Friday, February 28, 2014

The Problem with Movements

The problem with an army is: what do you do with it after the end of the war?

Or, on the view that politics is civil war by other means, what do you do with a movement after it has achieved its goal?

The temptation for every political leader is to keep the troops -- or the rank-and-file in the movement -- mobilized and find a new war for them to fight.

So liberals kept the civil-rights movement going, and turned it into a permanent arm of the Democratic Party, nosing out racism everywhere and anathematizing the racists that it found.

Same with feminism.  It wasn't enough to get women the vote, to require equal pay for equal work.  It became necessary to winkle out sexism wherever it could be found and anathematize it.  And women had to be taught -- in 2012! -- that Republicans were running a "war on women," whatever that means.

Now we are getting the same thing with gay rights.  Gays, mobilized and flushed with their success are running up the score -- on mom-and-pop florists.  Here's Erick Erickson:
In one real world case, a florist had a long-time relationship with a gay couple. She had sold them flowers on multiple occasions. She knew they were gay. She gladly served them. When they asked her to provide flowers for their gay wedding, she declined because of her faith. She assumed they were friends. They sued her business for discrimination.
Yeah.  Silly fools.  They should have realized that the personal is the political, that liberal politics is all about division and us and them.  They should have remembered Lenin and his crack about the need to break eggs when you make an omelette.  Even when the egg is your long-time florist.

The trouble with politics is that it is always about dividing people and demanding that people announce for you or against you.  Most people just want to get along and complain about other people behind their back.  But not movement people.  They are doing God's work, or history's work, or justice's work.  And so a little road-kill is just the political equivalent of the Pentagon's "collateral damage."

But why have liberals been so intransigent during the last decade?  I will tell you.  They believe Judis and Teixeira in their Emerging Democratic Majority of minorities, women, young people and educated people.  They think they are in the political driver's seat with a Democratic majority for decades to come.

Let's give liberals the benefit of the doubt.  Things certainly looked good back in the mid 2000s during the rule of the evil Bush.  But now minorities are wondering what happened to Hope and Change, women are angry about not keeping their doctor, young people are wondering about jobs, and the educated have stopped worrying about their social liberalism and are thinking more about the need for economic conservatism.

In "Exorcising Latin America's Demons," Samuel Gregg urges the Venezuelas and the Argentinas to lose their populist and divisive politics, the clientismo, the cronyism, the "right leader," the extremist rhetoric that "pits groups against each other: poor against rich, mestizos against whites, rural dwellers against urban residents, employees against employers."

Like we don't have those problems here in the USA with "fairness," the "war against women," government shutdowns, climate "denialism," evil Koch Brothers, and all.

If there is a saving grace for the US that makes it different from Latin America it is that Americans are mostly middle class "people of the responsible self" whereas many folks in Latin America are closer to their pre-industrial roots and experience life more as "people of the oppressed or victimized self."

Thus an Obama can sell the American people on keeping their doctors and health plans and saving $2,500 a year and get them to believe it.  He can talk about transparency and his "faith tradition" and get a pass.  But when it turns out that people can't keep their doctors and plans, and kids can't get jobs, and the administration and the Democrats in Congress openly use the IRS as a catspaw against their political opponents, then the political winds can change.

The people of the responsible self don't like being lied to, because trust is a key factor in their lives in the capitalist economy.  The people of the responsible self don't like the Chicago-style cronyism and corruption.  They don't like their kids living in the basement.

Nobody is expecting the people of the oppressed self to change their minds on Obama, but that's not the point.  The question is whether the vast middle class in the US has "had enough."

Another thing about the folks in the broad middle class.  They really don't like "movements."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Give Me That "Collective Action" Rubbish

I'm reading a thumb-sucker right now about Jürgen Habermas by a political science prof. -- so you don't have to.  It's called The recent work of Jürgen Habermas: Reason, justice & modernity by Stephen K. White.

Habermas is interesting to me because he is a lefty trying to deal with the consequences of Horkheimer and Adorno in The Dialectic of Enlightenment.  These founders of the Frankfurt School writing during World War II had to face the fact that the Enlightenment hadn't resulted in unalloyed sweetness and light as advertised.  In fact, they admitted, Enlightenment and Reason were about power.  Man was interested in reason in order to dominate nature and other men.  So Habermas comes up with a dual-track idea.  There is reason, which is instrumental and strategic, egos using reason to get their way in the world.  And then there is communicative action or negotiation, which is about people interacting as social equals in a taken-for-granted lifeworld.

It doesn't take too long for Stephen K. White to start burbling lefty code words like "power" and "ideology" and "social change" and "collective action" and "collective goods."  I had to restrain myself from upchucking.  Because what do those words really mean when stripped of what we might call lefty "false consciousness?"  Let's parse these words for their real meaning, when deployed by lefties as weapons against conservatives.

Power.  Lefties are obsessed with the power of others, particularly the bourgeoisie and the capitalists.  There is no doubt that the bourgeoisie and the capitalists created a new form of power -- we might call it market power -- that began to compete with political power, and this seems to be an immense problem for lefties.  But the truth is that market power is a reciprocal thing.  You get market power by doing what the consumers want and doing it well.  When you stop doing that you lose your power, unless you have access to political power.  But lefties want to combat market power with political power.  You can see the problem with that in everything from the Soviet Union and Communist China to the stupidities of political power in Obamacare.

Ideology. Lefties understand that religion and ideas are critical sources of power.  As Andrew Breitbart said: "politics is downstream from culture."  But lefties don't want anyone to have power except themselves, and so lefties are obsessed with the idea that someone other than lefties might be influencing people.  That's why Marx invented the idea of ideology and "false consciousness," to make a scandal out of people other than lefties launching ideas into the world.  But the truth is that lefties spend their whole lives spouting ideology, and, to get back to Horkheimer and Adorno, lefty ideology is intended to dominate in a Habermasian strategic sense as strategic reason, rather than initiate a conversation.

Collective Action. This is a euphemism that is designed to obscure what is really going on.  When lefties talk about collective action they are talking about everything from a lefty street demonstration to the passage of a lefty legislative action.  In other words force or the threat of force.

Collective Goods. Another euphemism.  When lefties talk about collective goods they are talking about government programs that forcibly tax and/or regulate people to support some kind of one-size-fits-all government program.  It might be education, pensions, or healthcare.  But force is there, front and center, except that lefties don't want to draw attention to the force, or face the fact that their whole world view is about force.

Social Change. This means government-enforced change.  It means that social cooperation in some sphere of human intersubjective activity is to be replaced by government force in which the terms of interaction and cooperation will be replaced by administrative and bureaucratic rules with the force of law which cannot be changed by voluntary agreement between individuals.

We are getting to see all this operate in the miserable operations of the Obama administration.  The Obamis know what we need and they are determined to give it to us, whether we like it or not, from Obamacare that sweeps the whole health-care system under the detailed supervision of government to clean energy that substitutes the pipe dreams of environmental activists for the market.  As you can see, in the manipulations of the IRS, the National Labor Relations Board, the EPA, the politicizing of criminal cases like the Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin affair, there is no attempt at creating a consensus or agreement.  Everything is about using government power to advance a liberal agenda and to intimidate opponents.  And the result is the opposite of justice.

The beautiful thing about the market system is that its power is limited.  It is certainly hegemonic, for it demands everyone to submit to its price signals or face the consequences.  But the market does not demand to own your soul.  It does not demand uniformity or loyalty oaths or acts of submission.  It just says: look, if you want to thrive in this world then you have to do things and make things that other people are willing to pay for.  Reduced to its essential, the market says that you have to think about other peoples' needs.

The great fact about our modern era is that there are lots of people, who think they represent the future, struggling with all their might to kill the market and replace it -- by turning back the clock to an age where everyone was utterly subordinated to the local lord.

Here we have our modern left, convinced it is utterly committed to erasing the patriarchy.  But what does it do?  In every action it is effectively trying to return society to a kind of neo-patriarchy where individuals are subordinated to some political boss: the politician, the bureaucrat the activist.  This brave new world of the political boss, if you ask me, is indistinguishable from the awful patriarchy of the pre-modern era when the dominant male ruled over all.

Who cares what the gender of the political boss is?  Domination is domination, and humans hate to be on the receiving end.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beyond Arthur Brooks' Social-Justice Agenda

Arthur C. Brooks is a real good guy.  He's the one that wrote Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism and found out that it wasn't liberals that cared.  And now, writing in Commentary, he's found out that people that believe in redistribution don't give much to charity.
According to the 1996 General Social Survey, those who strongly agreed that “the government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” gave away $140 on average to charity. Among those who strongly disagreed, the average gift was $1,637.
But still, he says, conservatives believe in redistribution to the extent of a basic government safety net, and more.

A proper conservative social-justice agenda should include -- well what exactly?  Somebody decided to ask the poor, and this is what the poor wanted:
The real answer is both simple and profound. They need transformation, relief, and opportunity—in that order. On these three pillars, conservatives and advocates for free enterprise can build the basics of the social-justice agenda that America deserves.
So off goes Brooks into an enumeration of the programs that would be needed to do that.

But I'm not so sure.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave an education speech recently "Making Higher Education Affordable Again." According to Daniel Doherty Rubio starts with a "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act." Oh Good.  That sounds just like the Affordable Care Act that isn't.  Rubio then proposes that employers step in and start to invest in education for their employees with equity deals, etc.  But surely the problem is bigger than that.

In fact I would imagine that any conservative social-justice agenda for the poor must start with zeroing out the middle class entitlements.  Why?  Because otherwise we get right back to where we are today, where the middle class entitlements completely dwarf the goodies going to the poor.

What do we see today?  The poor get shafted when it comes to education. The schools in the "inner city" -- meaning more generally wherever the poor send their kids to school -- are dreadful.  So what's the point of government education?  The middle class will find a way to educate their children.  In fact the latest fad is for home-schooling that does not plan any specific program.  It assumes that middle-class kids will pick up what they need to know as they grow up just as they teach themselves to speak their mother tongue.  So we have an education system that was  originally intended to make the poor literate, and instead it amounts to a middle-class baby-sitting service.

Then there's welfare, which seems to be intended as a middle class jobs program rather than relief for the poor.

It would be nice, e.g., to have government assistance to the poor for retirement income and health care.  But instead we have the monster Social Security Medicare/Medicaid system that's a feast for the special interests, privileges the middle class, and elbows out the poor.  Well-to-do middle-class grandmas make a hobby out of visiting their cardiologists for their heart problems and their neurologists for their Parkinsons problems whenever the mood takes them: meanwhile the poor have to hope to elbow their way in at some government clinic.

It seems to me that Point Zero is to say that, whatever it is -- education, retirement, health care -- the middle class ought to be able to do it and afford it on their own.  If it takes government for the middle class to afford it, as in health care, then the whole thing is screwed up so bad with government programs that we need to start again.

So that's why I can't get too excited about a conservative social-justice agenda that starts tinkering away with the current subsidies and government programs.  I don't believe that we'll end up helping the poor if we do that.

First of all, we've got to get us, the middle class, off the government teat.  Then we can start to talk about a conservative social-justice agenda for the poor.

There's another thing.  Brooks' three ideas, of "transformation, relief, and opportunity," are great.  But let's think about how we can get government out of it.

In transformation, of course, we are talking "personal moral transformation."  That means government must have nothing to do with it, because of the separation of church (meaning any morally oriented organization) and state.

Then with relief we must deal with the basic problem that the poor climbing out of poverty and dependency face the highest marginal tax rates of any Americans, often over 50%.  Every time a poor person works, they face the removal of some benefit.  So if a poor person is receiving government benefits, then that poor person is facing severe fiscal headwinds.  The less the government is handing out relief and the more that the private sector (that means you and me) is stepping in the more the marginal tax problem goes away.

Then there is opportunity.  Writes Brooks:
An opportunity society has two basic building blocks: Universal education to create a base of human capital and an economic system that rewards hard work, merit, innovation, and personal responsibility.
Really?  I'd say that an opportunity society is one that goes out of its way to make it easy to learn and to work.  I'd say it combines education and work.  Right now we have a government education system that doesn't educate and we have extensive workplace regulation and taxation that makes it very difficult for marginal workers to get ahead.  The current system puts barriers in the way of people that want education, and puts lead weights on the feet of people that want to work.

I'd say that what the poor need is child labor.  Yeah!  Poor children need to get into work early and start doing something useful.  Then, when they are still young they might start to see that a bit of education could really help them live a productive and well-paid life.  OK.  Let's provide lots of ways for people to get their Three Rs under their belt.  And they might do that before they have gotten socialized into the dead-end inner city school and before getting socialized into the local gang culture.

Actually, I'd say that -- never mind the poor -- most children, excepting only the professional and creative elite, would thrive with a combined work-and-education system.  It is only the hot-house flowers of the elite that benefit from an academic education, kids with Tiger Moms that are destined to live by the written word, because Mom said so.  But most people learn by doing; they are kinesthetic learners rather than auditory or visual.  Check out Learning Styles at Wikipedia.  So why in the world have we forced everyone into a audio-visual system?  I'll tell you why.  It's because system is domination and the point of today's government education is not to educate but to dominate.

Of course all this is way too scary for policy analysts like the excellent Arthur C. Brooks and good presidential candidates like Marco Rubio.  They have to appear sound and sensible to brain-dead liberal media types.  But you and I are not public figures.  We can afford to think big, think beyond the conventional wisdom, and try to think of a world beyond the failed world of the administrative liberal welfare state.

And we should.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Get a Clue, Panama

The Panama government is in a deadlock over money with GPUC, the Spanish/Italian construction consortium that's building the Panama Canal expansion for $3.1 billion.  They want about $1.6 billion to finish the job.

It's a big deal, because the bigger locks in the expansion will allow canal revenue to increase from the current $1 billion a year to a projected $4 billion a year, according to Dan Molinski.

Panama chose a Spanish/Italian consortium to build the canal expansion for $3.1 billion, and you can see why.  To select mega-construction firm Bechtel would mean letting the Yankee imperialist nose back inside the tent.  Nobody in Panama wants that.

But, according to Bechtel Group Inc. whinings to the US State Department unearthed by Wikileaks, the European consortium bought the job.  The "consortium couldn't even 'pour the concrete' for the accepted $3.1 billion bid," according to a Bechtel memo.

OK chums, but compare $1.6 billion against the $3 billion per year in increased revenue from the new locks, which will allow ships 1,400 ft long by 180 ft wide to use the canal, compared with 1,000 ft by 110 feet at present.  Get a clue; get the expansion finished!

Mind you, the ships using the canal even now are BIG.  You may read about the miserable Panamax limititation, that is hog-tying today's shippers and shipowners.  But even Panamax ships look amazing  and enormous as they transit the the Gatun lake and approach the Gaillard Cut, the narrowest part of the canal, just before the canal hits the locks on the Pacific side of the canal.

Visiting Panama, I can see the problem.  The Panamanian government is a small affair, a thing of luxurious SUVs and comfortable sinecures.  Visit the foreign ministry and its cool central courtyard surrounded by bureaucratic offices.  But the courtyard's dominating feature is a ramp down to the SUV garage, and it seems that high-end SUVs are continuously appearing from and disappearing into the garage.

Panama has inherited the canal as a working enterprise, a cash cow, from the US.  What does it know about big construction, and high risk construction projects?  So you'd expect that the rough tough construction guys would overmatch the SUV-and-sinecure softened Panamanians.

And, of course, the government must deal with the Panamanian people, who don't want some greedy capitalists making money off "their" canal.

Well, I'd say that it's time to finish the canal, get the revenue from those Panamax-plus container ships, and start to work on the infrastructure, which is clearly pretty old and second rate.  Then Panama's glittering billion dollar mile of 40-storey high rises can transform into a trillion dollar mile, and more where that came from.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Microagression: Liberals' latest Double-O Prefix

Remember the good old days of 007?  That Double-O prefix was James Bond's "license to kill."  Har, Har.  That Ian Fleming guy had quite a sense of humor.

But it seems pretty clear that there is nothing that liberals like more than their own self-awarded Double-O prefix.  In their case it's not a license to kill, but a license to accuse anyone they want or racism, sexism, homophobia, hate speech.

And now there's "microaggression."  There's even a page on Wikipedia.  It's a beautiful concept, because it depends entirely on the eye of the victim.

Suppose you are a white student studying for a calculus test and you ask the nearby Asian student for help, writes Alec Torres.
The Asian student agrees to help, but for some reason feels uncomfortable with the way the question was asked.
Yeah.  I mean.  Such a racial stereotype!  Everyone knows that all Asian students are good at math!  There's your microaggression.

And you can see how it is supposed to work.  If you are a liberal darling -- a women, a minority, an LGBTQ or whatever the liberals come up with next week -- then you have a license to take umbrage at anything your little liberal darling heart desires.  And if you are in any kind of big institution you can go whine to the Diversity Office or HR or whatever the hate speech police are called in your neck of the woods.

That's the liberal game, of course.  Or we should say, the Cathedral's game.  The Cathedral gets to define orthodoxy in the liberal secular state church.  And you'd better get with the program, Jenkins, because otherwise we can make life difficult for you.  Because you wouldn't like to be accused of racism, or hate speech or microaggression or -- whisper this one -- heresy!

If it all weren't so sad, it would be funny.  Here we have liberals, enlightened, evolved, tolerant and all the rest of it.  That's what they say.

But the reality is that they are running their own gigantic Holy Office of the Inquisition, to enforce uniformity of thought, to propagate orthodoxy, or politically correct thought.

And just as in the good old days of the Spanish Inquisition, it is usually enough just to show the heretic the instruments of torture.  No actual torture required.

How modern.  How enlightened.  How tolerant.  How evolved.  How disgusting.