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March 29, 2009

Read this
Posted by Patrick at 04:21 PM * 293 comments

It’s been widely blogged, and discussed even in our own comment section, but if you haven’t yet read Simon Johnson’s “The Quiet Coup” on the Atlantic site, you really should.

Johnson is a former chief economist of the IMF, and his argument is that the US’s current troubles are more similar to than different from the problems that have led many other less consequential powers to seek IMF help: a set of crises brought on by a self-dealing elite, which can’t be addressed so long as the government is in the oligarchs’ pocket.

One doesn’t have to be a fan of the IMF, or an uncritical believer in its good intentions, to be struck by how much our problems resemble those of countries we’ve been accustomed to condescend to.

Comments on Read this:
#1 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 05:41 PM:

And after that, "The Big Takeover" by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone.

As (I think) David Goldfarb once said of the novels of Peter Watts, read this if you find yourself in possession of an excessive quantity of the will to live.

#2 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 05:49 PM:

Read them both last night, back to back, and then tried to sleep as Cockburn's "They call it Democracy" earwormed into my skull...

#3 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 05:57 PM:

Johnson and his coauthor James Kwak also have a blog, which is dry and technical at points, but still an interesting read.

(Also worthy of note, Yves Smith's running commentary of the follies of the day at Naked Capitalism, e.g., her dissection of Alan Greenspan's latest attempt to gather up the tattered shreds of his own reputation. Best combination of snark and dead-on technical analysis that I've seen since the late and terribly lamented Tanta stopped blogging at Calculated Risk...)

#4 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 06:36 PM:

#2: time for a rocket launcher?

#5 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 06:38 PM:

So, would head of the IMF be a good fit for Paul Krugman?

#6 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 06:58 PM:

Because I have nothing actually cogent or useful to contribute: Call It Democracy is the song that led my household to invent "Cockburn Points" as a way of ranking a song.

We have never come up with a precise formula for assigning Cockburn points, but Call It Democracy has so far the highest score at 9/10, in that it a) contains the word "deification" (also "ideology", "sacrament", and and "idolatry", b) contains the words "flying fuck"[1] (and, repeatedly implied, "motherfuckers"), and c) is singable by a reasonable concert audience.

If it were d) danceable, it would be a perfect ten.

[1] I belive he once said in an interview that his mother asked him plaintively if he really had to use that word. He said yes, he really did.

#7 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 07:13 PM:

Hoping this is on-topic enough... I was wondering what the people of Making Light (commentators and hosts) think of think of Dmitry Orlov (he of Closing the Collapse Gap and Social Collapse Best Pracises, the latter recently linked to on BoingBoing) and his conviction that this isn't simply the valley in a cyclical up and down of the markets but rather an early indicator of total and irreversible economical collapse? I'm really not sure what to make of that guy--in a way, a lot he says makes sense, but there's this general "smell" of "crazy guy rambling in the street" to him, and he seems to anticipate the coming collapse almost with unbridled joy, which at the very least makes me raise an eyebrow.

#8 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 07:21 PM:

Here's the key recommendation from the Johnson piece:

The challenges the United States faces are familiar territory to the people at the IMF. If you hid the name of the country and just showed them the numbers, there is no doubt what old IMF hands would say: nationalize troubled banks and break them up as necessary.

This has been called for by economists and bloggers on the left for quite awhile now. I'd like to believe that the same idea coming from Simon Johnson will make the administration start to take the problem more seriously, but, on history, I'm inclined to doubt it.

Which means, very likely, Great Depression II. Now, it's entirely possible that the long-term result of that will be a major reset of the world economy that will mean an end to this boom & bust cycle and maybe a more rational future, but even if true, it won't be worth the misery we'll see in the meantime.

#9 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 07:40 PM:

What does it say about me that I had to click thru to the article before IMF would parse for me as anything but "Impossible Missions Force"?

Although admittedly, reading Patrick's post with that decoding in my head was really interesting...

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 08:17 PM:

Lee #9: That you've never lived in the Third World, for one thing.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 08:53 PM:

Lee @ 9... You too? Here is a montage of various opening-episode teasers. I like the one showing counterfeit money being printed.

#12 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 09:17 PM:

Daniel Klein @7: I'm about halfway through the entry at the second link, and am beginning to wonder how much of what he's written there in the middle portion is mere tongue-in-cheek satire and how much is genuine batshit insanity. (For the sake of reference, I'm currently at the point where he's talking about how convenient it will be to have friends among the less mentally stable but more heavily armed portion of the populace composed of former police, former military and former prisoners. And I'm getting very weirded out by it all.)

#13 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 09:41 PM:

Bruce #8: I'll admit that I find the language of right and left in these discussions entertainingly confusing. Because the real distinction seems to be how far out from the center you are.

Commenters who are basically center-left to center-right want to preserve the existing financial companies, somehow. They seem to be okay with pumping almost endless amounts of deficit-financed bailout money into keeping the biggest of these companies intact, without calling for any kinds of uncomfortable change in those companies or the surrounding financial markets. Sure, they're interested in tweaking the regulations, but mostly not in anything very fundental. For example, Geithner and Paulson and Greenspan and Bernanke and presumably Summers all broadly fall into this category. This view centers on the idea that the fundamentals of the economy are sound; the problem is just some kind of blowup in the financial markets, which are known to be rather chaotic at times.

Commenters who are further left or right seem to largely want to shut the big, insolvent companies down. Some call for nationalization, others call for basically bankruptcy. But in this case, those are approximately the same thing[1]. They seem to be interested, for the most part, in larger scale changes, while keeping the basic system in place. One big idea that's common is getting rid of too-big-to-fail institutions--a notion that, frex, wild-eyed leftist Jerry Pournelle has argued for. The assumption in this group seems broadly to be that the financial crisis reflects some fundamentally out-of-balance parts of our economy, such as an overreliance on debt-funded consumer spending, increasing income inequality, trade and capital flow imbalances, etc.

Still further out, we get people who call for a fundamental redesign of the financial system. The specific lines on which they want it redesigned differ--do we need to get rid of fractional reserve banking or limited-liability corporations? Broadly, this group thinks that not only are there fundamental problems in our economy (too much debt, say, or too lax regulation), but that the whole system is fundamentally broken or rotten.

This kind-of re-enforces the point of the article. The mainstream view in US financial regulation and economic thinking has been, essentially, the one that fit best with the interests of the big financial institutions. The reasons for that are fascinating to consider, and the article hinted at (but didn't go into enough depth about) them. People who didn't go along with that found themselves outside the mainstream--not in the golden rolodex, not invited to speak at the big meetings, wild-eyed wackos spewing irresponsible nonsense about tail-risk, prophets of doom who could be safely ignored.

[1] Indeed, the use of the term "nationalization" seems intentionally misleading at times. We're not talking about nationalizing a successful company to seize the means of production on behalf of the workers, we're talking about nationalizing an insolvent company so we can take over its debts. Nor is anyone talking about having the government run the banks long term--instead, they're talking about basically recognizing reality, that these banks are dead and need to be allowed to die in a minimally-destructive way.

#14 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 09:41 PM:

Daniel @7, everyone who correctly predicted a major social change had a general "smell" of "crazy guy rambling in the street", at least so far as the people who benefited from the status quo were concerned. But the reverse isn't true, so the jury's out.

As one of the crazy guys, I do think the pyramid scheme can't be restored. But capitalists are cagier than a lot of us thought. The current attempt to create antiracist, antisexist capitalism is a development I never anticipated. But the ruling class will do what it must to survive.

#15 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 09:49 PM:

Charlie #3: Yes! Naked Capitalism is one of my favorite sources of commentary/news on the ongoing crisis. And yeah, although I'm far less qualified to have an opinion than Roubini or Taleb or Yves or Tyler Cowan, and maybe am just gloomy by nature, I'm inclined to think things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get better.

The Simon Johnson article's description of the political problem faced by third-world countries in a debt crisis, where it is no longer possible for the government to bail out all the oligarchs, rang unpleasantly true to me.

#16 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 10:03 PM:

Just read the articles. Nothing really to quibble with, but they made me wonder: Has "plutocracy" fallen out of fashion because we're in the age of corporations? Or do capitalist writers cling to "oligarchy" because they're not quite ready to say there's a problem with the idea that the rich make the rules?

#17 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 10:25 PM:

Patrick, thanks for the link, and for the kind words on my previous links. I've added Baseline Scenario to my regular reads, at least regular when I have time.

Will, #14: "The current attempt to create antiracist, antisexist capitalism is a development I never anticipated." Didn't Marx say that in the end only wealth and power matter to capitalism? It follows that any bigotry but class bigotry would be discarded when unnecessary. But I think that capitalism is being made obsolete by technical change and ecological catastrophe, something Marx never anticipated. And, oh by the way, I think we're due for a burst of spirituality that will make the last 50 years look positively atheistic.

#18 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 10:31 PM:

Daniel Klein at 7: That appearance of unbridled enthusiasm is a Russian thing. Well, Eastern European and Russian. He talks about the black humour in the articles - it's the same as with Kafka, Solzhenitsyn or Jaroslav Hašek. (Reminds me also of Tibor Fischer's book Under the Frog.)

I can see the attraction, really - once you start thinking "OK, we're going to hit bottom soon" you end up thinking about how to deal with it, and you start on black humour and schadenfreude because the only other alternative is No Fun At All.

Regarding what he's saying - the advice is basically the same as I hear from most anarchists, or at least the separatists rather than the smash-the-state ones. The times they are a-changing, the world is turning upside down, so retool now, and make sure you know where all your dependencies and priorities are.

I'm not convinced by "Empires always fail", but the alternative is the Alpha Centauri plan, ie. race to achieve transcendence before you all drown in the thrashing systems.

#19 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 10:54 PM:

Randolph @17, I think that fits Marx's belief. But I'm a kid of the '60s. I thought when I was this old, we would still be up against white guys. Instead, we've got Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton shifting the war to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and doing what they can to keep the insurance companies in health care, and, well, moving the chairs around as fast as they can.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a burst of spirituality, but I don't think it'll look like the old spirituality.

#20 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 11:03 PM:

will shetterly, 16,
I think the preference for oligarchy over plutocracy is an aesthetic phenomena.

Oligarchy is a great word! You can emphasize the arrrr, and follow it up with a chk for a nice satisfying hard consonant ending. If it was shorter, it would make an phonemically perfect swear word. The pairing of oligarchy with the images of actual Russian robber barons with implicit KGB backing gives it a nice, everything-old-is-new-again-Neal Stephenson-William Gibson punch too.

Plutocracy, is weak in connotation and phonemes. Pluu sounds almost soothing, like part of a flower name, and just when the word gets up to speed with a nice tok and kra, it peters out into a weak, sibilant, dribble of air, seee. Not threatening at all, it sounds more like something you'd get tired of. As for connotation, really, how effective is a word that brings to mind a cartoon dog or a failed planet in most modern readers? (Yes, yes, god of the underworld and whatnot, but seriously, outside of Making Light, I doubt that's the first mental image for anyone under 40.)

#21 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 11:14 PM:

Don, yep, I see it now, thanks! Oily Garks pwn Mickey's pet.

#22 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 11:24 PM:

Will S, #19: "I wouldn't be surprised if we see a burst of spirituality, but I don't think it'll look like the old spirituality."

That's the point, isn't it? "And what rough beast..."

One of the things I find most disturbing about modern capitalist authoritarianism is that, unlike old-fashioned fascism, it is internationalist, and therefore much more broadly based. The old-time fascists wanted to conquer the world; this lot will eat it up and throw away the core, if they get the chance.

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 11:36 PM:

wild-eyed leftist Jerry Pournelle

Given the old line about it being a good thing he never designed planes, because they'd have had two right wings - Jerry isn't a leftist, he's a conservative.

#24 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 11:42 PM:

PJ, I dunno about you, but I smelled sarcasm when I saw that in Albatross' post.

#25 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2009, 11:54 PM:

I had already run into and read "The Quiet Coup" and decided the country was f*cked.

Some of the literature being passed around in the Wall Street circles are very much like reading something on Opposite Planet.

Unfortunately, we may actually live on Opposite Planet.

#26 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 12:38 AM:

I've read through most of the articles (I haven't started "The Quiet Coup" yet, but I've just finished the Matt Taibbi one) and the thing which is leaping out at me is "maybe you folks should start a grassroots movement to create a new currency or something" - a way of creating a functioning economy which works outside the one your government is intent on handing over to the rich bastards. Certainly I'd be doing it now, before the US dollar is worth less than the paper it's printed on (or has that already happened?).

What scares me, though, is seeing all of this happening, because I know my country's going to get hurt. Kevin Rudd is out and about in London at the moment, trying to talk to the G20 about things like bailing out this, that and the other industry, trying to figure out some way of getting everything back to what used to pass for normal six months ago, and generally trying to pretend things are fixable if we all just do our best and pull together and whatever. But the US financial giants aren't interested in doing their best, or pulling together, or helping others. They don't give a damn about anyone who isn't them, and they certainly don't care about people in distant places with names they can't even spell, much less pronounce correctly (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Wagga Wagga, Dumbleyung etc). So they won't co-operate and they won't assist, and they won't give a damn until the mob reaches their front doorstep with guns in hand (gods above, surely someone could start talking fast to the militia types and get them to see Wall Street financiers and big bankers as bigger threats to national security than people from Mexico attempting to go from a struggling economy to a collapsing one?) at which point they'll start screaming blue bloody murder.

In the meantime, everywhere else in the world is in for a shitty time of it. It happened during the Great Depression (remember that? Yeah, it affected places outside the USA, too) and it'll happen again during this one. If the gods are just, maybe we'll all learn the correct lesson, which is the US financial sector needs to be locked down tighter than a high-security prison at all times, or else ignored completely by everyone outside the US, to limit the blast radius from its inevitable self-destruction. Again.

[Context: Australian. Unemployed. Unlikely to be employed again in the near future. Looking at losing the house soon and having to either move in with my parents, his parents, or find a rental place which is affordable for two people on the dole.]

Having read "The Quiet Coup" I have just one small question: how is it all these economic mega-brains on Wall Street and similar places couldn't see having a licence to print money is akin to having a licence to generate runaway inflation? I mean, I can see the link, and my economic education stopped in high school.

#27 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 12:53 AM:

Arachne:

I don't know that we're f--ked. It's clear to me that the economy is in an ugly state, and will be in an uglier one tomorrow. But anyone with a TV can tell you that.

Here's what scares me: We have some financial companies, very big ones, very important ones, which are probably insolvent. We've spent almost a year now frantically trying not to acknowledge that fact. In order to avoid having to acknowledging it, I think we encouraged a number of banks/financial companies to merge or buy one another out. (Thus tangling companies that weren't insolvent, or may not have been, in the net of the insolvent companies' risks.) We've cranked our monetary policy all the way into printing-presses-at-full-speed mode. (Note that because a banking collapse effectively absorbs money, this isn't necessarily inflationary.) We've run several gimicky panic-mode bank/financial market bailouts.

All of this stuff has the feel, to me, of putting off the day of reckoning. Our political and media and financial elites are like someone who's lost title to the car with his gambling addiction, but just can't face the loss, and so now he's looking to bet the house. Sooner or later, we're going to have to actually take the losses somewhere. Putting them off makes them bigger, makes the damage greater. Another six months or year with zombie banks, with the FDIC maybe having to pull still more capital out of the mostly-solvent smaller banks to cover the costs of taking over the big ones, and now the costs of doing this latest go-broke-quick scheme, and what will be different? My fear is that we buy six months more for the big banks/financial companies, and that at the end of the six months, we'll still find ourselves with a broken financial system, which continues to clobber the real economy even as the wealth effects of the collapse of house prices and stock prices clobbers it from the other side, even as the paradox of thrift continues and clobbers it still more.

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that the longer we put off the day of reckoning, the worse the reckoning will be. And yet, taking the reckoning right now is likely political suicide, though maybe Obama could get away with it if he did it right now. It's all-but-unthinkable for anyone put into Geithner's position, or for the top banks. It's outside the range that most people in the field can make themselves consider. (And maybe they're right.)

We have a lot of resources. It's kind of weird to reflect on that when we're talking about this crisis, but we're honest-to-God filthy rich, armed to the teeth, well-supplied with everything we need. We can probably put the day of reckoning off for a good long time, with increasing costs--more and more unemployed, bigger problems financing our debt, more and more expertise and networks of knowledge lost as factories close and workers scatter and capital lies unused and decaying. We may have lost the car, we may be gambling the house, but hell, we have the vacation house, our retirement accounts, and the kids' college funds to get through before we have to *really* accept the size of our losses.

#28 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 01:21 AM:

albatross:

we have the vacation house, our retirement accounts, and the kids' college funds to get through before we have to *really* accept the size of our losses.

Makes sense. Unfortunately.

The US can probably take the strain for longer than the rest of the world. And that probably means we will try to hold out on possibly wrong stop-gap measures longer, which may mean... and I don't think I want to finish that thought. At least, not without a good dose of bourbon.

#29 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 01:32 AM:

Meg, during the last Great Depression here, neighbors sometimes gathered to drive away the people who came to repossess homes. With the internet, it should be possible to organize home protection groups to come and intimidate the repo men just about anywhere. If things get much worse, I suspect that will happen.

I don't know about Australia, but I know this about the US: we have enough homes for everyone. There's no excuse for kicking anyone out of their home. Well, other than greed.

#30 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 01:57 AM:

Meg, #26: how is it all these economic mega-brains on Wall Street and similar places couldn't see having a licence to print money is akin to having a licence to generate runaway inflation?

They thought it wouldn't happen in their lifetime, and after that, who cares? These people do not have normal human motivations (like, frex, caring what they hand on to their children); they are as C.S. Lewis described one of his characters: "But this one has been broken -- all he has left is greed."

Oh, and BTW, if you're in danger of foreclosure, you could do worse than employ the Produce the Note Defense. If nothing else, it may gain you some time.

#31 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 02:21 AM:

I have a bone to pick with this particular meme from the Taibbi article:

"In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates."

I'm starting to suspect that all this "too complicated for normal folk to understand" talk is pure rubbish. Sure, CDOs and CDSs aren't the most intuitive thing in the world, but you spend a couple minutes on it and you can work it out. The idea that financial professionals, who spent their lives dealing with those sorts of things, couldn't figure out the risks is ridiculous--if they didn't understand it, it's because of Upton Sinclair's maxim: not understanding it was too profitable for them to risk thinking about it clearly. "These finanical instruments were just too complicated for any one person to wrap their head around" is just code for "when I thought about it, the risks seemed so terrifyingly obvious that I couldn't believe my own analysis, and so I relied on the group consensus that said it was safe."

albatross @ 13: "Commenters who are basically center-left to center-right want to preserve the existing financial companies, somehow."

It's very possible I'm just suffering from pov bias, but where are the right-wingers calling for letting the banks fail? I certainly haven't heard them, but then I'm not sure that I would. From where I'm standing, the further right you move the louder the calls for no-strings bailouts get. (Liberatarians pre-emptively ruled "not right-wing"). The big distinction seems to be "private upside, public downside" on the right versus "public upside, public downside" on the left. As I said though, I don't know and I'd be interested to learn otherwise.

#32 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 03:02 AM:

heresiarch, I suppose I haven't made this quibble in a while, so: Though the Libertarian Party pretends otherwise, there are left-libertarians and right-libertarians. They may agree on letting banks fail, but the rightwingers do that out of a belief in unfettered capitalism, while the left wants to see capitalism die.

Uh, I'm guessing that's who you mean by "Liberatarians," a typo that suggests Liberatorians to me, which seems like it should be useful for something.

#33 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 04:53 AM:

On further insomniac reflection, I think Prof. Johnson represents the best of conservativism: someone who believes in an honestly managed financial system. The difference between his conservatism and that of Phil Gramm is immense.

One thing I would like to see addressed more. I think only Brad Delong & maybe one or two others have mentioned the Senate conservatives, but they are a major roadblock to change. There is a solid "conservative" majority in the Senate: all the Republicans and perhaps half the Democrats; three-quarters of the Senate, more-or-less. I've seen a lot of objections to Obama's proposals. But in fact there's very little he can do without the cooperation of the Senate. He cannot nationalize AIG or Citibank, or reform the appalling bankruptcy laws. I suspect that Delong has the right of this, however little I like it: what the Obama administration has proposed is a reasonable stopgap until the Senate can be persuaded to act and the current Senate will never do enough.

So we are on our own. What do we do? If I were advising a real opposition party now and had the resources, I know what I'd want to do: work out immediate strategies for individuals in trouble, do honest economic modeling so that we had some idea of what was coming down on us (actually Prof. Johnson & co seem to be doing this), and attack the problem of the Senate.

#34 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 06:27 AM:

will shetterly @ 32: I was simply trying to make clear that for the purposes of my claims were limited to the mainstream right-left spectrum. I wasn't including (presumably right-) libertarians among the "no-strings bailouts" crowd.

(I find that libertarianism isn't as much any particular point along that spectrum as it is an entire spectrum of its own, based on an entirely different set of assumptions about the purpose of politics.)

#35 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 07:21 AM:

Patrick@1: Nope, not me, it was Booker T. Washington James Nicoll.

#36 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 07:27 AM:

Will Shetterly,

Anti-repossession groups hae already begun taking the field to stop them; so far they've been only using nonviolent tactics and they're limited in area, but they are using the Internet to organize and keep up on where they need to go.

Yves' "Naked Capitalism" is one of the best sources of information I've seen on the economic problems hitting now. She feels we're headed for an "L" shaped 'recovery', similar to Japan's "lost decade". All this pouring of money into dying banks is accomplishing a slowing down of the death spiral, but it's not going to stop it. People are losing jobs and those still working are thinking "am I next?" and not making any major purchases, which is hitting any big manufacturer really hard (like GM and Chrysler).

Until we get consumer debt reduced and consumer confidence in their economic future improved, the overall economy is going to continue to struggle. It appears that Obama's advisors think if they can prop up Wall Street, though, everything else will follow along with it.

#37 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 07:45 AM:

John L @ 36: "It appears that Obama's advisors think if they can prop up Wall Street, though, everything else will follow along with it."

Seems a bit cart-before-horse, doesn't it?

#38 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 09:52 AM:

This article here

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/6347312.html

suggests that the mortgage crisis doesn't really affect that many people who actually occupy the homes they have mortgaged.

Excerpt:

A recent report from the Mortgage Bankers Association garnered lots of headlines. The wire service Reuters did a piece headlined “One in 8 U.S. homeowners late paying or in foreclosure.”

The introductory paragraph said: “About one in eight U.S. homeowners with mortgages, a record share, ended 2008 behind on their loan payments or in the foreclosure process as job losses intensified a housing crisis spawned by lax lending practices, the Mortgage Bankers Association said.”

If things are this bad and are said to be worsening in this recent Reuters article and other articles, then that would argue for not buying real estate or stocks and staying in cash on the sidelines.

The “one in eight homeowners either in foreclosure or behind in their payments” is wrong. For starters, it’s one in eight mortgages — not homeowners — and this distinction is very, very important. When you look at the number of mortgages out there, it includes lots of investment/rental properties.

And another excerpt:

Jay Brinkmann, chief economist and senior vice president of research and economics for MBA, quickly rattled off several examples of investment property ending up in foreclosure. In one case, he cited a graduate student in New Jersey who had bought three condominiums in Florida with highly leveraged mortgages. In another, an attorney in Phoenix bought 30 homes and claimed (i.e., lied) in his mortgage applications that each and every one was going to be “owner occupied.”

#39 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 09:58 AM:

Meg Thornton @#26:

"maybe you folks should start a grassroots movement to create a new currency or something" - a way of creating a functioning economy which works outside the one your government is intent on handing over to the rich bastards.

This has been tried before. Unfortunately, it's effectively forbidden by the Tax Code: Any form of barter or putative currency still counts as "money" to the IRS so you're explicitly required to translate it to dollars for your tax return, and then pay your taxes in dollars, on pain of property confiscation and/or jail. This applies to things like cooperative equity too.

#40 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 10:14 AM:

Steve C @38,

While you're right that the issue is 1 in 8 mortgages, not 1 in 8 homeowners, that in some ways can be much worse.

For example, here in Raleigh several apartment complexes have been foreclosed on and eviction notices given to the renters. To the number crunchers that is ONE mortgage, but it affects dozens if not hundreds of people.

Similarly, business properties, depending on how they're written, can be an entire mall or one building with multiple tenants. Durham has a fairly new mall that went bankrupt last year; AFAIK no tenant was thrown out but there are plenty of empty storefronts there now.

Throw in the homeowners that essentially made a living "flipping" and buying homes speculatively just so the price kept going up, and the individual, single home owner mortgage holder is still screwed in all sorts of secondary ways.

Housing equity plummets, businesses go under, entire shopping centers abandoned, tax revenues drop, government services get slashed, everyone starts laying off and then the single mortgage holder is out of a job and now he can't pay his mortgage, even though he might have had a perfectly stable fixed 30 year mortgage payment.

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 10:16 AM:

heresiarch @ 37... Seems a bit cart-before-horse, doesn't it?

Did you know that the French equivalent is 'mettre la charrue avant les boeufs', which translates as hoe-before-ox? So much for the bull market.

#42 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 11:10 AM:

Today's New York Times reports that banks are starting to walk away from foreclosures, but the story's central anecdote is complicated by the fact that none of the banks involved will admit to canceling the sheriff's sale without telling the homeowner. Lee, there's also a side of "Whose mortgage is it anyway?", so it looks like the "Produce the Note" defense would have worked.

#43 ::: Wakboth ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 11:25 AM:

FFY @ #42: There's also the problem of figuring out which bank, or banks, or foreign groups of investors, owns a particular homeowner's mortgage.

I think that dilution of responsibility and muddying up the facts of who owes what to whom is one of the biggest issues at hand, and probably the one that's slowing any sort of a reasonable solution down the worst.

#44 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 11:34 AM:

Thanks for reminding me to finish this article, Patrick!

#45 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 12:07 PM:

Fungi @42 - taking the example of my own house, I'm pretty sure that the former owner still owed upwards of $50,000 on it. The mortgage company ended up with $4236. While I like getting a cheap house, it's hard to beat this for bone-headed stupidity on the part of the bank.

#46 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 12:30 PM:

Wakboth: Someone cashes the mortgage checks, and sends late notices when they don't arrive or don't clear. That entity (which is paid for from the collected mortgages) knows which mortgages it is managing. I believe that entity, in the case of a CDO, is some management company set up to do the administrative work of collecting the debts when the CDO is set up, and paid for out of ongoing revenues from the mortgage payments, but I could be confused, as this isn't my field. If someone's cashing the mortgage payment checks when they come in, then someone knows when they stop coming in, and that someone also knows which mortgages it holds.

It would be interesting to find out whether the management companies/whatever that deal with the administrative side of CDOs based on mortgages have also taken a hit, because the amount of work they need to do is now much higher than it used to be.

#48 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 12:53 PM:

albatross @ 46 - they know only in the sense that they have a database entry. It turns out that these titans of industry didn't think document management was a priority, so a lot of them can't offer any proof except that database entry -- and that's not good enough in a court of law.

Add that, I think, to the fact that honestly, they're not going to pay their attorney's fees from what they can get from your house. Really, the mortgage foreclosure process has become nothing more than a shakedown, and if you put up a little fight, there's a decent chance they'll just move on to the next sucker.

#49 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 01:03 PM:

My wife and I bought our house back in 1991, but have refinanced it a couple of times since then. The last time we signed the papers, within a short period of time (a few months) we got a letter saying the mortgage had been sold to another financial institution and to send payments to them.

Over time the actual lien holder has changed several times more, and each time we've received a letter informing us of the sale and who to send payments to. We're fairly confident that the current institution does hold the mortgage (we keep the letters just in case), but are they the --only-- one holding it? Mortgages get bundled up with other mortgages, credit, car and student loan debt, and sold like any other commodity or investment; who knows who is holding the note any more?

#50 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 01:11 PM:

Michael Roberts @ 45 wrote: it's hard to beat this for bone-headed stupidity on the part of the bank.

Alas, I think I can beat it. I was talking to a house-hunter last year, and catacorner from a house she looked at was a foreclosure. That bank left the foreclosued house unwinterized through a New England winter, and then picked up termites. At this point, the property had changed from "house with yard" to "land with liability". Since it's a buyer's market, that land may take years to sell, if it ever does.

As I understand it, the CDO issue also makes renegotiation difficult. Even if it's in everyone's interest to knock down the price of the mortgage 30% or just shift the mortgage from a balooned ARM to a fixed rate-loan, if there are 100 different owners of the house post-CDO it's just not workable to get all their permissions. That's IMO the best argument for allowing bankruptcy judges to make cramdowns.

#51 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 01:43 PM:
It appears that Obama's advisors think if they can prop up Wall Street, though, everything else will follow along with it.

I'm under the impression that Obama's advisors think that if they can't prop up Wall Street, every else will follow along with it.

I suppose it's possible that Wall Street falls and something else replaces it eventually. But I'd rather avoid finding out how long "eventually" is.

#52 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 02:08 PM:

AJ: Wall street, the financial markets, and most financial companies will presumably continue to exist whatever we do. I think in practice, we face something like three broad options:

a. Keep pumping resources into the big, insolvent financial companies, in hopes that they eventually manage to right themselves.

b. Nationalize the big insolvent financial companies (or put them through bankruptcy, or have the FDIC take them over, or whatever you want to call it), basically taking the losses up front in the open, wiping out shareholders and bondholders but trying to minimize the damage to counterparties and the broader markets.

c. Let the big insolvent financial companies fail, and let the chips fall where they may.

My concern is that either (b) or (c) may be inevitable, in which case (a) is pouring money into a sieve, and putting off the day of reckoning. Further, (a) is the choice that is politically easiest--it allows politicians and regulators and such to pretend that things are still not so bad, to hide the insolvency of the biggest banks for a little longer, and to keep their contributors/friends/whatevers at those companies happy. That's a major point of the linked article, too--that (b) or (c) is going to have to happen sooner or later for a lot of these companies, because the US government can't really afford to keep them all on life support and let them ignore reality forever, but that (a) is happening because the bankers/financiers are well-connected and looked up to by a lot of the decisionmakers in the administration.

#53 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 02:18 PM:

There's only so much money the US has available to throw to the banks, and Obama's only got so much political credit to spend both with the public and Congress. He's rapidly running out of both, and if the financial disaster isn't stabilized, then what?

Naked Capitalism is starting to compare Obama to Hoover.

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 02:49 PM:

Fungi, #50: This is way off on a tangent, but this line from the article...

The push by the Obama administration to incent servicers to do more modifications (emphasis mine)

... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!

#55 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 03:05 PM:

#20 Don Delny:

"Oligarchy is a great word! You can emphasize the arrrr..."

I had a hunch that privatization was really piratization.

#56 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 03:35 PM:

re 54: That pained me too. My brain immediately went, "what do they use for that? Incentiaries?"

#57 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 04:13 PM:

Daniel Klein @7
Hoping this is on-topic enough... I was wondering what the people of Making Light (commentators and hosts) think of think of Dmitry Orlov [...] and his conviction that this isn't simply the valley in a cyclical up and down of the markets but rather an early indicator of total and irreversible economical collapse?

I don't think there's much reason to think this. I've been a committed follower of the "cyclical up and down" kind of theory for a while, and it's interesting to note that such theories (particularly the Eliot wave theory) predicted pretty much exactly the situation we're in now based on the information from several years ago. According to this theory, we're probably about half way through the crunch now, and we have a short mini recovery (aka a "dead dog bounce", which by my reading of the charts[1] began some time around Mar 9) ahead of us, followed by a fall of similar proportions (percentage of total remaining value wise, at least) to the last one before the true recovery will begin. So far it's played out almost exactly like the theorists expected, so I don't see why we would expect them to be wrong now.

Meg Thornton @26
Having read "The Quiet Coup" I have just one small question: how is it all these economic mega-brains on Wall Street and similar places couldn't see having a licence to print money is akin to having a licence to generate runaway inflation? I mean, I can see the link, and my economic education stopped in high school.

Two reasons: lack of sufficient distance, which is a great blinder to the effects of your actions, plus the lobster effect: they've been slowly building up the amount they've been doing this for the last seventy years, so why should now be any different to any time over that period?

Will Shetterly @29
Meg, during the last Great Depression here, neighbors sometimes gathered to drive away the people who came to repossess homes. With the internet, it should be possible to organize home protection groups to come and intimidate the repo men just about anywhere. If things get much worse, I suspect that will happen.

I think the attitude of society to that kind of behaviour has changed enough that it would be a lot harder now. I don't suspect the repo men got much support from the police last time around; this time, I'd expect a strong police presence.

Steve C @38
... suggests that the mortgage crisis doesn't really affect that many people who actually occupy the homes they have mortgaged

That's not just a US issue: there was an article on BBC news not long ago about tenants being evicted from homes that their landlords had failed to keep up mortgage payments on here in the UK. The only thing that puzzles me is that, as a former landlord, I structured my business plan so that as long as I had a tenant in the house I could afford to pay the bills. And since then rents have increased and interest rates have dropped, so the business should be even easier now. So why are these people struggling? Blatant mismanagement? Or some other reason?

[1]: For anyone interested, I see us as in a 'B' wave; the 'A' began in Oct 07, and consisted of: 1 to Mar '08; 2 to Jun '08, 3 (extended) to Nov 20 '08, 4 to Jan 2 '09, and 5 to Mar 9 '09. The first part (probably an A) of the B wave may or may not have ended on 26 Mar; it's a little too soon to tell.

#58 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 04:53 PM:

Jules #57- you mention a "dead dog bounce". Is that difference from a dead cat bounce? It reminds me immediately of Steve Bells "If..." cartoons, especially those from the 1980's. The (sort of) hero of the strip makes a fortune selling dead dog futures on the stock exchange, never mind the complete lack of relevance to real life of dead dogs, etc. Re-reading the cartoons, I get the feeling nothing has changed or improved since then, it is just a repeat of the same old stupidity. Coincidentally, I'm talking about nearly 20 years ago, which is apparently long enough for those who were burnt by the earlier stock exchange madness to have left leaving a younger generation to re-learn the lessons.

I don't know that much about economics, although probably more than the FSA and Gordon Brown since I expected a crash, but I don't see the whole global system falling apart unless there is some odd shock, since it is not in anyones interests to bring the whole creaking edifice down. Ultimately the economy is based upon fantasies that we all agree to treat as real, so people can ignore the inconsistencies if they all agree that it is better to keep it running than permit it to collapse.

#59 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 05:02 PM:

From the Annals of Massive Stupidity:

Pension insurer shifted to stocks

Concern increases as losses mount; Failing plans could overwhelm agency

"WASHINGTON - Just months before the start of last year's stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.

Switching from a heavy reliance on bonds, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation decided to pour billions of dollars into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate, and private equity funds."

#60 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 05:20 PM:

The smartest thing I've heard about the markets was the warning that when the market (an up market) becomes front-page news, it's time to scram. There's some sense in that -- when a market starts drawing millions of people in who never have speculated before, it's a sure sign that the speculative bubble is about to pop, because after that, there is no more air being pumped into the bubble.

#61 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 05:25 PM:

"I don't suspect the repo men got much support from the police last time around; this time, I'd expect a strong police presence."

I wonder if the banksters are smart enough not to send the repo men to take back foreclosed homes from the families of cops... and, if they are, I wonder if they can be caught in the act of giving the cops unfair special considerations... finally, I wonder if anyone else would care if they were caught doing that..

I fear that many of my own neighbors might cheer and raise a toast, while the very cops receiving the favors were kicking them out of their homes. I don't like that fear.

#62 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 05:30 PM:

#57
Michael Flynn had an article about this in Analog a few year back. IIRC, the prediction was that it would not really improve until 2020 to 2030.

#59
Remember that these are the same people who were (and some still are) pushing really hard for 'privatizing' Social Security: look at how much more money they'd have to play with. (This is also a really good example of why SS should not be privatized.)

#63 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 05:49 PM:

Lee @50 - Ouch. Not all verbing is created equal. To paraphrase To Be or Not To Be, "What they did to the economy, we're doing to the language!"

Steve C. @60 - Around here, the suggested metric is "The trend is over when the Harvard MBAs get involved."

#65 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 06:10 PM:

Jules @ 57

I don't suspect the repo men got much support from the police last time around; this time, I'd expect a strong police presence.

Don't be too sure. I found three sheriffs in three different states who've halted all foreclosures in their counties on the first page of a google search for "sherrif halts foreclosure". One of them is the Sheriff of Cook County, IL (Chicago). Things may not go as the bankers expect.

#66 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 06:25 PM:
AJ: Wall street, the financial markets, and most financial companies will presumably continue to exist whatever we do.

I'm not disputing that; capitalism seems to have survived well enough so far.

I think I should have used milder language than "Wall St. falls", since I failed to communicate clearly. What I was attempting to say -- and this, also, is one of the main points of Simon Johnson's article -- is that Obama's advisors probably believe that the financial industry is so central to our economy that another major shock there will have exaggerated effects on the rest of our economy. This view is partly correct -- e.g., if the credit markets get much tighter, a lot of people will lose their jobs -- and it's partly misleading. We can survive without Citibank and Bank of America. The question basically is where lies the tipping point between short term pain and long term gain.

I do share your suspicion that your option a) is not going to be enough in the end, and that we'll have to face option b) at the least. But I'd like to see the unwinding done slowly and deliberately. I'm more afraid of the consequences of a panic or another crash than I am of decade of slow growth. This leaves me thinking that option a) is worth a shot, on the grounds that it ought to lessen the pain when we get to b). (If nothing else, it's easier to leave the counterparties more or less whole if they've already been paid by the time their creditees declare bankrupcy.)

#67 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 06:28 PM:
The smartest thing I've heard about the markets was the warning that when the market (an up market) becomes front-page news, it's time to scram.

Or, if you're feeling slightly less conservative with your investments, get out the moment you see someone proclaiming that this bull market is different from all the previous ones.

#68 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Key quote from the article, I think: "Anything that is too big to fail is too big to exist."

#69 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2009, 07:49 PM:

FungiFromYuggoth, #50 Alas, I think I can beat it. I was talking to a house-hunter last year, and catacorner from a house she looked at was a foreclosure. That bank left the foreclosued house unwinterized through a New England winter, and then picked up termites. At this point, the property had changed from "house with yard" to "land with liability".

That reminds me of this story I came across a while back, which is if anything even worse.

#70 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2009, 12:18 AM:

And here we have an article that I've nicknamed "Securitization software and testosterone poisoning".

#71 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2009, 07:01 AM:

I have a dumb question, BTW: where's the big package of regulation that's going to prevent this happening again? Isn't it about time for it to start grinding through congress?

#72 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2009, 08:34 AM:

Well, a lot of what went wrong during the Awful Oughts was failure to exercise regulatory authority that did exist. The most famous case is the SEC totally blowing it on Bernie Madoff, but there are other examples. (Taibbi's "Big Takeover" article, for instance, describes how the Office of Thrift Supervision totally blew it on AIG-FP. It also says that it would be better for the SEC to have been regulating them instead, but... remember Madoff.)

That said, where new regulations are needed, we could probably do worse than simply restoring the ones that were removed over the past fifteen years or so, under heavy lobbying from Wall Street. Yves's Naked Capitalism today points to an FT article describing one egregious instance: the repeal, in 2000, of laws forbidding traders from buying (in effect) insurance against default on securities they don't actually own --- originally passed after cascading failures in that sort of trading led to the Panic of 1907.

#73 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2009, 10:10 AM:

Jules@57: What if your tenant lost their job and couldn't pay the rent? Worse, what if your initial mortgage was at an artificially low rate, such that you would have to increase the rent sharply to keep up? (This is common in the US; I don't know about the UK.) Also: even though true rates have gone down, (a) they may not have gone down to the startup levels noted above, and/or (b) with foreclosures bursting the real estate bubble, your mortgage could now be for more money than the current valuation of the property, which means you'd have to pay the difference immediately in order to refinance at the lower rate. (Again, "underwater" mortgages are common in the US; I understand that the UK mortgage industry is not the same as the US, but I don't know any details.)

Stefan@59: there were three points I remember from seeing that story in the paper:
- this was done by a Bush replacement;
- he was chasing returns to try to recover from not having enough money in the fund to pay obligations -- which is \the/ mistake that every honest 401(k) manager will warn participants about.
- one of the reasons the fund was short was being blocked by Congress from assessing corporations enough to keep up (cf the FDIC).
He \may/ have been right about getting better long-term returns, although the conventional wisdom about higher average returns from stocks now seems to be less than reliable. (My UUSWAG is it depended on the US's economy growing -- first from expansion into unexploited resources, then from expansion into unexploited markets that the rest of the world wasn't up to entering after World War II.) However, his timing was so bad that he ought to be branded with a mark that means "do not trust this person to manage money".

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2009, 10:41 AM:

#73
the conventional wisdom about higher average returns from stocks

Some of us didn't buy that. Yes, you can get higher returns from stocks, but the risks are also higher. (Past performance is no guarantee ....)

#75 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2009, 12:26 PM:

C. Wingate, #71: see #33. The Senate doesn't want them, so they're not anywhere. I don't think the House will move until the Senate shows at least some willingness to cooperate.

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2009, 07:42 PM:

Maybe it's time for a renovated DOJ (or will be time once it is renovated) to start investigating every Senator, Democrat or Republican, for conflicts of interest and general corruption. Get rid of enough of them, and maybe the rest will be sufficiently free from the influence of the financial industry that they'll move on regulation. Of course the Senate won't be able to get a damn thing done for the year or two those investigations will take (and the trials would take another 5 years or so), so there's a tradeoff.

#77 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2009, 10:26 AM:

Of course the Senate won't be able to get a damn thing done for the year or two those investigations will take (and the trials would take another 5 years or so), so there's a tradeoff.

Some people would regard this as another plus. (No, of course I'm not one of them.)

#78 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2009, 10:36 AM:

Bruce #76:

Yeah, 'cause under the last administration, that would never have been misused to silence administration critics or spy or the administration's enemies. What could possibly go wrong?

#79 ::: anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2009, 07:53 PM:

#76:

On 4 October 1993, Russian president Boris Yeltsin used a particularly effective method to deal with a legislature he found obstructionist.

He shelled it.

#80 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2009, 08:27 PM:

I don't think that the comment @79 was anywhere near perilous enough to justify anonymity.

#81 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 12:17 PM:

It's interesting/depressing looking at the discussion in some other places I roam which are heavily infested with, um, non-liberals, and to see how many of them are still stuck in Obama Derangement Syndrome, when it looks to me as though, outside of a few sops to interest groups, there's not a lot to choose between late Bush admin substance and early Obama admin substance.

#82 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 12:29 PM:

when it looks to me as though, outside of a few sops to interest groups, there's not a lot to choose between late Bush admin substance and early Obama admin substance.

For people who belong to one of those interest groups, said sops are pretty substantial.

#83 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 02:28 PM:

There's a lot to criticize Obama for doing, and a number of areas where he's not moving far enough away from Bush-era policies.

That being said, the idea of Obama's substance being a continuation of Bush's substance strikes me as just as deranged as the idea that Obama's a closet Islamomarxist.

The most charitable interpretation I can find is that C. Wingate has focused exclusively on the areas (economy, civil liberties) where there's not nearly as much difference as there should be.

#84 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 02:35 PM:

Raphael, #82: Hear, hear. So women, gays, and minorities are now defined as "special interest groups" -- apparently to set us apart from the default group, straight white males?

The claim that there is no difference between the two major parties is one of the nakedest statements of privilege I have yet had the ill fortune to encounter. And while I admit the possibility of memory bias, I do not believe that I have ever heard that claim being made by anyone other than a straight white male.

#85 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 02:58 PM:

Lee @ 84

Oh yes, straight white males are an extra-special interest group :-{

#86 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 03:35 PM:

Well, the Rethuglicans have managed to sweat up a sheen of faux diversity over the past few years. It's not as though any appreciable number of the new ones are actually class traitors. They belong. Whether or not they are cast aside the next time that party regains power remains to be seen, of course.

#87 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 03:58 PM:

Fungi: It may be that there will be vast differences in policy from Obama, that have a big impact on the world. But so far, I'm not seeing them. Partly, this is just because it's really early, and because the economy is likely sucking up all available attention right now. What actual policy changes would you point to as examples of how much things have changed? I'm not talking about rhetoric, but actual changes.

Now, maybe this is unfair. It really is early in Obama's presidency, and he's still wrestling with getting his appointments made. And there are hints of big improvements in some areas (like bringing more science into government decisionmaking). However, it looks to me like C Wingate's comment is basically correct--very little has changed. Indeed, I think Obama is *way* more of a centrist and pragmatist than he's widely portrayed as being by both Democrats and Republicans, each for their own reasons.


#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 04:06 PM:

Lee #84:

Er, I don't think it was C Wingate who defined women and gays as special interests--that was you. Similarly, ISTM that there's some difference between saying that there's no difference between the parties, and saying there's not much difference so far between what the Bush administration was doing toward the end, and what Obama's administration is doing so far. Either statement may be true or false, but they're not the same statement, and you seem to be treating them as equivalent.

#89 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 04:22 PM:

albatross: the first problem that I see is that your goalposts are set up to be easily moved - "big impact" and "world". Nevertheless, it's a fair question.

What I see as meaningful steps so far:
1) Acting to make regulation more effective - what I've been paying attention to is the shift toward centralizing food safety, but apparently the FDA is also covering tobacco now.
2) Addressing economic downturn by stimulus and particularly infrastructure spending, rather than by wars and tax cuts. Do we agree this is important? Recall McCain's behavior during the campaign and Eric Cantor's recent comments about Democrats paying too much attention to the economy.
3) No new wars; an important bar, but a low one.

Gallup has a poll about some of Obama's early actions - the Lily Ledbetter act is an important step forward on an issue very important to a lot of people, but not the ones on this thread criticizing Obama for being Bushian. Repealing (yet again) the global gag rule? Also quite important.

I do agree that Obama is centrist, and I expect Hillary would have been similar or probably farther to the right. I'm not sure which Democrats are misrepresenting Obama as other than that, except for conservative democrats who've joined the wingnut choir. From what I've seen, the non-insane criticism of Obama is coming from his left. The right is up in arms about a One World Currency and missing birth certificates.

I object to the use of the word 'pragmatist' in this context because the public 'pragmatists' these days are clinging to policies shown not to work in order to prove their seriousness, which I think is a serious case of definition shift.

#90 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 04:34 PM:

It's nice to see a little charity, Fungi, because frankly I'm getting fed up all around with the hair trigger responses and all the anger being projected onto me as a proxy for the people they really hate. Look: I voted for Obama. I knew he was going to make a lot of executive order moves that I have strong personal opposition to, but you know, sometimes I think a person has to think bigger than that. My opinions on those matters are not up for dissection here. I do think that many of these orders are mostly symbolic; anyone may differ with that assessment, but I am not likely to waste time defending it, because the discussion is almost certainly going to devolve into personal attacks, especially given the history here of people making unfounded assumptions about my personal situation and views.

In retrospect, "sop" was the wrong word to use, and I apologize for using it. It was too cynical. Beyond that, there's no point in attempting discourse.

#91 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 04:51 PM:

C. Wingate @#90 - perhaps you should attempt discourse before reaching that conclusion. IMO, your post is the angriest one in this thread, so I don't agree with your 'anger by proxy'. It may be that people legitimately consider you part of the problem.

Voting for Obama is not an indulgence - people will still disagree with you even if you voted for the same person they did, and yes, they will attempt to understand your motives if you say something they feel is clearly wrong. Welcome to 'argument'. Heck, people even disagree with Obama! I think _he's_ part of the problem because of the people he's picked to help with the economic problem.

If I disagree with Obama - even though I presume he voted for himself - and try to figure out why he's done what he's done, why should you be above that?

#92 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 04:51 PM:

Guys, C Wingate is right; that was a very quick trip from a fairly innocuous comment to a serious misinterpretation.

I confess that I've found myself vexed at him in the Watchmen thread for one reason, and in the Pointing at Fraud thread for another. My first impulse, of course, is to state that I was entirely right in both cases. Factually, of course, I may have been, but the irritation was excessive. I apologize.

It is true that this happens. Emotions get involved in arguments, and sometimes annoyance carries over from one discussion to another. But it's worth trying to keep a lid on it in each individual discussion, and watching for overspill.

Write with clarity, read with charity.

#93 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 04:54 PM:

C Wingate, my comment at 92 is addressed to you as well as to everyone else, by the way.

#94 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 07:42 PM:

"Write with clarity, read with charity." Excellent!

Regarding Obama and war, I mentioned Afghanistan earlier, and there were no takers. He plans to double the troops, if I remember correctly. Now, he announced that on a Friday, so we're not supposed to pay much attention to it, but still, escalating an existing war strikes me as every bit as bad as creating a new one.

And the plans to expand into Pakistan? That could count as a new war right there.

#95 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 09:47 PM:

As a nonstraight white male I'll offer a slightly more nuanced opinion: there's not enough difference between the parties.

#96 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 09:54 PM:

From outside the US, the continuity between Republicans and Democrats is pretty impressive, and the idea that there's basically one party with two wings which agree on an awful lot of stuff (especially the economic fundamentals, which are what supposedly provide the means to pay for everything else eventually) but take turns in power to make the people feel consulted...well, it's not totally implausible. Even if it is one of the most nekkid statements of privilege you're ever likely to read if you never look at anything to the right of ML. Which might be a good idea, I dunno, some of that stuff gives me nosebleeds.

That could count as a new war right there.

No no no - "AfPak". All the borders there are kind of porous and speculative anyway.

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 10:30 PM:

C. Wingate, #90: I think the bad word choice was "special interests". Given that a lot of Obama's most direct moves to date have been in repudiation of Bush's ideologically-based attempts to reduce large groups of Americans to the status of second-class citizens, it carries implications with which I don't think you want to be identified.

However, I do apologize for joining in the pile-on. I seem to have become over-sensitized to the "no difference" argument; this is something I'll need to be more aware of in future.

Allan, #95: Yeah, I'll agree with that. But also, remember that there's a largish chunk of Congress who are of Limbaugh's frame of mind -- nothing is as important as for Obama to fail -- and that's going to be a continuing uphill struggle for him, especially if he doesn't want to use Bush-type strong-arm tactics.

#98 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 11:07 PM:

Allan Beatty @ 95... Really? Would you care to elaborate?

#99 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2009, 11:27 PM:

No no no - "AfPak". All the borders there are kind of porous and speculative anyway.

I dunno. I hate thinking of Obama as Nixon expanding the Vietnam war into Laos and Cambodia. I grant it's not a perfect analogy.

#100 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 12:00 AM:

One thing I don't get is why they think that escalating the war in Afghanistan will be any more palatable to the American people than the Surge in Iraq was. My favorite tin hat idea in that area is that the goal of the Afghan conflict is to secure America's Strategic Opium Reserve.

#101 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 12:11 AM:

Lee @#97: that's going to be a continuing uphill struggle for him, especially if he doesn't want to use Bush-type strong-arm tactics.

Alternatively, we may get to see whatever tactics he brought from Chicago....

#102 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 09:30 AM:

Earl Cooley III -
One thing I don't get is why they think that escalating the war in Afghanistan will be any more palatable to the American people than the Surge in Iraq was. My favorite tin hat idea in that area is that the goal of the Afghan conflict is to secure America's Strategic Opium Reserve.

The war in Afghanistan is still seen by many as having a lot more legitimacy (dating back to "we shoulda been helping them after the Mujaheddin kicked the Rooskies out" in some cases) than the war in Iraq does, and this is across the political spectrum (until you get to the "the only good war is no war" types - but, well, they have an absolutist position, so...).

Not that it doesn't have a whole lot of clusterf**k in and around it (hiring warlords as mercenaries to do the dirty work, etc.) but there was certainly a much stronger cassus belli in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

#103 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 11:16 AM:

I haven't been following the Afghan matter in detail. Part of me would like to think that, left to themselves, the field level military out there could come up with something that would simultaneously enhance our security and enhance their peace and stability. Another part of me sees the local powers there as being something we can't work with without being tainted; and there's no point at all at us being the next foreign tyrant, which historically hasn't been accomplished anyway.

#104 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 02:47 PM:

Anyone interested in the Af-Pak War should read Juan Cole. Here's Top Ten Ways the US is Turning Afghanistan into Iraq.

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 04:52 PM:

AFAICT the native Afghani (read: local tribal/ethnic group) reaction to any foreign power diddling around within their local areas has been hostility, regardless of the foreign power's true motives (how can anyone else know what those are?) or stated objective. So sending troops into Afghanistan will always create an "insurgency" even if there wasn't one there already, and doing anything that looks like occupation will always create a clusterf*ck not too far down the line.

I think Obama is correct about one point: the problems in Central Asia are all part of a regional instability problem, and Pakistan is central to that problem because its government is no longer in control of the entire country, and is in danger of losing a lot more control while simultaneously deploying more nuclear weapons. If you're not scared of that situation you haven't thought about it enough. On the other hand, it's clear to me that the regional problem has no, repeat no, military solution, and that military action in general may not even be a useful component of any solution. But Obama has a political problem in justifying his actions within the US power structure, and particularly within the US military, which Bush allowed to get way to far out of civilian control (I refuse to call Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz civilians; they were more like military groupies with delusions of adequacy). So Obama can't propose any solution with no military component; the generals will get pissed off.

#106 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 07:42 PM:

Serge @ 98:

Points where it would be great to have a choice between the two major parties:

  • Telecomms immunized against spying on our phone calls.
  • Corporate welfare for Wall Street.
  • Regulatory agencies staffed with people whose long term careers are in the regulated industries, e.g. Justice Department staffers from the copyright abuse industry.
  • The war on some drugs.
  • The Defense Of Marriage Act.
  • Basically, what Adrian said @ 96.

It wouldn't be fair this soon in his term to list things that Bush omitted and Obama hasn't done so far, otherwise I would speculate about whether Obama will ever actually accomplish many of his stated goals.

With the abuses of these past eight years, I am to the point where I think anything short of impeachment proceedings is Not Enough Difference.

#107 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2009, 08:02 PM:

Allan Beatty @ 106... All of those are very valid points, but... Do you think that McCain would have reversed the ban on stem cell research, for example? Yes, I would like all of the above stains on America's soul cleansed away. But I also want Obama to fix things without losing all his momentum and energy fighting those battles that the Republicans would use to demolish him.

One more thing... You say that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are way too similar. I'm a Democrat, and I wouldn't vote for a Republican even if you put a gun to my head. I hope the suggestion here isn't that I can't tell the difference between the two parties.

I think the rest of the world can also tell there is a difference.

#108 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 02:21 AM:

Serge, of course those things count. That's why I said not enough difference, instead of no difference.

I've never ever voted for a Republican except in local races. I just wish I could vote for a major party candidate instead of against one.

#109 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 07:25 AM:

Setge, there's a pretty good chance that in the special election coming up (yes, we're having another, the fifth in a year, and for one of the seats we had a special for the last time around at that) the Democrat choices will include yet another scion of one of the main local commercial real estate developers. I think there's a pretty good chance he'll be the Democrat candidate in the end. And you know, I'll vote for any Republican candidate against him-- I'll even vote for Robin Ficker, whom I cannot stand (he's a perennial gadfly candidate), in an attempt to keep another Kramer from getting into office.

#110 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 08:31 AM:

Allan Beatty @ 108... I stand corrected. Still, one should keep the following in mind: Obama is having to deal with a boardgaqme drastically rearranged by the Republicans.

The question is... If a Democrat had been in the White House on September 11, 2001, would History be different? The World Trade Center might have come down anyway, but not because Gore would have dismissed warnings. Would the war in Iraq have happened? Or would Gore instead have gone after the real bad guys where they were, in Afghanistan? Would he have trampled constitutional rights? I don't think so.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 08:38 AM:

C Wingate @ 109... I take it that this Democrat is something of a crook. Would I vote for a crooked Democrat instead of an honest Republican? I probably would, if it were for a national office, because one crooked Democrat is one more person taken away from a possible Republican majority in the House or in the Senate. Mind you, the act of voting would involve my severely pinching my nasal features, which my wife says are typically French-Canadian, meaning prominent.

#112 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 09:26 AM:

#109
This is probably a good argument for taking over your local party leadership, since they're the ones making decisions about who runs.

#113 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 11:39 AM:

Just a random comment: If you want some nice explanation of a bunch of the technical terms and ideas being thrown around in these economic/financial/bailout discussions, the public radio economics/finance show Marketplace has some really great videos here. Among other things, they explain CDOs, CDS, and various other stuff in short browser-playable videos of basically a guy standing at a whiteboard.

A big idea that helps me keep track of all this stuff is that finance is all about shifting around and playing with risk and liquidity and time, and that what matters is often the shape of the distribution of expected payoffs, as much as the expected payoff.

For example, think about buying insurance on your house. Your expected payoff is negative. All this does is put a kind of floor on your financial outcome in the case that your house burns down[1].

An awful lot of financial wizardry makes sense only when you look at it in terms of slicing and recombining bits of risk, yield, and liquidity to show up at different times. And many of the disasters (like the implosion of AIG) come about because of people who use immensely powerful tools to do this slicing and dicing of risk, and get it wrong in ways that expose them to amazingly large losses.

[1] Hopefully, you've got smoke detectors and multiple paths out of the house planned, so that you can put something of a floor on the non-financial costs, too. Otherwise, it may be your estate that benefits from the insurance rather than you.

#114 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 02:27 PM:

P J Evans @ 109:

ObSF: Two of the better manuals for doing so were written by Frederik Pohl and Robert Heinlein.

#115 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 08:27 PM:

Anyone who believes in the clear-cut differences between Bush and Obama should argue with Glenn Greenwald at Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Wall Street's ownership of government. I like this paragraph especially:

People like Rubin, Summers and Gensler shuffle back and forth from the public to the private sector and back again, repeatedly switching places with their GOP counterparts in this endless public/private sector looting. When in government, they ensure that the laws and regulations are written to redound directly to the benefit of a handful of Wall St. firms, literally abolishing all safeguards and allowing them to pillage and steal. Then, when out of government, they return to those very firms and collect millions upon millions of dollars, profits made possible by the laws and regulations they implemented when in government. Then, when their party returns to power, they return back to government, where they continue to use their influence to ensure that the oligarchical circle that rewards them so massively is protected and advanced. This corruption is so tawdry and transparent -- and it has fueled and continues to fuel a fraud so enormous and destructive as to be unprecedented in both size and audacity -- that it is mystifying that it is not provoking more mass public rage.

But here's the specific part Democrats should argue with: ...what is happening here is an exact analog to what is happening in the realm of Bush war crimes -- the Obama administration's first priority is to protect the wrongdoers and criminals by ensuring that the criminality remains secret.

#116 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 08:55 PM:

will shetterly @ 115... I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

#117 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 09:40 PM:

Serge, we don't have to completely agree to disagree. There are differences, and the differences are great enough that I usually vote Democrat--the few times I voted Republican were in minor races where the Democrat was a known scumbag.

I just think the people who point to the similarities between the parties shouldn't be dismissed. The Republicans are a little kinder to the rich, and the Democrats are a little kinder to the poor, but neither of them is about to engage in class warfare, and they're both awfully fond of solving problems abroad with the military. It wouldn't have been so easy for Bush to target Iraq if Clinton hadn't kept up the sanctions and killed half a million children first.

I agree that it's less likely that Gore would've invaded Iraq, but in the game of If, that's still very possible. I doubt we'll ever get the minutes of the meetings in which people talked about the real reasons we attacked Iraq. There's only one thing I do know: we didn't attack them for the reasons Bush named and the reasons the Democrats went along with.

#118 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 10:20 PM:

It seems to me that there are a number of real and important issues where Democrats and Republicans have substantial differences--women's rights, immigration, global warming, gun control, healthcare, terrorism, civil rights, education, Social Security, etc. There are also a number of real and important issues where Democrats and Republicans are like twins separated at birth: corporate accountability, free trade, finance, the stock market--anything having to do with economics, in other words.

Obama is very illustrative of this pattern. On issues like taxation, global warming, women's rights, healthcare, and education he's shown a substantial difference from and improvement over Bush. On things like government surveillance, finance, and free trade he's been lamentably in sync with earlier administrations. Clinton exhibits a similar profile--liberal on (most of) the former, and strict Washington consensus on the latter.

It's hard not to get the impression that the issues that Democrats are better on are just there to distract us from the underlying economic issues, sops to distract us social liberals from the important stuff in the exact same way that gay marriage and abortion are used to distract social conservatives. In many ways this is exactly what is happening. But these social issues aren't just distractions, whether or not the economic elite thinks of them as such. They do matter. It's important to keep that in mind, even as we struggle for more awareness of the ways in which both parties work to preserve and reinforce the economic order.

#119 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 11:09 PM:

Will Shetterly @ 117... I think we are going to have to disagree. Really. I'll give you the example of Gray Davis, former Democratic governor of California. Very few people liked him, and the word 'scumbag' was used. And yet, what I remember, maybe incorrectly, but maybe correctly too, is that he signed a law to help farm workers. Maybe this just was a sop to us social liberals, as Heresiarch suggested about Obama. But I don't believe that this was the sole motivation of either man. If I were a Democratic politician and all I heard about me is that I don't really care about my fellow citizens, I'd wonder why I even bother trying.

#120 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2009, 11:38 PM:

re 111: If we were to do an issue-by-issue comparison, Serge, I suspect that I would come out far more centrist than you on most issues, and I say "centrist" because I tend to find myself in strong reaction against officially conservative views on these issues. For the sake of domestic tranquility I think we can forgo realizing that comparison, though. At any rate, as far as issues are concerned, it seems to me that you don't risk much by committing yourself to a single party; I am not so satisfied by either party. I'm unwilling to give one party a pass as to either probity or competency.

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 12:32 AM:

C Wingate @ 120... it seems to me that you don't risk much by committing yourself to a single party

Hmmm... I'm not sure how to take that, but, for the sake of domestic tranquility, I shall not delve on it.

#122 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 12:43 AM:

heresiarch @118, total agreement.

Serge @119, partial agreement. I'm pretty sure I voted for Gray Davis. There were things I liked about the guy. Doesn't mean he gets a free pass on the things I don't.

I think our big disagreement isn't actually my preference for socialism and yours for liberal capitalism. It's here: "If I were a Democratic politician and all I heard about me is that I don't really care about my fellow citizens, I'd wonder why I even bother trying." The answer is simple: Either you should accept that some people just won't be satisfied, no matter what you do, or you should try harder. But to complain that you're not loved enough for the way you balance public need with corporate greed is just sad. Anyone who really has those doubts should get out of politics.

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 12:54 AM:

Will Shetterly @ 122... Oh, I should have said that if I were a Democratic politician and EVERYBODY assumed the worst about my motives, I would wonder why I bother. Of course, I never suggested that I'm cut out to be a politician. You should have heard me talk back to my boss the other day after she'd fucked up my work position once too many.

#124 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 01:58 AM:

Serge @ 119: "And yet, what I remember, maybe incorrectly, but maybe correctly too, is that he signed a law to help farm workers. Maybe this just was a sop to us social liberals, as Heresiarch suggested about Obama."

It's not that the politicians themselves see it as a sop, but rather that the system is set up so that pushing economic issues will get you one-tenth the results for ten times the resistance as social issues. Given the huge number of issues politicians have on their plate at any given time, it's inevitable that the tough ones will get dropped to the wayside.

will shetterly @ 122: Good! I'm glad you agree that those criticizing the Democrats for being too similar to the Republicans should make their claims much more specific and defensible.

#125 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 02:41 AM:

Will Shetterly, #117: "I just think the people who point to the similarities between the parties shouldn't be dismissed."

Nobody has "dismissed" you from this conversation. As you know perfectly well from previous go-rounds here, when you've been "dismissed," you'll know it.

I think if you're characterizing the mild and intermittent disagreement you've gotten in this thread as "dismissal", you've already stopped "reading with charity," to quote from that formula of Abi's which you immediately praised.

"The Republicans are a little kinder to the rich, and the Democrats are a little kinder to the poor"

Which by itself has generally seemed like a good enough reason to vote for Democrats. I've agreed many times with the position that the two major American parties both represent factions of the ruling class (in the wonderful formulation of future David Goldfarb brother-in-law Jonathan Schwarz, the sane billionaires versus the insane billionaires.) I'm very skeptical of the idea that there's much point in trying to build a new party, because in the American system, that trick never works. I'm a believer in radicalism when radicalism has a chance of working, and a proponent of mitigationism otherwise.

Most pertinently, I think these views are pretty typical of most people in this conversation, which is why I find it annoying when you consistently play the Lone Brave Radical, as if the others in the conversation are a bunch of Democratic Party apparatchiks, or uncritical Obama-worshippers, who need the scales knocked from their eyes.

#126 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 02:43 AM:

heresiarch @125, I don't see any "should" in #118, but "specific and defensible" is a nice goal for everyone. So, do you think Af-Pak counts as a big improvement because the US will be practicing regime change in a new land, or is it no major change because we'll still be protecting the empire and feeding the military industrial complex?

#127 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 02:53 AM:

C. Wingate, #120: I think your claim to be a "centrist" would encounter just a little bit less doubt if you didn't, as in your comment #109, deploy the official Republican slur of calling the older of the two main American political parties the "Democrat party". That this is practiced by modern right-wingers with intent to annoy is well-documented; even William F. Buckley eventually inveighed against it. The fact that you do it un-self-consciously makes some of us suspect that you're marinated in the kinds of "news" sources where this is routine.

(And no, the presence here and elsewhere of epithets like "Rethuglican" doesn't buy you a pass. Those epithets are overt insults. What's especially creepy about the whole "Democrat party" routine is that it's a covert, quasi-deniable taunt, the essence of childish provocation and plain old bad faith.)

#128 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 03:03 AM:

Patrick, I don't think I've been alone over the years here, but I do think Making Light has generally been a more comfortable place for Democrats. The distinction between critical and uncritical support for a party doesn't seem terribly important to me, and I would argue that the DLC controls the Dems because they know the liberal left will grumble and follow them--but I wouldn't expect to get anywhere useful with that argument, so it's cool. I'll drop this now.

#129 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 05:06 AM:

will shetterly @ 126: "I don't see any "should" in #118,"

While David Hume would say the same and I cannot fault his logic, I nonetheless hold that it is there, if you care to look.

"So, do you think Af-Pak counts as a big improvement because the US will be practicing regime change in a new land, or is it no major change because we'll still be protecting the empire and feeding the military industrial complex?"

What a delightfully leading question! If I didn't agree with you, I'd be offended.

#130 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 05:58 AM:

PNH @127:

For my part, I would rather that neither overt namecalling like "Rethuglicans" nor covert snideness like "Democrat party" were used in serious political discourse.

I know that we approach these debates as entire people, heart and soul, emotion and mind, all together. I know that we are inherently tribal, and that tribes are built party by distinction from The Other Tribe. I know that engaging our opponent's temper is part of the pace and structure of legitimate political debate.

And I know that sometimes the anger boils over, and needs expression. And that sometimes we can only speak the truth at a shout, when goaded, rather than in a calmer tone of voice.

But still.

I have never seen namecalling turn into agreement. I have never seen it persuade an opponent, open the door to compromise, or create a spirit of cooperation.

And I have seen how it corrupts debate, making even people I love and admire sound like schoolyard bullies. Insults generally come off worse to the target than to the speaker, so their use is almost always incendiary. A few well-chosen insults can turn any discussion into a shouting match; I've never seen them turn a shouting match into a discussion.

Now, I am not queen of the universe. And this is a good thing; I'm wrong at least as often as I'm right. I certainly don't require that people follow this peculiar rule of debate†.

I'm just, you know, sayin'. (This is a good time to say it, since this discussion is not full of shouting, namecalling*, or deliberate snideness.)

-----
† though I note that the threads with the insults are the ones that I end up intervening in for other reasons
* barring the term discussed, which, I think, revealed more about C Wingate's political reading than his intent, tbh

#131 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 06:41 AM:

I know that we approach these debates as entire people, heart and soul, emotion and mind, all together.

Rereading this, I am suddenly reminded of sitting around a hotel room in Maastricht, talking to Teresa while she gets her socks on so we can go out for breakfast. Patrick leans against the wall, eyes closed, face tilted slightly upward, all but paralyzed by the lack of caffeine in his bloodstream.

Teresa and I are discussing the analogy I often use about a person as a monkey carrying a brain in a bucket. (My point being that you have to take care of the monkey; it's basically congoing 3/5/1 in another form.) Suddenly, a voice of almost intolerable boredom and exasperation interjects, "If we're quite finished with this exposition of Cartesian dualism, perhaps we could go out and get some coffee?"

There is no point to this comment.

#132 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 06:53 AM:

will shetterly @ 128 ...
The distinction between critical and uncritical support for a party doesn't seem terribly important to me

I'm a tad baffled by this comment -- it seems to boil down to "it doesn't matter if you think or not", which seems rather odd, at best. On my part, I'd rather have considered supporters of whatever position than blind fanatics -- while you may not persuade a considered supporter to change their mind, the odds that they'll listen, rather than dive for tar and pitchforks are far better.

#133 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:33 AM:

Modern political insults seem to be missing the cleverness of the old days.

But even in the old days it only seems to be a few people, such as Nancy Astor and Churchill.

"If you were my husband, I would poison your coffee."

"If I were your husband, I would drink it!"

#134 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:55 AM:

xeger @132:

I think Will is analyzing political support in the most basic of terms: votes. In other words, whether you hold your nose or dance with enthusiasm, your vote is still your vote.

But that ignores an awful lot that goes on in politics, including but not limited to campaign donations, volunteer time and informal conversations that persuade swing-voting relatives*.

Also, to be frank, Will rarely leaves a conversation without some kind of sweeping comment, preferably with a sting in the tail. It's as characteristic as my excessive, not to say inordinate, use of commas and interjected phrases. Since silence on the internet does not equal agreement, if you want to leave them untouched, feel free to do so.

(No malice intended in discussing you in the third person, Will.)

-----
* "The Great Schlep", for example

#135 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 08:15 AM:

abi @ 134: "It's as characteristic as my excessive, not to say inordinate, use of commas and interjected phrases."*

*Not to mention the footnotes.

#136 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 08:26 AM:

There are those, yes.

#137 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:03 AM:

Abi: But that ignores an awful lot that goes on in politics, including but not limited to campaign donations, volunteer time and informal conversations that persuade swing-voting relatives*.

Umm... actually, I'd say that a great deal of the sickness in American politics boils down precisely to the failure of that statement! Specifically, our elected Federal officials are all-too-well protected against any sanctions except: (1) money, or withholding of same, and (2) actual removal from office via the success of a political rival, sometimes assisted by criminal charges.

The implosion of the Republican Party is no help here -- in fact, it only makes it more difficult to keep Democratic officials from running amok. ("Well, if you'd rather deal with one of Them(tm) in office...").

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:11 AM:

(from The Day The Earth Stood Still)

"Why doesn't the government do something, that's what I'd like to know."
"What can they do, they're only people just like us."
"People my foot, they're Democrats."

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:14 AM:

(A Nazi to gangster Bogart in 1941's All Through the Night)

"It's a great pity, Mr. Donahue, that you and I should oppose each other. We have so much in common."
"Yeah? How's that?"
"You are a man of action. You take what you want, and so do we. You have no respect for democracy - neither do we. It's clear we should be allies."
"It's clear you are screwy. I've been a registered Democrat ever since I could vote."

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:20 AM:

Regarding money and politics (a toxic combo that is not uniquely American, Marcus Didius Falco would say), I am reminded of something that San Francisco journalist Rob Morse once wrote. Basically, decrying that money's influence makes Democratic and Republican politicians one and the same is like saying that a toaster is the same as an electric chair - after all, both run on electricity.

#141 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:26 AM:

David @137:

All of the things I named are about increasing the number of votes that the candidate receives; in that, at least, Will is correct. In the final evaluation, most politicians are motivated by electoral success.

But he oversimplifies when he limits his evaluation to the behavior the people who will vote (D) no matter what. Electoral success is about whether those (D) voters can persuade the swing voters and the undecideds to join them. That takes money for advertising, time and energy for GOTV, and plenty of persuasion*.

-----
* Good policies and (relatively) trustworthy candidates help as well.

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:26 AM:

Abi @ 134... In a perfect world, our politicians would be saints, or at least beings of irreproachable virtue. Instead, we have... human beings who, to get part of what they want, often have to compromise.

"Do you know what a compromise is?"
"Bendin' the law?"
"Uh, no. It's an agreement reached by mutual consent. Now, here's the way it works. You concede the necessity of goin' to school, we'll keep right on readin' the same every night, just as we always have. Is that a bargain?"

(Scout and her father in To Kill a Mockingbird)

#143 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:16 AM:

Patrick @125, in the interest of clarity and charity, I'll try again, and if I end up with less clarity, please try to compensate with as much charity as you can give. I'll be grateful.

I've been thinking about life choices, working within systems and outside them. I think of Frost's two roads and Stan Rogers' lock keeper and sea captain, and I think at the very least, both are necessary, and if both aren't, the lock keeper and the more-traveled road matter more to any community. So while I haven't followed your course, I respect it, and I think it may be superior to mine.

When I said "dismissed," I wasn't thinking about this thread. I was remembering many conversations since 1999.

Where we've disagreed most strongly may be in this: "I'm very skeptical of the idea that there's much point in trying to build a new party, because in the American system, that trick never works."

To me, that's been the argument for trying to change the American system. But now I know it may be the wrong argument. If someone honestly seemed to be vacillating between pragmatism and idealism, I would advise them to choose pragmatism. If nothing else, pragmatism means you'll be able to take better care of the people you love. I'm watching capitalism respond to crisis, and I'm wishing I'd never taken an unpopular political stance in my life. You get hit and spat on, you lose friends, and God only knows what the stress does to your lifespan, and ultimately, societies change when they're ready to change.

Huh. I haven't read the Foundation books since I was fourteen. Maybe I should pick them up again.

#144 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:39 AM:

Will... Thinking of going to the worldcon this year? If not, Reno in 2011? It'd be nice if we finally met.

#145 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:45 AM:

heresiarch @129, the older I get, the more I like honest bias. The day I make a claim like Fox's "fair and balanced," shoot me, and point to this post to show you were doing me a kindness. I'm a commie pacifist whose idea of democracy is more extreme than the Democratic Party's, and while I probably would've promoted my beliefs more successfully if I'd been subtler about them, I yam what I yam. (And on the "older I get" list, I get more appreciative of yams, too.)

Xeger @132, Abi's interpretation is essentially correct. In a two-party system, degrees of support are irrelevant.

Abi @134, I'm sorry about the effect you call "a sting in the tail." I think it comes from wanting to leave with my position as clear as possible, and when that position is one of disagreement, it seems like a sting, though it's not meant as one. Trying for clarity can make it harder to get charity.

"I know that we are inherently tribal, and that tribes are built party by distinction from The Other Tribe."

I've been thinking about tribes lately. The word gets used in a lot of ways, but I think there's an important aspect that's often missed: tribes are composed of bands, and bands are composed of families. As you move into each smaller unit, there's less room for dissent, but more room for love.

I'm making this point because I wish people would remember that it isn't as simple as "You're with us or you're against us." You can be in the band and not in the family. You can be in another band and still be in the tribe. There are many ways to be united--full consent doesn't have to be the only option.

#146 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 12:05 PM:

Serge @144, that'd be swell, but Emma and I can only afford to travel when someone pays our way. This year, I'm pretty sure the only conventions we'll be doing are Odysseycon and Tuscon. But I've been thinking my approach to making money is awfully naive, so maybe we'll be able to do Reno in 2011. Emma and I had the best steak of our lives there, when we did a road trip just after getting married.

#147 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 12:15 PM:

will shetterly @ 146... I hope your financial situation isn't so dire that you haven't been able to have steak since Emma and you got married. As for your approach to making money being naive, I'm with you. I mean, "Do good work and you'll be appreciated by the boss" sounds like something that a member of the Mickey Mouse Club would say. (Personally, I've always preferred Donald Duck.) Let's hope for the best about 2011.

#148 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 12:33 PM:

Abi: All of the things I named are about increasing the number of votes that the candidate receives;

That's certainly how it's supposed to work. The problem is that the underlying mechanics have been badly eroded by several factors:

The most obvious is gerrymandering, which is used to make as many districts as possible "party-safe", and generally to lock in the advantage of an incumbent party. Yes, that works mostly at the state and local level -- but that's where new candidates enter the game... or not. We've had overt gerrymandering going on for decades now, with the agencies meant to prevent it getting emasculated by the neocons. The net effect is that the majority of those districts become non-competitive, with any minority voices simply shut out of the process. Any challenge to such a protected incumbent (on local, state, and sometimes federal levels) thus becomes a question exclusively for the party that "owns" the seat in question.

This, of course, is aggravated by the older issue of winner-take-all rules for electoral votes. This is a classic example of the Iron Rule of Institutions on a high level -- WTA rules increase the clout of individual states, at the direct expense of popular representation at the national level.

The attempts to push insecure voting machines produced by openly partisan manufacturers are another factor here... notice how partisan the arguments over those were, until the Republicans got their butts kicked on a national level, and the machine backers started worrying about possible Federal charges from a Justice Department (and election commissions) that weren't in their pocket anymore.

And yeah, Obama managed to beat the odds -- but only by surfing a "perfect storm":

(1) He had a whole new campaign venue, where the Republicans were flatly incompetent. (2) Unpopular war, 'nuff said. (3) Economic disaster, ditto. (4) Corruption and political abuses that were simply too big to sweep under the carpet. (5) Blatant and public idiocy (and viciousness) by elected officials. Note that all of those factors were closely tied to the incumbent party, except #1 where the incumbents barely bothered to show up.

And even then, it was way too close, despite all of the above. And he's still got a lot of agencies to disinfect, a significant number of state and local officials who are all but declaring revolt, and that unelected, seditious, leader of the Republican Party to deal with.

#149 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 12:51 PM:

Serge, we're vegetarians now, since '94 or so. I dunno if I'd bend that if we went back to Reno. I only remember two great steaks in my life. One was Murray's Butter Knife Steak ("so tender you can cut it with a butter knife!") in Minneapolis. The other was at the place in Reno, whose name I really should try to find. The quick Google suggests it might've been the Washoe Steakhouse.

#150 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 01:14 PM:

I'd rather not be made to feel guilty about despising Republicans and the cynical evil they've done. I just don't care about counterexamples that attempt to undermine the purity of my prejudices. We are in a class war, and in spite of some recent victories, it is still not going well for the good guys. I'll be the first to admit that there are gaps in my armor of progressive ideals; I just no longer talk about them around here.

#151 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 02:31 PM:

Earl Cooley III #150: Well, just to work the other side of the street for a moment: There are still a few old-style Republicans around, who are possibly even more pissed off than the Democrats just now. But the genuine conservatives have been marginalized by the neocon takeover of the Republican Party, because their agenda doesn't serve the power of the neocon cabal.

#152 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 02:53 PM:

abi, #134: I think the term you were looking for there is "flounce".

And, as a side note, here we have another straight white male -- I don't know Will's religious leanings, but it's probably safe to say that he's neither pagan nor openly atheist -- pushing the "no difference between the two parties" line. I have resolved to keep better track of when this argument gets deployed, in the interest of checking for memory bias.

#153 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 03:02 PM:

Lee, I've seen flounces. I've moderated flounces, and even been tempted to flounce myself*. And Lee, this was no flounce.

More seriously, there is a difference between a sweeping comment, sting or not, and a flounce. Primarily, in my opinion, it's to do with how much flouncers blame the remaining parties in the situation for their departure. Will's not prone to that.

-----
* Deleted at preview. Have I mentioned how much I love Making Light's requirement for preview? Probably not, but I do.

#154 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 03:58 PM:

Lee, my impression is that Will admits that there are differences between the parties, and he just really, really doesn't like it that there are so many similarities, too. (That's not meant to praise him or something; I have some serious issues with him.)

#155 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 04:41 PM:

Lee @152, Raphael's right. As for my religious beliefs, just about anyone except pagans and atheists would call them pagan or atheist. (I like making up names for my beliefs. Today, I like Metatheistic Follower of the Rebel Jesus.)

Raphael, I have serious issues with being praised, so it's all good.

I confess, moderating speculation about me makes me grin.

#156 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 04:48 PM:

Lee, an afterthought: Do you think there aren't black or gay or female Republicans? Or do you think everyone who isn't a Republican or a Democrat is a straight white male? Forgive me if that sounds rude, but I don't know your basic assumptions, so I don't know what you meant to suggest.

#157 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 04:56 PM:

"I confess, moderating speculation about me makes me grin.""

That's not a confession, that's bragging.

#158 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 05:16 PM:

David Harmon @151:
But do genuine conservatives, to use your term, differ from the neocons in ways that are significant to what Earl calls the class war?

Are they, in other words, interested in narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor? I know that their methods would not be the same as liberals would choose, but my impression was also that they weren't that bothered that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the rest of us. As long as government wasn't too large or too intrusive on society, and as long as change was minimal and carefully considered, I thought conservatives of the old school were happy?

#159 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 05:31 PM:

"That's not a confession, that's bragging."

Confessing to bragging. Yep. It's funny. I don't get why people speculate when they could just ask me. God knows I'm not shy about answering. (I'll let that be my understatement of the day.)

Hmm. Actually, maybe I do get it: You never know when someone might disappear from a thread, so helpful people offer what they can.

Still, it's fun to confirm someone's theory.

And, on the flip side, there's been plenty of speculation that no one would be happy to moderate.

#160 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 05:40 PM:

Will #155:

Raphael, I have serious issues with being praised, so it's all good.

For reasons that aren't relevant here, I was reading the thread backwards (newest to oldest, scrolling upward).

Somehow I read that as "I have serious issues with being greased, so it's all good."

Those who have been in the Fleet will understand why that brought me up with a round turn.

#161 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 05:40 PM:

Will, please return to the subject of the thread (which is not actually all about you), before I am tempted to post an analysis of your more recent comments. I can guarantee that you will not enjoy reading it.

#162 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 05:42 PM:

Enlighten me, Jim, on the connotations of "greasing". My most obscure referent is to having the butter passed to one ("grease me!") in certain dorms at university.

#163 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 06:42 PM:

abi @ 161 ...
I believe the appropriate comment about Will Shetterly at this point is BINGO!!!

#164 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 06:55 PM:

xeger @163:
You know that whole thing of not making the thread about Will Shetterly?

Not helping.

#165 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:13 PM:

abi @ 164 ...
Yes'm. There's a quote from CJ Cherryh's Cyteen that seems apropos to the topic of the thread:

"Corruption means elected officials trading votes for their own advantage; democracy means a block of voters doing the same thing. The electorates know the difference."

#166 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:14 PM:

Abi @#158: But do genuine conservatives, to use your term, differ from the neocons in ways that are significant to what Earl calls the class war?

Well, my impression was that "real" conservatives want the government to actually get out of people's lives, and generally do less. They might not be overly interested in helping the underclasses and middle classes, but less government also meant less power to persecute those groups. In contrast, the neocons want government actively protecting their personal (as well as class) interests, and actively crushing anyone who even might say boo about that.

My basic point is that old-line conservativism is a respectable political ideology -- not one I particularly agree with, but it's been around since our founding, and has held power without wrecking the $%&*($) country. The neocons, however, represent a vicious perversion of conservativism toward the ends of personal power, wealth, and hubris.

#167 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:23 PM:

David Harmon @ 166 ...
Could you expand a bit on whether you're meaning fiscal or social conservatism, or both?

My seat-of-the-pants read is that it's more about social conservatism than fiscal conservatism...

#168 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:36 PM:

Abi @ 158: "As long as government wasn't too large or too intrusive on society, and as long as change was minimal and carefully considered, I thought conservatives of the old school were happy?"

IMO, a reasonable summary of an important part of traditional conservative views. In most flavors of traditional American conservatism, this has traditionally co-existed with at least a theoretical support for the concept of the "self-made man" who through his own efforts/merits (developing his innate abilities) is able to move from the lower or middle classes into the successful elite. This type of social mobility has historically been widely accepted by traditional American conservatives, not least because it actually affirms many of the arguments in favor of "natural social adjustments" and against government action to modify the process.

Common corollaries of this class of traditional conservative view also include the "rising tide lifts all boats" concept of wealth-building economic activities initiated by actions of already-relatively-wealthy business leaders, which also benefit participants in the middle and lower classes, and the generalized distribution of (relatively cheap) new technologies in ways which benefit users of all social classes. Although those who most successfully exploit these processes thereby increase their relative individual wealth from the process, the larger numbers of the middle and lower classes means that their members can realize (under favorable circumstances) substantial net gains in their own economic situations, which cumulate to a greater total wealth increase at those lower social levels than at the higher ones.

It doesn't always work this way in practice, but the concept represents a profoundly conservative approach to implementing, and accepting, certain types of social change.

#169 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:45 PM:

I can guarantee that you will not enjoy reading it.

I don't doubt that. Apologies for addressing the earlier speculations. No need to reply--the work's piled high, so I'll slip away from the party now.

#170 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 07:49 PM:

Xeger: I was thinking mostly in terms of fiscal conservativism, but the thing is, the fiscal restraint represents at least some protection against the potential excesses of social conservativism.

And as Leroy F. Berven points out at #168, traditional social conservatives did have a soft spot for the middle class. and the chance of social advancement in general, while the neocons are actively hostile to both.

#171 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Lee #152:

I've certainly heard plenty of females express the belief that there's relatively little difference between the parties. I did a few minutes of googling without finding any useful survey results on how many people thought there was little or no difference between the parties. Perhaps a first cut of this would be a demographic breakdown of Nader voters in 2000? I'm not entirely sure that's going to give you a solid bloc of straight, white Christian men, though....

More fundamentally, I'll admit that the way you attribute this view to white male privilege strikes me as both kind-of offensive and very unlikely to yield any great insights about the world. (For example, what do the racial breakdowns of Prop 8 votes in California say about whether support for gay marriage is a matter of white privilege?)

What I've not seen anyone here say is that there are no important differences between the parties. What I have seen is several people saying that there are many areas in which there are no differences.

Of course, this is wrong. Which is why now that we've got a united Democratic government, we'll see an end to our interventionist foreign policy, all the nonviolent drug offenders turned out of our prisons, and no more huge bailouts for the huge financial companies that have given so much money to both parties over the years. It's why all those troops are in the process of leaving Iraq and Afghanistan right this minute, why the Cuban embargo has been lifted, why don't-ask-don't-tell has stopped, why the tax code will soon be wiped clean of loopholes, why lobbyists will no longer be writing the legislation that covers their industries, and why there won't be any more bills which are pushed to a vote before anyone's even had a chance to read them.

Now, this is all coming from a straight white male, and so it's probably privilege talking. Indeed, it's often much more convenient to discount someone's political positions on the basis of their gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation than to actually try to understand it and see if there's really any truth to it.

#172 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:16 PM:

David Harmon @ 166: "My basic point is that old-line conservativism is a respectable political ideology -- not one I particularly agree with, but it's been around since our founding, and has held power without wrecking the $%&*($) country."

Which is to say, real conservatives are interested in maintaining the traditional power structure through relatively invisible and non-invasive means, much like a gardener who prefers hand-weeding to pesticide. They're the sane billionaires Patrick mentions @ 125.

xeger @ 167: "Could you expand a bit on whether you're meaning fiscal or social conservatism, or both? My seat-of-the-pants read is that it's more about social conservatism than fiscal conservatism..."

I don't believe that there is a distinction between the two. Conservatism is ultimately about preserving the status quo power structure (or re-establishing the power structure of yesteryear): both social and fiscal conservatism are just sub-strategies. Fiscal conservatism maintains the status quo by defanging the most dangerous source of social change--the government. Social conservatism does it by normalizing the status quo--convincing people that they way things are is either the only way it can be, or the best way.

Leroy F. Berven @ 168: "In most flavors of traditional American conservatism, this has traditionally co-existed with at least a theoretical support for the concept of the "self-made man" who through his own efforts/merits (developing his innate abilities) is able to move from the lower or middle classes into the successful elite."

It's not really actual support for self-made men though, it's a just-so story in support of the way things are. If any man (notice that gendered pronoun) hasn't made himself, why it's clearly due to his own lack of innate ability or an unwillingness to apply himself! Therefore, the rich have no responsibility for those less fortunate than themselves: they are only poor because they lack the capacity to be otherwise. Status quo Natural order re-affirmed.

#173 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:22 PM:

heresiarch @ 172 ...
Hm. I think we're using slightly different definitions here. At least as I see it, fiscal conservatism doesn't need to have a tie to social conservatism in any respect -- and similarly, being socially liberal doesn't immediately imply fiscal irresponsibility.

#174 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:42 PM:

heresiarch @#172: Which is to say, real conservatives are interested in maintaining the traditional power structure through relatively invisible and non-invasive means

Yeah, basically. About those "just-so stories" -- remember that stories are important! Having that Horatio Alger meme in their mythology is significant, in that it provides a loophole to allow for at least some movement within the class structure. And that "safety valve" in turn can protect a conservatively-led society from outright revolution, by co-opting the ambitious.

Again, none of this means I agree with their position -- but I have to admit that such a society is at least tenable (capable of long-term survival), if not terribly pleasant for those on the bottom (or the "outside"). In contrast, if there's no hope of advancement, then the only option for ambitious underdogs is to overthrow the system entirely. (Whether the new system will itself be tenable is quite another question -- q.v. French history.)

#175 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:48 PM:

Heresiarch @ 172: both social and fiscal conservatism are just sub-strategies. Fiscal conservatism maintains the status quo by defanging the most dangerous source of social change--the government. Social conservatism does it by normalizing the status quo--convincing people that they way things are is either the only way it can be, or the best way.

That's going in my permanent quote file.

#176 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 09:50 PM:

Will @ 126: So, do you think Af-Pak counts as a big improvement because the US will be practicing regime change in a new land, or is it no major change because we'll still be protecting the empire and feeding the military industrial complex?

False dichotomy.

Can I just sigh and say at least it's not Iran?

#177 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 10:06 PM:

Will, #156: I think you missed an earlier exchange in which I said that I didn't recall ever hearing anyone but a straight white Christian male say that there was no difference between the two major parties. (And while you might not have said it in so many words here, you definitely did, multiple times, in the Nader threads; I think it's reasonable to believe that your opinions haven't changed that much since then.)

But the phenomenon of memory bias (aka "counting the hits and forgetting the misses") is well-documented, so I have resolved to keep a closer eye out for incidences of that claim, in order to see if my memory is being accurate or not. I've seen you, so I know that you're a white male; you're married to Emma, so you're arguably either straight or bi, and statistically, straight is more likely; I haven't paid enough attention to what you say to garner any information about your religious views. This has nothing at all to do with either Democrats or Republicans.

#178 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 10:28 PM:

Lee @ 177: I didn't recall ever hearing anyone but a straight white Christian male say that there was no difference between the two major parties

I thought through the four people I know who supported Nader in the Bush v. Gore election. The first 3 met your criteria, but the 4th didn't. However:

1. That was before Bush was elected, and she was treated to what a neo-con in office can do.
2. Though female, she is white.
3. She was very young and very left-wing in her views.

She's still a good leftie, but now she's 8 years less naive. She still thinks the two major parties are too much alike, but no longer thinks they're identical, and did support Obama.

#179 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 10:32 PM:

xeger @ 173: "At least as I see it, fiscal conservatism doesn't need to have a tie to social conservatism in any respect -- and similarly, being socially liberal doesn't immediately imply fiscal irresponsibility."

Quoting from the Wikipedia page on fiscal conservatism:

Fiscal conservatism is a political phrase term used in North America to describe a fiscal policy that advocates a reduction in overall government spending.

This is a view which is, in isolation, nonsensical. I mean, what's the counter position? Someone who wants to increase government spending, just, y'know, 'cuz? Government needs to be as big as it needs to be to accomplish the goals we set for it, and there's no one out there who would want it to be any smaller, or any bigger. When you make claims about the size government ought to be, what you're really making claims about is what government ought to be doing.

When people say, "I want a smaller government" what they really mean is "I want a government that doesn't do X." Overwhelmingly, X turns out to be entitlements--welfare, social security, medicaid, housing assistance, food banks, and so on. No one wants to cut out road maintenance. The whole "big gov versus small gov" frame is just a way of arguing that the government shouldn't provide entitlements without actually coming out and saying it, because entitlements are wildly popular.

If you're still doubting the truth of this, then I urge you to consider fiscal conservatism in its guise as "supply-side economics," where you cut taxes in order to increase government revenue. The only thing that has in common with other fiscal conservative policies is that it's wildly regressive.

#180 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 10:50 PM:

One could see fiscal conservatism as defined as being an alternative to positions that are are indifferent to the level of government spending; they are also surely in opposition to Keynesian policies.

#181 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 10:57 PM:

heresiarch@179: Government needs to be as big as it needs to be to accomplish the goals we set for it, and there's no one out there who would want it to be any smaller, or any bigger.

Most of those I've read on the (possibly libertarian-leaning) right would probably say that one of the things individuals within the government want is larger fiefdoms, and that this leads to massive mission creep in all directions.

One their favourite themes is "character" - rugged, individualistic, self-supporting character, naturally, and how this is insidiously corroded by (non-military) government activity and liberalism in all its guises.

#182 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:02 PM:

heresiarch @ 179 ...
I think somebody at wikipedia's forgotten that North America has more than one country in it...

I'm more accustomed to the definition found here:

Fiscal conservatism is the economic philosophy of prudence in government spending and debt.

#183 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:15 PM:

xeger #182: That seems closer to the way I've always seen it defined.

A true fiscal conservative is someone who will say "yes, that's a nice goal, but no, we can't afford it," even when he really means it's a nice goal. Many fiscal conservatives have been raising alarms about the endless sequence of bailouts we're carrying out, with the concern that we can't really afford what we're doing right now. That doesn't imply a desire to see the financial sector collapse.

Now, it seems to me that real fiscal conservatives have had no power in the Republican party for some time, and that they have about the same amount of power in the Democratic party.

#184 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:26 PM:

Xeger, that's twice now you've defined fiscal conservativism in distinctly loaded terms -- first contrasting it to "irresponsibility", then defining it as a "philosophy of prudence". And the second time was after heresiarch's points at #179, about the underlying agenda of such constraints.

My own clumsy attempt at a more balanced definition:

Fiscal conservativism represents the view that the functions of a government should be constrained so as to minimize both its revenues and their expenditures, with particular prejudice against large-scale redistribution of wealth.

#185 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:29 PM:

Whoops, YA editing failure (its/their). :-(

#186 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:40 PM:

abi #158:

Are they, in other words, interested in narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor?

I think this is a philosophical difference between at least some large part of the right and left. Broadly, is greater inequality in the society a bad thing, or indifferent. (I suppose you could also take it to be a good thing, but I'm not sure how many people do.) Specifically, is it better to have everyone better off in material terms, but with greater inequality? Or to have everyone worse off in material terms, with less inequality.

I know that their methods would not be the same as liberals would choose, but my impression was also that they weren't that bothered that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the rest of us.

I'm pretty sure that "at the expense of the rest of us" is also a difference in assumptions. The usual argument I've seen (which I more-or-less think is true, within some limits) is that a better-functioning market and society will lead to more inequality of wealth, but also to greater total wealth. And in fact, I think this is a reasonable approximation of what happened in US society over the last three or four decades; we've become materially wealthier overall (poor people have televisions and refrigerators and enough food to get fat), but inequality has also grown[1].

As long as government wasn't too large or too intrusive on society, and as long as change was minimal and carefully considered, I thought conservatives of the old school were happy?

My sense is also that there's a whole big bunch of conservative populists that aren't all that cool with rising inequality. Indeed, free-market ideas and conservatism are pretty uneasy bedfellows. Look at the massive changes in small towns that came with chains like Wal-Mart replacing lots of small, independent, overpriced, and inconvenient hardware and grocery stores. Or with free trade.

Another facet of conservative thought is that many of the programs that were designed to prevent or aid poverty often have unwanted effects. The classic example of this is welfare programs that provide support for unwed mothers and their kids; it is almost inevitable that such programs will increase the number of unwed mothers, if only by leaving some desperate poor pregnant women an alternative to abortion.

[1] One problem with this is that inequality in wealth doesn't remain just inequality in wealth; it also becomes inequality in political power, in access to the law, in living and schooling and crime (which also lets wealthy decisionmakers shield themselves from the bad consequences of their own policies at times), etc.

#187 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:52 PM:

David Harmon @ 184 ...
Xeger, that's twice now you've defined fiscal conservativism in distinctly loaded terms -- first contrasting it to "irresponsibility", then defining it as a "philosophy of prudence". And the second time was after heresiarch's points at #179, about the underlying agenda of such constraints.

Actually the second definition isn't mine -- it's one I'd quoted from the included link.

That aside, I suspect that what we're looking at here is a cultural difference in understood definition. Heresiach's description doesn't match the common understanding in albatross @ 183's or my neck of the woods.

Fiscal conservativism represents the view that the functions of a government should be constrained so as to minimize both its revenues and their expenditures, with particular prejudice against large-scale redistribution of wealth.

Your definition doesn't match to what I understand and label as fiscal conservatism -- it's not about minimizing revenues/expenditures, it's about being careful about your finances, and spending appropriately[0], where appropriate.

[0] That'd be buying the more expensive shoes that fit well, and will last for years with a resole rather than the cheap, uncomfortable shoes that you'll be replacing every year or less.

#188 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2009, 11:57 PM:

David #184:

I think you need to separate the model of what government must/should/shouldn't/mustn't do from how it all gets paid for; those seem pretty separate to me.

I think of fiscal conservatives as being broadly uncomfortable with both deficits and raising taxes. And at some level, the great betrayal of this idea, IMO, happened when Republicans (I guess under Reagan) decided that they would avoid raising taxes by just deficit-financing their desired spending, rather than by cutting as much as they added in spending.

#189 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:22 AM:

albatross @ 171: "What I have seen is several people saying that there are many areas in which there are no differences."

It's funny, but I can see progress on several of the issues you mention.

"all the nonviolent drug offenders turned out of our prisons"

Senator Jim Webb has started a comission to look into our prison system and discuss reforms, and he's saying that legalizing marijuana is on the table. Also, the Obama JD is easing off of medical marijuana busts in states where it's legal.

"why the Cuban embargo has been lifted"

Obama Calls for Easing Cuba Embargo

"why don't-ask-don't-tell has stopped"

Obama begins looking at DADT reversal. Possibly nothing will happen, but people in Congress is pushing for it too.

"why lobbyists will no longer be writing the legislation that covers their industries"

Obama's strict no-lobbying vetting policy has been effective enough that he's had trouble filling cabinet posts. Also, Obama's Stimulus Steps Hint at Future Lobbying Reform?

It feels like you're holding Obama to impossible standards. Yeah, he's really disappointed on the bank bailouts and the escalation in Afghanistan smells terribly Tonkin Gulf to me, but on a whole range of other issues, he's been quite respectable. No, he hasn't addressed every liberal sore point of the last thirty years, but come on--he's been president for what, two and a half months? Where he has disappointed I'm not shy about taking him to task, but your litany of complaints is a bit much.

#190 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:31 AM:

heresiarch:

I'll be very happy to see him actually make some changes in these areas. All of these (except for the bank bailouts, which weren't an issue before 2007) have been issues where the Democrats and Republicans have not had much difference between them, for at least the last several years. You're right that 2.5 months isn't enough time to make a lot of progress on all these, especially given the financial crisis. But I'm not holding my breath.

At any rate, W also managed to produce more differences than there had been before, by being so disastrously bad on every front. Despite the fact that I'm not a Democrat, W convinced me to vote for a Democrat on every national election since 9/11.

#191 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:32 AM:

Well, I was leaning heavily on heresiarch's remarks about agenda, and I still do think those agendas apply to many if not most real-world fiscal conservatives. (Remember that such agendas need not match the overt reasons for a course of action.)

I'm certainly willing to accept "avoidance of deficit spending" as a basic element of the stance in question... but I have a real problem with redefining fiscal liberalism as fiscal imprudence, because ISTM that historically, American conservatives want to cut entitlements and other expenditures, even when they are covered by revenues.

Of course, that may represent bleedover from social conservatism... even though the two aren't intrinsically linked, American conservatism does tend to feature both together.

Anyway, I'm going to bed now... see you folks in the morning!

#192 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 12:48 AM:

Scott Taylor: I don't know that there is a whole lot more legitimacy to the war in Afghanistan.

The argument was, basically, "We're pissed at someone who you don't want to hand over." It was an expansion of the Bush pere, "Noriega Doctrine" (i.e. we get to declare a nation's leader a crook, and engage in a no-knock warrant; in which we shoot all sorts of innocent bystanders, because we did it throughout the entire city, not just the building he was in).

What's worse, the Taliban didn't outright refuse to turn him over, they merely asked for evidence before they did so.Given the mood of the US, at the time, that seems a reasonable precaution to have taken.

Re the two parties: The places in which they are alike seem to be the result of the ways in which the two parties fight. The republicans have effectively made it impossible for the dems to be a serious opposition party; while somehow keeping for themselves the tools they have stripped from the dems.

Until that nonsense gets fixed the republican party is in the driver's seat, and whatever differencets there are will be masked.

The first step to breaking that power grab, IMO, is to remove the nonsense of "The Gentleman's Filibuster' they've been getting away with. Make them rear up on their hind legs and talk; for 24 hours, on every bill they hate. Then table it, bring out something else, and either get that passed, or repeat the process. Make the republicns, "own" their obstructionism.

I swear, if I lived in Nevada, I'd be looking for a challenger to Reid.

Will: re Frost, and the roads. Recall the speaker admits he's glossing the past with a false light. The two paths were both worn, "about the same", an "I shall say I took the one less traveled by".

albatross: What do you mean by the, "racial breakdowns" of Prop.8? Because I ran the numbers and it wasn't as the big splash afterwards made it seem. My breakdown of it is here. The short answer is, blacks accounted for, at most, 150,000 of the 525,000 votes above 50 percent.

As to the issue of, "material wealth" and poor people having lots of good things. TVs and refridgerators and foods that make you fat are cheap. The poor have also been told they need them (and the fridge is needed, the rest, well that's a different thing). When the poor have to have two jobs in the family to make ends meet, and they didn't forty years ago, that's a serious decline in the quality of life, even if they have a TV.

Which is the thing the policies of the "fiscally conservative" (no matter that those who campaigned on that either spent like sailors on liberty, or were hounded out of office for raising the money needed to pay the bills) have been driving toward.

And not moderating that gap is a bad idea. Ask the tax farmers and nobility of pre-revolution Francce what happens when things get too out of whack.

#193 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:30 AM:

albatross @ 186: "Specifically, is it better to have everyone better off in material terms, but with greater inequality? Or to have everyone worse off in material terms, with less inequality."

I would argue that the question is "With what type of wealth distribution does a society operate most efficiently?" with myself arguing that the ideal distribution is significantly more equal a distribution than our present one. (Not, mind you, totally equal.) I take direct dispute with the argument you present, that in general there is greater wealth generation when there is less equality. You point to the last three-four decades as evidence; I point to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

xeger @ 182: "Fiscal conservatism is the economic philosophy of prudence in government spending and debt."

Yes, I know what reasons fiscal conservatives give for why they do what they do; I simply don't believe them.

"Prudence in spending and debt" is a claim in search of an argument--no one disagrees with it in the abstract, and everyone disagrees with it in the particular. It's universally held that the government should only spend money on worthwhile goals, and that they shouldn't collect money in excess of what those goals require, nor less.* The debate does not lie there--the debate lies in what goals are seen as being worth what expenditures.

As a result, fiscal conservatism is used in precisely the same way as the filibuster: whoever happens to be in a position of spending money on something they like/passing a bill they favor forgets all their principled objections to government deficit/the tyranny of the majority. Its use is purely tactical. It's never employed as a principled objection to government spending; it's an objection to government spending on this.

Therefore, the only people who employ it with anything approaching consistency are those who regularly find themselves in the position of trying to keep the government from doing anything at all, i.e. people committed to maintaining the status quo, i.e. conservatives. It's a conservative argument in the same sense "Everybody else is doing it" is: it reinforces norms and prevents change.

*Economic arguments about the benefits of governmental debt excepted.

#194 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 07:34 AM:

189: As far as the anti-lobbying thing is concerned, I think this has to set down as an Obama initiative rather than as some principle of his party. One of the reasons my area has had so many special elections this year is that when the incumbent house representative (a Democrat, of course) lost the primary, he quit his seat so as to join a lobbying firm.

re 184: Your definition is conflating policies with people. Wealth redistribution is an aspect of social conservatism, not fiscal; while they necessarily overlap, and they are generally held to by he same people, it is useful to consider them as distinct principles. If you go around to various blogs and forums where there is a significant fiscal conservative presence, you'll find lots of people who think the government should be run with the same sort of prudence that a household budget should be run.

re 177: It seems to me that you are grossly overestimating the amount of allegiance that straight white females give to liberal positions. I'm hesitant to say anything much about blacks, as what I do hear is either as privileged as I am (if not much more so), or heavily filtered through MSM welfare perceptions; but I would note that polling on Prop. 8 voting suggests that black as a whole are not, for instance, signed onto Democratic Party platforms about sexuality.

But white women: that Sarah Palin-- and ain't she a woman? Every polling number I can find says that women may have a minor bias towards Democratic candidates, but that it's no more than a bias. I don't know whether I've found women saying that both parties are much the same, but it's certainly easy enough to find women on the far right.

#195 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:13 AM:

xeger @173 — “At least as I see it, fiscal conservatism doesn't need to have a tie to social conservatism in any respect -- and similarly, being socially liberal doesn't immediately imply fiscal irresponsibility.”

Recording dissent here to equating fiscal non-conservatism with “fiscal irresponsibility”, common tho' 'tis.

And agreement with heresiarch @172 on the mythos of the “self-made man*” (*Margaret Hilda Thatcher née Roberts, LG, OM, PC, FRS, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven being a rara avis womanly exception).

#196 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 08:55 AM:

Looking back over this discussion, I find myself feeling distinctly out of my depth. However, heresiarch #193 has clarified my complaint about xeger's chosen definitions, better than I could have:

"Prudence in spending and debt" is a claim in search of an argument--no one disagrees with it in the abstract, and everyone disagrees with it in the particular. It's universally held that the government should only spend money on worthwhile goals, and that they shouldn't collect money in excess of what those goals require, nor less.* The debate does not lie there--the debate lies in what goals are seen as being worth what expenditures.

Now, the issue has been badly muddied by the neocons (I think we can all agree they are not fiscally prudent, by any definition). But even before them, the real conflict seems less about "what we [the gov't] spend" than about "what we buy". And, pace C. Wingate #194 et al., I'm now starting to wonder if fiscal and social conservatism really are all that separable.

Yes, living within your budget is a good thing -- but a government is not a household, and our modern government does not share the "hard" fiscal constraints of an individual consumer (or household). Deficit spending is something a government can do, with given hazards and advantages.

Advantages? Consider that demanding a strictly balanced budget has the effect of punishing any politician who seeks new expenditures, by requiring them to "find" new revenues immediately. The "offender" can then be duly pilloried for that -- every claim of "new services" can be answered with "oh, you mean new taxes!" (The neocons, of course, worked the hell out of that one to abuse the Democrats, even while they were breaking the bank themselves.) In contrast, deficit spending lets a government "buy" public goods up front, and figure out later how to pay for it equitably. That works a lot better for a government that for an individual!

PS: Firefox keeps poking me for typing "conservativism" instead of "conservatism". Does anyone else smell a semantic distinction in there?

#197 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 09:13 AM:

heresiarch #193:

Right, that's a second difference in worldviews: I think free market types broadly tend to believe that the same set of policies that makes the society the wealthiest also increase inequality, and also that inequality is morally neutral. However, those are two different views, and they can be held independently. Frex, my sense is that a fair number of center-left economists think that policies that maximize wealth also increase inequality, but that inequality is a bad thing, and so might advocate a combination of inequality-increasing free market policies and inequality-reducing progressive taxation.

On the other hand, some paleocon/populist right types seem to think that great inequality in wealth has led to bad government policies, because the wealthy can shelter themselves from the consequences of bad choices. (Thus, if you wreck the public schools with bad policies, your own kids simply continue to attend a well-run private school, so you mostly avoid the fallout of your bad policies.)

Now, all this is made more complicated by the fact that the two big parties give air to only a very small subset of these positions. Frex, there's a thread of populist conservatism which involves concern over inequality and cronyism, but it hasn't had much impact in the Republican party of the last couple decades. Rather like fiscal conservatives in the "don't overspend the budget, don't run big deficits or raise taxes too high" mold have had almost no impact on Republican decisions in the last eight years.

#198 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 09:19 AM:

David #196:

Some Republicans have actually made that kind of argument consistently, on all kinds of policies--saying basically that we can't afford X or X isn't within the powers granted us by the constitution (a different argument!), where X is both stuff the left likes and stuff the right likes. Those guys are, however, on the fringes, folks like Ron Paul with no real voice within the party.

Most of the time, the argument seems to be made in a self-serving way--federalism prevents us enforcing this antidiscrimination law, but not that drug law; we can't afford to provide medical coverage to children, but we can afford a bunch of $2B apiece stealth bombers for which we have no credible use, etc. That doesn't mean that there's not a principled position to be had there, just that (IMO) it's very hard to get and keep political power while sticking to that kind of principled position.

#199 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 09:31 AM:

will shetterly... By the way, should you and Emma find yourself driving thru Albuquerque, New Mexico, you're welcome to spend time in our house. In case you're interested, we've had coyotes give us a concerto two nights in a row. In case you're interested (bis), I think that there are more F/SF authors per square foot in the Albuquerque area than in many more populated parts of the country. In fact, I keep finding one in my bedroom every night.

#200 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 09:39 AM:

Adrian Smith @ 181 -
Most of those I've read on the (possibly libertarian-leaning) right would probably say that one of the things individuals within the government want is larger fiefdoms, and that this leads to massive mission creep in all directions.

I would put a 'some' in that statement (right before 'individuals', and support it by pointing out that this is a recurring theme in nearly any large-scale organization - managers/leaders seek to secure and expand their positions within the organization, and organizations seek to justify and extend their existence, and often seek to expand their influence beyond their original mission directives.

Additionally, nearly all organizations will fight - often quite vociferously - any attempt to limit their mandate or dissolve them - no matter how useless they have become, or how much they might hate some aspect of their mandate (witness the Air Force and their vociferous defense of all transport and ground attack roles as being USAF territory - despite apparently loathing both roles). (Another example is MADD, which had laudable goals in the beginning, but has apparently spun out of control into the new Temperance movement).

#201 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 10:28 AM:

Abi, I hope you'll forgive me for answering the following. If not, speculate away. Charity's hardest to give to heretics, because they shared your ways, then chose others, which, if you personalize things (and if there are humans who don't, I haven't met them), can seem like a cut that deserves a cut in return.

Xeger @163, bingoism's a barbed game. It may be fun to reduce your opponents' beliefs to a few squares on a board, but then they do it to you, and you've both become caricatures, not people. Which is an excellent thing to do if your goal is war, but not so useful for peace. Also, I'll note that Patrick and Teresa have been treated viciously by bingoists. You may think that just means some bingoism is bad, but I haven't seen any that's useful.

Lee @177, the idea there are people who can't see the difference between Republicans and Democrats is like the idea that people who use "color blind" as a metaphor in racial discussions are incapable of seeing skin color (excluding Stephen Colbert, of course)--it's the interpretation of the opponent, not the other's position.

heresiarch @179, I agree with everything you say there, with one quibble about wording: I think "entitlements" is a conservative meme that's far more vicious than "Democrat party." On its surface, it's innocuous, and I wish the word was objective: I do think everyone is entitled to the things that are covered by "entitlements." But conservatives have given it a mocking tone, to imply these are things that society's leeches claim they're entitled to. The clue is that it's used where a shorter word like "program" or "service" would be fine.

Serge @199, offer noted and appreciated! We're awfully fond of a number of folks around Albuquerque. We really should make it to more conventions there.

#202 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:26 PM:

Will @201:
I do not speculate (in other words, attempt to describe your inner state). I may analyze, which is a description of your words and their effect.

It's true that, as Bruce Baugh (I think) once observed, the net is phenomenological. So if someone does a letter-perfect imitation of a troll, congratulations, they're a troll. But I don't really give much of a damn whether you are a saint who in his holiness wants the entire conversation to be about him in order that they partake of his virtue, or a sinner trying to lead everyone astray. If you make the conversation all about you, that's the behavior I'll be talking about.

You're perilously close with the first paragraph of your comment. Fortunately, then you wander back on-topic. Stay there, please.

And don't take me for your enemy because I don't want the thread to swirl around you. Surely you have enough people on the internet who genuinely think ill of you; you don't need to project that onto me.

#203 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:29 PM:

I am, by the way, entirely in agreement with you on the word "entitlements". I'm not prepared to cede linguistic control on that one, if I can avoid it.

#204 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 01:42 PM:

ABI @ 203... Will's comment and yours about 'entitlement' reminds me how we've let the Right define words for far too long. Take 'politically incorrect', with its faux iconoclasm that's just a way to justify nastiness.

#205 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 02:24 PM:

C. Wingate, #194: The "black voters passed Prop 8" thing has been thoroughly debunked and is no longer a credible argument. Regular church attendance is shown to have been a more reliable predictor of voting on Prop 8 than race.

I don't understand why you're bringing in Sarah Palin. She has certainly never claimed that there's no difference between the Democrats and Republicans! And yes, there are certainly women who believe that the Republicans are a better fit with their personal beliefs, but this is orthogonal to my original statement.

Will, #201: All right then; you've repeatedly stated that there is no difference between the two parties, so what DO you perceive as the difference(s)?

#206 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 02:40 PM:

abi #131: ...a person as a monkey carrying a brain in a bucket.

Abi, ow: Tootsie Roll out the nose. Not approved mode of operation. Thank you very much.

#207 ::: pedantic Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 02:48 PM:

Abi... When you say 'monkey', do you mean any non-human simian, or those simians that are not damned dirty apes?

#208 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 03:10 PM:

Actually, the monkey I am thinking of is from the video game Ratchet and Clank 3, and it's only got one eye. But any scampering and unintelligent beast will do.

#209 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 04:57 PM:

What term should replace "entitlements?" I'll admit I'm not quite clear on how this term has become a bad word. I take an entitlement program to be a program whose benefits are guaranteed to its beneficiaries as a matter of law or public policy, with the implication that it would be very difficult or impossible to decrease the spending on these programs. This makes fiscal conservatism (q.v.) something of a lost cause in the US, because entitlement spending on Medicare and Social Security appears set to swamp the whole budget over time.

In general, this has a very different conotation than "welfare program" to me, frex.

#210 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 05:12 PM:

Serge #104:

I think "politically correct" refers to a real, emergent phenomenon in social groups, in which some true statements and honest discussions become unacceptable. In the Rumsfeld Defense Department, the question "what do we do *after* the Iraqi army surrenders" was apparently politically incorrect.

In this sense, political correctness amounts to an excuse not to think about some statement or discussion, and instead to shift the discussion to demanding that the speaker/questioner shut up or be punished.

Now, most things that offend people aren't true statements or honest inquiries, AFAIK. And it's very common to use the claim of being politically incorrect to excuse overt rudeness and saying hurtful stuff for the effect it has on others. In this sense, it's sort of like the claim of censorship--which is used both by people who really are being censored (say, having their books taken off the bookshelves and burned) and by people who are being told they can't scream insults at random passers by on the street.

But there seems to me to be a real phenomenon there, which I'd hate to lose in the shuffle of word changes.

#211 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 05:27 PM:

re 205: Lee, the very page you cite concedes that "As discussed earlier, the 57-59 percent figure — while higher than white and Asian-American voters — is largely explained by the higher rates of African-American church attendance: 57 percent of African Americans attend church at least once a week, compared to 42 percent of whites and 40 percent of Asian Americans." Well, OK, and since blacks do go to church more, race has some predictive value as an indicator of church-going and therefore of views about homosexuality. Explaining the mechanism behind the discrepancy in voting doesn't make the voting pattern go away; they are still admitting that blacks were more inclined to vote against the proposition than whites. More insidiously, they are admitting that blacks are not a bloc when it comes to this issue (just as, I'm willing to bet, women are also not a bloc). All of this is without addressing the substantial discrepancies between this poll and the CNN exit poll which attracted all the attention.

Sara Palin is there because you in particular dragged in the phrase "straight white males". At least on this issue, it appears that straight black males are even more the epitome (modulo difference in church attendance between men and women). Or maybe straight black females. The Democrats get to speak for blacks for historical reasons, but it doesn't mean they accurately reflect net black views on even some important issues; with women, it doesn't even get that far, considering the D/R vote discrepancy among women isn't that large. That's the important point in what I wrote, and the reference you cite is backing me up, if not on purpose.

My original point was more nuanced, for clearly on sexuality the two parties represent distinct positions, and they act on those positions, no matter how significant we feel those actions are. But when 95% of blacks voted for Obama, one has to include that his positions on sexuality were not foremost in their minds.

#212 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 05:54 PM:

re 201/209: I would add that substituting "program" for "entitlement" is obfuscatory. Come up with a different term for that class of programs, and we can talk. Also, that conservatives use "entitlement" mockingly because they don't believe the recipients are entitled is a real policy difference that has to be confronted. If one is embarrassed to say that they are entitled, then I think there's a serious problem; otherwise, it's just another case of Wingate's Law of Pejorative Transfer: "Any word used to avoid referring to something by a pejorative will become a pejorative."

#213 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 06:23 PM:

C. Wingate, #211: I'm not sure what you thought I said, but I'll repeat my original statement:

As far as I can recall, I have never heard anyone who was NOT a straight white male (and at least nominally Christian) make the claim that there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties.

I didn't say anything about women or minorities not being Republican, or not being anti-gay, so your entire comment above is irrelevant.

I have also acknowledged the possibility of memory bias on my part, and am going to be watching more closely for instances of the "no difference" argument being deployed in future.

#214 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 06:50 PM:

Moving backwards:

@212, C. Wingate, if "entitlements" was used for programs for the rich, or for tax breaks that rich conservatives clearly feel entitled to, I wouldn't object to keeping it. Still, what's wrong with simply using "programs" or "services"? When you need to make the context explicit, add "social," perhaps. It's still only four syllables. I agree with you about Pejorative Transfer, but the problem is that "entitlement" was introduced as a pejorative, not that it became one.

@211: I almost quoted the same passage. I'm always willing to consider class in discussing race, but arguing that religion trumps race seems silly to me when there are such clear class factors in religion.

albatross @210, I think this is related: I've become interested in the dynamics of clans, cults, and cliques lately, and I came across the Law of Group Polarization, which seems very, very true. Language Log has an amusing story about Freepers in a short post here.

Lee @205, prob'ly best you reread my older comments or let this drop.

#215 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2009, 10:42 PM:

Terry@192: What "gentlemen's filibuster"? What I'm pissed at right now is that the Republicans have had the guts to actually filibuster, and Reid didn't pull the nuclear option that the Republicans were always (quietly) threatening.

albatross@210: IMO that's a bad example. Anyone could ask that question, but they'd just get the answer that everything would be peachy-keen. (On the evidence, Rumsfeld may have been stupid enough to believe this.) IME (narrow as it is), "politically incorrect" refers more to things that question the good qualities of a definable group of people (however suspect that definition is, cf discussion a while back about how invalid "race" definitions are) not at the discussion, not simply a what-color-is-the-emperor's-vest.

#216 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:06 AM:

C Wingate @212:
...that conservatives use "entitlement" mockingly because they don't believe the recipients are entitled is a real policy difference that has to be confronted. If one is embarrassed to say that they are entitled, then I think there's a serious problem...

The use of a group term allows conservatives to smear the best of them with the stigma of the worst, then do a wide-eyed "are you embarrassed?" thing.

What we should do is list the programs we're discussing and discuss them individually, because they're not a good "class".

When I hear "entitlement program", it seems to cover, intra alia:
* welfare, whose value is honestly debated
* unemployment benefits, same, though I think less honestly
* social security, into which people have paid; it may be a pyramid scheme but retirees have done their part of a bargain
* Medicare and Medicaid, which is simultaneously used as a strawman "universal medical care" and decried by opponents of health care reform
* universal medical care, which doesn't exist, and doesn't have any funding mechanism as a result

In other words, the only thing that really groups them together is that conservatives want to class them with welfare rather than discuss why people might be entitled to them. It's a smear, which is why it feels like one.

Ditch the term and discuss what you're talking about, that's my vote.

#217 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:14 AM:

C. Wingate @ 194: "As far as the anti-lobbying thing is concerned, I think this has to set down as an Obama initiative rather than as some principle of his party."

Argument creep: your original assertion was "there's not a lot to choose between late Bush admin substance and early Obama admin substance." It's about Obama, specifically, not the Democratic party as a whole (except insofar as the two are similar), and to switch arguments at this late stage is very poor form.

"Your definition is conflating policies with people."

No--my definition is judging policies by their effect on people. I think it's a perfectly valid criteria.

albatross @ 197: "However, those are two different views, and they can be held independently. Frex, my sense is that a fair number of center-left economists think that policies that maximize wealth also increase inequality,"

True. However:

"Now, all this is made more complicated by the fact that the two big parties give air to only a very small subset of these positions."

And this is my point: I'm not terribly interested in debating the relative merits of political philosophies that don't, functionally, exist at this moment in history. "Fiscal conservatism" as it exists today is used almost exclusively as a tool within the larger conservative strategy. That's what matters to me--how it is used.

will shetterly @ 201: "I think "entitlements" is a conservative meme that's far more vicious than "Democrat party.""

No argument there. I used the word deliberately, to mimic the flow of the typical conservative argument: "We must control spending by cutting programs, so let's cut out those programs that assist people who don't deserve it: entitlements."

(I do think that there's an opportunity for a bit of political jujitsu along the lines of "Republicans hate entitlements--they don't think anyone is entitled to government aid," but if wishes were fishes...)

#218 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 03:00 AM:

albatross @ 209: "because entitlement spending on Medicare and Social Security appears set to swamp the whole budget over time."

Arrgh! Stop referring to Medicare and Social Security finances together like they have anything in common! They don't! Social Security is one of the most financially stable programs in the federal budget--as I have already explained to you. Repeat with me: Social Security is funded through 2070. Medicare and Medicaid will swamp the federal budget in a few decades. This is part of the general growth in American healthcare spending, not due to government policy.

(As an aside: the continued attention that fiscal conservatives pay to dismantling SS despite its rosy financial prospects is one of the things that make me suspect that maybe they really aren't all that concerned with government debt after all.)

C. Wingate @ 211: I really don't think you're getting the point Lee is trying to make.

As I understand it, it goes something like this: If the two issues of most pressing political importance to you are the financial bailout and foreign wars, then it's pretty easy to think that there's been a lot of similarity between Bush and Obama. If the two issues of most pressing political importance to you are, say, immigration and equal pay for women, then the differences are incredibly stark. Same if you're deeply interested in ending human rights violations, passing healthcare legislation, strengthening GBLT rights, legalizing marijuana, strengthening unions, and so on.

Now, it's entirely possible that an immigrant Latina trying to organize a gay-friendly union would nonetheless still find the bailout and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan the two issues that she was most passionate about, but even then, she wouldn't be so quick to deride the progress Obama has made on all those other issues that also matter to her. A straight white male, for whom women's or immigrant's rights aren't directly relevant, is far more likely not only to consider the bailouts and the Iraq war the most important issues, but also to dismiss the progress Obama has made on other issues as "sops to special interest groups" or forget it altogether.

#219 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 07:40 AM:

heresiarch #218:

They have two fundamental things in common:

a. They're entitlements in the sense that I was using the word--we've committed to that spending, and it's pretty much unthinkable that we won't follow through. (We may manage to spend less on providing the medical care obliged by medicare, but we absolutely have to provide the care, and so far, we've had no luck cutting those costs.)

b. They're driven by both demographics (aging population) and politics (older people tend to vote, and will defeat any person or party who suggests cutting those benefits substantially).

This makes it pretty sensible, to me, to group them together.

They also both impose constraints on future spending. Sometime around 2018 (the specific year shifts around a bit year to year), social security will start increasing the deficits; for many years, it has effectively masked them by lending money from contributions to the treasury. That imposes constraints on future spending, if you believe that deficits matter. The fact that we have formally accounted for this doesn't change the fact that it's going to increase our actual deficits (the ones we have to borrow from outside the US government).

Now, you're right that as long as medical costs are rising 2-3 times as fast as inflation at the same time the demographics are shifting toward more people using medicare and more people within medicare being older, medicare is going to swamp social security.

But I don't see why it's dishonest to bring up the programs together, given their effect, which is to move more and more government spending away from voluntary stuff that congress can decide to do or not do, and onto stuff that's already been committed to and that is extremely hard to change. I understand there are bad people who argue this way in their attempt to, say, privatize social security (damn, just think how much better off we'd all be if all those retirees were depending on their stock portfolios right now). But the problem there is the attempt to privatize social security, not pointing out that these two programs have a broadly similar impact on future spending.

#220 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 07:40 AM:

I stopped being embarrassed about "entitlement" after the first few times being on Medicare saved my life. Voting to defund Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security to benefit the rich is conspiracy to commit negligent homicide, with a side order of depraved indifference. When someone takes that political position, they are directly threatening me. As one might reasonably suppose, I do not like that.

#221 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 07:50 AM:

re 218: SocSec is not as bad a problem as Medicare, and given that the latter has an extra contributing factor, it's likely to stay that way. But the theory that SocSec is not in any trouble is, I think, too rosy. When someone is saying that it's funded until 2070, they are talking through their hat; one can perhaps predict the demographics that far out, but the economy? Now, the fiscal conservative thing about privatization seems to be equal parts rock-headed budget principle, dogma about public-vs.-private efficiency, and neocon lust after more money to speculate with. I don't agree with any of the three, and thus I think privatization is a dumb idea; but I think SocSec's current deficit falls into the "we need to keep an eye on this and think about how we're going to reduce it" level of concern.

WRT your explanation of Lee's argument: there is a substantive disagreement in here, because I think that the items in the list of differences which would require congressional cooperation to happen stand a good chance of not happening, and especially those which substantially involve money. The civil rights issues and some of the homosexuality issues can be resolved by executive fiat; decriminalizing marijuana requires getting congress into the act. Health care and unions are too tightly tied to the economy to not be influenced by the same forces. I'm sure that Obama wants to have an effect in all of these matters, but it also seems to me that it's likely that he'll never get around to them, and that when he does, he may well be thwarted by parts of his own party.

#223 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:40 AM:

General Comment/Aside: I think it may be worthwhile to break discussions of political terminology into two categories:

Useful: Pointing out to me that in adopting some terminology, I'm also adopting a bunch of unspoken assumptions with which I don't agree.

Not Useful: Attacking me for using terminology you don't like in the midst of a substantive disagreement about some policy or idea.

In the first case, you make it easier for me to take care to say exactly what I mean, and to guard against unstated assumptions slipping into my thinking. In the second, the argument shifts from some real question to what terminology I should use to discuss it. That second case never seems to convince anyone, and its main effect is to destroy potentially-interesting discussions in favor of arguments over terminology.

#224 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:50 AM:

CHip #215:

People very rarely get fired from their prestigous jobs for simple rudeness, but can get fired from those jobs for making statements that are sufficiently upsetting to current sensibilities (aka politically incorrect), whether true or false or unknown or unknowable. You might ask Ward Churchill or James Watson whether there's a difference between these two, as both men lost their jobs pretty obviously based on making public statements that offended a whole bunch of people. Those cases do not look a bit like matters of politeness or impoliteness.

#225 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 12:49 PM:

C Wingate @212:
Also, that conservatives use "entitlement" mockingly because they don't believe the recipients are entitled is a real policy difference that has to be confronted.

Later thought on the issue: perhaps people who use mockery rather than honest engagement in political discussions should not be rewarded with attention, much less have their terms adopted into the common discourse.

(This is not to contradict albatross @223; there is a distinction between people who use loaded terms to have a dig at others and those who repeat them without understanding the baggage.)

#226 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:02 PM:

In fact, albatross 223 may become a useful link in future political discussions. Good distinction.

#227 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:29 PM:

Albatross @210 - I think the specific emergent phenomena you're referring to is "groupthink", a term that predated "political correctness" by two decades.

The political correctness phrase has, to say the least a bit of baggage.

What concepts are we losing by keeping "groupthink" and stepping carefully away from "political correctness"?

#228 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Fungi:

Groupthink seems like a somewhat different thing, in which the phenomenon I'm describing plays one part. The best term I can think of for what I'm describing is heresy, but that's even more loaded than political correctness.

#229 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:45 PM:

Albatross @228, you may be interested in doing some reading about mobbing. Kathryn Cramer has a good list of links in the sidebar of her blog.

#230 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 02:56 PM:

Fungi @228, just read your links. They suffer from a common problem with rightwing attacks on groupthink: they want to substitute leftwing groupthink with their own. The problem with "politically correct" is not that it comes from communists--fascists and monarchists and dictators of all stripes have always imposed their own form of "politically correct" thought wherever they could. The problem with groupthink is it's groupthink.

#231 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 03:09 PM:

Will, #214: I don't see why you're unwilling to provide something as simple as the differences you see between the two parties, but whatever. I'll just ask you again the next time you float the "no difference" argument.

heresiarch, #218: Thank you, that's a clearer explanation than I appear to be capable of making at the moment. And yes, that is exactly why it chapped my ass when Obama's moves in the areas of stopping torture, improving women's rights, etc. were blithely dismissed as being limited to "special interest groups".

albatross, #224: Or Larry Summers, although it's worthy of note that his sexist faux pas doesn't seem to have done him any lasting harm, given his current prestigious position with the Obama administration. Per your link, Watson isn't doing so badly these days either.

#232 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 04:28 PM:

Lee, sigh, see #117 in this very thread. Look, I know the old "Coke-Pepsi" comparison from years ago wasn't helpful, and I'm sorry about every single failure to communicate I've ever had, but sometimes communication fails. There are differences between Coke and Pepsi, as any serious Coke or Pepsi drinker will tell you, and don't let diet Coke drinkers get into the discussion.

The Democrats and the Republicans are two wings of a conservative capitalist government that both provide limited social support. The Democrats favor more support than the Republicans do. This is good. It's why I almost always vote Democrat. If that's all you want from a government, the Democrats are an infinitely superior choice. If you want more, the Democrats will seem lacking.

Look, if you want to say I said there's no difference, Google it and provide a link. Heck, maybe I did say that at some point, just as I used to use the "colorblind" metaphor. But just as I was and am capable of seeing the color of people's skin, I was and am capable of seeing the differences between the two parties.

Abi, sorry about that. But since you haven't objected to Lee's requests, I hope you won't object to my answer.

#233 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 05:08 PM:

re 223: I'm not even sure the first category is all that legitimate. Generally when such discussions have broken out around me, even when they didn't involve me, they have almost inevitably turned into attempts to impose a third party's alleged abuse of the terms on the speaker. It's not just a matter of common courtesy to begin by taking another's words at face value; it's essential to avoid being captured by one's model of the other person. It seems to me that this is exactly what has happened about the word "entitlements". In looking around (and avoiding leftish cant about war being an entitlement program for the defense industry) it seems to me that there is in fact a lot of neutral usage based strictly upon the characteristics of such programs as far as how they are funded and how the beneficiaries participate in them. Here's an example from a glossary at Auburn. All of the things Abi lists in #216 are (or would be) entitlement programs as this fellow (and from what I can tell everyone else) defines the term, even though they vary considerably (as Abi also points out) in detail. People who aren't "conservatives" (and in our context, this usually means neocon and right-libertarian wingnuts) do use the term simply technically; therefore, the result is insinuations, if not accusations, that anyone how uses the term is a right-wing wacko. Language is reduced to the tactical; and if language is tactical, then all discourse is a battle.

#234 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 05:37 PM:

C. Wingate, when you're dealing with people who consider themselves writers or editors, language is tactical. The ethics of engagement vary enormously, of course.

I wonder about your "rightish cant", but I won't poke at that.

Yes, it's possible to use "entitlement" in a fairly objective sense. But you have to expect people to hear connotation no matter how much you only want denotation. When the connotations are strong and you don't want them, find a word that doesn't carry them.

#235 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 05:58 PM:

C. Wingate, an apology! That should be "leftish cant," quoting you. It's the consequence of a hasty editing of a longer sentence. I realize it may look like a dig now, and I didn't mean that. It simply struck me as a bit of biased language.

#236 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:14 PM:

re politically correct: It's a term which is in mutation. As origianlly used it meant a given position was the correct one for the politics (Hitler was fine so long as stalin liked him, and became anathema the moment he didn't: Deficit spending is evil, unless for "x". When the idea that some words are offensive started to gain traction the Right used that term (and all it's loaded baggage) to mock it.

re the numbers on Prop. 8: One of the memes the opponents pushed was that refusing to pass it would force churches to do things they thought anathema, which seems to have been a large part of the reason so many of the really religious were up in arms about it. They were beig told that they would be required to solemnize marriages they didn't believe in. It was a variant of race-baiting.

C. Wingate: The historical reason would be the Republican Party deciding to use racism as a tool to get elected. For almost 100 years those blacks who voted, voted Republican. They don't anymore. It might be because the Republicans don't represent their interest, more than some strange sort of historical tradition.

re Entitlement: Are you saying people aren't entitled to Social Security, a program they paid for? What about Medicare? Those are the two big, "Entitlement Programs" the Republicans want to, "fix".

CHip: The "gentleman's filibuster" where the dems let the republicans threaten one, and then say, "We don't have the 60 votes needed to pass it." I keep hearing the news (such "liberal" outlets as "All things considered" and Morning Edition" say, "They don't have the 60 votes they need to pass it in the senate." Which is, to be blunt, horseshit. The Republicans are being obstructionist (which they tried to beat up on the dems with... can't oppose us, because being "obstructionist" won't play well in Peoria), and not only getting away with it, but using it to beat up on the dems (can't get anything done), because Reid won't make them actually do it.

The are being bullies, and I'll wager the posturing would stop if they had to be accountable for it. They are blocking things the polling supports.

albatross: It's dishonest to bring them up together because they are very different. SS is funded. It's present funding is the result of a scare tactic practiced by Reagan/Greenspan in the 80s (when the largest tax increase on the middle classes was passed; to "save it"). The present scare tactics are based on the wonderful world of accounting magic, and tossing words like, "deficit" around, and then using the rosy predictions of the stock market to justify "privatising" it, while simultaneously ignoring that such a strong growth would increase the revenues.

Then again, if wages hadn't been stagnified, perhaps the 2070 numbers would be a lot further off.

And Medicare is interesting in that those who use it say it's the best healthcare they've had. They don't have to deal with forms, they get the care they need and fighting the insurer is drasticly reduced (except when the provider fails to properly bill, at which point the hassles go to about normal for getting a charge approved). It would be eminently "fixable" by expanding it to everyone. There would be distruption, but the tax burden needed to fund it turns out to be about what a basic plan for an individual costs, and the benefits of consolidated purchase would make it possible to give better benefits than such a plan.

And most of the civilised world has done just that. Except us. We "know better" which is why drugs made in Canada, cost more (by huge margins) when sold here. Because we have, "the best health care in the world", except for the fact that most of us don't, and a huge portion have none at all.

Personally, I think it a moral wrong that a nation as wealthy as we are can't step up to the plate and fix that. Because you know what, citizens are entitled to it. Just as they are entitled to the SS they paid for, and decent social safety net. Those places which have them, seem to do better than those places which don't.

Britain may have had a rough patch, but they didn't have the sorts of endemic poverty we did? Why? Because they paid the taxes they needed to have the safety net which prevented it, Maggie Thatcher notwithstanding.

re the tactics of language: There's an axiom of Communications Theory: The meaning of the message is the message that's recieved.

Which means you can mean something completely different from what is heard. What your intent was matters not a whit (this is really important when interrogating, if I think I am asking one thing, and the source thinks I'm asking something else, I will either get very confused, or somewhat into the weeds. At its worst it can lead to really bad analysis). So tailoring your speech/writing to avoid those pitfalls matters. Those who insist that they be allowed to be, "politically incorrect" are insisting that everyone else adopt their terms, and be allowed to impose them on others (I see a difference in those who are attempting to make for more correct terms, they are asking the understanding be changed. Some has... we day disabled, rather than handicapped. Some of them are strange, and contrived (differently abled was ill-thought, and has; pretty much, died the death it deserved).

Well, that's no different from the things they accuse the, "Politically Correct" of doing. But when someone does that, they run the very real risk of failing completely to get there message across. He may not mean anything when he calls someone, "A big strong buck," but you'd better believe the black people who hear it will attribute a lot of meaning into it.

#237 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:08 PM:

albatross @228 - It's still not clear to me what concept you think is best described by political correctness, which leads me to think that you'd be better off using a different term that just means what you think.

will @230 - I think we are speaking past each other here. I am on the side of those who consider "political correctness" a Humpty Dumpty-word, which can mean everything from "Suppressing the Truth" to "Don't be openly racist". I'm not taking any position on where the term comes from, I'm objecting to the multiple definitions as well as the troll flags on it.

We can agree on what "groupthink" is well enough to be able to disagree about whether situation X or Y is an example of it. "political correctness" is a term that generates heat rather than shedding light, thanks to a lot of unfortunate associations such as those links I posted. "politically incorrect" is often a synonym for the trollish "I am the one wise person who can break with the group's enforced orthodoxy". "I'm being politically incorrect here, but..." can usually be seamlessly replaced by "I don't want to sound racist/sexist here, but..."

That's a high barrier to reclaiming the term as something useful.

#238 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:19 PM:

I don't know that entitlements is all that good a word to use, but the best sense I can make of it is what heresiarch said @ 218 and in the glossary C. Wingate referenced @ 233. They are programs where the payouts are calculated by a formula fixed in law.

In this sense, the Defense Department budget is not an entitlement program for the military-industrial complex, because they have to bid for each project* and each contract is awarded separately.

*Except for the no-bid contracts to Bush administration cronies; but still, the amounts of the handouts were not set by law.

#239 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:20 PM:

Fungi, sorry I misunderstood. I agree with what you're saying @237, and as far as I'm concerned, "politically correct" can fall into English's dustbin now, and should've gone there in the '90s, at the latest.

#240 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 10:47 PM:

Terry, #236: The reason most black people don't vote Republican any more is the direct result of Barry Goldwater's 1964 acceptance speech, in which he attempted to tar the Civil Rights movement with the twin brushes of Communism and tyranny. This caused the Dixiecrats of the deep South to pack up and move over to the Republican Party lock, stock, and barrel, taking all their dirty tricks with them. Today's Republican Party is the direct descendant of that unholy alliance, which is why it makes no sense to whine about the historical corruption in the Democratic Party as an excuse for current Republican corruption -- it's the same corruption.

Fungi, #237: Similarly, "I don't believe in political correctness" almost invariably decodes as "I'm going to use whatever racist/sexist/generally vicious and trollish language I want and you can't stop me, nyaah-nyaah!"

#241 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 11:48 PM:

re 234/235: I said "leftish cant" not because I reject everything anyone ever said about the military-industrial complex, but because of the over-the-top rhetoric. What I came across was no different in character, really, from the kind of posturing I see all the time in various blogs I follow that have a lot of, well, rightish cant commenters.

I don't know about considering myself a writer or editor, but after two decades of online discourse I'm heartily sick of tacticians. Trying to control the language tends to lead one to misrepresent what other people say.

Which takes me to:

237: I'm having a hard time coming up with a response that's both more engaged and (potentially) less offensive than "sez you", but let me say that political correctness has a lot of other social functions besides trying to take away discourse from the opposition. Personally I think it is far more important as a reinforcement of group identity.

#242 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:33 AM:

So, you don't feel that responding "But that's not what _I_ mean when I say political correctness!" isn't a case of spectacularly missing the point?

Hm.

#243 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 02:07 AM:

albatross @ 219: "They're entitlements in the sense that I was using the word--we've committed to that spending, and it's pretty much unthinkable that we won't follow through."

As opposed to all those programs the government isn't committed to funding, like education and law enforcement and road maintenence and the military?

"They're driven by both demographics (aging population) and politics (older people tend to vote, and will defeat any person or party who suggests cutting those benefits substantially)."

As opposed to all those programs that don't have built-in constituencies, like education and law enforcement and road maintenence and the military?

Those criteria are equally true for any government program: the government is committed to fund all of them, and every one of them has its own passionate constituency. That's why they became law in the first place. In that sense, everything the government does is entitlements: it's all stuff that we, collectively, have decided to give ourselves. It's just a debate about which of it is really worth it.

"They also both impose constraints on future spending. Sometime around 2018 (the specific year shifts around a bit year to year), social security will start increasing the deficits; for many years, it has effectively masked them by lending money from contributions to the treasury. That imposes constraints on future spending, if you believe that deficits matter."

This is like taking to task your youngest child (who has been contributing her piggybank to buy groceries) because her projected college tuition in 2017 is likely to cause financial trouble for the household, while meanwhile the rest of your children are busy selling off the family silver to buy pallet-loads of Beanie Babies off eBay. And your wife has a degenerative medical condition with mounting expenses. And the house is being repo'd, while also burning down.

Social Security, in the modern US budget, is a model of fiscal probity. It's a governmental mandate with a guaranteed revenue stream, stable far into the foreseeable future--fiscal conservatives should fall to their knees before it, weeping at its unspeakable beauty. The fact that in a decade, it might have to start dipping into its trust fund* to cover its expenses, thereby mirroring in some small way the wild deficit spending of the rest of the federal budget, is a cause for concern in the same way that the hangnail on a bullet-riddled ER victim is.

*Oh yeah, did I mention that? 2017 is when outgoing payments exceed inlays, but the trust fund is projected to cover that gap until 2041. Then we would have to decrease benefits to 78%. Gasp! Horrors!

#244 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 08:01 AM:

re 243: I really don't understand why you are trying to claim that a constituency is the same as a body of beneficiaries, because it plainly isn't. Constituencies are of course not unimportant, but they get ignored or stiffed as it is politically expedient to do so. In the budgetary pecking order, they have to get in line behind beneficiaries, for whom the law already say that payment must be made. Thus it is the case that roads, having been built, are maintained not by the mile (as would be ideal) but also in proportion to how much money is there to spend. When fiscal times get tough, counties cut back on road maintenance.

SocSec does have a guaranteed stream, as long as someone doesn't change the law (which politically would of course be very difficult). The size of that stream is of course dependent on the economy, so in that sense it isn't as secure as all that. Anyway, the point in arguing about SocSec is to taint discussion of other entitlements with wingnut ideas about making changes to SocSec. Neither Albatross nor I are in fact suggesting any great changes, or maybe even any small changes: his operative phrase was "if you believe that deficits matter." From my Keynesian perspective, they don't matter as much as the naive fiscal conservative view thinks, but I suspect there is a point at which continually running a big deficit starts to be a factor in how the economy works (and I think we've been there). And the perception is not unimportant, because the naive view isn't ever going to go away. But neither of us (I suspect) has any truck with privatization, which is plainly a coalition movement of the financial sector and people who don't expect to rely on SocSec to get more money for speculation.

#245 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 08:33 AM:

C Wingate's quote above summarizes most of how I feel about social security privatization, too. The motive is some mix of ownership society rhetoric and desire by the financial industry to have a lot more money to play with. I'd also add that social security is not a pension program with contributions matching payouts, it's a don't-let-old-folks-starve program. When you understand that, you understand that private retirement accounts (which are a good thing that should be encouraged more than they are, IMO) are just a different sort of animal from those.

If your goal is an ownership society, then I think a far smarter move, politically, would be to leave social security alone, and move to make it easier to save more money in some tax-deferred way. Ideally, there would be one generic way to do this, and it would allow a lot of money to be saved; it's nuts to put limits on how much I can save for my retirement per year in a tax-deferred account that are anywhere close to the current limits, given the number of people who have highly variable income streams (consultants, salesmen, realtors, etc). If the goal is to end up with fewer people dependent on Social Security and more people with a stake in the economy via retirement accounts invested in the stock and money markets, making it easier to save more tax-deferred would make a lot of sense. Ideally, this would be in one big account, instead of a different one for your IRA, medical savings account, and college savings account.

Now, I'm nowhere near as smart about politics as Karl Rove. So when the Bush administration pushed moving Social Security to private accounts, my guess is that they understood that this wasn't a good way of achieving their stated goals, but that their unstated goals were probably more important to them. I'll admit to some bias here, though--I find it almost impossible to ascribe good motives to those guys, which is surely unfair in some cases.

#246 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 08:42 AM:

heresiarch #243:

If you're thinking about future government budgets, I think Social Security and Medicare are in a very, very different category than Transportation Dept. funding, say. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is true for almost anyone seriously thinking about government budgets, from as far left as fits into congress to as far right as fits into congress. It's useful to have a word to express that idea. If "entitlements" ain't it (and it is, as far as I can tell, in the big wide world), then we need another word, or we will find it hard to discuss future government budgets.

#247 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 09:15 AM:

Lee #223:

Yeah, though my not-too-informed impression is that Summers lost his job for a lot of other reasons, and that the flap over his comments on women in science was a relatively small part of that.

The thing that's common about all these examples, as well as cases like the massive flaming Bill Maher's comment got (when he pointed out that flying planes into buildings required far more courage than launching cruise missiles from a ship), is that the anger isn't fundamentally about whether the comment is right or wrong, or can be backed up by the evidence, or is even defensible. The Churchill quote is a moral statement that probably can't be evaluated factually, the Watson and Summers comments were phrased as speculations (and Summers' sounds much more reasonable when you read the whole statement, while the quotes from Watson make him sound a lot worse than his broad thesis would suggest) about factual questions for which I don't think there's any conclusive answer in either direction, and the Maher quote seems to me to be obviously true. The offense comes from saying stuff that violates common sensibilities, and the response to it looks very different from either:

a. Making incorrect or indefensible statements. (This happens all the time, rarely with big consequences.)

b. Being impolite, even very impolite. (Again, impoliteness is not all that uncommon, and it rarely gets you fired; certainly not with the sort of reaction that Watson and Churchill got.)

Another interesting phenomenon w.r.t. this is that people attacking someone for violating group mores or beliefs will often use remarkably shabby logic or data. Frex, remember all the folks on the right during the runup to the Iraq war who would call any opposition to the war treason, or claim that people who opposed it were "blame America first" liberals? That didn't make much of an argument, and wasn't convincing outside the set of people whose values were shockingly violated by someone opposing a war against Muslims in the post-9/11 atmosphere. But within that set, somehow the taboo violation made the argument seem to make sense. In a similar way, after the publication of _The Bell Curve_, I saw folks attacking it because Herrenstein was not an expert on psychometrics (though he was a psychology professor at Harvard). None of those people seemed upset at the other famous book about IQ written by a Harvard paleontology professor, _The Mismeasure of Man_[1].

My sense is that this happens because really offensive or upsetting subjects are hard to think about rationally--it's easy to get angry and outraged, and you don't do your best reasoning in that state. (This is why lynch mobs don't generally lead to justice.)

This phenomenon is a component in some kinds of groupthink, but it's not the same thing as groupthink. It's both smaller (a component in how you keep the group tunnel-visioned into a very limited set of ideas) and bigger (it happens among larger groups that wouldn't be susceptible to most kinds of groupthink as I understand the term).

[1] It's not my field, but my limited sense of this is that people who have studied psychometrics in depth have an extremely low opinion of Gould's book, and tend to criticise Herrenstein and Murray's book for overemphasizing the evidence for their thesis and downplaying the evidence against it (reporting estimates of heretibility of IQ from the experiments that showed the highest numbers), while still remaining at least broadly consistent with the available data in the field.

#248 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 09:17 AM:

As a near stranger and infrequent poster to Making Light, I have struggled over the days since Patrick posted these articles, scanning the responses, hoping someone else would find a more articulate way to say what I am about to say.

If the following (or responses) lead you to conclude that I have committed flamer bingo, then I ask the moderators to (Please!) delete this entire post.

The problem I’m having with this entire subject is that there’s an elephant in the room. A dangerous rogue, Republican elephant. One that could easily spark a third World War.

So I’ll start with a disclaimer. I’m the “white female” voice responding to earlier posts. In fact, I’m so white, I have a hard time distinguishing German from Yiddish. Despite (or perhaps because of?) this handicap, it seems I am able to understand a powerful Republican meme that has suffused the last several (at least) decades of the political discourse – a dangerously racist meme. (Did you seriously think racism had been defeated simply because the Democratic Party successfully inaugurated a black president?)

Those who are more articulate than I am have often identified the Bush administration as “Islamofascist”. I always assumed that they were simply traditional fascists; ones who happened to be smart enough to divide to conquer. As a result, I can’t help but notice that, even to my lily-white ears, the names named in the Rolling Stone article are mostly, well, historically Jewish? When I combine this with my understanding that the rise of the third Reich (vast oversimplification alert!!!) was triggered by German hatred and resentment of the power traditionally exercised by Jewish bankers following the first World War, and of the poverty caused by the first Great Depression, I tend to panic when I notice that otherwise sympathetic voices are being co-opted to demonize a poorly-defined group of bad-actors who happen to be bankers with historically Jewish names – at the commencement of what may come to be the next Great Depression.

Sounds reactionary and cynical? Well, it’s always been clear to my lily-white ears that “liberal“ was a euphemism for people who:

1) may be historically Jewish (or worse*, racially** speaking)
2) may have genuine friends who are historically Jewish – or worse*
3) may have doctors, lawyers, bankers, accountants, etc. who are historically Jewish, yadda, yadda – or may otherwise have made money through transactions with those who fit into category #1
4) may be historically Jewish, yadda, yadda, but think they are safe (as collaborators) because they have helped #3 make money

If I am right, and if Obama is unsuccessful at staving off the heavily programmed coming disaster, people in categories #1, 2, & 4 are screwed. People like Presidents Bush, pêre et fils, who fit quite nicely into category #3, will get a free pass under the claim that they were “corrupted” because of #4. The rest of the world is so badly screwed that the word “Holocaust” may take on an entirely more emphatic meaning.

So what are my “lily-white” hands to do in the meantime? As a progressive member of the Democratic party, I cannot help but feel that I have a duty to help unite the party against the continuing, dangerous, racist ideologies of the former regime. I may not like the bank bailout, but I feel a need to embrace Obama’s call for a consensus to fight the threatening tides of the financial storm that would follow if he abandoned the (historically Jewish) bankers who just happen, in concert with people in category #3 above, to have caused the crisis. I need to do my part to “shoulder the burden” when family and friends ask, “but what about our grandchildren?” to explain that even a stagnant recovery that takes decades to overcome is better than the fascist descent into hell that Germany became in the years leading up to WWII.

Because WWIII could be so much worse.

*Yes, Virginia, according to this line of thought, there is a “worse” – and the fact that the Democratic Party embraced one of “them” is critical to the danger of this meme.

**Yes, Virginia, I am aware that “race” is a tribal construct – but then, tribalism is exactly what this meme relies on for power.

#249 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 09:27 AM:

Fungi #237:

I'm in the same boat w.r.t. politically (in)correct. Sometimes, it means "I've decided to crap all over the floor and be offended when I don't get invited back," sometimes it means "I want to argue an unpopular position without having anyone feel free to argue back," sometimes it means "I don't want to have to take others into consideration in my words and actions." And sometimes, it means "I want to talk about stuff that p-sses people off but is important, and I'd like to do so without losing my job, having my public talks disrupted, or being threatened with violence."

I suspect that it's impossible to support that last without some tolerance of people being intentionally offensive. It's like the whole idea of tenure, which ideally should protect professors who are expressing ideas that offend the hell out of everyone. That inevitably will be used by some people who just like to stir up sh-t, or who like to strike a radical pose and say crazy nonsense as part of their image. But getting rid of the crazy offensive nonsense will also get rid of the uncomfortable truths, because when you are massively offended and upset, it's really hard to distinguish between them[1].

But I don't really know what other term to use. As I said, heresy catches the same meaning. And just as with political incorrectness, many a self-described heretic is just stirring up sh-t, or is nuts. Protecting the good kinds of heresy means allowing cults and crazy streetcorner preachers.

[1] It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

#250 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 09:39 AM:

LLA #248:

I believe Jews are disproportionately represented in finance (a higher percentage of bankers are Jewish than the population at large--this happens in a bunch of fields), but the finance industry isn't close to majority Jewish. More fundamentally, there's not really a large historical antisemetic movement in the US which could easily be whipped up to blame all our problems on the Jews. (By contrast, there *is* a large historical anti-black movement in the US.)

That said, the administration absolutely should protect the rights of the bankers, and should not take part in populist crap like taxes targeted directly against a small set of people who've p-ssed off the people or Congress. But I just don't see the danger of mass-movement antisemitism in the US. In 42 years of being passably aware of my surroundings, I've heard tons of anti-black racist comments (and that stuff is overwhelmingly socially unacceptable in middle-class white society). The most negative stuff I've heard about Jews, outside of crazy screeds on the net, is the vague sense that they make a lot of money and the complaint that they have caused us to be too friendly toward Israel. I don't think you could whip up that kind of mass hatred toward Jews in the US without some kind of massive decades-long campaign of hatred. The folks that I suspect are the most inclined toward that sort of mass movement are lower-class evangelical Christian whites[1], whose current beliefs and teachings are not remotely antisemetic, so that would be a huge uphill struggle; whipping up the hate would cost you voters/viewers/readers for many years before it started to pay. So I don't think this is a big threat.

[1] Probably, this reflects my own looking down upon people below me in the hierarchy.

#251 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:41 AM:

C. Wingate @ 244: "I really don't understand why you are trying to claim that a constituency is the same as a body of beneficiaries, because it plainly isn't."

Well, the easy answer is, I'm not. The term I used was "built-in constituency," in response to albatross's mention of "older people [who] tend to vote, and will defeat any person or party who suggests cutting those benefits substantially." The "beneficiary" part falls under point A, in the sense that we are committed to pay future costs--just like any other budget item.

"When fiscal times get tough, counties cut back on road maintenance."

County and state governments are different from federal government in a number of ways; this is one. The federal government only cuts spending when it chooses to cut spending--thus the whole "deficit spending" issue in the first place.

"Anyway, the point in arguing about SocSec is to taint discussion of other entitlements with wingnut ideas about making changes to SocSec."

Nope! As I recall, Social Security (not only privatization, but the entire Something Must Be Done! position) was brought to the fore of the entitlement debates by none other than conservative themselves, entirely of their own free will. Speaking of privatization, I don't think you get to dismiss a policy pushed by a sitting president as an unfair representation of the party's position. It came up in this discussion because albatross brought it up out of the blue with "entitlement spending on Medicare and Social Security appears set to swamp the whole budget over time." This is like saying "soil accumulation from the approaching avalanche and biological topsoil creation appear set to bury your entire house over time." The time scales in question are so different as to render their conjunction ludicrous.

"I suspect there is a point at which continually running a big deficit starts to be a factor in how the economy works"

Me too. Which is, come to think of it, why I'm so intent on healthcare reform, seeing how that's the federal budget item set to grow out of control in the near future.

albatross @ 246: "If you're thinking about future government budgets, I think Social Security and Medicare are in a very, very different category than Transportation Dept. funding, say."

No doubt. However, Medicare and SS are also in rather different categories, and I'd appreciate it if you'd keep that in mind.

#252 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:37 PM:

albatross, #249: It would lend a lot of support to your argument if I had ever seen the term "politically (in)correct" used in any way that would even vaguely support your fourth meaning. But the other three appear to cover its common occurrences very thoroughly, often with overtones of the "Brave Stance" troll-bingo square as well.

#253 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:58 PM:

C Wingate @244:
Anyway, the point in arguing about SocSec is to taint discussion of other entitlements with wingnut ideas about making changes to SocSec.

Interestingly enough, I recall making a similar point back up in comment 216:

The use of a group term allows [insert group name] to smear the best of them with the stigma of the worst...

Thus do I prefer to discuss individual programs on their merits.

#254 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 01:16 PM:

Lee #252:

I'm just saying there's a real phenomenon there that gets caught in that fourth category. I don't know if Watson ever used the term politically incorrect, but certainly many others used that term or the related "political correctness" to describe the reaction to his statements. I really didn't follow the Churchill response, so while I expect he was attacked by the right (and so his defenders probably didn't talk about political correctness but rather McCarthyism or something), I don't really know. But it's very clear to me that it's broadly the same phenomenon in both cases--you say something sufficiently offensive to community standards that you're told to shut up, hounded out of your job, maybe threatened with violence, and effectively silenced.

And the real defining feature here, to me, is that the outrage about the statement serves as a shield against certain ideas or beliefs in the minds of the listeners/readers, and the punishment for making the statement acts as a deterrent for any other statements along those lines.

#255 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 01:20 PM:

albatross, what about "orthodoxy" as a word for the thing that you want to describe that you think is covered by one of the meanings of "political correctness"? In my experience, "orthodoxy" is already sometimes used in that sense, and at the moment, it doesn't seem to have the "I'm being censored" and "inclined to disagree with me" undertones yet. (For some reason, I seem to get a lot of opportunities to post old Brunching articles lately.)

#256 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 02:38 PM:

Albatross #250

I won't be making any statements to defend my comment here.

I deeply want to be wrong.

#257 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:37 PM:

Lee, I've found myself wondering what the difference between Lawrence Summers and Sarah Palin is. And I think it's mainly that Summers is a well-connected white man. They are both stunningly egotistical. But my favorite Summers snark comes from "Thoreau" over at Unqualified Offerings: "[...] maybe Summers advocates pumping money into EPIC FAIL enterprises because men are just bad at math."

#258 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:44 PM:

heresiarch #217:

I'm cherry-picking a comment that seemed interesting and worth arguing with here:

And this is my point: I'm not terribly interested in debating the relative merits of political philosophies that don't, functionally, exist at this moment in history. "Fiscal conservatism" as it exists today is used almost exclusively as a tool within the larger conservative strategy. That's what matters to me--how it is used.

It seems to me that this approach excludes nearly all interesting discussions of politics, including the ones that might move us toward better policies from both parties in the future. For example, I'd like to see a much less interventionist foreign policy. There aren't any big political parties which support such a view, and even within the two big parties, the folks who argue against some foreign intervention are usually either just opposing the other party (see all the Republicans who were against "nation building" right up until we decided to remake the Middle East) or have no real power in the party (see Ron Paul).

But it's still worth discussing whether we might one day have a less interventionist foreign policy, how we might get there, whether it would be a good idea, etc. That doesn't happen if we have no interest in political positions that at present have little or no support in either party, and are used only as cover by people in the two big parties who do have any power. And there are a great many issues like this. Ten years ago, gay marriage was one, and I'm pretty glad that was still discussed, even though neither party wanted to talk about it.

251:

Fair enough. I can definitely see the problem with putting them together in the sense that they represent very different problems, whose solutions are likely to be quite different, and whose urgency is also radically different. Sometime, we ought to deal with that slow tire leak, but we really need to get the engine fire put out first.

#259 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:45 PM:

Randolph #257:

About 50 IQ points, is my guess.

#260 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:57 PM:

Heresiarch @ 243: If we need to find a new word for entitlements -- because we think the category itself is useful but the word is wrong -- let's try to pick a word that focuses on the paying side of the process rather than the receiving side. Something about how the amounts are set by law and expected to continue year to year unless the law is specifically changed.

Suggestions, anyone?

#261 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 11:03 PM:

albatross @ 250: ...lower-class evangelical Christian whites, whose current beliefs and teachings are not remotely antisemetic...

On the surface they are strongly pro-Israel, but the folks at Dark Christianity and Talk to Action can explain why that does not really mean pro Jewish people.

#262 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 12:13 AM:

One of the creepiest plans of apocalyptic religious fanatics is the one where you donate money to bankroll a Russian Jewish family to emigrate to Israel. This is not done to make their lives better, it is done in an attempt to kick-start End Times apocalyptic prophesy. I saw the plan named as part of the "heresy of Christian Zionism" on a Catholic discussion blog recently.

#263 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 02:10 AM:

Allan Beatty @260:
Something about how the amounts are set by law and expected to continue year to year unless the law is specifically changed.

[Spending] commitments?

#264 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 02:14 AM:

albatross, #257: I'd prefer it if it were 50 ethics points. But I'm not even sure that Summers is that much smarter--it takes real dumbth to insult over half the human race.

#265 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 02:46 AM:

albatross @ 258: "I'm cherry-picking a comment that seemed interesting and worth arguing with here:"

I wouldn't have it any other way.

"It seems to me that this approach excludes nearly all interesting discussions of politics, including the ones that might move us toward better policies from both parties in the future."

That's a really good point. Let me put it another way: discussions of what politics ought to be like, and discussions of what it actually is like, are both very important but also very different things. Mistaking one for the other confuses our understanding of both.

More specifically, turning a concrete discussion of "is" politics into a heady, abstract conversation of "ought" politics is a popular diversionary tactic. Instead of discussing what's really driving the supporters of position X, we get sidetracked discussing a whole range of things that might be motivating them. This doesn't clarify anything: it only distracts.

For example, it was very common during the civil rights era for those opposed to desegregation to phrase their arguments in terms of "state's rights" and "reluctance to risk social destabilization." Nonetheless, to engage with the state's rights arguments was to miss the fundamental truth--that while perfectly reasonable and self-consistent beliefs about the importance of state's rights might lead one to oppose federally-mandated integration, no one was actually motivated by such a belief (or at least few enough to make no nevermind). Their claims to the contrary were just attempts to hide their darker impulses behind a noble, more socially-acceptable facade.

#266 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 08:42 AM:

Is there a name for the tactics in LLA's #248 & #256? I feel like I'm being manipulated and I really don't like it at all.

The pings for me are the emphasis on how white LLA is (I don't see why it matters to the argument), the long & careful explanation of why people might attack Jews as a result of the current crisis (it smacks of suggesting it instead of trying to stave it off), and the absolute and utter refusal to discuss the whole thing. (If you don't want to talk about it, why are you bothering us?)

Is it just me that finds it icky and weird? Was I supposed to ignore LLA and hope they go away?

#267 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 12:03 PM:

R.M. Koske, LLA sounds like someone who subscribes to the anti-racist ideology, an approach to fighting racism that many opponents of racism find troubling--see Thandeka's Why Anti-Racism Will Fail for my favorite example. It's very hard to discuss things with them. They're well-meaning, so ignoring them is often best.

#268 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 02:41 PM:

will, that's not really how LLA comes across to me, allthough it might be that LLA is imitating that style in an attempt to connect better with the audience.

Randolph @257, Palin is easier to contain?

#269 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 03:17 PM:

LLA strikes me as genuinely concerned and somewhat hesitant. Her tone is consistent with her previous commenting history (you did check her view all by, right? And find the very interesting story not on it because of an email address typo?)

I don't think that what she fears is likely to come about; the current stereotypical non-integrating religious minority that's held to blame for the ills of the world is...not the Jews. But I can see why it would be a worry, and how someone could pull the threads of history and current events together in that particular way.

(LLA, sorry for talking about you in the third person. This really has been the thread for me doing that, hasn't it? Please continue to comment here; don't be intimidated.)

#270 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 03:40 PM:

Oh dear. No, abi, I didn't check the view all by, for the same reason that I probably didn't read the post with sufficient understanding - it's a busy, busy day in the middle of a busy, busy week at work and I'm using ML for my five-minute sanity breaks. That's not a good reason, but it is the only one I have.

I do remember that story and found it chilling (and I was very glad that LLA had the fortitude to report the troubles up the chain of command.)

Please, LLA, chalk my question up to insufficient care in reading on my part, and forgive me.

#271 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 04:43 PM:

albatross@224: where did I use the word "rudeness", or otherwise argue contrarily to your point in this post? My point was that "political incorrectness" was an unusual term to apply to questions that offend one's boss rather than a larger group -- and that Rummy et al didn't bother being offended (for the most part), but just dismissed the questions.

specifically wrt Watson: he was a jackass when he taught my basic biochem class in 1971 and I've seen no change since then. The one ill-advised remark may have been the tipping point, but I doubt he's much better qualified for high management than a fannish fugghead.

Terry@236: How long should the Senate debate an issue after they try and fail to get cloture, before moving on to other business? (Especially considering that the Republicans have few-if-any bills that could conceivably pass, so they have little motivation to do anything but delay.) You say[1] that the polling is against the Republicans -- but is it against them in their states? Do the Democrats have the ground forces \in/ \those/ \states/ to do a reverse-Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in such a case? This is especially difficult because several of the Democratic senators (not to mention Lieberman-the-alleged-independent) are squishy; I wonder how many would vote against cloture rather than for, if it looked like there were enough liberal Republicans voting in favor to pass it?
Note that there have cloture votes -- which is massive step forward from the Shrub years, when the Democrats refused to filibuster at all. How long to try before moving on is a major judgement call; with the amount of unexpected business the Senate has to get through, I'm not yet convinced Reid is making the wrong choices.
It's possible the Democrats are making the mistake of fighting only the current battles and not the long range; I've read that the ]conservative[ Republicans started doing background work (think-tank papers, pushing arguments, etc.) as far back as 1964, and that the time since 1980 reflects that long-range strategy; but I don't know how visible such a strategy would be to us here/now if it were happening.
I'm not happy with what's happening, but it's not clear to me that you recognize that there has been some movement; how much more movement is possible is much harder to quantify.

Lee@240: To the extent that "historic corruption" was Democratic rather than Republican, it was mostly in northern cities (e.g, Tammany Hall in NYC); why do you say that it moved to the Republicans when the Dixiecrats bolted? (My (very loose) understanding is Democratic corruption was more likely to involve shifting ordinary voters, while Republican was more likely to involve legislators, but that's a statistical difference rather than an absolute.)

Lee@247: I was around for the Herrnstein mess, and had to read the notorious paper, which was an unrefereed pile of tripe (starting with the assumptions that the single-axis measurements of "IQ" are massively relevant to achievement). Gould was also not refereed -- but he spent a too-short lifetime working with the question of what ]truths[ can really be extracted from a mass of data; his thrust was almost always "Can we be sure of this?" rather than "This we know." I have not read TMoM, but it was described by reviewers as at least starting with what people had believed that were shown to be not so -- sometimes by relatively honest mistake[2], sometimes by deliberate cheating[3]. I do not think these two works are comparable.

[1] without specifics, but my guess is you're right for several of the cases.

[2] The pre-Gould example I remember reading about was the IQ test question that asked immigrants to add the missing feature to a sketch of a house; Mediterranean Catholics tended to add a crucifix rather than a chimney and so lost points.

[3] e.g., Cyril Burt

#272 ::: LLA ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 04:55 PM:

Mr. Shetterly & Abi: I thank you for your defense.

Raphael & R.M. Koske: I genuinely do not want to draw the kind of real trolls that an extended discussion, with example and counter-example, might bring out of the woodwork. If you would like to P.M. me, I am happy to give the reasons for my concern.

As I said before, I want to be wrong.

#273 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 05:05 PM:

CHip @271 -- what Lee is talking about is the Democrats i.e. "Dixiecrats" moving to the Republican Party when the Democratic Party took up the cause of Civil Rights.

Many prominent Democrats, like John Connally, former Governor of Texas, became Republicans and ran on that party's platform.

Basically, most Dems who favored segregation and States' Rights left the party between 1964 and 1968. Once they reached positions of power in the GOP, that party suffered a sea-change, into something wealthy and strange...

#274 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 05:28 PM:

Randolph @#264: But I'm not even sure that Summers is that much smarter--it takes real dumbth to insult over half the human race.

Intelligence != smarts! Even intellectually brilliant people can be strikingly foolish. More likely in this case, they can have quite poor judgment about how people will react to what they say. (Why yes, I do resemble that remark, especially on bad days. ;-) )

#275 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 06:06 PM:

Well, to disagree with a lot of people here, I think LLA has a fairly realistic worry.

If you happen to be clicking around news links from Google News as I was, hit some small-town paper stories about the financial crisis, and read some of the user comments on them, you might find you see quite a few comments about "See, this is what the Jewish bankers do. Look at Madoff, they'll even steal from their own people." I did that and seen a bunch of comments like that, and I found that as disturbing a warning sign as LLA did.

Sure, it's not as mainstream a paranoia right now as the fear of Muslims, but the white supremacist groups have never stopped pushing the "Zionist banking conspiracy" line and they are pushing it all the harder with the financial crisis.

#276 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 06:50 PM:

An aside, given heresiarch's comments earlier about how Social Security is pretty well-funded and not remotely a crisis. This Megan McArdle post talks about the state of other pensions, including both state/local government funded ones and private ones. It's an interesting contrast. Where Social Security is a tire with a slow leak that really ought to be patched at our next convenience, I believe some of these state/city pensions have a much bigger impact. And this highlights a problem that happens a lot in investments:

a. You have some need to make X% returns year after year.

b. For whatever reason, at some point, X% returns are simply not available without taking on quite a bit of risk.

c. So, you find some complicated way to get those X% returns while somehow pretending to avoid the risk, or maybe even convincing yourself you have avoided the risk.

d. The higher risk you have taken on has some nonnegligible chance to clobber you. If so, it will likely clobber hundreds or thousands of others just like you at the same time, triggering a massive crisis.

#277 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 07:04 PM:

David #274: Yep, Watson is also apparently a pretty bright guy. Though one striking thing about the Watson case was that every defense of him I saw by people who knew him (Richard Dawkins and Edward O Wilson, frex) started with some politer version of "Watson is a monumental asshole, but...."

#278 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 08:26 PM:

albatross, #277: Ah, the Known Asshole Defense.

#279 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 08:52 PM:

albatross @ 276

While it may be true that total underfunding of public pensions is greater than private, there are a number of corporate pensions and retirement plans which were not mismanaged; rather they were looted. I don't know how many companies or how much money in total is involved, but there are corporate plans which turn out to have less than half the money they're supposed to. In some cases the original investments were replaced by the company's own stock; in other cases the money was diverted to pay for company operations (including executive salaries, of course), and never replaced.

#280 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 11:12 PM:

re PC;What's funny is Ward Churchill was abused because he was being politically incorrect. When he said the West had done things which inspired the ire of large chunks of the Middle East, he was saying something which the pasha's of agenda setting didn't want to hear.

The same was true when Bill Maher said the guys who were willing to fly planes into their enemies might have been mad as hatters, but they were brave. For not being politically correct they were abused; to reinforce the ideas deemed to be PC.

CHip: How long... as I think I said, 24 hours, and then table it. Right now they aren't debating it at all. The Republicans say, "We'll filibuster" and the dems fold. When the Dems said, "we'll filibuster" the Republicans said, "we'll clobber you". The issue isn't a question of cloture, it's an issue of the effective hurdle to getting things done is, "Is it in the interest of the Republican Party Agenda. In effect we still have one party ruling the country, and that's the minority party.

Right now the republicans get to be obstructionist, and blame the dems for being lazy ("they are in the majority, why isn't anythng being done).

I know there are problems (the Blue Dogs, and der Liebermouse: that the Party didn't actively kick him to the curb when he lost the primary, and tell the voters of Connecticut he'd lose his seniority, and committee posts if they elected him as an independant, is one of the singluar signs of Reid, et al, not having as solid a grasp of hardball politics as I'd like. If they'd done that, and then he'd been elected they would have been in a position to dictate terms, but they didn't, and he voted against them when it mattered, and still got to sit in the chairs with the perks, but I digress; bitterly).

I am unaware of cloture votes. What I keep seeing is, "we don't have the votes to get cloture, so we'll postpone the debate. Effectively getting things killed.

#281 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 04:13 PM:

Terry #280:

Yep. It looks like the same phenomenon as with Watson or Summers, but Churchill and Maher were attacked more from the right (very broadly), while Watson and Summers were attacked more from the left (very broadly). And the big point I was trying to make here was:

a. While the terms PC and non-PC are often used for different stuff, there is a real phenomenon sometimes described by them.

b. This phenomenon is often called something else. (In fact, as with Churchill, right-wing defenders of orthodoxy may attack heresy by calling it "political correctness.")

Lee #278:

Well, they weren't using it as a defense (as Megan's[0] comment is describing), more as a disclaimer. Like "This guy is a monumental asshole, and I can't believe I'm defending him, but in this case I think he's being mistreated."

I can't seem to find Wilson's comment in any pure form, but this article includes quotes from Richard Dawkins and Edward O Wilson, among others[1].

One thing I found really disspiriting about these different episodes is how few people were willing to stand up and oppose silencing heretics in the midst of massive public outrage. Each of those cases should have had a lot more people pointing out that, even if they thought the speaker was full of sh-t, they didn't want to see them silenced. My take is that this was because most people inclined to defend them were afraid of the smears they themselves would get if they defended them, perhaps even afraid of the effect this might have on their careers, social lives, etc.

[0] From the Archives was one of my favorite blogs for a long time. Her post on baby hunger was one of the most powerful pieces of first-person writing I remember reading on the net.

[1] It's not my field, but I think many of the comments w.r.t. the underlying science in this and related articles follow the pattern that, when attacking heresy, you are usually forgiven for messing up on both facts and logic. OTOH, I'd rather have extensive dental work without novacaine than get into the sort of flamewar I believe three or the four comments in question could stir up.

#282 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 05:00 PM:

albatross, excellent links. I've become obsessed with mobbing, so I appreciate the link to Watson, and the final bit in that "From the archives" post is great: "Be KIND here. There are plenty of other places for you to leave unkind comments." I may steal it for my blog.

Though an argument could be made that if you truly want to be kind, you have to be kind to the assholes she doesn't want to forgive in her other post. Kindness may be the hardest thing anyone can try to do.

#283 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Will @282:
Though an argument could be made that if you truly want to be kind, you have to be kind to the assholes she doesn't want to forgive in her other post. Kindness may be the hardest thing anyone can try to do.

Kindness is very difficult, sometimes. Usually when it's the most necessary.

It's important, though, to make a distinction between being kind to assholes and letting them continue to be assholes, particularly at everyone around them. One can kindly tell an asshole to quit it, with the due amount of love and affection for said asshole.

And sometimes that's necessary. When being kind to assholes means letting them crap all over the conversation, then being kind to assholes means being unkind to people who don't want to be crapped on. Sometimes you have to make a choice. Sometimes that means kindly telling an asshole to put a cork in it.

For the avoidance of doubt, my use of the term "asshole" (in which I am quoting you) means that I am not talking about anything that has happened in the recent past.

#284 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 05:34 PM:

albatross, #281: Thank you for the link to the baby-hunger post. That's the first thing I've ever seen written about the phenomenon (which I do believe exists, having had several friends who had it to one extent or another) that didn't come off like a backhanded condemnation of the childfree woman as being either in self-denial (because this is a UNIVERSAL phenomenon, yeah right) and/or a selfish, immature, coldhearted bitch (because what REAL woman wouldn't want to have babies? again, yeah right).

#285 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 06:36 PM:

Abi @283, full agreement. I periodically disagree with moderators, umpires, and judges, but I recognize the needs they are trying to balance.

#286 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 07:20 PM:

Lee #284:

Yeah, one of the things I really liked about that piece was that she *didn't* back into some kind of analysis that made her baby hunger The One True Way or made people who didn't feel it somehow bad or unnatural. That's such an easy thing to do, and so tempting to do, when you're faced with intense and painful feelings/circumstances, and it would have made the piece much less effective at explaining her situation and how she felt about it.

Perhaps the second most common way to respond would have been to toss together some kind of rationalization for why her feelings were wrong or imposed on her by someone or something. And again, she didn't do that.

It was a *really* good piece of writing.

#287 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 11:45 PM:

Um.... Summers was "attacked" because he said women weren't getting promoted in fields like mathematics because they were inferior to men. It's not really a function of ideology, save that the right likes to believe there are such differences.

The point I was trying to make is that PC/Non-PC are not useful terms, save in those circumstances where they have been defined in advance (I just saw a reference to, "it's politically incorrect for cops to say they need to shoot more people). The scope of false understanding is too broad, and the almost certainty of derailing any meaningful conversation into strange detours of meaning (or discussions of previous iterations of what was/wasn't PC/Non-PC) too great.

abi: re kindness to assholes. I am tolerant, it doesn't mean they get to abuse me. I don't have to tolerate it. Being willing to let someone be an asshole doesn't oblige me to let them be an asshole to me.

I've been mulling the question of tolerance for awhile, because I really resent it when someone tells me I have to be accepting of something anathema to me, because I believe in tolerance.

There is a linguistic problem to reconcile.

#288 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 03:34 AM:

Will @ 282: In Stephen Fry's excellent autobiography he recounts being told when he first arrived at Cambridge: "Dear boy, don't try to be clever. We're all clever here. Just try to be kind, to be a little kind."

There is a reason I recall this quote nearly word-perfect after five years or so.

#289 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 09:56 AM:

"Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognise this singular truth, and this singular rule: That we must be kind to one another, because each voice enriches us and ennobles us, and each voice lost diminishes us." -- from the "Declaration of Principles" of the Interstellar Alliance, on Babylon 5

#290 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 12:25 PM:

Marna, thanks! I may start to keep a list of "clever and kind" quotes. If so, that'll be included, along with Elizabeth Wordsworth's Good and Clever.

Joel, I like that, but it's the limited form of "let's be kind to the people in our group," which is good, of course, but always makes me think of Luke 6:32-37.

#291 ::: Megan ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 12:42 PM:

Albatross and Lee: thank you for saying such kind and thoughtful things. I didn't especially like the attention I got at the time, so hearing people say that that post moved them balances out some of those feelings. In my favorite few comments, people have remarked that it gives them a new way to relate to a friend who does (or doesn't) want kids. I'm glad the post did something useful.

Maintaining kindness in my comments and myself turned out to be too demanding. I couldn't do it as I developed dislikes for a couple people and didn't trust my moderation. Maybe if I'd had an active practice in my real life (Buddhism or Quaker or something) I would have had worked through it. But in the end, I gave up on comments.

I'm writing in public again after closing that blog, back and forth the clearest, most beautiful voice on the internet. I don't think the form appeals to everyone, but I like the way it directs me. Having a co-blogger feels like shelter, too. The URL is under my name.

Anyway, thanks. (I've talked enough about myself, but also think maybe people who read that post would want to know that I've decided that I'll have children by myself, starting pretty soon. The prospect is daunting (and I may yet back out) but the fear I wrote about has left me.)

#292 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2009, 11:22 PM:

Re our discussion on Social Security, this site lets you play with different policy options to balance Social Security payments in and out. I have no idea how accurate it is, though it claims to be done by the American Association of Actuaries or something, which ought to be a group of people capable of running the numbers on this kind of thing.

#293 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 11:43 AM:

Bruce #279:

Yeah, I think this is part of the same phenomenon. My not-too-informed idea is that both public and private pensions had this pattern, where:

a. The stock market had some good years, and so the pension seemed not to need so much funding. (Note that the stock market has good and bad years, and returns in the good years need to more than cover the losses in the bad years.)

b. The company or government supporting the pension had a shortfall and found that because the pension looked good right then, they could decrease their contributions. This was basically borrowing money from their pension's beneficiaries, but it didn't necessarily look like that on paper.

c. Later, the stock market had some bad years, and the pension started needing more funding.

d. But by then, budget crises, falling sales, etc. made it very hard to come up with the money. So various games were played to not have to come up with the money.

e. Many pensions seem to have responded by chasing higher returns at higher risk, because it wasn't possible to get proper funding.

I believe some cases of (b) also wound up being very opportunistic, as with leveraged buyouts that took advantage of overfunded pensions as one of the assets to use to pay off the loans needed to buy control of the company, but I could be misunderstanding the situation.

It's kind of striking to me to see how both politicians and executives end up coming to the same kind of behavior when faced with similar incentives. In both cases, they will lose their job if too much short-term pain is felt by voters/stockholders, which gives them an incentive to put off pain until the future, even if that makes the future pain far greater. In both cases, we can try to improve the rules under which they work to prevent that, but any such change threatens to bring a whole lot of long-deferred pain down all at once.

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