Category Archives: Politics and Economics

Election Time and Beginning Thoughts on Conservatism

So, the course continues, the debates are done, and the decision coming around the bend. At the college a few colleagues and I are having discussion related to the election. They stem from Romney’s exposition on the 47%, ponderings on the issue of inequality across the states, and energy.

I my opinion the later two issues are the issues of the day.

My current concern is an issue I’m trying to get going on campus and that’s a discussion of the parties and what they mean for the day to day in the United States. Since 2000 and earlier, perhaps even going back to Goldwater, it seems to me that the Republican Party as a thread of the conservative movement has crumpled to an unfathomable blob of odd ideas. This crumbling does’t explain the current polls, as of this day, or the positions of either candidate, which are fairly clear to me but, rather, the persistence of tropes attributed to our moiety system. True or no, conservative tropes are difficult to list as real factors in our politics.

One trope, for example, which forms the central image of the economic narrative is taxation as a means of defining a relationship between the individual, the state, and the federal government. I have yet to be convinced by friends that taxes provide a good measure of political position attributable to a party. “We need to lower taxes” as a question of identification with a position is difficult for me to understand. Why? Because one could associate with liberal or conservative ideals and have no opinion about the question of taxes. The story goes that autonomy is affected somehow by the federal government’s taxing power, that taxes are somehow related to freedom of movement, autonomy, and many more values. Conservatism has become associated with local control and the effective power of money as the means of maintenance. Local control becomes a trope when the image of individual autonomy butts against an external abstract force.

The conclusion here defines the problem, as this conclusion would require that conservatism and liberalism merge as a common notion or conflict whose core is the individual. Is sustainable economics “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive”?

In Burkean terms, which would require an anachronistic set of definitions, in my opinion, there is no liberalism against which the ideas of an early conservatism would apply. Conservatism has gone through a series of reformations. The Glorious Revolution shifted Tory focus of sovereignty onto the new divisions of Parliament, following “whose the authority of the day” syndrome, if such a syndrome makes any sense.

But that’s just a small part of the history. What serves as a marker is to create a broad brush division in England after Restoration: those who supported rule my monarchy and those who defended rule by the new construct of “the people.” Which, of course, should lead back to James Madison or to supporters of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism.

Do Women Need Wooing by Candidates?

My students and I have been following the presidential campaign and doing research work. Many students are dropping, which has been the norm for many years. (I always ask why but never can come up with a good answer.) Some are “getting into it” and learning a lot about the political theater and the ups and downs of dependency news cycles. Many students are rushing into views without first examining what the research says about issues. In the early portions of the course, students are expected to develop a fairly reasonable description of points of view on an issue and to evaluate those views against standards. This is alien to many of them, who see persuasive writing as mainly about supporting their position with cherry picked evidence that supports that view only. I’m after understanding the varieties of views on an issue and then proceeding into position taking once the lay of the land appears.

Which is why I raise the issue of this panel at The Guardian, which really doesn’t help unpack an issue. It aims to provide “advice” to Mitt Romney on making appeals to women using the language of enticement, that is: to woo.

Here’s Jill Filipovic’s advice:”To appeal to women voters, Romney needs to talk to women like we’re people with rational political interests, and knock off the condescension.”

The problem I have with the subject of the panel is that the objective seems to appeal to condescension in the first place. Why would women need to be wooed by a candidate, since “to woo” in Old English would imply “affective bending” or the kind of behavior given to infatuated people not to people who serious about differentiating ideas.

In argumentation we have a good idea of the notion of an appeal as a form of support. We don’t think of appeals as evidence but as a means of developing an ethical image or mutual relationship. If people have a sense of compassion, they, for example, should be concerning for poor children. And, so, one would appeal to the compassion of an audience when asking for donations. The obverse proves the approach, as one would not appeal to an audience’s sense of selfishness for the same outcome.

One phenomenon that happens in politics is the need for people to give candidates advice. They even want to write their speeches for them. The ability to appeal to people should not require wooing, however.

Cheri Jacobus has a different take:

So excuse me if I find the question posed as a bit biased since it is President Obama who needs to change his tune with women. Whatever Mitt Romney is doing to move women to his side, he should keep doing it! He is leading in the popular vote 52% to 45%, and for the first time in this campaign, now leads in the electoral college.

Jacobus view asserts that the subject of concern can be neutral or unbiased. If the subject had been “how can Obama woo women” then we’d still suffer from the original problem and then suffer from a second: the fallacy of the one-sided coin.

The Question of Public Service and Public Education or Burn the Federalist

James Madison’s letter to W. T. Berry (1822) is interesting reading into some of thinking about the significance of public education. I’ve been reading a lot of historical documents recently given subjects of the day to grab some context, especially given the woes of public education in places like Chicago, where money keeps getting in the way of solutions. I’m still waiting for the “bailout” of the states in the same vein as the “bailout of the banks.”

It’s in this context that I fail to see the significance of some journalistic responses to Obama’s convention speech as “not all that great,” the theme of which focused in high points on the relevance of public service. Did the speech have to be fantastic? Barack Obama has already proven that he can give fantastic speeches. The narrative: Let’s wait for Obama’s fantastic speech, and somehow this will fix everything. This was exactly NOT the point of the speech (which was the genius of the speech). For the president to swoop in and solve all the ills of the world was exactly the opposite message. One commenter I heard on TV said that his speech was probably the 4th best. No standard was provided. Some people are supposed to have an opinion on the “waves.” We’re supposed to be smart enough to understand this.

Madison writes

But, besides the consideration when the higher Seminaries belong to a plan of general education, that it is better for the poorer classes to have the aid of the richer by a general tax on property, than that every parent should provide at his own expence for the education of his children, it is certain that every Class is interested in establishments which give to the human mind its highest improvements, and to every Country its truest and most durable celebrity.

And further on (anticipating the moieties perhaps created by standardized tests), he writes

But why should it be necessary in this case, to distinguish the Society into classes according to their property? When it is considered that the establishment and endowment of Academies, Colleges, and Universities are a provision, not merely for the existing generation, but for succeeding ones also; that in Governments like ours a constant rotation of property results from the free scope to industry, and from the laws of inheritance, and when it is considered moreover, how much of the exertions and privations of all are meant not for themselves, but for their posterity, there can be little ground for objections from any class, to plans of which every class must have its turn of benefits. The rich man, when contributing to a permanent plan for the education of the poor, ought to reflect that he is providing for that of his own descendants; and the poor man who concurs in a provision for those who are not poor that at no distant day it may be enjoyed by descendants from himself. It does not require a long life to witness these vicissitudes of fortune.

If we’re worried about money, then we should be assured by the question of all kinds of potential properties, even if teachers will be willing to forgo that prosperity in the short term for some for of pension in the future. Our country is of a size Madison could not probably have imagined. This does’t mean we shouldn’t weigh potential inflation (code for “state bailouts and give the teachers, the cops, and the fire people the raise they need”) against some sort of greater good in the name of public service.

Or we could say this: you know, we just can’t afford it. Then burn the Federalist and all Madison’s letters.

Lots of people will disagree with this:

Hire all the teachers, cops, firefighters you need and pay them the wage they need
Fund the research
Provide the loans
Change the rules around forming unions
Invest in that transit project
“Foster the useful arts”
Let anyone who wants in in
Leave peoples’ morality alone
Build those space ships (I love space x, but I also like my cordless drill)
Fine, support as much as the military wants, but let’s be reasonable
Get the banks back to banking
Speculation tax
Write your own list
But pay for it, if you know what I mean.

On the Ryan Choice

I just think it’s odd. Ryan’s ideas have been out there a long time and serious critics have had a chance to weigh in. Once the disclosure luster fades, we have to meat to debate. Now’s as good time as any other. I’m ready. I don’t think there’s a critical mass readership of Rand to warrant that direction, however. How many people have read Billy Budd?

Ryan Budget Stuff.

Center on Policy and BP stuff.

It’s a good question

Shawn Fremstad asks

Why is OK to pay the mostly female workers who take care of other people’s children and of seniors and people with disabilities so little? (Average wages for workers in care occupations are less than half of average wages for workers overall: for child care workers, average annual wages are $21,320 compared with $45,230 for workers overall. And, it’s not just about education—nearly half of all child care workers have either some college or a college degree).

Would it have something to do with the price points of that care in relation to the cost of raising children in general? I remember paying for child care back in the nineties when both my wife and I both worked. And it was a lot of money, but, not nearly enough to raise the wages of care workers. But I really have no idea.

But I’m interested in simple questions: should things cost what they do, as in a $300 gallon of saltwater (typically used by people with allergies and sold in teeny spray bottles) or the price point of a course at Harvard.

Why Taxes Matter

A touching piece by Andrew Leonard at Salon on his experience with firefighters:

And so the bullshit battle rages! Far too often, we’re forgetting what our public servants do. All I can think about, right now, is that even while risking his or her life to beat back the flames, a Berkeley firefighter took time out to make my daughter smile.

That firefighter deserves a raise. Put it on my next ballot, please.

I’m with that.

And, by the way, the 100 Dayers are at full throttle. Their Facebook group is called 100 Days of Summer.

Forms of Corruption

I just finished Lawrence Lessig’s book Republic, Lost. The author places a nice frame on the disappointment of Obama’s approach and his credibility problems but focuses on the larger issue of dependency corruption in modern American government. There’s nothing new here, but the author is sharp in critically evaluating the available studies and research. We all have something to lose with our current problem. This is not a partisan issue.

His principle solution to this corruption is a general limitation to campaign finance: 100 bucks per “voter.” It’s a good solution. Most important, however, is how Lessig concentrates on Congress’s role and how big money and K Street messes all this up: it’s responsibility is to the citizenry not to funders. This is an important principle for reformers. I’m with it and have been for years.

I like it that Lessig tries hard not to be naive. As with all rhetorical theory, problems are simple to grasp. Solutions are painful.

Why Politics is Dull

I read this quote in this article at NPR:

“Congressional Republicans have stood up for American consumers’ being able to make the choice of what lighting products they wish to use,” said Frank McCaffrey, a commentator with the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government.

followed by this:

The association’s Joseph Higbee said its representatives would hook up two incandescents side by side — an old 100-watt bulb using argon gas and a new 72-watt bulb using halogen.

“And you can’t tell the difference. We wanted to make sure every congressman and congresswoman understood that they and their constituents would still be able to purchase an incandescent light bulb,” Higbee said.

The association’s member companies long ago started changing their product lines from traditional incandescents to halogens, compact fluorescents and LEDs, Higbee said.

“Delaying enforcement undermines those investments and creates regulatory uncertainty,” he said.

Well, politics isn’t really dull but it can be silly. The question of lighting is pretty simple as a matter of quantitative reasoning: if I was offered a choice between an incandescent and equivalent LED at 1000 hours and 40,000 hours life respectively as a choice and the LED’s cost was, say, 4 or 5 times more expensive, which would I choose?

Obama, Fuzzy Numbers, and Electioneering

These CBO projections have been going about some. They show that Barack Obama’s reference, in his speech last night, to a trillion dollar deficit projection was dishonest.

Currently we’re suffering from the consequences of perpetual electioneering. The narrative John Boehner is pushing is no better than Obama’s. The theme of spending and the contributions of SS and Medicare to the deficit are pure bunk and serve only to advance election agendas. I’m sure John Boehner’s aware of the housing crash and the cost of our so-called wars. He could simply come out and say: I disagree with Social Security and Medicare as government run programs. They’re cost may be worth it. But I disagree with them. At least this would be honest. However, such a position is not good for getting elected. This is the equivalent of a dealership that decides to put the real cost of an automobile on the window of showroom vehicles.

Anybody who has any gifts of strategy could have advised Republicans about how to manage their affairs after 2008. Simple: allow no Obama policy to see the light of day so that come 2012 they could argue his ineffectiveness. This is classic. The idea is that if Republicans supported an Obama initiative and it showed any evidence of success, then this would make success in future elections impossible, thus the irony of resistance. Strategically this makes perfect sense. But what’s good for elections is not good for voters, as even those who disagree with Medicare benefit from it, and even those who might have disagreed with a larger stimulus, most likely would have benefitted from projected employment opportunities.

Which makes Obama’s factual error stand out even more. He’s fully aware of the CBO numbers but chose to make a willful gaffe, revealing the insidious nature of electioneering. I think he’s been wrong all along to be lost following the scent red herrings. To promote them himself is yet more disappointment to this voter.