Monday, December 08, 2008

Doctor J, I presume...

Hoo-RAY! Just finished my PhD -- well, mostly. The oral defense and most of the writing. Still re-drafts to go (#!@#$!!) but that's a pittance compared to the hallucinatorily difficult process of getting here. Still don't believe it's true.

Anyway, in other "Just can't believes..." Could Obama please nominate SOMEONE progressive to his Cabinet? I know I didn't really expect him to be very actually change-ful, c'mon, now. I wonder how my friends that were very pro-Obama feel about all this -- though I suspect they (fairly) are still taking a bit of a "wait and see" approach, since who you appoint doesn't completely determine what you do. Nevertheless, though, who you appoint does have a big significance, or can, because it doesn't seem that the Prez typically gets too involved deep down in the details of Cabinets. That has mixed effects, being that a lot of day-to-day Cabinet work is not of a big great huge political nature, and that Cabinets have lost much of their power (though it depends on who the Sec is and what the prez's approach to Cabinets is), but on the other hand, the technocrats within the Cabinet influence what happens in the future through the groundworks they lay in terms of philosophy and research and therefore solutions and ideas available at later dates.

I think. I may be making all that up.

Anyway, GREAT article here on how O has seemingly snubbed Joe Stiglitz, probably one of the best mainstream economists there is from my point of view. (He's no heterodox, not really, but close enough for government work, as it were.) Stiglitz, author of "Globalization and its Discontents", was one of the few Clintonites to not only NOT jump on the globalization-free-trade IMF-bull-shitting on the developing countries horse hockey, but he actually OPPOSED it. (And his Nobel-Prize winning research contradicts its theoretical foundations. According to the article, no less a free marketeer than Milton Friedman admitted Stiglitz was right on Russia's conversion to capitalism -- that sound institutions and regulatory regimes should be the first priority -- and Friedman himself was wrong in having suggested primarily "Privatize, privatize, privatize.)

Anyway. Stiglitz is yet another example of a perfectly acceptable, incredibly qualified mainstream-type progressive-ish choice Obama could make, but he's reportedly out in the cold. This is boding poorly, my friends, very poorly indeed.

14 comments:

Mpls Ju said...

Congratulations sir! Good luck with your revisions - may they be quick and painless!

Daktari said...

I have to admit that the events leading up to and following Thanksgiving have left me disconnected from the news. So, it's not exactly a "wait and see" thing with me so much as a "can't wrap my brain around it at the moment" thing.

This, too, will pass.

Chris said...

Congrats, all hail, I'm not worthy, etc., etc.

As a non-partisan "centrist" I'm happy that Obama seems to be going more for competence than ideology. After the past 8 years, I can be happy with competence. Remember: he's always claimed to be a Democrat, but he's always shown himself to be a pragmatist who happens to come down on the Democratic side of issues more often than not. "I'm not opposed to all wars, I'm opposed to dumb wars," and that kind of thing. It's why I (and many others) like him, and it may be why he won the election - he was able to build a broad coalition. Now he must serve that coalition (not to mention all the people who didn't vote for him).

The sharpest note I've seen on this comes from Marc Ambinder, who illustrates the aplomb with which he's redefining (dare I say, changing?) the discourse:

<quote>
In Steve Hilderband's "trust us" caution today, I see a bit of a genius move: By all means, we must reject all the concerns of the die-hard leftists, and instead, move sharply toward the center of American politics, doing such reasonable, centrist bipartisan things as bringing the troops home from Iraq, making health care affordable, and embarking on a massive public works projects and using government policy to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.
</quote>

Remember, sudden, big change rarely lasts, and real, lasting change takes time, dedication, and work. Much like earning one's doctorate. Now if only you knew the type of people who were up to such things... ;)

J said...

You set up a false choice, as if competence and "ideology" must be opposed. I think anyone can agree that there are competent people across the spectrum -- I can agree that there are competent hard-core libertarians, as well as competent hard-core marxists. As you get towards either end of the spectrum, it becomes hard to define competence separately because of the degree to which one might disagree with the ungirding basis of the philosophy the person is competent in. But be that as it may, a) Joseph Stigliz is by no standards unaccomplished and no one has indicated he lacks competence, and b) Larry Summers et al. are far more towards "extreme free-markets" than Stiglitz is "extreme socialism." Indeed, Stiglitz is a mainstream economist, if less free-marketist than many or some. Now, if O was talking true heterodox economists -- I would think, say, Herman Daly would be at the least radical wing of this broad area -- that would be slightly different, but that's not even the case. While competence and ideology may clash somewhere, there is no indication whatsoever that that has the slightest relevance to a Stiglitz or Stiglitz-type appointee.

Besides that, you quote Armbinder quoting Hilderband about "hard-core leftists." There is so much to unpack here, but let's begin with the fact that O never moved *toward* hard-core leftists in the first place. Indeed, the things mentioned -- Iraq, Health care, public works projects, elimination of dependence on fossil fuels -- are the same things O's discussed, and he's never or rarely in his campaign given the slightest credence or acknowledgement to "hard-core leftists." Even further, the things listed are counted by many as part of the "hard-core leftist" agenda, especially in terms of withdrawal from Iraq ("responsible" as it may be), universal health care, public works projects and other intervention by the government to help the average person out during the market downturn. I doubt "centrist" Republicans would consider these items terribly centrist.

Further, I heartily disagree with you that rapid change rarely lasts. Rather, rapid, discontinuous change tends to be the result of years of hard work, but incremental change is no more common than rapid change, and either can be effective or ineffective. Indeed, incremental change can be all undone rapidly with a big shift in a new direction by, say, a new administration. Rapid change can be hard to reverse. The character and lead-up to the change determines it's lastingness, not it's speed per se.

Chris said...

That'll learn me to engage in debate with a PhD. Still, here goes...

I didn't mean to set up a choice between competence and ideology, I just meant to say that since I have a broad ideological "acceptability window" to judge these things by, I'm happy with the appointments so far based on competence. I didn't mean to set up an either/or dichotomy. Just trying to answer your question, "I wonder how my friends that were very pro-Obama feel about all this."

I think you're misjudging the degree to which the general mood has shifted, though I may be wrong. I'm center-left. If the economy were in better shape, or if the president elect and his team were less competent, I'd be more concerned about this much government intervention. As it is, I'm wondering what happens when the economy improves and/or the next president comes into the office with this much power at his/her disposal. Not to mention the debt that we're building up (how you solve a problem caused by debt by transferring it to the government and accruing more debt is a little beyond me). But at this time, with this guy, I'll go along. I think that's true of a lot of people. Surely moving the goalposts in this way is a good thing. I guess I don't understand why the fact that he's not doing more is such a deal-breaker. And if, in order to rebrand these traditionally progressive ideas as "centrist," he has to keep at arm's length the people and rhetoric that will turn off many centrists and center-rightists (man, I hate the linear political spectrum), then yeah that sucks, but does that outweigh the good he's trying to do?

My broader point was that we shouldn't be disappointed when Obama turns out to be who he said he was. Or rather, we shouldn't be surprised or feel betrayed. I can see why some might be disappointed. I wanted a more vociverous denunciation of Prop 8, but he's actually against gay marriage (pro-civil unions) and even if he wasn't, it didn't make political sense during the campaign. It would've lost him moderates and centrist Republicans and it gained him absolutely noone he didn't already have. That pisses me off, but I understand it, and there's nothing to be done about it. The only thing to do is to keep pushing the issue, keep trying to convince people, keep trying to move that CW, so the next time a Prop 8 gets on the ballot, the right side wins. It'll happen eventually, but (as Obama said many times), change doesn't happen because you elect one guy. It takes the time and work of many.

And that was my point about the speed of change. Without getting into too much of a semantic debate, I was including the leg-work, the "character and lead-up" stuff you mentioned, into the change itself. And that's the hard part, and there is no shortcut.

(Minor aside: Ambers was making a rhetorical point by remixing the Hildebrand article to illustrate what he sees as Obama's strategy; flippant, sure, but nobody was actually trying to denegrate progressives, at least in this instance.)

And now I really must attempt to accomplish something today.

J said...

Chris -- you're right that the goalposts have moved. Of course, what has moved is conventional wisdom goalposts -- what's allowable to say on TV and as a pol. Polls consistently show the US people to be far more progressive than its politicians reflect (i.e. willing to pay higher taxes for better environmental protection, thinking Bush did and should sign the Kyoto Protocol, against the Iraq War "if" the hijackers not from Iraq, for radically less military spending and radically more on education, ready to increase aid significantly by "decreasing it" from the estimates people think it's at -- like 15-30% of the budget -- to something more reasonable, but stil far above the 0.15% or so it actually is.) Of course, one could go on, and as you allude to, we don't fall neatly on a linear spectrum, but the true average is hovering at a point on the z axis above something rather further left on the x than people often think.

"I'm happy with the appointments so far based on competence. I didn't mean to set up an either/or dichotomy. Just trying to answer your question, "I wonder how my friends that were very pro-Obama feel about all this."

I'd also profoundly challenge you on this -- there's plenty of information on how Summers, Volcker, and Rubin were dramatically wrong on the economy in retrospect, and have (at least in Summer's case) still not admitted having made any errors. Besides which, to allude to *my* prior point, at some point competence and ideology clash. In this case, competent free-market capitalists are a contradiction in terms to me, and Summers & Rubin are little else if not free-marketeers (no matter how "reformed" they may be in the present climate). I am of the opinion that any economist that advocates a) economic growth as a long-term solution to problems and/or b) that real world markets even vaguely approximate the assumptions necessary for free market rhetoric to be valid should be seriously questioned as to actually being an economist -- they're certainly not a scientist. In terms of a) there are limited resources and thus growth is not a sustainable solution, nor is there very much evidence that a "rising tide" lifts all ships without strong redistributive policies (see, i.e.: the GI Bill). As Karen Brodkin once said, "There is little doubt affirmative action works. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has" -- she just argues that previous versions, such as the GI Bill, disproportionately benefited whites. I will bet you one 1852 dollar that neither Summers nor V nor R are going to say much of any of that, yet it's empirically very strong. As to b), I believe either Krugman or Stiglitz's Nobel work explicitly proved the falseness of assumptions about market self-correction.

To make a long story short ("too late!"), S, V, & R are incompetent because their economic philosophies are at odds with reality quite drastically. And the point of the original article was to point that out -- they are NOT competent, because their free-market ideology blinds them to what happens and happened in the real world. Or rather, they are competent at administering an incorrect system.

As to why I'm disappointed with Obama's direction, well, I barely voted for the man, you're right that he's no different than he said he was, but a) I've LONG thought him pretty "blegh" as an actual substantive politician in terms of his policy stances, and b) I'm challenging my friends who seemed to believe that he was amenable to listening to leftists and progressives, or (worse yet), thought he really WAS a super-progressive, either cryptically or otherwise.

And I won't be extreme and say that as a leftist/prog I think my way is the only way; rather, I'll say that as a leftist/prog/PhD ecologist (had to get that in) my formal assessment is that without radical change in what may be called the "left" direction, our society will continue on a steep collision course with inequality and needless deprivation, laughable democracy, and eventually environmental collapse (from a human perspective). I don't want to be all "Paul Ehrlich," but then again, he was right, just wrong (and I think, somewhat naive and foolish) within the time period of his bet with Julian Simon.

Daktari said...

Damn. J is back. =]

J said...

He is back, and vaguely cross about it =] Not about this here, but the work I'm procrastinating on to write this. I know it's UTTERLY silly, but I keep feeling like "Now that I have my PhD, do I really have to put up with this?" This occurs eleventy times a day, no matter how silly I know it is. "Seriously, I still have to deal with being sore from exercising?" "Seriously, traffic? Don't they know who I am?" "Seriously, don't I deserve to have cream available for my coffee now, of all times?" I know it's ridiculous, but it's the closest I've felt to that this whole thing is real. =]

Chris said...

Dude, stop. I've been out of college for 10 years. My brain doesn't work this fast anymore.

<sigh>

And this is where I start getting into a long argument with a PhD on the virtues or lack thereof of market capitalism and everybody works from different assumptions and talks past each other and all it does is get people kinda frustrated. So not to be a cop-out, but I'll just delete what I started to write and we can take it up some other time. If it helps, I promise to look more into Obama's economic team. I'll admit that since the election ended I've stopped paying all that much attention (aside from getting a kick out of Rahm Emanuel's biography).

But congrats again!

Daktari said...

FFS, you be glad I'm not there. I'd slap that PhD-entitlement smirk right off your face with one "what you talkin' about, Willis" look.

And now, let's all admire the way D pulled a Gary Coleman reference out of her ass at just the opportune moment.

I'll be here all week.

J said...

D -- if ONLY it were a smirk! C'mon, since the "rights and privileges thereof" aren't worth the quaintness they're written on, I gotta have something? It's bad enough I have crazy revisions, PLUS I'm not really feeling it on a deeper level (I keep dreaming I'm not really done, that the defense and it all didn't happen and I still have to work like I was working). Plus the unreality of moving soon...

Chris: Will do. Look forward to engaging on this in the future. in the mean time, I heartily recommend reading here ("Critiques of Libertarianism"); even if you don't agree with any of it, it'll give you a better idea of where I'm coming from. And I've got others you can read ;)

I can't wait to talk to you cuz thing is, market capitalism is good at some things; it just turns out those things are more limited than is commonly thought among some (imho). And my indictments of market capitalism are based on its almost complete inability to fulfill its own requirements, so I always feel like it should be uncontroversial (though it never works out that way). I recommend this article: Finding Common ground with Adam Smith.

And now that I've thoroughly made myself look assishly PhD-esque, back to annoying, annoying revisisions.

Daktari said...

What you need is a road trip. I happen to know of a rockin' weekend of parties in a certain southern Illinois town. I'm just saying.

Anonymous said...

Hugo Chavez might be available.

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