Politics, Ideology and Moving Forward

NEUTRALIZE-GERRYMANDERINGIt’s time.  The primaries are approaching. You and all your friends have a chance to vote in the 2014 elections that matter… the ones in the spring, not the fall!  Tell everyone you know to use this one little trick and we all, as individuals, can help defeat gerrymandering and de-radicalize American politics.

YOU can help do it.  By getting all your friends to re-register using this one little trick… though it may require that you hold your nose…A Modest Proposal to Neutralize Gerrymandering.

== Good news… live with it! ==

President Obama has ordered another cranking up of mileage standards for medium and heavy trucks.  The last one, in 2011, brought mileage improvements from 8% to 28% and won over all industry stake-holders.  So much so that there is almost no resistance, this time around. Manufacturers and trucking companies and associations are all tentatively accepting of the next stage, which bodes to recoup the costs for truckers within 18 months of purchase.

Add this to the spectacular success of the CAFE standards, which are now saving American drivers billions at the pump without costing a single job (delayed for 25 years by the GOP, thanks guys.) Some things can happen without involving the worst and laziest Congress in U.S. history.

bailoutsWill even a single Fox News prediction ever come true? Recall how rescuing GM & Chrysler would fail, after costing the taxpayers hundreds of billions? Both companies are now thriving and nearly all the money was repaid. Car mileage standards would kill Detroit!  No, they didn’t; we’re now getting far more efficiency, saving countless billions and getting better cars… and US automakers are doing fine.  And now…?  Remember Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

These mortgage companies were so horribly mismanaged under the Bush Administration that they became a huge calamity, threatening the entire economy. When they were bailed out under Obama, the stockholders who had negligently ignored the mess deservedly took a big loss… but the taxpayer didn’t.  This week it was announced that Fannie and Freddie had repaid every single cent to the US government.  From now on, the proceeds will pour in as… profit.

The same thing happened with AIG. But NOT to the bailouts done under Bush. Have a look at the graphic here. You wanted government run in a businesslike way? Never vote republican.

That is… not till the Goldwater-Buckley types get up off their behinds and get mad over what Rupert Murdoch has done to the party of Lincoln.

== What we could’ve been doing… instead of culture war ==

How tragic. We in the 21st Century finally have data that could let us figure out, with sophistication, which tasks government is good-at and which it should be used-for as a last resort.

GOVERNMENT-PROBLEM-SOLVERExample: Government is often great at addressing acute crises.  Feed THESE children right now!  Kill Hitler!

Chronic problems are different. Dilemmas that go on and on… like how to reduce unemployment or regulate product quality in business… these are areas where government should always face at least a basic burden of proof. “Are you sure there’s not some other way to get this fixed, than reaching for the coercive power of the state?”

The traditional right (not its current loony version) made this distinction, demanding evidence that socialist methods would not be captured or create permanent constituencies. That demand was a fair one, often made by Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley… though  such evidence often can be provided. Indeed, government also does some chronic things well.  Like federally funded research that looks beyond the corporate five year ROI (return of investment) horizon.  Or building and maintaining (when funded) vital infrastructure. Or justice and defense.

Actually eliminating poverty? There’s real cause for argument there! And the old Goldwater conservatism had a point when claiming that dependence on welfare is dangerous ground.  (Some of the worst moral hazard was reduced by the Clinton-Gingrich Welfare Reform Bill of 1995, the last time the GOP cooperated with a Democratic president in any way, even over adjourning for lunch.) But a basic social safety net is something most Americans agree with.  And few of our elderly live in grinding poverty now, as used to be the case for many millions.

Education? Government should absolutely provide the baseline, default system, at as high a set of standards as can be achieved. Adam Smith wanted this, and criticism of our current schools should be tempered with appreciation for the changes public education wrought, from was came before. And yet, I am libertarian enough to also want experiments. I don’t like how charter school options are currently set up, many of them serving as vehicles for people with radical axes to grind at taxpayer expense.  But the idea of unleashing some market forces to supplement… yes… I become decidedly un-leftist over that.

==Leftists vs Liberals==

left-liberal-3dOne major distinction, that I will describe however many times as required, is the divide between “leftists” and “liberals”.  Nothing makes more clear the insipidness of modern American political discourse than the failure to make this clear. And of course, anyone who watches Sean Hannity knows what spectacular propaganda-lie efforts are made to conflate these two, and to tar the hundred million or so American blue-liberals with being the same as their side’s… ahem… crazy fringe.

Leftists tend to prefer state/socialist/paternalist approaches to everything. They also tend (with much variation) to want to “equalize outcomes.”  Hence they are direct enemies of Adam Smith, who taught that competition is the root property that enables human beings to create wealth and solutions to problems. He also taught that competition without careful tuning and regulation is doomed to be suborned by cheaters….

Liberals tend to accept Adam Smith (“the first liberal”) in his essence, though millions have been talked into thinking he preached cut-throat, social-darwinism (an outright lie). Liberals know that market capitalism created the cornucopia of overall wealth that made all our subsequent do-gooder efforts possible (e.g. taking on racism and sexism and poverty and environmental neglect). They do not want to kill the golden-egg-laying goose, however many times Hannity repeats that slander.

But that mini-rant wanders afield from the core topic, which is — can we get the conversation away from insipidly simple-minded doctrines — that all of our problems stem from too much or too little government? Or the reciprocal… that the behavior of oligarchs and monopolies and market cornering cabals reflects poorly on “capitalism,” when flat-fair-open, smithies capitalism is one of the main victims of oligarchy?

Might we start a scientific appraisal of when the tool actually works? When we should somewhat prefer private solutions?  And when we should exercise our mastery as citizens, point our fingers and declare “Wither!” at some agencies and powers that — by all reason and decency — no state should ever have?

== Give yourself an ideological checkup =

QuestionnaireNFor years I’ve circulated a “Questionnaire on Ideology” that  aims to nudge folks into re-evaluating some underlying assumptions. (I collect the responses, but haven’t had time or energy to collate or turn them into a publishable study.)

One of the most important questions: “To what do you attribute your own set of beliefs?  And then: how do you think your ENEMIES came to their beliefs?

Among the choices are “logical appraisal of the evidence,” or “traits of character and mental ability,” or “propaganda and cultural influences.”

These can have interesting implications. Indeed, we often tend to say “My beliefs came about from logical appraisal of the evidence,” while our opponents are either motivated by greed or propaganda or flaws in their character.

(I’ve noticed lately that some folks seem to suspect the “gotcha” trap this question offers.  They check “character” as their reason, implying that they have their opinions because they have higher character than those who have differing opinions… though, when pressed, they admit that they do feel they are the logical ones; their foes’ opinions came from propaganda, but their own came from logic!)

DisputationArenasArrowCoverOf course all of this boils down my famous “Disputation Arenas” article, where I make the point that the Internet is far – very far – from becoming the “fifth arena” of our Enlightenment…..(see the lead article in the American Bar Association’s Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University) Aug. 2000, “Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition.”)

Until internet debates include systems for adjudication and “ritual combat,” I see little hope they can become transcendent problem solvers!

== End Pax Americana? ==

A completely different matter is whether the whole world might be better off led by a slightly-farther-ahead America that keeps innovating and stimulating planetary civilization with its ideas, inventions, products, universities and brash culture — along with the unprecedented general peace that has come from the continuation of a loose and (generally) benign Pax Americana. Or if, perhaps, it is time to move on and accept that an era is over. It’s time for Whatever Comes Next (WCN).

If you disdain the first sentence (above), please show me any other era in the history of our species that did even 1% as well for people overall.  And of course, we’d all love to see your plan for WCN.

Post-AmericanIf you would not mind Pax Americana’s continuation, and believe it can be mostly benign while (mildly) leading the world toward an elevated plane that becomes more rich, equal and consensual,  then it truly matters whether America is declining — in real, and not relative terms.

Was that provocative enough for you all?  Then see more about the debates raging over “declinism”… whether the United States is in irreparable tumble, whether it can make a soft landing, whether the appearance of “decline” is only because of the “Rise of the Rest” … or whether America can shake off its early 21st century funk and Civil War, give itself a stiff slap across the kisser, stop wallowing in dystopias and get moving again… amazing the world. (See Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World.. And the Rise of the Rest.)

That_Used_to_Be_Us_(Cover)That last is the position offered by Thomas L. Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum in That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World That It Invented and How We Can Come Back. The book was reviewed (Declinism’s Fifth Wave) by Josef Joffe, author of The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Economics and a Half-century of False Promises. 

Joffe offers his own list of reasons to doubt the “declinists,” citing the continuing dominance of U.S. universities in the planet’s intellectual life, for example. And the willingness of Canada and the US to continue accepting the bulk of the world’s migrants. As for economics: “All the Asian dragons and tigers started out at double-digit speed, then came down like Japan to nothing, or South Korea to 4%” growth, Joffe notes. “The [export-driven] model runs out of steam” because it’s based on investment at the cost of consumption, and features too much state interference leading to over-investment in certain sectors, leading to declining marginal returns, he explains.

WCNMy own quirky take on it all? When I see science fiction burgeoning in other cultures, I will be willing to talk about their role in WCN.  Till then… no one else is qualified… yet.

Some arguments are iffy. I’d be interested in the way others respond to this book.


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