellor. Do you know why? The Enlightenment's underpinning of the Industrial Revolution was raising living standards so rapidly that people were, for the first time, openly questioning the need for their rulers. Bismarck wrote that creating a system of old age pensions funded through intergenerational wealth transfer would "bind the citizen to the state." It was a cynical ploy, and very effective.

Let's agree to meet in about 10 years. By that time I figure both FDR's and LBJ's "gifts" to citizens will have collapsed, leaving large numbers of people destitute. Why? Oh, you'll blame greedy capitalists, but the reality will be that the sheeple believed the lies and chose not to save for themselves. Instead of taking personal responsibility, people act as though they need not plan to take care of their future needs. Of course, many people can't afford to pay the extortionate taxes to fund Leviathan AND save for themselves. You know what? I CAN. I pay more in taxes than the average family EARNS. And I'm not rich. I'm far from it. I live in a little house in a cheap area and haven't bought a new car in literally 20 years. I've put 1 1/2 kids through college with one to go. And I've saved enough to take care of myself when your socialist pyramid schemes collapse and leave a shocked middle class in indentured servitude.

If I sound aggravated, you're reading it right. I'm tired of ignorant people thinking that the past 60 years' "success" means that the system is stable. It's not. The USA is simply in the transition from where the great Ponzi Scheme called the Welfare/Warfare state collapses and something far more malevolent replaces it.

Don't you complain about GWB. The Imperial Presidency is the inevitable result of your (yes, your) paradigm, not mine. You who hold that velvet-gloved fist we call The State in religious awe, who think that human society can be improved with a little leavening of coercion, it's you all who greased the skids to get us to this juncture. The blood of millions of people these past 100 years are on your hands. You love the State, murderous wars, overfilled prisons, torture, and all. You look at a small country in Scandinavia (a nation that I'll bet will develop its own problems) and somehow think that can translate to a nation a hundred times larger (guessing)?

Enjoy the transition as it occurs. As Mencken said, in democracy the people get what they deserve, and they deserve to get it good and hard.

You think the economy's tough now? Wait a year or two.
http://www.elliottwave.com/freeupdates/archives/2008/07/25/What-s-Next-for-the-Dow-Now-that-the-Credit-Bull-Market-Has-Ended.aspx

Check out this cartoon; maybe you think Obama really will ride to the White House on a unicorn with rainbows shooting out of its butt.
http://www.jibjab.com/originals/time_for_some_campaignin

It's too bad. It's said that humans are the only animals that cry, because only we can see not only what is, but what might be. In theory, humans can live without institutionalized coercion. I find it Orwellian in the extreme that I am labeled a heartless social darwinist whereas you who love the state assume the mantle of lovers-of-mankind. A truer inversion of reality I can't imagine.

I see people as free and worthy of trust (until they gain state power). You see people as livestock or pets.

Don't bother replying. I won't be returing to this thread. It wastes my time.

7/29/2008 9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Didn't you just know that this was coming? "I pay more in taxes than the average family EARNS. And I'm not rich. I'm far from it."

News flash: If you pay more in taxes than the average family's gross income, your're rich.

BlueStreak

7/29/2008 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

"I see people as free and worthy of trust (until they gain state power)."

Everything David (Addington, perhaps?) writes above betrays a contempt for others.

The last place I'd want to find myself in would be in David's world: a self-described social Darwinism. New Orleans in the wake of Katrina comes to mind: a state of anarchy so extreme that polite society dare observe it only by helicopter.

That said, David assumes far too much. I don't 'adore' the state, far from it. My views on social and political structures are much closer to Goldhorder's: smallish communities naturally accumulate, larger political contructs emerge synthentically. But they are necessary structures and to argue otherwise is to deny that predators exist, even in polite society, and that the community is powerless to address large scale needs except on an individual level.

That's the fantasy in this debate: that 1,000 or 30,000 or 300 million people could autonomously exist without some form of structure or boundaries. Most would do well but there's always a sociopath in the mix (a percentage estimated by some social scientists in the high single digits) who screw up the natural balance David proffers. That malevolent force could be in business, in government, or merely insane but at some point the autonomous collective must respond.

Want to see it first hand, David? Go to Burning Man: an entirely synthetic autonomous culture that is 100% imported, 0% sustainable and enjoyed the lawless, stateless world of the wild west anarchist up to the point where drunks driving art cars were running over tents filled with sleeping people. As a symbol of free-expression and 'trust of fellow man' Burning Man employs no less than 5 levels of organizational oversight.

Go. Enjoy. Then explain to us how you can refer to 'the sheeple' while declaring this about me:

"You see people as livestock or pets."

Finally, David, turn off your water tap, disconnect your electrical lines and stop driving on the roads created by 'the state'. Live by example, then come back and tell us about the depredations of 'the state'.

7/29/2008 12:06 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Once again though...the problem is in the scale of things. The smaller the community, The less damage a sociopath can do when he takes control of that community through its government...the less damage there will be to repair after him and his cronies are thrown out and killed. When a country accumulates the size and power that ours has it is only a matter of time before it must collapse. Every sociopath in the country is clawing their way to get to the top of our government. It has to be that way. Normal people aren't attracted to that kind of power. It is too big to fight. The only thing you can do is protect yourself and stay the hell out of the way. We argue similar things but come to different conclusions. Is the large state a permanent fact of life on Earth? I guess it might be but that doesn't mean you have to live underneath its boot... honestly I might just bolt the hell out of here when this thing comes crashing down around our heads. Like I said before. I don't think it is natural either. It took many many years and forced public education over generations for the average American to lose his sense of community and put total faith in the state. It is the dream of all sociopaths to form one world government that they can control. It will never happen. Not unless they kill about 2/3 of the world population off. I don't think you paint an accurate portrait of David either. You have no idea what he has contributed to his community. Just because he dosen't believe in government power doesn't mean he wouldn't go shopping for his elderly neighbor and check in on them every day...and for all you know he build roads for a living. There is nothing more dangerous on the planet than large governments. They have proven it over the last one hundred years. Ours is very capable of making the Nazis look like girl scouts. Especially with Obama if you ask me...He has Charisma where Bush had none. I'm hoping for a complete economic collapse like the soviets...but it might just wind up a bloodbath.

7/29/2008 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

The collapse of the Soviet Union is a good model for consideration, but what's left? A reformed government counterbalanced by a corrupt oligarchy that's developed its own black markets, offshore banking, covert intelligence and foreign policy? No, thank you.

I'm reminded of a novel theory posited over 25 years ago, the Nine Nations of North America. As a resident of Cascadia, there is some merit to the emergence of a federation of republics, and a fair degree of trepidation. While the possibilities of such a reform are appealing, for many of the reasons Goldhorder offers, it is difficult to imagine such a development in this time of civic complacency. While Jefferson opined that a 'revolution every 20 years' would be healthy for the newly formed Republic, it just isn't happening. Life will have to get much less comfortable to inspire such changes.

On the issue of charismatic leadership, Obama is undoubtedly the most charismatic leader in a generation at least but that's not necessarily bad nor good. Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed, Gandhi, MLK, Mussolini, Hitler and Tito were all charismatic. What remains is the question of use and application: the means and ends to which these leaders use their charisma and inspire the potential of a nation. W tried it and failed utterly. Clinton came close enough to get elected yet failed on principal. Gore has it intellectually, but not in presence.

Which leads us to the issue of faith: we have within our power the means of 'regime change': the vote. We also have a rapidly emerging movement to ensure a clean and fair vote.

Faith is very subtle, perhaps indistinguishable to some, but it is palpable. We must reject the failed arguments that there exists no difference between Gore or Bush, Democrat or Republican. We have as evidence 8 years of wreckage and neglect at the hands of 'anti-government' extremists. (How's that working out?) Yet the same false arguments against Gore in 2000 are being trotted out against Obama or anyone who isn't marching in lockstep with the current regime.

Given the choices presented, I put faith in Obama where McCain inspires none. Nada. Zilch.

"...making the Nazis look like girl scouts." Seeing McCain and Graham stump in front of 'Schmidt's Fudge Haus' is all the proof I need.

7/29/2008 2:41 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Estonia...a country I happen to admire...the other baltic states aren't so bad either. Glad to see they didn't have their culture swallowed by the beast of the state. Who knows what would emerge if we broke up. But anyways...McCain could never pull it off. He is too obvious and will incite too much opposition. Obama on the other hand...we'll see. If Obama is elected I predict piles of Arab bodies. Just my prediction.

7/29/2008 3:23 PM  
Anonymous William said...

Very interesting, and I agree completely. I never quite understood how the right abandoned things like fiscal responsibility and civic duty.

As a current resident of SF and a former resident of several other large cities, I don't think that the homeless problem is particularly worse here; I think it's just much more visible. Both the cops and the citizens are much more tolerant of people living openly on the streets, where in other towns they'd be forced to hide or flee.

If anybody thought our long-term homeless just needed a kick in the ass, people might be more amenable to a little enforcement. But most of the street people I've talked with here are mentally ill, often severely. Most of the rest are the ubiquitous hippie or punk teens who came to SF to follow their dreams. They all seem to move on after a while, presumably back home once they get tired of begging for change.

8/02/2008 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Todd said...

I just wonder why it's come to the point where government is assumed to be incompetent and can't do anything right, simply because it's the public sector. It's not just because of the Republicans, although there's been a huge backsliding in the competence of government thanks to all the cronyism and political hacks in every corner of the Bush Administration. I hate Bush so much I want to blame him for everything and he deserves enormous blame, but he mindset that government must be incompetent simply because it's the government dates back for decades.

Personally, I think if government were run like a business where incompetence, laziness, insolence, and tardiness gets you fired and competence gets you bonuses and job promotions then we'd be doing much better than we are. Naturally, with the public education in this country it's a tall order to get competent people or make incompetent people more capable, somehow. Please tell me why it should be so difficult to get fired from a government job?

Somehow, I imagine they demand better of their public servants in Norway than we do here.

8/11/2008 12:43 AM  
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