Some of this discussion was previously posted under my Slate reposts here, but this posted thread contains all posts and responses.
I may be tempting fate here, the way you do when you say "Sure, but what could happen?", but I find it notable, myself, that Metro_Hillbilly doesn't respond to my points, in the end. Actually, I don't think he really responds to most of my factual points throughout the discussion, tacitly implying that he accepts them. But in the end, he doesn't even respond rhetorically to my last post. A flimsy basis on which to say I actually won the argument (he may have simply tired of it, or he may have figured that I was apparently just an unreachable ideologue, or he may, may have been stumped to keep "rebutting" my points with fact-free anecdotes). But I think we can claim a moral victory here. Read on.
I try to keep the authors clear, and topic changes/digressions clear, by the clever use of bold. Please comment if it becomes confusing. -J
Subject:Small Boy Sums up problems with Occupation
Date: May 17 2004 4:05PM
"In the corner, an American sergeant was being taught Arabic by a small local boy.
"I'm trying to get him to take some money for it," he told me, "But he shakes his head. I told him that in America when someone does something for you, you should pay him. I don't know if he understands that.""
If you want to get starry eyed, which I think is a good thing sometimes, you could be led to believe that this boy, as boys and girls and adults in many cultures, believes that certain things you do to be civil, certain things you do because you want to; certain things' value lies not in money, and helping, chatting, contacting other humans is not something that can or should be paid for, and cannot be replaced with money, contingent valuation or no.
The sergeant is offering the boy this culture of money, and he is saying no -- is this emblematic of something greater?
If you want to be a little more cynical, this interaction may not be so noble. Perhaps the young boy is helping the sergeant in hope of future favors -- a seemingly plausible and smart investment. In the turmoil that is outside of the Green Zone, and is trying to extend its tendrils inside, a favor from a US sergeant may be the difference between being recognized and being shot; between aid in a crucial moment or pragmatic apathy; between life and death for you or your family.
Perhaps this is also not the small boy's intent. I don't know. But it is a plausible conjecture, and certainly reinforces the concept that we went to Iraq without knowing who they were or what they want. And how can we "rebuild" their country with them, if we don't know such crucial things? We are trying to "modernize the savages" once again, to bring capitalism to the backwards people of the world. Iraq is not completely foreign to capitalism, of course. But the custom of gift-giving, of a certain civility, repeated in Stevenson's dispatches, seems to baffle us as much as we seem to baffle some Iraqis. And why shouldn't it? Modern capitalism presumes that almost everything is infinitely interchangeable with money or alternate economic goods. Yet, if the sergeant paid the boy, if their relationship was more business like, in a theoretical crucial moment, where that sergeant may be able to help that little boy, will he feel the same obligation to aid an "employee"? Or is there a relationship that is formed from freely given help that is different, that is precisely invaluable, that we, the US, have seemingly long since forgotten, and are now trying to "sophisticate" out of the Iraqi people?
RE: Small Boy Sums up problems with Occupatio
Date: May 18 2004 5:32AM
But the custom of gift-giving, of a certain civility, repeated in Stevenson's dispatches, seems to baffle us as much as we seem to baffle some Iraqis.
Subject:The Possiblity that Relativism is Real
Date: May 18 2004 1:19PM
Granted, I may be making more of it than what is there. There may be no "there" there, to use my favorite Goodspeak (or perhaps "doubleplus ungood crimethink"). But that's sort of what metaphors are for -- and what I was trying to make was a metaphor.
Anyway, while I agree that there may be less to this than it seems, I think you should realize that "being civil" is not an absolute thing. What is civil in one culture is pretty rude in another. Before extensive US contact, a "thumbs-up" in Iraq would have been quite the opposite of civil (it means, approx., "up yours" apparently). I agree the officer was *trying* to be civil, but my point is *trying* isn't the same as *understanding* what civility is to the other person. In some parts of Latin American culture (by which I mean my ex-girlfriend's family at least), it's *very* rude to offer to pay for a favor. It's saying you don't value their friendship, that you wouldn't do the same favor for them for free, that you don't want their help or to be beholden to them.
It ain't always that deep. But the thing is, what I learned at the former Fortune 500 co. I worked at that, if nothing else, had excellent "diversity" training, is that the Golden Rule is a HORRIBLE idea. Don't treat others as YOU'D want to be treated -- you may want to be treated very differently than they do -- treat them as THEY want to be treated, which means talking to them and figuring out how they see things, and trying your best to find some compromise where you both are treated as each of you want, rather than assuming everyone wants the same thing you want.
Bottom line: the soldier may be trying to be civil, but that doesn't mean his actions are *received* as any more civil than a friend that always comes over and eats all your food or continually doesn't pay back loans or borrows the car and nicks it and thinks that's ok would be seen as civil here. He should try and figure out why the boy doesn't want the money, and work from there, rather than trying to make him a good American capitalist.
He should try and figure out why the boy doesn't want the money, and work from there, rather than trying to make him a good American capitalist.
Subject:Er... metaphor. Heard of it?
Date: May 24 2004 10:27AM
I will be the first to admit I have no idea what the boy is thinking. You point out that the soldier doesn't, and neither do I, which, I hate to have to remind you, was exactly my point.
I said in the previous post that I was using the Small Boy as a metaphor for some of my opinions. It is quite possible, if not likely, that his motivations are of a different cloth than what I portrayed them. I never said that I knew what he was thinking. I never said diversity training (sans seemingly mocking "") gave me the answers; it gave a method, which, comfortingly, is close to the scientific method. Ask, test, procede, ask, test, etc. Ignoring for the moment that we apparently both agree that this is likely a small, insignificant moment in the piece that I wanted to pull out for narrative philosophical reasons, my ENTIRE point was not that I know better, but rather that the soldier's approach was wrong. "I keep trying to teach him that's what we do when someone does something for you." Fine. From that brief quote, however, it has not occurred to him to learn what THEY do when someone helps them. THEY could = Iraqis, Sunnis, Shiites, orphans, young children, young boys, language instructors, or even the boy's specific family. Culture is not monolithic, and everyone should be encouraged to learn about everyone else.
That's not what appeared to being going on.
I'm sorry if the soldier trying to "educate" the boy into capitalism struck me as symbolic of the problems with global hegemony (in the bad sense, as opposed to the sense in which Telles, Dagnino and others have used it).
Actually, I'm not sorry -- I'm sorry if it was POSSIBLY unclear this is what I was trying to do.
Which I don't think it was.
As I read recently: "Don't take metaphors literally. It's bad for you."
my ENTIRE point was not that I know better, but rather that the soldier's approach was wrong. "I keep trying to teach him that's what we do when someone does something for you." Fine. From that brief quote, however, it has not occurred to him to learn what THEY do when someone helps them.
But you seem to presume the Iraqis have no need or understanding of a capitalist system or the usage of money. In fact, the Arabs have been capitalists for as long as we have. If the reporter got the story right (and that's always a big "if" ) the soldier does not seem to understand an Arab boy doesn't have to be taught the purpose of money. I'm relatively confident the boy has strolled through a Baghdad market. He might also have some idea that Iraqi oil is valuable and is probably why that soldier is there in the first place. I'm also relatively confident the average Iraqi parent would teach their son a similar lesson about the usage of money.
Subject: Ah, I see the problem.
I am assuredly under no delusions that Iraqis do not use, know, or understand capitalism.
However, the point that "markets exist", such as the Baghdad market, is quite different than saying that someone is a capitalist, or understands the (current US/Western) form of capitalism.
Markets do many things well. But Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes both presumed that markets should have a moral and/or local component not governed strictly by "economic logic" (although neoclassical/neoliberal economists dismiss these parts of their arguments as flawed logic by otherwise brilliant people). My only point was the the US form of capitalism assumes that markets do almost *everything* well, which is not a scientific hypothesis, but a belief founded primarily in theory and unresolved empirically (sidenote: it's also assumed, or sometimes mathematically asserted, that the market foils of negative AND positive externalities, incomplete information (i.e. transparency), interchangability of goods, and competitive markets don't matter, which is convenient if not correct as it encourages the Western countries to forge on in the same way as we have been going.).
Many or some countries don't view everything as commoditizable -- human contact, interpersonal relationships, favors, proximity/community, etc. Even things that are impossible/inconvenient to market in reality (i.e. human lives/suffering) have been attempted to be encompassed by convenient monetary figures (sometimes through contingent valuation). While I would say its a sometimes necessary evil, some think that paying someone for a service/favor is interchangable/superior to doing someone a favor gratis.
Bottom line: I agree with your point, and the facts as presented. My metaphor was only based on the fact that things like extended families, home care, vacation time, family time, free time, air quality, water quality, global warming, friendship, person-to-person communication, person-to-person customer service, small, local shops, etc., or *personal favors/general friendship/hospitability have been found wanting by the American market in many cases, and that may not be the case in all places, and may not have been the case with the small boy. And indeed I gave theoretical market"ish" reasons in the metaphor as well, that would explain his gratis actions still based on self-interest. (Sorry this is a bit longwinded).
As I said before, if it happened as described, I would just like the soldier to try and learn about the boy and not *only* teach him "our" way to do things -- the seeming tradition of shopkeepers offering (apparently free) drinks or small snacks to some of the American passers-by in the Green Zone isn't normally the American Way. There are many things in Iraq that are certainly not done the American Way, or the Capitalist/Neoliberal Way. Small boy included or not, let's not presume to teach them/change them to our ways without bothering to learn theirs, and perhaps in some cases changing ours as well.
Many or some countries don't view everything as commoditizable -- human contact, interpersonal relationships, favors, proximity/community, etc.
I'm not idolizing anyone.
It was strange to the soldier that the boy wouldn't accept money.
Many of us here would do the same thing. And of course we don't have a perfectly free market. But I think you would be at ends to deny that the rhetoric is that the more free market we make everything, the better everything will be. How closely this rhetoric is followed is not what I'm arguing.
Bottom line, I'm curious why it was strange to the soldier. Bottom line, I'm curious why it seemed that over repeated interactions, he hadn't asked the boy why he wouldn't accept it.
Arabs/Iraqis are no more "noble savages" than anyone else. But if he truly was only trying "to teach him how we do things", he was implying a certain noble naivete in the boy as well, and in such a situation the glaring power differential made the interaction somewhat symbolic in my mind: someone in a inferior position of power being "taught" by someone in a superior position of power "how things are done." As you've pointed out various times in various ways, it's not as if capitalism is foreign to them. So why won't he take the money? And why won't the soldier stop offering?
Subject:nb on economics
Date: May 26 2004 12:49PM
I'm curious to what extent you think we *don't* view everything as commoditizable. I will readily agree not everyone in the US does. And not all academics or politicians or economists do. But if you've read much about the prevailing neoliberal/neoclassical economics that our economists and most business ilk advocate, the theoretical structure for where they want our economy to go is built on an everything-is-commoditizable assumption. This is also the rhetoric of our government, most often. Privitization is the big thing now, to turn back the governmental structures of the past. Many New Deal (and other) programs certainly have problems to be addressed. But any assessment of the market as stands will show efficiency is certainly not always found in or improved by privatization. Externalities exist. Large ones. Transparency is low. And the rhetoric of pulling oneself up (cf Ward Connerly) is predicated on our being discrete atomic units of "homo economicus". I worked in a Fortune 500 company for several years, and let me tell you, they were certainly moving and marketing based on the idea everything is commoditizable. And those things that aren't readily made economic, well the entire purpose of contingent valuation is to absorb those wholly into the economic sphere.
If you've read a lot of papers or columns in mass or academic media about how economic theory has strict limits in its ability to encompass human life, interactions, and happiness, please point me to it, I'd love to read it.
My only point was the the US form of capitalism assumes that markets do almost *everything* well, which is not a scientific hypothesis,
No, Flynt would not be able to. And this is where market clap-trap meets moralism. While I certainly don't agree with everything Flynt does, many (including our president and several Supreme Court justices) seem to believe that as Flynt flies in the face of Christian values, he is a serious cultural problem. Leaving that aside, the argument they give to this is *not* that the market can't handle what Flynt does, i.e. that there's a market failure to acct for human values. That debate gets stepped over entirely by the values debate.
I've certainly never heard anyone argue this from the perspective of a market failure (to appreciate values). Perhaps it is, but I would give you dollars for pesos that no one in our Administration or dominant economic rhetoric would admit it as such.
Leaving that aside, the argument they give to this is *not* that the market can't handle what Flynt does, i.e. that there's a market failure to acct for human values.
The moral and economic are hopelessly intertwined. Economics is ultimately about human values. Whether it's Larry Flynt or a mandated handicapped parking spot, or how Microsoft markets its software, or telemarketers, or the minimum wage, or a limitation on what stocks we can sell according to what insider information we have, it's all about whether the free market is good or economically beneficial -- even self-destructive -- if left truly free. I think our culture is ambivalent about it.
People are ambivalent about it because there's a substantial (and seemingly growing) Malthusian/Ricardoan resurgence in the ideals of a free market and Social Darwinism. But on the other hand, people tend to like the primary existing New Deal programs (eg. Social Security). And they tend to think the economy shouldn't leave them to the wolves. But there's this nagging feeling that maybe it would be better if we did... we're told everyone's better off if everyone pursues their own self-interest.
The fact that game theory basically says "it depends" -- sometimes it's better and sometimes cooperation is (see recent work by Joel Cohen), and the fact that in the past we got what most people would call pretty undesirable results from Social Darwinism, and the fact that most people WANT to help others, but they're told the best way is to pursue their own self-interest wholly -- well, no wonder we're confused.
The most annoying thing to me is that the fact that Ricardo and Malthus both *specifically* delineated one the flaws of their arguments (that landholders and company owners could become wealthy, and unproductive members of society because owning the factors of production, beyond a certain point, did nothing to directly increase its efficiency, and indeed at a certain point, they would want to keep their own wealth and thereby decrease the ability of their employees to spend money to keep consumption up), and they basically said "well, let's exclude land owners and corporation owners from the analysis. They're of a class smart enough to know they shouldn't reproduce that much, but should keep consuming to keep the economy going and keep their poor laborers from gaining too much power through higher wages."
The Republicans often decry Democrats as using class warfare -- but isn't it pertinent that some of their theories of free market are based explicitly on proponents of class warfare, who excepted part of their theories from analysis in order to support the argument that the poor should remain that way ad infinitum?
----to be reposted on The J Continuum; www.iamj.blogspot.com
The Republicans often decry Democrats as using class warfare -- but isn't it pertinent that some of their theories of free market are based explicitly on proponents of class warfare, who excepted part of their theories from analysis in order to support the argument that the poor should remain that way ad infinitum?
Interesting Theory... that definitely deserves to be posted at greater length somewhere on the Fray or some other accessible place. I think I can see where you're going with it. (not sure if I totally buy it, but I think something's there)
Metro_Hillbilly enters the Fray...
After looking at some of your additioinal posts, it is now clear to me. As I suspected, you are a liberal in disguise. How sad. I'm going to read some more of your stuff, but my first impression is that you're not rational. You're a bit mixed up right now.
We've all been there. Hope you live long enough to see straight.
Metro_Hillbilly replies to HopefulCynic...
I get your point, but think this not the best example. Many of us in this country can and often do relate in the same manner as the boy. I suspect you do also, as you were able to contemplate it. I think it only ever even came up, because a soldier felt good about witnessing it. I would too. Yes there are differences in culture, but this example is one that shows for the most part, that people are much the same.
But then again, what do I know? I just live in the big city and was born in Appalacia, hence the name, metro_hillbilly.
HopefulCynic now enters into a debate with Metro_Hillbilly...
This is, as you say, probably not the biggest difference in cultures, if it is at all different. I thought it was a useful starting point for a metaphor, though.
Of course, there are a lot of traditions of hospitality within the US as well, and I would argue those are being fought by the market as well (mainly indirectly through suburban sprawl, where you don't know your neighbors, and they don't know you, and everyday hospitality whithers on the vine as people become isolated in big houses with big lawns and no common community -- this at least is happening in Metro Detroit, Cincinnati area, Pittsburgh, and suburban New York, where I've lived over the years).
I agree. It's a rat race. I grew up in an area where grades 7-12 were all in one building. Some of the towns that sent their children to that school were; Hog Hollow, Distant, Leatherwood, Widnoon..... you get the picture. There are similar and different problems in all worlds. I live in Central Jersey now, about fifteen miles from Philadelphia, and work throughout the Delaware Valley region. I know road rage.
I don't think we can necessarily blame urban sprawl for the isolation or disconnect. I think we can blame greed. Greed of money and just plain impatient selfishness.
I'm also of the opinion that much of the lack of village that you're refering to, and that Hillary Clinton spoke of, can be attributed to the womens liberation movement.
Now, please don't misread me. I appreciate and respect strong, intelligent women, working women. I would even say that I love women, period...... but my wife might look over here any minute.
Let's look at the big picture though, and see if we can connect a few dots.
Since the sixties, newlyweds have generally expected far too much going into marriage, and have had little patience. That's what my grandparents believed anyhow. That people of their generation expected less, but ended up getting more.
It is the lack of anyone being at home with the children, and of not having meals together as a family, that mostly cause this disconnect. The neighborhoods can still be found, where people share their garden tools and sugar, but I know what you mean. I'm not convinced though, that either is more prevalent in an Urban or Suburban setting.
Women have added to the earning power of the family, and even if a wife would rather not work, many families find it necessary for both partners to be in the workforce, just to keep up with the Jones. Granted though, the Jones that many of us are chasing, are living modestly, even by our grandparents standards.
With values that encourage abortion as a preferable means of birth control over adoption, and casual sex with many partners......... the value of self gratification is enhanced, and the value of giving oneself to his or her family completely, has become out of vogue. Women are liberated and everyones happy. Or are we?
People get really bent out of shape when someone mentions that the bible states that wives are to be submissive to their husbands. Then, they never come to realize what else it has to say. That if husbands are treating their wives with the kind of respect and love that is commanded in the Bible, their wives will willingly submit. It is in their nature. There must be respect, but two people cannot lead. One has to be willing to submit when it becomes necessary. The womens liberation movement was hijacked by radicals who never knew or appreciated this kind of relationship, that used to provide some glue to the family unit. I don't think we can blame urban sprawl.
Are you certain that the solution to this is the type of socialist politics espoused by Kucinich?
I would agree that greed is the root cause of the problem; but urban sprawl is the result of this greed, and becomes a means to perpetuate the problem.
A) Re: sprawl, property laws and the housing subsidies after WWII, as well as declining taxes and tax bases in cities and reductions of social services have caused major urban flight. Neighborhoods have cleaned out, and the [reduction of the --ed.] social safety net (of the kind Kucinich-type politics endorses) leaves little resources to better cities. "Personal initiative" is often spoken of as the key, but as was said in "King Lear": "nothing can come of nothing."
The serious effects of inherited wealth and privelege are almost always overlooked in our culture -- is it pure coincidence practically all of our presidents have kinship with English royalty? I do not for a moment believe this is somehow "in the genes" or coincidence -- it is the inheritance of privelege (which, if I understand, is why many of the Founding Fathers were in *favor* of the estate tax -- (some of them) did not want the creation of a hereditary aristocracy, such as we have today.
Posits: Quality education with individualized instruction can help children of almost any background; they've even seen very good results with developmentally retarded children that get close, well-planned education. The parental involvement is very important, but this again ties to the lack of community, the lack of resources (i.e. spare time, two parent homes, well-paying jobs, an engaged school staff encouraging parental involvement, and safe community spaces for children to get together and learn with each other or their parents outside of school). People argue that money spent per student is not a predictor, as it wildly varies across the US -- but this is a false analysis. Much more money may be spent at an inner-city school for worse results than a school in a small rural community, or a suburb, that spends less per child. But this has to be normalized -- city schools have higher operating costs (land costs more; skilled & unskilled labor costs more; maintenance & security almost certainly cost more). If the data is correctly normalized, one finds that money spent per student is a *strong* predictor of success, but there are obviously different minimum requirements in rural Iowa than in inner-city Phoenix as far as how far the same amount of money goes. This kind of external structural failure is exactly the type of thing Kucinich's policies would attempt to correct. (Though since Kucinich will not be the nominee, I'm likely supporting Nader.)
As far as sprawl, the size of the average house is increasing, and the lawn size, and the use of planned subdivisions which isolate communities into little islands that can be broached only with cars (and therefore, with adults), and the marketing of houses, appliances, and entertainment, and the niche specialization of all of these, driven by greed and the possession-focused American lifestyle all send the message to people that their space should begin and end within their own home. Civic involvement is a "plus", but few people (in the Cincinnati and Michigan suburbs I've lived in) view involvement in local government, the PTA, and other imperative issues of a strong community sphere as a necessary part of life, but rather as "nice to haves" or jobs that they're "glad someone else is doing." There is a theory that this is in part due to the present incrementalism of job wages -- as opposed to earlier in the last century, where there were significant differences in effort required to get above certain wages, which therefore conspired to keep people working at a certain level with a certain stable amount of effort, the number of levels one can move up and incremental wage increases encourages people to work ever more hours (and this lack of time for community further encourages the withering of a public sphere and the embracing of home amenities as the focus of life when not in work). It's important to note that Americans get the lowest amount of vacation days and work the longest hours of the developed countries (excluding Japan perhaps), and have the lowest productivity. Working more does not mean working better; and two to four weeks of vacation a year further shrivels the fruit of community and family time on the vine. But no one in the American community is willing to be the first one to cut hours or encourage more time at home -- being a company that well serves its customers is insufficient. Each company must grow, and grow faster than last year and than all other countries (which, in the long and short terms, is unsustainable -- nothing can grow forever without crashing, and in general in nature, the slower something grows, the more careful it is about it, the longer it lasts).
As far as family time and two working members, I don't blame the women's movement at all. For one thing, the promiscuity you talk of has been here for, if not time eternal, a long while. I can't think of any reason that the public exposure of it makes it worse -- if you think of actual historical/political studies of the past, and even popular culture like Shakespeare, or even theatre in, say, Egypt or China or Japan -- the difference was marital infidelity was expected, accepted, and not talked about openly. But there was a whole lot of sleeping around among all classes
of people; the social mores regarding admitting it openly, or accepting it (especially among women), were different. And men were far more prone to cheat than women. [ed: actually, I'm not sure about this part -- I think what I meant here was that men are equally likely to cheat as women (recent research backs this up), as a counter to Metro_Hillbilly's take that promiscuity, and the implication that specifically female promiscuity, has caused many modern social probs.] I see little about previous systems to commend them on their own merits. [again, here -- in terms of the idea that we are in a uniquely promiscuous age, rather than simply in one where "promiscuity" is more public and women's sexual freedom is more freely acknowledged rather than as harshly condemned, outlawed, or ignored as in the past --ed.]
There's no reason we can't generate better parenting, but again this ties to the types of ideas Kucinich espouses. An encouragement for people to work to live, rather than live to work, to enjoy what they do and also enjoy their time away from work, to *value* non-working time as contributing to society and the economy, is certainly far more socialist that capitalist in nature, but I think it's apparent it would generate better results. As would more flexible work environments. Capitalism encourages competition, which is good for efficiency; but it's also good for wearing itself down into the ground. I.e. there's probably a most efficient way to make a bodywash (my old job); but competition has now driven us past this and into a place where companies try and invent some new benefit to a bodywash that, essentially, they can *convince us* we want, and then sell it to us. Would it not be more efficient, in a resource limited world (which is what we live in), to accept that a certain amount of consumer products and convenience is useful, but that in the scheme of things, it may be time to focus on other values? Without broaching any kind of more direct meddling, I'm thinking of the rat race that there was in bodywash, and how reluctant anyone was to take vacation lest they lose time to someone else and lose a promotion later down the line. But wouldn't we be better served with longer maternity and paternity leave, more flexible schedules, and more vacation, rather than more bodywash? (And just to show you this can fit into a capitalist mind set, my former company was headed in this direction until the "bubble" burst -- which made them focus on short term strategy again. But wouldn't staff training and satisfaction be the best long term investment?)
I also see no reason the man can't be encouraged to stay home more. If there's a problem with two working parents, I see no reason why 50% of the men should work and 50% should be stay-athome dads, and 50% of women work and 50% stay at home. I think the generalization of a woman submitting naturally is false -- some want to, some don't, but to assume all will do it naturally or happily is almost certainly wrong, and any cultural or social attempt to make those who don't want to do it is unfounded and undemocratic. The negotiation should be societal -- if we value child-raising so much, education should be better, more widely available, and provided for all the way through college. Exposure to college, even without graduation, tends to lead to better outcomes for people and their children, who they tend to pass down education's importance from their experiences. But many can't afford to go that want to, and society loses out. Child care should also be more widespread and community-oriented, and sprawl (which increases separation, segragation, and transportation costs) should be minimized.
These things have worked and not worked at various times in various countries; but there's no reason to think they're worse than our system as the US has the highest class separation (i.e. income inequality) of the developed world, the lowest educational outcomes for money spent, and the poorest health care for money spent vs. more socialized systems. The capitalist system seems to be stuck at a local maximum -- perhaps due to the large number of externalities we refuse to internalize.
A last note -- I don't know if you know anything about Cuba. I've been there, and my advisor has traveled there extensively. Although there is political repression, it *does not compare* to that of capitalist countries in SA such as Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in many ways. These all have different sets of freedoms and plusses and minuses, but Colombia has the highest murder rate in the world I believe, and opposition parties often have political members "disappeared." The average person feels little committment or involvement in the government. On the other hand, in Cuba, almost everyone votes (the accusation that Castro is unelected conflates different issues; he undoubtedly wields undue power, but his position is like that of a Prime Minister; the inherent character of his position is no more dictatorial than that of Tony Blair or any other parliamentary government. Other structures and cultural politics come into play in his position, but he is not elected directly because *you do not elect prime ministers*.) Everyone is involved in local community organizations. And all the people I talked to had reservations about their government; just like us. But few, if any of them, would trade their system for ours willingly (people from cab drivers to busboys to farmers asked us if the US were going to attack Cuba, and if there was anything we could do to stop the US from invading and bringing our politics there). Also, keep in mind that Cuba is considered a country of high development by the human development indicators. It has near universal literacy, more doctors per person than the US, infant mortality almost as low as ours, a high average education level, and perhaps ~25% of their population going to college. In other words, they are doing better than almost all other latin american (or African, or Asian) countries, with a far more limited (due to the embargo) economy.
While we certainly don't want all the conceits of a Cuban-style system ("the trains running on time" is no justification, that type of thing), I would say much of their success can be (and frankly, is) in a socialist-democratic context. (I can name similar examples of socialist-type program successes in Brazil, among other places).
So, yeah. That's kinda where I'm coming from.
Where do I start? First, I agree with most of the problems you mention. I just don't believe in what I suppose, is your method of remedy. Perhaps the story of a different small boy will shed some light on where I'm coming from.
I grew up in a small town in the hills of central Pennsylvania I graduated in 1979, along with 136 of my classmates. To get that many, we were bused from a radius of possibly forty miles. My mothers had twelve brothers and sisters. She actually had thirteen, but one died in a fire while sleeping over night at the neighbors as a child. She was my mothers oldest sister. Mostly, my uncles were all coal miners or mechanics, except for one who graduated Valedictorian of his class. He worked odd jobs, when he wasn't walking the roads intoxicated. He became an alcoholic, reduced to standing on his head, as children threw change at him. He could play several instruments by ear, and had played professionally in a small orchestra for awhile. Another uncle who avoided the mines, and is still alive, is obviously gay and lives under a self - imposed don't ask, don't tell policy. He spent approx. six combined hours, traveling to and from work each day. He worked his entire life as an office secretary for the State of Pennsylvania in Indiana, PA. and lived with my grandparents until their deaths. He took good care of them.
I've loved them all.
On my dads side, five brothers and sisters were either truck drivers, or school teachers. The men were truck drivers and the ladies were school teachers.
My family has lived in the U.S. since before the civil war. Just how much before, I'm not certain. I do know that one of my great great (have fogotten how many greats) Uncles was Hiram Grant, better known as Ulysses S. Grant. My mothers maternal grandmother was a Grant. I suppose that's why I like history so much. That's my only claim to fame. I got into a fight over it once, when I was in second grade. I hadn't learned how to make fun of myself yet, so I tore into three sixth graders who were having some difficulty believing me, and having some fun with it. I think that until now, I could probably count on one hand the number of people I've told since.
I remember sitting alone, the last days of my senior year in high school, contemplating what I was going to do with my life. Only at that moment, did I realize how I regretted no applying myself fully in school. There would be no scholarship. It wasn't until I started reading about the different universities that I had even contemplated it. I actually almost pined for what might have been. I suppose I still do, to some extent. By that time though, the stage had been set. I borrowed as much as I could, worked part time and graduated with an Associates degree which I earned in sixteen months, going to school eight hours a day. Then, broke, possessing a wardrobe compised mostly of white t-shirts , and an old chevy nova newly equipped with fenders from a junk yard, (my dad helped me with it) ...... I headed off on a great adventure.
The short story from here, is that I worked as a Commercial Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning mechanic for sixty to seventy hours a week, with few vacations. Then, I went into business myself at the age of twenty-five. I was operating on a shoe-string budget. My wife was a waitress, until I enlisted her help. For the next twelve years, I worked sixty to a hundred plus hours a week, with even fewer vacations. I sacrificed finacially, in that I could have earned far more per hour working for someone else. Eventually, with approx. forty employees (whose welfare I felt responsible for), my wife and I capitalized on our sacrifices. We sold the company to a NYSE listed company and retired a millionaire at the age of thirty-seven. That was in 1998. We moved back to the sticks in Pennsylvania, and within two years, the stock market collapsed and I lost nearly everything. What I didn't lose in the market, I lost by starting another business while I was still in shock. That and a hundred thousand dollars that I borrowed for the business with personal credit cards. And, our retirement savings, and our life insurance policies. O...... and let's not forget the house. We couldn't bring ourselves to file bankruptcy. That's just not how we were raised. I realize now, that not all people filing bankruptcy are still driving Mercedes and using maid services.
We liquidated, without bankruptcy procedings. We still fend off the phone calls the best we can. We moved, mostly for the work, but partly to avoid the shame. There are fewer phone calls now. I have a decent paying job as a mechanic again, in New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia, PA. The big city.
I could blame the crooks at the companies where our investments went to zero. I could probably have sued our financial advisor. However, I am ultimately responsible. Period.
Through it all, we've managed to raise three wonderful children, and my relationship with my wife is stronger than ever. We've been fortunate to always find good church homes wherever we've lived, and have not wasted what time we've had as a family by chasing the night life, or any such nonsense. It is possible to work alot, and love alot.
My wife was bitter and angry at me for three years though, and deservingly so.
In closing, I'll say that I do have a heightened appreciation for people who are struggling. Some of them are doinng so, through no fault of their own. I've always know that, but not in the same sense.
I still disagree with your remedies. I'll adress those in a different post, if you haven't tired of this discussion already.
I am glad for the prefix of your screen name.
Thank you for your replies.
I have many thoughts on this, but this foremost: anecdotes, no matter how touching, cannot be generalized simply as a matter of course. I don't know if you've read Sen, but his work garnered him a Nobel Prize. (Of course, this is simply a call to authority, which is no more inherently valid -- but it's an authority I happen to think has a well developed, valid appraisal of things.)
The idea that it all comes to personal responsibility, period, is an assertion, not any kind of statement of fact. I feel the impoverishment of those today who were exploited yesterday is neither coincidence nor unremiadable nor ignorable. The fact that some succeed *despite* adversity does not make irrelevant the adversity holding others back; and in our culture, that which is taken must be returned, even if generations have passed -- if I were to find that my family had stolen property from yours 20 years ago, and I had that property in my possession, it is owed to you -- it was not rightfully gained and cannot be rightfully kept. The fact that some people believe in "bygones" does not mean as a general principle, those who have profitted from others owe them nothing. It also does not mean that those who prosper despite adversity are representative of what effort can get you, and not exceptions. All of us have gotten where we are today with the help of many, and both together and alone we have overcome many obstacles in each of our lives. It is almost impossible to pretend some things can be overcome through enough individual will; teams and alliances exist for a reason.
And the fact that success despite adversity is an exception implies either a) almost all successes are better than everyone else; or b) structural obstacles hold back others who may have succeeded. The fact that some programs to help people do not work does not mean that all programs to help people do not work; and if we have the power to help people exercise a wider range of choices, and as we, in our economy, profit from many of those whose choices are constrained, we owe them in a very direct way all chances to better themselves that only come if you get a head start. (Lyndon B. Johnson: ""You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains, and liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, and then say, 'You are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair," Johnson said." [slate.msn.com])
There are programs that work. These should be used. Others should be altered to be more like those that work. The failure of one does not disprove the success of another. And the exception does not usually prove the rule in real life -- to be horribly reductionist, probability theory dictates that unlikely things practically *must* occur -- just not regularly.
So anyway, sorry. all that is to say anecdotes don't hold much water for me; and the idea that it all comes to personal responsibility is fine as a personal belief, but it is an assertion and cannot be meaningfully proven. I don't feel any particular need to believe it, and since we're in a democracy, and most Americans tend to like social spending [www.sprint.net.au] (sorry, an old link and not properly sourced), I don't feel any particular need to practice it. Ayn Rand's Objectivism is self-proving (i.e. circular), and thus the tenet that individual responsibility is all cannot be proved or disproved, and to me, is not compelling.
So, what property are you suggesting has been stolen and by whom, that it needs to be paid back?
I honestly can't disagree with anything you've said, but the undercurrent of your text suggests that, as a practical matter, it will never be possible to satisfy you without holding back the hopes and aspirations of many, (intentionally or not) just so that everyone's net financial worth can be closely the same, and no one should have cause to feel driven to succeed. And that anyone who is inclined to provide more for ones family, must of necessity be a greedy SOB
Would you agree that is a fair assessment?
I wouldn't at all agree with that assessment. Were it a zero sum game, then maybe there'd be more to what you say, but even then, I don't think so.
Positive externalities are a fact of life -- in many cases, the gain of many can only be achieved by a lesser sacrifice (in terms of time, labor, etc) of many.
Better education helps everyone -- those in a neighborhood who don't have children and ask why they should have to pay for other's -- well, because noblesse oblige and also because they are better off with well-educated children at large -- better educated children will tend to be healthier (i.e. by being more able to effectively keep themselves healthy, get better jobs and therefore better nutrition, etc) generate a better economy, and everyone benefits.
I don't know what I would do in the "end game" -- it seems like there's no particular need for some to have immense wealth, more than they can spend, and others to have less than they need. I can envision a world where everyone has the starting blocks to make much of themselves, and what they do from there is up to them. This world would require a great sacrifice on the part of the wealthy the world over, but luckily I think much lesser sacrifices can make for great returns right now.
There's not an either/or here. Fact: numerous studies have shown that the amount of money the top class has in proportion to its size has grown much faster than the amount of money/salary provided for those lower down. And much, if not all of this inflation of wealth is maintained because those who decide on the salaries of the highest class tend to be friends and co-board members with others equally interested in higher salaries for themselves. Economics has repeatedly shown the possibility of perverse outcomes from the "invisible hand."
Thus, if there is no necessary reason to think the wealth distribution of today reflects some true internal efficiency in all cases, it would serve that those who have all their necessities provided for, plus all the necessities of their family, and their friends, and all the toys they want, and then some -- well, they have profited most from our society, and have the most, and inarguably have more "free speech" than everyone else -- shouldn't they give more back because they can afford to? This is a start. Providing for one's family has nothing to do with being an SOB. Being able to provide for all the families of the world does not imply the holding back of many, unless their aspirations are to own everything (my own personal example: a certain family member is a millionaire; this is undoubtedly due in part to the upbringing he had from his family; but this same family member gives least to the rest of the family, and provides the least to his ailing mother, who by stark economic logic has no need, or ability, to "compete" and feel driven to succeed and presumably there'd be no harm in giving back to she from whom he received so much -- but he does not, because he feels family is not that different from business, and she should just sell her own assets rather than he use them to help her. Greed breeds greed.)
There is an excess of wealth in the world. 5% of the world (us) uses, what, 20% of the resources? And some have projected that to be sustainable, all that would be required, even in the complete absence of further tech. advancement, would be a 1960s level of energy intensity. (Sustainability is another point: the accumulation of "capital" and money is actually a conversion of the world's resources, which are finite, into the human economy; essentially, all resources which are not replenished represent a drawing down of an "interest bearing account" -- thus, the wealth of today, if kept and not returned to the people and to the earth, represent a mortgaging of the future, no bones about it.)
Net financial worth has nothing to do with happiness. Those who can, do. Those who can give, should give, and a truly civilized society is not the one that requires exceptionality to survive, but rather provides the basis upon which exceptional lives can be lived. You take an overly cynical view when you surmise the homo economicus model, where no one is driven to succeed without the wealth of nations for the taking as their carrot. Almost all people want to work. Giving them the ability to work competitively does not remove this desire. And it is almost certainly true that even many of those who today do NOT want to work, feel this way not out of sloth, but because they know that with a start so far behind, with a "cost-of-living" and poverty standard falling in real dollars, with poverty determined from average income instead of median, with Head Start and other programs in danger of diminution, with public schools struggling, with the possiblity that one accident or health problem can wipe out everything they've worked for, or they or their family may have to suffer through illness because they can't afford to have it treated -- is it inconceivable that these people would want to work MORE given more? Is it inconceivable that those who already have much will continue to work and innovate, even if they can't have as "much" much -- as much extra personal income -- as they could if everyone else were given less? (Some frayster once, only half kidding, suggested that if the self-interest to accumulate is the driver of success, it actually behooves us to keep taking from those who accumulate because once they have reached the top, there is no incentive to implement correctives, continue to innovate as rapidly, or in some other way rock the boat too much.) The theory of homo economicus has been refuted many times. People will work for each other's good -- if they know that at least most others will do the same. To do this, we have to start by providing everyone with the ability to work as hard as they can for each other -- and in no way would this require all others to forsake providing for their family, or to forsake any personal wealth in excess of that of others. It would take pretty significant tax burdens on the ultra-rich to even make a dent in their ability to provide.
So, no, I disagree with your assessment.
"Provide everyone ability to work hard for others" So, you mean like how someone provides me a job, and I work sixty hours a week because twenty hours goes to Uncle Sam to give to someone else? Actually, Uncle Sam keeps a lot of it, due to the inefficiencies of managing the programs. When I tithe at my church, the church is much more efficient with the money. The more money I earn, the more I'm able to tithe.
Patrick Moynihan said, "The problem with liberals is that they sometimes have a hard time with reality". He was one of the last reasonable democrats.
It seems to me that socialists and communists (which is where your beliefs are) unconsciously use the precept of compassion to divert attention from something that they don't want to admit about themselves. That they are lazy. It's easier to excuse laziness, if one is a victim. Also, such thinkers find it impossible to find happiness, because they believe happiness comes from money. Perhaps that is because Communists and Socialists consitently teach that religiosity presents the greatest obstacle to advancing their agenda. So for them to be happy, they covet their neighbors possessions. They show envy and jealousy. Why can't they be happy that some are fortunate? Truly some people are handicapped (mentally or physically) and require more help than others. Too many socialists though, suffer from a handicap of attitude. You gave an example in one of your postings, that suggested we should somehow be forced to work less. I'm reminded of when I was in highschool working in the summer. It was at a factory that was shut down for repairs. I was working on a maintenance crew, pulling weeds, using a sickle, etc. This was a union plant. Myself and few other high school boys were working under the supervision of unioned plant personnel. After about a week, one of the plant managers came and took me aside, and said he noticed how hard I worked. He said those other guys were gonna ruin me. To make a long story short, he put me in a better position helping a manager who was not in the union. Before the summer was over, they offered to send me to school to learn to be a lumber purchaser and inspector. That is a respectable job, and the pay is respectable. It wasn't what I wanted to do, but I was so appreciative that my hard work and especially my attitude, had been noticed. In your scenario, you would do as the union bosses would have done......... to make certain no one works too hard. That's lunacy. That's laziness. That's jealousy.
You should read Smith's papers. Captain Smith of Pilgrim fame. The Pilgrims tried very hard to make socialism work. It doesn't. They nearly starved because of it. You can't change human nature.
Socialists and Communists are a pretty diverse group, despite what you say, so I'll have to disagree with you on their supposed laziness.
As to the "problem with reality", I suggest you look at the SMAB program in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the extremely high (for a country of its resources) development indicators of Cuba, and books like Elinor Ostrom's "Governing the Commons", and Thomas Prugh, Bob Costanza, and Herman Daly's "The Local Politics of Global Sustainability." Also read my previous post "Ad Hoc: Econ of Selfishness Never Proven."
If you do the research, you find that people can be expected to work together in certain circumstances, and not in others. Human nature, as far as altruism or capitalism, is a farcical concept.
And don't confuse the ideology of the world's former extant "communists" -- not many socialists or communists would expunge religion from the public sphere, or indeed, fear it per se. China and USSR are/were both state capitalist republics for most of their regime's existence, not communists, despite their rhetoric -- with actual socialism or communism. These are, insofar as possible, economic systems and not political ones. A more socialist country that is also democratic is not hard to imagine -- look at the social reforms the US has undertaken, with social security, unemployment, public works, and reforms in other countries, like socialized medicine -- these programs, whatever your rhetoric, certainly haven't proven the end of our country, and there's quite the case the socialized medicine works (Cuba has more doctors per capita than we do, an extremely advanced pharmaceutical system, and sends doctors regularly on humanitarian missions -- and we regularly send doctors there to examine their medical system, it being impressive for a country of any stature, much less a country of Cuba's resources).
Do the research. Examples of selfishness abound. But the fact that examples of cooperation, true cooperation, exist as well belies any claim of a corner on "human nature", and belies the "laziness" of cooperative works (again, see Elinor Ostrom's work, and look at how hard-working cooperative peoples can be).
Examples of working together is all good and well. I'm all for it. However, the redistribution of wealth that you call for, (already happening) reminds me of a story. The story was much better than I can remember, but hopefully I can still get the point across.
There was a town with a Diner. It was the law of the land that everyone had to eat at this Diner. It was the only one. Some retired men met there each day, to enjoy each others company over breaksfast. Only one of the men was extremely wealthy. This man always made a habit of paying for the meal and tipping. The others allowed him to pay. It had been automatic for years. The others always ate more than the wealthy man at the diner. The wealthy man had his own extensive garden that he enjoyed working, and eating from.
One day, the owner of the diner underwent some sort of religious conversion and decided that he was going to cut his prices, because he had noticed many others had stopped spending as much. The economy was hurting. The store owner was going to have to cut some costs somewhere if sales didn't eventually pick up enough to offset his new lower prices.
The store owner also decided that if he sent his customers a check in the mail, they would know that he was thinking of them, and they might even come to his store and spend some money. He did this. He found that some actually spent even more money than he had sent them. He also noticed that some new people were coming in spending money. They told him that they had heard of the place when some of his customers had taken some of the money he'd sent them and spent it at their businesses. Business had picked up so much for them, that now they had some money to spend eating out.
It was working out quite well. He was glad he had kept meticulous records and had sent everyone a check equivelent to 10% of what they had spent at his store last year.
Then, when all the retired buddies met for breakfast, the one wealthy man thanked the store owner for the check he'd sent him. Now, the wealthy man was quite surprised to turn and see angry faces on all of his buddies. They didn't get a check in the mail. They started grumbling about how unfair that was. Eventually, they became so angry and demanding that the wealthy man left disgusted, deciding to never eat with them again. In fact, he moved to New Zealand. End of story.
The overwhelming majority of taxes are paid by a few at the top already. Are you aware of this? Do I need to look up specific numbers? Eventually, people will either leave, or revolt. Remember, mine is a family of five, living in a two bedroom apartment. We have one car with 140,000 miles. I have a work truck, but can only drive it to and from work. I know many others have it much worse. Still, it does not excape me that Nikita Kruschev's son, chose to become an American citizen. I assume you know of Kruschev..... who pounded his shoe on the table, while shouting that Americas children would live under communism before they died. I wonder why his son did not chose Brazil?
Previously, you called for eliminating incremental wage increases, "because they cause people to work too hard in anticipation of a reward".....
This is just the tip of the iceberg offering proof that your system cannot work as a practical matter without holding people back. Human beings are not ants or honeybees. It is not in our genes to be that selfless and unimaginative. Many people are generous, but generosity stops once it becomes forced. We will work very hard to better our immediate families.
Are you familiar with the Smith papers that chronicled the Pilgrims disaster with socialism?
Please don't think that I'm being ugly, but I sincerely do wonder why you should not chose to live in Cuba?
I don't think you're being ugly at all. I would actually love to live in Cuba for a while -- a colleague of mine recently returned from living there for some years (she's half Cuban and went to grad school there), and is having a hard time readjusting to life here, due to the relatively apolitical and asocial character of our country compared to Cuba.
And anectdotes don't offer prima facie proof of anything. It's a nice story, though.
Though the top class of our country pays a vast majority of the taxes, a large part of this is due to the extreme skew to the wealth of our country. The top class has not only "disproportionate" tax burden, but a disproportionate amount of the wealth. Additionally, because of payroll taxes, it has been noted (in Slate a fair few times) that our tax system is in some cases, slightly regressive.
And the [idea] that people at the top [shouldn't] pay more than a percentage of taxes exactly equal to their portion of the population is sort of a ludicrous proposition considering that they have much more wealth than everyone else [edited for clarity -- ed.]. Not to mention that they have arguable benefitted from the externalities generated by society the most (public education, if not for them than for their employees that they were able to choose out of the system that the state has used to generate such educated employees; infrastructure allowing transportation of goods, communication, and commuting by employees; relatively healthy employees maintained by environmental standards, health regulations, and consumer protection). Such externalities will not last if no one pays for them. Those of the lower classes often cannot afford to pay more for them. Those at the highest classes have benefitted most from them. And, as I said, since money is considered free speech, those at the highest classes have *more* speech than everyone else. It does not seem unreasonable for them to pay more. (Also keep in mind, we have to lowest tax burden on the highest class than any other major developed country. You may argue this is why we're the only remaining superpower, a premise I would entirely dispute, and you may argue this causes some capital flight from such countries; you cannot, however, argue that their quality of life is significantly less (as measured by human development indicators) or argue that these countries aren't working about as well as ours is)).
Anectdotes are fun, but they don't prove anything. and i never proposed eliminating incremental wage increases. I'm simply saying they're causing a novel problem that many other countries aren't seeing as dramatically, and that we in the US seem to devalue the opportunity cost of work vs. free time/family time/community time, and to boot we have the highest (or near highest) working hours and lowest (or near lowest) productivity. Something's wrong here; I don't know that your anectdote explains it.
I didn't take offense at your comment of "why don't you live in Cuba" -- I was, of course, assuming you weren't making the ridiculous "love it or leave it" conundrum.
No one who accomplishes anything in life walks away from a problem because it's difficult; no one forsakes something they love because they think it is good and could be great, or has fallen fall short of the potential one expects from it. I will not forsake my homeland lightly; just because I feel it's political decisions are unwise and unjust doesn't mean it's time for me to leave, and let it continue as it may under guidance I disagree with.
It's no more reasonable for me to leave than those who believe the US should be a Christian state... it's in fact far less reasonable, since being a formalized Christian state would be expressly against the Constitution, inarguably, whereas my interpretation of how the country should be may run counter to others, but I see it as upholding the true potential of the Constitution, and the fact that others disagree with my interpretation is nothing like a reason for me to leave. Might as well ask all people who lie out of, what, one standard deviation, two standard deviations? of all societal norms to leave.
And far more importantly, the US is the nexus of power for the world economy and military right now. As much as I might like to sort of "start anew" and try to build a country or join a country I feel is truer to itself, the US exerts control over all spheres and places in the world, directly or indirectly, and if I wish to stop things happening like the overthrow of the Iranian gov't, the Iran-Contra deals, the deaths of thousands in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Grenada, and other places, if I wish to counter the counter-productive neoliberal model, no where will I be able to do this more ably than in the US. For better or worse, true change runs through Washington, one way or another.
Those who say you must love something unconditionally don't understand what it is to expect and demand the best of it -- we don't tell our children not to try harder when they fail; we don't tell our sports teams that we love every aspect of them when they don't perform. I very much believe in tough love, and if power doesn't appreciate having truth spoken to it, it's all the more my responsiblity to speak the truth to it out of love for my people and my country.
And that's where it ends... As of this date, I haven't heard more from Metro_Hillbilly, for what reason, I'm not sure.
Note: emphasis in all cases was added, and not in the original. I have edited some of my (HopefulCynic's) points for clarity, though I wouldn't necessarily assert that I was actually successsful in increasing clarity.
More Slate re-posts later, and my gambling reform proposals still to come.