Friday, March 03, 2006

Posted just in time... Gerrymandering and the "Contract With America."

201817627023164272_JGM4K3RK_cAfter a too-long delay, my lengthy study of gerrymandering is now posted.

See: http://www.davidbrin.com/gerrymandering1.html

This humble effort at political analysis attempts to shed light on a few under-reported aspects of a pernicious practice, including the chief malignant effect... which has been to render most contemporary American legislatures -- both state and federal -- largely ineffective as institutions of representative deliberation.

Can I back up such a bold statement? Recent evidence, includes a plummet in the exercise of Congressional oversight, use of subpoenas and other tools of advice and consent, vanishment of the give-take process of executive veto (none in five years of this presidency), a shifting focus onto graft and a plummet of legislator time spent actually in-session... all of which suggest that the legislative branch may have sunk to levels of self interested torpor on a par with the Roman Senate, during the imperial age.

While gerrymandering has done all this, and a great deal more, the press mostly portrays it as little more than a distasteful game of advantage seeking by the major parties. As a way to tweak a few extra congressional seats for republicans in Texas and for democrats in California. Worse, because the total number of seats that are stolen by the two parties roughly balance out, gerrymandering is portrayed as largely a non-problem.

However, my article shows that gerrymandering is far, far more than this.

Prospects for reform seem especially dim, since this problem actually has very little to do with partisan politics, as we tend to envision it. Rather, politicians of both major parties appear to be in collusion in what amounts to a campaign to protect the members of a professional guild -- the professional political caste. Far from paranoid conspiracy theorizing, this is actually a yawner, a no-brainer, that almost any professor of political science will acknowledge with a shrug. But we shouldn't shrug.

Contained in the article is a list of ten negative effects of gerrymandering upon American democracy, only three of which I have seen written-about in the popular press. Moreover only three others seem to have been discussed even in legal journals!

Indeed, one of the neglected points, could be useful in pressing the current suit before the US Supreme Court, challenging the outrageous Texas redistricting. Yet, I'd wager that it has not been raised before the bench. Alas.

The article concludes with a set of suggestions for how citizens might fight back. The most effective technique may be to reverse the trend of 50 years, toward registering "independent" -- or according to ideological loyalty. Instead, voters may be better served by registering tactically, choosing the party of their district, so that their vote will be most effective and do the most good.

Alas, there is very little time to try this technique during the current election cycle, since re-registration must be accomplished before primary elections. Hence a need for some urgency.

If you like what you read, do pass on the suggestion to others.

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While I am at it -- let me offer you a second dogmatic rant... er, I mean, a second erudite political rumination. This one is less time critical.

It recently struck me that far too little has been said, in recent years, about the impressively powerful piece of political polemic that first launched the neoconservative movement, a decade ago. I am talking about the Republican Contract With America.

At http://www.davidbrin.com/contract.html I have taken the bold step of discussing this historic gambit in the context of our later times.

No, I go much farther. In this article, I lay out a possible way that Newt Gingrich's original document might be turned around and used as a weapon against his political heirs. Heirs who have betrayed it, almost line-by-line.

I look forward to receiving feedback at http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Woot for html!

Cliff McCarthy said...

I encourage everyone who votes in the Democratic primary to attend your precinct's convention afterward. Bring multiple printouts of David Brin's "Democratic Contract With America", and submit it as a resolution to be adopted. This will allow it to be considered at the county and state conventions, which could lead to it being incorporated into the Party Platform. Now is the time to act---help bring this proposal to the Party's attention at the grassroots level!

Rob Perkins said...

Give it to Al Franken? Funnyman that he is, he also takes and discusses stuff seriously and does a decent job of it when he takes the time to lay the jokes aside.

Heck, he's been hinting about a run for the Senate...

Palliard said...

The Republican Contract with America was built on a few exploitable memes that were current at the time:
- That the government takes too much of my money
- That the government wastes that money
- That congress is basically corrupt
The blame for these things was successfully laid at the feet of the then-Democratic congress.

Borrowing the idea of a "Contract with America" is a good one, but in your draft I detect a couple of things that aren't going to get much traction with the general public.

- The subpeona thing has already been interpreted as "the losers are whining because they're poor sports". It's a good idea, but it needs to be spun differently... cast more in the role of an "impartial ombudsman" with investigative authority, who would naturally have to come from the minority party because they have the most motivation to investigate ethics abuses.

- Your "Professionalism Act" sounds like Ivory Tower pomposity as described (or at least it would be spun that way). "How dare the unwashed masses question our professional judgement?" I would present it as the "Anti-Coercion Act" to keep politicians of either party from interfering with the business of public servants who are supposed to be motivated by serving the public rather than a party.

The most exploitable memes I see here are:
- Supporting the troops by bringing our security forces home where they belong, where they should have been when Katrina hit
- Opening the administration's records up to public scrutiny. After all, as they themselves say, "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear"
- The current congress is rampantly corrupt and in need of a little "house cleaning" (pun intended) (perhaps resurrect the old Will Rogers quote about "the best congress money can buy")
- Insuring our children, who always require our nurturing support. "Do it for the children" works almost every time
- The tax code has been exploitable since long before written language, that one works for everybody

And the thing that's going to be pure poison this election season: any conflation of the words "Bush" and "liar". Nobody wants to hear that, especially not the people you want to get to swing over to your side, and anybody that says it won't get far this election cycle. I'd stick to criticisms of his bad judgement and his penchant for appointing incompetent cronies to high office... if I was going to say anything about Bush at all. Better to stick to the corruption scandals in Congress itself, that's what the midterms should be about, not presidential politics.

My $.02

Mike Treder said...

"politicians of both major parties appear to be in collusion in what amounts to a campaign to protect the members of a professional guild -- the professional political caste"

That single statement sums up the deepest problem confronting the Anerican experiment with democracy.

At one time, some of us hoped that term limits might cure the disease, but we were wrong.

Now, the best solution seems to be radical reform of campaign financing...but what happens when those in need of reform are in charge of reform? Probably nothing.

Anonymous said...

Challenge congressional candidates to wear a T-shirt that says something along the lines of:
TAXES ARE NOT MY MONEY
Any candidate that won't were it, ask him/her WHY?

Don Quijote said...

An unrelated comment from the left wingers at Morgan Stanley

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Globalization has long been portrayed as the rising tide that lifts all boats. The surprise is in the tide -- a rapid surge of IT-enabled connectivity that has pushed the global labor arbitrage quickly up the value chain. Only the elite at the upper end of the occupational hierarchy have been spared the pressures of an increasingly brutal wage compression. The rich are, indeed, getting richer but the rest of the workforce is not. This spells mounting disparities in the income distribution -- for developed and developing countries, alike.

...

The latest Gini Index readings for the US (41) and China (45) are among the highest of all the major economies in the world -- pointing to a much greater incidence of inequality than in economies with more homogeneous distributions of income, such as Japan (25), Europe (32), and even India (33).

...

America’s Gini coefficient has been on the rise for over 35 years -- moving up from about 35 in 1970 to over 40 today.



Where did the Productivity Growth Go? Inflation Dynamics and the Distribution of Income*


All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. ( Voltaire )

David Brin said...

All of this is useful criticism (citokate) applied in a world in flux, and topics for serious discussion.

What is sad is when isolated stats like this are hurled with some sort of assumption that they are "refutation".

Again, this is a matter of personality. To the modernist, criticism of flaws in modernism is helpful in making modernism even better.

Specifically, the purpose of world development is not to turn diamond shaped societies into pyramids of privilege, it is to turn pyramid-shaped societies into diamonds.

Alas, those who insist on dyspeptic indignation instead of problem-solving do not understand citokate.

Rik said...

I'm not sure a democratic 'Contract With America' is enough. The biggest problem "a diamond shaped society reverting to a pyramid of privilege" isn't unique to the US. The result of political? A one-ideology state? Pity that coalition governments are impossible in the US, in my mind these alone would counterbalance any tendency towards culture wars.
This would mean breaking up both the Reps and the Dems, but so what? What if people seized blogging, because they could only get heard outside the existing political framework?
According to Robert Hughes, America has always had a talent for consensus (in it's mild, milky multiculturalism). Wouldn't anyone prefer a melting pot over a culture war? Who says a melting pot is nothing but bad and bland taste? If so, that is what you have to make attractive. This would seem to point to the Speculist's "Enlightenment 3.0".

Tony Fisk said...

Repubs smelling the coffee...

John Murtha (Rep. Pennsylvania) has this to say on the US in Iraq:
MURTHA: ... Let me tell you, the only people who want us in Iraq is Iran and al-Qaeda. I've talked to a top-level commander the other day, it was about two weeks ago, and he said China wants us there also. Why? Because we’re depleting our resources, our troop resources and our fiscal resources.

(From Crooks and Liars. The piece below that is rather chilling as well:
"Gergen: Bush worse than Nixon on Secrecy")

Don Quijote said...

Specifically, the purpose of world development is not to turn diamond shaped societies into pyramids of privilege, it is to turn pyramid-shaped societies into diamonds.

From the looks of things, the handful of diamond shaped societies of the world are in the process of being turned into pyramid-shaped societies.

David Brin said...

Ummm... this is precisely my point!

Quijote I object to many of the things that you object to.

The difference is that I am willing to examine what has worked so far, creating pro-diamond trends.... that are being fought by pyramidalists.

Simply ranting at the pyramidalists... and worse CALLING many diamondizing trends pyramidal... is not helpful.

In their adamant refusal to consider the possiblity of actual progress, lefties do the mind boggling. THey say we are pyramidalizing... without ever admiting that we DID achieve miraculous levels of unprecedented diamondization.

Under regulated capitalism. It never ever ever ever happened under socialism.

Tony Fisk said...

David,
Looking through Gingrich's original CWA, it strikes me that the congress reforms were a statement of ideals, whereas the proposed bills were a statement of intent.

One would think that the bills should demonstrate how the congress reforms were to be achieved, and I suspect that the casual reader was meant to see the great things proposed without delving into the details. However, with the possible exception of The Citizen Legislature Act, the proposed bills have little relevance to the proposed reforms!

Small wonder the thing got hijacked!

Your thought experiment on a 'Democratic' CWA does a better job at keeping the two parts coherent, but I think you can enhance the satire by improving on Gingrich's structuring. Make the description of each bill explicitly refer to the reform(s) it is intended to bring about. (It will also be a defence to the 'copy cat' accusation...yeah, but so what? We did it better, and you can see we mean it! ;-)

Don Quijote said...

The difference is that I am willing to examine what has worked so far, creating pro-diamond trends.... that are being fought by pyramidalists.

What has worked is a LEFT, a POWERFUL LEFT, remove the left and you get your pyramid.

The left was defanged during the 50's and 60's and wages started stagnating in the 70's and have been ever since.

Simply ranting at the pyramidalists... and worse CALLING many diamondizing trends pyramidal... is not helpful.

For every diamondizing trend, there is a single pyramidizing factor, an oversupply of labor at practically every skill level you can think of.

In their adamant refusal to consider the possiblity of actual progress, lefties do the mind boggling. THey say we are pyramidalizing... without ever admiting that we DID achieve miraculous levels of unprecedented diamondization.

We progressed until the early to mid seventies and have been regressing or stagnating ever since.

Under regulated capitalism. It never ever ever ever happened under socialism.

And Capitalism always gets regulated by the left.

David Brin said...

Interesting ... and testable (!!) propositions! (Oh, by the way, when I praised you for paraphrasing that was NOT patronizing. It was genuine praise for doing something that is absolutely rare in debate today.)

>>What has worked is a LEFT, a POWERFUL LEFT, remove the left and you get your pyramid.

No, what worked was LIBERALISM, which has all-too closely been associated with the left. But the labor-democratic miracle of 1947 was a moment when this distiction was clearly demarcated.

George MArshall, Martin Luther King, Betty Friedan, Lyndon Johnson and the creators of the GI Bill and land grant universities were creators of diamondization. They were at MOST only marginally leftists, in that they believed the state had an important role to play in diamondizing trends. But not one of them was even remotely a socialist.

>>The left was defanged during the 50's and 60's and wages started stagnating in the 70's and have been ever since.

This is simply untrue. What IS true is that the staggering social victories of the 70s 80s and 90s were achieved largely by individual people leveraging against changes in LAW that happened earlier. But I defy you to say that minorities and women had more opportunities in 1970 than they do even now.

True, the "left" has utterly emasculated itself, politically, dragging liberalism down with it.

>>For every diamondizing trend, there is a single pyramidizing factor, an oversupply of labor at practically every skill level you can think of.

It is true that globalization has this effect! And true that this offers dangers! Textile workers in Vermont were incensed when damned capitalists took their factory jobs to Alabama, where "right to work laws" stymied union contracts and labor was cheap... that is, till brave organizers (liberals) combined with development (which increases wages as people in a region create alternatives) to diamondize southern society quite a bit.,..

At which point the damned capitalists colluded with facory owners in Japan... then Taiwan... then Singapore and malaysia, always seeking low wages...

And people in EACH of those countries had to decide, will we let this mobile exploitation festival be PERMANENT? Or will we see the wisdom of the EARLIEST and youngest versions of Karl Marx, when he saw the industrial bourgeoisie as essential for the raising up of the proletariat?

(See? I DO know what I am talking about re "the left"!)

As it turns out, there is not a single place on Earth where capitalist-run textile mills were able to exploit continuously for more than 20 years, before moving on. There WERE places where textile mills remained sweatshops for longer periods... all of them closed societies like the USSR, old Red China, today's Burma.

THAT is your labor market at work.

Look I am NOT saying that Addidas is altruistic! What I am saying is that there are processes at work. And much good news about those processes... as well as the perpetual danger that collusive assholes will conspire to eliminate the good processes while enhancing the bad.

I want to fight that! See EARTH in which I portray a billion Chinese middle class tourists flooding the world, because their parants worked so hard.

But sorry, anti globalization polemic is not helpful. What will be helpful is what has worked so far!

It is called law.

And Capitalism always gets regulated by the left.

Baloney. Liberalism is the imperative to try to tweak and regulate to achieve best results. It is often delusional and wrongheaded... but those regulatory mistakes have ALSO been corrected mostly by... LIBERALISM! Liberals regulate, but they are willing to learn from citokate and hence have also been the chief DE regulators!!!

The left has no such instinct. Unlike liberalism, they do not WANT capitalism to be a useful and effective partner in world development.

The conflation of these two terms is a tragedy of our times.

And please, this was dashed off. Do not impute cogency.

Doug S. said...

I decided to present to my father, a professor and all-around "not crazy" person, your gerrymandering article.

His initial reaction: "Why do I have to read through pages and pages for him to get to the point? He doesn't say anything at all in the first few paragraphs other than that a problem exists."

"I can't stand this guy's writing style. I'm at the third section and all he's said is that there's a lot of gerrymandering going on. He could have said that in two sentences."

"If people's votes are still counted, why are their votes meaningless? Don't they get as much choice as anyone else? If you don't like your representative that much, then move!"

"So what if they gerrymandered the districts to make the elections go 50/50? Then you have half the people with no say instead of 40%. Is it better if the people who don't have a say change every two elections? I don't know."

"Basically, I just got tired of reading it and started skimming."

He seemed very unimpressed by your talk of a "professional guild" when I asked him to talk about it. He mentioned New York, where he said that the politicians voted themselves term limits.

He said it should be written more like an op-ed piece in a newspaper. He reads the New YorK Times, and is of the opinion that if it didn't make the Times, it's probably nonsense, which is a reasonable policy when dealing with alien abduction and conspiracy nuts, but would also suggest that there was no problem with electronic voting machines in 2004.

My father is the kind of person you really want to be able to reach, but unfortunately, he seems to have taken a big dislike to your writing.

Can your monster gerrymandering article be written in one-third the space? I think it probably can. People other than your faithful readers tend to get lost when you start placing issues in the broader context of your philosophy. They probably have no idea what you mean by "enlightment" or "platonist" or "romantic" unless they have the patience and inclination to sift through pages and pages of text.

I'm tempted to do a cut-and-paste job and see if I can turn your article into something the modern sound-bite generation can stand. (My father is 57... maybe it's the older generation that has a short attention span. We kids are willing to spend hours and hours reading rants on the Internet, while our parents don't even have the patience to sit down and play a video game!)

Thane Walkup said...

David,

I find your bias against socialism understandable - when it completely controls a society, I agree that it is a terrible, terrible destructive influence on society. However, there are limited places where socialist ideals actually work better than their capitalist counterparts in my opinion. I am all for the REAL free market where it is allowed to exist, when it makes sense. Unfortunately, in our society, there are some places where it doesn't.

Take, for example, the medical insurance industry. The last statistic I saw on this indicated that roughly 40% of our healthcare dollars go to pay for the massive bureaucracy that insurance companies have instituted on top of health care providers, pushing millions of people into the uninsured bracket; these people ignore basic health problems until they metastasize into significant problems that cost both the individual and the health care industry significant amounts of money. Simply put, guaranteeing every citizen of our country basic health care (yearly checkups, the ability to visit a doctor and get cheap prescriptions for minor issues that could become major, etc) regardless of ability to pay would save our nation a significant chunk of change.

For those who cry that socialism would lead to health care rationing and long delays in gaining service - these already exist in the United States. I am currently insured under the best program my employer offers, and I am seeking a provider for an (undisclosed) problem I am currently facing. I have gone down the list of providers in my area, having contacted about thirty of them, and each and every one of them has told me that they are no longer accepting new clients from my insurance provider due to the reduced compensation that the company is providing them. These are people who are listed as actual contacts on the insurance company's website! I cannot afford this treatment on my own - and it is essential to me remaining a productive and useful member of this society, instead of draining social security disability funds. The expense of receiving treatment for this would be much lower than what I would drain from taxpayer coffers - a bargain, yet our "free market" oriented society has judged that this is not an acceptable use of the community's funds.

I'm open to suggestions on how the free market can fix this issue...

I personally believe that socialism works best when it is used to meet the needs of survival, and capitalism is used to meet the needs of luxury - by survival, I mean basic medical care, basic (and I do mean basic!) housing, education, and basic nutrition. Give people free educations as long as they complete x years of national service, minimum of four, plus one for every year in college - not necessarily military, I'm sure we can find a use for everybody. Create dormitory-style housing, nutritious but extremely bland foodstuffs, and provide basic preventative healthcare for free - and then let capitalism provide everything else that people desire.

Nicq MacDonald said...

"But not one of them was even remotely a socialist."

Correction: Betty Friedan was an out-and-out Marxist. Not that this is meant as a slam against her, as I value her contribution to the feminist movement (especially as she was among the most pragmatic), but the point still stands.

And Lyndon Johnson was remotely a socialist, but no more than remotely...

Robert said...

Woot!

A working link... yay!

(not meaning to sound cynical, I am really pleased that you've got in line links working... please use them more)

Doug S. said...

One problem with health insurance in the United States is that, basically, people don't get to choose their insurer; their employer decides which insurance company provides benefits. The "customer" the insurance company has to please is not the covered individual, but rather his or her employer. This leads to distorted incentives; people can't "vote with their feet" if they are being abused by their insurer, so the insurance companies can do everything they can to make it difficult for doctors and patients to get paid.

Thane Walkup said...

Private insurance still can't help with the social benefits guaranteeing everybody basic healthcare would - preventing the spread of epidemic diseases and preventing an increase in the number of diseases that are preventable with basic care. Those two goals right there are important enough that I believe we as a society should provide these services to everybody - the benefits are immense.

Steve Bennett said...

I liked a lot of what I read with your Democratic Contract With America. Not all the details, but there's more than enough there to make a good showing. I think the Dems should go for it - it certainly can't hurt.

As for the Gerrymandering article, I've already pointed out to you (in an email I sent a few weeks back) the biggest flaw in the idea of registering with the controlling party so you can get a say in their primary.

The problem is there's a growing trend for the party committees to pressure candidates out of the primary so they can have a clear field. Then, when you get to the actual primary, the public no longer has a choice - there's only one name on the ballot.

Classic examples are here in Pennsylvania this year - both the Governor's race and the Senate race have already had their primaries pretty much decided for us. Both parties have pressured the other possible serious candidates (any of whom I would actually consider to be better choices than the "annointed" candidate...) out of the primary race entirely. There's an off chance that some mostly unknown challenger might be able to garner the signatures to get on the ballot, but their chances of winning the primary are slim to none.

Were enough voters were to cross register to the dominant party as you suggest, I believe this trend would intensify as a defensive move by the party elite. The committees would become the primary voters, pressuring everyone but their preferred candidates out of the elections entirely, and the rest of us would have to live with it.

Now, it's possible that cross registered voters could try to figure out some way to get onto the party committees, but they'd have to do so in pretty significant numbers - I don't think that's likely to happen.

It's also possible that some moderate, emboldened somewhat by the cross registered voters, could try to buck the committee pressure and run anyway, but it's been my observation that such mavericks are usually shot down *very* hard. Maybe that's what you're hoping to see happen here, but I have my doubts.

I'm not sure whether there *is* any solution for this issue that doesn't require us to make radical changes to how our election system works.

Doug S. said...

As bad as gerrymandering is, it could be worse. Back in England, they had rotten boroughs that were never redistricted, so there were representatives that were elected from a constituency of less than fifty voters. Our Senate is somewhat like that, but it's not quite as absurd as what England had before they initiated reforms.

Maybe we should uncouple geography and representation? For example, each voter could be randomly assigned to a different "district" each year. Making districts random would get rid of human biases in selecting boundaries, although it might result in its own absurdities.

Don Quijote said...

No, what worked was LIBERALISM, which has all-too closely been associated with the left. But the labor-democratic miracle of 1947 was a moment when this distiction was clearly demarcated.

1947, the year the Liberals sold out the left, Taft-Hartley was passed over Truman's veto and the slow lingering death of Labor began.


the creators of the GI Bill


created the GI Bill because they feared the left, they then proceeded to strip out benefits from the GI Bill in the 70's after the left had been defanged.

This is simply untrue. What IS true is that the staggering social victories of the 70s 80s and 90s were achieved largely by individual people leveraging against changes in LAW that happened earlier. But I defy you to say that minorities and women had more opportunities in 1970 than they do even now.

What social victories of 80s & 90s? The social victories occured in the 60's & early 70's and all of them were backed by the left.

True, the "left" has utterly emasculated itself, politically, dragging liberalism down with it.
Wrong, liberals emasculated the left and are now wondering why they have no base of support.

It is true that globalization has this effect! And true that this offers dangers! Textile workers in Vermont were incensed when damned capitalists took their factory jobs to Alabama, where "right to work laws" stymied union contracts and labor was cheap... that is, till brave organizers (liberals) combined with development (which increases wages as people in a region create alternatives) to diamondize southern society quite a bit.,..

The Diamondization of the last 25 years is obvious in this study from the IRS.
and I'll quote for you enjoyment

Income Shares
The share of income accounted for by the top 1 percent
of the income distribution has climbed steadily from a
low of 9.58 percent (3.28 for the top 0.1 percent) for
1979 to a high of 21.55 (10.49 for the top 0.1 percent)
for 2000. With the recession and, then, the stagnating
economy of 2001 and 2002, this share had declined to
16.89 percent (7.10 for the top 0.1 percent) for 2002.
...
This pattern of an increasing share of total income is
mirrored in the 1-to-5 percent class but to a
considerably lesser degree. For this group, the income
share increased from 12.60 percent to 15.14 percent in
this period. The 5-to-10 percent class’s share of income
held fairly steady over this period, going from 10.89
percent for 1979 to 11.28 percent for 2002. The shares
of the lower percentile-size classes, from the 10-to-20
percent classes to the four lowest quintiles, show
declines in shares of total income over the 24-year
period (see Figure B).


As it turns out, there is not a single place on Earth where capitalist-run textile mills were able to exploit continuously for more than 20 years, before moving on.

Other than Indonesia, the Philipines, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc, etc...

There WERE places where textile mills remained sweatshops for longer periods... all of them closed societies like the USSR, old Red China, today's Burma.
Yeah right, like it makes a difference.

today's Burma. Where Halliberton had no problems using slave labor.

THAT is your labor market at work.
Using peoples misery to enslave them.

Look I am NOT saying that Addidas is altruistic!
Damn right it ain't.


But sorry, anti globalization polemic is not helpful. What will be helpful is what has worked so far!

Well looking at the track record of the last century, Protectionism & Mercantilism is the way to go, not a single country has become wealthy under a free trade regime.

It is called law.
Bull.

The left has no such instinct. Unlike liberalism, they do not WANT capitalism to be a useful and effective partner in world development.

GE is now headed by Jack Welch, who has said, "Ideally you'd have every plant you own on a barge" -- ready to move if any national government tried to impose restraints on the factories' operations, or if workers demanded better wages and working conditions.

Need I say more...

The conflation of these two terms is a tragedy of our times.
You got that right!

And please, this was dashed off. Do not impute cogency.

Francis said...

David, Don. Would you both define your terms please? I have a feeling that you are talking at cross purposes.

Also, would you both remember that there is no movement so right that it can't be espoused by an idiot and no movement so wrong that it can't have a saint or a genius supporting it please? (And the US seems to like putting idiots onto talk shows to outline their positions from what I can tell).

The way I'd define the relevant terms: (Please shout if you think I'm misrepresenting you).

Conservative. Someone who believes that the world ain't too broken and you'll do more damage with change than you would by leaving it be. The virtues effective conservatives should display are stewardship and conservation, and conservatives can be seen to be pathalogical when they cease to be thrifty. Conservatives bring stability to a society, and consequently a society with too little conservatism is going to fall apart.

Lefty (Socialist being a very common manifestation). Someone who identifies with the poor and believes that the best way to help society is to lift and protect the weakest individuals. The virtues effective lefties should display are solidarity and mutual assistance, and lefties can be seen to be pathalogical when they give way to envy. Lefties shore up the bottom of a society, and consequently a society with too little "leftism" is going to collapse into a pyramid or a revolution.

Liberal. Since Liberalism won the Liberalism/Totalitarianism argument in the 20th Century, there have been too many definitions of this term for one to fit.

Liberal (British/American): The "nice" faction. British and American Liberals both tend to be extremely middle-class, and to wish that everyone would be nicer to each other (and also be middle-class). The virtues effective Liberal should display are compassion and understanding, and liberals can be seen to be pathological when they lose sight of the fact that not everyone is middle class (rather than just wanting and helping everyone to be middle class). Liberals are effectively the glue that holds society together and a society that loses its liberals must either turn effectively totalitarian or balkanise.

Liberal (European): See Libertarian.

Liberal (Enlightenment): (The faction both David and I support, I think). If British and American liberals can often be described as "wet liberals", enlightenment liberals would be termed "dehydrated liberals" - although they are as likely as British/American Liberals to come from the middle classes. The main beliefs of enlightenment liberals are that progress is made, that all human approaches are falliable and that Enlightened Self-Interest is a good thing. Because all approaches are known to be falliable, Liberals are prone to knee-jerk reactions against perceived extremes, but mix and match actual methodologies from all sides, stealing whatever works. Because of the mix of methodologies employed, liberals drift among the factions, often keeping lines of communication open when others would close them - but seldom being entirely trusted by those they have joined along the way. This is on a somewhat perpendicular axis to the other types mentioned.

Libertarian. Someone who believes that individuals should be free to rise or fall in line with aptitudes and achievements and would remove restrictions on both. A society with too little libertarianism is going to fossilise. A very strong belief in the completely free market and an unwillingness to accept that freedom to do things doesn't matter at all if you are starving to death go hand in hand with Libertarianism.

(My "Health check" on the US shows the Conservatives to be both dominant and pathological, and the Lefties to be an endangered species. For Britain it's much more complicated as our government tries to appear right wing to get left wing results.)

Also:

Globalisation: (Left wing perspective) (Don Quijote's viewpoint). The current system of free trade which involves freedom of capital but not freedom of movement, and recommends the deregulation of markets in all cases, and tries to enforce them with the World Bank and IMF on countries weak enough to need them. Also the system that bans poorer countries protectionism and trade tarrifs, but allows richer countries (particularly the US and EU) to pay massive agricultural subsidies which prevent the poor countries being able to export the main things they have the capital to produce. This model of globalisation traces its routes back to the 1970s and Milton Friedman. Progress has come despite rather than because of globalisation.

Globalisation (Right wing perspective) (David's viewpoint). The current system, starting in 1945 (probably with Bretton Woods) that has lead to a massive expansion in trade and prosperity, particularly noticable from where the speaker stands. Increased trading links are the key factor in globalisation.

frank said...

David- I don't know that I can support your Contract with America.

Right near the begining I start to see a problem.

"SECOND: Establish rules permanently allowing the minority party one hundred subpoenas per year, plus the time and staff needed to question their own witnesses before open committee hearings, ensuring that Congress will never again betray its Constitutional duty of investigation and oversight, even when the same party holds both Congress and the Executive."

Now I happen to know that both the Congress and the Senate had institutional safeguards to protect the perogatives of the minority party before the Republicans took power. An example were the blue slips that home state Senators could use to block candidates for federal Judgeships. I know there were a number of others having to do with committy rules that I neither recall nor wish to look up. What they have in common other than protecting the minority is that the Republicans did away with them once they took power. I don't think it makes any real sense for Democrats to promise to re-instate those protections much less add new ones via Congressional rules changes. Perhaps the public should have been horrified that the Republicans did away with those protections, but they weren't, so it wouldn't even serve a public relations purpose to bring them back. As for the good government aspect since the Republicans would simply do away with your 100 free supeona rule as soon as they got back into power( asuming they ever lose power.) and with no public outcry. I don't think it would serve the people well to provide the Republicans yet another tool with which to bludgeon Democrats in the unlikely event that Republicans are out of power, talk radio, cable news, and right-wing publications would be more than enought to keep Democrats honest even if the Republicans didn't also have quislings like Lieberman, Joe Klein, Howie Kurtz, etc ad nauseum.

Francis said...

Possibly there needs to be some sort of rule change to prevent

Something along the lines of "Fundamental Legislation" (one level of importance below the Constitution).

A piece of legislation that has been proposed as Fundamental Legislation needs a 3/4 majority to pass (and if it fails on this count, it fails entirely). On the other hand, it takes a 2/3 majority in both the Senate and the House to change a piece of Fundamental Legislation and both President and Supreme Court get to veto such a change in legislation.

It therefore can not be used to implement anything that is remotely decided on party lines (the 75% rule gives too much of the bill failing entirely) - simply to implement things for which there is an overwhelming mandate and to overturn would be a very bad idea. (See the McCain torture amendment for a good example).

David Brin said...

Doug S... Sorry that I vexed your professor father. I was genuinely trying hard to explain this problem in a thorough and systematic way that could be understood by someone with little poli sci background but an open mind and patience. On all three levels, I guess this did not suit him.

Demonstrated by the following quotation. (Did he REALLY say this?): "If people's votes are still counted, why are their votes meaningless? Don't they get as much choice as anyone else? If you don't like your representative that much, then move!"

Stunning. Simply stunning. Like the following:

"So what if they gerrymandered the districts to make the elections go 50/50? Then you have half the people with no say instead of 40%. Is it better if the people who don't have a say change every two elections? I don't know."

Um... WHAT is he a professor OF, might I ask?

When elections in a district swing back and forth by the tide of public opinion, it means that your vote will tend to count as to the final outcome. When gerrymandering ensures the dominant party immunity from all public mood swings, it means that a district can be taken for granted. Individual moderates have no hope of AFFECTING ACTUAL OUTCOMES. Not ever. That sounds like having a meaningless vote to me.

“He seemed very unimpressed by your talk of a "professional guild" when I asked him to talk about it. He mentioned New York, where he said that the politicians voted themselves term limits.”

And thus ensued a game of musical chairs, such as we see in California. All neatly arranged.

If he ever read the Federalist Papers, he would know that the purpose of the US House of Representatives was to be the chamber that responds quickly (every 2 years) to sudden mood swings and to mercurial public opinion, which the Senate was meant to resist with its long terms and larger voter pools. But because of gerrymandering, Congressmen have safer seats than senators! The House is the chamber of ideological intransigence, while Senators pay heed to the public mood. This is a blatant effect of only one thing, gerrymandering, and it runs diametrically opposite to the Founders’ intent!

This is no small or insipid point. I will bet you a dollar that the lawyers arguing the Texas case before the Supreme Court right now have missed this key point, showing how the Founders’ intent has been diametrically thwarted. It might prove persuasive even to a mind like Scalia’s.

A subtle point though... and one that doesn’t fit in op-ed length. Alas, if your father believes all matters of public policy can be boiled down to that level, it shows how sad our level of discourse has become. 250 word caricatures of policy are better than Bush-co’s 20 word sound bite caricatures. But they are caricatures, still.

You are welcome to try to do a best-of cut and paste. I will be happy to look at it.

Thane, alas, medical areas resist the normal cost cutting effects of genuine competitive capitalism. If there is a doctor in town who is 10% better than all the others, will you refuse to see him if he charges 50% more? Yes if it is for a cold. No if a loved one is in peril.

European countries control costs by rationing care, especially to the terminally ill. And maybe we should, too. BUT critics of the US system leave out one crucial fact. Our high costs drive more than half of the world’s medical R&D. Europeans “ration” expensive US techniques until US medical consumers have driven down the costs of, say, an MRI to a level that France etc then just lap up, without having contributed a sou to development costs.

I think the present US system is a frightful shame. But I am capable of looking past the simple dichotomies and seeing complexity. We all should be.

Robert, sorry. I will only be doing inline links when it suits me, like when translating a whole article....

Steve, good pt about party bosses pressuring candidates. We seem to be sliding back into 1890.

Quijote, to call 1947 a liberal “betrayal”... then ignore what liberalism accomplished during the next 20 years, starting THAT YEAR with desegregation of the US military... is to make an utter joke of your argument.

“What social victories of 80s & 90s? The social victories occurred in the 60's & early 70's and all of them were backed by the left.”

Typical bloody leftist. All Progress has to be “official.” But during this time the actual LIVES of women and minorities changed more than ever before. When Judith Resnick blew up in space with a black man and an asian american, the Rev Jackson commented about this in moving terms. These things happened BECAUSE of the momentum achieved by earlier, official reforms... achieved by LIBERALS and hardly a scintilla by leftists. At... all.

You keep trying to refute me by pointing to problems caused by the kleptos. But I am immune. I hate them worse than you do. Because I see them as destroying progress that my side (modernism) has already won, whereas you see them as classic capitalist forces of nature, doing vile things in a context of pervasive vileness. I am VASTLY more angry at them than you are.

And I am more effective against them.

>>
It is called law.
Bull.

Aha, so we don’t have labor laws and environmental laws here, and in Europe? Yes, the Bushcos are attacking them. But just try doing in California what Addidas and Dow Chemical do in India! Ha! Oh, but law doesn’t work... right. Show me One other thing that ever has.

Francis, your sincere efforts at paraphrasing and defining are welcome. But you leave out of “lefty” their characteristic patronizing assumption that the poor must be protected from entering markets to sell their honest labor in exchange for honest pay.

What’s weird about this is that MARX respected the whole market entrepeneurial process, while modern lefties do not. They perceive exploitation no MATTER whether the local workers do or not.

I essentially agree with your definition of enlightenment Liberals, except that I would add this.

EL (and its cousin modernism) is the movement that is most aware of the depths of potential human self-delusion and depravity... while also most willing to admit that countless decent and creative people have risen up to unprecedented heights, doing wondrous things through both competition and cooperation.

Unlike conservatism, libertarianism, leftism and all the others, Enlightenment Liberals see the range in human character and behavior as VAST.

This may seem bipolar! But we EL folks see in this stunning variability both danger and incredible potential. What determines the difference between predators and creators? Not preaching or “conservative” measures like tradition. Not state paternalism. One thing apears to ALWAYS make all the difference. One thing separates the devil predatory exploiter human being from the raucously fun and creative entrepreneur and/or the effective social reformer.

Reciprocal accountability. When ALL people are empowered to know everything they need to know... and when all people have recourse to open law... then many devils are stymied. Not all. But enough to let cooperative and competitive angels succeed, after 4,000 years. At last.

We ELers are not rootless, swinging right and left in search of ideas. We HAVE AN IDEA! It is the same idea broached by Locke. The one that Franklin and Madison and Lincoln and TR and Wilson and FDR and Marshall and King and all the other reformers knew. An experimental theory that has changed everything.

That no man can be trusted. But all men and women have something of interest to offer.

Don Quijote said...

Quijote, to call 1947 a liberal “betrayal”... then ignore what liberalism accomplished during the next 20 years, starting THAT YEAR with desegregation of the US military... is to make an utter joke of your argument.
Taft-Hartley has done more harm to labor and the left in general than any other law passed since.


Typical bloody leftist. All Progress has to be “official.” But during this time the actual LIVES of women and minorities changed more than ever before. When Judith Resnick blew up in space with a black man and an asian american, the Rev Jackson commented about this in moving terms. These things happened BECAUSE of the momentum achieved by earlier, official reforms... achieved by LIBERALS and hardly a scintilla by leftists. At... all.

I sure MLK wasn't a leftist, after all he only died leading a strike.

You keep trying to refute me by pointing to problems caused by the kleptos. But I am immune. I hate them worse than you do. Because I see them as destroying progress that my side (modernism) has already won, whereas you see them as classic capitalist forces of nature, doing vile things in a context of pervasive vileness.

It is the nature of the beast.

I am VASTLY more angry at them than you are.

And I am more effective against them.


I seriously doubt it.
Only a real organized left with a large constituency can stop them, and the price tag required to stop them is one that you are not yet willing to pay. When things get worse and they will, will you get a left capable of stopping them.

Aha, so we don’t have labor laws and environmental laws here, and in Europe? Yes, the Bushcos are attacking them. But just try doing in California what Addidas and Dow Chemical do in India! Ha! Oh, but law doesn’t work... right. Show me One other thing that ever has.

In the last year, we have seen the credit card companies pass laws that have redefined Bankrupcy in the US. He who has the gold, writes the laws. All the Repugs and a good chunk of the Democratic Party (The so called Liberals) voted for the law, had there been a real left in the US, that law would have died in committee.

But you leave out of “lefty” their characteristic patronizing assumption that the poor must be protected from entering markets to sell their honest labor in exchange for honest pay.

And there we come to the crux of the problem, what is honest pay? if after working 6 days a week, 14 hours a day in a factory that is noxious to your health and you still haven't earned enough to feed and clothe your self not to speak of your family, is that honest pay?

Francis said...

David,
But you leave out of “lefty” their characteristic patronizing assumption that the poor must be protected from entering markets to sell their honest labor in exchange for honest pay.

What’s weird about this is that MARX respected the whole market entrepeneurial process, while modern lefties do not. They perceive exploitation no MATTER whether the local workers do or not.


You miss two points of my summary. The first is that there are different manifestations of the basic beliefs, with some being much more benign than others (and you seem to seem to assume that all Leftists have the most malignant of those beliefs). Not all conservatives would touch the current group of "Conservative" kleptocrats with a ten foot bargepole. Likewise not all Leftists are class warriors.

As for the poor being protected from entering the market, there are two points here. The first is that the market is rigged (freedom of movement of capital but not labour discriminates against the poor), the second is that the market is unfairly rigged (see my comments about farm subsidies - with agriculture being the main product the poor have to export), the third is that with automation there is very little use for unskilled labour - meaning that you need skills to get a job to pay for education to get skills...

(Personally, I think they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater - but there is a lot of dirty bathwater there).

Oh, and the heyday of globalisation was around 1900 rather than the present day - proportions of exported capital was much greater and population movements were massively greater.

As for R&D, would it surprise you to learn that only 52% of US R&D spending is from industry? This means that the proportion of spending on R&D by private industry is actually slightly lower than that by public provision (45% of healthcare spending).

Also, you think that healthcare rationing doesn't happen in the US based on ability to pay? Are you joking? (Whereas e.g. a Brit without ability (or willingness) to pay gets healthcare based on need*, one who wishes something and can pay can do that).

* Although Thatcher's policy of underfunding the NHS broke this for quite some time.

David Brin said...

I seriously doubt it.
Only a real organized left with a large constituency can stop them, and the price tag required to stop them is one that you are not yet willing to pay. When things get worse and they will, will you get a left capable of stopping them.


I have heard this crap all my life. It is called Schaedenfreude and it is the fundamental reason why leftists will never admit that there has been progress. Even going so far as to scream about reversals in RECENT progress, without admitting that the original progress ever happened!!!!

“Just you wait! When things get WORSE, then people will come to us desperately and give OUR elite power, instead of the elites we don’t like! (Of course we will be GOOOOOD philosopher kings and rule wisely, for the good of the poor.)”

“But of course, this will only happen when things get WORSE!”

Hence the refusal to allow incrementalism or ever to admit that progress has happened. Because if there HAS been progress, and it was achieved incrementally, then THAT DAY WILL NEVER COME!

Aw... poor lefties. Want to know what’s funny? Karl Marx would laugh in their faces, right now! He would be the biggest pro-globalization booster on seven continents.

Now let me swing around and add this. The forces of feudalism are growing so powerful, and have shown so much incredible predatory intelligence, in the last dozen years, that I do not utterly reject the notion that incremental progress may be over. If trends continue, these bright fools will create the very class warfare that was eliminated for most of the modern lexicon in recent generations, and that pathetic lefties yearn for. In other words, one pack of bright romantic morons is busy serving the long term interests of another pack of bright romantic morons.

And we problem solvers will be the ones who are first-burnt. We who made this world.

Doug S. said...

My father is a professor of electrical engineering. Yes, he really did say those things. I think the problem is, in part, that he was only reading it because I asked him to; I think he just didn't want to take it seriously, and was just looking for something to complain about. (Again, if it's not on paper... *sigh*)

My father's political philosophy is rather simple: vote against the religious right. I suppose he counts as someone who "reflexively" votes the party line and doesn't pay much attention to local primary elections. (New Jersey holds its primary very late in the year, so it doesn't have much influence on choosing the nominee for President.)

I think I will try that cut-and-paste job. I'm a halfway decent writer when I put my mind to it.

On an unrelated note, one of the biggest complaints about health care spending in the US is that a far higher percent of health care spending goes to "administrative overhead" than in other countries. In other words, a lot of money is "wasted" in an effort to show that someone else has to pay a given medical bill.

Don Quijote said...

Hence the refusal to allow incrementalism or ever to admit that progress has happened. Because if there HAS been progress, and it was achieved incrementally, then THAT DAY WILL NEVER COME!

Slow & steady progress from the depression till the mid 70's when things started to go downhill. Median wages hit their peak in the mid 70's and have been coming down ever since. The US National debt has been going up ever since and so has our balance of trade.

And we problem solvers will be the ones who are first-burnt. We who made this world.

and could have prevented most of these problems, but you weren't even willing to acknowledge them, who's talking of dealing with them.

Francis said...

David, David, David.

Pragmatic modernism is only strategically pragmatic if we convince those in charge to be pragmatic. The kleptocrats believe that might makes right (part of the definition of a kleptocrat) - and the religious fundies in an unholy alliance with them believe that they are right and therefore if they have the might they have a duty to use it. Neither are really open to compromise or even to keeping bargains.

At that point say what you like about the ultimate goals of the left (and they definitely have had their share of screwups when they have been in charge), we need a forceful counterbalance not only to fight the kleptocrats, but to provide a straightforward and compelling vision to leech support from the religious fundamentalists (to something far more in line with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth). The left in America is already weak enough that you should be doing what you can to strengthen them as a counterbalance to the right.

And you haven't engaged with the left's legitimate criticisms of globalisation that I've outlined. As for citing Marx, Marx was a bourgeoise romantic rationalist. Is he really the example you want? (My leftists are more likely to pay attention to the economics of John Maynard Keynes than to Marx).