I've gone from being an Obama supporter to now firmly believing that every progressive should be in firm opposition to Barack Obama, and that there needs to be political opposition to the Obama agenda and the Democratic Congress by progressives which is as strong as that of the so-called Tea Partiers.
The sad ting is, that we once again find ourselves in a situation where the only few high profile people providing any meaningful analysis of the problems faced by this country are actually conservatives, because there aren't any high profile elected Democrats or Democratic pundits with either enough spine or intellect to make the case against the Republican policies and "free market" ideologies that are destroying the nation's economy.
Instead its left up to people like David Stockman, former Reagan budget director, to make the case. I won't go into too much detail about Stockman's article in the New York Times, nor do I agree with everything that he said, but the point is that Stockman makes the case that underlying fundamentals of the economy these past 30 years have been driven by Republican policy, and that these underlying fundamentals are not just damaging to the economy, but that they are disastrous and fundamentally destructive in profound ways.
As Stockman notes, "But when, in the following years, the Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, finally crushed inflation, enabling a solid economic rebound, the new tax-cutters not only claimed victory for their supply-side strategy but hooked Republicans for good on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts."
This is exactly right, and it is what I said in How Reagan Sowed the Seeds of America's Demise. The reality is that the economic recovery that occurred late in Reagan's first term was not a product of Reagan's economic policies, it was a product of the Federal Reserve's policies, and also, which Stockman leaves out, the resolution of the oil crisis which is actually what largely allowed the Fed to be able to take the actions it did to bring down inflation. But yet, while the taming of out of control inflation was the real cause of the economic recovery, it was "Raganomics" that got all the credit, which has since hooked the American right on the idea that the policies of unsustainable tax cuts and giving the farm to the rich actually works.
It never worked. The short-term recovery was a result of getting inflation under control, which was a result of ending the oil crisis, and the longer term "growth" of the 1980s and 1990s was all a debt financed bubble.
But instead of strongly going after these core and fundamental problems and misconceptions, Democrats, led by the Obama White House, have been busy trying to cater to the right and to "honor the Reagan legacy".
Which leads us to Robert Gibbs' now widely parsed comments on the "professional left".
"I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested, I mean, it’s crazy."
"They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality."
As far as I'm concerned this is the last straw.
Firstly, I've never heard any progressive say that we should eliminate the Pentagon, that's just trying to cast Progressives in an undeserved radical light.
Secondly, as has been noted by many others that have commented on the Gibbs comments, Barack Obama himself, when he was running for president, said that he strongly supported a "public option" as part of his health care reform agenda, and he said it again early in the discussions about reform, but then he just easily backed away from it, even though polls showed that a majority of Americans supported the idea as well, and analysis from every meaningful economist including the CBO, concluded that a strong public option would do more to control costs than a plan without a public option. So, the "public option", which is even weak as health care reform ideas go, was not only popular among the American electorate, it was also objectively judged to be more fiscally sound!
But it was dropped without a fight. Why? Everyone on the "professional left" knows why. Firstly because the insurance industry lobbyists flat out told the president that they wouldn't even come to the table if there was a public option, and secondly because the noisy Tea Baggers were already calling him a "socialist".
What Gibbs is apparently saying is that getting good legislation passed is not reality, which is useless.
What made progressives even more angry is that Obama said right from the beginning that a Single Payer system was off the table and not even up for discussion, and that's what a lot of progressives were actually pushing for.
But by taking a Single Payer system off the table Obama made two major blunders. Firstly, it meant that they weren't interested in considering all options to look at what could be the actual best way to control costs and improve heath care, but even more important from at least a political game playing perspective, it meant that they were already starting from a center-right position.
If they had just at least entertained the notion of a Single Payer system and fought for it a little and made the case for it a little, even if only superficially, then they could have "conceded" on Single Payer and moved to a public option as a more "centrist" option.
But instead they tried to start out by outright rejecting the ideas of the so-called "left" and moving to the right preemptively. We all see where that got them, all it did was redefine what was considered "too far left". And that's the real problem with the Obama White House.
Obama is doing tremendous damage to progressive ideas, even more damage than Bush and Reagan did, because Obama is redefining what it means to be progressive. The health care plan passed by the Obama administration is now the definition of a "far left" health care agenda, when in fact its a damned right-wing agenda. Hell he basically did the Republican's work for them by passing what in reality they would have loved to have been able to pass themselves.
If the Republicans had tried to pass the exact same plan that the Democrats just passed every progressive in America would have railed against it as a right-wing give away to big business, but because the Democrats were selling it lots of Democratic voters got on board, pushing what amounts to a right-wing agenda.
The reality is that some of the health care reform ideas of the "professional left" are in fact more business friendly, would control costs more, and, I believe, would have broader public support. For example, some form of government run national health insurance system, even if it also allowed for private insurance companies, as many of the European do, paid for via a direct tax on income, a direct tax on employers, and on sales taxes of "unhealthy items", like junk food, cigarettes, etc., would actually be a boon to American businesses.
If you look at foreign competitors around the world, virtually all of our top competitors in developed nations have national health care systems with universal coverage. Places like Germany and Japan, which outperform the United Stated on exports, are able to do so in part because health care costs are actually cheaper for the companies there.
In both Germany and Japan, and many European countries, employers pay a tax per employee that goes toward health care, but guess what? That tax is relatively simple, straight forward, consistent, and cheap compared to the overhead of providing health insurance faced by American employers.
It's actually cheaper to just pay a tax than it is to shop for health plans, administer the plans, bargain for rates, and of course, still pay much more for the plans themselves than competitors pay in countries with government run/funded universal health care systems. Not only that, but the citizens then get the benefit of never having to worry about losing their insurance due to changing jobs or losing their job, and since the plans are national, not regional (though one could argue that in Europe the nations are like states) you don't have to get different insurance when you move either (within the same country).
These are the types of benefits that Americans and employers want and need, and yet the Obama administration and people like Robert Gibbs call this all some "far-left fairy tale".
And the even sadder thing is, is that the so-called "professional left" in America is still largely clueless. I still see prominent so-called "liberals", people like Rachel Maddow and writers on Huffinton post, etc. talking about how much money the super-rich "make" or "earn", even while they are decrying the incomes of the super-rich.
They miss the whole point.
A recent example, though perhaps not the best, I noticed was an article by Stephen Gandel of TIME (Time for Super Taxes for the Super Rich?).
Stephen states: "The rich make increasingly more of the nation's income. So shouldn't they pay a larger percentage of the income tax."
No, that's the point, the super rich are not making increasingly more of the nation's income, the super rich are taking more of the nation's income.
That's the fundamental issue that still isn't addressed, even by the vast majority of so-called "progressives", "liberals", and "professional-leftists". They keep saying that the rich need to pay more taxes since they are "making" more money, etc. No, they aren't, that's the point!
Stop saying that the super rich are "making" their money, they aren't, and by making such a claim it necessarily sets up the counter augment that taking "rightfully earned" money from anyone, no matter how rich, is bad. And that's a valid point. But the premise is wrong and the left in America still doesn't get it; certainly not any meaningful Democrats, though I think a few get it, like Kucinich , maybe.
What we need to be talking about is the fact that the vast majority of the income of the super rich is not a product of their work, it is not wealth that they produced, it is in fact income that has already been redistributed from the working class to the super rich. It is unearned income in the first place. Taxing it away from them isn't taking hard earned money from them to give it to an undeserving underclass, its taking unearned money that was never rightfully theirs in the first place back and giving it back to the people who really created it to begin with.
That's the point, that's where the discussion needs to be. As long as people keep incorrectly referring to the incomes of the super rich as "earned" the discussion will never move forward and progress won't be made.
As David Stockman said in his assessment of the economy:
"The third ominous change in the American economy has been the vast, unproductive expansion of our financial sector. ... But the trillion-dollar conglomerates that inhabit this new financial world are not free enterprises. They are rather wards of the state, extracting billions from the economy with a lot of pointless speculation in stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives."
Actally they aren't extracting billions, they are extracting trillions.
Can we expect Barack Obama to even approach this issue? Certainly not, but David Stockman, former budget director of Ronald Reagan did...
See also: The Linguistics of Economic Deception
A few years ago I came up with a theory, or hypothisys really, on morality, that morality is actually a mechanism of evolutionary social selection. What morality really is, is an evolved social instinct that facilitates collective selection and shaping of the frequency of behavioral genes within a group.
I bring this up because of a recent piece on NPR titles Can Genes And Brain Abnormalities Create Killers?
Firstly, the answer is yes, genes are responsible for the behavior tendencies that make people more likely to be killers or anything else, and secondly, this is precisely why morality has evolved the way that it has.
My theory is that human behavior, like all animal behavior, is dominated by genetics. Our behavioral tendencies are genetically determined, and as such, our behavioral tendencies can be selected for and against.
Certainly the environment plays a role in how our tendencies develop, but there is always the underlying genetics. The degree to which someone is promiscuous, an individual's level of empathy with others, an individual's tendency toward selfish or self-less behavior, the tendency to be independent or subordinate to groups, etc., I believe are all traits that are heavily influenced by genetics.
When we look at "moral" codes throughout history and across cultures, what we find is that the way that morality has traditionally been enforced in societies is via mechanisms that heavily impact an individual's likelihood of reproducing. Violation of moral codes and laws have widely been punished by death, maiming, or expulsion from the group either via imprisonment or banishment.
All of these things, of course, eliminate or significantly reduce an individual's chance of passing on their genes. Morality really is quite primal. It is a collective emotional experience through which members of a group collectively exercise often harsh judgment and treatment upon individuals whose behaviors violate the desired behavioral template of the group. This is a means of group selection, not group selection in the traditional sense of the term in evolutionary biology, meaning selection of group traits via natural selection, but rather it is a means of a group selecting the traits that the group wants to perpetuate.
But this is also why morality is often irrational and indeed "immoral", because the moral sense is an instinctive one. Its also why there is such a strong natural tendency to form uniform collective moral unity within groups. The natural instinctive drive is for groups to form uniform moral codes that can be agreed upon and acted upon collectively.
This is where modern liberal society runs into so many problems. One of the foundations of liberalism, in the classical and post-modern sense, is the idea that morality is "individualistic", i.e. that morals are subjective and that it is acceptable for an individual's moral compass can be different from other people's or from the majority.
Now, the reason that this line to thinking came into prominence during The Enlightenment period of the 17th and 18th centuries and came to dominate the 19th and 20th centuries, is because of the obvious havoc that had been wreaked on Western Civilization by the attempts to enforce universal systems of morality since the rise of Christianity. It was clear to Enlightenment thinkers, America's Founding Father's chief among them, that trying to claim and establish one single absolute version of morality was the cause of many wars, constant social turmoil, and endless strings of persecution and injustices meted out in the name of so-called "morality".
So, America's Founding Fathers, and many other Enlightenment era liberals, viewed "morality" as individualistic, and that each person was entitled to their own moral judgments, so long as they obeyed the "law", which was then proclaimed to be established, not on a moral basis, but on a practical and ethical basis.
This gave rise to the idea in modern psychology that ethics are a collective pact based on reasoned guidelines for conduct, and morals are an individual's sense of right and wrong, and that morality cannot be objectively said to be right or wrong.
The problem with this view is that it is a view of what those thinkers would like morality to be, instead of what morality actually is. Indeed what the Enlightenment thinkers did was they defined morality in a way that made made practical sense for what they were trying to achieve, which was a greater level of tolerance and individual security. More tolerance was needed because the rigid intolerance that had ruled Christian civilization for the past thousand plus years was tearing civilization apart. The constant inquisitions and persecutions and wars against this that and the other sect, were undermining social security, the economy, progress in general, and indeed nearly everyone's individual well being. More tolerance was needed, claiming that moral judgment was personal and subjective instead of authoritative and absolute, was a means to that end, and its was a means that, while incorrect, was better off taken than not taken.
But the reality is that while morality is truly subjective, it is also very much collective, and indeed the evolutionary role of morality is to be harsh in its implementation. I would argue that in fact morality is "immoral", or rather unethical. Our moral judgments have been designed by evolution to be rooted in emotion and to be quite brutal in their exercise.
The piece on NPR asks the question, if our actions are determined by our genes is it moral to execute someone for committing a crime that they are genetically predisposed to do? The legal system of punishment is based on the idea that it is not acceptable to punish people, at least not severely, for things which they cannot control. This is why we have things like insanity pleas, etc. But the irony is that the genetic basis for behavior is likely the origin of our evolved social instinct to severely punish individuals who violate social norms in the first place.
And neither do most of the people commenting on his comments.
As you may know by now in Rand Paul's interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC a few nights ago he said that he did not favor the governing being able to force private business owners not to discriminate based on race, posing the issue as one of federal government vs. a business owners right to "free speech".
But what Rachel Maddow and pretty much everyone else who has commented on Paul's statement has failed to realize is that Rand Paul's statement is completely off the mark in the first place. The Civil Rights legislation that prevented private business owners from refusing to serve blacks or providing separate entrances and quarters for blacks was actually something that many business people in the South wanted!
This is what Rand Paul and other such Libertarians completely fail to understand: in many cases businesses want government regulation of business.
Paul posed the issue as one of protecting the rights of private business owners to discriminate if they wanted to, and of the duty of customers being to avoid the business owners that discriminated in order to drive change, but that view completely misunderstands the reality of what was going on in the segregated South.
It wasn't the business owners who were discriminating because they were racists, the business owners were discriminating because their customers were racists! The reality is that most of the business owners in the South wanted to serve blacks, and why wouldn't they have, black money is as good as white, a dollar is a dollar after all. In the interview Paul said, "I think it‘s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant."
But, the reason that they either didn't serve blacks or made them use separate entrances and quarters is because their white customers wouldn't tolerate it. If a white restaurant owner served a black family sitting in a main dining area the white customers would walk out, and so the business owners had to discriminate in order to avoid losing their white business, and thus being forced out of business, but the reality is that white business owners did want to serve blacks, but they couldn't.
And that is why the Civil Rights legislation that forced all businesses to serve blacks was actually welcomed by many white business owners in the South, who actually had wanted to serve blacks all along, but couldn't due to pressure from customers. Once the government took the situation out of the hand of the customers, however, the white businesses were free to run their business how they wanted to, and this is where Rand Paul goes so horribly, horribly wrong.
You see, Libertarians and Conservatives always try to paint the issue of regulation as one of government vs. private industry, but in reality that is actually seldom the case. Indeed most of the major business regulations in place in America today have been lobbied for by private industry. It is a false notion that an unregulated market provides "freedom" and that regulation necessarily restrict freedom, its simply not true any more than claiming that a roadway with no laws provides greater freedom of travel than a roadway with speed limits and stop lights and traffic lanes, etc. Those rules and regulations imposed on the roadway actually facilitate travel and lead to more freedom of travel, not less.
Forcing all businesses to serve blacks equally was actually good for business, and what many business owners wanted because it allowed them to run their business how they wanted to instead of how their customers dictated. It allowed them to actually serve more people and make more money. The same is true of many forms of business regulation, from the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which was lobbied for by food maker H.J. Heinz in order to provide consumer faith in processed foods to almost all regulations today, industries prefer some degree of regulation because it helps the good actors in the industry to focus on doing business right without having to complete against what are detrimental practices in the first place and without having to worry about other businesses ruining the reputation of their industry. For example, all it takes is one beef exporter to export meat tainted with mad cow disease and a foreign country is likely to ban all meat imports from America, thus meat producers want government regulation in order to ensure that their competitors don't ruin their business for them.
Another good example is the recent problems we've had with the sub-prime mortgages in the housing market. This American Life ran a story in 2008 about the mortgage meltdown, in which one underwriter said that when the sub-prime trend began he was against it and tried not to write those types of loans. He could see clearly that this was a horrible business, but in the end he had to because the market dictated that he had to. If he didn't write that type of business he would have gone out of business right way because his customers were asking him to write those loans, and if he didn't they would have gone elsewhere. He fought it, he opposed it, he know it was bad, but in the end he had to do it because that was what the market dictated. It wasn't how he wanted to run his business and he knew that it was going to cause problems own the road, but he had no choice.
So he wrote sub-prime loans, and when the crash happened he went out of business. He was very angry and very upset about it because he knew all along that it was a bad idea and didn't want to do it but he was trapped by market forces. Either he was going to go out of business right away or he was going to go out of business later, and the thing is, is that he was a good business man who knew all along that this was bad idea and he didn't want to run his business that way.
The reality is that proper regulation of the mortgage industry could have saved his business because if his competitors had been prevented from making those unrealistic loans in the first place, then he wouldn't have had to make them either and he could have run his business way he wanted to, the right way.
Libertarians and Conservatives are completely misguided when they present all regulation as government vs. private interests, indeed most of the federal regulation on the books today actually protects the private interests of those being regulated and much of it was lobbied for by the very industries who are subject to the regulation. And furthermore, so-called Liberals and the mainstream media mostly just play into this false dichotomy and perpetuate this false reasoning from the other side of the coin, not stopping to point out that the premise is false in the first place, and that the reason that Rand Paul is wrong about his views on laws forcing private businesses to serve blacks is not because "racism is bad, no matter what", (which is true), but he's even more wrong because the laws were in fact in the best interests of private business owners and what many private business owners in the South wanted in the first place, in order to put a stop to the "dictatorship of the market", which was forcing them not to serve people that they ultimately wanted to serve. It's not because the business owners were racists that they weren't serving blacks, they weren't serving blacks because if they had done so they would have lost all their white customers, that is, until the government came in and put a stop to it and allowed the businesses to operate freely, the way that they wanted to.
Listening to the media, especially the right-wing media, and the Tea Party crowd, one would think that president Obama is implementing massive liberal, progressive, and even "socialist" agenda, but this is far from the truth. Like the last Democratic president we had, Obama is pursuing a center-right agenda, implementing what were once considered Republican policies.
Polls show that there is little enthusiasms among Democratic and progressive voters, but the commentators on these polls can't seem to figure out why. They just claim that progressives are satisfied since they have someone they voted for in office and are thus complacent, or they claim that the "momentum" has simply shifted to "the other side".
The reality is that Obama and the Democrats are losing support because they have done nothing to earn the support of progressives. Obama is trying to "rule from the middle", and in the process he is actually shifting the country more dramatically to the right than George W. Bush did, because what Obama is doing is he is allowing center-right policies to be labeled far-left socialist policies, in the process redefining progressive polices as center-right policies, and leaving real progressive policies so far out in the cold that they aren't even discussed in the media anymore or even given mild consideration by Democratic politicians.
So let's take a look at Obama's "radical socialist" record. Since in office President Obama has:
Continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
Backed president Bush's bailout of America's wealthy capitalists
Signed in an economic recovery act comprised primarily of tax breaks, with little or no direct job creation
Signed in a market driven health care reform package based on prior conservative plans
Is pushing for privatization of major components of the space program
Is opening up more land and coastal areas for oil and gas extraction
Has pushed for a freeze on all non-military discretionary spending
Is now pushing for what amounts to very modest financial reforms
Obama the radical socialist? More like Obama the moderate Republican.
The economic recovery package that conservatives like to rail against is a prime example of Obama's center-right policies. The reality is that the economic recovery package signed into law by Obama has not been very effective, and the reason that it hasn't been effective is because practically the entire bill was just tax breaks. Instead of engaging in direct spending and creating a works program in the spirit of FDR to put people to work, he signed in a bill whose single largest component was tax cuts, and whose second largest component was funding to the states to plug holes in state budgets, allowing states to avoid raising taxes. So the overall effect of Obama's economic recovery bill was tax cuts and the prevention of tax hikes at the state level.
The health care reform bill put together by the Democrats and signed by Obama was patterned on the health care reform package passed by Republican governor Mitt Romney, and advocated for by the Heritage Foundation, one of the most conservative and extreme anti-socialist organizations in America.
Indeed the Heritage Foundation supported all of the major elements of "Obamacare" for years, right up until both Obama and Hillary Clinton began using their ideas in the 2008 election, at which point the Heritage Foundation reversed its course, claiming that it no longer supported the approach.
So yeah, we got "health care reform", a right-wing version of it. The healthcare reform passed by the Democrats is nothing like what progressives advocated for, which was either a single-payer system or at least some form of government run non-profit national insurance plan.
So while wild-eyed irrational mouth foaming racists rage against Obama because his name is foreign, he's black, and he's a Democrat, the reality is that he is pushing forward what amounts to a very moderate center-right agenda that could have easily been advocated by Republicans just a few years ago.
The president is losing support because he is losing support among so-called liberals and progressives because the president and this Democratic congress have given American progressives nothing to be happy about.
I voted for someone that I thought might be a progressive, and instead all I got was George Bush Sr...
This article explores the economic legacy of Ronald Reagan, and how the policies of "Reaganomics" have led to the decline of the American middle-class, both economically and in terms of political power. This article presents the case the the rise of income and wealth inequality in America over the past 30 years is a product of massive redistribution of wealth, facilitated by Reaganomic policies.
I've always been fascinated by the contradictions in American political ideology. I think the biggest contradiction in American political ideology is within the so-called "Conservative" movement, and its interesting because the contradiction is so fundamental.
Generally speaking, conservatives are social collectivists. Social conservatism, in the most general and universal sense, is rooted in the public enforcement of collective social values. Liberalism is literally the transcendence of the individual over the collective, i.e. the freedom of each individual to believe and act according to their own desires, even when their beliefs and actions are abhorrent to the community.
What is so fascinating about American politics is that the "Conservative" movement of the past several decades has become solidly pro-capitalism, when it is in fact capitalism that is ultimately responsible for just about every ill that conservatives rail against in America.
An important thing to understand about conservatism, and American conservatism in particular, is that there is a populist basis for conservatism. When we look back at the liberal revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, of which the American Revolution was one, these were generally populist revolutions for liberalism against elite ruling minorities who were seeking to conserve the traditional, feudal, social and economic systems. The rise of capitalism itself was a part of these liberal revolutions. I get the sense that many people today really don't understand just how radical capitalism really is.
Just speaking anecdotally, two of the most fundamental statements that I hear from American conservatives are: #1 that "they", or "the community", have lost control of the culture (i.e. "liberals" have forced an unwanted culture upon them/America) and #2 that income should be based on work.
If you share those two beliefs (which by the way, both self described conservatives and leftists share these views) then you really are fundamentally against capitalism.
Today's conservatism is a different form of conservatism than the conservatism of the 18th and 19th centuries. Conservatism during that period was plainly a defense of the ruling establishment. If you were a conservative during the 18th and 19th centuries it meant that you were a supporter of monarchy, of theocracy, and of the established aristocracy, i.e. you were against democracy, against religious freedom, against market economies, etc., and so the idea of "populist conservatism" wasn't really considered at the time.
Today, however, we have to recognize that there really can be, and is, a populist basis for conservatism. So what is populist conservatism? From the most fundamental perspective, regardless of any political ideology, populist conservatism rooted in natural human desires to maintain a socially enforced moral code. I do think that conservatism in the general sense is a natural tendency within any social group. Society of course is a social group. Culture is the set of beliefs, ideas, and practices that are produced and held by a social group. Social groups tend to develop self-protecting mechanisms, which are conveyed in the beliefs, ideas, and practices of the social group. These protective mechanisms are inherently "conservative". They work to conserve the culture of the group.
For good or bad, better or worse, social groups tend to produce cultures that protect the collective interests of the social groups. Often times individuals within these groups can be victims of the culture, which is exactly what liberalism is all about, minimizing the collective power of the social groups, in order to grant more freedom to individuals to believe and act as they wish.
What true conservatives really want (I'm not talking here about libertarians, who are often lumped in with conservatives due to them often siding with the Republican party in America) is strong community based collective social power.
So, why do conservatives feel that they don't have strong community based collective social power in America? Well, firstly, because they generally don't have it, for multiple reasons. The most basic reason is of course the U.S. Constitution, which is a fundamentally liberal document, that goes to great lengths to limit the power of the majority in order to protect minority rights, and by minority in this sense I don't mean racial or ethnic minority, but minority beliefs and practices.
But the protection of minority rights in the constitution has only a passive impact on the culture. The most direct impact on the culture comes from capitalism.
Conservatives talk a lot about "family values", and there is good reason for that. The family has the greatest vested interested in its members, particularly its children. In a general sense the family is the most basic social structure, and the social structure in which those within the group have the greatest vested interest in promoting the well being of the individuals within the group and of the group itself. Families tend to be the social group that inherently has the best interests of its members, particularly its children, at heart, and thus is the social unit that typically instills the best "values" within its children. This of course is not always true, as child abuse cases and cases of delinquent parenting prove, but it is generally true.
Beyond the family the local community, often embodied in organizations like churches, schools, and local government, and in a loser sense simply in neighborhoods etc., also has a vested interest in the well being of its members, again, especially the children.
Thus the cultures produced by families and local communities tend to be sets of beliefs and practices that both protect the interests of the local community and that have the best interests of its individual members in mind. Again, there are always exceptions to these generalizations, and often those that don't fit into the social mold become victims of the community itself.
This is where industrialization and capitalism come in.
Industrialization and capitalism go hand in hand, indeed they both gave rise to one another. Capitalism is an economic system in which the rights to newly created value are granted by the ownership of capital, i.e. the owner of the property that is used to create goods and services is the owner of the goods and services produced via the use of said property. The workers, whose labor produces the goods and services, do not have any rights to the products of their labor, unless they themselves are also capital owners, as is the case with small business owners, etc.
This system of property rights of course makes capital quite valuable and played a major role in promoting the increasing development of capital in the form of industrialization and the development of modern corporations and intellectual property rights systems, etc.
How is culture expressed? Culture is expressed primarily in the products that we produce. Our culture is reflected in the homes that we live in, the clothing that we wear, our hair styles, the transportation that we use, the songs we sing, the images we display, the stories we tell, etc., etc.
During the 20th century the industrialized world was transformed from a place where culture was locally produced by communities to a place where culture was produced by highly centralized international corporations.
There are distinct differences between locally produced culture and corporate produced culture.
Locally produced organic culture is the product of local self-interest, i.e. the self-interest of the community. Locally produced organic cultures tends to reinforce beliefs and behaviors that are protective of the community (note here that this is not always necessarily positive, as the community may be run by the mafia or be abusive to minorities, etc.). Locally produced culture has a natural tendency to be conservative. For example clothing styles that are a product of organic locally produced culture will tend to reinforce the sexual behaviors that are collectively deemed in the best interest of the community.
Clothing styles produced by corporations, however, have completely different motives behind their development. And to understand why these motives matter we have to address fundamentals of human behavior and the role of social pressures.
Human beings, as anyone should know, have certain natural behavioral tendencies. Many of these tendencies are "socially destructive". This is a battle we have been fighting for thousands of years, its where the concept of things like sins come from, etc. Sins are basically socially destructive human behaviors. As with all social animals, the individual and the collective are in a constant state of conflict. Individual interests are often at odds with social interests and we constantly play a balancing game both individually and as a group of weighing these interests against each other. Liberalism, in the traditional sense, is the elevation of individual interest over the collective interest.
So, for example, if we take the issue of sexual behavior, a community may have a collective interest in promoting monogamy, in suppressing teen pregnancy and pregnancy, in suppressing adultery, in suppressing the potential for transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. These interests may be expressed in a local culture by the promotion and adoption of conservative dress codes that are not sexually evocative or revealing, etc., and so by adopting standards of dress that diminish sexual expression, the community then feels that it is promoting its interests in socially regulating sexual behavior.
But, individuals within the community still have a desire to engage in sexual expression and behavior. So there will always be a general desire by individuals within the group to step outside the bounds of the culture to satisfy their individual desires, and there will be particular individuals within the group who have an acute aversion to the norms of the community and seek to subvert the norms of the community but may be unable to do so due to social pressure and/or lack of physical ability to be creators of their own culture.
So in the traditional sense we know that communities tend to promote collective interest through their own locally produced culture. The desires of individuals within the community, however, may be, and often are, at odds with the collective interests. (For example a group of 10 people have one small pie to share between them. The collective interests is to give everyone an equal, relatively small, piece of the pie, yet each individual within the group may prefer to have all, or at least more, of the pie to themselves.)
But what of corporate produced culture? Cultural artifacts produced by corporations are produced for a profit. The interest of the corporation is not the same as the interest of the community in which the corporation operates. The corporation prospers by satisfying individual desires. So even though a community may have an interest in promoting modest dress, a corporation will have an interest in promoting sexually expressive dress. Why? Because sexual expression is a core human behavioral desire. Teens especially have a natural biological desire to be sexually expressive, and indeed to make themselves stand out from the group sexually, and thus wearing sexually expressive clothing that goes beyond the typical clothing of the community is a natural desire of teens. The community, however, has its desire to enforce its culture on teens in order to regulate their behavior in the best interests not only of the community, but theoretically also the best interests of the teens themselves.
But the objective of the corporation is profit. Profit is gained by selling commodities to consumers. You sell commodities to consumers by making products that satisfy their desires, or at least claim to do so. Satisfaction of desires always goes back to baser human instincts, many of which are at odds with collective social interests and indeed are the motivators of so-called bad behavior that we as a social species have been struggling with for thousands of years.
So capitalism and industrialization in the 20th century resulted in a situation where culture was almost exclusively produced by corporations, which is to say, by a relatively small numbers of people who produced large quantities of products, from food to clothing to music to movies. The relative centralization of production that occurred with industrialization meant that culture went from being produced organically by local communities in ways that supported community interests to being designed by small numbers of people in international corporations, who designed culture specifically to serve their own interests, i.e. the profit interests of the corporation. Doing so inevitably meant catering to the base desires of the human psyche, which in many cases is exactly what traditional culture had evolved over thousands of years to suppress.
Capitalism is a product of the liberal revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. Capitalism promotes liberalism and thrives in liberal environments. Capitalism thrives in liberal environments because permissive social environments allow corporations to more strongly appeal to human desires and to a wider array of desires, thus allowing for broader markets and stronger sales. As long as things like freedom of speech and minority rights are protected, markets within a capitalist system will themselves drive the culture towards greater permissiveness since this creates greater opportunities for profit. It doesn't matter if you are infavor of a permissive liberal socieity or against, you should still understand the role that capitalism and markets play shaping society.
The loss of control over the culture that conservatives lament is actually a direct product of capitalism. It is a product of culture that is produced by corporations for the self-interest of the corporation, instead of culture that is produced by families and communities for the self-interest of the families and communities.
While conservatives often rail against "Liberals", they really should be railing against capitalism. Indeed, most so-called "Liberals" in America are not in fact Liberals in the classical sense of the word, they really are light socialists, but the thing is, most so-called conservatives are too.
I think the two main reasons that the American conservatism is so conflicted are racism and the Cold War. American social conservatives were never strongly pro-capitalist, especially in the South, until after World War II, and even more-so after the enactment of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s.
Certainly the dominant big S "Socialist" movements of the 20th century included what can be called progressive platforms, i.e. they included support for things like racial and gender equality, support for reproductive rights, and were largely anti-religious. These things clearly put social conservatives at odds with 20th century Socialist parties and the big S Socialist movements, however "socialism" in the broader sense is not necessarily progressive, indeed there were several socialist movements in the United States during the 19th century and early 20th century which were religiously based and highly conservative. In fact the Mormons began as a socialist movement, and Mormons today retain many elements of their socialist roots. The Amish and Mennonites are also types of socialist societies, which are of course highly conservative.
Traditional American social conservatives were always populist. That populism was heavily tied to the Democratic party and in opposition to the wealthy and Wall Street until a socially progressive platform was adopted by the Democratic party in the 1960s, at which time Republicans adopted a socially conservative platform in order to court voters dissatisfied with the Democratic party. In addition, I believe that corporate America came to be seen by conservatives as a place still ruled by white people for white people, whereas the American government came to be seen (wrongly) as an instrument of undermining white interests in order to promote the interests of minorities, specifically blacks. And this is how, from the 1960s through the 1990s, racism played a role in shifting populist and anti-corporate conservative Americans into a position of being rabid pro-capitalists, along with the patriotic associations between capitalism and America during the Cold War, even though capitalism is actually the root cause of many of the conflicts that conservatives have with modern American culture.
The idea that taxes and the government were the primary enemies of American society became popular in the 1980s as government social programs were portrayed as benefiting minorities, especially blacks, and anti-taxation mentality was infused with the idea that taxes were a means of taking from white people and redistributing their income to black people. That sentiment was never directly expressed, but it was clearly the undercurrent of the Republican resurgence in the American South which took place during the 1970s and 1980s, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and LBJ's War on Poverty.
And thus a mentality grew within the Conservative movement in the United States that "free-market capitalism" must be great, because that's the framework in which "white people succeed" (without the government dragging them down), because the anti-religious Communists just had to be wrong about everything, and because the opposite of whatever so-called American "Liberals" said must be true.
But the reality of course is far different. The reality is that many of the so-called ills of society that American Conservatives lament are products of capitalism, and some of these so-called ills aren't necessarily ills. For example, the rising divorce rate in America and other modern economies is largely a product of two things: greater women's equality, which gives women greater ability to leave abusive relationships, and the change in the economy from a home based economy to an economy where work is performed almost entirely outside the home where husbands and wives work separately.
But its not necessarily the case that an increasing divorce rate is a bad thing in the first place. Certainly the fact that people are less likely to remain in abusive or unhappy marriages today than they were in the past has to be a good thing. Low divorce rates in and of themselves tell you nothing. We know that in the past, and today in societies where women have few rights and economic opportunities, divorce rates are lower, but also that many women stay in loveless and abusive marriages, where cheating is rampant, where they are physically abused, where one or both partners is depressed, etc. and the families of the American past weren't all like those in 1950s sit-coms either.
However the other leading cause of divorce, the modern economy, is something that could be considered a problem, although there is no clear answer to it. It is doubtful that any modern market-based economy could fully resolve this problem. Certain types of socialist systems could address this type of issue, but many such systems have their own problems as well. Families in groups like the Mennonites and even the Mormons do work together at much higher rates than the average American family however, and have lower divorce rates for that and other reasons, not all of them good.
Instead of addressing ways in which American capitalism has disrupted family structure, though, Conservatives do things like point fingers at homosexuals and somehow blame them for increasing divorce rates among heterosexuals.
What is ultimately so frustrating about misplaced Conservative angst in America, however, is that there is actually a lot of common ground between American conservatives and progressives. Indeed I would say that American conservatives and progressives are in agreement on many core fundamental issues.
American conservatives and progressives often talk past one another because political discussions often go straight to the issues of cause and prescription instead of focusing simply on desired outcomes. When this happens disagreement about causes or approaches in handling issues derails the conversation and common ground is never reached.
For example, lets just go back to divorce rates. No one really is in favor of high divorce rates. Everyone, including conservatives and progressives, would like to see more married couples stay together when children are involved. But when this type of issue comes up, the focus immediately goes to causes, with Conservatives blaming "Liberals" and "gays" and progressives immediately getting defensive and/or calling the other side bigots (which they often are). But in this disagreement the fact that both sides agree that they would like to see divorce rates go down is lost, and thus no progress is ever made toward a solution because common ground is never found, and also because the Conservatives are pointing fingers at scapegoats and not addressing the real root causes of the problem.
The problems that Conservatives have with modern American society are never going to be resolved as long as they themselves remain obstacles to solving them. The reality is that the primary driver of change in American society over the past 100 years has been capitalism. Until American Conservatives understand that, they will continue to point fingers at scapegoats and cling to irrational and distracting arguments about the issues they hold dear, and it is unfortunate because the reality is that many Americans, from the "far right" to the "far left", are actually in agreement on some of these issues.
Against the health care bill, and why...
I've gone back and fourth in my support for the health care reform going through Congress right now, but I'm now pretty firmly in opposition.
I will say though that I think that in many ways the reform legislation will bring about some modest improvements over the current situation, but I don't think that the reforms going through Congress are going to lead to significant long term improvements, and these reforms will likely make meaningful improvements in the future even more difficult.
I think that the basic approaches taken by both the House and Senate are just fundamentally wrong. Indeed I think that the guiding principles laid out by President Obama were fundamentally wrong.
When President Obama laid the foundation for reform he said that one of the key factors guiding reform should be building on the existing framework that exists in America, which means building on the employer based health insurance system.
I viewed that as a mistake right off the bat.
One of the primary goals of reform should have been elimination of the employer provided insurance system. Elimination of the employer based insurance system would have garnered significant support from businesses and employees, and could have laid the groundwork for the adoption of a single payer system in a way that would have been clearly understood as providing a benefit to a large number of people. Everyone, whether they have insurance or not, knows that not having your insurance tied to your employer would be better than having it tied to you employer. Everyone knows that employers not having to hassle with insurance is better for employers.
But here is the key issue. The legislation coming from Congress is most fundamentally off track in that it more tightly integrates the private insurance industry with government. The result of this legislation is going to be to make us more dependent on private insurers, to increase the revenues of the private insurers, and to more tightly integrate private insurers into the fabric of Washington. All of that means that its going to make any meaningful reform in the future more difficult, and that is the most fundamental reason to be opposed to this legislation.
By requiring employers to provide insurance this legislation makes the system more reliant on employer provided insurance.
By requiring everyone to buy insurance from a private insurance company this legislation makes private insurance companies more powerful, despite the regulations put on them.
By not including a meaningful government run competitor to private insurers the most powerful cost control mechanism is surrendered.
By focusing on "competition" and "markets" the legislation only makes standardization and streamlining more difficult.
By heavily regulating private insurers instead of providing public alternatives the private insurers become more tightly integrated into the fabric of government.
The legislation does call for steps to be taken to streamline processes and to standardize forms and payment methods, etc., but on the other hand focuses on increasing competition in the insurance industry, which means encouraging more different carriers to exist in a market which just makes standardization and streamlining more difficult.
I find it ironic that the Republicans have made so much noise over this legislation, because really this could just as easily be a Republican bill. The fundamentals of the bill are reliance on "markets" and the private insurance industry.
The reality is that the profit margins in the insurance industry aren't huge. They run roughly 2.5%-3%. So even if we eliminated all profits and nothing else changed, it wouldn't bring costs down that much, and fundamentally, using competition as the driving force of cost reduction can primarily only affect profits. Higher competition theoretically leads to lower profits margins, but attacking the profit margins isn't going to get much.
The bigger gains are to be made in the areas of system wide streamlining, efficiency gains, and behavioral changes, and these types of gains are best made through the use of government run and/or single payer systems.
My view of the on issue is basically this: In areas of an economy where systematic integration is minor or relatively unimportant, competition and diversity in the market place are good things. However, in areas of the economy where systematic integration is heavy and critical, monopoly systems are superior.
In fact, computing is a perfect example. The reality is that Microsoft established a virtual monopoly in the personal computing and business computing markets, especially in America. Lots of people complained about this, including myself, for a variety of reasons, but the truth is that the rapid and relatively smooth adoption of computing in America from the 1980s to today was only possible because of Microsoft's virtual monopoly.
The fact that everyone was using the same operating system, the same core productivity software, etc., made computing more successful. Monopolies inherently make standardization easier for obvious reasons. What if there had been 20 different operating systems each with about 5% to 10% of market share, and there had been 20 or 30 different widely used word processes and spreadsheet applications, etc. each with their own proprietary file formats, unable to open each-others files, (actually there were for a brief period until Microsoft consolidated the market) etc.
That would be a nightmare of inefficiency. What the health care reform bills do is they remove the anti-trust loopholes for the insurance industry and they keep the state-line rules in place, thereby seeking to encourage the development of dozens or even hundreds of new insurance companies.
Instead of trying to preserve or promote "competition" in the insurance markets to drive down profits, they should be encouraging consolidation to improve standardization, and of course the ultimate consolidation is single-payer.
And there were a few little things that really annoyed me as well, for example the methods of paying for the bills. Neither bill, in my opinion, did a good job of paying for itself. I do agree with the cuts to Medicare, that program has to be financially shored up, and this was a good opportunity to do it. The bills do some of it, but of course not entirely. The tax on indoor tanning was a good idea, but it seems highly out of place since its the only such tax in the Senate bill.
These bills were the perfect opportunity to put in "vice taxes", on things like"junk food", e.g. on sodas, candy, certain condiments, and things like Twinkies, etc. That way the bills would have made more sense, by attacking the health care issues on multiple fronts, both the causes of health problems (everyone agrees that our nation's obesity is a leading cause of our higher costs) and the problems with delivery. They should have put in a provision to identify foods and other products (cigarettes etc.) that are unhealthy and to tax them as a means of paying for the health care system. I would even be in favor of taxes on lifestyle products and services that are identified as particularly likely to cause harm or be unhealthy, such as stake boards, skydiving, etc. and I do many such activities, but I would rather see taxes applied there as long as they are modest (10% or less) because it makes sense to tax the things that are the causes of increased health care costs in order to pay for health care reform and services, and it involves choices, such that if people's behaviors do change, then the taxes collected would go down in relation to the reduced need for services, instead of taxing things that have no direct relationship to the need for services.
The regulations implemented under the bill will all have a cost to them, but since all insurers will be bound by these same regulations, implementing them won't really hurt the bottom line of the insurance companies, they will just pass the costs on to consumers in the form of higher premiums and fees. And this is where the compromise weakened cost control aspects of the bill really come into play.
Some of the benefits of the bill are the following:
Access to Affordable Coverage for the Uninsured with Pre-existing Conditions
Free Prevention Benefits
No Arbitrary Limits on Coverage
Protection from Rescissions of Existing Coverage
Prohibits Discrimination Based on Salary
Clear Summaries, Without the Fine Print
Yes these are all good things, but they all have a price. Without some external force all insurers will just raise prices in order to pay for these benefits.
The reality is that the profit margins of the insurance industry simply aren't the area where meaningful cost savings are going to come from. It was a mistake to make the legislation so focused on attacking the profit margins of the insurance industry, it was a mistake to increase our reliance on the employer based insurance system, it was a mistake to not fundamentally direct the health care delivery system away from a profit driven model.
In every country where they have been successful at providing both universal and lower cost health care, they have done so by removing profit motive from the delivery system. Nothing in the Senate bill even moves in that direction, and the House bill only does so with the weakest of steps.
The health care problems in this country, especially as they relate to cost, are never going to be solved until the issue of profit motive in the system is addressed. These bills don't address it, and indeed they do some things that will increase the role of profit motive in decision making and in the future design of the health care system, and it is for those reasons that, despite a few good individual items in the bills, I am ultimately opposed to them.
I, of course, was a supporter of Barack Obama during the 2008 elections, and I still think that of the options we had he was the best choice, but it appears pretty clear by now that he simply isn't getting the job done. I do think that F.D.R. is the appropriate president to compare him to, and in such a comparison he falls extremely short.
Granted, Roosevelt actually had it easier than Obama in many ways. In Roosevelt's day it was much more difficult to mount opposition to the president. There was no real mass media that had the kind of power that today's conservative talking heads have. F.D.R. himself actually became one of the prominent media voices with his own use of the leading media technologies of the time. There were no major television and radio programs voicing opposition to his policies. There was plenty of opposition in print, but the ability to foster public outrage against the president and his policies simply didn't exist during F.D.R.'s time the way it does now. Likewise, the public was at a different place ideologically in the 1930s than it is today after the Cold War. In the 1930s there was widespread public faith in government and public support for collective programs. While F.D.R. was also called a socialist, the term simply didn't have the impact back then that it would come to have after World War II. Likewise, while there certainly were entrenched corporate interests in government, their power and influence was no where near the level that it is today.
But despite all these things, the reality is that Obama isn't even making an effort at even approaching the mantle of F.D.R. What made Roosevelt the ideal man for the situation is that F.D.R. was a technocrat. Roosevelt was a strong forceful leader who led from the driver's seat, who took the reins of power, strengthened the power of the executive, used the bully pulpit, and cast the special interests aside almost completely. F.D.R. truly is the closest thing to a dictator that this country has ever had, but he was a benevolent dictator in a time of crisis when that type of strong leadership was needed.
What we need in the White House today is a benevolent dictatorial technocrat. In some ways Hillary Clinton does fit this role, but her problem would always have been too much baggage and the fact that she is just not likable. What made F.D.R. successful was that he had overwhelming charm and magnetic appeal, and this is essential for any president using a strong arm. Obama has the charm and the appeal, but he's no technocrat and he's demonstrated no ability to take on the special interests.
America today faces a vast array of complex problems that have been festering for decades. The vast majority of the problems have been created by the entrenched special interests, who have profited from the system and who have a short term interest in maintaining the status quo. Still other problems are created by the American public itself and will require sacrifices and adjustments on the part of the public to address.
This is why we need a president who can be a dictatorial technocrat. We need someone who can design policy around what is the best for the country without being cowed by the special interests and even by public interests. F.D.R. was able to do this largely by using the public against the special interests, which he was able to do by constantly engaging the public to shape public opinion himself. This is where Obama has fallen woefully short, which is surprising given his rise in the campaign based on his rhetoric. That is the area where he should be doing well, and yet he isn't. Clearly F.D.R had the courage of his convictions, but its not clear that Obama does.
What I always like to consider is this: what is the difference between the current system or proposed legislation, and what would be designed by an objective specialist working in a vacuum.
Good policy, in my opinion, is policy that is close to what an objective specialist without outside pressure on him/her would create.
When we look at the policies and systems in place in America today, the entire thing is a mess. All of our policies and systems are riddled with problems, which is almost all a product of the horse trading and vote buying that takes place in the political process. The current health care proposals in the House and Senate are perfect examples of this as well, and demonstrate that even with a Democratic President and Democratic majorities in Congress, we still can't produce effective legislation. The process of "appeasing" the centrists and the entrenched powers in the medical and insurance industries, as well as seniors, has produced absurd, ineffective, and wasteful legislation. Its a situation where more power and less need to appease special interests would likely have resulted in better legislation.
And the really bad thing is, is that I think Obama's term in office right now is a critical time in history, and if he does fail to deliver meaningful reform, as it appears he will, then the results can be quite devastating. Things are made all the more precarious by the fact that there is no clear place to go from here. The Republicans not only have no solutions, they are complete idiots at best. Every policy idea I've seen from them in the past year is of course the exact opposite of what needs to be done. They go farther out into absurdity with each day, and even the serious ones are completely delusional with no pragmatic agenda for fixing America's problems. A case in point is a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by two Republican representatives proscribing a return to the "policies of Reagan" to fix the economy. In the article they denounce the national debt and decry the Obama administration's deficit spending, while saying that "doing what Reagan did" would fix the economy, i.e. cut taxes...
Umm... When Reagan came into office the country had virtually no debt at all, taxes were fairly high on the wealthy, and interest rates were extremely high. Reagan cut taxes on the rich, raised taxes on the poor, cut interest rates massively (well the Fed did), and engaged in massive deficit spending.
When Reagan left office there was so much alarm over the national debt he had wracked up that George Bush Sr. was forced to raise taxes once he got in office to prevent a total budget disaster. Indeed the problem we are in today is because of the massive debt hole that the previous three Republican administrations have put us in, all based on Reagan's legacy of massive debts.
We can't cut interest rates anymore, they are already at zero. We can't cut taxes anymore either, hell the problem is that taxes have been too low for the past 30 years, except under Clinton. You can't get out of debt by reducing your income. The fact that Republicans can't seem to get beyond Reagan, and on top of that can't even seem to honestly look at his policies, means that the party is completely bankrupt of ideas at best and is simply dishonest and intentionally subversive at worst.
So we can pretty much be assured that the Republicans aren't going to make any positive contributions to fixing America for years to come, if ever. And yet the Democrats have shown themselves to be impotent as well. I suspected as much but wanted to give them a chance and was hoping for the best.
I do think that there are a few good people in the Democratic party with good intentions and good ideas, but its clear when they have control of every branch of government and they still can't get anything done now that they aren't going to be able to do anything any time soon either.
Think about the fact that it took F.D.R. 12 years in office with Democratic majorities in Congress, and with him stacking the Supreme Court, to make the progress that he did in fixing the American economy and putting the country on solid footing for the future. Its inconceivable, and technically impossible, that such an opportunity will come again. If Obama fails to gain traction and fails to bring about major reforms, then the next 20 years in this country appear to be very bleak indeed.
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