26 October 2011

Good luck with that, bits and pieces edition.

1) As with the death of Saddam, I'm not greatly troubled that Qaddafi has been killed. But. As with his fall from power and the fall of Saddam, I'm not greatly encouraged that the situation has now been improved. Fighting is the easy part. Rebuilding a country with minimal stable social institutions necessary to guarantee basic human rights and a democratic society, good luck with that. I'd love to be proven wrong that such things could be done relatively cheaply and easily, as promised. But I have a couple hundred years to point out that it hasn't been cheap and easy even with countries that already have minimally stable social institutions that don't need to be built from scratch (Germany and Japan post WW2 for instance). Also. Just because it's a liberal-progressive Democratic President instead of a vile fascistic Republican in office (or vice versa in a few years when this happens again with some other tottering dictator in a mostly irrelevant nation-state, say Syria or Morocco, with the glorious clone of Reagan 2000 as President), does not mean that the underlying mission is now noble and honorable and will be carried out more effectively and successfully. Doesn't work that way either.

2) Further observation of OWS and its spawn has convinced me that it isn't going to be able to mainstream itself enough to matter politically. Perhaps it has, in the vague cacophony of messages and voices, some kernels that will appeal to more people than have joined in. But its underlying message is more about building an alternative structure, an open society predicated on a mostly liberal worldview. This works fine when you have a community of mostly liberal people participating in a free and open assembly with mostly shared views and grievances. It does not work fine when you have a diverse community with competing interests and grievances, including large numbers of non-liberal people (I do not consider some social conservatives to be "democratic" for instance. I consider them to be theocrats.) And that's just on matters where opinion is more pertinent than expertise and knowledge. I have no idea how a vague open community with these competing interests would assess the appropriate format for environmental regulations or tax policies. Good luck with that too.

3) In contrast to that. I think both on the 53% and 99% stuff. You're both bullshitting everyone and knock it off. First off, the 53% and the related complaining among some conservatives that the rest of the population is just a bunch of freeloaders. The appropriate response is either a) the Ron Paul-ish attitude that hooray many people don't pay any taxes! now let's get to work culling government spending! or b) laying out how your general ideology or policy perspectives would improve the lives of those 47%. Bitching about them makes you look like a bunch of whiny narcissists. I expect this sort of thing out of the Faux News types (and Erick Erickson who is stranded on CNN but lives on infusions from Faux). But I am pretty sure not all of the 53% types are Faux News types. At least I don't think they are. Note: The ones who don't realize that they're actually part of the 47% probably are.

Second. Income inequality matters. I get it. But real income growth and class mobility are much bigger problems than inequality in the long run. These are the problems that need to be addressed. Okay, yes CEO pay has skyrocketed. Wall Street bankers make a lot of money. I get these are visible complaints. Problem is I've seen this happen before. The "let's lynch the rich" routine happened in the 1930s too. It did nothing at the time to correct the scourge of income inequality and, more importantly, nothing to recover the economy and restart growth. Talking about the top 1% as though they are scapegoats is an amusing diversion for the rest of the public. But my understanding of the financial collapse in 2008 includes a lot of blame to go around. Some certainly goes on those bankers that everyone seems so mad about. But it also goes on some of the people who took out mortgages on otherwise worthless properties hoping to flip them or, worse, to expand their access to credit and fund their lifestyles. Or on government regulators or other bureaucrats (at the Fed for instance). And so on. Not all of these are people in the 1%. Moreover, the recession was almost global in its effects. That's an ultimately AD problem, not by itself a banking problem. Banks are just grease on the pan. If someone turns down the heat, it doesn't matter how much grease is on there, you're never going to fry anything. As in the late 20s and early 30s, the visibility of Wall St makes it easy to blame, but the problem runs much deeper than something like "a bunch of evil speculators/hedge fund managers". I think there's a strain that taps into the lack of middle class growth or socioeconomic mobility. So there's hope. But it's a helluva lot easier to get people motivated around "fuck the banks!" or "pay my college tuition loans!" than it is to get things situated around complicated problems like fixing K-12 schools and the stupidity of health care benefits being tied to employers. That worries me.

(Addendum: I fully endorse the problem of banks rigging capitalism through regulation and corporate largesse in the political arena, the latest fruits of which being large scale bailouts rather than monetary policy letting the chips fall as they may, etc. And so I fully realize that bankers deserve some ire. I'm annoyed at the idea that they are the only ones who do.

As always my politics are informed by the idea that the public sucks). 
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