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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Trump's "Evil Genius" and Unhinged Centrist Paranoia

Some people have dubbed Trump an "evil genius." Trump is not an "evil genius", his only "genius" is in how thoroughly he's baited the paranoia of his opponents to the extent they look like rabid fools who are sitting around in a circle jerk self-confirming each other's opinions that Trump is an "existential threat." If I was a politician, there's nothing I'd like better than for my opponents to think I was an "existential threat" and then feverishly imagine every possible way their "evil" opponent might threaten their precious bodily fluids (in the immortal words of General Jack D. Ripper). So that may be "genius" but how "evil" it is, is relative to how deeply you've taken the bait. Did I miss it or did Bruce fail to mention that Trump has access to the Nuclear Football? How could he have missed that? He must be slipping, that one is a paranoiac's dream.

When the Congress attempted to impeach Trump, the reason they didn't try to use the Hatch Act or campaign finance violations or general government funding violations, or abandoning treaties, or violating the public trust, or undermining faith in elections is, they want to preserve those capabilities for a future Democrat President to make use of-- all Trump did there is follow the playbook set up by previous administrations and take the next logical steps-- he was just more overt about it than we've been used to. That then establishes a precedent of Presidential behavior that future Presidents of both parties will happily make use of, and they all will have Trump to thank for normalizing abhorrent Presidential behavior.

And all this has neatly eclipsed the fact that Joe Biden is everything I and a lot of other voters DON'T WANT in a President. Trump sucks, but he's largely incompetent. Incompetent at building his wall, incompetent at dealing with a pandemic. The only thing he's been GOOD at is pushing the boundaries, something no doubt Biden will make ready use of and the Democrats clearly appreciate. So those actions by Trump are undoubtedly bad things, but essentially he's just been doing the establishment's bidding-- backed by Congressional approval from both sides of the aisle pretty much every step of the way. Certainly all bad, but Biden is no improvement and JUST as dangerous because there has been NO punishment, and he will continue to foster a do-nothing Congress while giving away the store to the wealthy-- while all those who have taken Trump's bait will go back to sleep, leaving Biden the easiest Democrat candidate to beat in 2024 that the Republicans will have ever seen.

But here is what I think is happening-- Trump doesn't really want to be re-elected, it's too much work and he doesn't like work. What he wants is a pardon from Biden for any wrongdoings. He will use a questionably "fraudulent" election to negotiate for that. And he'll get it, because he is in fact, a good negotiator...

Friday, February 20, 2015

More on Hayek

Hayek is often credited with the observation that optimal central planning is in fact impossible.  But the important thing is what comes next-- what your argument is regarding what to do about it.  Hayek proceeds from there to conclude that "spontaneous order" (let an unfettered market handle it) provides the best outcome for the most people, and that ANY planning is therefore not only not necessary but guaranteed to be sub-optimal. Perhaps Hayek doesn't go quite that far, but many of his followers certainly do.  But that logic breaks down on several levels.

One, it presumes that a complete lack of any social planning is a condition that's even possible-- what's missing there is that social planning occurs not just within powerful governments but also within powerful individuals and nongovernmental entities, such as corporations.  And while you may, in a democracy, theoretically be able to minimize or even eliminate the government's planning operations, it's not possible to do that and also eliminate the social planning imposed by corporations and powerful individuals.  And at least when the government is doing the planning, if the government actually is beholden to the people, everyone has some input into that planning, where other powerful entities would have no one to answer to under a government without any mechanisms to protect its people's interests.  Some would chime in here no doubt and try to argue "except for it's customers" but that effect is FAR more limited-- the impact customers have on markets is vastly overrated here when scarcity,  monopoly, employment, diversity, and internationalization provide many ways for companies to subvert the market regardless of customer efforts to counter it.  How many customers even know which company is responsible for which product and what else they are doing?  And independently wealthy private individuals may not be subject to customer impacts at all.  Given that, I would say the social planning performed by a government I have some say in can absolutely be preferable to social effects imposed by entities I have little or no say in.

And second, Hayek's argument is in effect, the behavior of society is too complex to optimally plan for, so government should do nothing in regards to social planning.  This is like claiming that because the behavior of the weather is too complex to plan for, we therefore have no need for umbrellas.

But I think it's quite clear that yes, we do need umbrellas to protect us from the vagaries of the weather, and we do need social planning to protect us from the vagaries of the market.  Hayek's observation about complexity does not change this at all.  He then attempts to take it a step further by arguing that there's something about the market that would differentiate it from the weather to make his point, but he fails here.  He resorts to a Social Darwinist "survival of the fittest" paradigm to try to explain just what it is about the market that would make it fairer than any human strategic planning.  But he fails to observe that true natural selection is littered with its mistreated victims-- given it's goal is not the most good for the most individuals but instead survival of the fittest at any cost, unconcerned with the objections, injustices and interests of individuals.  What Hayek misses is the fact that blind evolution is ALSO not optimal-- makeshift, haphazard, and faulty solutions are more than common, and a lot of individuals get trashed in the process.  And while we no doubt should be modest in the presumptions of our abilities to improve on it, I've no doubt we can design a worthy umbrella now and then.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

How am I mischaracterizing Hayek? Or his followers?

I've been exploring Frederich August von Hayek recently.  Mostly because I keep seeing his "Road to Serfdom" cited as an argument against the government doing just about anything.  And generally used as a critique against social planning and any government concern with social justice.  Also, often used as a Libertarian argument in favor of free markets and rolling back regulation.  Many Republicans seem to be a fan (those vanishing few that actually do any reading and thinking).  Reagan and Thatcher found they had Hayek in common, "The Road To Serfdom" was read by Thatcher in her college years, and in 1984 she was gifted a leather bound copy by none other than Hayek himself.  Hayek was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974.

Hayek, along with a cast of several other characters, including Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Milton Friedman, are often associated with the Austrian School of Economics, and are generally critics of Keynesian economics and proponents of an unregulated free market. There's some overlap here with Ayn Rand and Objectivism as well, but it's not clear to me just exactly how much.

So given these thinkers seem to form the core of the Republican playbook on government (or, preferred lack thereof), I wanted to know a little more about what the thinking process might be.  On the other hand, not really wanting to slog through "Road to Serfdom" (and I hear it is quite a slog), I've been reading reviews and articles (pro and con) and perusing YouTube videos on Hayek and other Austrian School cohorts, trying to piece together the essential arguments.

No doubt the true believers will tell me that I can't do any of it justice if I haven't read the original texts-- an argument I also encountered with Ayn Rand acolytes.  And while that argument may seem justified at first, the implication seems to be that the original arguments cannot be distilled down any further than the original revealed text.  This argument has usually occurred after I characterized the revered one's argument in a way that has been deemed "wrong" by the faithful but with no specific details offered as to exactly what is wrong with my characterization.  This suggests to me a real problem-- if the ideas are coherent, it should be possible to express them explicitly and concisely and not require reference to an authority.  In other words, if the arguments are any good they should be able to stand on their own and not reduce to "because Ayn Rand says so" (or Hayek says so, or von Mises says so, etc.).  Post-structuralist philosophy (Derrida, Foucault, et. al.) also seems to be completely infected with this problem.  My feeling is, if you can't paraphrase it, it's either complete gibberish, or at the very least you clearly don't understand it well enough to know if I've butchered it or not. So I just don't feel all that guilty about relying on various sources of distillation.

As best as I can tell given that then, Hayek seems to be essentially making the argument that optimal central planning is impossibly difficult, and therefore we should instead allow the "spontaneous order" of the free market to do whatever it is going to do.  Thus, the scorched-earth policy of Republican governance is justified.  Cut everything, period.

However, I do see some evidence that while the argument for the impossibility of optimal central planning seems to be a proper characterization of Hayek's ideas, the "what we should do about it" of "let the market decide" is how his followers have chosen to characterize him rather than what he actually thought about it.  For example, there's a quote of his regarding a social safety net:

"There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all, protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend. To enter into such an insurance against extreme misfortune may well be in the interest of all; or it may be felt to be a clear moral duty of all to assist, within the organised community, those who cannot help themselves. So long as such a uniform minimum income is provided outside the market to all those who, for any reason, are unable to earn in the market an adequate maintenance, this need not lead to a restriction of freedom, or conflict with the Rule of Law."

His followers downplay of this idea in favor of the free market has a couple of glaring flaws, even when fully granting Hayek's argument about the impossibility of optimal central planning.

The suggestion seems to be there are only two options-- a false dichotomy.  The implication is we must either be 100% for central planning or 100% for an unregulated free market.  I don't see those are the only options at all-- and certainly all examples of actual societies and governments are somewhere in between the two.  You can't just take one extreme and claim since it is unworkable that then means the other extreme is the answer.  It seems to me both extremes are completely undesirable, each for reasons of their own.   And I don't see that Hayek contradicts that, actually.

It's as if the faithful are making the argument that, because it's clearly impossible to predict the weather due to its complexity, we therefore have no need for umbrellas and snow shovels.

Now if I'm mischaracterizing Hayek's or his follower's arguments, I'd like to know HOW.  Don't just tell me to go read a book.  If you can't point out what's wrong with my characterization of his argument regarding central planning vs spontaneous order, or his followers who suggest that means there is no need for market regulations or safety nets of any kind, I would say YOU don't understand them well enough to know if I got it wrong or not.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Russell Brand Nonsense

The following was posted by me on a negative review of Russell Brand's book, "Revolution." Someone posted a list of questions designed to identify someone as conservative if they voted yes to any of them.  Brand is proud of the fact he's never voted because he figures it's been useless...


I answered No to all of your questions but I still think Russell Brand is a useless goof.  If he can't convince the people who DO vote to vote differently, he's pissing in the wind.  And at least in the US, if voting was as irrelevant as he says, corporations wouldn't be spending $5B on campaign propaganda and the GOP wouldn't be working so hard trying to make it harder for low income and minorities to vote.  The problem is not that voting doesn't work, the problem is the voters keep voting for greedy corporate shills rather than for third parties or anti-incumbent protest votes.  The problem is the $5B propaganda mill is working well, and frankly, the fewer people who vote the better they like it, especially when the non-voters are anti-corporate liberals.  So Brand is serving them well at this point.  There's no way there'll be a violent "revolution," that's a pipe dream.  You have to do the hard work of exposing the fact that the MSM no longer cover protest movements, or just as importantly, the systemic clamp-down on them. 

 In the 1970s strip malls were converted to shopping malls all over the US.  But few people realize an important reason why.  You can't picket inside on private property, so picketers would have to stand outside at the common entrance to the entire complex where they have much less impact, since they're not directly in front of the store in question-- they're not confronting just shoppers for the store in particular but for all the stores.  Safety in numbers, and the hunkering down happened while no one was paying attention.  The result is, public protests lost much efficacy and visibility in the process, to the point that protests are going on all over the world, but most of the voters who can in fact, make a difference, are oblivious of them.

Voters, at least in the US have been hyped into being sports fans looking for a team to cheer.  Everyone has learned to cheer their own team no matter what.  Right or wrong.  You're behind the blue team or the red team, period.  The entire socialization process in the US with its rah-rah sports metaphors has trained everyone.  You don't need to think, just cheer for your team, and voters like that just fine.  Suggesting those people who DO think, should just not vote in protest, is the worst suggestion one could imagine-- virtually certain to guarantee the corporate status quo.   And the people are arguing about socialism vs capitalism, the totalitarians in charge have got them all right where they want them.  As long as we're arguing about whether to spend money on wars, surveillance, free trade partnerships or liberal programs, we're not colluding on ways to get the money out of politics.

We've seen this story before.  Read Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.  Revolution is at hand, yeah, right.  And they targeted the vote too, but trying to get the "rock and rollers" TO vote.  That didn't work either-- the problem is, the people who vote their team and have always voted their team and will keep voting their team are in the majority, and crazy talk isn't going to change that.  You have to get down and do the hard work of getting petitions signed, social media campaigns, not just to get out the vote but to educate in the process, and yes, pounding the pavement and talking to people.  We need to build up the social pressure that just voting for team red or blue is being a puppet and that the MSM, be it Fox or MSNBC, are feeding us useless propaganda instead of useful information.  It's a hard slog though, because a big chunk of people don't like to have to think and the team approach relieves them of that.  Unfortunately, they all vote and as long as that is the case that is what you are up against.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Too Much Taxes, Oh My!

If your approach has been to do all you can to tear down the government, attempting to “starve the beast,” and then you turn around and complain that you’re getting nothing for your tax dollar, you only have yourself to blame.

Now I could be wrong about this, but I suspect you are not opposed to certain government subsidies, such as the public road system.   If you are not so inclined, then please clarify.   But assuming you aren’t opposed, the reasons would be pretty obvious.   If the roads were all privatized, they would undoubtedly be toll roads, and roads in particularly strategic locations could easily cost more than roads in less strategic locations.   And road owners could easily decide to charge based on the type of vehicle—passenger cars for example, could be charged by the passenger, and container trucks by the size and/or weight of the container.   It’s easy to see how this would increase the cost of pretty much anything, and the cost of things in more remote areas could end up higher than those same things in less remote areas.   Certain companies may buy their own roads and exclude their competitors from utilizing them.  Manufacturing would get hit both on the shipping of incoming resources, and the shipping of outgoing products.   Of course, manufacturing could be done in other countries where roads are subsidized by the government so that the only costs the manufacturers have to pay would be the cost to use the American roads to get their products to market, and not have to pay to ship raw materials over them to get to their factories.  And, costs of raw materials in the US to foreign countries would be less competitive with countries who subsidize their roads, because the shipping costs to get materials out of the US would be hampered by the costs of the toll roads.  Consequently, there is a societal benefit to a public system of roads whereby the costs of roads is distributed more evenly in order to equalize the costs of shipping and thereby of goods in general.

Presumably, you wouldn’t expect to get the benefit of public roads for nothing, and that taxes would have to be paid to maintain such a system.   Ultimately, what’s happening here, is you are choosing how you will be taxed—every time you utilize a private road in tolls, or via an income tax to a centralized government managing the creation and maintenance of a public road system.   The idea here is, you are getting something for your taxes, something that you would have to pay for directly otherwise.

Now I can see how one would balk at paying a lot of taxes, yet not getting anything in return.  But if this is occurring, I would say to a large extent that you’ve contributed to that fact.  On one hand, you may not recognize the value of something you actually ARE getting in return for your taxes, and second, if your strategy has been to work to tear down government as undesirable and useless, that you have directly contributed to its inability to provide value in return for taxation.   On one hand, your butts have been defended against terrorists threats (presumably, anyway), since 2001 or so, and that sort of thing is expensive.  If you don’t value this protection, have you been outspoken against it?   Or against the way it’s being paid for (or not-paid for)? 

Another factor is what I’m inclined to call the Rand Free Lunch syndrome.   Now it’s true that it’s not possible to outsource the public road system—you can't use roads in China to ship products from Pittsburgh to San Francisco for example.  Labor on the other hand, can be outsourced.  But it’s important to note that outsourcing labor to China makes use of a labor force that is being subsidized by a socialist system.   And once all American labor has been converted to the cheaper Chinese socialist labor, they will then be in a position to raise the prices of their labor with impunity.  Their laborers have then been educated and are highly productive within their system, but ours have not been as there have been fewer such jobs and less interest in subsidizing education for those laborers.  The long term effect of this is a trend towards a country where all products are sold by Walmart-like importers paying rock-bottom wages, and products being sold to a populace with less and less money to afford them, while the cost of the products go up as the Chinese decide to raise their prices.   And ultimately, this is likely to extend to the realm of international weaponry, a market which the US excels in at the moment, but is now ripe for incursion by the Chinese manufacturing forces.  The cost of the dirt-cheap labor free-lunch is not as free as it might seem, in the long run.

One measure of ethics is to ask the question, would an action still make sense if EVERYBODY did it?

There are in fact, “looters” in this country.  They have looted the US labor force in sending it overseas and taking advantage of OTHER countries labor subsidies and lack of environmental regulations so that they do not have to pay the taxes themselves to support those things.   And at the same time, they’re undermining the US labor force who now can’t compete with the low wages and no longer have sufficient education and/or skills.   It is a free-lunch attitude that is unsustainable and unethical, in that if everyone were to do it, it wouldn’t work, because either we would have to subsidize our labor force too, or they would have to not subsidize theirs, neither of which would result in the same sort of low-cost dynamic we have now.  What we have is an unbalanced short-term "free lunch", that is only going to work for a limited time and for a limited few.   If all you care about is your own short-term profits, it’s a really good deal, but it’s not a good deal for the rest of us, we’re getting cheated in return.

I believe what we are seeing in the economy of the US, is the results of the unsustainability of such free-lunch opportunities-- the unsustainability is finally producing results in the form of the hidden costs to society which are now coming to light.   It's starting to hit companies in their bottom lines, as unemployed workers stop buying products at the level they once did, and employed ones become more cautious.   The ability of the US to compete in the consumer electronics field has unquestionably taken a big hit.  The same technologies that go into consumer electronics go into smart weapons systems, the next generation of which are likely to be Chinese.  This will result in further layoffs of US defense workers as sales of weapons systems to foreign countries fall due to the cheaper prices of the Chinese products.   Are we all just going to be resellers of Chinese goods?   Is that going to be enough?  Or perhaps, do we need to re-think how we evaluate the full cost of doing business in the US?

Also, don’t forget that labor expects to get something for its tax money too.  And if it doesn't get it, it's every bit as interested in revolution as you are as an unhappy too-much-tax paying business owner.  One difference though, is that there's more of them than there are of you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

41% Say American Dream is Lost

Posted in response to a Yahoo! article with the title:

"41% of People Say American Dream Is Lost; 63% Say Economy Getting Worse

A new survey by Yahoo! Finance shows Americans have a disturbing lack of hope and a frightening lack of retirement planning.

Among the highlights of the poll:

-- 41% of Americans say the 'American Dream' has been lost.

-- 37% of adults have NO retirement savings and 38% plan to live off Social Security.

-- 63% of Americans believe the economy is getting worse, including 72% of those over the age of 55."

Even those of us who HAVE been planning for retirement have been stymied by several things:

1. The stagnant job wages that have been going on for a couple of decades (has not been keeping up with the cost of living).

2. The undermining of the US labor market by sending jobs to sweatshops in countries that don't protect their worker's or their environment and have a rock-bottom cost of living compared to the US. There's no way the American worker could ever compete with that without the US also becoming a third-world economy (we're on our way there, it seems).

3. The skyrocketing healthcare costs that were unforseen by most people. Who would have guessed that healthcare insurance could cost a couple over $1000/mo?

4. The crash of the housing market that has eaten into potential retirement equity. (people could plan to move into a smaller house at retirement, and/or to a cheaper area and use the difference for retirement-- but NOT ANYMORE).

5. The crash of the banking system which has, if not eaten up retirement accounts, have at least set them on a trajectory of stagnation for at least the next decade if not longer.

And if you want to point a single finger, I'd say you can point it at the INVISIBLE HAND of GREED that runs this country like an iron fist-- the COMPLETE AND UTTER CORRUPTION of GOVERNMENT by MONEYED INTERESTS.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Hayek a conservative after all?

Posted in response to a negative review of Robert H. Frank's "The Darwin Economy." A statement made blaming the creation of the Fed for the worlds economic ills was made, which I thought poorly supported (not that I'm particularly a fan of the Fed, but I'm not convinced it is the Evil Empire some seem to think it is).

You are quick to lay all economic problems at the feet of the Fed's influence. I don't think you've demonstrated that it's simply the existence Fed itself that is inherently faulty simply by pointing out some of its actions that turned out badly, or interpreting them as causal-- you seem to be cognizant of that point. However, I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to eliminating it, but I would need to know what you propose to replace it. An answer of "nothing" only tells me that you have no idea what will replace it. It's a ghost of Hayek, an etherial phantom that does not and cannot exist. Decentralized banking only means that the banks will choose on their own how they will centralize without regard to any democratic process, without any social involvement other than whatever meager influence their customers can exert on them. The fact is, banks exert significant control over our economy, I think we have a right to some say as to how they go about it. No, in fact, I think we have an OBLIGATION.

Society is necessarily a balance between collective interests and individual interests. That's simply a fact of life. The more you try to decentralize by eliminating "coercion", the more opportunity you provide for individuals of similar interests to choose to aggregate and collude against others of differing interests. The problem with an absolute anarchy is that there is nothing that keeps a bunch of people from getting together, forming a collective and exerting control. The tyranny of that control may not be substantially different than that of the despot dictator or maladapted representative government.

The question boils down to, what form(s) of collective(s) are you willing to tolerate? Many are quick to stand up for market collectives. This may very well be due to positive characteristics of such collectives that are quite desirable. But collectives cannot be prohibited simply by eliminating coercion, because coercion will form independently, as we've seen in corporate collectives. In fact, only coercion can eliminate coercion. The free market ideal that many are so fond of praising is not at all possible, because the level of freedom required for its existance is more than enough freedom to allow the elimination of it via collective interests, EVEN if government did not exist at all. There are in fact, TWO roads to serfdom, the path to socialism OR the path to free market capitalism, if you follow either of them far enough. The only difference in the latter is that a few more select individuals may escape via wealth or privilege.

We've certainly seen that a market so free that even government is for sale, is a "proven failure," for a significant number of people. And oh yes, we know that if government was powerless you probably think this wouldn't be a problem. But if government was powerless, that does not eliminate control and coercion, it only hands it over to collectives only beholden to society's interests in a peripheral way at best.

And there is another important fact that's relatively new (post-Hayek). Arguments for humans being incapable of understanding societal and economic dynamics sufficient to exert successful control over them may not be true for much longer. In fact, some may argue that it's not even true as of today. Computer information systems, simulations, evolutionary algorithms, etc., are being used today to model, predict, leverage, and even manipulate markets. How long before society can be modelled sufficiently enough that a lot of that experimentation I mentioned before can be performed at great speed and without impacting society at large, leaving proposed adjustments vetted to a much higher level of confidence than we've ever had or the classic economists ever imagined? What new strategies may be identified? We can only guess, but it is unlikely that there will be none. Will it solve all the worlds social problems, probably not, but I think it has the potential to make things better-- and even if it doesn't, we need to find out for sure anyway, as it is just too important to simply remain complacent that unrestrained free market dynamics is the best we can do, because frankly, it cannot withstand the very liberties it enjoys. And, do we want to leave these new information power tools only to potentially hostile (to society) forces? Or do we want to make sure that we can wield them as well? I suspect that given all of this, that Hayek might have decided that being a conservative was a good idea after all... :-)

The very definition of socialism in "A Road to Serfdom" is now an antiquated one that didn't foresee what individuals can accomplish via collectives on their own, with technology, and at what speed, and how collectives can form now and in the future, and how they can coexist with capitalism. Individuals can be a member of multiple collectives simultaneously, given modern communications. Suppose you had a free market but individuals chose instead to enter into collectives for the advantages they offer? Do they not already? Suppose an ad-hoc collective of individuals chose to form in order to target market or government forces that it sees as hostile to its interests? And of course, corporate collectives are long known to form anticompetitive or otherwise socially abusive pacts, as well as ones that no doubt have positive effects on society. As long as there is more than one person alive in the world, collectivism is here to stay in one form or another, the only question is, what forms will they be. If you just throw up your hands and let it be a total free-for-all, then you're just leaving it all to someone else who will take charge, I guarantee.