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Democratic party rule, one year later…
Posted: 22 February 2010 03:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Josh - 21 February 2010 03:59 PM

Billy, I recently spoke with my “true leftist” uncle, and I hit him with a few of your earlier points. Regarding the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, he said that the terms “liberal”, “left” and “progressive” all tend to overlap, and that we use an oversimplified dichotomy as our model for politics (tantamount to saying that a runner came in second place in a race with only 2 athletes!) He says that it’s important to use more terms and tease apart the differences between the various groups that get lumped together as right or left.  Case in point, the old-monied conservatives are as far from the radical religious right as JFK was from Krushchev, yet both are lumped together as “the right”. There are many factors that go into determining one’s political stance, including economics.  On the left, many think of a liberal as someone who supports our current capitalist system, and left as those who want to move beyond capitalism into a more egalitarian system. It was this difference he claims to have had in mind when he said that Obama is not a true leftist, but a slightly left-of-center liberal.

As for the voiding of legally binding contracts, and the dangerous precedent that would set…..his reply was that the law does not forbid anything; it is not an entity unto itself.  We are the makers of laws, and we can change them whenever and however to best meet human needs.

And setting the precedent that legally binding contracts can be voided most emphatically does not best meet human needs.

You see, this is a problem with “activist judges” who find a way to interpret a law or statute to obtain a more desirable outcome, and why the strict constructionist philosophy of Oliver Wendell Holmes is a better approach to interpreting law.

Sure, you can change laws whenever and however you wish—provided you have the power to do it.  And you can also… in fact, you WILL also live with the unintended consequences that inevitably flow from so doing.  There is a reason we have contracts: to protect all the contracting parties.  Let’s say you and I decide to enter into some business venture together.  Suppose I have a business idea in which I persuade you to invest your savings.  We would then enter into a contract, not as some ritualistic formality, but to provide each of us some protection, and some legal recourse in the event of bad faith by one of the contracting parties.  If you invest your savings, you want to have some legal recourse if I turn out to be dishonest, and legally enforcing the terms of the contract gives you that.  That way you won’t just be shit out of luck if I take the money you’ve invested, and attempt to cheat you out of your due share of whatever profits the business earns.

But if you’ve established the precedent that contracts can, ex post facto, be abrogated simply because you find it onerous, burdensome, or it offends your sense of justice to see the terms enforced, why would anyone ever enter into a contract again?  Why would you invest your money in anything, or undertake any sort of business venture, if you know that the contract which protects you in the event of dishonest or illegal action from one of your partners, can be tossed aside if said partner can possibly appeal to the right authority and get it voided?

That’s the problem with changing the law as you go along, to suit your needs or desires of the moment.  You might get a more desirable outcome in the specific case in question.  But what happens after that?  How are these changes you make going to affect things the next time a matter needs to be settled?  That’s why we establish a framework of law, and try to enforce it impartially and uniformly.  It has to have stability, and be something that people can understand and make plans around.  Inevitably, this is going to result in cases like this one with the large bonus payouts—there will be instances where loopholes were exploited that allow some people to get away with things that are not just.  This is inevitably because human institutions cannot be made perfect or foolproof, and it means that sometimes you have to grin and bear it when undesirable outcomes result, because the cure is worse than the disease. 

If you start tampering with the framework to make changes because you don’t like the outcomes when the law is enforced, and then apply those changes ex post facto you are going to open up a very, very messy can of worms.  The law then loses its stability.  People lose their ability to make plans around the law, because they can’t possibly tell now how or if the law will be enforced.  People will refuse to undertake certain risks now for fear that whatever they do will be retroactively redefined as illegal, and they’ll then be penalized for something they had no way to know ahead of time they shouldn’t have done.  I hope you can envision the devastating and paralyzing results this would have on society and the economy. 
 

Josh - 21 February 2010 03:59 PM

As a leftist, my uncle questions who the current laws are designed to protect.  Legislatures can (and have in the past) pass new laws or regulations and make them retroactive. Old usury laws can be reinstated or new ones written. Bankruptcy laws in the past gave more power to the courts to renegotiate all sorts of debts.

See above.  There are still consequences.  We allow bankruptcy because sometimes people lose everything and get into such a financial state that it’s truly impossible for them ever to pay their debts.  But there are consequences to doing this, and the person declaring bankruptcy is going to have to deal with them.

So again, you can make changes, but you had better be sure that the consequences of making them is not going to lead to worse outcome than allowing the status quo to remain.  Undermining the stability of contract law will be worse than allowing these executives to keep the payouts that you can’t prevent them from keeping under the law.  Voiding the contract sets a precedent.  Remember, our legal system is based directly on precedent.  Once you make a change like the one you are proposing, there will be no way, legally, to prevent other people from exploiting that precedent in ways you don’t like.  Then, in order to fix those problems, you’ll have to make up the law on a case by case basis from now on.  How is this going to work?

Josh - 21 February 2010 03:59 PM

He says the basic question is, what type of society do we want to be?  One that protects those who can and will use their legal rights to make profits off of the financial difficulties of others?  Or a society that upholds the basic human right for housing?

Or, I could put it to him: are we going to be a society that has stability and the rule of law?  Or are we going to be one that undermines that stability because we are too blind to reality to realize that you can’t let best be the enemy of good?  Life is not fair.  You can’t always get what you want.  And sometimes bad people get away with it.  You do everything you can to correct this, but temper your efforts with the realization that you are only human, that perfection is not achievable, and that you must ensure that what you do to address the problem will not make things worse instead of better.  As Eric Hoffer put it:

Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.

Josh - 21 February 2010 03:59 PM

The collapse of the housing bubble, in his opinion, is not the result of millions of irresponsible people suddenly having mortgage problems at the same time…..rather, it’s the result of greed….the willingness of lenders to dupe mostly poor homebuyers into taking on mortgages with usurious rates or balloon payments that could not be repaid.

Keynesian economics, he says, attempts to regulate the capitalist business cycle and lessen the effects of too rapid growth and inflation on the one hand, and the ravages and bankruptcies of recessions and depressions on the other. It is still a capitalist economic model and, using my uncle’s terminology, it is liberal. He says there is a difference between the terms social programs and socialist programs....often they are conflated, especially by politicians on the right who want to get scare milage out of labeling everything they do not like as socialist. He says that nationalization is a tool that can and has been used by governments all over the spectrum.  A nationalized company or industry can be temporarily or permanently taken over by a local, state, or national government.  In some countries, certain industries have always been considered part of the public commons (especially utilities), regardless of the party or political ideology in power.  The left does think that nationalization can be a step in building a more egalitarian society; it would depend on many factors. However, some fear mongers would have us believe that the left believes that permanently owned and run state industries are the way to go. That just is not the case, he said.

But it is the case.  Oh don’t misunderstand me, I am sure that not only does your uncle sincerely mean this, but many other liberals like him do also.  The problem is that once the state obtains control over these industries, it almost never gives it up willingly.  Control is power, and most humans don’t relinquish power once they get it.  People like Cincinnatus and Washington, who acquired great power, and then laid it down willingly, are rare in history.  Most people, once they get it, hang on with both hands.

Josh - 21 February 2010 03:59 PM

We have central planning now, not by a government alone but by large corporations and the government over which they have increasing influence (the recent Supreme Court decision will only further strengthen the ties!). The market only ever existed at the early stage of a developing capitalist economy.  My uncle used the media as an example. Look up the statistics about how many different and competing newspaper, radio and television stations we had prior to 1980. Compare that to the few monopolies we have now. A handful of players in each sector now control the market, spending billions on advertising to mold public opinion and tastes to increase demand for their products.  Huge corporations do not and cannot react to an ever changing market.  They depend on 5 year (or more!) plans. The state has existed and grown over the last 10,000 years or more of human history.  There is no magic wand we can wave to make it go away overnight. Historically, the Anarchists were a powerful left ideology with much in common with other leftists.  They called for the immediate abolition of the state. The demise of the Anarchists, my uncle says, is due in part to the recognition that you cannot just abolish the state overnight.  All left ideologies want the abolition of the state, but most want to use reason and social science to guide us back out.  It took a long time to get to where we are, and it will take a very long time to undo.

Leftist ideologies may pay lip service to the abolition of the state.  Nobody but a few ideologues takes that seriously.  In practice, it never happens for the reasons I stated above.

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Posted: 22 February 2010 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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Josh - 21 February 2010 04:13 PM

More from my uncle, regarding the tendency of BOTH left and right to pay lip service to, or subvert, democratic institutions (whichever is convenient at the time):

Democracy grows over time. It is as much a culture as it is a political ideology. Human societies for the last 10,000 years have been characterized by hierarchical power structures where those above have had the right to maintain control by force. Anywhere democracy has taken root, it has brought slow steady changes to the culture. Our own early experiment with democracy was very limited. Only white men with property could participate. They still owned slaves, slaughtered indigenous peoples, and beat their wives and kids.

This is hardly a fair way to put it—as though the society as a whole was engaged in all these things.  It is neither just nor accurate to assume that all or even most of the people back then did these things.  That business about “rule of thumb” referring to the diameter of the stick you could use to beat your wife is an old tale (the phrase actually meant something else: using the length of your own thumb as a rough and ready unit of measure).

Their rule at home was still monarchical. Over time democracy lead to the abolition of cruel and unusual punishments, slavery, women’s subjugation, etc.

That is a generalization that is not born out by the facts, when you look at them more closely.  Remember Athens?  Birthplace of democracy?  Athens’ democracy hardly led to the abolition of these things.  Punishments could still be cruel, Greek women never achieved equal status under the law, and there was no move toward abolition of slavery.  In fact Athens’ democracy was built directly on slavery—the main reason the leading men of Athens (thousands could participate in Athens’ more direct form of democracy) had the time to devote themselves exclusively to public affairs is that Athens had a large slave population to do all the backbreaking drudge work necessary to maintain any society, especially in pre-industrial times.  Then think of pre-imperial Rome.  Rome’s government was a republic, but the mere fact that it had some democratic institutions did not in the slightest move Roman society even one step closer to abolishing the institution of slavery.  In fact, laws mandating at least better treatment of slaves, and punishment for owners who killed them, were not enacted until the Roman Republic had given way to the Roman Empire, and Rome was a monarchy again.

The values your uncle refers to here as the fruits of democracy are actually the fruits of the European Enlightenment, which was by no means confined to democratic countries.

In my own lifetime, I have seen the power of democracy to change culture. My parents went to schools that were rigid and autocratic. You obeyed or you could be punished physically.  By my generation, corporal punishment was on its way out, but there was still a very top down educational structure.  Now I teach in a school where students participate in their own education; there is a greater respect and egalitarianism. This is the result of a growing democratic culture.

Our Republic is over two centuries old, and the government is now larger, more intrusive, and more powerful than ever.  In many ways, citizens have less freedom than they did before.  From social security numbers to income taxes to the expansion of imminent domain to increasing federal regulations of many aspects of daily life, we put up with intrusions into our everyday activities that our ancestors never would have tolerated, and would have been highly suspicious of any attempt to enact.  Yet this change in school administration has resulted in less regulation of the individual students, where if it followed the trend in society, you would expect to see more.

Of course, in other aspects of our lives, we also enjoy more freedom than our ancestors did.  It is hardly a black and white situation.  But I think it is overly simplistic to attribute this change in the school system to a “growing culture of democracy.”  I suspect the reasons for the change in the way we run our schools has many reasons.

Sadly, some of the first attempts at building more egalitarian and socialist societies took place in countries where there had never been any history of democracy. The Soviet Union and China, for example, tried to move from feudal societies to advanced nations in a short period of time. Not only did they have to fight to overthrow repressive systems, but they then had to fight the capitalist nations seeking to destabilize them (Woodrow Wilson sent troops to Siberia in an attempt to undermine the revolution). In the case of the Russians, they then had to fight off the Germans and then face off with the US in an extended cold war. At the same time they (less than 80 years) built a modern state and became a world power.

Once again, this is a simplistic take on a much more complex situation.  And I caution you most strongly against making the assumption that if only the capitalist countries hadn’t tried to destabilize them and put them on the defensive, Lenin and Stalin would have established a truly democratic government in the Soviet Union.  If you learn about those two men, and really take a close look at their characters, you cannot escape the conclusion that they were both autocrats at heart, especially Stalin.

The stirrings of democracy came later as the Union was beginning to buckle under the costs of spending so much of their GDP on the military (a cautionary tale for the US?).  Now that the “socialist” system has been replaced with a capitalist one, there is greater freedom and greater misery. Many fear a growing oligarchy will stifle further democratic growth.  In the case of China, a communist party in name has become capitalist. The country is becoming an economic giant, but they still repress expressions of democracy. In spite of the propaganda we have been fed all our lives, Capitalism and Democracy do not naturally go hand in hand, nor are socialism and state repression synonymous.  Read socialists who still espouse classical Marxist theory or new post Marxist thinkers and you will quickly see that for them all socialism is democracy. It is the extension of democracy into aspects of life, especially the economic, past aborted attempts notwithstanding.

Read Joshua Muravchik’s book “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.”  Over and over again, attempts to create socialist governments have failed, and always result in poor economies, lower standards of living, and less freedom, as the government has to use power to bring the people in line with its policies.  This is not to say that non-socialist countries can’t be just as coercive, but by its nature—the need to use the power of government to redistribute wealth—a truly socialist government must, of necessity be less democratic than a non-socialist republic can be (but isn’t always).

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Posted: 23 February 2010 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Josh - 21 February 2010 04:13 PM

Sadly, some of the first attempts at building more egalitarian and socialist societies took place in countries where there had never been any history of democracy. The Soviet Union and China, for example, tried to move from feudal societies to advanced nations in a short period of time. Not only did they have to fight to overthrow repressive systems, but they then had to fight the capitalist nations seeking to destabilize them (Woodrow Wilson sent troops to Siberia in an attempt to undermine the revolution). In the case of the Russians, they then had to fight off the Germans and then face off with the US in an extended cold war. At the same time they (less than 80 years) built a modern state and became a world power.

I feel a need to revisit this one quote of your uncle’s, because it smacks of revisionist history, in which the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were morally equivalent, and equally responsible for the Cold War, and that just as today with Islamic terrorists, if only we weren’t so mean and rotten and greedy, etc. they wouldn’t have been so paranoid and defensive, and our relationship wouldn’t have been so adversarial.  Sorry but this is a naïve view.

I won’t deny that part of their paranoid stance could have had its basis in Western hostility.  After all, it’s only human for them to have been suspicious when the West really did take action against them, and when Western governments uniformly expressed alarm and detestation of the Bolshevist revolution.  But that does not mean the repressive nature of the Soviet state was a result of Western attitudes.  If you look at Soviet political philosophy, and the statements and views of the U.S.S.R.’s founders, especially Lenin himself, you cannot escape the conclusion that the Soviet Union was never going to be anything other than a totalitarian dictatorship no matter what its neighbors did or didn’t do.  Too many people forget that or deny it.  At best, they might agree that, yes, Stalin really was a monster, and nearly as bad as Hitler, but he was an aberration.  The rest of the Soviet leadership wasn’t as bad as him.  After all, didn’t Lenin warn the others about Stalin before he died?

It’s true that Stalin was worse than the rest of the Soviet leaders by far.  That still doesn’t mean that the rest weren’t tyrants, and the Soviet system wasn’t oppressive and totalitarian.  The U.S.S.R. was destined to be totalitarian by the political philosophy of its founders, and by the fact that you can’t redistribute wealth except by force.  Those who have property aren’t going to give it up; they will have to be compelled.  Force will have to be used, and historically, that’s exactly how it played out.  And when those who owned their own property, or attempted to stand up for their rights, they were defined as “enemies of the people” and crushed.

“Vrag naroda” is Russian for “enemy of the people.  It was a term extensively used by the Soviet Union, beginning with Vladimir Lenin himself as early as in the decree of 28 November 1917:
“...all leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought before the revolutionary court.”

A lot of people in the West these days are ignorant of the fact that the Soviet conception of human rights was very different from ours in the West. According to Western legal theory, the individual has intrinsic human rights which need to be defended and protected against violations by governments.  The American Declaration of Independence is little more than an assertion and justification of this view.  Soviet legal theory, on the other hand claimed the source of human rights is the state.  This is a very important distinction, for what the state can grant, it can also withhold.  Under this view, the Soviet legal system regarded the law differently than it is a regarded in Western legal theory.  In the West, the law is an abstract ideal that is supposed to bind both the government and the governed in the interests of protecting rights and securing justice.  In Soviet legal theory, it was simply a tool of the state—an arm of politics, and therefore it was completely appropriate, in the Soviet view, for the law to serve purely political ends.  Extensive extra-judiciary powers were given to the Soviet secret police agencies in accordance with this view of law, and right from the very beginning, this power was used ruthlessly.  Felix Dzerzhinsky was one of Lenin’s oldest, most trusted, and most loyal comrades, and with Lenin’s full approval, he founded the Bolshevik secret police called the Cheka (later known as the NKVD, later still as the KGB, and which still exists today as the FSB). This agency became notorious for large-scale human rights abuses, including torture and mass summary executions, carried out especially during the Red Terror and the Russian Civil War.

According to Lenin, the purpose of socialist courts was “not to eliminate terror ... but to substantiate it and legitimize in principle.”  In this view, Lenin was taking a page right out of the playbook of the French Revolutionaries, like Robespierre, who held terror up as not only a useful tool of the state, but as a virtue, saying “Terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice; it flows, then, from virtue.” (He earlier had said: “The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People (there’s that phrase again!) but death.”  Predictably, under this philosophy the state used violent repression to crush resistance to the government, and the Soviets, following the French Revolutionary example, did so as well, right from the beginning.  Now contrast these statements of Robespierre and Lenin with those of Geo. Washington, who no less than eleven times in his private letters referenced the words of Micah 4:4 “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid…”  And Washington was merely expressing a popular sentiment, which gained great favor during the Enlightment.  This phrase was also referenced in the Journals of the Continental Congress, in an entry dated Thursday May 29, 1777: “You will sit under your own Vine, and under your own Fig-tree, none being permitted to make you afraid. All political Power will be derived from you; and will be exercised only by such Persons, during such Terms in such Manner and for such Purposes as you shall appoint. Those who shall be entrusted with the Management of public Affairs, will be the Servants, and not the Masters of the States. Laws made by yourselves, or by your Representatives, will be the Rule of your Conduct. In those Laws Virtue will find Protection, and Vice will meet with her proper Punishment. Your Property will be secure; and Justice will be regularly and impartially dispensed.”

One set of revolutionaries sought to employ terror as a tool of the state, another set sought to liberate its people from terror.  This is distinction that must not be missed, for it speaks volumes about the character of systems of government of these different states.  I hope then that you can see clearly the difference between the fundamental, bedrock worldviews upon which the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were founded, and how different, and diametrically opposed they were.  I cannot stress highly enough that a state which advocates terror as a useful and necessary tool of government, and which defines those who it oppose its policies as “enemies of the people” and sees it as necessary to crush them ruthlessly is not, by its very nature going to be a free society that champions individual liberty, regardless of what its neighbors do or don’t do.  In fact, I ask you to consider the view that the very reason that some of those neighbors might seek to intervene against a state that professes such a philosophy, as well as a desire to export it abroad lies not in some sinister and greedy capitalist conspiracy plotted by nefarious and evil plutocrats, but rather genuine alarm at what this state might do, and what it might mean to inhabit a world in which such a state exists and grows into a major power (which anyone could see Russia had the capacity to do).

[ Edited: 23 February 2010 10:34 PM by Billy Shears]
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Posted: 25 February 2010 07:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Billy,

you were impressively accurate in your description of the Soviet regime but there are few points we can argue about.

The origins and reality of the communist system notwithstanding I can give you many examples (supported by the experience of somebody who actually lived in one of the countries of the Soviet Block) where communist theory and practical solutions look far superior to what’s being practiced in America today.

Also I wonder how you can quote the noble sentences attributed to George Washington and not to see the huge gap between what’s being expressed in those sentences and the harsh reality of life some 200 years after those sentences were spoken. You see, the critics of the authoritarian regime have it much easier than the critics of the capitalist system like the one we have in the US. When you see evil in an authoritarian regime you know who deserves to get the blame. It is not easy to assign the blame in the sophisticated capitalist system when no one in particular is responsible for the suffering of the people and everybody in turn feels free to perpetuate big and little evil deeds as long as it helps their bottom line.

I am not advocating any leftist doctrine to be installed in America. I only proposed that we start sincere debate about what works and what doesn’t and refrain from labeling our partners in debate as socialist radicals or right wing supremacists. What do you think?

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Posted: 25 February 2010 11:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 12:15 AM

Billy,

you were impressively accurate in your description of the Soviet regime but there are few points we can argue about.

The origins and reality of the communist system notwithstanding I can give you many examples (supported by the experience of somebody who actually lived in one of the countries of the Soviet Block) where communist theory and practical solutions look far superior to what’s being practiced in America today.

Well let me have one then.  I’m interested to hear it.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 12:15 AM

Also I wonder how you can quote the noble sentences attributed to George Washington and not to see the huge gap between what’s being expressed in those sentences and the harsh reality of life some 200 years after those sentences were spoken.

There is ALWAYS a gap between the ideals professed and the actual practice.  This is true in ANY system.  It’s merely worse in some systems than in others.  This is because altruists and idealists are always in the minority.  Most people are more selfish, and corruptible, and the actual practice of government invariably comes to reflect this sad aspect of human nature.  But I think that the U.S. lives up to its stated ideals better than the dictatorships do.  After all, most people in this country really could sit under their own vine and fig tree, without anyone making them afraid.  There were always exceptions to this, of course.  But historically most people in this country could always carry on their lives with less fear of their government or their fellow citizens than people in many if not most other countries, especially the dictatorships.

And the communist bloc countries that took names like “democratic peoples’ republic of (insert name of country here),” while being anything but democratic in practice, and having scant regard for the people or their civil liberties, strayed vastly more from their stated ideals than the U.S. ever did.

The thing that made the U.S. great, and what has made it more prosperous, is that our founding fathers were smart enough to understand this about human nature, and to build safeguards into our system of government to try and counter it as much as possible.  They divided government into separate branches, and set each one to be a check on the others’ power precisely because they understood that power could easily, and would all too easily be abused if left unchecked.  They expressed noble sentiments, but always understood that many people are less than noble, to put it mildly, and that some would signally fall short of these ideals, so the government would have to be so arranged so as to protect the people from those who would abuse power, and that even then, the rest of us would have to be always on guard against those who would chip away at these safeguards. 

James Madison, the primary author of our constitution stated this as follows:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Dictatorships, by contrast, concentrate power in the hands of a single dictator, or small group of them, and there are few checks on their power, which is why abuses of power and suppression of human rights are so much more common in those systems.

It’s instructive to take a look at the American and French revolutions, and the systems they erected.  The American revolutionaries and the French ones both sought to make a better, freer, more just society.  They went about it in two diametrically opposed ways.  The American revolutionaries recognized human fallibility and weakness, and the limits of human wisdom, so they set up a rigid framework of law that are supposed to bind all, and which, unusually for the time, explicitly defined things the government could not do.  Then everyone had to play by those rules, whether he could get what he wanted accomplished under them or not.  A lot of leaders over the years have not been able to get what they want done accomplished.  But the system is still here, and still working, for the most part.  Our government remains intact, stable, and for all its many faults, still works and has avoided the massive human rights abuses and genocides common to the communist dictatorships.

Now the French revolutionaries, by countries, adopted an “ends justifies the means” approach.  Rather than setting up a system as the best means to an end and abiding by it, no matter what, even when they didn’t always get what they wanted, the leaders of that revolution defined the ends they wanted to achieve, and then set out to do whatever it took to get there.  They let nothing stand in their way, and didn’t hesitate to use coercion and fear as instruments of government… And their revolution soon degenerated into The Reign of Terror, and became so unstable that even the leaders like Robespierre fell victim to the whirlwind of violence they unleashed.  This created political instability, and the chaos set the stage for the rise of Napoleon, who soon plunged France and then all of Europe into a war that spanned the entire continent of Europe, and left the country exhausted, permanently weakened, and ended at last with the restoration of the very royal dynasty that had been cast down almost thirty years earlier.

The success of the American revolutionaries and their approach is seen in the fact that the state they founded not only still exists over two hundred years later, but is a superpower.  The failure of the French revolutionaries and their approach is seen in the rapid fall of the French First Republic, and its replacement with the monarchy of Napoleon, swiftly followed by its fall too, and the return of the Bourbon monarchy.  And yet the sad thing, the tragically sad thing, is that in the twentieth century, Baboeuf and Robespierre had many times more imitators than Washington and Madison.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 12:15 AM

You see, the critics of the authoritarian regime have it much easier than the critics of the capitalist system like the one we have in the US. When you see evil in an authoritarian regime you know who deserves to get the blame. It is not easy to assign the blame in the sophisticated capitalist system when no one in particular is responsible for the suffering of the people and everybody in turn feels free to perpetuate big and little evil deeds as long as it helps their bottom line.

I am not advocating any leftist doctrine to be installed in America. I only proposed that we start sincere debate about what works and what doesn’t and refrain from labeling our partners in debate as socialist radicals or right wing supremacists. What do you think?

I agree.  I think you and I would disagree about most things when it comes to what works and what doesn’t, but civility goes a long way toward finding acceptable compromises.  The problem, I’ve noticed over and over again, comes when people will not accept that you have sincere and good motives.  For example, I’ve argued with people on this very board about issues, and when I disagree with them, they begin name calling and casting aspersions, because they simply will not accept that I am as sincere as they are in wanting a better, freer, more just society, I just differ about what will bring it about.  No, to them, there can only be one reason why I oppose what they believe (and are so obviously right about): I am a bad person.  I am greedy, heartless, callous, selfish, what have you, and that’s why I oppose them.

Little compromise is possible when the opposition is seen in this light.  And the scary thing is that this sort of demonization is precisely what Robespierre and the Committee for Public Safety did during the French Revolution.  Once you demonize someone as a bad person, acting from evil or base motives, it’s easy to define him as an “enemy of the people” and from there its just another short step to using repression to crush any opposition to your government.  This is why safeguards and checks on government power will always be needed, because this monster lurks inside human nature.

[ Edited: 26 February 2010 01:49 AM by Billy Shears]
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Posted: 26 February 2010 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Billy Shears - 26 February 2010 04:50 AM

Well let me have one then.  I’m interested to hear it.

I will give you more than one.
First, there was something like a plan for the development of the country. Before the communist regime came to power many people in rural areas lived in unbelievable poverty (shoes were a luxury many couldn’t afford). By the time the communist regime fell millions were moved from the country side to the cities and the standard of living of those who moved was greatly improved.

Secondly, I went from the first grade to Ph.D. without paying a penny for my education. As with everything else the education I received was worse in some areas than what the students learn here but I also claim than in some areas (mathematics for instance) it was far better than what an average student receives here. Even today the (liberal) slogans like “if you think education is expensive try ignorance” make me mad like hell. Not that I disagree with the truth expressed in such a sentence. What those f***g b***s imply in this sentence makes me mad. Like if they had a patent on education. Like if education had to be costly. If this was the case why professional doctors and engineers from India who got their education for a fraction of what it cost American citizens can successfully compete with American professionals? I myself probably make more money than 90% of people from this forum even if I received zero education from American institutions.

Thirdly, less than 1% of people (excluding farmers) owned any real estate and I liked that. Almost everybody lived in a state owned and maintained apartments, rent was a ridiculously small portion of people’s income and we didn’t have any real estate bubbles or the banking crisis. When I was young I would go camping anywhere in the country and could set up a tent in any nationally owned forest I wanted. The idea of dividing land into small parcels “owned” by individuals for no compelling reason (other than to deny others the use of the land) looks ridiculous to me.

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Posted: 26 February 2010 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:29 AM
Billy Shears - 26 February 2010 04:50 AM

Well let me have one then.  I’m interested to hear it.

I will give you more than one.

I’ve looked at your examples, and they appear to me to be things that may look better… if you aren’t looking past the surface.  If you are, however, they look distinctly less rosy.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:29 AM

First, there was something like a plan for the development of the country. Before the communist regime came to power many people in rural areas lived in unbelievable poverty (shoes were a luxury many couldn’t afford). By the time the communist regime fell millions were moved from the country side to the cities and the standard of living of those who moved was greatly improved.

First off, when did the communist regime come to power, and can you be certain that that was the only reason for the change?  You may be subscribing to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  Remember, there was also a time when the words you spoke above applied to many in the United States.  Until more than halfway through the 19th century, the bulk of the U.S. population was rural and poor.  And it wasn’t a change to a new economic system that reversed this, it was industrialization.  If your country had a mostly agricultural economy before the communists came to power, and the country became more industrialized once they did, it was not the communist system that is responsible for the move from the countryside to the cities, it was the act of moving to a more industrialized economic base, and that sort of thing occurred in non-communist countries also. 

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:29 AM

Secondly, I went from the first grade to Ph.D. without paying a penny for my education. As with everything else the education I received was worse in some areas than what the students learn here but I also claim than in some areas (mathematics for instance) it was far better than what an average student receives here. Even today the (liberal) slogans like “if you think education is expensive try ignorance” make me mad like hell. Not that I disagree with the truth expressed in such a sentence. What those f***g b***s imply in this sentence makes me mad. Like if they had a patent on education. Like if education had to be costly. If this was the case why professional doctors and engineers from India who got their education for a fraction of what it cost American citizens can successfully compete with American professionals? I myself probably make more money than 90% of people from this forum even if I received zero education from American institutions.

Once again, you’re not looking past the surface.  You didn’t pay a penny for your education.  That didn’t mean it was free.  Someone had to cover those costs, and it was the citizens of your country, a portion of whose income was taken from them for this purpose (I hope you sent them a thank you card).  This system is great for the students who get to attend, but it inevitably means fewer students go, because this system can only support so many.

I too was educated abroad.  I got my M.A. in Ireland, so I know something about how other systems of higher education work.  Look at the number of colleges here and in Europe.  In my area we have no less than five colleges or universities within an hour’s drive, and also a number of technical schools.  Three of them are state supported, and offer lower tuition.  In Europe, it’s not uncommon for there to be one college in a region.  In Ireland, there were basically five universities in the entire country (the branches of the National University of Ireland at Galway, Cork, Maynooth, and Dublin, as well as Trinity College, Dublin—smaller “colleges”, such as Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, National College of Art and Design, Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, or St. Angela’s College, Sligo are really either graduate schools, or small, narrowly focused institutions offering degrees in only a few fields).  This means that there are far fewer universities in proportion to the population.  This means that a smaller proportion of secondary school graduates goes on to university level education.

I’ve known people from several other European countries where similar systems are in effect.  College is either very cheap, or even essentially free for the students, because tuition is paid for by taxes levied on the country’s entire population.  But the tax base can only support so many students, so the number is more limited.  Consequently, there are fewer spaces available, and fewer people go to university.  In the U.S. there are a LOT more colleges and universities in proportion to the size of the population.  Some are state supported, and offer lower tuition, some are private and more expensive, but the greater quantity of available seats in classrooms means that a higher percentage of American high school graduates go on to higher education at the university level.

The quality of all these institutions varies, but many are excellent, and the best rival the quality of universities anywhere in the world (which is why so many foreign students come to study in the U.S.), and moreover, many American colleges are known for specializing in certain fields, and attract students in particular disciplines.  Finally, scholarships of all kinds are available for the best students who need financial aid, student loans are also available to others.  The result, as I said, is that more Americans go to college.

So was your system really “better?”  I think there’s room for debate on that point. 

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:29 AM

Thirdly, less than 1% of people (excluding farmers) owned any real estate and I liked that. Almost everybody lived in a state owned and maintained apartments, rent was a ridiculously small portion of people’s income and we didn’t have any real estate bubbles or the banking crisis. When I was young I would go camping anywhere in the country and could set up a tent in any nationally owned forest I wanted. The idea of dividing land into small parcels “owned” by individuals for no compelling reason (other than to deny others the use of the land) looks ridiculous to me.

Fewer farmers owning their land means they were less productive.  Look at the production figures and you will see this is so.  None of the communist countries ever managed to make collective farming even remotely as productive as Western agriculture, and the Soviet system actually saw the country with the world’s highest acreage of arable land become a net importer of grain.  In other words, a country that had the potential to be the worlds (or at least Eurasia’s) breadbasket, couldn’t even feed its own population.  Hungary probably had the most efficient—or rather, make that the least inefficient—collective agriculture system, but it was still never remotely as good as ours.  American agriculture, on the other hand, is so stupendously productive, that we pay some farmers subsidies not to grow food, because we can produce so much of it that we are fearful of driving prices down and ruining the market.

Then add to all this the fact that in all communist countries, without exception, the transition to collective farming involved varying degrees of persuasion by force…  No, I’m sorry, but I cannot and will not agree that collective farming is better.  Not in any sense.

And people who live in state owned apartments may pay far less in rent, but the apartments are nowhere near as nice, overcrowding is commonplace, and standards of living are lower.  The housing bubble we have is not solely due to the free market system, a lot of blame for it comes from political interference in the marketplace by social engineering politicians.

I thank you for the examples, but I am unpersuaded.  All these systems you regard as superior have severe flaws or limitations, and you are completely overlooking them and the costs they impose on the rest of the society where they are practiced.  I simply won’t agree that a small three bedroom apartment, even practically rent free, is better when I have little to no prospect of ever moving to something bigger and better, or when I may have to be jammed in there cheek by jowl with my extended family.  I can see what’s going on around me, and housing crisis or no, I haven’t seen anyone in my city who got foreclosed on, who didn’t live beyond his means.  People who managed their personal finances sensibly invariably managed to weather the storm.  I’m sure there are a few exceptions to this that you can find news stories on, but they’re the exception, not the rule.  And going to a socialist or communist system, and the much lower standards of living that invariably come with it seems to me a cure worse than the disease, thanks all the same.

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Posted: 26 February 2010 06:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Billy Shears - 26 February 2010 03:14 PM

First off, when did the communist regime come to power, and can you be certain that that was the only reason for the change?  You may be subscribing to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  Remember, there was also a time when the words you spoke above applied to many in the United States.  Until more than halfway through the 19th century, the bulk of the U.S. population was rural and poor.  And it wasn’t a change to a new economic system that reversed this, it was industrialization.  If your country had a mostly agricultural economy before the communists came to power, and the country became more industrialized once they did, it was not the communist system that is responsible for the move from the countryside to the cities, it was the act of moving to a more industrialized economic base, and that sort of thing occurred in non-communist countries also.

I will answer this together with the next topic.

Billy Shears - 26 February 2010 03:14 PM

Once again, you’re not looking past the surface.  You didn’t pay a penny for your education.  That didn’t mean it was free.  Someone had to cover those costs, and it was the citizens of your country, a portion of whose income was taken from them for this purpose (I hope you sent them a thank you card).  This system is great for the students who get to attend, but it inevitably means fewer students go, because this system can only support so many.

I too was educated abroad.  I got my M.A. in Ireland, so I know something about how other systems of higher education work.  Look at the number of colleges here and in Europe.  In my area we have no less than five colleges or universities within an hour’s drive, and also a number of technical schools.  Three of them are state supported, and offer lower tuition.  In Europe, it’s not uncommon for there to be one college in a region.  In Ireland, there were basically five universities in the entire country (the branches of the National University of Ireland at Galway, Cork, Maynooth, and Dublin, as well as Trinity College, Dublin—smaller “colleges”, such as Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, National College of Art and Design, Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, or St. Angela’s College, Sligo are really either graduate schools, or small, narrowly focused institutions offering degrees in only a few fields).  This means that there are far fewer universities in proportion to the population.  This means that a smaller proportion of secondary school graduates goes on to university level education.

I’ve known people from several other European countries where similar systems are in effect.  College is either very cheap, or even essentially free for the students, because tuition is paid for by taxes levied on the country’s entire population.  But the tax base can only support so many students, so the number is more limited.  Consequently, there are fewer spaces available, and fewer people go to university.  In the U.S. there are a LOT more colleges and universities in proportion to the size of the population.  Some are state supported, and offer lower tuition, some are private and more expensive, but the greater quantity of available seats in classrooms means that a higher percentage of American high school graduates go on to higher education at the university level.

The quality of all these institutions varies, but many are excellent, and the best rival the quality of universities anywhere in the world (which is why so many foreign students come to study in the U.S.), and moreover, many American colleges are known for specializing in certain fields, and attract students in particular disciplines.  Finally, scholarships of all kinds are available for the best students who need financial aid, student loans are also available to others.  The result, as I said, is that more Americans go to college.

So was your system really “better?”  I think there’s room for debate on that point.

Let’s go back to how we started this topic. I promised to give examples of things that worked better. Never in my post I stated that the system as a whole was better. That’s an important distinction. Now, the common motif of those examples is something important that I want to spell out clearly. Something not necessarily specific to the communist/socialist ideology. I am talking about the notion of the common good which directly doesn’t benefit all citizens equally but indirectly makes the entire nation function and prosper better. So, I may claim that in the end it benefits all.

In case of moving people from the countryside to the cities it was not just the result of industrialization. The difference between the industrialization running its course and a planned policies to make the industrialization happen is huge. It is slums versus building apartment buildings for newcomers just to give one example.

In case of educational system it was the notion that the country needs well educated people. It needs a specific number of engineers, teachers, scientists. Of course, there are no resources to educate everyone but the sensible policy is to give the best education to the best, those who have talent and who actually want to learn. What is the consolation that we have more colleges in America than anybody in the world if Bill Gates still wanted to import more programmers from India? And what do you say to a mislead student who cannot repay the student loan on a lousy salary in spite successfully completing his education?

I know that the notion of subsidized education doesn’t sit well with conservatives, yet, the same people are for cutting taxes and trickle down economy which on the left is correctly interpreted as helping the rich at the expense of the poor. So again it is either or. You don’t like subsidies? Then don’t cut taxes. You want to do something that helps the nation and not just a special interest? Subsidize education.

Billy Shears - 26 February 2010 03:14 PM

Fewer farmers owning their land means they were less productive.  Look at the production figures and you will see this is so.  None of the communist countries ever managed to make collective farming even remotely as productive as Western agriculture, and the Soviet system actually saw the country with the world’s highest acreage of arable land become a net importer of grain.  In other words, a country that had the potential to be the worlds (or at least Eurasia’s) breadbasket, couldn’t even feed its own population.  Hungary probably had the most efficient—or rather, make that the least inefficient—collective agriculture system, but it was still never remotely as good as ours.  American agriculture, on the other hand, is so stupendously productive, that we pay some farmers subsidies not to grow food, because we can produce so much of it that we are fearful of driving prices down and ruining the market.

Then add to all this the fact that in all communist countries, without exception, the transition to collective farming involved varying degrees of persuasion by force…  No, I’m sorry, but I cannot and will not agree that collective farming is better.  Not in any sense.

And people who live in state owned apartments may pay far less in rent, but the apartments are nowhere near as nice, overcrowding is commonplace, and standards of living are lower.  The housing bubble we have is not solely due to the free market system, a lot of blame for it comes from political interference in the marketplace by social engineering politicians.

I thank you for the examples, but I am unpersuaded.  All these systems you regard as superior have severe flaws or limitations, and you are completely overlooking them and the costs they impose on the rest of the society where they are practiced.  I simply won’t agree that a small three bedroom apartment, even practically rent free, is better when I have little to no prospect of ever moving to something bigger and better, or when I may have to be jammed in there cheek by jowl with my extended family.  I can see what’s going on around me, and housing crisis or no, I haven’t seen anyone in my city who got foreclosed on, who didn’t live beyond his means.  People who managed their personal finances sensibly invariably managed to weather the storm.  I’m sure there are a few exceptions to this that you can find news stories on, but they’re the exception, not the rule.  And going to a socialist or communist system, and the much lower standards of living that invariably come with it seems to me a cure worse than the disease, thanks all the same.

I think you didn’t understand the third example. The agricultural system in the Soviet Block sucked big time. I have nothing to say in its defense. Communist authorities were paranoid about the notion of people owning something and being economically independent from the state. Unfortunately for them in farming the economical success of the farmer (and the country) requires that the land which produces the food is owned by those who produce.

However, outside of the farming the sole purpose and benefit of owning the land is another opportunity for speculation. In the end opportunities for speculation are what’s killing the capitalist system. These days Wall Street is nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme. The housing bubble is a direct result of allowing people to play with their houses in the giant casino called real estate market.

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Posted: 26 February 2010 09:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

Let’s go back to how we started this topic. I promised to give examples of things that worked better. Never in my post I stated that the system as a whole was better. That’s an important distinction. Now, the common motif of those examples is something important that I want to spell out clearly. Something not necessarily specific to the communist/socialist ideology. I am talking about the notion of the common good which directly doesn’t benefit all citizens equally but indirectly makes the entire nation function and prosper better. So, I may claim that in the end it benefits all.

But it didn’t benefit all citizens equally and make the entire nation function and prosper better.  That’s just it.  It demonstrably didn’t.  The communist nations which had this system lagged well behind the West in virtually every field of endeavor.  In technology, in industrial output, in agricultural production, in economic prosperity, in standard of living, in civil liberty and individual freedom, in opportunity for advancement, in social mobility, you name it.  It mystifies me that you can argue for the superiority of a system that produced inferior results across the board.  Results are what matter.  Results matter far more than intentions, and the system in the communist bloc produced inferior results. 

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

In case of moving people from the countryside to the cities it was not just the result of industrialization. The difference between the industrialization running its course and a planned policies to make the industrialization happen is huge. It is slums versus building apartment buildings for newcomers just to give one example.

And yet the standard of living in Western slums was little, if any worse than that in the overcrowded workers’ apartment complexes behind the iron curtain.  And what’s more, a far higher percentage of the population of Eastern bloc countries lived in those overcrowded and spartan apartments than lived in Western slums.  Here’s a good example for you.  In any American slum or ghetto, you will find many, many people who own their own cars.  Some are old, used beaters, but some are fairly new, and a few are even brand new (and I ought to know, my job takes me into slums on a regular basis).  Even poor people in America have little trouble purchasing some kind of vehicle.  Now behind the Iron Curtain, in East Germany, to look at a specific example, it was a completely different story.  There was virtually only one kind of car available: the infamous Trabant—a tiny, sputtering, pollution spewing, unreliable, plastic-bodied little deathtrap, inferior in every respect to the Volkswagen Beetle which was designed two decades earlier.  And to get one of these little horrors, you had to get on a waiting list, and the usual wait time was fifteen YEARS!!!

And by the way, this didn’t just apply to poor people, it applied to nearly everybody!  The average joe in communist East Germany had to wait a decade and half for a wretched little underpowered go kart, while even poor people in the West could obtain a car in minutes from any dealer.  And it wasn’t just cars, if you wanted a telephone installed, if you wanted a new, larger apartment because your family had grown, if you wanted anything, you had to get on interminably long waiting lists, and what you got, when you finally got it, was inferior to cheapest things available to even the poorest people in West.

In other words, the overall standard of living was orders of magnitude lower.  For everybody.  Again, I don’t see how you can argue that the communist system was better when the results it produced were demonstrably so much worse.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

In case of educational system it was the notion that the country needs well educated people. It needs a specific number of engineers, teachers, scientists.

Actually this is not true.  There is no “specific” number that some bureau or individual can determine is optimum.  As new jobs are created, new positions for people in these fields open up.  The number changes constantly, and in a market economy, the salary paid these jobs rises and falls according to scarcity and demand.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

Of course, there are no resources to educate everyone but the sensible policy is to give the best education to the best, those who have talent and who actually want to learn. What is the consolation that we have more colleges in America than anybody in the world if Bill Gates still wanted to import more programmers from India?

You’re confusing causes here.  The reason we are importing so much talent from abroad is not because American colleges are turning out inferior graduates, its because they aren’t turning out enough native-born graduates.  And the reason they aren’t is that our system of primary and secondary education have been royally screwed up by the teachers’ unions.  The result is that fewer American high school graduates are able to qualify for entry into the best universities and graduate schools.  But it wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way now.  If we can manage to fix our K-12 education, the large number of colleges will again be an asset to our society.  Hell, it still is one, just not in quite the same way it used to be.  After all, it doesn’t really matter in the end if the students in our universities were all born here, if they stay here and assimilate into American society.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

And what do you say to a mislead student who cannot repay the student loan on a lousy salary in spite successfully completing his education?

I’d say he wasted his time studying the wrong things.  If you are smart, motivated, and pick a good career field, you will almost certainly be able to get a good job that will pay you enough to enable you to repay your loans.  Sure there are exceptions to this, but they are rare.  Robert A. Heinlein wrote a very good essay back in the ‘80s that appears in his book Expanded Universe, in which he outlines (for satirical purposes) how you can obtain a degree from even the best universities, and graduate having learned absolutely nothing of value.  He pointed this out to show some of the things wrong with our educational system, but even so, stipulated correctly that it is also possible to obtain a first rate education in a good, in-demand career field in these same institutions, and if you do so, you can get a very good job.  Students need to take a little responsibility for their own futures and do this.

In other words, when you go to college, you can pick serious courses, study hard, and get the kind of education that will ensure you are well positioned in the job market; or you can pick unserious courses, waste your time, not study hard, and get an indifferent education which will be of little help to you once you enter the job market.  It’s up to you which course you take, and you’ll reap the rewards, or not, accordingly.  A lot of people who are finding their educations are of little help to them now that they’ve graduated are people who didn’t take college seriously, and who wasted their time there.  That’s not the system’s fault, that’s their fault.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

I know that the notion of subsidized education doesn’t sit well with conservatives, yet, the same people are for cutting taxes and trickle down economy which on the left is correctly interpreted as helping the rich at the expense of the poor.

No, it’s not correctly interpreted as this.  I refer you back to my comment in a previous post about not attributing bad motives to those who disagree with you.  Conservatives don’t all want to help the rich and to hell with the rest, that is a misrepresentation, and is dishonest, uncharitable, and unhelpful in reaching common ground.  It happens that conservatives believe cutting taxes (along with reducing spending), stimulates the economy, leading to economic growth, and that means more jobs and lower unemployment, and that helps everybody.  You may disagree with this economic model, and if so, that’s fine, but it is simply not correct to accuse conservatives of wanting to cut taxes because they are all Snidely Whiplash-type, mustache-twirling villains who sneer at the suffering of poor people while they smoke big cigars and drink highballs.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

So again it is either or. You don’t like subsidies? Then don’t cut taxes. You want to do something that helps the nation and not just a special interest? Subsidize education.

I have no problem with subsidizing education, I just can’t figure out why you are arguing for the communist model.  Go back and read what you have written. It looks like you are tripping on your own argument.  On the one hand, you are arguing that more educated people is a net benefit to society, and we should subsidize education so that we have more of them; and then on the other hand, you are arguing against a system which produces more educated people.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

I think you didn’t understand the third example. The agricultural system in the Soviet Block sucked big time. I have nothing to say in its defense. Communist authorities were paranoid about the notion of people owning something and being economically independent from the state. Unfortunately for them in farming the economical success of the farmer (and the country) requires that the land which produces the food is owned by those who produce.

However, outside of the farming the sole purpose and benefit of owning the land is another opportunity for speculation.

This is simply not true.  The vast majority of people in the US who own their own homes, their own land, or their own farm, are not land speculators and never have been.  The purpose of owning land is to have something valuable that you can use to support yourself and your family, and which you can leave to your heirs so they can do the same.  Property rights go hand in hand not only with economic productivity, but with individual liberty.  That’s why the American founding fathers were so keen on protecting property rights.  If you aren’t secure in the ownership of your property, if you can’t do as you like with what you own, you really aren’t very free, after all.

Thomas Orr - 26 February 2010 11:07 PM

In the end opportunities for speculation are what’s killing the capitalist system. These days Wall Street is nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme. The housing bubble is a direct result of allowing people to play with their houses in the giant casino called real estate market.

This isn’t entirely accurate either.  Joint stock corporations have been around since the Middle Ages, and investing and trading isn’t, of necessity, a ponzi scheme.

[ Edited: 26 February 2010 10:49 PM by Billy Shears]
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Posted: 27 February 2010 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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Billy,

I am ready to continue our debate but please read my post again and take back some of the statements you made.

1. You keep repeating that I believe in superiority of the communist system. I don’t. I started this topic with the claim that there are isolated examples of what worked better in a socialist system. I maintain this claim and am ready to continue arguing for my point of view.

2. I said that subsidizing education at the end benefits the entire nation. I didn’t say that the communist/socialist system benefited everybody equally. Can you see the difference? It will help if you read my posts carefully and refrain from attributing to me things I didn’t say. So far I think I am not guilty of attributing any such thing to what you were saying. Let’s play an even game.

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Posted: 27 February 2010 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:38 AM

Billy,

I am ready to continue our debate but please read my post again and take back some of the statements you made.

1. You keep repeating that I believe in superiority of the communist system. I don’t. I started this topic with the claim that there are isolated examples of what worked better in a socialist system. I maintain this claim and am ready to continue arguing for my point of view.

I think I understand your points; I’m not sure you’re understanding mine.  I’m trying to point out how those things don’t, in fact, work better in the socialist system—they only appear to, if you happen to be the direct beneficiary of this system, which you were in the case of the educational system.  You used the education system as an example, because it enabled you to obtain an education without you or your family having to shell out a lot of money for it.  I point out that that is only because the costs of your education were passed on to the citizens of your country instead, and that moreover, this way of doing things produces fewer graduates than ours, so the assertion that it is better is highly debatable.  It appears better to you, because you personally profited from it, but it does not appear that it was better for your society, because it turned out fewer people with a higher education. 

The example of apartments being virtually rent free is also like this.  That does indeed look pretty good if you have had the experience of living in one, and then also living in an apartment in the West that you had to pay high rents for.  But things start to look a lot worse when you realize that not only are those apartments substandard by Western standards, a much higher percentage of the population is living in them, than is living in substandard housing in the West.  So how can this system of housing truly be better if it results in a larger number of people living in worse conditions?

I understand why you criticize capitalism: the gap between rich and poor yawns wide (though I would debate whether it was any greater than that between the “proletariat” in communist countries, and the privileged party members who got shop in their own stores for things the common people couldn’t get).  But when even the poor in capitalist countries are at least as well of, materially, as the average citizen in the communist bloc was, and when the average citizen in the West was vastly better off…  Well, I must dispute that the communist/socialist way of doing things was, in fact, better, even in the specific areas you describe.

It’s just as Winston Churchill said: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:38 AM

2. I said that subsidizing education at the end benefits the entire nation. I didn’t say that the communist/socialist system benefited everybody equally. Can you see the difference? It will help if you read my posts carefully and refrain from attributing to me things I didn’t say. So far I think I am not guilty of attributing any such thing to what you were saying. Let’s play an even game.

see above, I am trying to refute your specific examples, but I am also pointing out they not only don’t in fact work better once you look past the surface at all the hidden costs and trade offs which are there, but they are also symptomatic of the inefficiency of the socialist model.

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Posted: 27 February 2010 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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OK, Billy,

Let’s continue after that brief exchange of assurances that we understand each other.

Although my main point is very far from trying to glorify life under communist/socialist regime I would like to take liberty in correcting some of your assumptions regarding that life.

First, education is really a shining example of how things can be better than what we know from our American experience. Here are some facts you probably are not aware of. The authorities were trying to open up the benefits of education to every talent. Knowing that students from rural areas were disadvantaged there were extra points awarded for those students when considering admission to the institutions of higher education. I think that it worked. Among the best of my college friends who graduated with me and continued as assistant professors, at least 20% were from rural areas. Students from low income families were receiving stipends, room and board. Yes, those privileges were abused (show me a student who doesn’t abuse his privileges) but in the end they were tied to academic performance, so notorious abusers were eventually flushed out. You were making fun of the central planning in socialist education. Prematurely. The planning was to decide how many students could be admitted to a given field of specialization. However, in the end it was always student’s personal decision and those who were good had many choices. The blame for bad choices was shared equally between authorities and students but the extreme American examples (not being able to repay student loans) could not happen.

Sure, there were many bad things in the socialist educational system as I know from my experience. We had to take mandatory courses on Marxism and some other stupid subjects (the consolation is nobody remembers much from those courses). The communist authorities were very uneasy about the independence and authority of university professors. They were trying to place the “party loyal” in such positions of authority. They could only do it by artificially lowering the standards for making it to the top of academic structure and by introducing the position of “professor by nomination”. It resulted in some embarrassing cases of doctorate dissertations not up to the standard and visible decline in the quality of research and education in some academic institutions.

To be fair I have to say that the high level of education in many disciplines was inherited from the pre-communist era and maintained by the tradition and culture of the academic elite. And yes, that culture and tradition were being gradually eroded and destroyed by the authorities and their inability to tolerate anything independent.

You are not very accurate about socialist apartments either. I happen to own a rental property which I and my partner used to rent to Mexican workers. The housing conditions of those Mexican workers were much worse than anything I have seen in the socialist country I grew up in. I hated being the landlord for those workers but I couldn’t do anything to change it. Both I and those workers were victims of the stupid system we have here. OK, here are the few facts about socialists apartments. They were small by the Western standards, that’s true. The biggest problem was that there were not enough of them and the problem was getting worse with time. It took the communist authorities some 20 years to realize that given the population growth and the aging of the house basis some thought should be given to actually building few new apartments now and then. However, I have not much to complain about the standards of living in those apartments. In places where there was no electricity and gas that standard was by necessity low. But nobody can deny that communist authorities were true to their promise to build power stations and electric grid, so eventually electricity was available to the entire country. When I was a child all trains were powered by coal. Twenty some years later almost entire train fleet was running on electricity. Also, from my early childhood I remember my mother buying coal for the holiday cooking. In our kitchen we had only two gas burners and for the “serious” stove cooking coal was needed. Eventually, the need for coal disappeared and most of the houses in my city were connected to the hot water from a big power station (hot water was a byproduct, the main purpose of the power station was to make electricity). The hot water was free, which was good and not so good. People were wasting it.

Adding the health service to the list of examples of what I like would make this post too long. So let’s finish this digression and go back to the main topic.

Billy, I really don’t care about the life under communist regime and I am not nostalgic about it. My main point is this. Things I don’t like in American reality can be different. They can be better even if some people have a hard time imagining that. My point is that privatization is not the answer for everything. Cutting taxes will work only to a point. Disparity between poor and rich will eventually destroy this country. Some socialist concepts can work and can improve our lives if we have the wisdom to try.

Regarding conservative rhetoric there are many things I cannot stand and I argue that logic is on my side. One thing from this debate is this. We have to accept the principle that the common good requires that some things we do (and pay for with our taxes) do not benefit everybody equally. But in the end they are for the common good which will benefit everybody.

The basic things of this nature I have in mind are subsidized health care, subsidized education, subsidized public transportation, social security and - that’s my personal opinion probably very shocking to many - subsidized public housing not just for the poorest among us but for the majority. The point is that those wonderful things cannot happen in a corrupt undemocratic nation such as The United States of America. But what the heck, we can and we should try.

The rhetoric of the conservatives which I cannot stand because it violates the logic is, for instance, rejecting all the above (don’t subsidize some with my tax money) and yet insisting on cutting taxes, which is precisely subsidizing some for the professed common good. Even when, as Obama has pointed out few times, “we tried it for many years and unfortunately it didn’t work”.

[ Edited: 27 February 2010 06:34 PM by Thomas Orr]
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Posted: 09 March 2010 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:20 PM

OK, Billy…
To be fair I have to say that the high level of education in many disciplines was inherited from the pre-communist era and maintained by the tradition and culture of the academic elite. And yes, that culture and tradition were being gradually eroded and destroyed by the authorities and their inability to tolerate anything independent.

Unfortunately, the same thing is happening here, where “speech codes” and an overwhelming leftward bias among staff and faculty members exists.  This results in faculty members who are not always very tolerant of differing views.

Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:20 PM

You are not very accurate about socialist apartments either. I happen to own a rental property which I and my partner used to rent to Mexican workers. The housing conditions of those Mexican workers were much worse than anything I have seen in the socialist country I grew up in. I hated being the landlord for those workers but I couldn’t do anything to change it. Both I and those workers were victims of the stupid system we have here. OK, here are the few facts about socialists apartments. They were small by the Western standards, that’s true. The biggest problem was that there were not enough of them and the problem was getting worse with time. It took the communist authorities some 20 years to realize that given the population growth and the aging of the house basis some thought should be given to actually building few new apartments now and then.

A problem inherent with planned economies.  A market economy would handle this better – a need for more housing arises, housing prices go up, motivating developers to build new housing because they can make money there, housing becomes more available, which brings the price back down, tapering off development.  Classic supply and demand at work.

Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:20 PM

However, I have not much to complain about the standards of living in those apartments…

Standards of living here tend not to get too bad, where people buy or rent their own homes.  My job gives me the advantage of a better vantage point from which to observe relative living conditions, since I go into homes at every income level.  By far the worst, the dirtiest, the most unsanitary homes are those in “public housing.”  The main reason for this, I think, is people have a tendency not to care of property that doesn’t belong to them, or which they will not at least be held accountable for.  If you own your own home, you tend to take more care of it, because you’ll be on the hook for repairs if it gets so dilapidated that it becomes unlivable.  Also, if you rent, you tend to have to take some care of it because your landlord will hold you responsible for any damage, and will evict you if you don’t pay for it.  In the section 8 housing, or in the projects, which are as close to rent free as housing gets in the U.S. they turn into run down pig sties because the tenants don’t care about them and don’t take care of them.  There are exceptions to this, naturally; there are people in public housing who are neat, conscientious tenants, and there are homeowners who live in squalor, but statistically, those are the outliers.  The trend is as I have just described.  Housing in the U.S. tends to be affordable except in two cases: where there is rent control and where there are legal restrictions on building new housing (e.g. “open space” laws).  This happens because rent control is a form of price fixing (which never works, and always produces shortages), which makes it unprofitable to rent apartments.  When landlords can’t make a profit renting, they have no money to reinvest in upkeep and repairs, and properties get run down, or have to close down altogether.  Legal restrictions on building new housing prevent supply from rising to meet demand when demand increases.  It’s no accident that the places in the U.S. where slums are the most run down, and where housing prices have risen into the stratosphere all have one or both of these things (e.g. coastal California, where the average home price in California in 2005 was more than half a million dollars, even though the average size of the homes sold was just 1,600 square feet.

This isn’t the free market at work; this is the result of political interference with the market.

Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:20 PM

Billy, I really don’t care about the life under communist regime and I am not nostalgic about it. My main point is this. Things I don’t like in American reality can be different. They can be better even if some people have a hard time imagining that. My point is that privatization is not the answer for everything. Cutting taxes will work only to a point. Disparity between poor and rich will eventually destroy this country. Some socialist concepts can work and can improve our lives if we have the wisdom to try.

Here I must strongly disagree.  In all of human history, there have been rich and poor; haves and have-nots.  In many societies, the gap between the two has been far wider than it is today between rich and poor in the U.S., and in no case has this been the cause of a society’s or a nation’s collapse.

What will destroy this country is fiscal irresponsibility, leading to economic, followed by societal collapse.  More on this below.

Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:20 PM

Regarding conservative rhetoric there are many things I cannot stand and I argue that logic is on my side. One thing from this debate is this. We have to accept the principle that the common good requires that some things we do (and pay for with our taxes) do not benefit everybody equally. But in the end they are for the common good which will benefit everybody.

I agree on the principle, where I think you and I would disagree is on where to draw the line.  What services should the government provide?  More on this below also.

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They’ll burn in hell just as they should; their cries will be so lyrical
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Posted: 09 March 2010 11:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 27 February 2010 11:20 PM

The basic things of this nature I have in mind are subsidized health care, subsidized education, subsidized public transportation, social security and - that’s my personal opinion probably very shocking to many - subsidized public housing not just for the poorest among us but for the majority. The point is that those wonderful things cannot happen in a corrupt undemocratic nation such as The United States of America. But what the heck, we can and we should try.

The rhetoric of the conservatives which I cannot stand because it violates the logic is, for instance, rejecting all the above (don’t subsidize some with my tax money) and yet insisting on cutting taxes, which is precisely subsidizing some for the professed common good. Even when, as Obama has pointed out few times, “we tried it for many years and unfortunately it didn’t work”.

This is simply not the whole truth.  You are leaving out certain important facts.  Taxes were cut under John F. Kennedy, and under Ronald Reagan, and both times this encouraged investment, directly stimulated economic growth, and saw a net increase in government revenues.  This is a documented fact.  What caused the deficits we now have is that spending was increased more than the increase in revenues.  After the JFK tax cuts and economic growth came LBJ and the cost of paying for the Vietnam War, plus The Great Society – a wave of new entitlements and a massive increase in government spending.  After the Reagan tax cuts and economic growth came massively increased defense spending (along with increases in spending on social programs – the democrats controlled congress with Reagan was president, remember, it’s congress that appropriates funds).  So tax cuts can and do stimulate economic growth, and this results in the government collecting more in revenues; this is a historically documented fact, therefore it is simply false to assert that “unfortunately it didn’t work.”  It did work in growing the economy and increasing tax revenues (even despite the cut in tax rates).  Again, this is documented fact.  However, you can’t go on to spend even more money than what you collected without getting into debt, but that’s precisely what we did.

The result is the dire financial crisis we now face.  We owe way, way too much money, and we simply cannot afford to borrow more.  You can see what happens when you let government grow too large, and spending grow too massive if you just look at the current situation in Greece, where decades of lavish spending on too many government employees with overlarge salaries and pensions, and on social programs have brought that nation to the point where bankruptcy is looking not just possible, but likely, and the EU is considering what drastic measures it may have to take. Greece’s budget deficit last year was 12.7% of GDP. Greece’s socialist government has at last been forced by circumstance to try to adopt austerity measures, but is (predictably) running into massive resistance and protest from a citizenry grown dependent on government programs, and who are unwilling to face up to the harsh reality that their country can simply no longer afford to indulge in all this spending. Public employees facing salary and pension cuts have responded with strikes and violence.  Tax collectors, court employees, and garbage collectors have all recently staged work stoppages in protest against state spending cuts that are meant to save 4.8 billion euros (6.5 billion US dollars).  Faced with political suicide if they press on with needed austerity measures, don’t be surprised if Greek politicians decide to give up pushing these needed reforms, and just let the country ride right over the economic cliff.

The same thing is happening in California, where despite looming financial collapse, legislators in Sacramento won’t face up to the public sector unions who oppose spending cuts, despite those cuts being a dire necessity.  And so, when doing what’s vitally necessary becomes politically difficult, if not impossible, California too prepares to sail blithely over the cliff.

And big government hasn’t worked for California.  It makes an interesting comparison with Texas, a state very similar in population and demographics, but which his favored limited government.

They are lessons that are particularly vivid when you contrast Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, with the most populous, California. Both were once Mexican territory, secured for the United States in the 1840s. Both have grown prodigiously over the past half-century. Both have populations that today are about one-third Hispanic.
But they differ vividly in public policy and in their economic progress—or lack of it—over the last decade. California has gone in for big government in a big way. Democrats hold big margins in the legislature…

Texas is a different story. Texas has low taxes—and no state income taxes—and a much smaller government. Its legislature meets for only 90 days every two years, compared with California’s year-round legislature. Its fiscal condition is sound. Public employee unions are weak or nonexistent.

But Texas seems to be delivering superior services. Its teachers are paid less than California’s. But its test scores—and with a demographically similar school population—are higher. California’s once fabled freeways are crumbling and crowded. Texas has built gleaming new highways in metro Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.
In the meantime, Texas’ economy has been booming. Unemployment rates have been below the national average for more than a decade, as companies small and large generate new jobs.

And Americans have been voting for Texas with their feet. From 2000 to 2009, some 848,000 people moved from other parts of the United States to Texas, about the same number as moved in from abroad. That inflow has continued in 2008-09, in which 143,000 Americans moved into Texas, more than double the number in any other state, at the same time as 98,000 were moving out of California.

Low-tax Texas beats big-government California

President Obama and his fellow democrats in congress seem willfully blind to the lessons of Greece and California (and Texas).  Right now, our obligations in the form of Social Security and Medicare amount to $107 trillion in 2009 dollars.  Unemployment remains above 10%.  Our current debt to GDP ratio is among the highest in the world, making it difficult to pay down our debt.  Last week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that if President Obama’s budget is adopted (without the health care bill), the national debt will grow by $9.7 trillion over the next decade (needless to say, if the health care bill is passed, the debt will grow much, much larger).  And faced with all this – a financial meltdown looming in our future, as this level of debt and spending are simply unsustainable – the democrat-controlled government not only shows no sign of reining spending in, it proposes, with the current health care bill, to create a huge new entitlement!

This isn’t just madness, it’s hubris.  We need some sort of health care reform.  I agree with that.  But we can’t afford a massive new entitlement.  We.  Simply.  Can’t.  Afford.  It.  However much you may want socialized health care, you can’t collapse the economy trying to create it.  If you do, nobody will get good health care (or work, or insurance, or credit, etc.).  We need to start over with a new bill, and it has to be something we can afford.

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Posted: 09 March 2010 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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Billy Shears - 09 March 2010 04:09 PM

This is simply not the whole truth.  You are leaving out certain important facts.  Taxes were cut under John F. Kennedy, and under Ronald Reagan, and both times this encouraged investment, directly stimulated economic growth, and saw a net increase in government revenues.  This is a documented fact.  What caused the deficits we now have is that spending was increased more than the increase in revenues.  After the JFK tax cuts and economic growth came LBJ and the cost of paying for the Vietnam War, plus The Great Society – a wave of new entitlements and a massive increase in government spending.  After the Reagan tax cuts and economic growth came massively increased defense spending (along with increases in spending on social programs – the democrats controlled congress with Reagan was president, remember, it’s congress that appropriates funds).  So tax cuts can and do stimulate economic growth, and this results in the government collecting more in revenues; this is a historically documented fact, therefore it is simply false to assert that “unfortunately it didn’t work.”  It did work in growing the economy and increasing tax revenues (even despite the cut in tax rates).  Again, this is documented fact.  However, you can’t go on to spend even more money than what you collected without getting into debt, but that’s precisely what we did.

The result is the dire financial crisis we now face.  We owe way, way too much money, and we simply cannot afford to borrow more.  You can see what happens when you let government grow too large, and spending grow too massive if you just look at the current situation in Greece, where decades of lavish spending on too many government employees with overlarge salaries and pensions, and on social programs have brought that nation to the point where bankruptcy is looking not just possible, but likely, and the EU is considering what drastic measures it may have to take. Greece’s budget deficit last year was 12.7% of GDP. Greece’s socialist government has at last been forced by circumstance to try to adopt austerity measures, but is (predictably) running into massive resistance and protest from a citizenry grown dependent on government programs, and who are unwilling to face up to the harsh reality that their country can simply no longer afford to indulge in all this spending. Public employees facing salary and pension cuts have responded with strikes and violence.  Tax collectors, court employees, and garbage collectors have all recently staged work stoppages in protest against state spending cuts that are meant to save 4.8 billion euros (6.5 billion US dollars).  Faced with political suicide if they press on with needed austerity measures, don’t be surprised if Greek politicians decide to give up pushing these needed reforms, and just let the country ride right over the economic cliff.

The same thing is happening in California, where despite looming financial collapse, legislators in Sacramento won’t face up to the public sector unions who oppose spending cuts, despite those cuts being a dire necessity.  And so, when doing what’s vitally necessary becomes politically difficult, if not impossible, California too prepares to sail blithely over the cliff.

And big government hasn’t worked for California.  It makes an interesting comparison with Texas, a state very similar in population and demographics, but which his favored limited government.

They are lessons that are particularly vivid when you contrast Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, with the most populous, California. Both were once Mexican territory, secured for the United States in the 1840s. Both have grown prodigiously over the past half-century. Both have populations that today are about one-third Hispanic.
But they differ vividly in public policy and in their economic progress—or lack of it—over the last decade. California has gone in for big government in a big way. Democrats hold big margins in the legislature…

Texas is a different story. Texas has low taxes—and no state income taxes—and a much smaller government. Its legislature meets for only 90 days every two years, compared with California’s year-round legislature. Its fiscal condition is sound. Public employee unions are weak or nonexistent.

But Texas seems to be delivering superior services. Its teachers are paid less than California’s. But its test scores—and with a demographically similar school population—are higher. California’s once fabled freeways are crumbling and crowded. Texas has built gleaming new highways in metro Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.
In the meantime, Texas’ economy has been booming. Unemployment rates have been below the national average for more than a decade, as companies small and large generate new jobs.

And Americans have been voting for Texas with their feet. From 2000 to 2009, some 848,000 people moved from other parts of the United States to Texas, about the same number as moved in from abroad. That inflow has continued in 2008-09, in which 143,000 Americans moved into Texas, more than double the number in any other state, at the same time as 98,000 were moving out of California.

Low-tax Texas beats big-government California

President Obama and his fellow democrats in congress seem willfully blind to the lessons of Greece and California (and Texas).  Right now, our obligations in the form of Social Security and Medicare amount to $107 trillion in 2009 dollars.  Unemployment remains above 10%.  Our current debt to GDP ratio is among the highest in the world, making it difficult to pay down our debt.  Last week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that if President Obama’s budget is adopted (without the health care bill), the national debt will grow by $9.7 trillion over the next decade (needless to say, if the health care bill is passed, the debt will grow much, much larger).  And faced with all this – a financial meltdown looming in our future, as this level of debt and spending are simply unsustainable – the democrat-controlled government not only shows no sign of reining spending in, it proposes, with the current health care bill, to create a huge new entitlement!

This isn’t just madness, it’s hubris.  We need some sort of health care reform.  I agree with that.  But we can’t afford a massive new entitlement.  We.  Simply.  Can’t.  Afford.  It.  However much you may want socialized health care, you can’t collapse the economy trying to create it.  If you do, nobody will get good health care (or work, or insurance, or credit, etc.).  We need to start over with a new bill, and it has to be something we can afford.

Interesting post. I like the article comparing Texas with California. I always sided with Mark Twain who asked if Nevada really can afford its own government.

I don’t like the deficit either and I am not a big fan of how Democrats are handling/or mishandling the nation. But let’s make one thing clear. It was Bush who started us on the deficit downward spiral and it was long before the financial crisis. Shortly after Bush become president we all went through shock watching the budget surplus disappear and quickly turning into another deficit. From that time I remember reading an article that Bush followed advice of experts who assured him that deficit is a good thing and many political benefits can be gained from it. I don’t remember your voicing any objections to Bush squandering the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton so your dramatic statements today: We. Cannot. Afford it. don’t impress me.

One thing which enraged me more than Bush plunging the nation back into the deficit era was a confession of Greenspan who admitted (in the radio interview) fearing the surplus (and acting against it) to prevent undue government influence over financial markets. Yeah, right. Perhaps for the noble goal of allowing Goldman Sachs and other big players to manipulate the financial markets for their own benefit. Try as hard as you can but it would be absurd to expect that government(s) with their undue influence over financial markets would act to bankrupt municipalities and local governments as the financial speculators did. Thanks to Greenspan local governments all over the country once rich and generous now cut services and try different tricks how to get revenues which ultimately comes at the expense of taxpayers. This is what is so dangerous about blind ideologues like Greenspan and that’s why I hate libertarian philosophy even more than I hate cynics in the conservative movement.

Bill, please tell me one thing. What happened to this country? We used to send rockets into space. We used to build damns and undertake other gigantic projects. We used to finance half of the UN expenses? Everywhere I look around today America is desperate about money. State and Federal governments alike. Hospitals and municipalities. Even you just stated that expanding health care system now will surely bankrupt this country. So what happened? Why average countries like Great Britain, France, Germany or Taiwan have health care system few times as generous as ours and are not bankrupt? I don’t get it.

As far as you and other conservatives are concerned I don’t get one thing. What possessed you to condemn Social Security in this country? This is one of the few things which is still working. It is a service that is run well. Social Security as an institution is not a problem, there is nothing wrong with it. What’s wrong with Social Security is that politicians were systematically stealing from the SS fund and now when, because of demographics, the source of money is drying up they suddenly point at the SS as a problem. Listen. I am a mathematician and from my perspective the operation of systems like Social Security is a simple thing. All the demographic fluctuations are predictable. There are many variables in the system such as retirement age and social security taxes that can be adjusted without causing shock to taxpayers and beneficiaries. Revenue surplus in good times can and should be invested. The cost of running the system is by expert account lower than what it would cost if you privatize it. So why do you hate the concept?

For the record. I didn’t say tax cuts don’t work. I said that we practice tax cuts directly benefiting the rich in the name of the common good. Yet, we are unable to subsidize health care and education, which would tremendously benefit the entire nation, without conservatives protesting against turning America into socialist country. Just give me a break.

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