an obession with first principles

I Love Stephen King

Posted: Monday Apr 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Politics | View Comments

I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it’s not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It’s un-fucking-American is what it is. I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.
Stephen King: Tax Me for F@%&’s Sake!


Libertarianism and Society

Posted: Saturday Mar 31st | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

As Ron Paul continually runs for higher office more and more people are hearing some of his policies, and thus the word libertarian. This post isn’t about Ron Paul. Nor do I imagine that people who aren’t following politics, but now hear “libertarian” actually know what this political philosophy is actually founded on. I sure didn’t, but I saw a very in depth discussion on Reddit (yes, deal with it). So I wanted to dissect the underpinnings

The poster goes on to describe libertarianism as wholly wrapped around the defense of personal property (which includes ones person) and pure utilitarian ends. Any action undertaken by anyone — including the state — to remove personal property (which, in some way, includes currency) is understood to be immoral. Taxation is thus immoral. The poster goes on to suggest that a privatized court and police is a system that will work. I want to stop and consider these elements (ignoring his talk on education, with which I am fairly sympathetic).

First, I am surprised that a political system would revolve, wholly and purely, around property rights. This means that the political system will inherently favor those with more property over those who have less. It is a system devised explicitly for the powerful. A person with more property can gain more property easier than a person with less (Especially when the property in question is land and resources).

Second, I am surprised that any political system could ever describe state-printed currency as “property”. The currency would not exist without the state, just like “free” markets. All historical societies we have studied have no markets, and no currency until a state creates them. “Primitive currencies” are not currencies at all, and are traded to resolve issues of status, dignity, and un-payable debts. If the state prints the currency it has the ability to extract from the state-created markets a percentage of that currency for creating and maintaining said currency and markets.

Third, I am surprised by the naivety of the libertarian belief that “every man is an island” is demonstrably false. We have always, are now always, and continually will always be in relation to the other around us. To act as if that is not the case is naive and ignorant. This is, again, born out by the evidence of all communities which care about one another. In the case of communities that are bound together there is often a social interplay of resolving of debt – but there is the unquestionable motive to care for the other as one’s self. With the understanding that they will do the same when it is necessary.

Fourth, I am utterly shocked by the proposition that a private court and police system will work. We have seen the slide of previously “free-er” markets into very rigged and non-free markets (as the poster admits). First, any state or private entity capable of enforcing penalties must be powerful enough to violate the guilty’s defense of personal property. Why would you trust a private system rather than a public one? I understand the argument of “once a private company violates trust they’ll lose in the marketplace”. But if the private company is capable of violating personal property rights how do you stop them? Other companies step in? What happens in the case of collusion between companies? This system slides right back down into rigging the game.

There is a nice correlation between government corruption and the rise of powerful multinational corporations which can donate endless to the political cycle. It seems only a public, and transparent state, staffed by citizens which can, and must, be mindful of how much power the state acquires. Only with true and accurate information about these people can we choose (ostensibly through voting) who to trust with dispensing the state’s abilities. The troubles with our democratic and representative system is that our voting systems, districts, etc are rigged to hold power, those elected are not representative whatsoever (either in ideology or in material wealth), and the inability — likely due to both of these factors combined with corporate money — to get true and accurate information about the people and the process.

It seems to me that property ought not be the central issue of a political philosophy — especially in our digital age when “property” is becoming a very gray area.


The End of History and the Last Man

Posted: Thursday Mar 8th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

Where Marx differed from Hegel was over just what kind of society emerged at the end of history. Marx believed that the liberal state failed to resolve one of the fundamental contradiction, that of class conflict, the struggle between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Marx turned Hegel’s historicism against him, arguing that the liberal state did not represent the universalization of freedom, but only the victory of freedom for a certain class, the bourgeoisie. Hegel believed that alienation–the vision of man against himself and his subsequent loss of control over his destiny–had been adequately resolved at the end of history through the philosophical recognition of the freedom possible in the liberal state. Marx, on the other hand, observed that in liberal societies man remains turned into man’s lord and master and controls him. The bureaucracy of the liberal state, which Hegel called the “universal class” because it represented the interests of the people as a whole for Marx represented only particular interests within civil society, those of the capitalists who dominated it.
Fukuyama, pg 65

It seems that Marx was correct: within a liberal democracy the capitalists can exert mastery over others through economic means. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat need to be defined by this relationship – not by any analogizing to histories examples. Mastery and control are what Occupy Wall Street is protesting. It isn’t about jealousy. I keep seeing discussions like “We need to get rid of money” within Occupy. I think the sentiment is correct, while the details wrong.

Money is just economic fungibility. I might be able to trade writing, or fixing a bike, or moving furniture, for food. But I can’t trade web software for it. It’s too large and unwieldy to break down into small bits. This is why money/currency is created, for fungibility. To create equivalency between work. Whether the payment is deserving or just is a whole different argument (because that isn’t the argument I’m talking about). Money needs to exist.

One thing that popped into my mind while thinking about this section – What if money and capital were not related? Capital is what exerts mastery and control. A person with $100k/yr income doesn’t have mastery over someone who makes $50k/yr, or even $30k/yr. $100k isn’t capital, its just a bunch of money. Capital is just a resource that moves institutions, powers, businesses, industries, and people. Right now, capital ends up being a lot of money. But does it have to be money? What if it were a combination of trust, responsibility, and integrity. We obviously can’t pay people with these traits. But if you think money holds back things with trust, responsibility, and integrity you’re living in the old days. See Occupy for instance. New York has half a million. Another example purely outside politics: Kickstarter.

Money is just fungibility. Capital is the problem. Once we remove the fact that money makes up capital, perhaps we’ll have achieved a solution to Marx’s paradox of the liberal democracy.


The Second Bill of Rights

Posted: Tuesday Nov 8th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Politics | View Comments

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher that ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people – whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all – regardless of station, race, or creed.

    Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops of farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home and abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education;

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

President Franklin Roosevelt, excerpt from State of the Union, January 11, 1944


Money and Politics

Posted: Monday Mar 28th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Politics | View Comments

Jeffrey Sachs from Harvard was saying that the United States is turning into a plutocracy. And this is a feeling you get throughout the world, that the politicians are not powerful and the power is in the hands of a few strong players in the business sector. Do you feel that way?

“We are still a democracy, but we have moved in my lifetime towards a plutocracy. We do not have a plutocracy, I want to emphasize that, but the distribution of wealth and the influence of wealth have moved in that direction.

“If you look at the 1992 top-400 tax returns in the United States, the average income for those 400 people was $45 million per person. The last available figures show $340 million per person – that is eight for one in a period when the average worker went no place.

“The average tax rate for the top 400 went from 28% down to 16.6% during the same period, so we have had a system where as people have gotten richer and richer, they have been favored by taxation and have gotten richer to a greater degree. To my mind that is a bad trend, and it will probably get corrected in time. The rich have more influence in politics than they did 50 years ago.”
Warren Buffet


Healthcare – Wow

Posted: Friday Mar 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, In the News, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.
Atul Gawande, The New Yorker

This entire piece is incredibly well done. I encourage you to read all 8 pages of it. This is also how editorials will continue to make money: by writing this well.


Law and Deuteronomy

Posted: Monday Mar 7th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Blasphemy, In the News, Politics | View Comments

I find it incredibly laughable that any modern person considers either the formative or contemporary laws of the United States of America to be in any way similar to those found in Deuteronomy. Whatever rhetoric might persuade about a country being the new Israel and the civic documents its stone tablets looking at the actual documents you better immediately see a giant disconnect. Looking at contemporary ideas of justice and law:

The disparity between Deuteronomy’s commandments and those that one might extract from their policies could scarcely be more stark. The new right-wing bible reads, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of America, so be sure to extract every dollar from your operations so that you don’t end up as one again.” Christopher B. Hays

But if one actually looks at Deuteronomy:

But the warnings to the whole nation are similarly stern: The people are told to “put these words of mine in your heart and soul… and teach them to your children… so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land.” If not, “curses will come upon you,” and the rest of ch. 28 graphically describes them. Essentially, the Bible advocates that Israel must embrace a moral sustainability akin to the ecological sustainability to that we moderns think more about. ibid.

There is certainly no morality left in either politics nor economics. There is no construction of a shared civilization or culture, let alone a shared space. Everything today is about “me and mine.”

America has some serious problems; a recent study of developed nations by the International Monetary Fund ranked America near the bottom in income inequality, food security, life expectancy at birth, and level of incarcerated population; all of which reflect the scandalous lot of the poor. Yet the reaction to the recent economic crises from many quarters has been to slash the safety net that keeps such inequalities from being even worse.

Many in politics who clutch onto the good book are seriously endangering their fellow Americans as well as many fellow Christians. But they don’t actually care, so long as their tax bracket doesn’t change. Utter disgrace.