Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cincinnatus

Perhaps you know the Roman legend of Cincinnatus, the farmer-cum-dictator, who led his country in war and then returned, peaceably to the plow afterwards.

Our modern day Cincinnates (if you will) are Bernanke and Paulson who, though not dictators, are to be expected to control large amounts of capital with great financial consequence. The stark image of these two men crafting policy of great import, with limited outside involvement, reminds me of a section of Friedman's book: "China for a Day." In that section, Friedman daydreams about the potentialities of American creativity that would be unleashed if our government, fractured and unfocused as it is, could call for the bold changes in energy policy that China regularly has, at least, begun to do.

The scenario laid out by David Brooks (see below) could have been predicted by Aristotle, who diagnosed the weaknesses of democracy. Will our Cincinnatus, and their associated class of financial mandarins, go their way quietly when their work is done?


Two predictions:

1) Strong financial authority, provided to elites of that system, will supersede some of the authority of our populist leaders, caught up in the politics of fundraising and reelection. It will also lead to the responsible investing in America's energy, infrastructure, and human capital that is so vital right now.

2) Centralization inevitably leads to abuses of power. Expect, in say, ten years' time, a movement to arise to confront the smugness of a self-satisfied financial elite that, if all goes well, will have saved the country from a host of economic pitfalls.


Finally, the Brooks quote:

And lo and behold, a new center and a new establishment is emerging.

The Paulson rescue plan is one chapter. But there will be others. Over the next few years, the U.S. will have to climb out from under mountainous piles of debt. Many predict a long, gray recession. The country will not turn to free-market supply-siders. Nor will it turn to left-wing populists. It will turn to the safe heads from the investment banks. . . .

The government will be much more active in economic management (pleasing a certain sort of establishment Democrat). Government activism will provide support to corporations, banks and business and will be used to shore up the stable conditions they need to thrive (pleasing a certain sort of establishment Republican). Tax revenues from business activities will pay for progressive but business-friendly causes — investments in green technology, health care reform, infrastructure spending, education reform and scientific research.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Life of Mind, Life of Body

A poetic selection from a Victor Davis Hanson article that draws the conclusion (incorrectly, I think) that Palin is qualified for the presidency:

While civilization advances on the shoulders of the educated, it is carried along by the legs of the muscular classes. And the latter are not there by some magical IQ test or a natural filtering process that separates the wheat from the chaff, but rather by either birth, or, as often, by their preference for action and the physical world.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Carbon Tax

I am for a carbon tax.

I just completed Tom Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" and I am convinced that (1) society has to pay for the externalities (an economic term related to costs effected by, but not calculated into, a transaction or activity) due to carbon emissions, (2) that a predictable market for alternative energy development is necessary for high investment therein, (3) that countries that move ahead rapidly with the development of cleaner energy will be at an advantage in the future, and (4) that the US is behind many other industrialized nations in this race.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Financial Crisis and Isolationism

A friend today said to me, "Maybe we should be willing to spend extra money to buy American-made products. The Chinese are going to fund our new government intervention in the economy but we should be taking care of ourselves."

I think that this sentiment is exactly misleading. Our weaknesses are tied, in part, to our failure to recognize that we need to market ourselves to the world. Turning inward would be a temporary salve but would actually be the harbinger of gradual economic and political decline.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Class in America

The issue of why class politics, as such, have not taken a strong hold on the United States is much debated by socialists, Marxists, etc.

Here are two theories with which I'm familiar:

+ The vast resources (through the land itself and, later, through global power) of the country have helped to temper class resentments.

+The racial divide has prevented a strong unification of the working class.

Its interesting to note that the United States has long (since, at least, the late 19th century) had a relatively large proportion of "tertiary workers." This categories those who are neither owners of capital nor "professionals" nor factory laborers but who work, for instance, in "offices, shops, and services" (Hobsbawm, "The Age of Empire," p.115. New York: Vintage, 1989.)

Historically, such tertiary workers tend to be less class conscious than, say, factory workers and certain segments thereof tend to be open to cultural appeals for purity and righteousness.

A certain segment of the labor movement (Change to Win, since 2005) under the leadership of the Service Employees International Union has, in recent years, refocused efforts to organize the type of service workers that, in various forms, characterize American labor history. They have had some success but the jury is still out on whether a strong labor movement can be built from that millieu.

What's your point of view? What's the future of America's working and service classes?

Palin and Culture, Pt. III

From Jonathan Haidt, who appears to be very interested in helping Democrats garner more electoral success:

. . . the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer.


From Lee Siegel in the Wall Street Journal, via my brother, Jeremy:

As a result of all this intellectual tumult, one stark distinction stands out among the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives (the real differences, not the manufactured ones). Liberals always think that there is something broken in politics. Conservatives always think that there is something wrong with the culture.

These conflicting urgencies have given the conservatives mostly the upper hand for over a quarter of a century. Since culture is more immediate to us than the abstract policies and principles of politics -- and seemingly more dependable than politics' often fluid expediencies -- a politics of culture is going to be more successful than mere politics. For many people, the idea that Republican politics are wholly responsible for the country's ills is hard to accept. You can't feel politics. Rather, such people blame a culture of selfishness and irresponsibility for the deepening malaise (the word that sank President Carter among liberals who thought they smelled a Christian conservative in progressive clothing). You experience selfishness and irresponsibility in the flesh every day.

A shout out . . .

. . . to my Amusers ("readers") in Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. You're my first in those states.

"Green and Flat"

Could renewable energy somehow connect to the integration of the global poor into the global economy?

Friedman argues, in "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," that, just as developing countries, lacking infrastructure, leapfrogged over the age of landline telephony directly into cellphone usage, so, too, do they need to leapfrog (at least in large measure) the age of centrally organized 'dirty' power into decentralized solar, wind, etc. power. He writes of a rural Indian village that powers internet-based employment with solar power. Interestingly, he notes, some town residents had lived in the city but returned, in spite of somewhat lower salaries, so that they could enjoy the openness of the countryside, the culture and family ties of their youth, etc.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin and the Cultural Divide

My Palin post has generated the first inklings of "A Musing?" debate so allow me to harness that horse . . .

A few thoughts on the cultural divide that has been highlighted by reactions to Palin (If this issue interests you, do not miss the Haidt piece discussed below.):

+I believe that the 60's student movement brought many important issues to the fore. I do also believe that it announced the 'divorce' of the elite student from the "ho-hum conventions of American life" (as many of the students saw it) and accordingly helped to lay the groundwork for the deep misunderstandings that we read about today.

+The elites, in my opinion, were taking advantage of their class privileges and have become accordingly self-involved. Judith Warner, in the New York Times:

[University of Virginia associate professor of moral psychology Jonathan] Haidt has conducted research in which liberals and conservatives were asked to project themselves into the minds of their opponents and answer questions about their moral reasoning. Conservatives, he said, prove quite adept at thinking like liberals, but liberals are consistently incapable of understanding the conservative point of view. “Liberals feel contempt for the conservative moral view, and that is very, very angering. Republicans are good at exploiting that anger,” he told me in a phone interview.


+Haidt writes a highly fascinating piece on "The Edge" website, called "What Makes People Vote Repulican?" It is only a few pages long and is one of the best analyses of political-cultural connections in America that I have ever read.

+Despite my disapproval of Palin as a candidate, I think that it is important that we recognize that non-Ivy league, non-Davos summit folks can be excellent leaders. Truman, for instance, never attended college.

Environment: Scary Thoughts (mostly)

1) I'm listening to Tom Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded and found the following scenario quite sobering (I hope that I'm getting it right.):

+Palm oil was once seen as a promising biofuel.
+It now seems that the cutting down of forests that include palm releases more carbon dioxide than is saved by using palm oil fuels.

2) In the category of hope, you might want to check out Google's "RE
3) One cute mnemonic from the Friedman book: Fuels from "hell" come from below ground (hence the mnemonic), tend to be non-renewable, and tend to pollute the environment (coal, oil, gas, etc.). Fuels from "heaven" come from above-ground, and tend to be renewable and clean (solar, wind).

4) I'll digress into some word games because I've noticed how adept Friedman is at making up cute mnemonics. I assume that he puts great stock in the importance of catchy phrases.

Here's my (perhaps, awkward) attempt: An interesting, non-political note: During a geological debate in the 19th century, some (who emphasized the power of the oceans) were called Neptunists (named after the Roman ocean god, Neptune) and some (who emphasized the power of internal earth processes) were called Plutonists (after Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld).

We could call the sources of fuel that Friedman mentions "plutonic" and "jovial" (after Jove, the god of the heavens). Which type of fuel would make you feel better about the future?

FInance and Mortgages

Anyone out there who can help me to gain a deeper understanding of the current economic situation? I get the basics so probably need someone who works in a related field.

The Blog

I'm making an effort to make at least one post a day, even if short. I'm starting to feel some traction from readers, after the first nine-ten months on the 'job.'

Monday, September 15, 2008

PALIN

I'm not sure which bothers me more, the idea of Palin as president or the condescension towards her from intellectual elites.

I found Palin quite unimpressive in the ABC interview, social views aside. Still, I am deeply bothered by the "Americans are stupid for not seeing that Obama is better for their interests." trope that I hear on the Upper West Side. Here's a letter that I wrote to the NYT and WaPo editors on Palin and the liberals. I call it "Palin Payback":

Dear Sir:

Sadly, the popularity of an inexperienced and unprepared Gov. Sarah Palin is payback for the inveterate condescension of coastal liberals for their countrymen in the heartland. I have often wondered how the same sect of people that calls on America to show understanding and compassion for Anti-Americanism around the world can scarce be counted on to show a similar approach towards fellow, thinking citizens whose beliefs on religion, gun ownership, etc., are different from their own. A Palin victory would be poetic, even if not just.

Monday, September 08, 2008

My Views on The Presidential Campaign: An Update

A few developments have moved me into the Obama camp, for now. The most important is my discomfort with the image of Palin as Commander-in-Chief (see third point, below):

+I like the Biden pick. He has much of the international vision and gravitas that Obama lacks. He also is grounded in the mundane political issues that Obama does not clearly address.

+I like Obama's move to the center on NAFTA.

+I like Palin's grit and am glad that she is in the race. Her mere presence challenges Obama to prove that he is a real reformer. Furthermore, she challenges the cultural elitism of the Democrats (Read this excellent article on the topic.) that disturbs me so greatly (They can't help but respond intelligently to the crowds that are enthused by her style and personality.). Certainly, I find her equivocation on evolution and global warming to be troublesome, but she is not likely to be the one who sets the agenda on this front unless . . . McCain dies in office. In short, Palin's social views and her relative ignorance of international issues make her a huge risk, in my mind, should she have to step in as president. The risk of choosing Obama, whose awareness of foreign affairs, though not extraordinarily deep, is extraordinarily deeper than Palin's, is much less.

The Invasion of Iraq: A Response to Sir David

I supported the invasion of Iraq and am aware of the resolutions that preceded it. Still, I would argue that the US has accepted an international cost in executing a war of choice that was not supported by the public opinion of the democratic world.

The effectiveness of the US to act as an international policeman is necessarily supported by the good opinion of fellow liberal democracies.

Russia's Antidemocratic Alliance

In the latest, tit-for-tat move between the US and Russia, Russia has announced that it may hold joint naval exercises with Venezuela. This is a clear (though unacknowledged) move to send a message to the US regarding its current naval activities in the Black Sea.

How many similar, anti-US regimes of consequence can the Russians reach out to? One potential step for Russian escalation of their defiance of US hegemony would be to strengthen Russia's ties to Iran. This would cause concern for Russia, though, as it fears Iran's nuclear ambitions and Islamic radicalism. Russia itself has Islamic minority nationalist movements that it sometimes struggles to control.

Fortunately for the West, Russia's connection to Venezuela does not have strong ideological underpinnings. Venezuela, ironically, is now the more 'socialist' of the two countries (Russia's is a brand of state capitalism.) and its brand of demagogic populism is likely to unnerve Russia's more austere leadership.

Another interesting development for the West is that Russia appealed for, but did not receive, support for its Georgia moves, from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose only other weighty member is China. The Chinese, suspicious of all foreign interventions and protective of the perception of their neutrality, recognize at the same time that the future of their economic system (and of the Communist Party, whose legitimacy rests on economic growth) is tied up with the globalized market system as supported by the United States and the West. Is it possible that a resurgent Russia could, once again, push China closer to the more stable and predictable Western powers?