Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Most Important Blog Post You Will Read Today

Arthur C. Brooks of The American Enterprise Institute describes the new "culture war" in the US, one pitting free-enterprise versus government control. His identification of free-enterprise AS a cultural issue is new to me, and I find it particularly persuasive. Indeed, the contrast of Euro-slaves marching in the streets to protest a feared new era of government accountability, with the Tea Party marching in the US to demand such accountability, is striking. We ARE culturally different than Europe, and the march toward statism her is inconsistent with the prevailing culture.

I see in Brooks' words the first real "root cause" analysis of what is motivating the Tea Party movement--at least the first one I've read that makes sense to me. What we see in the Tea Party is an organic, basic rejection of a perceived threat to our very culture. Words such as Brooks' have motivated the Conservative cognoscenti for years--but it was only when some indescribable line was crossed--perhaps it was TARP, perhaps the auto bailouts, maybe the "stimulus bill", that people began to question whether there wasn't something very, very wrong going on in Washington--far more so than any usual griping and grousing about government. People across the country have awakened to the threat of creeping statism--and they have taken to the streets in a deeply emotional--but also deeply American way.

The Republican Party MUST tap into this emotion, but it must also attempt to shape it with serious policy options and a repudiation of its own time in the leadership of Congress, when it greatly expanded the role of government at the same time it severed the relationship of many of the governed from the government through tax policies that have removed nearly half of all wage-earners from contributing to the general operations of the federal government.

There's work to do, friends. Let's get to it.

9 comments:

PK said...

Wow. Thank you, Bryan.

Robert Thorn said...

"Earned success involves the ability to create value honestly -- not by inheriting a fortune, not by picking up a welfare check," he says. And he goes on to discuss the pitfalls of unearned wealth such as lottery winnings or welfare through forced redistribution. I don't disagree with him. Yet, he never teases out the idea of how an inherited fortune isn't earned success through the creation of value honestly. I wonder why? Maybe because if you peel the onion back a little, many of those folks who benefited from their parents' hard work and sacrifice don't employ their will-gotten gains as wisely as their folks had or come to feel that their stations in life are their entitlements. Hell, I'm shit compared to my parents and I recognized that part of it is because I didn't have to quit school to support my siblings. When I'm being honest, I don't think they ought to give me a dime because they've sacrificed for me and invested enough in me. Let me make my own way now. I find it odd that more conservatives don't seem to think this way.

I like to think I'm a free enterprise guy, but the thing that always sticks in my craw is that people like Brooks talk about it like in its pure unadulterated form, it has no unsavory qualities. How much of free enterprise as it is practiced today is reliant on information asymmetry in which the seller has most of the information and relies on rent seeking, sometimes via disinformation or the manipulation of consumers' at their most irrational. Don't get me wrong, a free market has allowed me to live in a way in which I have become accustomed, with two cars, two computers, etc. I'm not saying it is wrong, but let's not talk about it like everyone who acts within is really earning their value honestly. You posted an email that was circulating around Wall Street recently in which "they" threaten to come take Main Street jobs and outwork those they'll displace. Did these guys really do their work as honestly as say a shipyard worker who lays down peerless welding beads in the building of a US warship? This same guy who might get laid off in the next five years because Navy ships have become too expensive and too complicated to build. What is part of the reason that they are too expensive? Because there is really no commercial shipbuilding market to help absorb overhead when his employer can predict what his defense order book is going to be. Why isn't their a commercial shipbuilding industry in the US? One could argue that President Reagan's elimination of subsidies - a good free market principle - for the shipbuilding industry sowed some of the seeds that have born the bitter fruit that industry and the Navy are experiencing today. Now the (previously subsidized) Asian shipbuilders dominate the market and ours (non DoD supported) get the paltry Jones Act crumbs. (cont...)

Robert Thorn said...

've digressed quite a bit. Would you call this a triumph of free enterprise? Again, I want to believe I am a fan of the free market, but then I say to myself, if the free market is what people like Brooks describes - always paying lip service. "We must articulate moral principles that set forth our fundamental values, and we must be prepared to defend them." Yet, nowhere in his piece does he take the time to describe what those really are. Though he does talk about the Tea Party's rise to that defense. Please recall one of your chief complaints of the TP - their seeming anti-intellectualism. Might not this inherent anti-intellectualism make them susceptible to a certain bit of self-serving conservative, free-market demagogy? It wouldn't be far off the mark to say that people in the aggregate often have a lower intelligence than their constituent parts. Why wouldn't this be the case for TP.

Some might read this and think, I'm a democratic socialist in denial. I've thought about that long and hard. I do believe that free-er markets are on the whole a better organizing principle for an economy. I also think that if the laissez-faire crowd believes that we don't need someone - like dare I suggest the government (and not folks that pass into and out of government from industry to perpetuate regulatory capture) - to verify that the trust we place in markets isn't misplaced and maybe sometimes say, "no!", then they are naive and dangerously doctrinaire.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

RT, where to begin...

1. "Yet he never teases out the idea of how an inherited fortune isn't earned success...". Why should he? I think it's clear enough from context--simply put, inheritance isn't EARNED. "I find it odd that more conservatives don't seem to think this way". What way? That they don't have a right to entitlements? That their success is largely shaped by the work they plow into the base built by their parents? I'm not sure I know ANY conservatives who don't feel this way.

2. "How much of free enterprise as it is practiced today is reliant on information assymetry in which the seller has most of the information and relies on rent seeking, sometimes via disinformation or the manipulation of consumers at their most irrational." This, after chiding Brooks for talking about free enterprise in its "pure, unadulterated form". I think Brooks would agree that the situation you described is NOT A FREE MARKET, and hence would not reflect free enterprise. This is part and parcel of my continuing jihad on regulation--regulation is often necessary in order to make markets MORE FREE because of human factors that come into play. Simply put, in pure, unadulterated "free markets", the practices you suggest are out there DON'T EXIST. This is why "people like Brooks" (and me) talk about free enterprise the way they do.

3. Shipbuilding--I'll leave the comments about the email I cited go, only because I thought it was in interesting example of "the other side of the story", one we weren't hearing much. As for the decline of the shipbuilding industry--sure, removal of subsidies had something to do with it--but then again, so did the anti-competitive, monopolistic and socialistic wage scales driven by trade unions, something you fail to mention here. The unions that build ships AND the unions that operate them. Regulate the hell out of the industry, make them sail with more crewmembers than a similarly comprised ship under another flag and BAM--we're out of the shipbuilding and ship operating businesses.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

4. Stop reviewing the article you wish he wrote and review the one he did. He had a certain amount of space in which to get his thoughts across--so perhaps he can be forgiven for not fully articulating (or at least to your standards) a theory of moral principles. besides, I think he did--free enterprise is PART OF our national morality, and the extent to which it is threatened is an attack on our shared culture, our shared morality.

5. "Please recall one of your chief complaints of the TP - their seeming anti-intellectualism. Might not this inherent anti-intellectualism make them susceptible to a certain bit of self-serving conservative, free-market demagogy? It wouldn't be far off the mark to say that people in the aggregate often have a lower intelligence than their constituent parts. Why wouldn't this be the case for TP?" Well now perhaps if you went back and re-read what I wrote, you might already have my view on the Tea Party and its intersection with this subject. I'll repeat it here:
"I see in Brooks' words the first real "root cause" analysis of what is motivating the Tea Party movement--at least the first one I've read that makes sense to me. What we see in the Tea Party is an organic, basic rejection of a perceived threat to our very culture. Words such as Brooks' have motivated the Conservative cognoscenti for years--but it was only when some indescribable line was crossed--perhaps it was TARP, perhaps the auto bailouts, maybe the "stimulus bill", that people began to question whether there wasn't something very, very wrong going on in Washington--far more so than any usual griping and grousing about government." I used the words "conservative cognoscenti" exactly to describe a gap between an elite knowledge that something was going wrong to a less "elite" group's coming to realize the same things through their experiences, and through some "line" being crossed for them. You may chalk it up to "demagogy", I'll chalk it up to "the wisdom of the crowd".

The Conservative Wahoo said...

6. I think you're being a little lazy with your terminology. The free market crowd (in which I count myself) is not THE SAME as the laissez faire crowd--though there are similarities. Government HAS a role in regulating commerce among the governed. That role almost certainly begins with acting as a guarantor of the "freedom" of the transaction--we have whole reams of contract and warranty law designed specifically to address the "freedom" of such transactions. A laissez faire type might say, "hey, buyer beware" and then be done with it. A free marketer says, "there are certain transactional guaranties required"

All in all my friend, i find your argument unpersuasive.

Robert Thorn said...

1. I know a lot of conservatives who think this why, but then again, they may not be true conservatives. My point, poorly made, was that he reinforces that redistribution won't make for a happier America (I agree), but doesn't discuss how fortune inheritance might not be good for American. I'll defer to the idea that people ought to be able to decide how their money is distributed after their deaths, but that those to whom it is distributed may be just as undeserving as those to whom our tax dollars would be redistributed if many dems had their druthers.

2. I don't want more regulation, I ask for right regulation and honest people to do their jobs. The BP Oil Spill and the fact that MMS was asleep as the switch seems to provide a good example of how a company free to do what it chooses ends with negative results. Over-regulation does create the environment for rent seeking, but I'll never believe that companies operating in a regulation free market will not still attempt to take advantage of consumers and obscure truths, etc. Or even just get them to buy stuff they don't need - while a short term responsibility problem for the individual, it becomes a long-term problem for society.

3. Point taken on the problems caused by unions. There's a good piece in the NYTimes today about the ills caused by teacher's unions. I raise the counter argument because (as you know) I never feel satisfied with the right's honest introspection on their own policy failures.

Robert Thorn said...

Para 6. Point taken.

Mudge said...

Excellent debate. Always a treat to read your thoughts RT.

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