Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Various Political Notes

Still catching up with accumulated items. Next time we'll take a break from politics....

====

The war of reaction against modernist/enlightenment/pragmatic civilization is (I believe) much less a matter of politics or religion or ethnicity or even nations, than it is psychological. A matter of personality.

NonZeroRobert Wright points out in NONZERO how most human civilizations were based upon zero-sum logic that may have been somewhat appropriate for eras of extreme scarcity. But that way of thinking always led to rigid hierarchies of both dogma and authority that limited human progress.

Both Hobbes and Rousseau were platonist essentialists who described 'pure' idealizations of human nature that fed into these civilizations' oversimplifying, either-or ways of thinking.

But Locke's Wager - the Enlightenment - was a bet that positive sum thinking was ready to take off. An empowered, knowing citizenry can participate in competitive markets, competitive democracy, competitive science, and yet -- in the sum of all their victories and defeats -- wind up making everybody richer, wiser and more free.

It has been stunningly successful, but by fundamental personality, a large fraction of humans simply think in zero sum ways. They CANNOT perceive this synergy, even if they try. And this includes many sophisticated people even inside our culture.

Indeed, "culture war" is in part a manifestation of deep alienation toward the very notion of progress as a rapid project toward human self-improvement. In the long run, therefore, any hope for national security will depend upon factors that go beyond matters of military and political self-interest.

In the long run, either positive sum thinking will prevail, or our civilization will fail.

-----------

Russ Daggatt offers a chilling insight:

One of the puzzling things about the US attorneys scandal is that the underlying actions were taken after Democrats regained control of Congress last fall. Didn't it occur to Rove that he no longer had a Rubber Stamp Republican Congress and that some of these abuses might come to light as the Democrats began to investigate the administration? Didn't it occur to him that the rules had changed? I thought Rove was supposed to be really smart. Wassup?

Think about it for a minute.

Without veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats are limited in what they can accomplish in the way of an affirmative agenda. We all knew that the real significance of the Democratic victories last fall was the investigative powers they gained. You can bet Rove understood that, too. And, sure enough, both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have now voted to authorize subpoenas of Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in connection with the US attorneys matter. Bush (Rove), of course, has stated that he will refuse to comply. And these aren't the last subpoenas Congress will issue.

So Congress issues subpoenas and Bush (Rove) stonewalls. How does Congress enforce its subpoenas?

US Attorneys.

Oh. You don't think they know the game they're playing?

...It's important to note that these eight US Attorneys were all loyal Republicans appointed by George W. Bush. That's important to keep in mind, because the Republican character-assassination hit squads are already going after them.


As for the recent refusal by Bush to let his staffers testify under oath before Congress, Daggatt is equally biting.

Of course, Bush loyalists assert that he is upholding some grand tradition whereby White House aides never testify before Congress. That grand tradition goes all the way back to ... 2001: Clinton never defied a Congressional request (let alone a subpoena). According to the Cong. Record, under President Clinton, 31 of his top aides testified on 47 different occasions. The aides who testified included some of Clinton’s closest advisors:

Harold Ickes, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff - 7/28/94

George Stephanopoulos, Senior Adviser to the President for Policy and Strategy - 8/4/94

John Podesta, Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary - 8/5/94

Bruce R. Lindsey, Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President - 1/16/96

Samuel Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs - 9/11/97

Beth Nolan, Counsel to the President - 5/4/00

In contrast, between 2000 and 2004, Bush allowed only one of his closest advisers, then-Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Tom Ridge, to appear in front of Congress. He has also refused three invitations from Congress for his aides to testify, a first since President Richard Nixon in 1972. Clinton did not refuse any.

White House spokesman Tony Snow has gone so far as to assert that Congress:"The executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because Congress in fact doesn't have oversight ability."


Urrrrrrrrrrgh. And there are still ostriches who are unable to let themselves see that these guys are INTRINSICALLY evil? That they aren’t simply “regrettably excessively political and stupid” but something else entirely? Either stark raving mad or deliberate traitors to the people and Constitution of the United States of America?

Mind you, I NEVER raged this way against Ronald Reagan. Never! There were dogmaticassholes and liars and kleptocrats around then. But but but but....

----
I had to add the following, even though it’s only marginally political. I read a recent article on “how to get rich” by Gary Shilling. Not even on the list? Creatively offering new or improved goods and/or services. Oh alas.

The section on Government Subsidies shows that the top 1% of Americans get as much from the govt as all the welfare recipients do. But this other category has a real surprise.

GETTING RICH THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY

You can always make big money by picking rich parents who die young, or wealthy and feeble uncles with no other heirs. For most, however, inheritance is not the route to riches. A study by AARP found the total for inheritances of all people alive today to be $12 trillion in 2005 dollars. Most of it, $9.2 trillion, will go to pre-boomers born before 1946, only $2.1 trillion to the postwar babies born between 1946 and 1964, and a mere $0.7 trillion to the post-boomers. The study goes on to show that the percentage of people receiving inheritances since 1989 has been quite consistent, so there's no reason to expect big jumps in their numbers any time soon.

Furthermore, the value of all previous inheritances as reported in the 2004 survey was $49,902 on average, with $70,317 for pre-boomers, $48,768 for boomers and $24,348 for post-boomers. Clearly, these are not numbers that will provide for comfortable retirements.

31 comments:

Kelsey Gower said...

"Intrinsically evil?" Gah. I might believe that about Rove and Cheney, but not Tony Snow, and here's why.

Awhile ago, I was looking for information on the Kosovo War, and while searching for viewpoints on the war I came across this gem:

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/tony/snow040599.asp

Basically it's a list of questions directed at Clinton over whether we should use military force in Kosovo. Ignore the spin for a moment and focus on the questions. Many of them are basic and could apply to any debate over whether we should go to war. Here's a few:

What is our precise military objective in (Iraq)?

How many troops would we need? How long would it take to deploy an invading force? Do we have enough equipment and supplies to sustain an overseas operation? How many reserves would we need?

Do we have the budget to stay the course?

How long would it take to establish a chain of command?

Who would be in charge?

How would we define victory? How would we get our troops out?


It's the last two questions that bother me. Why? Why hadn't Congress asked these questions before Iraq?

And why didn't Tony Snow turn his back on Bush when these questions weren't answered? Why did he join up with Bush and lie for him instead?

Now he's in Rove's trap, and that's too bad. He could have done a good job if he had decided to work for the people instead.

So call him evil if you feel you must use divisive language like that. I won't argue with you on that point. But he's not intrinsically so. He didn't start out that way.

Ed said...

My reaction to the inheritance study by AARP was "huh?" Average life expectancy in the US has been in the mid 70s for some time now. For people born before 1946 to inherit most of the money, one of three things must be happening:

1) Most people dying today are at lest 85 years old.

2) People living before 1946 had kids as teenagers.

3) The study is several years out of date.

Anyway, simple math indicates that if life expectancy stays flat, the time you have to "enjoy" your inheritance will be roughly the period of time your parents lived before giving birth to you (think about it).

I'm not sure if I can believe the second part. Other studies have shown that most of the wealth in this country is held by old people, who lived through a period of relatively cheap assets and relatively high wages. Either end of life medical costs are really, really, high, or someone is not counting the value of property being passed down in these figures.

Pat Mathews said...

On inheritance figures: yes, us "pre-Boomers" are retiring and dying as the richest generation of the 20th Century. With several notable exceptions - we came up in a racist and sexist time. And to our credit set out to correct both). A lot of it was due to being a small cohort and coming up in a period of economic expansion. Not sinister, but if we hog the entitlements it will (Whaddya mean "Will", Grandma?) hurt the youngsters. Which pains me.

About the rest - if you figure that 70% of the population is at the concrete-operational level of thinking, a lot of what you're saying makes sense. Now we just have to institutionalize The Rules (the highest thing known on that level) - to reflect Enlightenment thinking. Which was largely the case back in the day! (But then we stopped teaching things like Our Inalienable Rights and started teaching what all the kids called Social Slop, and we were off to the postmodern races.

Just my $0.02 and of course, not the whole story.

RandomSequence said...

Uhhrmm, averages. Gotta hate them for non-Gaussian distributions. What do they tell you? Worse than nothing.

Kelsey: ain't that always the problem of evil? It's usually committed by basically decent people, in a limited vein. I bet even Karl Rove would return that lawnmower he borrowed from his neighbor. Very few folks get real political power without being charming and creditable at some level. The question is who do they work for and what do they do when they get their hands on the levers.

Zechariah said...

Just a few science goodies:

Kryptonite Discovered
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6584229.stm


and Scientists find a possibly habitable world circling a Red Sun
http://apnews.myway.com//article/20070425/D8ONB9JG0.html

It is a very good day to be a Superman fan.

Kelsey Gower said...

And in other news: It begins...

Bring on the whistleblowers.

RandomSequence said...

Zechariah,

The article says its probably tidally locked. I'm not sure what they mean by temperatures between 34F and 124F - if it is tidally locked, there's a good chance of a hot side and a cold side after the atmosphere evaporated on the hot and froze on the cold, or the massive hurricanes in the transition zones shot the atmospheric heights to such extremes that all just floated away...

I'm not sure the astronomers have thought this through - or they're so PR hungry, they'll just say anything to a reporter. Hopefully it won't get back to their grant review comittees.

David Brin said...

Not sure I agree. Let's see, Tony Snow raises reasonable challenges during the Balkans War... that Clinton-Clark were able to answer very effectively in one of the most successful foreign policy/military endeavors in our nation's history. So far so good.

But at that time, Snow's objectives were political, prying away in order to find weaknesses to pounce on. That TOO is fine! But do not look there fine proof of honorable motives.

The prrof of character is the utter inability to turn even a smidgen of the same scrutiny or standards upon a vastly bigger mess made by his own pals.

Kelsey Gower said...

The prrof of character is the utter inability to turn even a smidgen of the same scrutiny or standards upon a vastly bigger mess made by his own pals.

Which was kind of the point I wanted to make, but RandomSequence made it better than I would have anyways.

Do you still remember when you posted Rumfeld's Rules? It was actually had good advice for how to serve in the White House and really ironic considering how he really acted in the White House.

Something horrible happened that made them turn their back on every single piece of good advice they once gave themselves. And I still don't know why.

It seems appropiate to leave off with these perhaps timely words by Tony Snow on the media:

Let's be practical: In our business, we thrive when we tell you things you didn't know and need to. If we spout party lines or distort the facts, people will catch on and we'll fail.

The so-called mainstream press has become a trickling tributary because its practitioners have gotten lazy.

But they'll snap out of it -- and when they do -- they, and we, will be stronger for it.


I'm sure we will.

Tony Fisk said...

Zero sum thinking is evident on Australian PM John Howard's stance on climate change ('nothing we do must harm the economy'). More worryingly, it's also manifest in recent policy announcements of Chinese government.

The opposite view ('economic growth almost always leads to a worse environment.') is also being aired.

I wonder, does zero sum thinking always lead to false dichotomies?

HawkerHurricane said...

Zero-sum thinking always leads to dichotomies: I win, you lose, but if I lose someone else wins.

Politicians like to give false choices where you can either vote for them and thier program or have disaster happen. "A vote for me is a vote for morals, motherhood and apple pie! A vote for my opponent is a vote for immorality, barrenness, and starvation! What will you choose?" (Note that no evidence of either proposition will be offered)

As for the Australian PM's position ("Nothing we do must harm the economy"), doing nothing on climate change will harm the economy, therefore...

TheRadicalModerate said...

You'll all be shocked when I stick up for Howard's statement.

First, let's examine the decision space, which falls nicely into three regions:

1) Do nothing on global warming and something bad probably happens that hurts the economy (in addition to causing some sort of small-to-moderate die-back).

2) Be so aggressive on restricting carbon emissions that you dramatically increase the price of goods and services, drop consumer spending into the toilet, effectively halt all kinds of new investments, and collapse the economy enough that you punt on the regulations, go back to dirty power generation, and are no better off than you would have been if you'd done nothing at all.

3) Steer some middle course. Develop a reasonable risk model for the problem. Use that risk model to generate some reasonable, market-driven incentives for developing and using green power and transportation. Pay for those incentives with some modest form of carbon tax or fuel tax. Do enough so you get non-catastrophic warming but also get non-catastrophic economic repercussions.

Now, #1 only makes sense if you're an anthropogenic global warming denier and you happen to be right. This approach clearly fails to monetize the risk properly.

Conversely, #2 only makes sense if you are an AGW hysteric and you happen to be right and you happen to know something more about the economy than the rest of us. This zealous cleaving to the precautionary principle overmonetizes the risk.

I suspect you'd find Mr. Howard (and me, and a whole bunch of other folks) in region #3. There's obviously plenty of room in region #3 for wild disagreement. But it sure would be nice if we stopped arguing about whether the deniers or the hysterics were more virtuous and/or closer to being right. It's time to admit that the problem is a dessert topping and a floor wax and start discussing it reasonably.

OdinsEye2k said...

Zero v. positive sum thinking:

The question of the pie growing is split into two pieces:

1) Does the pie grow fast enough that *everyone's* piece grows despite inevitable inequalities?

2) How much does relative matter versus absolute? If I get twice as wealthy and the guy next to me gets five hundred times as wealthy, we should both be happy. Unless that other guy's wealth advantage allows him to poison my home, steal my wife (don't have one, just saying) and leave my children with no option other than to eat garbage.

Number 2 is where we really start to have problems. Even though more electronic goodies are available, are people becoming more powerless?

Mittop said...

I love the discussions on this blog.

In light of the mention of Non-Zero Sum Games as they apply to
civilization, you might want to check out this short talk given by
Robert Wright during TED in 2006.

In fact, there are many interesting short talks presented. Well worth
checking out.

ErnieG said...

Radical Moderate,

I agree that of the options you propose , the third is the best because we do the least damage if AGW an unproved and ultimately unproveable hypothesis is wrong. How can you falsify it in a human life span?

I don't particularly like your 'denier' semantics as that is an anti rational discourse usage.

My proposal is your focus is too narrow, lets look at broader positve nonzero sum alternatives.

Let us encourage non fossil fuel energy production,transportation, etc. Promote energy independance from foreign sources.

I think that your idea to give tax incentives on investment may be OK but your negative penalties are bad.

First instead of incentives let us look at dis-incentives built into law and tax codes and eliminate them. As David says corporations cheat and distort a true free market.

In most cases when you monkey with a market it makes a monkey out of you.

BTW the Presidents corn powered ethanol jag is monkeying with a market.
It is not the most efficient way to produce ethanol even if ethanol production is a good idea(I am definitely not convinced). You are better off growing more sugar cane as a feed stock. Anything with a higher sugar content. corn is mostly starch which has to be mashed(cooked with an enzyme) to produce sugar. Ethanol is produced by yeast which can only eat sugars, not starch.

TwinBeam said...

Algae - just squeeze and get oil, lots of oil, and in far less space.

TheRadicalModerate said...

ernieg--

Point taken on the "deniers." However, please note the distinction between "deniers" and "skeptics". I'm pretty skeptical, but I think the evidence is in that something is happening. How fast and how bad are open to debate.

Unfortunately, you need to monkey with the market a bit here. The market will solve this problem just fine, but markets tend to produce just-in-time or not-quite-in-time solutions. That's probably not advisable.

If the government is going to inject public funds into this, there's no way to avoid a certain amount of rent-seeking. The corn/ethanol thing is a fine example of what happens when government overconstrains the problem. The trick is to leave the market in control of the best solution while maintaining some accountability--very difficult, maybe impossible. Prepare for the "green technology boondoggle--government waste and abuse!!!" press reports in about 5 years--I guarantee they'll be there.

As for punitive measures, I don't want to punish carbon producers, but you're gonna have to pay for this somehow. Taxing fuel or using carbon caps seems as good a way as any. And some disincentive is probably appropriate.

Stefan Jones said...

As our esteemed host has pointed out, some problems are amenable to market solutions and some aren't.

Tackling greenhouse warming is likely to involve both. Knowing which and where is the kind of thing that the folks at World Changing have been thinking about this stuff for years:

http://www.worldchanging.com/

ErnieG said...

Stefan Jones,

We have to be alert to political decisions made in an engineering venue.

For example:

I am afraid that pressure for quick fixes such as Canadas recent move to eliminate Incandescent lamps are inappropriate responses.

There are applications where incandescent lamps use less energy than flourescent lamps.

For example seldom used rooms when they are used are used for short periods, ie your closets at home.

So a knee jerk political reaction leads to a net increase in energy usage.Burning more fuel...and so on.

So incandescent lamps have a future, that is unless we develop,market, and manufacture a Light emitting diode lamp for current AC voltages.

Stefan Jones said...

"unless we develop,market, and manufacture a Light emitting diode lamp for current AC voltages."

You wouldn't need to. A small on-demand AC gadget could keep a battery charged, which would drive a conventional LED.

You could probably put it on a screw-in base.

Side benefit: Your closet can stay lit during power outages!

TheRadicalModerate said...

You wouldn't need to. A small on-demand AC gadget could keep a battery charged, which would drive a conventional LED.

What's the energy transfer efficiency between AC and the battery?

What's the marginal cost (in dollars and energy) for the battery?

What's the disposal strategy for the battery?

Those pesky system problems!

Stefan Jones said...

Way ahead of you there. Read up on the Viridian Design Principles.

It's probably a lot easier to figure out the costs of a gadget, and deal with them, than the damage the current archaic infrastructure is doing to the environment, and our health.

Of course, it's been far easier to sweep those externalities under the rug.

Until now.

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, RM, I do agree with your assessment.

I am ready to accept that Howard thinks of himself as falling into option #3 (heck, why not do something that helps both economy and environment!?), but his stance suggests an implicit zero sum thinking. I might add that Peter Garrett (ex 'Oils singer who is now opp. minister for environment) tends to do the same thing in the opposite direction.

HH concurred with my earlier thought about dichotomies leading to zero sum thinking. Now I'm going to go the other way and wonder whether the adversarial style of parliamentary debate induces zero sum thinking by encouraging dichotomies.

DemetriosX said...

Not following the flow of the comments, but this article from the Guardian is extremely well-written, scary and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

Hawker H said...

Tony, can't say about parliament. I'm an American, all my knowledge of parliamentery systems comes from books. But our two party system definetly encourages zero sum thinking, to the point where good ideas are ignored/degraded to avoid giving the other side a 'win' (see the great health care debate of 1994: Newt Gingrich publicly admitted that the Republicans opposed it not because it wouldn't work but because it would work and the Democratic Party would get the credit for it.)

I am open to suggestions for a system of government that would work better. Until then, eternal vigilance seems to be the only way to keep it in check.

TheRadicalModerate said...

HH--

I'm not sure you have the right paradigm when you look at the problem as zero/non-zero. At the macro level, there's lots of "politics of destruction" going on, which is definitely a zero-sum game. But legislators do non-zero deals all the time to get legislation through, where they bargain to support others' bills in exchange for support for theirs.

I think the key paradigms lie elsewhere. Let me throw out a few:

1) Market segmentation.

Modern marketing methodology now pervades public life, and its most profound tool is the ability to take a population and divide it for purposes of better targeting a product/idea/message to each smaller group.

2) Self-selection.

What market segmentation does by imposing external forces, the advent of near-perfect information flows does to the internal dynamics of groups, over time making them more and more homogeneous and expelling all that are even slightly different.

3) Product differentiation.

Those nasty marketing theorists strike again. Once a group has been segmented, through external segmentation techniques, through self-selection, or both, a product/idea/message must be tailored to the targeted group. To get that group to pay attention, that product/idea/message must be shown to be different from all the other products/ideas/messages out there.

Note that the process of differentiation is inherently zero-sum: If you can't show that your idea is better for the targeted group than some other idea for some other group, the segments consolidate and the other idea gains currency at the expense of your idea.

Think for a moment about the US electorate today. There are ideological differences across the political spectrum, but I'd argue that those differences are less significant today than they were at any time in the 20th century. And yet the electorate is more divided and hostile than it has been for a long time.

I assert that the reason for the division lies with the three processes/techniques cited above. Note that they constitute a fundamental change in how political discourse is conducted.

Political discourse works best when it unites small groups by focusing on common interests. The current dynamic is extremely stable and works by dividing and focusing on differences.

Sorry to harp on this again. I've been noodling on it quite a bit recently, hoping that somebody will poke at it to expose the weak spots. (Or, as Tony would say, "Stir the 'possum...")

Hwkr Hrrcn said...

RM

I don't think I'm disagreeing with you. I'm pointing to the elections (definite I win/he loses) while you seem to be pointing to legislation (where compromises abound).

I'd love to point out errors in your 1+2 and 3 punch, but I don't see them. Problem seems to be in stage 3: It's not that the Other Side is in error, or wrong, or misguided, it's that they are Eeevil! and not to be trusted with anything. To make things worse, you cannot claim honest error without your own side screaming Treason! about you. The cause of all problems is the other side, the cure will come from yours.

RandomSequence said...

RM is right on the money - I just think that he's a bit too uncritical about "marketing theory". Marketing is primarily about not fulfilling the needs of the consumer, but massaging the consumer into filling the needs of the producer. In other words, market distortion.

What is needed is a counter virus, or immunological response of some kind. Not being a marketing theorist myself, it's difficult for me to come up with one. Anybody out there with ideas?

If we continue to allow ourselves to become "mere consumers", passive narcissistic mouths to feed in order to produce demand, then really we are lost as a democratic society. Democracy require active participation and identification with the nation and humanity as a whole. If we primarily think of ourselves as a "market segment", inevitably our private interests, our desires and inflammable passions will dominate rational discourse.

Without wide-spread rational discourse, the only choice becomes tribal splintering, with management via irrational, ritualistic interaction - see any ethnology of the New Guinea highlands for an example of what I'm talking about.

RM: Political discourse works best when it unites small groups by focusing on common interests. The current dynamic is extremely stable and works by dividing and focusing on differences.

Here is where I strongly disagree, at least in the long-term. This is a restatement of the Federalist argument. The agenda behind the original argument was aristocratic - Hamilton (and Madison to a lesser extent) where trying to pull one over on their generation.

Is it true? Well, it does induce stability by creating a mockery of democracy by squelching political innovation. Good in the short run, but if overdone dangerous in the long term. Does it lead to "political discourse"? I would forward that the stability it leads to is precisely because it squelches political discourse.

We have seen through-out US history how the essential questions of our direction have not been primarily democratically determined, but have come out of the legal system instead. From Dred Scott to Topeka, from FDR's New Deal constitutional changes to Roe v. Wade, we as a nation have avoided many political issues, and buried them in elite wrangling.

It has helped create stability. It has also minimized democratic discussion of many of these issues, to the point that an unfortunately large portion of the population are incapable of political discussion - anecdotally, my personal experience has been that political discussion are far more interesting with S. Americans and Europeans than my fellow countrymen.

Our interests are often extremely parochial, due to the segmentation described by RM. Discussion of the big questions are left to an elite, both political and academic, which are intrinsically "conservative", by which I mean oriented toward minimal change (ignoring small groups of outliers).

I fear that market segmentation (local interests) leaves us prey to clever manipulators of formal processes - bugs in the program. RM is right, however, that it creates some rather large barriers to demagogues. For that, one would need to align one particular, fairly small group, with the bureaucracy and corporate ownership simultaneously to gain a plurality of power.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but there's an interesting article on Somalia nicely illustrating how lawlessness can serve a rich, well-armed elite: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/25/world/africa/25somalia.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

TheRadicalModerate said...

RS--

Note that I think that there has been a distinct change in political methodology, from issues-based techniques, which attempt to find a compromise that everybody will dislike equally, to segment-based techniques, which make no compromises and attempt to drive a position into enough segments to win. I think that Rove may have been one of the first strategists to apply full-blown segment-based techniques to politics, and they turned out to be more successful than issues-based techniques.

This is reversible if everbody decides that the long-term consequences of this methodology outweigh its short-term utility. Nuclear weapons are more successful in the short term than conventional weapons, but nobody uses them because the long-term consequences are terrible. It took us a while to think this all the way through and come up with a doctrine to support it. (Note that mutual assured destruction didn't fully evolve until the mid-60's, after everybody had hung ten over the abyss and then gamed out the Cuban missile crisis in detail.)

The trick is to get everybody to decide--legislators, executives, the press, and talking heads--that the rewards of segmentation aren't worth the destruction wrought in its path. We've done this as a society in the past. Hopefully we can do it again.

RS, several disagreements with some of your stuff:

Marketing is primarily about not fulfilling the needs of the consumer, but massaging the consumer into filling the needs of the producer.

You're confusing marketing and advertising. Yes, part of marketing is certainly the process of discovering or creating new markets. But this only works when the new market fulfills a real need. Advertising is the process of putting lipstick on the pig. Because products don't come to market in a form that perfectly fulfills a need, advertising (and marketing communications) tries to bash the product into a segment that it doesn't quite fit. Yes, this temporarily warps the market--until somebody comes up with a product/idea/service/whatever that does fit the segment.

And, of course, policy and politicians hardly ever fulfill a need perfectly. They therefore require more lipstick than usual.

Here is where I strongly disagree, at least in the long-term. This is a restatement of the Federalist argument. The agenda behind the original argument was aristocratic - Hamilton (and Madison to a lesser extent) where trying to pull one over on their generation.

You disagree that consensus is better than fragmentation? How do you square that with your complaint about tribalism in the next paragraph?

I won't argue that elites shape policy to some extent. But ultimately the policy has to work or it is swept away by democratic mechanisms. When an elite produces a more-or-less wise policy that only has to be tweaked a little to be democratically institutionalized, we have a technical term for this: it's called leadership. We don't really have a term for elite policies that fail, but we certainly have a number of recent examples.

...have not been primarily democratically determined, but have come out of the legal system instead. From Dred Scott to Topeka, from FDR's New Deal constitutional changes to Roe v. Wade, we as a nation have avoided many political issues, and buried them in elite wrangling.

As with the executive, the judiciary can be wise and far-sighted or just damn stupid. Scott, a nice conservative decision by the law of the day, hastened a war. Conversely, Brown set the table for a set of civil rights reforms that are almost universally accepted and democratically supported. The FDR New Deal/court packing kerfuffle very rapidly reached an equilibrium where the important reforms were allowed to stand without FDR being allowed to gut the judiciary. Meanwhile, Roe has managed to get half the country to take their eye off the ball for 35 years. Again, success is seen as leadership and failure becomes yet another cautionary tale.

...it creates some rather large barriers to demagogues. For that, one would need to align one particular, fairly small group, with the bureaucracy and corporate ownership simultaneously to gain a plurality of power.

Well, I certainly hadn't thought of it that way. Is demagoguery with super-majority appeal really demagoguery? If you can't have unifying leaders from time to time, is there any way to avoid government by tribalism?

RandomSequence said...

RM:


I think that Rove may have been one of the first strategists to apply full-blown segment-based techniques to politics, and they turned out to be more successful than issues-based techniques.

This is reversible if everbody decides that the long-term consequences of this methodology outweigh its short-term utility. Nuclear weapons are more successful in the short term than conventional weapons, but nobody uses them because the long-term consequences are terrible.


This is where libertarian thoughts go off their tracks. MAD works precisely because short-term and long-term interests are aligned: you get annhiliated in the short term by using them. Escalation is inevitable, and you either use them sufficiently to destroy the world, in effect, or you have an immediate isolation that collapses your economy.

Organisms always work toward short-term interests insofar as it is possible. That is why every cell in a multicellular organism is sitting on a dead-man's switch.


Marketing is primarily about not fulfilling the needs of the consumer, but massaging the consumer into filling the needs of the producer.

You're confusing marketing and advertising. Yes, part of marketing is certainly the process of discovering or creating new markets. But this only works when the new market fulfills a real need. Advertising is the process of putting lipstick on the pig.


Agreed that it sure is handy if their is an actual need to be filled. But it is not necessary. For a large organization in a heavily asymmetrical situation, creating a need is quite common. For others, corrupting your clients is also part of marketing; bribes and kickbacks are a natural part of a marketing campaign, as much as identifying a market for your product. Markets work best for commodities. Most economic exchange is not for commodity products.


Here is where I strongly disagree, at least in the long-term. This is a restatement of the Federalist argument. The agenda behind the original argument was aristocratic - Hamilton (and Madison to a lesser extent) where trying to pull one over on their generation.

You disagree that consensus is better than fragmentation? How do you square that with your complaint about tribalism in the next paragraph?


False dichotomy. Our current system is specifically designed to induce fragmentation to avoid the possibility of wide spread agreement on change. True consensus is impossible in a large polity. By requiring super-super-majorities, as in our system, you block any ability of democratic change at the constitutional level. What you get instead is what we have had: constitutional change via the gun (civil war), or by gaming the system (FDR). I think that democratic discussion would be superior, even if it runs the risk of some instability.


As with the executive, the judiciary can be wise and far-sighted or just damn stupid. Scott, a nice conservative decision by the law of the day, hastened a war. Conversely, Brown set the table for a set of civil rights reforms that are almost universally accepted and democratically supported. The FDR New Deal/court packing kerfuffle very rapidly reached an equilibrium where the important reforms were allowed to stand without FDR being allowed to gut the judiciary. Meanwhile, Roe has managed to get half the country to take their eye off the ball for 35 years. Again, success is seen as leadership and failure becomes yet another cautionary tale.


But none can be seen as democratic successes. They have all been primarily elite squabbling, without very much democratic involvement because of the super-super-majority requirement for going straight to the matter. Not that democracy hasn't been involved in getting those people to power, but the policy questions are never put to referendum, literally or metaphorically.


...it creates some rather large barriers to demagogues. For that, one would need to align one particular, fairly small group, with the bureaucracy and corporate ownership simultaneously to gain a plurality of power.

Well, I certainly hadn't thought of it that way. Is demagoguery with super-majority appeal really demagoguery? If you can't have unifying leaders from time to time, is there any way to avoid government by tribalism?


I said plurality, and I meant it. You need a demagogic group (say fundamentalist evangelicals), buy in from economic leadership, and a takeover of the bureaucracy (de-professionalization, anyone?) You don't need a super-majority of people, you need a super-majority of "interests". That's not consensus - that's oligarchy. That's my problem with the current setup, that by dividing the electorate it naturally tends towards protecting "interests" at the expense of the grassroots.