Sunday, January 28, 2007

More Catching Up (political)

Still playing catchup, with a pile of accumulated items to post. This time, the political lamp is lit.

I am a member of a Philanthropy Round Table Discussion group that tends to have a bit of a Republican tilt. Nothing wrong with that. It only goes to show that there are still a great many very decent conservatives. Yes, there tends to be a rather frantic tone, nowadays. Even those who admit that something has gone wrong with the right, find it terribly hard (human nature) to admit just HOW far wrong things have gone... or how much needs to be done, in order for a decent conservatism to save its soul from having allied with monsters.

One thing you see nowadays (discussed under commentary, beneath the previous posting) is the way many decent conservatives rationalize that "liberals" aren't much better than the neoconservative monsters. There then ensues a slist of "liberal" traits that are caricatures, at best. Or else clear examples of conflating "liberal" with "leftists."

One of my chief projects is to encourage people to distinguish clearly between these two terms! While the "left" may be statists, and nosy and politically correct and somewhat socialist/pinko, it is worth noting that these dogmatists are NOT in command of a political party or any major levers of power in the USA. The Democratic Party, led by modernist-pragmatist-liberals like Nancy Pelosi and (yes) the Clintons, is not some Janus twin to the neocon-dominated GOP. The difference betwen the two is not left-right, but rather future vs past.

Yes, many people who visit this blog have heard me say this before... even ad nauseum. But I believe that it is terribly important to keep hammering it home. If the dogmatic left could be exiled to the margins by the fall of Communism, then decent conservatives need to be shown that it is their duty to do the same thing to the "right". A right-wing that has metastacized, turned cancerous, and gone completely mad.

Here is a riff that may sound a bit familiar to some of you, that I shared on the roundtable today.

Those who portray government as somehow an intrinsic enemy of market productivity/creativity/fecundity tend to be people who know (or let themselves see) human history.

The romantic-libertarian notion that "market laws are natural laws" simply flies in the face of the way 99% of humansocieties organized themselves. In those cultures, elites of both power and mysticism colluded to ensure that free markets would NOT happen. Following simple darwinian logic -- seen in all species on Earth -- they applied both force and culture to ensure themselves reporoductive advantage (wealth, power, access to mates) at the expense of other people.

This predatory scenario especially manifested whenever a society got both metals and agriculture, where big guys with metal implements quickly took other mens' women and wheat... and nerds in spangled cloaks then hopped around singing fables and incantations, telling the poor how GOOD the social order was! Ah, Joseph Campbell.

Still, humanity did make glacial progress and a tipping point was reached with the Enlightenment. Several factors: American democracy, Adam Smith's persuasive theories of commerce, rising education and the productive leverage of machinery began having multiplier effects, making social mobility a desideratum that pushed back against the age-old driver of natural human predation.

It was difficult. Markets were not, are not and never were "natural". EVERY generation featured attempted aristocratic or kleptocratic coups. It took ferocious intervention - often on the part of governments - to regaulate markets to a point where elites could not easily do WHAT THEY OTHERWISE WILL ALWAYS DO... act to cheat, manipulate market rules and forces in secret, steal and stifle the ability of others to compete.

Markets are not natural, but they do seem to have many traits of what we in complexity theory call "emergent properties"... they have a capability of "taking off" spectacularly, leveraging knowledge and capital in ways that Marx only began to grasp, but that Hayek seemed to understand quite well.

Alas, libertarians of the romantic wing are able to hypnotize themselves to ignore the myriad blatant ways that the trait of cheating-by-elites is inherent and inevitable to human nature, or the ways in which a well-run and democratically supervised, open and transparent government can vitally counterbalance this human trend... though again, with the proviso (difficult) that government must be used right. It is simply psychotic that so many market-mystics disparage universal public education, for example, in having vastly stimulated the creation of a vast modern middle class. Yes, that public education system is now creaking at the seams, unable to respond to new demands/circumstances. But to ignore its role in reifying markets in the past is simply loopy.

Likewise, the effects of the GI Bill which, after WWII, utterly transformed the socio-political landscape, at least in white America, creating the "diamond-shaped" social order and the flattest wealth distribution in the history of the world, in which for the first time, a majority of millionaires actually made their fortunes through the method of providing innovative goods and services, instead of cheating or inheritance.

All you have to do is imagine what the "first liberal" would say, if he were here today. Adam Smith would look around at today's increasingly warped markets, today's rising wealth-disparities and "re-pyramidalization" of the social order, the rise in secrecy and secret influence, in kleptocratic handshake insider deals and so on... and he would recognize the old enemy, in the flesh.

He would denounce it.

Adam Smith knew the fundamental truth that we have forgotten (having grown up worried about communism)... a fundamental fact that the bigtime aristos of the Right do not want us to remember. That free markets have always had one paramount class of enemy, across 6,000 years. These enemies were not "levellers" or socialists. Rather, in 99% of cultures, free and fecund markets were ruined by "cronies of the king." Precisely the same cheaters who Smith railed against in Wealth of Nations".

There can be no question that today Adam Smith would be a democrat.

The only question is whether the democrats - hypnotized by their own cliches - would have the good sense to welcome him and recognize the "first liberal" as one of their own.

Clearing the political backlog: here are a few more itms of possible interest.

A riff from Russ Daggatt:

“[This impending escalation brings to mind a software engineering principle called Brooks' Law: "Adding manpower to a late project makes it later."]

“The policy has never really been in doubt for students of George Bush. “Winning” in Iraq for Bush means “running out the clock” and handing the problem off to his successor. Then he, and his right-wing apologists, can forever argue that Bush was Churchillian in his stoic determination for “victory” in Iraq , but that it was only the weakness of his successor’s resolve that led to our “defeat”. If Bush pulls out now, the historical verdict will be clear and indisputable – his war was a miserable failure. As with everything else, it is all about Bush.”

And he gets scarier: ”With the crash of Rove's game plan for using his presidency as an instrument to leverage a permanent Republican majority, Bush is abandoning the role of political leader. He can't disengage militarily from Iraq because that would abolish his identity as a military leader, his default identity and now his only one. Unlike the political leader, the commander in chief doesn't require persuasion; he rules through orders, deference and the obedience of those beneath him. By discarding the ISG report, Bush has rejected doubt, introspection, ambivalence and responsibility. By embracing the AEI manifesto, he asserts the warrior virtues of will, perseverance and resolve.”

Cogent and insightful... and yet again dependent upon the assumption that these people are ONLY stupid, dogmatic, greedy and crazy. But I must suggest (again) that there are other possible explanations. A bit more far-out, but no less plausible or consistent with the (outrageous) facts.)

Cheney goes from Halliburton to the White House. Gale Norton goes from Secretary of the Interior to Shell Oil. Condi Rice goes from the board of Chevron to National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. The chief of staff of the White House council on environment quality leaves and goes to ExxonMobil (after watering down reports on Global Warming). Imagine if a fraction of what we are spending in Iraq was spent on re-tooling Detroit ? Not only could we wean ourselves off gasoline in a hurry, but we would make our auto industry vastly more competitive in the process. But clearly that is the very thing to oppose.

We need to get our hands on the report, just released by the PNNL (Battelle), claiming that, if all Americans owned Plugin Hybrid Vehicles today, our current electrical grid could provide 84% of the energy necessary for car transport.This needs attention and wide distribution.

And yes, now we see some major corporations and even some evangelical Christians breaking ranks with the troglodytes over global climate change. Even the Bush Admin is starting to make perfunctory noises about "needing to do something."

After mahlf a genration playing total obstruction. On the wrong side of yet another major issue. Do they honestly think we will let them pretend - as they now do with pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls - that they were "on the right side all along"?


Anonymous said...

Most right-wing types I've met haven't actually read Adam Smith. They've read about him in textbooks, but that's not quite the same thing.

His comments on "bankers" (people who make money using other people's money) are particularly apt, given the state of most corporate governance...

David Brin said...

Likewise, most leftist intellectuals - including university professors - have never actually studied Marx. They haven't a clue that Marx actually quite respected capitalism and capitalists! He spoke of their many moral flaws, but saw them as an essential element in human development...

...until the "means of production" are fully capitalized. At which point their entrepeneurial services can supposedly be dispensed with.

We've discussed how foolish this latter half of Marx's premise has turned out to be. Alas, leftists neglect the positive side that Marx saw so clearly. And rightists obstinately pretend that human-nature FLAWS of capitalism simply aren't there.

Adam Smith knew all about both sides. His prescription was not to romantically put up with capitalists, until they make themselves obsolete. Or to slaughter them (lenin's solution) killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

His solution was regulating markets in search of the true Enlightenement, positive sum goal... magnifying the good aspects of capitalism while minimizing the bad.

Andrew Smith said...

Typo in thesis alert!

Those who portray government as somehow an intrinsic enemy of market productivity/creativity/fecundity tend to be people who know (or let themselves see) human history.

Is there a "don't" missing here?

Stefan Jones said...

I've heard good reviews of P.J. O'Rourke's "I read it so you don't have to" analysis of Adam Smith's works.

Anybody with a personal opinion?

* * *

I am the only person who has this mental image of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney earnestly praying every night for a horrible, nation-distracting terrorist attack to happen so they have a chance of not ending up in jail . . . or at best getting a pardon and slinking off to a heavily guarded retirement serving on the boards of corporations they made filthy rich?

David Brin said...

I think the pardons that have been promised by W are, in a very strange way, our best hope against such a scenario as Stefan proposes.

Ordinarily, I would posit an even better guarantee, the watchful vigilance and dedication and skilled intervention of the professionals in our vaunted intelligence services, the diplomatic corps, the Justice system, etc. But I have been predicting that these people would come through for us, for a very long time. And so far, I have seen few surface signs that they are - indeed - the brave and apolitical and devoted and overwhelmingly competent professionals that I had envisioned.

Are they all keeping their heads down? Have blackmail and subornation gone farther than I ever imagined? (So far that I can safely be left alive, with an amused chuckle, despite saying these things?)

Or are some of them, even now, gathering evidence and quietly neutralizing the worst and most cancerous pockets of unmerited control and nefarious influence, preparing for a counter-attack against the worst enemy and threat this nation has faced since the Soviet Union?

If not, then ironically the psomise of those pardons may be the one thing keeping Rove etc from unleashing hell, pulling the house down around them in order to escape justice.

Elsewhere I offer the democrats ways to "hem in" the tsunami of pardons. If they were smart, they would be working on this, right now.

OTOH, it is possible that I might regret getting what I wish for.

Rob Perkins said...

No, and I myself am more worried now than before.

Ironically (for this bunch at least) this came from a reading of Orson Scott Card's _Empire_, which is not the dismissable screed the first five freely available chapters hint at. (To explain why would give away key plot point elements, so I'll defer).

But in the book, which tells a story of a possible second U.S. civil war, passing mention is made of the fact that certain States in the Union declared either allegiance to the rebelling power or neutrality to either side, and used their own Nat Guard units to back up the decision by posting them on the borders of the states in question.

Of course, that's a work of fiction, but our Nat Guard units which, today, are deployed overseas and have equipment manifests are not being replenished very quickly, if at all. I know in Washington that our senators are keen to get that equipment replaced.

But just thinking about the fact that a foreign adventure has weakened the Nat Guard to the point where it may not be able to function in the way Card describes in his book is chilling all by itself, it seems to me. Especially if a hypothetical national governance decides to flout the Posse Comitatus Act...

Just a random wild thought, but there you are. I'll go have my chill again, now.

David Brin said...

I often remind lefties that once THEY were the ones who supported the 2nd amendment... and perhaps they will again.

Don Quijote said...

Do they honestly think we will let them pretend - as they now do with pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls - that they were "on the right side all along"?

Yes, we will!!!

Just remember who owns the Media, it ain't a Liberal nor a leftist, it's News Corp, Disney, GE, Clear Channel, Time Warner and a handful of other Conglomerates.

We live in a propaganda state...

I often remind lefties that once THEY were the ones who supported the 2nd amendment... and perhaps they will again.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Over looking the "well regulated militia" part, what are arms?

Aren't RPGs, Mortars, laws, manpads arms? Do you really want those in the hand of the citizenry? and if we remove them from the hands of the citizenry, are we not infringing upon their rights?

Andrew Smith said...


From wikipedia:

According to Title 10, USC, Section 311, all able bodied males between the ages of 17 and 45 not serving in the armed forces or state national guard units are considered the unorganized militia, as well as all commissioned female officers of state national guard units.

Lenny Zimmermann said...

As a libertarian, (not of the romantic variety Dr. Brin alludes to, which I think are not libertarians at all, but rather Anarchists which are a bid of a completely different nature, IMHO) I, personally, have no problems with reasonable regulation of arms (same as I have no problems with reasonable regulation of markets), such as waiting periods and background checks. But after that when it comes to RPGs and mortar, etc., I must admit that I have no problems whatsoever with American citizens having such thing. In fact I'd suggest you're a fool if you think that the legality, or lack thereof, of such weapons means that they are not already in the hands of more than a few citizens, and especially ex-soldiers, already.

I think it is especially true at a time when, as Dr. Brin so foten points out, our primary, domestic national defense force, the National Guard, has been so completely gutted. If something were to happen on American soil I'd want as many Americans as possible to have access to just those kinds of devices. And considering the steps the current kleptocrats are taking i think it is not unprudent to worry about a future where someone takes the power that this administration is consolidating into the Executive Branch and twists it into just another form of authoritarian regime that allowed something like NAZI Germany to happen. I hope every day that it would never, ever come to that kind of a need, but if we insist that we cannot trust the vast majority of our fellow citizens now then what hope would we ever have of fighting real oppressors should they come calling?

TheRadicalModerate said...

The romantic-libertarian notion that "market laws are natural laws" simply flies in the face of the way 99% of human societies organized themselves.

Certainly no dispute on the assertion that the overwhelming majority of human societies didn't have market economies. But market economies weren't prescribed by the Enlightenment philosophers. They were merely described by them. A market economy is simply an emergent property of a certain level of societal information flow and technical sophistication. In other words, it is a natural system.

Similarly, the institutions that hold markets together and keep them out of the most pernicious suboptimal states--robust legal systems, antitrust regulation, public disclosure laws, etc.--evolved over time through mostly natural processes. And, like the qwerty keyboard or eukaryotic respiration, a lot of them are hideous kludges. But they work well enough to be highly conserved.

Rob Perkins said...

My Scary Thought had nothing to do with general citizenry having access to the weapons DQ enumerates. The Nat Guard is, after all, a well-regulated militia.

But I, too, have no compunction against regulation of weapons. Attach a mandatory pledge of competence to the weapon and use a modification of the Swiss model: If you want to own a weapon, then you *must drill with the National Guard* or whichever regulated militia can teach you its proper use.

(The Swiss model is compulsory; you must own the weapon, and you must drill with the Army, about 35 days a year.)

OdinsEye2k said...

"A market economy is simply an emergent property of a certain level of societal information flow and technical sophistication. In other words, it is a natural system"

Minor quibble - emergent systems are not necessarily natural. The chief benefit of an emergent system is that they decrease the amount of information that must be encoded to generate them.

Blake Stacey said...

Of course, we know where the Swiss model ended up. . . .

Helvetia delenda est!

Anonymous said...

False dichotomy.

The very requirement for the semantic contortions necessary to slam the conservatives but avoid using the terms "morality" or "traditions" for fear that one won't appear futurist or progressive enough is getting more saddening with every read.

David, the apparant requirement that no traditional thinking be acknowledged as legitemate, no romanticism be accepted as positively inherent to the human psyche, and that no moral absolutes be admitted to unless they are couched in the politcial terms of "relativism" and deemed quaint and backward looking is as reactionary and absolutist sounding in its own way as the attitudes you regularly attack.

Whether you know it or not, the cliched manner in which neocon is hurled at the unenlightened with a <'nuff said> dismissal of opposing veiwpoints is so successful at debate stifling that one cannot but help wondering if that is not the original intent.

David Brin said...

Again, Don misses the point, repeating to us the standard liberal and left argument that the 2nd amendment is all about maintaining citizen militias. Which has its own irony, since, in that case, why don’t they step forward and make the reserves and the National Guard... and reserve police programs and civil defense and CERT ... major parts of their program?

Seriously, if the dems were to declare a vivid and vigorous effort to upgrade what a “well-regulated militia” means in modern life, emphasizing training and skills for dispersed competence among citizen backup responders... along with a determined effort to rescue the National Guard from Iraq... then I think they would:

1) latch onto a winning issue
2) do our robust resiliency worlds of good
3) take away some of the hypocrisy from their present gun-control stance.

Indeed, I think that Rob’s suggestion of the “Swiss Model” has some validity! Though as the author of EARTH.... Ah, but Blake caught that one...

But where Don COMPLETELY misses the point is where the right wing nut job gunnies of the right actually have a very strong point! Indeed, one of the few - and strongest - points that the right can genuinely lay claim to.

Enlightenment civilizations are inherently unstable. They are based upon balance of power, reciprocal accountability, and relentless attention to separation of authority groups that might someday unite against us... as we have seen recently, in a collusive alliance of klepto and fanatic interests that have seized the US government. Despite the fact that fundamentalists and monopolist moguls and neocon transcendentalists have very little in common, they have overlooked their divides in order to work together to seize REAL levers of power. The part of society that has guns.

Yes, it is sickening to see wing nut fantasies of “black helicopters” start to look remotely plausible, a decade in the future. And especially sickening to see the right wing nut jobs who foisted that nonsense on us earlier, become suddenly silent when the prospect is for those copters to be staffed by Blackwater Security Corp. And yet...

And yet, are Don and his comrades really unable to recall how, in the 60s, radical lefties and Black Panthers saw - in guns - hope for an equalizing agent, in a world that seems eager to monopolize force against them?

I had a lengthy riff on this called “The Insurrectionary Recourse.” Perhaps I should post it here, to give it a home on the web.

--- Radical Moderate, sorry, but the burden of proof is on you, that suddenly having a lot of information around is sufficient (I admit it’s necessary) alone to cause markets to happen. Mind you, I am the author of The Transparent Society and I believe that open info flows are THE MOST IMPORTANT ingredient to maintaining our “arenas” of reciprocal accountability, including democracy & markets and science. But I think it’s naive to claim that an awful lot of regulation and law and public education and infrsatructure did not help to stymie the inherent human drive to cheat.

After all, today we have more “information” than ever, and market economics is in more trouble than it has been in 80 years, from a cabal of conspiratorial monopolists who are trying to replicate the ancient patterns, yet again.

TheRadicalModerate said...

David, maybe I haven't been a lurker on this site for long enough. Could you provide some pointers to some of your arguments that free markets are being threatened by an Evil Cabal? Your arguments are usually fairly closely reasoned, so I'm assuming you've put some thought into this level of vituperation and I just haven't seen it. (Mind you, it's gonna be a tough sell with me. I'm perfectly willing to agree that we've reached the extreme end of the arc on GOP-based abuse, but the political system seems to be working nicely to correct that.)

Now, on to institutions and the evolution of free markets. I'm not denying that the institutions are necessary, but they seem to have co-evolved symbiotically with the scope of the market. Nobody placed any institutional structure to speak of on medieval market towns (other than a modicum of security), and yet they flourished. Did people cheat in those markets? Sure. But the advantages of not cheating were substantial enough that eventually you got customs that dealt harshly with cheaters. Voila! The birth of market-supporting institutions. That's just enough to boot you up to the next level--Hanseatic League-style trading networks. Again, with the increasingly sophisticated transactions you get increasingly sophisticated cheating. But at the same time, the advantages of maintaining trading relationships always outweighs the advantages of cheating, as long as the current level of infrastructure remains stable. Next stop, principality-sized national units, which require real court systems, which appear right on schedule. I think that pretty much brings us up to the Enlightenment, where all hell breaks loose, in terms of the volume and sophistication of transaction. And yet the institutions always just barely managed to keep up.

Smells like a virtuous cycle to me. Not only that, but an extremely robust one. I'm not denying that it doesn't accelerate the whole process when somebody develops a theory about what's happening, but I suspect it would have happened anyway.

Random thought: I'm assuming your labelling of a "kleptocracy" stems from huge wealth gains at the top end of the income scale while there are only mediocre gains at the bottom end. Isn't this a natural consequence of any self-organizing system with a power-law distribution of economic connectivity? (Note the slightly slippery equating of "economic connectivity" with "income"...)

Finally, a brief shameless suck-up to the webmaster: Any plans to do a 10-year update of the Transparent Society? Much has changed. BTW, I saw an interesting proposal go flying by a while back: It's a video surveillance app that looks for motion across a huge population of cameras, then, when motion is detected, it forwards a chunk of video clip to one of a pool of humans on the public internet with the question, "Is anything odd happening in this video?" The humans get micro-compensated for their superior pattern recognition skills. said...

We should expect corporations to obey their 'prime directive' that is maximize profits. As a corporate entity they only obey that. Only when they are restrained do they serve the common good. Typical example is the current net neutrality debate, and the temporary consent of ATT to deliver access in a neutral cost manner so that they can aquire/merge with Southern Bell.

On second ammendment and militia, the some of the founding fathers of our constitution stipulated that the militia 'consisted of the whole people, except a few public officers'
and that they would be under call up authority of state officers.
The debate was whether the citizens had the right to bear arms unless they were in some manner trained and acknowledged the authority of the state or they had the unfettered right to bear arms.
Patrick Henry in particular advocated an armed citzenry as the ultimate check in the system of checks and balances built into the Constitution.

Mr. Brin your mention of the hybrid cars reminded me of Dr Bussards recent announcements and his paper on inertial/static electric confinement fusion success. Do you have any comments on Dr. Bussards assertions that only engineering development remains on practical fusion power generation.

Zech said...

Do they honestly think we will let them pretend - as they now do with pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls - that they were "on the right side all along"?

Huh? I admit, the modern republican party has a bunch of Trent Lott types, but during the Civil Rights movement the republican party, or at least a few notable republicans, were very much on the 'right side'.

Remember when Eisenhower sent in troops to enforce integration in a Little Rock high school in 1957? Now who was it that was trying to stop him? Oh yeah, Gov. Orval Faubus. A democrat.

Then again you've mentioned your respect for Ike in your blog before, so you probably do know that. It's just that the implication that conservatives in general fought the civil rights movement annoys me.

David Brin said...

Radical, you deserve more extensive answers than I can give you now. I am not sure if you saw my Manifesto of Modernism from more than a year ago. Certainly the skyrocketing disparities in wealth, the swing from mostly earned to mostly inherited or crony-exchanged wealth (e.g. the same 1,000 golf buddies voting each other golden parachutes, then the consolidation of mass media, and so on...

Anyone who saw the recent election as the start of a “correction” is an astonishing optimist! Yes, I hope and pray that you are right. But so far, it manifests a sudden, life-saving gasp of breath in a drowning civilization.

Please do not romanticize the medieval and renaissance market towns. They were one small step better than no commerce at all. The guildmaster rules were ordained as cheating modalities by a new urban elite, who deliberately slowed progress and competition wherever they could. Again, human nature.

“But at the same time, the advantages of maintaining trading relationships always outweighs the advantages of cheating, as long as the current level of infrastructure remains stable..”

Well. that is, not by any modern standards of fairness and “cheating”.
The guilds were mutual protection rackets! paying steep loan shark vigorish to the kings.

As for the danger of accelerating “pointiness” to the social and economic hierarchy (disparities of wealth) there are DOZENS of good reasons to fear this sort of thing from getting out of hand. Right now the kleptos are spewing propaganda calling all complaints “the politics of envy and class warfare” knowing that Americans deep down hate both traits and admire the essence of getting rich through goods and services. But this easy going attitude was based upon two historical anomalies -

(1) us having grown up in the FLATTEST social order the world ever saw, with only a few blatant aristo hoodlums like Howard Hughes meddling unfairly in political control, and

(2) Memory of communists and “levellers” being the worst visible enemies of capitalism’s golden egg cornucopia.

Above all, there is a desperate need behind today’s frantis “envy” propaganda campaign -- a need to distract from the lesson of history, that those who HAVE great wealth and power will ALWAYS be tempted to abuse it and use it to cheat. Only a saint would not be tempted to rationalize that their privileges are signs and proof of deserved elect status.

I am in favor of the lure of becoming rich remaining an important part of sciety’s pragmatic incentive system, especially getting rich for delivery of superior ideas, goods and services. But that pragmatic goal stops way short of mystifying property rights to such a degree that anyone talking about upper limits should be tarred automatically as a demon or commie. It is a GAME! And player drafts (NFL) are a good example of ways that the game can be kept going and kept lively. So are inheritance taxes!

Make no mistake. We must play the balance game and prevent too-great disparities NOT because of some sense of envy but because we simply cannot afford to have a power distribution profile that allows a few thousand top players to collude against the rest of us. And history shows that they (or a fraction of them) always will.

Ernie, corporations are too dumb to have a “prime directive”. When they are controlled by a small clade of golf buddies, their task is no longer to make a profit from delivering competitive goods and services, but rather to serve as a fresh jugular from which a small number of CEOS and board members can siphon unearned wealth. That is not capitalism. It is parasitism.

Re Bussard, I saw his recent talk on Google online (the one just after I had visited there.) I am inspired and hopeful. But only if we can break up power agglomeration in society to such a degree that projects like his attract real capital at rates that they deserve. This will not happen if/when too small a clade of deciders may collude and conspire to prevent status-quo-breaking,

Zech, there is no question that I respect Eisenhower. The only positive GOP president in this century other than TR. Though I will say some nice things about Reagan that sometimes tick off my lefty friends. (Sometimes just to get that effect!)

There is no question in my mind that he will make it into heaven. But for bequeathing us Nixon, poor Ike is still working his way through Purgatory.

Hawker Hurricane said...

Something upthread that caught my eye...
Republicans did support civil rights, yes.
Conservatives opposed civil rights.
Republican does not equal Conservative. (Or did not, in the 1950's and 60's.)

Before the 1940's, Southern Democrats were the most conservative of the conservatives on the subject of Civil Rights. What happened? NORTHERN Democrats, allied with Republicans, started supporting Civil Rights. Starting with Harry Truman integrating the Army, and ending with LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act, Southern Democrat Conservatives found themselves on the wrong side of history...
So what happened?
Easy! Republican Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon in 1968 came up with the "Southern Strategy", appealing to Southern Democratic Conservatives to 'switch parties' by supporting States Rights over Civil Rights... And they switched, then they took over the Republican party.

Yes, Republicans supported Civil Rights... but Conservatives didn't.

TwinBeam said...

I think it's kind of hilarious that David thinks Conservatives are jealous of liberals' record of introducing positive change.

They're *conservatives*! They don't DO new! Their whole role is to slow change, and try to roll back changes that appear, to them, to be heading in the wrong direction! If they secretly desired to innovate, they'd be liberals!

To the extent that conservatives dislike liberals for being successful, it's NOT because they wish they'd done those things - it's because they feel society is being changed too fast, driven away from values that have gotten lost in the mad rush to "fix" society.

Neo-cons have taken advantage of that desire, hijacking conservative memes the way the cuckoo hijacks the nest of another bird, secretly taking conservatives in a direction they'd never go, if they only realized what was happening.

And so, ironically, it's falling to the liberal-minded to become conservative, trying to preserve the gains they have made, and to restore some of the glorious past in which we had a "flatter" society, and to balance the budget.

Cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria!

I also find it funny how David's statement about the recent election being "a sudden, life-saving gasp of breath in a drowning civilization" echoes Jerry Pournelle's frequent plaint about Western civilization dying. So perceptive liberals and conservatives both believe civilization is coming apart - they just see different seams ripping out. That's a comforting thought, isn't it?

ColonelZen said...

As a programmer, one political issue which affects me most directly and is very seldom considered in larger political discussions are intellectual property laws. My largest diversion over the last couple years has been involvement in discussions about the lunacy of the SCO v IBM lawsuits. Occasionally our discussions veer into wider issues on the nature of intellectual property generally.

With information, its access and management rapidly becoming an ever larger portion of our economy I forsee "intellectual property" as the next geopolitical division in the world. I've commented on occasion that wars will be fought and real people will die large numbers in the coming decades over "intellectual property".

There have been numerous attempts at a "land grab" to lessen individual freedoms. The draconian on reverse engineering in the DCMA are the most obvious and successful (from the corporate viewpoint). The obscene extension of copyright to protect Mickey Mouse is the best publicly known. Recently "orphan works" have come to the fore. While I have great sympathy for those who wish to archive photographs and older books who's authors or heirs cannot be found, without an exception for large scale collective functional works, computer programs in particular, a law prematurely entering works into the public domain where the author cannot be found (or chooses to remain anonymous) is likely to be written in language which would disenfranchise the what has come to be known as F/OSS - the free/open source software movement.

You really need to have followed what has been going on in the software "intellectual property" arena to see how vicious the fight between open source and corporate interests has become.

Just to give a little tone, I'll excerpt from my article Why We Hate SCO where I discuss the allegation that we F/OSS advocates are "communist":


And the worst thing about this claim? It's true.

Of course this is not to say that F/OSS advocates are holding cell meetings in dark cellars about dynamiting factories or that Linus is being lured into sedition by some sino-seductress. But the common if not comprehensive definition of communism is an economic system in which the workers control the means of production. By contrast capitalism is defined as a system where capital controls production. In the industrial age where economies of scale and division of labor were the requisites of successful competition the battle played out, and capitalism surely won. But today, the 21st century has been proclaimed the information age. The product is information. And the primary and most valuable capital asset in that age? The information worker. We are the means of production.

The meta-value underlying capitalism is individual liberty....

In the internet age, however, when the currency is information those who control large quantities of capital will no longer control the game. They are on a nearly equal footing with many with less or even no effective capital. The only way they can keep the old economic pillars in place with themselves on top is to find a way to control the means of production. While enslaving the minds of those producing the tools and doing the work remains impractical, the only two other things which can be controlled are the internet and the software. F/OSS, of course, thwarts both these possibilities. By being directly for the individual's right to access the internet, fostering information transparency on it with open protocols and access to tools at the most basic level, and by using legal rules to keep all that in place for the private individual, the effective result is to keep the means of production in the hands of the workers who ultimately produce the information, the new currency of this new economy. The fundamental advocacy of F/OSS is that the information worker has control over his own means of production. Communism in pure form. We really are communist.

And capitalism, founded and fostered in a climate of individual liberty must now perceive individual liberty, especially information liberty, as a threat. Its defenders rightly regard those most strongly advocating those specific liberties in the new economic milieu as enemies of capitalism as they see, practice and know it.

In the end it all comes down to freedom. SCO and those behind it are challenging F/OSS not for specific rights and and contract issues, but for whether the primal values of the 21st century will be the expediency of the plutocracy or the informational liberty of the individual. We in the F/OSS camp and they of industrial age capitalism are at implacable odds.

-- TWZ