Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nothing Newt Under The Sun

Prof. Ha-Joon Chang has a great article on Newt Gingrich's recent comments in favor of child labor and other, more serious examples of the return of discredited economic ideas to mainstream respectability. Please give it a read.

Deconstructing Hitchens

Michael Lind has a pretty strong article on the legacy of Christopher Hitchens over at Salon. I would almost say it is a bit too harsh given that Mr. Hitchens just passed away, but he was a public figure and given the numerous hagiographies written about the man, something with a punch may be necessary as a counterpoint. I leave it to my gentle readers to decide. Definitely an interesting piece.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Greek Tragedy

Noelle Burgi has written an excellent article on the devastation wrought by austerity in Greece. A must read, even if it is very depressing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The New Normal

Gary Kamiya has an impressive article on the official end of the Iraq War and the growing public apathy toward America's new state of permanent quasi-war (a great phrase that Kamiya uses in his article). An absolute must read.

Hitchens And Iraq

I was hesitant about posting anything regarding the passing of Christopher Hitchens, as I was sad to see him pass away even though I strongly disagreed with him on most issues. However, I think Alex Pareene's article on Hitchens and his role in providing intellectual support for the disasterous Iraq War is an important piece and says a lot about the role intellectuals sometimes play in providing cover for the corrupt and powerful.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Black Dog Days

Bill Mitchell has a great blog post on the depressing persistence of neoliberal thinking in some circles of the British Labour Party, brilliantly critiquing the so-called "In the Black Labour" policy proposal of fiscal conservatism. A must read.

The Iron Fist Of The Market

In light of Neil Clark's excellent article on the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s, I would also recommend Standard Schaefer's wonderful interview with economist Michael Hudson on the neoliberal experiment in Chile. The interview is from 2003 but it is still very relevant.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FDR, LBJ, and Obama

Michael Lind has a great article discussing why modern Democrats are so loath to identify with Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, even though they are arguably the most successful center-left presidents in American history (at least on domestic economic issues), and why this is ultimately a bad thing for the future of the Democratic Party. His analysis of the switch from the New Deal philosophy of FDR and LBJ to the neoliberalism of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama is really spot on.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Life Is Not A Race (Or At Least It Shoudn't Be)

I normally wouldn't give much time to Adam Carolla's rant about the "Participation Trophy Generation," but I think there is something important to point out here. First, I will deal with the concept of generational warfare, which seems to be very popular right now. Baby Boomers and members of Generation X are blaming Millennials for being lazy, self-important brats. Millennials are blaming Baby Boomers and others for throwing away relative prosperity in an orgy of unsustainable tax cuts and  economic bubbles.

None of this is new or surprising, although it is all quite stupid. I am sure that any person could bring up anecdotes about lazy or irresponsible people no matter what generation they are a part of of. These kinds of arguments predictably go nowhere. We end up with an endless war of anecdotes and everyone leaving with their worst prejudices hardened. There is not much more to discuss here.

However, there is also the problem of focusing the debate around the concept of the "race of life," which is my second point. Carolla makes his argument within the context of children's sports and the practice of giving children awards for merely participating. Within the narrow world of children's sports, I would agree with Carolla that such policies are rather silly and embarrassing for everyone involved. However, when a child loses a race or fails to make the school basketball team, his family members are not deprived of their livelihood. Obviously, the consequences of "losing" in the world of economic competition are far more serious than in the world of children's sports.

Now, what is really interesting is that many of the champions of Occupy Wall Street seem to have essentially the same worldview that Carolla has, only they argue (correctly, in my opinion) that the game is rigged in favor of those who are already rich. True as that may be, why accept the concept of "the race of life" in the first place? To be honest, I don't always oppose privilege. When I do oppose privilege, it is when the privileged refuse to recognize an obligation to the rest of society or when the privileged refuse to allow others to also "feather their nests" through methods like unionization.

I wish we could simply be frank about the lack of meritocracy in America and then realize that a perfect meritocracy is likely impossible and probably undesirable. We can then get on with the real business of deciding what kind of society we want to live in, which is ultimately the real task of the conservative. The concept of the "race of life" is a disgusting idea that devalues the human person and should be anathema to anyone with the heart of a cavalier.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What Would Napoleon Do?

While I recognize the differences between the ideals and the reality of the historical French Empires, this excerpt from Des Idées Napoléoniennes, a booklet by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III, is very interesting:
"The Napoleonic idea has as many branches as there are phases of human genius. It vivifies agriculture, it invents new products, it borrows useful inventions from foreign countries; it levels mountains, spans rivers, facilitates intercommunication, and compels nations to shake hands; it gives work to all hands and capacities; it enters the cottage, not holding forth barren declarations about the rights of man, but with means to slake the poor man's thirst, to quench his hunger, and with a glorious story to awaken his patriotism."
In light of the savage austerity forced upon many nations today, the Napoleonic Idea seems rather progressive. Indeed, in the above we can interpret a commitment to full employment, the elimination of material want, the expansion of production and the harnessing of the power of nature for the benefit of all humankind. All of these themes were present in the New Deal tradition in the United States as well as in the various populist and social democratic movements in post-war Western Europe and its offshoots such as Canada and Australia. Even the socialisms trapped under Soviet domination maintained at least a theoretical commitment to the advancement of the material and moral condition of the masses. However, under neoliberalism, workers have actually become poorer.

When I read articles like this one, where an American investor is on some kind of personal crusade against Russia and Vladimir Putin, supposedly because of Russian gangsterism, I have to laugh and remember why strong leaders like Putin are sometimes quite popular with their people, even if they are often far from perfect. It is a bit rich to hear about Western businessmen complaining about gangsterism in Russia when they were supportive of all kinds of nefarious activity in Russia when it was benefiting them and their Russian oligarch friends in the 1990s. Because Putin refuses to kowtow to the Russian oligarchs and Western capitalists, he is decried as a monster.

Bonapartist authoritarianism derives its strength from the excesses of wealthy oligarchs who hide behind  the masks of constitutionalism, liberalism and sometimes even democracy. Indeed, wealthy interests are increasingly doing away with even these pretenses as evidenced by the installation of banker puppet regimes in Greece and Italy. The modern champions of plutocracy claim the mantle of objective technocracy, but most sensible observers recognize the absurdity of this claim when so many technocrats are connected to Goldman Sachs and other financial powerhouses. In light of this reality, I have to ask: what would Napoleon do?