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Democratic party rule, one year later…
Posted: 09 March 2010 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 09 March 2010 11:00 PM

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.

It should.  We CAN’T afford it.  Period.  And yet despite the fact that we can’t afford it, the democrats are about to ram through a huge new entitlement.  It’s absolute lunacy. 

And it doesn’t even particularly matter that Bush started it.  I agree that Bush started it.  So what?  When trouble comes, the thing to do is take pragmatic and realistic measures to deal with it, not stand around finger pointing.  Playing the blame game at this point is unproductive and, frankly, rather childish.  Yes President Obama inherited a crisis.  Yes Bush started it.  That’s water over the dam at this point.  Too late to change it.  The problem is that President Obama, and his fellow democratic leaders, are not making things better, they are making them worse.

Make no mistake, if this health care bill passes, the United States will go into a death spiral.  The situation is that dire.  When you are up to your eyeballs in debt, you don’t dig yourself in deeper.  Yet we are preparing to do exactly that.  We will be like Rome during the fourth century, with our best days and all our real prosperity behind us.  And like the late Roman Empire, the decline will happen gradually, so that most people living though it won’t realize what’s going on as it happens.  But if we don’t stop this mad, unsustainable spending, we will go into an irreversible economic decline.  And if you think I’m kidding, just remember that in 1910, probably no one imagined that the globe-spanning British Empire would be a dead letter inside just half a century, but it happened.  Economic collapse leads to decline.  So you damn well should be impressed when I say we can’t afford it, because we quite simply damn well can’t.

And the reason I say this bill will kill us is that it will.  Like all the other entitlements that have been created since the days of the New Deal, it will never be rolled back.  This is why democrats are prepared to commit political suicide ramming this issue through via reconciliation—because it’s not really political suicide; it’s just taking it on the chin for a while.  Oh some have convinced themselves that’s not what they are doing, have convinced themselves the polls showing how unpopular the bill has become are biased or wrong, or that what voters are angry about is their failure to get it done, not the bill itself.  But some of the more cynical among them are sharp enough to know that if they pass this bill, it’s safe.  Republicans will win back lots of seats, could conceivably even take back the house.  Probably not the senate too, but even if they do, so what?  The democrats will be back in power one day, and this health care bill, and everything it puts in place will all still be there.

Mission accomplished.

Republicans will never repeal it.  They didn’t repeal medicare or social security.  They didn’t repeal LBJ’s Great Society programs.  Hell, they didn’t even kill the Department of Energy or the Department of Education, which were put in place by an ineffectual, one-term loser like Jimmy Carter.  And all these agencies and programs have swollen to many, many times their original size, and consume orders of magnitude more money than they were ever predicted to need back when they were first instituted.  It will be the same with this health care program.

As Mark Steyn put it:

Once the state swells to a certain size, the people available to fill the ever-expanding number of government jobs will be statists – sometimes hard-core Marxist statists, sometimes social-engineering multiculti statists, sometimes fluffily “compassionate” statists, but always statists. The short history of the post-war welfare state is that you don’t need a president-for-life if you’ve got a bureaucracy-for-life: The people can elect “conservatives,” as the Germans have done and the British are about to do, and the Left is mostly relaxed about it because, in all but exceptional cases (Thatcher), they fulfill the same function in the system as the first-year boys at wintry English boarding schools who, for tuppence-ha’penny or some such, would agree to go and warm the seat in the unheated lavatories until the prefects strolled in and took their rightful place.

The republicans have proven themselves very good at keeping the seat warm for the democrats.  So if the democrats enact this health care bill, they’ll spend a little time in the political wilderness, and then someday they’ll be back with this huge, budget-busting new entitlement still firmly in place, meanwhile our debt spirals entirely out of control (I’ve already given you the figures for what our current obligations just under medicare and social security are, and there’s no way we can pay them, let alone add more debt to that amount), until the entire U.S. ends up like Greece or California—facing inevitable bankruptcy, but unable to muster the political will to make cuts, no matter how vitally necessary, because so many citizens, and so many special interests have grown dependent on these entitlements, and will fight cutbacks tooth and nail.  Meanwhile, as we sink deeper and deeper, the U.S. gets surpassed by a resurgent China and India, and becomes a second-rate country, with a citizenry far less free than they once were. 

Thomas Orr - 09 March 2010 11:00 PM

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.

The short answer is that they could afford to spend more on those things while the U.S. bankrolled their defense during the Cold War.  No other Western nation spent even close to the percentage of its GNP on defense that we did.  It gave the European nations the luxury of being able to indulge in more social spending than we did.  And even there, they’ve had to make cuts, deal with higher unemployment and slower economic growth, (and pay other penalties, like fewer doctors, longer wait times for medical procedures, etc.).  Britain, since you mentioned it, was in economic crisis mode when Thatcher undid or scaled back a lot of the socialist programs that began under Atlee just after WWII.  And when Labour finally got back in power under Blair, they had the sense not to undo everything Thatcher did.

Thomas Orr - 09 March 2010 11:00 PM

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?

It’s not still working.  It’s going broke.  We’re reaching a point where we will have too many seniors drawing, and not enough working-age taxpayers to support it.  It’s turned into a giant pyramid scheme.

Thomas Orr - 09 March 2010 11:00 PM

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.

I agree, if they had run it the way it should have been run, we wouldn’t have this problem of its imminent collapse looming before us.  But they didn’t.  Now it’s become the “political third rail,” so all attempts to reform it now fail.  I don’t like Bush either, and you’re right, he started us on this mad spending spree that’s part of the crisis we’re facing now, but one of the few things he did right was try to reform social security.  He failed because of opposition from the very politicians who have been stealing from the SS fund all along.

This, incidentally, is why I don’t trust the government to run the economy.  Their mishandling of SS proves they can’t be trusted to do it.  They’ll fuck it up, and since they bill won’t come due till they’re long gone from office, they’ll keep right on doing what they do to fuck it up.

Thomas Orr - 09 March 2010 11:00 PM

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?

Because while government could run it so that it didn’t turn insolvent, they didn’t run it that way.  They’ve proven themselves incompetent and untrustworthy.  Since they’ve fucked it up, why should I trust them over the private sector?

Thomas Orr - 09 March 2010 11:00 PM

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.

In better times perhaps we could afford to do just that.  These are not better times.  We can’t afford to do it right now.  we need to get our debt under control before we undertake new obligations.

[ Edited: 09 March 2010 07:54 PM by Billy Shears]
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Posted: 09 March 2010 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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Billy Shears - 10 March 2010 12:49 AM

Make no mistake, if this health care bill passes, the United States will go into a death spiral.  The situation is that dire.  When you are up to your eyeballs in debt, you don’t dig yourself in deeper.  Yet we are preparing to do exactly that.  We will be like Rome during the fourth century, with our best days and all our real prosperity behind us.  And like the late Roman Empire, the decline will happen gradually, so that most people living though it won’t realize what’s going on as it happens.  But if we don’t stop this mad, unsustainable spending, we will go into an irreversible economic decline.  And if you think I’m kidding, just remember that in 1910, probably no one imagined that the globe-spanning British Empire would be a dead letter inside just half a century, but it happened.  Economic collapse leads to decline.  So you damn well should be impressed when I say we can’t afford it, because we quite simply damn well can’t.

And the reason I say this bill will kill us is that it will.  Like all the other entitlements that have been created since the days of the New Deal, it will never be rolled back.  This is why democrats are prepared to commit political suicide ramming this issue through via reconciliation—because it’s not really political suicide; it’s just taking it on the chin for a while.  Oh some have convinced themselves that’s not what they are doing, have convinced themselves the polls showing how unpopular the bill has become are biased or wrong, or that what voters are angry about is their failure to get it done, not the bill itself.  But some of the more cynical among them are sharp enough to know that if they pass this bill, it’s safe.  Republicans will win back lots of seats, could conceivably even take back the house.  Probably not the senate too, but even if they do, so what?  The democrats will be back in power one day, and this health care bill, and everything it puts in place will all still be there.

We seem to agree on the pessimistic outlook for America. Only we don’t agree on why it is happening. You blame the entitlement programs. I blame the fact that America is no longer working for the people but for the rich. Free trade is not to benefit the American worker or even American consumer. It is about to remove all barriers for international corporations to do as they please. In almost every case given as example of government not working, it is not the government as such, nor is it the mainstream people taking advantage of the system as conservatives try to convince us. It is the powerful groups working in a shady area where government and private corporations make business deals. Medicare is threatening to bankrupt us not because we spend too much money on too many sick people but because it become a golden opportunity for fraud of massive proportion.

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Posted: 10 March 2010 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 10 March 2010 02:17 AM

We seem to agree on the pessimistic outlook for America. Only we don’t agree on why it is happening. You blame the entitlement programs. I blame the fact that America is no longer working for the people but for the rich.

You are assuming that in the past America didn’t work “for the benefit of the rich”?  Why on earth you are I can’t imagine.  Do you really imagine the gap between rich and poor today is somehow greater, or the disparity in wealth is somehow worse than it was a hundred years ago?  If so, why?  Seriously, what is your basis for this assumption, because it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny?  If you look at the poorest Americans of a hundred years ago, and examine their standard of living relative to that of the wealthiest Americans, today’s poor are absolutely no worse off relative to the rich than they were back then.

As I said, there have always been rich and poor, haves and have-nots.  And there always will be.  Forget the class-warfare rhetoric.

Thomas Orr - 10 March 2010 02:17 AM

Free trade is not to benefit the American worker or even American consumer. It is about to remove all barriers for international corporations to do as they please.

Why does this necessarily harm the consumer.  I don’t contest the fact that it can be contrary to the best interests of the consumer, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be and always is.  Just because businesses exist to make a profit doesn’t mean they don’t also help people.  Wealthy business owners are primarily in business to make themselves a profit and advance their fortunes.  But even as they do this, they also create jobs and employ people, which helps the poor.  Acting in one’s own interest does not inevitably preclude also serving the interests of others while doing so.

Thomas Orr - 10 March 2010 02:17 AM

In almost every case given as example of government not working, it is not the government as such, nor is it the mainstream people taking advantage of the system as conservatives try to convince us. It is the powerful groups working in a shady area where government and private corporations make business deals.

Alright, let’s say I concede this, for the sake of argument.  I’m not sure that’s entirely the source of our current misfortune, though I don’t doubt it plays a part.  But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I concede this point completely.  So what?  Whether you are talking about a fundamentally flawed system, or simply corruption and incompetence on the part of the people who run it, the end result is essentially the same: an untrustworthy government, which makes statist solutions to this problem the equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

If the people who run this system are corrupt and shady, how are you going to oblige them to stop being corrupt and shady?  What safeguards are you going to put in place to change their behavior, or make them stop bending the rules or twisting the system to their advantage?  More importantly, why would you agree to give these corrupt and shady politicians any additional power or control until after you have put such safeguards in place?

Thomas Orr - 10 March 2010 02:17 AM

Medicare is threatening to bankrupt us not because we spend too much money on too many sick people but because it become a golden opportunity for fraud of massive proportion.

Again, how are you going to put a stop to this fraud?  Until you figure out a way to do it, creating a new entitlement, with its own funds for these people to raid and pillage, is simply giving them more toys to play with.  Why would you do that?

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Posted: 10 March 2010 05:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Billy Shears - 10 March 2010 11:42 AM

Again, how are you going to put a stop to this fraud?  Until you figure out a way to do it, creating a new entitlement, with its own funds for these people to raid and pillage, is simply giving them more toys to play with.  Why would you do that?

Hard to disagree. Incidentally I do have a plan, or at least an idea what and how to change. Of course, not during this presidency or even not during the next. Those things take time.

My main objections to your line of thought is too much faith on your part in the free market principles. You asked me how am I going to stop the fraud. In turn, I am asking you how do you propose to establish the free market? In spite of all the rhetoric the markets in a capitalist system like the one we have here are anything but free. Unless by free you mean “free from competition”.

I don’t like the growing (yes, it is growing) gap between the rich and the poor. If there is a political will we can build a strong and prosperous middle class and abolish the poverty. That would make us much stronger a nation. Unfortunately, those who hold the real power in this country will never allow this to happen so the first political goal is to change the balance of power.

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Posted: 10 March 2010 08:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 10 March 2010 10:21 PM
Billy Shears - 10 March 2010 11:42 AM

Again, how are you going to put a stop to this fraud?  Until you figure out a way to do it, creating a new entitlement, with its own funds for these people to raid and pillage, is simply giving them more toys to play with.  Why would you do that?

Hard to disagree. Incidentally I do have a plan, or at least an idea what and how to change. Of course, not during this presidency or even not during the next. Those things take time.

My main objections to your line of thought is too much faith on your part in the free market principles. You asked me how am I going to stop the fraud. In turn, I am asking you how do you propose to establish the free market? In spite of all the rhetoric the markets in a capitalist system like the one we have here are anything but free. Unless by free you mean “free from competition”.

This question is hard to answer without specific examples of what you think is wrong.  All I can say without more specific examples is that the market generally works pretty well, if allowed to do so without too much interference, and if laws respecting property rights are enforced.  A lot of things that people point to as failings with free market economies are actually interference with the market.

As for the gap between rich and poor…  Well, if it is growing (and I would like to see some references to support such an assertion), you can thank things like this:

After hiring 19 employees in the middle of a recession last year, Jessica Azur can’t figure out how Pennsylvania can slap her family’s information technology company in Moon with a 60 percent increase in the rate it is taxed for the state’s jobless benefits fund.

“It’s incredibly surprising. This hurts. It really hurts small businesses,” said Azur, human resources manager at Questeq Inc., which provides services to public and private schools.

Questeq, along with the state’s other employers, is paying more in unemployment insurance taxes this year to replenish the jobless benefits fund that has been drained by unemployment that hit 8.8 percent in January, two percentage points higher than the same month a year ago. Company executives and business organizations say increasing taxes in the midst of a recession is the wrong tactic for turning around the economy.

Employers lash out over unemployment tax spike

This sort of thing is a perfect example of the kind of thing engaged in by leftist politicians and their class warfare rhetoric, ostensibly to help the poor, but which actually hurts them.  People, who if they had jobs would be in the middle class are unemployed, and so become poor.  The state imposes an unemployment tax on employers to help the unemployed get by.  The inevitable result, however, is that this tax eats up so much of the employer’s profits that the employer is unable to hire any new employees, and may even have to lay employees off.  But hey, the employer is rich!  So don’t repeal this unemployment tax, that’s a tax cut for the rich!  You’ll be taking food out of the mouths of the poor!

As Evan Sayet said, democrats create counterproductive policies that actually increase poverty and hurt the poor, then they stand up and begin telling everyone how compassionate they are, and how much they do for the poor, after which they stick their hands into my/your/our pockets and take money for programs they enact to slightly mitigate the harm caused by their earlier policies.

But the effect of policies like this one in Pennsylvania is to increase poverty, and widen the gap between rich and poor, by strangling economic growth, stifling job creation, and thus creating more unemployed—poor people—who would otherwise be employed middle class taxpayers.

Thomas Orr - 10 March 2010 10:21 PM

I don’t like the growing (yes, it is growing) gap between the rich and the poor. If there is a political will we can build a strong and prosperous middle class and abolish the poverty. That would make us much stronger a nation. Unfortunately, those who hold the real power in this country will never allow this to happen so the first political goal is to change the balance of power.

See above.  This is the actual result of all the class warfare rhetoric, and all the desire to “soak the rich.”  Most of “the rich” in this country are not Warren Buffets and Bill Gateses, with more money than they could ever spend in ten lifetimes, and they are not snobby WASP country club-attending plutocrats; they are business owners who may have a net worth of a few million, or who earn a couple of hundred thousand a year, and so are indeed better off financially than most people, but they are not endless fountains of revenue.  And when you crank the taxes way up on them, they feel the bite, and it may hurt their economic productivity, and hinder their ability to employ people below them on the economic ladder.  When that happens, you actually hurt the poor, not the rich, because these people are going to do what they can to maintain their wealth and lifestyle—this is not greed; it’s just human nature to preserve what you have, and everyone would do it.  If taxes cost them too much, they’ll make cuts in their businesses—which generally means laying off employees.  That doesn’t cost the rich man, it costs his far less wealthy employee, who is now out of a job.

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Posted: 11 March 2010 08:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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Billy,

Yes, I agree with many of your points but will still point out certain inconsistencies.

Incidentally, I have great respect both for Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who impress me with their social consciousness (even if it is Christianity driven - Warren Buffet) and charity work - Bill Gates. I don’t know why you quote them in a negative context. Because they tend to lean to the left? Shame on you, Billy, if this is the case.

Why are you attacking the liberals? Both parties and members of legislature are equally corrupt and in bed with special interest. No change seems to be possible. Give the Republicans the House and the Senate and there will be no change either. Not for the poor.

$200,000/year is not rich. My family income is more than that for 3 people. I am financially independent but I am not rich. I have no influence over my senators and congressmen. When I am talking about rich I mean people with million of dollars in bonuses who bend the legislature (federal and state) to their wishes. You cannot shut my mouth with a slogan “no class warfare, please”. Oh yes. We are talking about the class warfare and it is not the poor or liberals who started it. Get out of your neighborhood and talk to the real victims of the class warfare. People who lost their homes. People who lost their jobs. People whose wages went down even if they are working twice as hard as before. Sure, liberals are idiots, too. But when I hear Glen Beck claiming that the financial crisis is the fault of irresponsible borrowers, or it is the fault of Democrats like Bernie Frank (sorry if I spelled the name wrong) I have some very unpleasant urges rushing through my blood. Whoever makes such claim is either a bloody cold hypocrite or must be from another planet. On this planet almost every household got in the mailbox tens of bank offers to “borrow $300,000 for $500 a month” as I did. You know what else was in that offer? “No credit history? no job? bankruptcy? we don’t care”. Are you saying that Bernie Frank told the banks to mail letters like that? Here is more from that glorious time just before the roof fell down on us.
I borrowed $10,000 from my credit card for 6 months, 0% interest rate. I am sure some high executive of the credit card company behind that “loan” got big bonus for bringing new customers and more accounts. Never mind that it didn’t increase the revenue by 1 penny. That’s the famous corporate governance supposedly so much more efficient than the government. Of course, I got that loan with assumption that I make a mistake, skip a payment and then they will get me for thousands of dollars. They didn’t. But if it is not a class warfare I don’t know what is.
Another example of how nice the banks are. In the frenzy of refinancing I got a call from my bank to refinance my mortgage. I was skeptical but I played along and agreed to talk. I got an offer to refinance my house for the same APR but what was supposed to work for my advantage was to squeeze more payments into a year cycle, shorten the life of the loan and “save thousands in interest payments”. For the privilege of such generous transaction I was supposed to pay the bank some $3,000 in closing costs. I asked the guy to explain to me again what am I gaining with this deal because I fail to see any benefits. To his credit I have to say he agreed with me and hanged up.

The wronged business woman from Pennsylvania… I have my own dilemma equally nonsensical. Here it is. I have to decide quickly whether to apply for Medicare Plan B or not. I recently turned 65 and was informed I am eligible for Medicare benefits. Good to know but thanks, no. I work and have health care insurance. It doesn’t make difference to me whether it is my employer’s health insurance or Medicare. I deeply distrust the American health care system and prefer to take my health into my own hands. But the Medicare will not cover my family (who in contrast to me do go to the doctors) so I need to stick to health care insurance from my employment. So far so good. But then I got a letter from Social Security informing me that for every year I postpone participating in Medicare Plan B my premium will increase by 10%. That’s a lot of money if you consider that I plan to work for another 5 years. So, here I am. I don’t go to see doctors so they save on me. I will be contributing to Medicare for the service I don’t need twice: by paying my insurance premium and by paying Medicare taxes because I still work and make money.

Now, tell me why should I cry for the business women in Pennsylvania and not for people who die because they don’t have health insurance? You said we cannot afford extending health care benefits to the millions who don’t have any coverage. Maybe we cannot afford to be generous to the Pennsylvania women either? You know how many people are without work, don’t you? You say she is doing something good by hiring new people? Since when in capitalist system we award people for doing good? Didn’t you say that from a business we expect to make profits, and nothing else? Well, it is up to the Pennsylvania business woman to figure out what is her next most profitable business move and stop complaining. You know what else pisses me off? When we show a lot of sympathy for the losses of rich and when we respect the right of the rich to maintain their life style (there was a lot of talking about it after 9/11 attack) but nobody cares when some poor guy loses his job and health insurance, and dies. Even that scumbag Madoff went to much nicer prison that the one where we send our poor caught smoking a joint.

[ Edited: 11 March 2010 09:00 PM by Thomas Orr]
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Posted: 12 March 2010 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

Billy,

Yes, I agree with many of your points but will still point out certain inconsistencies.

Incidentally, I have great respect both for Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who impress me with their social consciousness (even if it is Christianity driven - Warren Buffet) and charity work - Bill Gates. I don’t know why you quote them in a negative context. Because they tend to lean to the left? Shame on you, Billy, if this is the case.

It’s not the case.  I thought that was clear enough from the context in which I mentioned them.  Go back and reread the post.  I merely point to them as examples of someone who is mega-rich; I made no judgment—negative or otherwise—about how they got their wealth or what they do with it.  I merely point to them as examples of what people tend to think of when they hear the words “the rich”: people so fabulously wealthy that you could tax away more than half of their income and they wouldn’t even feel it.  Well, a lot of people imagine that “the rich,” as a class, are a lot like that—that they all have so much wealth they can be tapped for more and more tax money again and again.  I am pointing out that this is not the case.  Most rich people, while far more wealthy than middle class people, nevertheless have finite resources.  If you put too big a bite on them, they will feel it, and it will negatively affect their economic productivity, and their ability to hire people below them on the economic ladder.  It will also cause them to hide their money in tax shelters rather than put it back into the economy where it can work for the rest of the population, and cause them to hire fewer people below them on the economic ladder, or even lay off ones they already employ.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

Why are you attacking the liberals? Both parties and members of legislature are equally corrupt and in bed with special interest. No change seems to be possible. Give the Republicans the House and the Senate and there will be no change either. Not for the poor.

I worry more about liberals than conservatives because liberals tend to spend more.  They don’t always, to be certain; the Bush years proved that (though Bush, while he may have been socially conservative, was not fiscally conservative), but in general, social-engineering liberals tend to be more profligate spenders of tax money.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

$200,000/year is not rich. My family income is more than that for 3 people. I am financially independent but I am not rich. I have no influence over my senators and congressmen. When I am talking about rich I mean people with million of dollars in bonuses who bend the legislature (federal and state) to their wishes.

That may be what you mean; it is not what every liberal means.  And even you, I see from the rest of this post, tend to support feel-good policies whose actual, practical results hurt the poor more than they help them – all in the name of striking at “the rich.”

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

You cannot shut my mouth with a slogan “no class warfare, please”. Oh yes. We are talking about the class warfare and it is not the poor or liberals who started it. Get out of your neighborhood and talk to the real victims of the class warfare.

I was in public housing just yesterday on two separate occasions.  I already told you my job brings me into contact with these people (and also with people at every other income level) on a regular and ongoing basis.  If you imagine I am living inside some bubble, shielded from contact with reality, think again.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

People who lost their homes. People who lost their jobs. People whose wages went down even if they are working twice as hard as before. Sure, liberals are idiots, too. But when I hear Glen Beck claiming that the financial crisis is the fault of irresponsible borrowers, or it is the fault of Democrats like Bernie Frank (sorry if I spelled the name wrong) I have some very unpleasant urges rushing through my blood. Whoever makes such claim is either a bloody cold hypocrite or must be from another planet. On this planet almost every household got in the mailbox tens of bank offers to “borrow $300,000 for $500 a month” as I did. You know what else was in that offer? “No credit history? no job? bankruptcy? we don’t care”. Are you saying that Bernie Frank told the banks to mail letters like that? Here is more from that glorious time just before the roof fell down on us.

No, I’m saying nothing of the kind.  But I hope that you are not saying that Frank and others like him had no part in the financial collapse, because that is most certainly not the case.

Barney Frank ‘Fesses Up on Financial Crisis

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

I borrowed $10,000 from my credit card for 6 months, 0% interest rate. I am sure some high executive of the credit card company behind that “loan” got big bonus for bringing new customers and more accounts. Never mind that it didn’t increase the revenue by 1 penny. That’s the famous corporate governance supposedly so much more efficient than the government. Of course, I got that loan with assumption that I make a mistake, skip a payment and then they will get me for thousands of dollars. They didn’t. But if it is not a class warfare I don’t know what is.

Alright, now back the truck up a minute.  What advantage do you suppose it is for a bank to make loans on the assumptions that people will not be able to pay?  You are essentially claiming that banks make loans that they know are risky, and entail a high probability of not being repaid.  Why do you think they would do that?  What kind of sense would that make?  Would you lend money to a friend or relative if you knew that he probably wasn’t going to be able to pay you back?  Or at least, that if he did, it would be very late, and you’d be without your money for a long time?  Why on earth would you imagine bank executives think this way?  Banks are businesses, and businesses are in business to make a profit, and stay in business to make a profit for many years to come.  How does one accomplish these ends by making risky loans that are expected to be defaulted on?  Lending out money that one never expects to get back is a surefire way to go out of business.

Sorry, but it looks to me like you’ve been drinking the leftist, anti-capitalist kool aid here.  The assumption that back executives are evil, mustache-twirling villains, who intentionally try to screw the little people out of their money is… Well, let’s just say I do not believe that to be a fair and unbiased assessment.  You earlier suggested that I get out and acquaint myself with people who have suffered under the economic crisis.  Let me also suggest that before you make such judgments about bank executives, and uncritically accept them, perhaps you should also acquaint yourself with these people and their jobs before you engage in such character assassination.  I don’t doubt that there are unfeeling, callous, and even greedy bank executives.  I don’t doubt it for a minute.  But that’s a far cry from believing that, as a class, they are all greedy, heartless assholes out to screw the common man by hook or by crook.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

Another example of how nice the banks are. In the frenzy of refinancing I got a call from my bank to refinance my mortgage. I was skeptical but I played along and agreed to talk. I got an offer to refinance my house for the same APR but what was supposed to work for my advantage was to squeeze more payments into a year cycle, shorten the life of the loan and “save thousands in interest payments”. For the privilege of such generous transaction I was supposed to pay the bank some $3,000 in closing costs. I asked the guy to explain to me again what am I gaining with this deal because I fail to see any benefits. To his credit I have to say he agreed with me and hanged up.

Then why is this an example of dishonesty?  It sounds like he behaved quite honestly and ethically to me.  Perhaps you don’t realize this, but banks extend offers to lots of people, only to discover after people respond (and this is because there is no realistic way for them to know before people respond, and make the bank aware of their individual financial circumstances) that this particular offer may not be advantageous for that particular customer.  When that’s the case, the bank usually says “sorry, but we can’t help you this time.”  That doesn’t mean they are dishonest for making the offer, or that the offer doesn’t work for other people.  And I did refinance, and got a lower rate than I had before.  My monthly payments stayed the same, since I’m paying extra principal every moth, but now, on the other hand, my 30 year mortgage will be paid off in 21 years, and I was able to get a couple thousand in cash out that enabled me to pay off a credit card, so that while my monthly mortgage payment is essentially the same, my total cash outflow per month is lower because I don’t have that visa payment any longer.  This is an example of a bank’s refinancing offer that worked for someone.

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Posted: 12 March 2010 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

Now, tell me why should I cry for the business women in Pennsylvania and not for people who die because they don’t have health insurance? You said we cannot afford extending health care benefits to the millions who don’t have any coverage. Maybe we cannot afford to be generous to the Pennsylvania women either?

Did you even understand what I wrote?  I have to wonder, if you can say this.  It’s not a matter of “being generous” to the Pennsylvania woman; it’s a matter of a counterproductive program that hurts everyone.  It’s a matter of a tax intended to help pay unemployment benefits, but which has the actual effect of decreasing tax revenue, and increasing costs, by creating more unemployed people, because it makes it economically impossible for employers to employ as many of them as they otherwise would.  The net result is more people off the taxpayer rolls, and on the welfare rolls, which stagnates the economy, decreases tax revenue (because it shrinks the tax base), and costs the government more in welfare spending.  Put simply it results in the government collecting less and spending more.  It’s not a matter of generosity, it’s a matter of pragmatics.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

You know how many people are without work, don’t you? You say she is doing something good by hiring new people? Since when in capitalist system we award people for doing good?

Since when in ANY system to we award people “for doing good”?

Look, you need to get it out of your head that any system will be based on altruism.  It’s not.  It won’t be.  It never has been.  Ever.  Anywhere.  Not successfully anyway.

Disinterested, idealistic altruism is not a viable basis for an economic system, or a system of government.  It’s not a viable basis because people, with few exceptions, are just not motivated by such abstract concepts.  People will work harder to advance themselves, they will work harder to support their families, they will even work harder to support their communities and neighbors—the people they know personally and feel empathy for.  But they are not, generally speaking, motivated to work harder and be productive for “the greater good,” “the people,” “the poor,” “society,” or any of these other faceless abstractions.  Sorry, but they don’t.  You can lament this as unfair or unfortunate or tragic all you like, but that’s the reality, and you need to face the world as it is, not as you wish it to be.  This is precisely why the collective farms of the communist bloc were orders of magnitude less productive than Western agriculture, in which people owned the land they worked.  A man will work harder on land he owns, because he can benefit himself and his family.  That motivates him to work harder and produce more.  The worker on the collective farm, however, gets nothing if he works harder, except a pat on the head from some boss, maybe some “hero of Soviet labor” ribbon he could wear on his shirt, and a nice, fuzzy good feeling.  And quel surprise the collective workers didn’t work as hard as a result of this.  They had no real incentive to do so.  It was much easier to do just enough to get by, just enough to satisfy the bosses, and no more.  Why break your back when there’s no real advantage to doing so?

Now capitalism, on the other hand, is based on what Adam Smith called “enlightened self interest.”  That land-owning farmer I just referred to is a perfect example.  He works harder in order to benefit himself and his immediate family – not other people, not “for doing good” but to benefit himself.  He has a selfish motive.  But because he works harder, he is far more productive, and this benefits everybody because the fruits of his productivity are available to the rest of society.  His motive is selfish, and the benefit he brings to everyone else is an incidental, but nevertheless, that benefit is real.

Perhaps this offends your sense of morality or justice, but nevertheless, it works.  It doesn’t work perfectly.  Far from it.  But no system is perfect or ever will be.  This one is, however, the best and most productive economic system we’ve yet devised, and this is why market economies consistently outperform planned economies.

This Pennsylvania woman is not in business “to do good” she is in business to make money for herself and earn a good living.  Nevertheless, the practical result is that she does do good, even if that is not her primary intention, by employing people who would otherwise have no job.  If you reduce her ability to employ people, then regardless of your motive or hers you reduce or destroy that good.  That is the practical result, and in the real world, results are what matter. 

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

Didn’t you say that from a business we expect to make profits, and nothing else? Well, it is up to the Pennsylvania business woman to figure out what is her next most profitable business move and stop complaining.

Nevermind that the people who really suffer are her former employees, who now have no jobs.  She’s just complaining.  They’re standing in the unemployement line.  So you tell me who is more harmed by this.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 01:48 AM

You know what else pisses me off? When we show a lot of sympathy for the losses of rich and when we respect the right of the rich to maintain their life style (there was a lot of talking about it after 9/11 attack) but nobody cares when some poor guy loses his job and health insurance, and dies.

Who says nobody cares?  But when you promote economic policies that increase poverty by putting more people out of work, then it doesn’t matter how noble your intentions were, or that putting people out of work is not what you intended to do, you’ve still hurt people.  Again, that is the practical result.

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Posted: 12 March 2010 06:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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Hey Bill,

Let’s cool it down a little. If we don’t soon we will be talking mostly to ourselves.
I give you the point for the Pennsylvania women. Yes, I twisted the meaning of what you said. My bad.

Now what really surprises me with your arguments is this:

Billy Shears - 12 March 2010 12:30 PM

Disinterested, idealistic altruism is not a viable basis for an economic system, or a system of government.  It’s not a viable basis because people, with few exceptions, are just not motivated by such abstract concepts.  People will work harder to advance themselves, they will work harder to support their families, they will even work harder to support their communities and neighbors—the people they know personally and feel empathy for.  But they are not, generally speaking, motivated to work harder and be productive for “the greater good,” “the people,” “the poor,” “society,” or any of these other faceless abstractions.  Sorry, but they don’t.  You can lament this as unfair or unfortunate or tragic all you like, but that’s the reality, and you need to face the world as it is, not as you wish it to be.  This is precisely why the collective farms of the communist bloc were orders of magnitude less productive than Western agriculture, in which people owned the land they worked.  A man will work harder on land he owns, because he can benefit himself and his family.  That motivates him to work harder and produce more.  The worker on the collective farm, however, gets nothing if he works harder, except a pat on the head from some boss, maybe some “hero of Soviet labor” ribbon he could wear on his shirt, and a nice, fuzzy good feeling.  And quel surprise the collective workers didn’t work as hard as a result of this.  They had no real incentive to do so.  It was much easier to do just enough to get by, just enough to satisfy the bosses, and no more.  Why break your back when there’s no real advantage to doing so?

Now capitalism, on the other hand, is based on what Adam Smith called “enlightened self interest.”  That land-owning farmer I just referred to is a perfect example.  He works harder in order to benefit himself and his immediate family – not other people, not “for doing good” but to benefit himself.  He has a selfish motive.  But because he works harder, he is far more productive, and this benefits everybody because the fruits of his productivity are available to the rest of society.  His motive is selfish, and the benefit he brings to everyone else is an incidental, but nevertheless, that benefit is real.

Perhaps this offends your sense of morality or justice, but nevertheless, it works.  It doesn’t work perfectly.  Far from it.  But no system is perfect or ever will be.  This one is, however, the best and most productive economic system we’ve yet devised, and this is why market economies consistently outperform planned economies.

Wow. I thought that after the crisis we all, including the most extreme conservatives, will be cured from naive beliefs in how wonderful the capitalist system is and how it helps the people. I am surprised but I will respond.

Altruistic behavior. I don’t expect people to act in altruistic ways when it comes to bringing money home. But I hope that we as society can be at least as smart as to recognize the concept of the common good and give support to our government whenever it wants to act in the name of common good. In fact, acting in the name of common good is the most important expectation we should have regarding our government. It has nothing to do with the collective farms of Soviet Union (why are you bringing this up over and over again?). The examples I have in mind are on one extreme decisions to ration the food in the time of war. When Germans did it during the war time to me it was a mark of highly civilized society. I wonder if you propose that it is “more efficient” to let the free market decide who gets food and who starves to death. In case you wonder I confess that this would deeply offend my sense of justice and I don’t want to have anything with such ideology. On another extreme, in peaceful times, the marks of highly civilized societies are affordable high quality education, health care system that works and covers everybody, parks and libraries open to the public, public transportation, social security and affordable housing. If your response to my “demands” is that we cannot afford it then please spare me the lessons on Adam Smith, productivity and the conclusion that “it works”. Apparently it doesn’t.

Please note that never in the paragraph above I mentioned that the government must take care of the people, provide generous welfare benefits, or similar nonsense. I know that welfare state will not work. We don’t need to debate that.

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Posted: 12 March 2010 09:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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Sorry, double posted this one.

[ Edited: 13 March 2010 08:36 AM by Billy Shears]
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I have my faith so I’ve no need for ideas that are logical
Atheists and Pagans fall before my wit satirical
They’ll burn in hell just as they should; their cries will be so lyrical
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Posted: 12 March 2010 09:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 11:23 PM

Wow. I thought that after the crisis we all, including the most extreme conservatives, will be cured from naive beliefs in how wonderful the capitalist system is and how it helps the people. I am surprised but I will respond.

The fact that market economies invariably outperform planned economies is not a naive belief, it’s a well documented fact.  It’s been observed over and over again.  As I said once before on this board: from Nyerere’s Tanzania, to Nehru’s India, to Attlee’s England, to the more extreme communist experiments of Soviet Russia, Red China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and others, you can look back on failure after failure after failure.  ALL of these countries have had to adopt free market reforms in order to avert looming economic collapse.  Indeed, in the case of the Soviet Union, economic reform came too late and the country imploded.  Meanwhile, those old, outdated, anachronistic capitalist economies continue to thrive.

Capitalism, as much as you would like to deny it, and despite all its flaws and imperfections, works better than any other economic system yet tried.  And in that sense, it does help people.  It helps them by creating more wealth than any alternative economic system has ever managed to do, and that means greater material prosperity, and a higher standard of living for the greatest number of people.  I don’t find capitalism “wonderful,” I merely find it practical.  Show me something else that works better at generating wealth, and I’ll favor that instead.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 11:23 PM

Altruistic behavior. I don’t expect people to act in altruistic ways when it comes to bringing money home. But I hope that we as society can be at least as smart as to recognize the concept of the common good and give support to our government whenever it wants to act in the name of common good.

The problem with this is even defining what the common good is.  So many people disagree on what is for the greater good that it should come as no surprise that when the taxman comes calling for the people’s money, a lot of them are skeptical that it is something they want their hard earned money spent on.  And then there is the record of government, which you yourself have acknowledged to be full of examples of corruption, dishonesty, mismanagement, fraud, shortsightedness and greed.  This means that even if we could get general agreement on what programs would best achieve the common good (and good luck with that one!), I am still scratching my head wondering why the hell you seem to think we can ever trust politicians to achieve it.

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 11:23 PM

In fact, acting in the name of common good is the most important expectation we should have regarding our government. It has nothing to do with the collective farms of Soviet Union (why are you bringing this up over and over again?).

I am bringing it up because the example fits.  Collective farms were supposed to work, and were originally expected to be productive enough, because it was expected that the workers on those farms would be motivated sufficiently by worker solidarity, the brotherhood of the proletariat, and so forth.  They didn’t need to own their land, it was thought; it was enough that they were united in a great cause, and were building a better, more equitable society, with social justice and fair distribution of resources.  This abstract ideal alone was supposed to motivate them, and if you think I am exaggerating, think again.  This is precisely the theory behind collective agriculture (among other Marxist-Leninist ideas), and you can read the words of Marx and Lenin themselves if you doubt me.  Marx stated, in The Communist Manifesto, that communists “...have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”  In other words: they were supposed to be selfless and devoted to the common good.  Collective agriculture was organized in accordance with this expectation, and that’s why I use it as an example.  And the fact that it was notoriously unproductive is eloquent proof that a social or economic system based on this presumption does not work!

As I said, people are just not motivated by such abstractions.  As I said, people will work hard to advance their own fortunes.  They will also work for their own families, because there is a parental drive to provide for one’s children, which comes from instincts hardwired into the human brain by millions of years of natural selection.  However, no such evolutionary imperative drives people to toil for an abstraction such as “society,” “the people,” or “the common good.”  What’s more, a father or mother toiling for the family also sees direct benefits from the work they do for the family, as well as seeing an immediate decline in the family’s fortunes if they slack off.  But when you are talking about society as a whole, this is a group so huge, the connection between work and benefit becomes abstract. There is no immediate perceptible change in the collective fortunes of the state when one worker slacks off, unlike the change in a family’s fortunes if Mom or Dad slacks off, so this motivation breaks down.  This is the cold, hard reality, and you should face up to it.

Working for the common good sounds very fine and noble.  But trying to base an economic system around it is a recipe for failure.  A practical system is rooted in an understanding of human nature—what motivates people to be productive. 

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 11:23 PM

The examples I have in mind are on one extreme decisions to ration the food in the time of war. When Germans did it during the war time to me it was a mark of highly civilized society. I wonder if you propose that it is “more efficient” to let the free market decide who gets food and who starves to death. In case you wonder I confess that this would deeply offend my sense of justice and I don’t want to have anything with such ideology. On another extreme, in peaceful times, the marks of highly civilized societies are affordable high quality education, health care system that works and covers everybody, parks and libraries open to the public, public transportation, social security and affordable housing. If your response to my “demands” is that we cannot afford it then please spare me the lessons on Adam Smith, productivity and the conclusion that “it works”. Apparently it doesn’t.

Actually it does.  Which is why the United States enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world.

I say we can’t afford Obama’s health care bill because first off, it is not a practical bill; it creates another bloated bureaucracy and more dependency, which will end up costing more, and will reduce the quality of care in this country because you CANNOT cover an additional thirty million people, without expanding the number of doctors, and expect everyone to receive the same quality of care.  You claim to be good at math, so you should be able to figure this out.  When you take a certain number of doctors, keep that number the same, but then force them to divide their time among a greatly increased number of patients, it inevitably follows that they will have less time for each individual patient.

And secondly, I say we cannot afford this NOW.  I’ve already explained this, so I can’t understand why you don’t seem to comprehend it.  We are way too deep in debt.  What is it about that you don’t understand?  Perhaps we could afford something like this bill in better economic times, but we can’t afford it right now, because we owe too much already.  And saying how much we “need” universal health care, or how uncivilized we are if we don’t have it changes nothing, and cannot magically wish us out of the debt we are in. 

When you are maxed out on all your credit cards, and two months behind on your mortgage payments and several utility bills, and then your car breaks down, you can’t afford to go buy another one, no matter how much you “need” it.  You can stand up and protest that you have to have one so that you can get to work, and there’s no way you can make it without one, but it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t afford one right now.  And if you somehow manage to borrow more money to go get one, you’re going to end up going bankrupt when you inevitably can’t pay your bills.  Reality demands that you find some other way to get by until you manage to get that debt under control.  Maybe then you can afford that new car, but not before.

That is the position we are in right now as a country.  Perhaps we will be able to afford a bill like this one after we get our debt and our spending under control, but we need to to that first.  The fact is that, just like someone who ran up too much credit card debt, we spent too much for too long, and dug ourselves into a very deep hole.  We simply have to dig ourselves out again before we undertake a massive new entitlement that is going to be a further drain on resources we don’t have.  We have too many years of wasteful overspending and bad management to pay for first.

We can’t afford this right now, not because there is something wrong with capitalism; we can’t afford it because we’ve spent too damn much, we owe too damn much, and we simply have to pay that debt down before we can spend any more.  Get it?

Thomas Orr - 12 March 2010 11:23 PM

Please note that never in the paragraph above I mentioned that the government must take care of the people, provide generous welfare benefits, or similar nonsense. I know that welfare state will not work. We don’t need to debate that.

Yet this massive new entitlement will move us closer to having one.

[ Edited: 13 March 2010 08:34 AM by Billy Shears]
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I have my faith so I’ve no need for ideas that are logical
Atheists and Pagans fall before my wit satirical
They’ll burn in hell just as they should; their cries will be so lyrical
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Posted: 13 March 2010 01:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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Billy Shears - 13 March 2010 02:45 AM

The fact that market economies invariably outperform planned economies is not a naive belief, it’s a well documented fact.  It’s been observed over and over again.  As I said once before on this board: from Nyerere’s Tanzania, to Nehru’s India, to Attlee’s England, to the more extreme communist experiments of Soviet Russia, Red China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and others, you can look back on failure after failure after failure.  ALL of these countries have had to adopt free market reforms in order to avert looming economic collapse.  Indeed, in the case of the Soviet Union, economic reform came too late and the country imploded.  Meanwhile, those old, outdated, anachronistic capitalist economies continue to thrive.

What does it have to do with our debate? How does the failure of the Soviet Russia legitimize capitalism? I don’t see a connection here. We had free market economies back in medieval ages, too, long before capitalism was born. When I was a student I could visit and see the remnants of the medieval style market economy in the country side. Twice a week they had so called “market days”. Peasants would arrive to the market place early in the mornings with products from their farms, goods were bought or exchanged, everybody was happy. Only a fool could try to destroy that and the fact that fools in the Soviet Russia or Red China decided to do precisely that has no bearings on what we are trying to debate here. The market economy is not the capitalism I criticize. More about it later.

Billy Shears - 13 March 2010 02:45 AM

Capitalism, as much as you would like to deny it, and despite all its flaws and imperfections, works better than any other economic system yet tried.  And in that sense, it does help people.  It helps them by creating more wealth than any alternative economic system has ever managed to do, and that means greater material prosperity, and a higher standard of living for the greatest number of people.  I don’t find capitalism “wonderful,” I merely find it practical.  Show me something else that works better at generating wealth, and I’ll favor that instead.

I don’t know what your definition of capitalism is but I assume that in your opinion modern China is not a true capitalist country. Yet, by any economic measure today’s China outperforms any capitalist country of the 21st century. So much for your unsupported statement that all capitalist economies continue to thrive while those who try something else fail.

I am also curious about your definition of wealth. We just learned that the richest man in the world is a Mexican. Does it make Mexico a wealthy country?

Billy Shears - 13 March 2010 02:45 AM

The problem with this is even defining what the common good is.  So many people disagree on what is for the greater good that it should come as no surprise that when the taxman comes calling for the people’s money, a lot of them are skeptical that it is something they want their hard earned money spent on.  And then there is the record of government, which you yourself have acknowledged to be full of examples of corruption, dishonesty, mismanagement, fraud, shortsightedness and greed.  This means that even if we could get general agreement on what programs would best achieve the common good (and good luck with that one!), I am still scratching my head wondering why the hell you seem to think we can ever trust politicians to achieve it.

Of course. As we know too well liberals and conservatives will never agree on what the common good is and the public is confused as well. To me it only proves that democracy in the form we practice it here doesn’t work. To find out what the common good is you cannot rely on slogans and ideology, or misinformed public opinion. Knowledge, expertise and professionalism are needed most of all. And even knowledge, expertise and professionalism alone are not enough. That’s why we have science and scientific studies. We can submit specific ideas to the general vote but it only makes sense if along with the measures put to the vote the public is informed about the economic/scientific reasons behind them, and the supporting numbers from scientific studies are supplied. Although I doubt if even that will convince people to support the long term common good when the short term personal gains tempts them to vote otherwise. I hope that I clarified a common good. Unfortunately, any attempt to implement policies promoting the common good are doomed to fail in capitalism. As I mentioned above, sound decisions in economics matters should be supported by science. So the first requirement is to have functioning science.

Let me digress a little and bring the story of my father. My family had a long tradition of being involved in a socialist movement in Poland and my father followed in the family tradition. However, when the communists took over shortly after the WWII my father decided he didn’t want to be involved in politics (he hold a position in the first post-war Polish government, which wasn’t totally communist) and chose an academic career in philosophy. His field of expertise was the philosophy of Italian Renaissance. In his academic carrier my father suffered his share of humiliation by having to report to his “mentor” in Marxism but that’s a different story altogether. What’s interesting is what my father said at the meeting of revived Socialist Party a couple of years ago. He said that the term Scientific Socialism should not be considered discredited by the failure of the communist system in Poland and elsewhere. The Scientific Socialism was hijacked by the communist party but was anything but that. If the ideological pillar of the communist regime was scientific it would be scientists who advised the party. But the opposite was taking place under the communist regime, it was the party who was passing directives and orders to scientists.

Well, what we have here in America now is not that much different. When you say “studies after studies prove that capitalism works” it only brings my memories of the slogans of the communist regime in Poland. Science in America takes directives from the party ideologues, not the other way around. And, as I stated few times already on this forum, “Corporate Science” is an oxymoron. Never mind that in the heat of political debate the slogans of idiots like Glen Beck always win against the best documented research in topics like what works in reducing crime or what works in making the middle class prosper.

Continued in the next post

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Posted: 13 March 2010 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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Billy Shears - 13 March 2010 02:45 AM

I am bringing it up because the example fits.  Collective farms were supposed to work, and were originally expected to be productive enough, because it was expected that the workers on those farms would be motivated sufficiently by worker solidarity, the brotherhood of the proletariat, and so forth.  They didn’t need to own their land, it was thought; it was enough that they were united in a great cause, and were building a better, more equitable society, with social justice and fair distribution of resources.  This abstract ideal alone was supposed to motivate them, and if you think I am exaggerating, think again.  This is precisely the theory behind collective agriculture (among other Marxist-Leninist ideas), and you can read the words of Marx and Lenin themselves if you doubt me.  Marx stated, in The Communist Manifesto, that communists “...have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”  In other words: they were supposed to be selfless and devoted to the common good.  Collective agriculture was organized in accordance with this expectation, and that’s why I use it as an example.  And the fact that it was notoriously unproductive is eloquent proof that a social or economic system based on this presumption does not work!

As I said, people are just not motivated by such abstractions.  As I said, people will work hard to advance their own fortunes.  They will also work for their own families, because there is a parental drive to provide for one’s children, which comes from instincts hardwired into the human brain by millions of years of natural selection.  However, no such evolutionary imperative drives people to toil for an abstraction such as “society,” “the people,” or “the common good.”  What’s more, a father or mother toiling for the family also sees direct benefits from the work they do for the family, as well as seeing an immediate decline in the family’s fortunes if they slack off.  But when you are talking about society as a whole, this is a group so huge, the connection between work and benefit becomes abstract. There is no immediate perceptible change in the collective fortunes of the state when one worker slacks off, unlike the change in a family’s fortunes if Mom or Dad slacks off, so this motivation breaks down.  This is the cold, hard reality, and you should face up to it.

Yes, the example fits. Except that nobody advocates collective farming here (well, big farms run by agribusiness look suspiciously like the collective farms in the Soviet Russia but that’s a different story).

What fits is the similarity of the ideology driving the concept of collective farming in the Soviet Russia with the “trickle down economy” and “cut taxes on rich and businesses” ideology promoted by the conservatives like you. You are right. A disowned farmer is not motivated to work for the common good. But neither is the business owner here motivated to make his money work for his compatriots. Especially today when it is more profitable to save your money in tax free havens overseas and outsource the manufacturing to China. But it gets much worse than that. My friend from college is a retired multi millionaire and here is his story. He made his first millions when he started a company which offered a software product running on PCs rather than on more expensive minicomputers. Few years later he started another company, and then yet another company. When I met him 10 years ago and we talked about his work he told me that he doesn’t start new companies anymore. “I can make much more money by investing what I already have than by starting a new company and waist two years to make another couple of millions”. The apologists for “efficient” capitalism should make the case study from my friend’s career to see how the speculative capitalism promotes wasting talent. Oh, and lately there was a lot of complaints from the Wall Street geniuses we just bailed out that they need those big bonuses to retain talent. F***k them and their talent. It’s a shame that the brightest mathematicians and programmers these days work for the hedge funds and for Wall Street with a loss for the industries where that talent could be put to good use and contribute to the common good.

I hope that the recent idea to impose 15% tax on risky financial transactions along with the proposal to enforce the tax world wide, as Sarkozy and Brown proposed, will not be derailed by the lobbyists and the governments serving them (like the US government) because the Wall Streets guys need to be squeezed exactly the same way as they squeezed the homeowners here and elsewhere. I am not talking revenge here. I am talking about taming a dangerous beast which threatens the well being of this and other countries.

There is one more preventive measure I’d recommend we adopt. The investment banks should not be allowed to trade on the stock market. I do not wish my 401K, or pension fund to buy the shares of those companies and here is why. The investment banks are like the currency which is not backed up by gold, or any other tangible asset. What’s more, the mode of operation of those entities is to consume all the profits they make and divide them into bonuses. There is nothing left to shareholders. They don’t like paying dividends (who does these days?) so if you look at it closely they are completely worthless as far as investment opportunity is concerned. Trading them is as dangerous as trading the tulip bulbs from the famous Dutch example cited in all books on economy. Trading them only allows them to grow bigger, buy other companies and wreck havoc on the financial world market.

Billy Shears - 13 March 2010 02:45 AM

Working for the common good sounds very fine and noble.  But trying to base an economic system around it is a recipe for failure.  A practical system is rooted in an understanding of human nature—what motivates people to be productive.

Are you kidding me? You are treating me like if I was an extremist pushing some utopian ideas. The notion of common good is and was practiced in well to do and advanced countries such as those in Western Europe and Japan. True, Americans used to laugh at Japan and Europe and their concepts of social stability, safety nets, outdated banking systems to name just a few ideological differences. Is it so hard to get from my post that I am advocating those practices and not the collectivization of farms? Are Americans still laughing at Europe and Japan? Why is it that few years ago 1 euro was worth 85 cents and today it is more like $1.40?

Where is the proof that the US offers its citizens more wealth and happiness than the countries practicing “common good principles” do? The numbers like GDP and similar abstract figures? Here is what my Italian friend told me. “I could go to the United States and make twice as much as I am making here [as an engineer]. But my standard of living wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is here in Italy”.

Why don’t you listen to some people from Europe or Canada who post on this forum? And here is the last example. When I came to this country, in 1984, I stayed with my friends who were introducing me to the realities of life in the US. They thought I must had been impressed with everybody here driving a car, and with the cars themselves. And this is what they told me: “America is a country of poor people driving big cars”.

[ Edited: 13 March 2010 03:49 PM by Thomas Orr]
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Posted: 13 March 2010 05:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM
Billy Shears - 13 March 2010 02:45 AM

The fact that market economies invariably outperform planned economies is not a naive belief, it’s a well documented fact.  It’s been observed over and over again.  As I said once before on this board: from Nyerere’s Tanzania, to Nehru’s India, to Attlee’s England, to the more extreme communist experiments of Soviet Russia, Red China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and others, you can look back on failure after failure after failure.  ALL of these countries have had to adopt free market reforms in order to avert looming economic collapse.  Indeed, in the case of the Soviet Union, economic reform came too late and the country imploded.  Meanwhile, those old, outdated, anachronistic capitalist economies continue to thrive.

What does it have to do with our debate? How does the failure of the Soviet Russia legitimize capitalism? I don’t see a connection here.

That’s because you’re ignoring all the rest of the examples I cited.  Read again.  You’ll note I mentioned several examples of socialist economies that were not communist.  And I cannot help but note you have no answer to those examples.

Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM

We had free market economies back in medieval ages, too, long before capitalism was born. When I was a student I could visit and see the remnants of the medieval style market economy in the country side. Twice a week they had so called “market days”. Peasants would arrive to the market place early in the mornings with products from their farms, goods were bought or exchanged, everybody was happy. Only a fool could try to destroy that and the fact that fools in the Soviet Russia or Red China decided to do precisely that has no bearings on what we are trying to debate here. The market economy is not the capitalism I criticize. More about it later.

I don’t know what your definition of capitalism is but I assume that in your opinion modern China is not a true capitalist country. Yet, by any economic measure today’s
China outperforms any capitalist country of the 21st century. So much for your unsupported statement that all capitalist economies continue to thrive while those who try something else fail.

I am also curious about your definition of wealth.

I have noticed that you have an alarming tendency not only to oversimplify, but also to engage in the fallacy of the single cause in your argumentation.  You compare a resurgent China (whose economy has taken off after adopting capitalistic reforms), and which is therefore prospering at the present time, with a United States currently suffering an economic downturn brought about by years of overspending and bad fiscal policy, and therefore conclude that the system is what is wrong with the American economy.  That’s like concluding from General Motors’ recent slide into bankruptcy that assembly line manufacture of automobiles is unprofitable and doesn’t work, ignoring that the unions, bad management decision, unresponsiveness to consumer needs, and a whole host of other problems have all combined to sink General Motors.

Your criticism of capitalism is exactly the same.  And it ignores the fact that we had the same capitalist system during times when we literally the world’s biggest, most prosperous economy.  If our system is so basically flawed, how do you explain the success it has produced prior to the current crisis?

Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM

We just learned that the richest man in the world is a Mexican. Does it make Mexico a wealthy country?

I don’t even know what point you are trying to make here.  Since when have I ever argued that single individuals are in any way representative of an entire system?  What statements of mine could even be construed that way?

Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM
Billy Shears - 13 March 2010 02:45 AM

The problem with this is even defining what the common good is.  So many people disagree on what is for the greater good that it should come as no surprise that when the taxman comes calling for the people’s money, a lot of them are skeptical that it is something they want their hard earned money spent on.  And then there is the record of government, which you yourself have acknowledged to be full of examples of corruption, dishonesty, mismanagement, fraud, shortsightedness and greed.  This means that even if we could get general agreement on what programs would best achieve the common good (and good luck with that one!), I am still scratching my head wondering why the hell you seem to think we can ever trust politicians to achieve it.

Of course. As we know too well liberals and conservatives will never agree on what the common good is and the public is confused as well. To me it only proves that democracy in the form we practice it here doesn’t work.

This is so absolutely, completely, unconscionably wrong I hardly know where to begin.  The fact that there is so little agreement on what the common good is, is precisely why democracy (or to be more precise, democratic republicanism) does work, and works better than any other system yet tried.

More on this below.

Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM

To find out what the common good is you cannot rely on slogans and ideology, or misinformed public opinion.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!

More on this below.

Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM

Knowledge, expertise and professionalism are needed most of all. And even knowledge, expertise and professionalism alone are not enough. That’s why we have science and scientific studies. We can submit specific ideas to the general vote but it only makes sense if along with the measures put to the vote the public is informed about the economic/scientific reasons behind them, and the supporting numbers from scientific studies are supplied. Although I doubt if even that will convince people to support the long term common good when the short term personal gains tempts them to vote otherwise. I hope that I clarified a common good.

You’ve engaged in the sort of rationalization that ideologues and authoritarians have used for centuries to explain why the things they favor are for “the common good.”  That doesn’t mean those things actually are, or that the common good is so easily defined or agreed upon.

Take a relevant example: welfare.  I have argued with others on this board in the past about that issue.  One of my opponents defined it as assistance to those who cannot work or don’t want to work.  I replied that those who cannot work should indeed receive some sort of assistance until they can get back on their feet.  Those who don’t want to work should get nothing.  My exact words were that they “can starve for all I care.”  I was, of course, accused of being a heartless barbarian.  But I stand by my assertion.  Those who can work, but simply don’t want to deserve nothing in the way of public assistance.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  Bupkiss.  If they want to have a living, they need to earn it.  I do not believe that society should support freeloaders.  I do not believe that is for the common good to allow completely unproductive people simply to leech off the rest of the people because they are lazy.  It decreases the prosperity and productivity of a society to allow this, therefore it is contrary to the common good.  My opponent clearly thought differently.  In his opinion, a civilized society can’t just let people starve, and letting them do so reveals a callousness and cruelty that is against the common good.  (My response, by the way, is that they won’t, in fact, starve – make it clear to someone that he’ll get nothing if he can work, but simply chooses not to, and you’ll find that he actually will get up and work rather than starve to death).

So here you have to quite different opinions on what the common good is.  How do you propose to settle this via experts or a scientific study?  Sociology is not a hard science like physics or chemistry, and the answers are simply not so clear cut and indisputable.  One man’s idea of utopia is another man’s idea of hell, and all the experts in the world won’t ever change this.  You can, if you have the power, impose one person or group’s idea of utopia on all of society, but that won’t make the dissatisfied rest ever like it or accept it or want to live under it.

You see the problem with ideas like this one of yours is that you imagine a better, more just social order would arise if smart people could just order things according to their superior understanding, and all we poor, benighted groundlings would just get out of the way and let them.  People like you, who support ideas like this, invariably imagine that their group will be the one running the show.  You indulge in this fantasy, because you imagine this noocracy of intellectuals to consist of people who think like you do.  Therefore it’s easy to imagine being comfortable in such a world, because their edicts and laws will march right along with what you think is best.

Of course, the actual likelihood is that the group in power will have very, very different ideas about what needs to be done, and what’s for the greater good, and then you won’t find life under their rule quite so rosy.  Just consider a theocracy like the one in Iran, or under the Taliban for a moment.  After all, it’s precisely this sort of group, except that it’s a rule intellectual class consisting of theologists and clerics rather than scientists and scholars.  This intellectual elite got its hands on power, and then proceeded to create a (for them) ideal society, based on what their perception of “the common good” was, without having to deal with all those pesky limits imposed by democracy and all its disagreeable and obstructionist checks and balances.

That’s why democracy, which you say “doesn’t work” not only works quite well, but actually works better than anything else so far – because it prevents one group or individual from imposing their will on a resentful populace who disagree with the leaders’ ideas, and chafe under laws and restrictions they consider unjust.

I also am glad that democracy prevents the excesses of such “experts” as those to whose care you would gladly consign us.  I cannot help but remember the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution, when, as de Toqueville said “Never had humanity been prouder of itself than at that moment, for at no other moment, from the birth of all the ages, had man so believed in his own omnipotence.”  The French Revolutionaries were absolutely certain that they could, with the application of human intellect, create a far better, more just social order.  Accordingly, they set out to create their better society, and were determined to let nothing stop them.  Of course, their efforts quickly degenerated into the Reign of Terror, and led to chaos that paved the way for Napoleon’s rise, and a series of wars that cost millions of lives.  How could this happen?  How could well-meaning men of intellect, determined to make the world better, cause so much death and destruction?  Easy: they overestimated their own cleverness, and underestimated the limits of human wisdom.  They also took increasingly harsh and unforgiving attitudes toward those who opposed them, and quickly resorted to using harsh repression against their political opponents.  This sort of thing happens all too easily under the rule of elites and utopian social engineers, and I, for one, am glad I do live in a democracy, which has its messy, inefficient checks and balances to put the brakes on such things.

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Posted: 13 March 2010 05:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM

Unfortunately, any attempt to implement policies promoting the common good are doomed to fail in capitalism. As I mentioned above, sound decisions in economics matters should be supported by science. So the first requirement is to have functioning science.

See above.  Social sciences are far too fuzzy and inexact to provide the kind of concrete, clear cut, indisputable answers you seem to feel are out there, just waiting to be implemented.  Even the so called “experts” will never agree on many aspects of social sciences.  Just take economics for one example.  Why do you think we have the Marxist and Keynesian and Austrian and Lausanne and Stockholm and Chicago (just to name a few) schools of economics all competing with each other?

Once again your tendency to oversimplify is showing.

Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM

Let me digress a little and bring the story of my father. My family had a long tradition of being involved in a socialist movement in Poland and my father followed in the family tradition. However, when the communists took over shortly after the WWII my father decided he didn’t want to be involved in politics (he hold a position in the first post-war Polish government, which wasn’t totally communist) and chose an academic career in philosophy. His field of expertise was the philosophy of Italian Renaissance. In his academic carrier my father suffered his share of humiliation by having to report to his “mentor” in Marxism but that’s a different story altogether. What’s interesting is what my father said at the meeting of revived Socialist Party a couple of years ago. He said that the term Scientific Socialism should not be considered discredited by the failure of the communist system in Poland and elsewhere. The Scientific Socialism was hijacked by the communist party but was anything but that. If the ideological pillar of the communist regime was scientific it would be scientists who advised the party. But the opposite was taking place under the communist regime, it was the party who was passing directives and orders to scientists.

This was inevitable.  There was never even the remotest possibility that “scientific socialism” was going to consist of a class of scientists and educated intellectuals running the show.  The whole idea was a pie-in-the-sky fantasy.  The revolutionaries who took power, naturally kept it (who could have predicted that!?).  There was never any possibility that it would turn out otherwise.

Thomas Orr - 13 March 2010 06:54 PM

Well, what we have here in America now is not that much different. When you say “studies after studies prove that capitalism works” it only brings my memories of the slogans of the communist regime in Poland. Science in America takes directives from the party ideologues, not the other way around. And, as I stated few times already on this forum, “Corporate Science” is an oxymoron. Never mind that in the heat of political debate the slogans of idiots like Glen Beck always win against the best documented research in topics like what works in reducing crime or what works in making the middle class prosper.

Continued in the next post

I didn’t say studies after studies, I said example after example.  And history is full of them.  You have ignored most of the ones I named, focusing on the communist ones only.  This is a version of the straw man fallacy – you are, in effect, attacking a distortion of my argument, since you are attacking only part of it.  You focus on communism because that is the easiest to dismiss, what with communism being a pretty undeniable failure.  Yet you are pointedly ignoring the non-communist iterations of socialism that I named: Nyerere’s Tanzania, to Nehru’s India, to Attlee’s England.  And these are far from the only examples – Baboeuf’s experiment during the French Revolution, Robert Owen’s efforts to establish a socialist enclave in North America, the Israeli Kibbutzes, Nasser’s Egypt, Baathist Syria, the Canadian province of Saskatchewan from 1944-1964, and Greece today – all are excellent examples (not studies, but real-world, historical examples) of non-communist socialist economies stagnating and underperforming.  And even more tellingly, you also have examples of countries like India, China, Ireland, and others, where economic reforms turned an economy previously burdened by varying degrees of centralized control (i.e. socialism) toward a market economy, and the result was a rocket-like economic takeoff.

There is plenty of evidence out there for the superiority of free-market capitalism over centrally-planned socialism, while evidence for the superior performance of socialist over capitalist economies is, on the other hand, conspicuous by its absence.

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I’ve no need for courtesy when fighting things heretical
I know the bible word for word; you’ll find me pedagogical
I have my faith so I’ve no need for ideas that are logical
Atheists and Pagans fall before my wit satirical
They’ll burn in hell just as they should; their cries will be so lyrical
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