Sunday, August 12, 2012

RR Returns.

The sun also rises.
The economy has been like an airplane about to stall for three years, now.  YOUR portion of the National Debt (if you happen to be American, let's not presume) has doubled in the past several years: it is now $50,000, or $200,000 if, like me, you have a family of four.  (Can you pay your share?  Yes?  Sorry, but you may have to pay my share, too.)  Every year, Uncle Sam gets out his Monster Truck backhoe, digs a hole in the ground called "interest on the federal debt," and tosses thousands of YOUR dollars into the hole.  Actually, this is money our children will have to pay back: we are literally sending the IOU to our kids and grandkids for this massive, unfunded spending. 

Meanwhile, America is rich in oil, but we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign oil so we can avoid inconveniencing any cariboo on the North Slope who might possibly not wish to see a few drilling rigs on the distant horizon.  (Though they have never really objected, nor would be likely to.) 

What has the Obama Administration done to solve America's urgent problems?  (Also, say, Iranian threats to nuke Israel?)  For its first two years, with a solid Democratic majority in both houses, it concentrated on three agendas: (1) Pass Obamacare, by underestimating (lying?) how much it would cost by a trillion dollars or so, playing various financial shell games, and by drubbing a Republican senator out of the senate on false charges. (2) Pass a trillion-dollar "stimulus" package that would build practically nothing of value, further indebt our children, and foster a debilitating dependency and various forms of "crony capitalism" and "crony unionism;" (3) blame George W. Bush (or the rich, or the Greeks) for everything that goes wrong, or refused to go right. (Even though Democrats ran both houses of Congress when the crisis came upon us, and even though the root problem with Freddie Mae AND Greece -- overspending in the hope that vast riches will turn up, somewhere -- exactly describes their own economic policies.) 

But no one can say Barack Obama has done nothing to solve the debt crisis.  No, sir.  Aside from almost doubling the federal debt itself (not counting his years in Congress, during which he also voted to spend extravagently), Obama also put together a commission to figure out how to solve the crisis.  Since that commission issued its report, Obama steadfastly ignored it, demogoguing about evil Republicans (finding it much easier to dialogue with Iranian or Syrian tyrants, it seems), and the United States continued to slide down a heavily-Greeced trail towards insolvency. 

Obama's first and (hopefully) only term has proven an unmitigated disaster.  The only question is whether the problem lies more in his inability to lead more than a political campaign, or in his quasi-Keynesian policies themselves. 

Meanwhile, Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, has refused to pass a budget in three years, even though he is obligated to do so by law!  At the same time, he has also rejected budgets sent him by, on the one hand, the Republican House, and on the other hand, his own Democratic president.  Senate votes against Obama's budgets have been bipartisan and unanimous!

The Republicans are now offering an alternative: two ernest, experienced, and capable men, with proven track records.  Mitt Romney successfully governed an important and usually Democratic state, created tens of thousands of jobs at Bain Capital, and turned the Salt Lake City Olympics into a success.  Paul Ryan, his Vice Presidential choice, may be best described as one of the few adults in Washington, DC,  despite his youthful looks.  Ryan has attempted (though in what I would regard as  too tentative a manner) to actually solve America's financial woes.  He was the one who put together the past two House budgets, an accomplishment which Harry Reid illegally failed to match. 

What has been the Democratic response to the proposals of these two manifestly capable and experienced leaders? 

"Mitt Romney has bank accounts in Switzerland!"

"Ann Romney rides horses and wears nice clothes!"

"The Romneys put their dog on the roof of their car when they drove to Canada!" 

"Mitt Romney hasn't paid taxes!" (We know this because it hasn't been proven otherwise, just as we know Harry Reid, who made this allegation, must be a secret cannibal, because that also has not been proven to be untrue.)

"Republicans are waging 'war on women!'" 

"Mitt Romney killed Ranae Soptic!"

"Paul Ryan wants to throw Grandma over a cliff in a wheelchair!" (Never mind the fact that his desperately-needed reforms would not affect anyone over 55.) 


It sure will be nice to have adults back in the White House.  Not a moment too soon.


I like America's prospects with an RR in charge, once again.


Brian Barrington said...

I have to disagree with your economic analysis there David.

US public debt is negligible, especially when compared to US private debt. US private debt is over 300% of GDP as compared to government debt which is only about 100% of GDP.

In fact, US public debt is such a non-problem, that the markets are currently lending the US government money for nothing – indeed, the interest rates are negative if you include inflation, which means that people are PAYING the US government to hold their money. What this means is that the markets know very well that the US government is not going to go broke any time soon. And why would it, since it can create as much money as it wants? But that will lead to inflation! Not in a Great Recession, where demand has slumped and the private sector is not investing or spending. The Fed has created trillions of dollars (out of thin air – poof!) over the last few years and pumped it into the economy and inflation has remained very low. You should be thankful the Fed has done this, because if it hadn’t the US would have experienced a Great Depression rather than merely a Great Recession.

I also disagree with your claim that the root of Greece’s problem is that its government spends too much. The Greek government spends less proportionately than the very successsful economies of northern Europe. The main problem in Greece is that people don’t pay taxes i.e. that the tax to GDP ratio is too low, especially when compared with the more successful economies of northern Europe. No civilisation without taxation. Also, Greece has no central bank so it has no lender of last resort and can’t create its own money – it relies on the European Central Bank. And the ECB, unlike the much more sensible and Keynesian US Federal reserve, has been refusing to create new money. These two things have combined to put Greece in its current state.

I disagree that Obama’s term has been an “unmitigated disaster”. He introduced universal healthcare, prevented another Great Depression, implemented some modest regulation of the financial sector, and ended the fiasco of the Iraq war. Maybe not a great presidency, but compared to the Bush presidency, it has been a veritable triumph.

I also disagree with your analysis of Romney and Ryan. If they are elected it will be a catastrophe.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Obama did no such thing. The recession officially ended BEFORE Barack Obama's policies even took effect -- as recessions normally do. What is abnormal, is how slow the subsequent rise has proven -- the lamest recovery in many decades.

Are you really claiming that the European troubles are not about debt?

Federal tax revenue in Greece has been about 20% -- about the same as Austria, much less than Canada or Germany:

The problem is Greece, and many other countries, are spending much more than they take in. If you want to deny this, well who am I to deny you the right to go on one final holiday from reality at the end of the summer?

Obamacare is part of the disaster. If we'd adopted Japan's system lock, stock, and barrel, instead, I'd give him some credit for that. Obamacare is an expensive, bureaucratic nightmare that will drive doctors out of practice, and STILL leave many Americans uninsured.

Bush accomplished a great deal, was little to blame for the real estate crisis, and enacted the bank bailout that helped end it, and the recession. I do blame him for spending too much, though.

We'll see, if Romney gets into office. Odd that you would be so sure that so successful an executive would fail in this, though, when he has succeeded at everything else.

Brian Barrington said...

My guess is that Obama would have liked to just have a public healthcare system, or at least a public option for health insurance – then the government could use its monopoly purchasing power to drive down medical costs. The main reason medical costs are lower elsewhere compared to the US is that in other countries the government uses its monopoly buying power to drive down costs. But the Republicans would not allow a public option for insurance, let alone a public healthcare system.

The level of government spending in Greece is not significantly out of whack when compared to that of many very successful economies. According to the figures at the link below, Austria taxes in 43% of GDP in taxes and Greece taxes in 35%. The Austrian government also spends more than Greece – 49% of GDP versus 47%. So as you can see, the big difference is in the tax take. Greece has a massive problem with tax avoidance – that is the primary reason it has been spending so much more than it has been taking in.

I worry that if Romney and Ryan were elected they might succeed - succeed in attaining their primary objective i.e. reducing taxes on the ultra-wealthy and waging a war against the US middle classes and the general US population by gutting spending on health, pensions, education, infrastructure, research and development etc. etc. It would be a terrible assault on the US as a civilised society.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: You've been listening to Democratic propaganda, I'm afraid. Your take on what R&R's "primary objectives" are complete nonsense. Please do read something besides The Nation.

First of all, there is no plan to "reduce taxes on the ultra wealthy." The plan is to lower tax RATES, while cutting out loopholes. My bet is, more actual revenue will come in from the rich as a result, maybe even far more revenue, as it did under Reagan:

A "war against the middle classes?" Poppycock. What needs to be gutted is Big Government. The problem with Ryan's plan, is it is far too timid. The richest counties in the US are all around Washington, DC: now why do you suppose that is? The rich know which side their bread is buttered on.

We, the people, can live with a government cut back to Clinton-era levels -- if R & R can actually succeed at giving us that. (Heck, we could live with Coolridge-era government, too, without turning into Somalia.) Was Clinton-era America a complete, uncivilized wasteland, in your view? Why do you think people would be so helpless without an ever-expanding Nanny State?

David B Marshall said...

Notice, for instance, who the chief employers are for Fairfax County, Virginia, America's richest county of at least one million, and third richest overall:

1. Public schools, 23,000.
2. US government, 17,000.
3. Fairfax County, 11,000.
7. Freddie Mac, 4-7000.
8. George Mason University, 4-7000.

It's magic! All this money flowing in, all these nice jobs, great houses, great cars -- sucking the rest of the country dry.

Of course there are also a few nicely-situated companies in the county, no doubt with numerous tentacles on the public funds as well, like Northrop and Lockheed.

Nothing corrupt going on, here. Just a bunch of public servants, paying themselves a lot of money.

Brian Barrington said...

R&R have not specified what tax "loopholes" they will close. Govts always say they will 'close tax loopholes' (it's up there with cutting "waste and inefficiency") in order to fund either more expenditure or lower tax rates. What tends to actual happen is that the expenditure goes up or the tax rates go down, but the "loopholes" stay in place, and the savings from cutting "waste and inefficiency" don't materialise either. 

So I'll believe all this when I see it, and I'll never see it - what you will get is more Bush-style cuts for the mega-wealthy, who have seen their wealth explode, while the middle classes have struggled more and more to get by, with evermore job insecurity, evermore debt, and stagnating incomes.

 Under Ryan, who has been a big fan of Ayn Rand, all of this will get worse and worse. Electing R&R would be a large step towards turning the US into an outright plutocracy. Currently, taxes on the mega-rich are the lowest proportionately that they have been for 80 yrs - under R&R, they will become even lower.

After 4 yrs of the Reagan presidency,  per capita government spending at that point was 14.4 percent higher than four years previously; under Obama, less than half as much, just 6.4 percent. And this during the greatest recession since the Great Depression. If only the current lot were as Keynesian as Reagan was. But that was in the era before Republicans had gone completely mad.

Brian Barrington said...

I agree that now one of the few places people can get reasonably secure middle class jobs is in the public sector. Previously such jobs were also common in the private sector - but the erosion of workers' rights along with outsourcing and the crushing of private sector unions has ended that. This naturally causes resentment among people not in the public sector, creating the political conditions for an assault on public sector employees, and the final destruction of what remains of the middle class. Thus the plutocrats and corporations will then have what they want - a terrified populace, living without security or access to reliable employment, struggling to get access to decent education and healthcare for their families - an obedient easily exploitable workforce in a grotesquely unequal society.

Ayn Rand will be proud of her acolyte, Paul Ryan.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Unlike the Democrats, Ryan has actually put concrete and detailed plans on the table for dealing with the budget. His cuts are, IMO, way too little, but they are real. There is no reason in the world to doubt R&R will make similiarly concrete changes to the tax code, to make it flatter, as they say they will. These are men who, unlike Obama, do what they say they're going to do, and have records of concrete and positive achievement.

I don't mind if the very rich pay more, but that's a pretend issue that Democrats are using to divert attention from the need to make real, substantial cuts. Even if the very rich paid ALL their income to the government, it would hardly dent the present deficit. The best plan is flatter taxes, with slightly lower rates, and cut out exemptions and exceptions and tax dodges for people with lawyers and lobbyists. Have you noticed that the lawyers are firmly on the side of the Democratic party, one of their main contributors? Is that a healthy thing, do you think?

I don't know where you get your stats, but that stats I find show that federal spending is some 23% higher than four years ago. The differences between now and the Reagan years are: (1) The "Evil Empire" was a greater danger than the deficit, when Reagan came to office; (2) Partly because National Debt was much lower; (3) Tip O'Neil ran the House during the Reagan years, and refused to go along with Reagan's proposed cuts in domestic spending. The job of the president is to deal with the greatest problems that presently exist, and that are under the control of government to deal with: National Debt is the crisis of the hour, and Obama has made it far worse. He is, to that extent, a tremendous failure.

What is your evidence that taxes for the very rich will be lower under R & R? And why does that matter to you so much? Tax RATES might be lower, but that is not the same as taxes. What matters is getting the economy going, and solving the debt crisis. Worry about how much the rich make is just a distraction from solving our real problems: tax everything from the rich, and you still don't solve them. (And you put the country in a full-blown depression.)

I wish the unions had been crushed. Boeing has sent some of its work to South Carolina, because the local unions keep blackmailing the company, shutting down production to force extravagent wages. The Obama administration tried then to prevent Boeing from opening a factory in South Carolina! Local garbage collectors make more than $100,000, from the tax-payers, with no education and nothing but union power. This is an artificial distortion of the market, that in the end comes down to graft, lawyers, political pressure groups, and who you know or can manipulate to pad your own nest. It would be far better, IMO, if the government were to allow the Keystone Pipeline, off-shore drilling, ANWR, and other private industry that could be taxed at a fair rate, and would create well-paid jobs in the private sector. (Local tech companies aren't unionized, but they pay better than Boeing, by and large -- not that Boeing pays poorly.)

Your vision of America is unreal. What terrifies me is the national debt, and with your whole continent (and Japan) as an object lesson in its dangers, I can't quite understand how you manage not to see it.

Brian Barrington said...

If you look at the concrete reality of Japan, to what extent is Japan's national debt really a cautionary tale? To some extent Japan faced 20 yrs ago what Europe and the US are facing now. But today, Japan has very low unemployment, and it's an extremely advanced, wealthy, safe, healthy and stable society. Japan, like everywhere, has problems - but most countries would gladly swap their own problems for Japan's problems. If 20 yrs from now Europe and America are doing as well as Japan currently is then I, for one, will be pleasantly surprised.  I wonder how big a deal is Japan's national debt really? 

As regards Europe, keep in mind that the US national debt (104% of GDP) is higher than that of the EU as a whole (82.5% of GDP). So if the US was more like Europe it would have lower national debt. And the fact that, for example, Spain has a "debt crisis" even though its debt level (70%of GDP) is lower than that of Germany, US, UK or France, shows that many of the current problems in Europe are due to political and institutional uncertainty related to the governance of the euro, as much as anything else. It's certainly nothing to do with Europe's welfare states since many European economies with the most extensive welfare states have relatively low or perfectly manageable national debt (e.g. the Scandinavian countries, Netherlands and so on).

But I would agree that Greece is a cautionary tale of what happens if a government doesn't collect enough taxes to run a modern, advanced, properly organised society.

Your envy of dustbin men reminds me of something Bertrand Russell once said - a beggar does not envy a millionaire, he envies another beggar who has slightly more than he does. But I am disappointed to see you resorting to the politics of envy in relation to dustbin men! They deserve their money far more than the average banker, or casino owner, or arms dealer, or asset stripper, or people who inherit their wealth. In fact, they probably deserve their money more than most wealthy people since, unlike most wealthy people, they do an honest (and in many respects unpleasant) days work that actually benefits society.

The slow destruction of the middle class is a major issue. Over the last 30yrs a small minority has become massively more wealthy while the incomes of others have stagnated. Do you think it's a good thing that the fruits of economic growth have been so unevenly distributed over the last 30yrs? R&R will reduce taxes on the wealthy and viciously cut programs that make life bearable and decent and tolerable for millions of ordinary Americans and their families. In other words, they will exacerbate the trend towards extreme inequality that is undermining community and societal stability. And they will do it deliberately and out of ideological conviction. 

But personally, I doubt Americans will tolerate this vicious and evil attack on the fabric of their society and civilisation.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Of course debt isn't the ONLY factor that causes these crises; but obviously it is a very important factor. The US gets a bit of a free ride, because it has traditionally been attractive to investors for other reasons, as you no doubt realize. So we can get away with throwing more money into the pit than countries that are less politically attractive or produce less, might be: indeed, we might even profit from capital flight out of those countries, and have.

Do I "envy" the garbage man who makes %135,000 a year? Not really, I just don't want to pay his wildly-inflated salary. In the same way, if I can hire someone to wash my car for $15, I'd rather do that, rather than have the government (in my name) pay someone (who probably gets his job through nepotism) $100 to wash my car, then take another $50 for "administrative costs." So call me crazy.

The Japanese economy has been in the doldrums for 20 years. The GDP has averaged growth of 0.7% a year during those years. Charming. That's almost a full point less than the US, and about four points less than Ireland, during the same years. What Japan accomplished, it accomplished already by that time, by and large. But Japan is not indebted to the rest of the world, as the US is.

Your comments about R&R seems more based on envy than compassion. Why should it pain me if a few people get very rich, if at the same time the poor also prosper more? The poor have NOT prospered under Obama. They DID prosper under the first RR, and you have no grounds for supposing they won't under RR II. And by "prosper," I mean more than just "earn more money," though that, too. There is more dignity in an honest day's wages for an honest day's work, than in extorting cushy packages from the government, even if you haven't earned them. (In public schools, for example, the vast majority of teachers do a pretty good job: but it can be very hard to get rid of the lazy and incompetent ones.)

Brian Barrington said...

The point is that the poor and the middle class have NOT been prospering more over the last 30yrs - they face more job insecurity, more debt, longer working hours, stagnating wages, more uncertainty over access to health and education. It does not have to be like this - extra real wealth comes from progress in technology and knowledge, and these have improved - life should be getting easier for people, not harder. But a small minority have got massively wealthier - the gains have been spread totally unevenly, as part of a deliberate policy to undermine and reverse the progress in social justice that was achieved in the 1950s and 1960s, when income was more evenly distributed. R&R, an asset stripper and a man who was inspired to go into politics by Ayn Rand, basically personify and symbolise this awful trend. 

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Please don't repeat Democratic lies. Mitt Romney was not an "asset stripper." The companies Bain invested in were USUALLY successful and INCREASED employment. This is a fact. I buy stuff at the local Staples all the time. Just because the Democratic Party tosses out a cascade of shameless character assassination at every new Republican who runs for office, doesn't mean you have to buy it lock, stock and barrel.

I read the Fountainhead when I was a teenager, and found some of its ideas (as son of a small-time builder who had to deal with goverment) fetching. Now I recognize Rand as a fundamentally selfish human being, with a lot of bad and incoherent ideas. Obama went to a church that blamed Whitey for AIDS, and he praised its demagogish pastor. Based on what concrete historical evidence do you identify Ryan's policies with those of Ayn Rand? I'm a conservative, not a libertarian, and a Christian, not an atheist, but even I think Ryan should cut government more, rather than less. Why am I, who now see Rand as a sad nut, advocating less government than the supposedly viciously hyoer-capitalistic Ryan does? Just because Rand saw the same danger as we do, doesn't mean we share the rest of her philosophy.

I think Big Government HURTS the country. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves: in no way do I read that to mean or imply, "Thou shalt institute Nanny State policies." On the contrary, real concern for the poor means freeing them from dependency, making the country economically sound, and saving our children from slavery to our debtors.

Brian Barrington said...

There is no positive correlation between small government and low levels of poverty, exclusion and deprivation. Many of the countries in the world with the lowest levels of poverty and deprivation, and the highest quality of life and highest levels of opportunity, also have some of the largest governments. If there is any overall pattern, small government tends to more likely be associated with higher levels of poverty and deprivation.. It seems to be the case that a decent, civilised, complex modern society requires a fairly large government. 

My sense is that people are increasingly sick and tired of the right-wing sophistry and ideology which permits a small minority to amass vast wealth while the middle class slowly disappears. Only suckers are still falling for this right-wing propaganda.

But I guess we will see in November if the American people are prepared to buy into the vision of America that Romney and Ryan are trying to sell them. 

Rudy said...

David, you've encouraged me (in another thread) to write here, as long as I can do so in a cheerful frame of mind.

I probably can't do that, it's all rather depressing (and you are wrong about SO MANY things in this post!) Ahem.

But I do want to come to the defense of Fairfax County (where my family lived for many years, though I only lived there briefly).

Of course, when you have the Federal government centered right next door, you are going to have a lot of government employees. Notice that your numbers do not add up to anywhere near the population of Fairfax County, even allowing for families. If you want to look for parasites (as you seem to regard the hardworking people you are lumping together) you might try to find out how many lobbyists live in Fairfax County, or farther out into the suburbs.

You are upset that the public schools have a lot of employees? In one of the largest and most densely populated counties in the US? Or that a (very high quality) public university has a lot of employees?

Are you also upset that in counties where there are military bases, there are a lot of soldiers, or that there are a lot of computer programmers living in Redmond? Or that Kansas has lots of farmers?

And yeah, Brian is right about the other stuff. AND your political views are not consistent with Christianity in my view. But I don't know how to start addressing that. Your political views (even your global warming skepticism) are tribal among evangelical Christians. Come on, David, GW denialism is anti-intellectual rubbish. At least rethink *that*!

I should correct your impression that I'm a Christian; I am a theist, and consider myself immersed to a large extent in Christian practices and some beliefs, but I don't identify myself as a Christian because I'm not what people usually mean by that.

This morning, I saw a sign raising money to help a family with a father with cancer. Expect to see way more signs like that after the Republicans get elected.

David B Marshall said...

Rudy: I brought up Fairfax County to illustrate the troubling fact that the richest counties in the United States are now so close to the centers of (Democratic) power. They tend to be not places where evil capitalists make things, but where idealistic civil servants tax those capitalists (and their employees) and then tell them how to live their lives. Is that what the Founding Fathers had in mind? Government as a path to power and riches? Don't you even see anything troubling about that trend?

I have, as a matter of fact, worked for both federal and local governments. I worked hard in both cases, as did most of those around me. I did not get rich. I'm certainly not calling all (or most) federal employees "parasites."

The fact that you call my views on AGW "denialism" suggests that you probably don't know what they are, very well, or why I hold them. What exactly am I supposed to be wrong about, and why? I don't abandon opinions just because someone pins an unkind label on them: be specific about my alleged errors, and I'll consider it.

Obamacare seems to be driving doctors out of business, already. Others now refuse to look at Medicare patients. Doesn't that bother you?,0,5001125.story

Rudy said...

David, I apologize for namecalling. You certainly didn't deny that temperatures are going up.

Simply checking wikipedia (the easiest source, though is the goto place), 2/3 of the temperature increase has occurred since 1980 (which matches my memory of other charts.) Where did you get the idea that the bulk of the warming occurred early in the last century?

It is overwhelmingly probable that humans are responsible for this. Calling the scientists who make this case (and people like me who agree with them) a "sect" is ridiculous, and is anti-intellectual to boot. (In the same way that some evangelical Christians create stumbling blocks for others by disparaging the hard work of biologists who have sorted out evolution over the last century.)

I'm glad you are not impugning government employees or teachers, though then who is the antecedent for "corrupt" and "public servants paying themselves a lot money"? I don't see anyone else there in that post.

You shouldn't believe stuff you see in the ridiculous Orlando Sentinel. In any case, there have been doctors who don't see medicare patients for years and years. It's the first question I ask when trying to find doctors for some of my family members, and has been for a very long time. Have you really never run across this before?

Rudy said...

Oops, so I just answered your questions with questions of my own...

OK, so Fairfax county is rich (and has lots of Republicans in it, not just Democrats, along with horse farms and MacMansions, few of them owned by civil service employees). What other places in the country are both 1. Rich (on average) and 2. Mostly associated with government employment? I can't think of any at all. I can't argue with you that the government is a way to accumulate power (though elected officials, and their political appointees, seem to have the most chances for this, not civil servants, who in any case don't set their own salaries and whose actions are answerable to said political appointees, as you must know.)

Yes, it bothers me that doctors turn away patients because that aren't lucrative enough. A single-payer system would fix this (similar to Canada, or Israel). Also making medical school free. But to answer your question, yes, it does bother me. It has bothered me for some decades, and has been fairly inconvenient for some of my relatives for even longer. You blame Obama for this?

David B Marshall said...

Rudy, Brian:

Read this article, and think about the Law of Unintended Consequences as it applies to incompetent, hubristic politicians:

This is scary. Health care in the US is rather crazy already, thanks largely to government meddling. It may be about to get a lot worse.

David B Marshall said...

Rudy: I didn't say the bulk of the warming occurred before WWII: I said a large portion of it did. And since, in fact, temperatures dipped a bit after WWII, the pre-WWII rise was not that much less than the late-20th Century rise.

I agree that human beings are probably responsible for part of the warming, though certainly not for all of it. (Since glaciers in fact began melting in the mid-19th Century, this is a long-term trend.)

As for "rich" and "associated with government employment," in fact, MANY of the richest counties in the US are so associated: by 2007, already 7 of the richest 20 counties were around DC, alone:

As the article points out, the average federal worker made about twice as much as the average private-sector work, including benefits. That doesn't count the 35,000 lobbyists in the DC area, or even more federal contractors.

This is not a healthy trend. I don't have anything against Virgina or Maryland, but can you imagine what Thomas Jefferson would say?

David B Marshall said...

Brian: This is either squishy, or untrue:

"It seems to be the case that a decent, civilised, complex modern society requires a fairly large government."

In fact, the United States grew to by far the world's leading economic power, per capita as well as in absolute terms, in the late 19th and early 20th Century, when it had very little government, compared to the present. Nor was this just a matter of a few rich people, and many poor people.

In fact, East Asian countries did exactly the same thing. There was more income equality in a country like Taiwan, where there were few social safety networks, than practically anywhere else in the world -- and a long life span, to boot. I don't think Japan's government was so big during the years that it grew so rapidly, either.

We need roads. We need good schools. (Though private schools are as good or better -- as in HK or Japan.) We need public security. We need rational regulation and enforcement. It's nice to have good national parks, and sure, a safety net for the poorest. (Though it's best when people help their neighbors on their own initiative, best for all, I think.)

Other than the basics, I do firmly believe that "government governs best, which governs least," by and large. Even you must realize that at some point, government must begin to choke its host, don't you? Or would you prefer that everyone get a federal pay-check?

Rudy said...

OK, I admit the "sect" word triggered a stereotype that I applied to you. You have a more nuanced view of GW.

Warming occurred earlier, because there was already substantial forcing from CO2. The cooling after 1940 is *very* slight, and just goes to show that CO2 is not the only climate input (aerosols, in the form of air pollution and volcanic eruptions, account for relative temperature stability for a period. This is accounted for by climate scientists.) CO2 is the main climate forcing mechanism now (also forcing ocean acidfication, as the oceans absorb buffer CO2).

I'm not sure I care what Thomas Jefferson would say. I'm glad that you account for lobbyists though. The idea that public sector workers are paid more than private sector employees has been debunked over and over; I'm sorry I don't have a link though. I can tell you that I know (through family) civil service employees, who are at the top of the GS scale, and they don't make more than a manager at a small software firm.

As far as civil service people "telling capitalists what to do", OSHA and MSHA and the EPA are mostly telling them not to kill or injure their employees, and us. And they don't have the money or personnel they need to actually stop them. There is a lot of money behind efforts to weaken the little regulaion there is. What do you think Thomas Jefferson would think of that? (How did he treat his slaves? Why should we respect his views?)

Brian Barrington said...

"Would you prefer that everyone get a federal pay-check?"

I believe everyone should be guaranteed an income from the state - then there would be a floor concerning standard of living through which no human being could fall. There is no reason at all why we should not have this, since we live in by far the wealthiest, most knowledgeable and most technologically advanced societies the world has ever seen - all that is lacking is the political will to accomplish this. There should be no one homeless, no one without healthcare, no one without free education, no one exploited by employers in conditions of wage-slavery and debt-slavery, and so on - these should be entitlements. In the future people will look back and marvel that we could have lived in such cruel and unjust societies, just as we now look back on past societies and marvel at how cruel and unjust they were.

Achieving the above is no more "idealistic" that ending slavery or the oppression of women or racial segregation or torture or imperialism or capital punishment or other barbaric practices. But in the short term progress can be achieved by strengthening workers' rights, putting up the minimum wage, increasing taxes on profits and wealth, regulating finance, ending the oppression of homosexuals by legalising same-sex marriage and so on and so forth.

Of course there are reactionary forces who resist progress and who want to reverse hard-fought gains in justice - spokesmen for privilege who can only thrive by spreading false fears (people who are afraid can be controlled and exploited). Such people need to be resisted and overcome. But I'm actually pretty optimistic - the reactionaries win a few skirmishes along the way, but they nearly always lose in the end, because most people are basically decent and want to live in just societies and good communities.

Rudy said...

Another drive-by I'm afraid, David.

Your account of US economic history is overly simplistic. Most of the ww2 and post-war US economic boom was driven by substantial (and enormous in historic terms) US government spending on the military and infrastructure, and cheap, government-subsidized housing loans (not to mention the eventual economic effects of programs like the GI Bill.)

Re: private schools: The most expensive ones are better than public schools; because they are expensive, not because they are private. The Catholic parochial schools I attended (all the way through high school) were markedly inferior to the local public schools.

Charter schools, a sort of "worst of both worlds" approach, are no better on average and in some cases are much worse than the public schools they "compete" with. One charter high school in my county is very, very good; the rest are mediocre. Our public schools are very good.

Crude said...

Most of the ww2 and post-war US economic boom was driven by substantial (and enormous in historic terms) US government spending on the military and infrastructure, and cheap, government-subsidized housing loans (not to mention the eventual economic effects of programs like the GI Bill.)

I think the whole "most of the world's competing production bases were just destroyed by a massive destructive war" thing probably played a role. Dare I say it, a large role. I know that the line you just gave is the favorite of some economists, but plenty of other economists disagree. I mean, there were economists who thought that Greece's spending policies were a great idea because hey, spending money is how you build an economy, debt isn't something to pay attention to.

Regarding schools... I really wish you'd give something, anything, to back up claims like what you just gave. Because otherwise: "No, the best schools are private. Also, the private schools are better than the public schools." There, I guess that evens it out.


The Catholic parochial schools I attended (all the way through high school) were markedly inferior to the local public schools.

How would you know? I mean, you just said you went to those schools your entire time. Did your friends tell you they were awesome? It's weird to see anecdotal evidence given for a comparison you actually couldn't have anecdotal evidence of.

David B Marshall said...

Rudy: If you'll read my post carefully, you'll see I referred to the rise of the US economy in the late 19th and early 20th Century -- not to WWII. By 1900, the US was already the world's leading economic power, overtaking Germany. FDR had nothing whatsoever to do with that.

Most of the public schools in our area are pretty good, too. (They should be, given how much money they take in.) I vocally disagree with conservatives who berate public schools in too strong terms: most public school teachers, in my experience (I have substitute taught in ten or so schools) work hard, are competent, and care about their students. My own experience, I might add however, was the opposite of yours: when our parents ran out of money to pay for our education at a "fundamentalist" school, we went to the local public school, and I sat and stared out the window for a year, waiting for the other students to catch up.

Rudy said...

@Crude, not sure what to say to you about the economy.

As far as high school, I was a smart kid, and I had quite a few neighborhood friends at the public high school, and I know what was going on in my school (and at their school). So I do know that my school(s) were worse. (My classroom textbooks were lower quality, with the exception of one course; the course offerings were considerably less varied and less advanced, my teachers were much less qualified and were not very informed about their fields; I could go on.) That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy parts of high school, but most of my high school education happened at the public library.

In the case of my elementary school, things were much, much worse (based not just on my admittedly elementary school age memories and memory of specific really incompetent teachers, but corroboration by a college friend who it turned out had attended my school but whose parents had moved her to the public school in disgust.) I don't know as certainly what the public school was like at that level, but it would have had to reach Dickensian levels of awfulness to beat my elementary school; this was unlikely in an affluent middle class school district, I think. But who knows?

I hope that clears that up for you. As far as data to back up my opinions on the generalities of private vs. public, I don't think I owe it to you to work that hard until you and I have actually started a good faith conversation on the matter. Questioning my ability to evaluate my own education, or my honesty, I'm not sure which, wasn't the way to start that conversation.

Rudy said...

@David, you are quite right, I misread you and my remarks didn't speak to your point. I'm still right though :)

Crude said...

As far as data to back up my opinions on the generalities of private vs. public, I don't think I owe it to you to work that hard until you and I have actually started a good faith conversation on the matter.

Look, your "good faith conversation" was asserting broad truths about the entire public/private school system, based on your own experiences as a kid - which I thought was odd, because you were pronouncing on a comparison between two school systems while informing me you spent the entirety of your education in one.

It's not a question about owing me anything: fine, don't back up anything you say. Believe me, I won't lose sleep. But if you make claims with support, and if I notice and care to comment, I'm going to say "Well, I'd like to see you support that." If you say "Well no, because I find you rude, sir!", go for it. I hope you're not intending to persuade anyone in that case. (It's not even 'hard work'. It's 'googling for maybe a minute' nowadays.)

Further, you didn't just say, "Well, look, here's the experience I had in my school system, this is what it was like for me." I wouldn't have batted an eye at that. Instead you claimed certain knowledge ('my school was worse than these schools! I know this. Even though I only went to the one.') Yeah, that didn't add up.

I mean, look at what you're telling me. As a teenager you were not only assessing comparative quality of textbooks between your school and others, but literally researching qualifications of your teachers, while in high school. Okay, possible I assume. Pardon me if I express some skepticism.

And keep in mind, very little is riding on this and I know it. In the end, it's - again - an anecdotal experience. There's that old saying that you don't prove that women are on average taller than men by producing a 6' woman and a 5' man. And I would hope you'd at least recognize why your story could seem funny to a detached observer who was paying attention.

Mind you, I didn't enter into this conversation in favor or against public or private schools. To be dead honest, I dislike both systems. I consider the gold standard to be a mix of home schooling when possible, a hefty amount of autodidactism, and school systems when those are utterly unavailable for serious reasons. See, I happen to think that giving students the ability and drive to teach themselves - at a public library for example - is the best outcome possible. Both public and private systems leave much to be desired in terms of ideal.

Questioning my ability to evaluate my own education, or my honesty, I'm not sure which, wasn't the way to start that conversation.

I do not care. I made a reasonable observation and a fair criticism. If it deeply offends you, so be it. If your response is 'I'm not going to support any of my claims with data - to spite you!', I'll just shrug my shoulders. I'd find that to be an interesting reaction.

Brian Barrington said...

“By 1900, the US was already the world's leading economic power, overtaking Germany. FDR had nothing whatsoever to do with that.”

One needs to make a distinction between a country’s relative power and the absolute quality of life its people enjoy.

For example, in 1890 Europe basically ruled the world with its huge empires and so on – but life for the average person who lived in Europe was not very good compared to what it is now. The second half of the 20th century saw rapid decline in Europe’s relative power. But the absolute standard of living and the quality of life of the people who actually live in Europe did not decline – in fact it increased rapidly from 1950 onward. Europe is less powerful than it was but it is also healthier, safer, wealthier, more long-lived, with higher literacy and education levels, lower levels of infant mortality etc. than has ever before been the case.

There can be a tension here between what elites want for a country (i.e. maximise relative power) and what the ordinary citizens need (i.e. a decent quality of life for them and their families)

FDR had a lot to do with making the US a good place to live and raise a family – the social contract he instituted did a lot to make the US such a relatively good place to live for ordinary people in the 1950s and 1960s, when social indicators improved rapidly and a large middle class emerged. FDR also played a significant role in increasing America’s relative power and making it the global power, by helping to defeat the Germans and the Japanese. After WWII the other major Eurasian industrial centres had destroyed themselves, so about 50% of world economic output was in the US – the moment of its maximum relative power. Whatever way you look at it, FDR was by far America’s greatest president in the 20th century.

Since Reagan the Republicans have done their best to destroy the social contract created by FDR, dismantle the middle class, turn the US into a plutocracy, and replace the social contract of FDR with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. In a way, the next presidential election offers Americans a clear choice – FDR or Ayn Rand. Obama, a true conservative, wants to preserve and where possible expand FDR’s legacy. The Republicans are radicals and extremists who want to destroy that legacy in the name of the abstract ideology propounded by Ayn Rand.

Rudy said...


I'm not trying to spite you, I just don't think our conversation is going to be very useful to either you or me, since you don't trust me. If you don't see why what you said is offensive (not to mention your followup, where you say I can't have known that my teachers weren't qualified or that my textbooks were poor), I think we'll be talking past each other.

I agree with you about the homeschooling + library by the way (I had to teach myself at the public library, except for Spanish and chemistry).

Brian Barrington said...

You are quite right that it was government investment in R&D which created the basis for nearly all the technologies we now take for granted. The private sector won’t engage in that kind of risky investement and research. What happens is: the government (i.e. the taxpayer) takes all the risks of the initial investment and research, and then, if something works, it is handed over to private interests so that they can make a profit out of it, despite the fact that it was the public rather than the corporations that took on all the initial investment risks.

Examples of technologies developed almost entirely with government funding include the microchip (making possible computers), satellites, GPS, the Internet, the bar code, the accelerometer (making possible hand held devices like iphones and Wii’s for example – the lithium-ion batteries, liquid crystal displays, signal compression, and magnetic storage drives also were developed with government funding). Pretty much everything of any significance. Google’s search engine algorithm came from a government grant for a Stanford University digital library project.

Of course, one of the big myths of the Ayn Rand mob (i.e. people like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney) is that it is the brave private sector that takes all the risks developing new technologies – this view is so at odds with reality it’s actually funny, except that so many people actually seem to believe it because of relentless rightwing propaganda.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: If you're going to make a wild, derisive claim here, at least one I don't like, you're going to be asked to back it up.

Again, what is your evidence that Romney and Ryan are part of the alleged "Ayn Rand mob?" Have you looked at R / R's budgets, and said, "Oh, they only want $9 trillion (or whatever) in social spending over the next ten years -- exactly what Ayn Rand would propose when we have a $16 trillion deficit?" Yessiree: capping federal spending at 20%, 1.8 percent higher than in the last year under Clinton -- that's exactly what Ayn Rand was after." Are you trying to be as breathtakingly ludicrous as possible?

If we're going to go that route, let's just call Reid and Pelosi and Obama "Karl Marx's mob," and have done with it. I bet Barack Obama once read Communist Manifesto, and probably liked a lot of what he read. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if you did.

As for inventions, baloney. Is the automobile not an example of a "technology you take for granted?" The airplane? The invention and development of computers has been entirely led by government bureaucrats? I don't know what your point is, anyway, since no one is proposing an end to the federal government or, say, research grants for state universities. But one cannot stand on empty air forever.

Brian Barrington said...

Regarding Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand, here he is talking about her: “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”. Maybe you can find a quote where Obama says that the reason he got into public service was because of Karl Marx? Here is Ryan on Rand again: "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff." Required reading, eh? He has tried to backpeddle a bit on this recently in order to try not to alienate religious voters, but this man has Ayn Rand coming out of his backside.

But then that is hardly surprising since Ayn Rand is THE philosopher of contemporary Republicanism – she embodies the greed and selfishness that they stand for, and the hatred of community. And why not? This is someone who described the poor and weak as "refuse" and "parasites" and who believed there should be no social security, no public health or education, no public infrastructure or transport, no fire service, no regulations, no income tax. The Ryan budget would annhiliate all discretionary expenditure, so it seems to be in line with Ayn Rand's theories.

Regarding technology, I was merely pointing out what is demonstrably true: that nearly all the big technological discoveries of recent times were funded by government (i.e. by the taxpayer). Big technological discoveries, even when they do not come from government funding, rarely come from the corporate profit-maximising sector. Think, for example, of the World Wide Web, which was invented by Tim Berners Lee who then given away for free. He could be the richest man in the world now if he had wanted to be. Or think of Wikipedia – one of the best things about the Internet, and a non-profit organisation created by Jimmy Wales.

Technological progress drives real economic growth, and it’s a myth to say, as contemporary Republicans do, that it is private profit-maximising corporations that drive that progress. Corporations are legally obliged to maximise rofits, which means they are legally obliged to act like psychopaths – firing whoever gets in their way (as Romney once said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me”), outsourcing when it suits them. All with the full support of Mitt “Corporations Are People My Friend” Romney.

Well, David, if you want to vote for a weirdo who thinks that “corporations are people”, knock yourself out!

Rudy said...

David, the automobile and the airplane are good counterexamples, but it's hard to find others in modern times (and much of the advanced development of the airplane is government funded, at least since WWI. The Wright brothers patent greed prevented any progress is aviation until their patents were suspended by the US government during WW1. As for the automobile, no, as far as know that development was mostly private, though it was symbiotic with government civil engineering of bridges and roads.)

Brian is right WRT to nearly every novel technology after WW2; even all the stuff (like Unix) that came out of Bell Labs was created because the government gave AT&T a monopoly position in telephony, a kind of subsidy.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Your comments are so overwrought, I'm more inclined to laugh than cry. Again, 20% federal spending, after years of (hoped for) growth thanks to more realistic policies, added to local and state spending (which does a lot of the caring for the poor stuff) has nothing whatsoever in common with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Furthermore, if you bothered to check Romney's personal record, you'll find he (like most religious conservatives) has been FAR more generous with charity than Obama or Biden. How does Romney's record jibe with the alleged "greed and selfishness" and "hatred of community" you ascribe to Republicans?

Meanwhile, who votes for Democrats? Unmarried and divorced people, mostly. And well they should: the Democrats defend their right to kill the unborn, up to the moment of birth. Great community value: knock off the next generation before they emerge, then saddle them with $16 trillion in debt if they do make it out.

So Democrats don't care much for families (stooping to the level of analysis you seem to favor, here). Corporations aren't people, you say -- but they are "community," not the kind Democrats favor, either. (Except when hitting up for campaign contributions, or various incestuous government-private partnerships, perhaps of the kind Barney Frank pioneered.) So what does "community" mean for Democrats, exactly - aside from consolidating trillions of dollars in wealth and power in the hands of themselves and a few cronies, at the expense of the country at large?

Again, when federal debt leaves my family owing $200,000 to debtors we have never met, and never asked for money from -- money we don't have -- how is that supposed to exhibit the "love your neighbor as yourself" values that I think (at least) we can agree upon?

Darn right I'll be voting Republican this fall, and doing my best to encourage other people to do so, as well. To speak frankly think it would be immoral, or at best very short-sighted and naive, to vote for Barack Obama.

David B Marshall said...

Rudy: It's a mix, as Brian would probably admit if he weren't in high dungeon mode.

Brian Barrington said...

The Ryan budget would take a meat-cleaver to health care for the poor, food stamps, support for child care, the environment, and the rest of government other than the military, Social Security, and Medicare (that is, until 2022, when the slashing would begin on Medicare coverage as well). Under Ryan’s budget, almost all discretionary spending would need to be eliminated - brought down to 1.5% of GDP under his plan. That means getting rid of most of the following spending: veterans’ programmes, mandatory spending on federal civilian and military retirement, unemployment compensation, earned income and child tax credits, scientific research. Meanwhile, tax rates for the ultra-wealthy would be slashed (Ryan is very specific about that), but that money would apparently be made back via the usual bogeyman, “closing loopholes” (no specification about which “loopholes”).

Ryan is an out and out fraud.

What’s really destroying families in modern society is the lack of reliable middle class jobs, especially for men – it makes it almost impossible to be good husbands and fathers, even though that is what most of men would like to be. But they can’t fulfill that role if they are in massive debt and have no reliable jobs. And the destruction of those jobs has been deliberately carried out by corporations and plutocrats, with the assistance of Romney and his friends. These are deeply anti-conservative people, blinded by an abstract and pernicious ideology. I agree that the Democrats are not much better, they are only slightly less extreme, slightly less vicious. But the Democrats are still better – they are more authenctically conservative - they realise that if the Republicans implement their program it will lead to serious societal instablity in the US. If the Republicans had control of all the branches of government I tremble to think at the destruction they will unleash on the fabric of American civil society

Rudy said...

Well, David, I may not *sound* like I'm in high dudgeon mode, but I agree with everything Brian says, so just multiply this thread by two!

We need way more government spending (our infrastructure is a shambles, and as a sovereign state we can print all the money we need to do it; most of our debt would go away if we got the economy out of stagnation and stopped spending on the military, and brought taxes back to Republican President Eisenhower's levels (top tax rate of 90%). We can borrow money at close to zero interest. But I think I'll have to bow out of this thread, I'm a lot more interested in what you have to say about theology and Christianity. So I'll drop back into those posts instead.

David B Marshall said...

Rudy: Can't say I blame you. Don't worry, I won't post on politics, very often.

Let me just point out one important fact you are overlooking, though. Federal revenue in 1950, when Eisenhower was in office, was just 14.4% of GDP. Now of course, by Brian's logic, nothing of consequence was accomplished during the 1950s, America being a wild and uncivilized place. But I do seem to remember a Cold War, and something about Interstate highways. We are now managing to do much, much less, with much, much more. And that is a sin against our children, who will have to pay for it. Money does not, whatever Brian might think, grow on trees, unless you're a lumberjack. Isn't that a valid moral issue?

And higher official tax rates generally does not mean more tax revenue:

"All this nostalgia about the good old days of 70% tax rates makes it sound as though only the highest incomes would face higher tax rates. In reality, there were a dozen tax rates between 48% and 70% during the 1970s. Moreover—and this is what Mr. Reich and his friends always fail to mention—the individual income tax actually brought in less revenue when the highest tax rate was 70% to 91% than it did when the highest tax rate was 28%.

"When the highest tax rate ranged from 91% to 92% (1951-63), even the lowest rate was quite high—20% or 22%. As the nearby chart shows, however, those super-high tax rates at all income levels brought in revenue of only 7.7% of GDP, according to U.S. budget historical data.

"President John F. Kennedy's across-the-board tax cuts reduced the lowest and highest tax rates to 14% and 70% respectively after 1964, yet revenues (after excluding the 5%-10% surtaxes of 1969-70) rose to 8% of GDP. President Reagan's across-the-board tax cuts further reduced the lowest and highest tax rates to 11% and 50%, yet revenues rose again to 8.3% of GDP. The 1986 tax reform slashed the top tax rate to 28%, yet revenues dipped trivially to 8.1% of GDP."

Clearly, high official rates do not equal high actual payments.

C. Andiron said...

hi Brian. I've found a few inconsistencies in what you say above. You seem to be against increased military spending, yet you cite a lot of technological advances, most of which occurred during the Cold War, and you regard these very favorably.

So, do you think defense spending is a good thing or a bad thing?

You also seem to imply by this that government is the driver of technological advances.

But if this is the case, why didn't the Soviet Union make any of the discoveries you list? Isn't that the ideal you are striving for? Where government can allocate as many resources as it wants towards whatever it wants, including technology.

You bring this up in a context in order to imply that the private sector owes government.

Yet you have no desire to quantify this or to apply this in a uniform way. Ie. if you were truly interested in paying back people for what they invested (as you imply when you say that the taxpayers invested in what private corporations profited from), you'd want to perhaps redistribute much of Bill Gates' and Apple Computers' wealth to Alan Kay, since he invented the GUI at PARC. But you don't seem to be interested in the ethics of this as you claim to. Are you just interested in inventing a blanket excuse to soak companies for whatever amount you want, by using government investment in technology as an excuse? You praise wikipedia and the inventor of the internet for just "giving away" their technology without profit, and then turn around and try to say that corporations are bound to be enslaved to government, because they may have benefited by some of it's research. There is no rigorous attempt to determine how such penalties are to be assessed (as in a copyright infringement case). You just seem to be using this as a blanket excuse. Or perhaps you can clarify what you are trying to say by bringing up this issue. I'm open to correction. But I think that in a number of areas you seem to be hypocritical and perhaps you should drop the justifications and just claim that perhaps you believe that individuals living under the government have no rights, and that the government can justify depriving people of whatever it feels like (life, liberty, property) in the name of the greater good.

You may start out with noble ideals, but like most liberals, you end up gravitating towards Machiavellian shortcuts that have failed in the past. That never achieve their stated goals.

I would hope that at this point that the sincere liberal who really wants to help people might be looking towards alternative means to solving these, instead of behaving as if they never read 1984 or heard of Josef Stalin's 5 year plans. But like lemmings, they seem to gravitate towards the simple minded solution, as always.

We are not living in the 19th century England, and leftists should stop acting as if we were still living in that milieu. There are more degrees of freedom now, and perhaps they should think out of the box in order to implement a solution that doesn't involve the Federal government violating the Constitution and making slaves of us all.

C. Andiron said...

Often when I read liberal comments, on HuffPo articles, etc. I get the impression they are not really helping individuals, but that they regard individuals as widgets, which they want to re-arrange into patterns that are demographically, aesthetically appealing to them. If anyone gets steamrolled unfairly in the process, who cares? As long as the overall pattern is appealing, that is all that matters. Any sort of deontological ethics is out of the question. Liberalism seems so Machiavellian: your idea of utopia will justify the means of stepping on individuals, regardless of the ethics of doing so. There are various rationalizations for doing this, I'm sure, but they remain rationalizations.

I sometimes wonder if the ethical commitments of liberals and conservatives are so different that it might be a waste of time having discussions like this.

As a last ditch at common ground at what I'm trying to say, let me give this analogy:

You might eliminate all cases of assault and battery and traffic deaths by mandating that at birth, all humans have their arms chopped off.

I as a conservative might say "That's too high a price to pay. you can't punish us all for the hypothetical actions of a few. There are proper ways for dealing with assault and driving. They might not be perfect, but we should stick to those".

The liberal can always use compassion as a bludgeon against that. He can say. "You heartless person! You are condemning thousands to death because you refuse to allow this measure that amputates the arms of everyone! Don't you care that countless people will be beaten, shot and run over because of your callous desire to play volleyball!"

I just humbly ask you liberals if you are possibly falling into this trap. This is what worries me. Of course it's a caricature. But what criteria do you have to set limits to make sure you are *NOT* falling into this trap.

Can you guys even understand why this would worry me, given the course of 20th century left wing regimes? Don't you think you at least owe people an explanation of *HOW* you are doing things different and guarantees that you are not just mindlessly slipping into the same old same old? Geeze...

Brian Barrington said...

Hi C. Andiron,

You don’t particularly like liberals. Well, I would ask you this: why are the places in the US that are the most innovative in terms of technology (and everything else) all bastions of liberalism (e.g. coastal California, Massachusetts, Washington State, the great universities, the great cities and so on)? These are all the places in the US that vote Democrat and where liberals dominate completely, whereas the right-wing, anti-liberal places that vote for Ayn Rand style Republicanism do not nearly match the liberal areas in terms of innovation or technological creativity. Why do you think that is?

The actual choice we face in the West is between Social Democracy (welfare states, high taxes, high levels of government spending and investment, in democracies where human rights are protected) and Ayn Rand style right-wing economics (little or no welfare, low taxes, little or no government investment in R&D) – the latter leads to greater inequality, as well as to less technological innovation and progress. Social Democracy helps individuals because it leads to stronger and better communities in more stable societies with, on average, less crime, less violence, less imprisonment, more social mobility, better physical health, less drug abuse, less obesity, less teenage pregnancy and less worker exploitation. All of this helps individuals, and gives them more concrete freedom. If you want concrete examples of how this is done, I would offer the example of the most advanced contemporary social democracies of the West.

Brian Barrington said...

Hi C. Andiron,

Regarding some of your other points: After WWII the non-American industrial centres of the world had destroyed themselves and the US had about 50% of the world’s GDP, so the absolute amount of government investment in R&D by the US dwarfed that of other countries, including the Soviet Union, which had suffered unimaginable destruction during WWII. Nearly all the areas where the US has a technological lead today stem ultimately from superior investment and funding in R&D by the US government in the decades after WWII. Even so, the Soviet Union, given the situation it started in, made considerable progress in purely technological terms (space programs etc.) and industrialisation when compared to other countries that started in similar positions (such as Brazil, for example, or much of Latin America) and whose governments did not invest in technology and industrialisation. None of this is a justification of the barbaric Soviet regime – but if your intention is to use the Soviet Union as an example of how government funded R&D does not lead to technological progress, I don’t think that is actually the case. To be sure most of the most important advances in the decades after WWII happened in the US, but that was largely because the US had 50% of the world’s GDP, and the amount its government invested was much more than anywhere else – it’s not like the US and the Soviet Union started off in more-or-less the same place – as I say, a more meaningful comparison would be the Soviet Union and Latin America.

You seem to agree that many if not most recent technological advances come from government (i.e. taxpayer) funded investment and R&D. Your point is that much of that investment and R&D has been military related. On this basis are you against government investment in R&D, or do you support it, but only if it is military-related? My own view would be that the government should invest very large amounts in R&D and technology, and that, as much as possible, this should be related to civilian ends rather than military ends, with as much democratic accountability as possible.

There isn’t actually any inconsistency or hypocrisy here. For example, I am not sure where I have advocated violating the US constitution. Maybe you can point out where I advocated violating the US constitution?
Nor am I in favour of chopping off everyone’s arms when they are children, since the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: As I've pointed out to you before, the innovation came before the liberalism. California once elected Ronald Reagan as governor -- make that twice. Boeing began in WA state back when we were still electing Republicans (I used to live on Bill Boeing's old property -- the son, at least, seemed pretty conservative in lifestyle, whatever his politics were), and the state wasn't even that liberal when Microsoft got started. California is now bankrupt, thanks to its big government politics, and millions of refugees have fled to nearby states, even though it is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with so many advantages:

Is that weird or what? People moving from California to that over-heated, flat, dust-pan of a red state, Texas!

There's a difference between places liberals like, and places their policies create. Even Holland, once, was a capitalist superpower, and that's how it rose in the world.

Brian Barrington said...

The absolute epicentre of the Information Revolution (the most important technological revolution of recent times) is Silicon Valley, which is the most liberal place in the US, and possibly the world. Maybe the centre of innovation will move to Austin, Texas or some other place in the future, but if so I bet Austin will then simultaneously become very liberal – a bastion of liberalism - if it is not already so. Creativity and liberalism go together. Right-wing conservatism and backwardness go together.

David B Marshall said...

Actually, the most liberal parts of the Bay Area are San Francisco, which is NOT synonymous with Silicon Valley OR innovation, and Oakland / Berkley. San Francisco coasts on its natural beauty and tourist attractions. As recently as 1980, three years after Apple Computer was founded, the Bay Area voted for Ronald Reagan.

I don't think you're totally wrong, but you're being simplistic. The real cause and effect relations are more subtle.

Brian Barrington said...

David, as far as I can see the Bay Area of California (including Silicon Valley) basically consists of the 6th through 18th Californian congressional districts and EVERY SINGLE ONE of these districts is held by a Democrat, including the 14th and 15th, which is where Silicon Valley is – according to Wikipedia the 14th and the 15th score a massive 88% and 94% on something called the “Progressive Test”, and a miniscule 17% and 13% on the “Conservative Test”.

And a quick internet search reveals that Austin, Texas, where Apple have opened an operation along with many other innovative companies, is notoriously liberal - “Austin is known as an enclave of liberal politics in a generally conservative state” and recognised as “the most liberal, liveable, and fun city in Texas, or anywhere” and “a haven for hippies, tattoo artists, fratties, scenesters, coffee shops, and people who aren't sure what they're going to do with their life.”

David B Marshall said...

Brian: You need to practice up on this old skeptical cliche, "correlation does not prove causation." There IS a correlation, I grant you. But the facts I mention above, undermine your naive attempt to prove causation.

Amazon started here in Seattle because there were lots of software engineers here - because of Microsoft, no doubt. And why did Microsoft start here? Because Paul Allen and Bill Gates went to a preppy school in North Seattle together, as did the McCaw brothers, founders of McCaw cellular, who also contributed hi-tech synergy.

Where exactly in this story do hippies and tatoo artists come in? There may be a relationship, but not likely one of direct causation. You need to pull back, and try to explain the relationship in causative terms. I know, for example, that Washington State LOST a bunch of Boeing jobs to South Carolina because of our union militancy.

David B Marshall said...

Just in: here's a darker view of California, and what it is becoming:

Hanson frequently writes about his own experience living in inland California: this is not stuff he's making up.

Brian Barrington said...

Inland California is a Republican stronghold, no? :-)

David B Marshall said...

While we're looking at realities your media is probably not informing you about, take a look at what Obamacare is going to do to the poor: