Posts Tagged ‘mccain’

The Philosophy of Economics - The Invisible Hand

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

The Invisible Hand

The Invisible Hand

Ah, the invisible hand, what a fine, dark metaphor to match these dark times. Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations: The individual who “intends only his own gain is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

Wednesday’s New York Times editorial “Mr. McCain and the Economy” criticizes McCain on several fronts. 1. His claim that the economy is fundamentally sound, despite the latest cataclysms. 2. His clarification that what he meant by “fundamentally sound” was that he “believed in American workers.” and 3. His broadside that any blame that could fall fell surely on Wall Street’s “unbridled corruption and greed.”

“The crisis on Wall Street is fundamentally a failure to do the things that temper, detect and punish corruption and greed. It was a failure to police the markets, to enforce rules, to heed and sound warnings and expose questionable products and practices,” says the editorial, and with a flick of the wrist ends with a call to McCain to proffer new solutions or approaches that might correct the problems.

McCain, we’ve heard and he admits, suffers from a fundamental lack of interest in things financial (he doesn’t recall how many properties he and his wife own — eight). This is an unfortunate quality in the prospective leader of a country, especially during economic upheavals.

Record Profits in 2007 $1,300 per second

Record Profits in 2007 $1,300 per second

The invisible hand has another meaning here, too. McCain, intent on gaining the presidency is led by the invisible hand of greed in the Republican power-makers. It is no part of McCain’s intention to lead the country into financial disarray, to risk further dismantling of what was, prior to Bush’s presidency, a remarkably strong economy.

Economics is a complex subject. Even the experts don’t understand how economies really work. They are too vast, multi-faceted and irrational.

This last is an incredibly important point. Emotion, fear, mania, addiction, overoptimism all play significant roles in the way the economy heaves and rolls. The concept and model of a completely free market fails in the real world on this basis alone.

Subprime mortgage rescue plan (Simplified Diagram)

Subprime mortgage rescue plan (Simplified Diagram)

Subprime mortgages and the resulting current woes illustrate the second point about the illusion of the completely free market. A free market, a market without restraint, is free to collapse. If we want to prevent this (and who would argue that it’s not in the nation’s best interests to prevent occasional collapse of the economy) someone outside the market needs to be monitoring, reviewing and, if necessary, regulating such things as new financial instruments.

The last problem with the notion of a completely free market is the dangerous relationship with the seat of government. Large, wealthy corporations have deep pockets with which to influence government policy. And, worse yet, if agents of those corporations influence government thinking, policy and strategy (think Rove and Cheney) the power of government will exert an ultimately skewed and even destabilizing influence on the market.

This is exactly what has been happening, as the Times editorial points out: “The disconnect between work and reward has been especially acute during the Bush years, as workers’ incomes fell while corporate profits, which flow to investors and company executives, ballooned. For workers, that is a fundamental flaw in today’s economy. It is grounded in policies like a chronically inadequate minimum wage and an increasingly unprogressive tax system, for which Mr. McCain offers no alternatives.”

The free market is a nice idea, a useful model to illustrate one of the forces at work in an economy. But we should not forget that the invisible hand bends and shapes the market according to the will that wields it.

Related posts from around the Web:

Senate Democrats Discuss Bush-McCain Economic Policies - Senators Boxer, Stabenow, and Menendez discuss how the turmoil on Wall Street is a direct legacy of Bush-McCain economic policies that have failed this nation for eight years. Refusing to police lenders and neglecting to protect …

McCain’s Economic Solution: Hemorrhage More Money - … GOP nominee for his statement this morning — which they asserted was an announcement of support for $25 billion in government loans to the auto industry. So there we have it. McCain’s solution to our terrifyingly failing economy? …

McCain Follows Obama With Direct Economic Ad (VIDEO) - “You, the American workers, are the best in the world,” says McCain. “But your economic security has been put at risk by the greed of Wall Street. That’s unacceptable. My opponent’s only solutions are talk and taxes. … (more…)

McCain, Obama And The Philosophy of Lies

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil,” Socrates

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a lie is 1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true, or 2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression. This, ironically, makes lies a lot more concrete than the truth, philosophically speaking, which is a much harder quantity to pin down.

McCain Campaign Lies

McCain Campaign Lies

Why has John McCain, the self-annointed “straight talker,” resorted to lying? It’s a simple question and one that’s impossible to answer without some inside information. But if we’re to have any hope of understanding McCain and guessing his future actions it’s worth trying to figure it out.

If you’re interested in knowing what McCain is accused of lying about, the Democratic Party has established “Count the Lies” a chronicle of “independent, nonpartisan” fact checks “debunking John McCain’s lies and distortions.” Even some conservatives have tutted at McCain’s recent stoops. Even Karl Rove (!!), as reported in the Christian Science Monitor, of all places, has said that “McCain has gone, in some of his ads, similarly one step too far in sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know, beyond the 100 percent truth test.” If you’re a Republican presidential candidate and Karl Rove is accusing you of distorting the truth, you know you’re a big fat liar… or a pawn in another one of Rove’s despicable schemes.

John McCain with President Bush

John McCain with President Bush

(This is a bit of a digression, but the Salon published a very interesting piece back in January asking why in all of the election coverage of John McCain’s losing primary bid in 2000 no journalist had mentioned who it was that smeared John McCain so successfully that he lost. The answer, of course, George Bush and Karl Rove…)

Perhaps we can find in our children the unadulterated origin of the impulse to lie. My son, now 4-years old, has just begun to lie. His reasons are transparent: He lies either to get something he wants (usually cookies, candy, or toys), or to avoid something he doesn’t want (typically to take responsibility for a transgression). McCain’s lies seem to fall squarely in the first category. As a “maverick, outsider” it suited him to talk straight. But as an establishment insider, it’s much more effective for him to lie. He’s always wanted power and success, and now that lying seems to offer the best path to victory, he’s adopted it with the same zeal he once reserved for honesty. The tactic is all the more successful because, in Obama, he seems to be up against a candidate who has some genuine integrity — a terrible handicap against smear tactics.

What does this tell us about the kind of president McCain would make?

Politicians the world over resort to lies, many of them relatively successful leaders. Lying in itself isn’t a guarantee of poor government and lousy leadership. Although Bush has overused and abused this privilege, the security of a country, for instance, relies to some extent on the ability of its government to keep secrets from its enemies, which also means keeping secrets from its people.

In order to understand the degree of concern we should have about McCain’s lies, we really need to consider what his goals will be as president. We can then assume that he will lie to achieve them.

And given that McCain has dropped most if not all of his firmly held political beliefs in order to gain the highest office, one can only assume that his primary goal as president will be to consolidate his power and popularity — in other words, he’ll lie in order to keep the conservative political base as happy as possible. That’s a scary thought.

Footnote - What about Palin?

What about Palin? She’s a big fat liar, too, and a scary character in her own right. The Times has an extensive piece on her political MO. Not a pretty picture. Here’s a quote from Laura Chase who was Palin’s campaign manager during her first bid for mayor:

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she says, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

Related posts from around the web:

McCain Lies Again - But McCain is still airing ads telling the same lie. He has also still not retracted his lie on The View when he point blank said that Palin has refused all earmarks as governor. I cannot remember a candidate for president telling such …

Romney: McCain Lies - So Rove has declared McCain’s campaign overly harsh and Romney has declared it deceitful. I honestly have no idea how that sort of criticism from those people is possible to recover from.

Obama Campaign Launches Ad Hitting McCain’s Lies As “Dishonorable” - We’ve been waiting for it, and here it is: The Obama campaign launches its first ad hitting McCain for his lying and his mendacious adver-sleazements and slamming his campaign as “disgraceful” and “dishonorable”: …

McCain Lies About Obama’s Health Plan- JUST THE FACTS! - In our ongoing efforts to expose Senator McCain’s lies about Senator Obama’s policies, we need to look at the McCain campaigns lies and then provide some “straight talk” about the facts. McCain claimed that Obama’s health care plan … (more…)

Small Town Values And The Political Ruin of America

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

John McCain on The Daily Show with John Stewart

John McCain on The Daily Show with John Stewart

Last night, as I watched a TiVo’d John Stewart skewering delegates on the last day of the Republican convention, I wondered what it is about small town values that the Republicans love (but can’t define) and that seems to keep America stuck in the mire of bad politics.

If you didn’t see it, Stewart’s convention crew walked around with microphones asking Republican delegates what ’small town values’ meant to them. With big smiles on their faces and earnest willingness to answer the delegates came up with such laughable answers as “real people, real values,” “traditional marriage,” “fishing,” “church.” (The video is posted on the Daily Show website - highly recommended.)

But even those of us who distrust and disagree with the sentiment with which republicans freight the term, we all seem to understand that the essence of ’small town values’ might mean something genuinely appealing and good. So what is this essence, and how has it become distorted and misused.

Block Island, Rhode Island

Block Island, Rhode Island

I spent the bulk of the summer on Block Island with my family. Block Island is essentially a small town with a lot of tourists. (And these are mostly east-coast tourists from New York and Connecticut.) It’s easy to distinguish the tourists from the islanders. The tourists are in a hurry. They’re often nervous and rude. They lock their cars. They expect to get screwed over. They complain about stuff. The islanders understand that there aren’t that many places to go on the island, and everywhere is pretty close. You can trust people because for the most part, there’s nowhere for them to escape to. You couldn’t steal a car and get it off the island (which is car-accessible only by ferry.)

Block Island is a great lens through which to observe that the essence of small town values means enforced responsibility through enforced community.

It’s a lot easier to be rude or unfair to someone if you don’t know them and if you’ll never see them again and don’t have to rely upon their personal contribution to the community you live in. In a small town, people do know one another and rely upon one another and society functions very much as it has done for millions of years. The inherent rules of small social groups therefore tend to operate without the need for too much overt oversight and enforcement. What’s not to like about that?

But this is the problem: The rest of the country is made up of places where that kind of reinforcement can’t be relied upon. And this is the other part of the problem: Conservative Republicans wrap a whole lot of crap into the concept of small town values that has nothing to do with the core function of a mutually-reliant community (such as traditional marriage, fishing and church.)

And this is why ’small town values’ have become the political ruin of America. So much hog-swill passes for the reasonable subject of informed debate under the auspices of what small town folk care about. Every Republican candidate dives in or gets sucked in to the vortex of endless political distraction of the conservative agenda. And this means the every Democratic candidate gets sucked in, too, for fear of committing political suicide.

Other advanced Western nations don’t waste political time endlessly rehashing abortion statutes, gun control, separation of church and state, the teaching of creationism. ‘Small town values’ are the concrete boots of American politics, and until we lose them we won’t have an effective political process that will allow the nation to move forward and solve the very real problems of war, alternative fuel sources, and climate change.

Related Posts from Around the Web:

Small Town Values? I Gotz ‘Em - I’m from a small town in New Jersey, and I’m politically progressive in every possible way. Watch this clip from The Daily Show, in which people attending the Republican National Convention spoke about their views on small-town values. …

The Small-Town Values Palin Didn’t Mention - From The Seattle PI By John Kelso Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s touting of the wonders of small-town values in her acceptance speech reminded me of my ride in a red convertible a few weeks ago while serving as the …

Small Town Values? - You can’t cherry pick values. If you claim to be the party of small town values, you have to take the good and the bad. (more…)

Conservative Versus Liberal Philosophy

Friday, March 28th, 2008

On cell phones for Cubans and bailouts for homeowners.

Philosophy blog: talking on cell phone whil crossing streetAs I walked through Manhattan this morning I watched as some buffoon on a cell phone began to cross the street just as the “don’t walk” sign blinked from flashing to solid. He didn’t realize that he was blocking traffic until he was half way across the street. With his phone still glued to his ear he first stopped in his tracks, then loped ahead to the far corner without so much as looking back.

Oh, to live in a world without cell phones! Even Cuba, my last hope of refuge from the cursed devices, has relented to the cell phone tide. Raul Castro — Raul The Reformer, we may as well call him — has declared that ordinary Cubans will be permitted to get cell phone contracts going forward (a privilege previously reserved for key state employees or workers for foreign firms). But since the cell phone contracts will be too expensive for most Cubans, who earn an average of a little less than $20 per month, perhaps it will take a while until cell phones cause traffic accidents in Havana.

Philosophy blog: Fidel and Raul Castro cell phones now allowed in cubaBut this snippet of communist party friction (Raul’s brother Fidel had held fast to the no cell phone policy for years) got me wondering about whether Raul should be classified as a liberal, allowing for progressive ideas, and Fidel a conservative. And if Fidel is a conservative how does that jive with him being one of the foremost and staunchest communist leaders of all time? Could Fidel Castro and his nemesis George Bush perhaps be sitting on the same side of an ideological fence? And if so, how?

As the current presidential hopefuls put forward their proposals (an odd phenomenon, this, since they’re just running for something, not running something) on fixing or mitigating the mortgage crisis, the stark differences in approach provide a lens through which to examine Democratic ideology versus Republican ideology.

Philosophy blog: liberals conservatives obama clinton mccain differ on bailout of homeownersThis is a subject that fascinates me. For there to be such a clear division along political lines on so many issues, it seems that the roots of these divisions must live in a fundamental philosophical difference of perspective.

With some differences Obama and Clinton endorse proposals that would provide help to homeowners facing forclosure. McCain (and Bush) oppose any plan for homeowner bailout.

To paraphrase the liberal perspective “let’s help people stand on their own two feet.”

To paraphrase the conservative perspective “let people stand on their own two feet.”

As ideologies, both are rational and consistent. Where and why do they differ?

McCain has made it clear that he believes that homeowners deserve some blame if they’ve bought themselves into an unaffordable mortgage. His perspective is founded on personal responsibility, the freedom to succeed comes with the freedom to screw up. You make your choice and live with it. This same perspective underpins the conservative view on all manner of subjects, such as gun ownership and the death penalty (by all means get a gun, but if you shoot someone you shouldn’t you’ll pay for it with your life).

The conservative philosophy rests on the concept that the individual should have more control over his life and that government should not meddle.

The liberal philosophy rests on the concept that for the good of society, and the good of the individual, government should be ready to step in and provide protection or support.

Obama believes that homeowners need protection from banks eager to foreclose to stem their loses, for instance. While some may get help when they don’t deserve it. Many unwitting victims will be spared. And on gun control, a liberal may say that having the right to bear arms is all well and good unless innocent people are getting hurt by that right.

Is this just a difference of perspective without any deeper significance? I think not.

philosophy blog: egyptian sphinx civilization human beings as social creaturesThe roots are evolutionary: As social animals, human beings developed an awareness that while acting for themselves could lead to short term gains, acting for the good of all could lead to long term gains. Sharing your food might make you less well fed in the short term, but when you’re short of food, you’ll be happy for someone to share his food with you.

This is all very rational and common sensical, but even thoughtful people in a well ordered society still feel the pull of self preservation and self-satisfaction. We all experience impulses that lead us to want to act for ourselves, and we all experience impulses that lead us to want to help others. Whether we come out liberal or conservative hinges on the degree to which we believe it’s right and feel the rightness of balancing our own needs with those of others.

(For those who are interested, LIFE! Why We Exist… And What We Must Do To Survive explores a deeper philosophical basis for this line of reasoning by working from the principles of space and time.)

But what about Fidel and Raul?

Fidel Castro exhibited a deep conflict between his personal feelings about individualism — in which he was a conservative (how could a man who led a revolution and took firm control of a country not be convinced of the power and independence of his individual spirit?) — and his intellectual conviction of the benefits of a collaborative, equalized society, communism after all is liberalism on steroids.

This is perhaps why so many of us have a soft spot for the old guy (Fidel) despite his serious flaws and failings, despite his human rights abuses. We empathize with his internal conflict. We see the numbskull stopping traffic while he gabs on his cell phone and we want him to be delivered a comeuppance not a helping hand. But presented with the intellectual idea of helping those who took on too much mortgage debt (numbskulls, most likely, some of them) we easily fall on the side of assistance.

LIFE Why We Exist and What We Must Do To Survive Rational Science-Based Book About Meaning and Purpose of ExistenceFor more rational, science-based explanations of life’s meaning and purpose, please refer to my book: LIFE! Why We Exist… And What We Must Do To Survive. (more…)


Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

On testing in.

lower voting age to 16 sixteen and require a civics testAnya Kamenetz today makes a case for lowering the voting age to 16. This initially struck me as a ridiculous idea. But that was before Anya set out the details of her plan: “16-year-olds who want to start voting should be able to obtain an “early voting permit” from their high schools upon passing a simple civics course similar to the citizenship test.” She likens this to a driving permit granted to a young person after they’ve demonstrated that they are qualified.

In this season of political fervour, my daughter’s high school engaged the children in a voting exercise: The result? All (100%) of the children voted Democrat, and the vast majority chose Obama over Clinton. So, while my heart wants me to embrace Anya’s proposal, bless those little idealists, my head says that 16 is too young for the vote, even after getting a passing grade on a civics test.

Britney Spears driving while holding babyOn the other hand, requiring that voters are qualified to vote strikes me as a wonderful idea. (It reminds me of the conviction of a particularly misanthropic friend of mine that only after passing a parenting test should people be allowed to have children.) To purloin Anya’s parallel, people of all ages need to pass a driving test if they’re going to drive, so why not a voting test if they’re going to vote?  Yes, yes, I know it goes against the very premise of a democratic society, but can you argue with the logic?

The Times Editorial today makes the reverse argument. The editorial complains that the current political contest isn’t helping fix the country’s state of polarization. Obama fans are saying they won’t bother voting if he doesn’t win the nomination. Republicans miffed at McCain’s unamerican brand of conservatism are saying that they’d rather see a Democrat in the White House than see McCain there. “That is not the way democracy is supposed to work,” the Times laments.

Frankly, if Obama fans aren’t engaged enough to vote for Clinton, let them stay at home. It’s the job of the Democratic party to convince them to come out and vote (which is I think one of the points the editorial is trying to make). If Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter want a candidate who passes all their litmus tests, let them want. I for one won’t be unhappy if Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and their ilk are disenfranchised. Democracy as it exists in America today is a ramshackle, unfair, unrepresentative, incredibly flawed system for selecting leaders. If fewer people vote but those who do are less passionately partisan and better-informed, it can only improve matters.

Democratic primary results maprepublican primaries results mapAt the risk of being helpful, I noticed something about yesterday’s voting maps. (Democratic map to the left with Obama in green; Republican map to the right with McCain in orange.) The support for Obama is pretty much the mirror image of the support for McCain. Here’s my theory: McCain will likely win the Republican nomination. Ironically, McCain’s support is strongest in traditionally Democratic strongholds (the east and west coasts) and weakest in traditionally Conservative strongholds (the middle and lower states). I would assume that Obama could hold off McCain in the Democratic strongholds if he edged out Clinton for the nomination. And he has a much better chance of picking up votes in the middle states than Clinton does. Judged by the demographics of the primary support so far, Obama then has a better chance than Clinton does of beating McCain.

Of course, if you’re a Republican you can apply the reverse logic and determine that the best way to beat Obama would be to vote for Romney. In which case, I guess you’re pretty much screwed…