Change that means more of the same
The centerpiece of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is “change.” The motto of his campaign is “Change You Can Believe In.” Does it really make sense, however, for a believer in more government spending and new government programs also to be a proponent for change?
Although Sen. Obama hasn’t described himself as a liberal, he has the most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate (according to the non-partisan National Journal). Perhaps the most basic philosophical difference between liberals and conservatives is in terms of the effectiveness of government in achieving our economic and societal objectives. There seems to be no clear, agreed-upon definition of liberalism, but confidence in government solutions would seem to be one of its primary tenets.
It’s unlikely, for example, that Obama would subscribe to President Reagan’s famous statement, “Government is not the solution, it is the problem.” In fact, he would probably not even agree with what Bill Clinton said in one of his State of the Union addresses, “The era of big government is over.”
Basically, we have two broad routes for achieving our economic and societal objectives — the private sector and the public sector. When the government sector grows, the private sector shrinks. Sen. Obama advocates several variations of higher taxes. Higher taxes leave fewer resources in private hands.
Which would you judge to be more conducive to change, the private sector or the public sector? There is a never-ending survival-of-the-fittest in a competitive environment, and no company is guaranteed survival or certain size. Two of today’s largest companies, Google and Yahoo!, for example, are in industries that didn’t even exist only 20 years ago. In the private sector, no company is guaranteed survival or a niche. Automobile companies and airlines that once had seemingly secure positions in the economy are now struggling to stay afloat. Private companies either adapt to changing conditions, or they perish. They must be responsive to evolving technology and consumer preferences or suffer the consequences.
Compare those realities to the typical course of events in the government sector. For example, Congress recently passed overwhelmingly an extension of a farm bill with massive price-support subsidies to grain, dairy products, sugar, and peanut farmers. The price tag for the new farm bill is $307 billion.
Federal agricultural policies were born in the midst of the Great Depression, an era profoundly different from today. The first farm bill in 1933 was meant to address a precipitous decline in commodity prices in the early years of the Depression. At that time, about 20 percent of the population lived on farms and most farms were family-owned. Now only two percent of our population lives on farms.
Although economists often disagree about many issues, you would be hard-pressed to find one who thinks our governmental agricultural policies make any economic sense, especially when commodity prices are at record levels. Market conditions today are almost exactly opposite to what motivated the first federal farm legislation.
Nevertheless, these policies have been in effect for over 75 years in basically their original form. They are a perfect case study of the virtual impossibility of governmental change once a policy is enacted and vested interests establish a beachhead. Once a government program is in place, it essentially has life everlasting.
If change is a good thing now, it should be a good thing in the future. For change to be a future possibility there needs to be flexibility. Flexibility, however, is not characteristic of government activity. Once a policy is passed into law it essentially gets set in concrete.
Government policies are implemented and enforced by bureaucracies. Most of us have experienced dealing with bureaucracies. Would you say that flexibility was an aspect of the experience you had?
If Sen. Obama becomes president he may well make changes in the form of new and additional government programs; however, once those new programs are in place, we can expect very little change after that.
We’re still having to cope with the innovations FDR blessed us with 75 years ago. Do we actually believe we know what policies our great-grandchildren will need and want?
- Ron Ross, Ph.D. is an investment advisor at Premier Financial Group in Eureka and former professor of economics at Humboldt State University. He lives in Arcata.
Sandinista to lead world body
The General Assembly of the United Nations voted this week to elect Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann as its new president. Readers with a long memory will recall Father D'Escoto (he's a Catholic priest) as Nicaragua's foreign minister during the Sandinista regime of the 1980s. He's also the winner of the 1985 Lenin Prize. Only at the U.N. does that count as a recommendation.
The U.N. also voted to name the government of Burma – which otherwise has been busy preventing humanitarian assistance from reaching hundreds of thousands of its own needy victims of last month's devastating cyclone – as one of the Assembly's vice presidents. Only at the U.N. is this not considered an embarrassment.
If that weren't enough, a U.S. official was present for the vote – which was by acclamation – when the U.S. could have at least protested the choice with an empty seat. Nor did the State Department make any effort to offer an alternative to Father d'Escoto, who ran unopposed. Somehow, we don't think this would have happened had John Bolton still been ambassador.
Speaking after his election, Father d'Escoto called for greater "democracy" at the U.N. – an odd remark coming from a former servant of a communist dictatorship. He also called for the U.N. to take a stand against "acts of aggression, such as those occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan." That would be American aggression, not the Taliban's, the Mahdi Army's or al Qaeda's.
A former Lenin Prize winner as General Assembly president and cruel Burma as vice president – another sick joke from the U.N.
William James - Pragmatism
If you have been a good student of Progressivism, you will recall that the Fabian Society believed in the gradual progress of socialism ... thus the term "Progressive".
To insert collectivism into a U.S. culture and legal system defined by its opposite was no small task. Progressive icons like John Dewey and William James developed a new intellectual foundation, based upon new theories of human existence. This surge of social theory became the underpinning for socialism in academia - a bulwark of the Progressive movement and husband to another key constituency - the intelligentsia.
Pragmatism has ably served Progressives as justification for disregarding inconvenient legal limits on government intrusion into the non-government sphere. This is how Progressives get around the founding fathers' roadblocks to the undoing of liberty - without having to amend the Constitution. At the start of Our Progressive Century, pragmatism motivated intellectual leaders like Woodrow Wilson to inject the authority of the state into nearly every aspect of civic life. Thus, pragmatism helped undermine the bedrock constitutional doctrine of delegated, and thus limited, government powers.
[excerpted from wikipedia]
William James (1842-1910) was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher trained as a medical doctor. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and the philosophy of pragmatism. He was the brother of novelist Henry James and of diarist Alice James.
The intellectual brilliance of the James family milieu and the remarkable epistolary talents of several of its members have made them a subject of continuing interest to historians, biographers, and critics.
James interacted with a wide array of writers and scholars throughout his life, including his godfather Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Peirce, Josiah Royce, George Santayana, Ernst Mach, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, Jr., James George Frazer, Henri Bergson, H. G. Wells, G. K. Chesterton, Sigmund Freud, Gertrude Stein, Carl Jung and Benito Mussolini.Pragmatism is a philosophic school generally considered to have originated in the late nineteenth century with Charles Peirce, who first stated the pragmatic maxim. It came to fruition in the early twentieth-century philosophies of William James and John Dewey. Most of the thinkers who describe themselves as pragmatists consider practical consequences or real effects to be vital components of both meaning and truth. Other important aspects of pragmatism include anti-Cartesianism, radical empiricism, instrumentalism, anti-realism, verificationism, conceptual relativity, a denial of the fact-value distinction, a high regard for science, and fallibilism.