It's obvious to all of us here that there are rather significant differences in opinion on DU with respect to the Democrats in Congress and the White House. The actual divisions are not always neat--ultimately most of us do (and if we don't, can and should) have more nuanced opinions than simply categorically "pro" or "anti"--but it is no mystery that there is a division, and that there is overlap across many policy areas in how this division works out.
At least by DU standards, I'm pretty solidly on the "pro" side: I strongly approve of President Obama, I've supported nearly all of his policy initiatives at least domestically (education is probably the main exception), and I think most--though certainly not all--of the criticisms of him from the left are misconceived. My support for Nancy Pelosi is even less equivocal; I just love her. Harry Reid is a bit of a different story, but we don't have to get into that; the important thing is, fundamentally, I think the Democratic leadership is doing basically a good job under the circumstances, I think it should be supported strongly by the Democratic base both before and prior to elections, and I think that the corruption and incompetence of the party is much overestimated on both sides of the political spectrum.
That's not the point of this thread, though. This is not a paean to the wonders of Obama. This is a plea to people to stop making two particular claims characterizing this debate that I think are deeply incorrect and unfair.
1. The claim that the division on DU maps neatly onto a division between centrists and liberals/progressives/leftists/whatever. Now, in fairness this is going to be true for some people: a person who thinks the health care reform bill is actually the optimal point for health care policy, and that a public option was a dangerous step toward government takeover, is going to have a whole lot less reason to be dissatisfied with health care reform than a person who supports a robust public option or single-payer. But it is not true for everyone, and it is not true, I think, for the vast majority of strong Obama supporters on DU (how many people didn't support a public option here?). The reason is that the reasoning does not work in the other direction: for instance, there is no inconsistency in a vehement supporter of single-payer and nonetheless thinking that the health care reform bill was the best we were going to get under the circumstances and a substantial step forward. You might think this view is incorrect--you might argue that the Democrats did not try hard enough because of their political cowardice or their connections to the health insurance industry, or that the bill is so terrible that it is even worse than the status quo. But the contrary view is neither impossible nor obviously irrational.
The same thing is true more broadly. It is possible even to be a genuine radical and nonetheless strongly support the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership under the present circumstances. I should know, given as how that's exactly the position I'm in. For at least some of us, we are less disappointed by Obama than others because we did not expect more, and because we are used to getting a whole lot less than we want: we reconciled ourselves to these things a long time ago, knowing that they were not likely to change any time soon. Disagree with us if you like, but do not accuse us of being too right-wing for not agreeing with your assessment of the political circumstances. I defy anyone here to argue successfully that they are to the left of me. It is not impossible but it is very difficult.
2. The claim that the division on DU is rooted in a division between people who support loyalty to particular politicians over loyalty to ideology and people who support loyalty to ideology over loyalty to particular politicians. The simple fact of the matter is that, by and large, those of us who defend Obama and the Democratic leadership from criticism from the left do not believe that supporting Obama and the Democrats is an end in itself: rather, we think that the criticisms are incorrect or exaggerated, and/or that the best way to pursue the ideological ends we share with most of the critics is to support Obama and the Democrats. Again, you may disagree with our assessment of the political situation. But there is nothing inconsistent with left-wing values in being of this view. It is not selling out to choose what is in our minds the best of imperfect alternatives. It is just trying to do as much as we can in a world that does not suit our ideological preferences.
I have singled out these two claims because I think they are not only wrong, but unfair and insulting. Furthermore, I think they contribute to the incivility that pervades DU. People do not like being accused of arguing in bad faith, or being told that they are not "real" progressives, or are racist or sexist or homophobic or pro-corporate power, for not sharing someone else's assessment of the political situation. They are likely to respond angrily, and understandably so. I do not mean to claim by this that the incivility on DU is somehow the fault of one side: obviously, this is not the case. There are respects in which people on the other side, too, contribute to this incivility: for instance, when it is suggested that people disappointed by the failure to achieve affordable quality health care for all, or equality for gays and lesbians, are whining over trivialities, as if basic matters of social justice and civil rights can legitimately be brushed aside so easily. But I think, in general, if people stopped making unfair assumptions about people they disagree with, and stopped suggesting without clear-cut evidence that their opponents are arguing in bad faith, it would go a long way.
Part of being an intellectually honest person is thinking seriously about an opponent's argument rather than caricaturing or otherwise distorting it. When we reduce difficult political questions to simplistic binaries--"Either you agree with this particular criticism of Obama, or you are a corporatist DLC Democrat who has abandoned progressive values", or for that matter "Either you support Obama 100% or you are a crazy whiner who doesn't understand politics"--we are not just being unfair to others, but we are degrading our own thinking. We are failing to appreciate that the world is not as simple as we would like it to be, that the possible views on these issues are multifarious and open to considerable nuance, and that our opponents might have good reasons for believing what they do--or that even (gasp!) they might sometimes be right. This is a disservice to ourselves, to the people with whom we engage in discussion, and to the DU community. We--all of us, on both/all sides--should stop it.
We won't, of course. We are only human. But we should at least try harder.
Posted by Unvanguard in General Discussion: Presidential (Through Nov 2009)
Sun Nov 02nd 2008, 04:58 PM
You should recall that "capitalism" and "free markets" are different things. "Free markets" is the familiar structure of private property rights and free exchange. "Capitalism", on the other hand, is a social order where, to oversimplify somewhat, capital and the means of production are in the hands of one part of society, upon which the other part is dependent by virtue of this fact.
The Jeffersonian trend in American politics was pro-free market, but more or less anti-capitalist. It envisioned an economy where the ownership of the means of production was widely distributed, where most people were small farmers who owned (privately) the land they worked on, and thus were not subordinated to a landowner or to a capitalist. Naturally enough, they were suspicious of government intervention as well, on reasonable grounds of protecting individual autonomy.
This framework, however, collapsed with the emergence of industrialization, which required heavy capital concentration that demolished any hope of small owners playing a vital part in the economy. It came to be, as Marx pointed out, that private property in the means of production ceased to be a way of protecting individual autonomy and maintaining the product of labor, but rather a way of exploiting others and depriving them of freedom.
Socialism, then, is perfectly in line with at least one of our national political traditions, at least as implemented in modern conditions. Capitalism, where most people work for others as wage-labor, is certainly hostile to much of that which is worthy in early American political ideals. As late as Lincoln we see the notion that working for an employer should be a temporary, transitory thing, on the road toward achieving enough capital for self-employment. But that is evidently not the case in our present societies.
Charles Wheelan is referencing the theory of comparative advantage: if every country specializes in what it is best at, total productivity rises and everyone benefits. If you allow free trade, you make this much easier.
In the case of Brazil's oranges, if Brazil can produce them at a lower opportunity cost than the US (if it sacrifices fewer other goods to produce a unit of orange) it's more efficient to have Brazilian producers produce them, not US ones. This helps both the US and Brazil, because it allows both to concentrate more on what they're best at--for Brazil, orange production, for the US, something else (by the very nature of opportunity cost, there is ALWAYS something else). This lower opportunity cost is reflected in the lower price; thus, if the low Brazilian price undercuts US producers, the overall result is greater efficiency and greater welfare.
This argument is fairly solid theoretically. There are two major problems in practice, however.
The first is that capital and labor are not perfectly flexible: they cannot be shifted so easily from one industry to the next. Ideally, if US orange production was outcompeted by Brazillian orange production, all its facilities and all its workers would just shift to an industry in which the US had comparative advantage, and be just as productive there. Obviously, it doesn't work that way: skills useful in one job are not necessarily useful in another, facilities useful in one kind of production are not necessarily useful in another (and will probably be sold for much less than their original value, now that the industry is weakened.) The result is that many people are left behind: many workers are unemployed or underemployed, many regions get stuck in serious economic decline. This also tends to increase inequality. The best solution to this, however, is NOT protectionism: it is investment in job training for displaced workers.
The second is that comparative advantage assumes a level playing field. In the real world, this doesn't hold. Industries in developing countries are knocked out not because the countries aren't suited for them, but because their competitors from developed countries have advantages (like economies of scale) that they can't match. This may provide an immediate increase in efficiency (probably offset by the transition costs mentioned above), but in the long term it impedes development: it prevents the growth of industries that may ultimately prove more productive than whatever the country, in its state of underdevelopment, has comparative advantage in now. The best solution to this problem probably IS protectionism, but of a carefully targeted sort, and only for markets that have robust enough domestic competition to keep them healthy and efficient.
He says "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"... but the phrase is clearly echoing Locke, who says "Life, liberty, and estate."
Why the switch from "estate" (property) to "pursuit of happiness"? Perhaps because he wished to suggest that there were rights more fundamental than property... rights that should be protected even over those of property. Like the right to have meaningful economic opportunity--which Jefferson thought of in terms of owning land, owning one's own means of production. Modern welfare does not encompass the same ideal, but this is because of the realities of modern capitalism, not "nanny state" attitudes on the part of liberals. If we wanted to do better, we would have to get rid of capitalism, which is not exactly a popular proposal at the moment.
More fundamentally, he is wrong to suggest that government social programs have nothing to do with freedom. Social programs concretely enhance the freedom of the power, by weakening their dependence on abusive or exploitative employers and expanding the opportunities and services open tom them. They also are themselves an expression of collective freedom, of the capacity for the people to decide for themselves what kind of society they want to live in, and not to have it imposed upon them by the people who control the wealth.
Property itself, it is often forgotten, is an artificial creation of social regulation; we may be born with freedom, but we are not born owning factories. Its only value is its capacity to serve the public good--and if taxation or regulation is the way to help it better do so, in no way does that impinge upon anyone's rightful freedom.
You've presented a case of moral disagreement: the employer thinks it's right to discriminate against the employee, the employee thinks it's wrong for her to be discriminated against.
But disagreement does not in itself imply subjectivity--take disagreement about, say, creation or evolution. One of the two is objective fact, and the other is false: the mere fact of disagreement does not change that.
I don't want to put words in your mouth, but from the context of the example I think you might be getting at something like this: moral judgments are necessarily dependent upon perspective within society, such that the employer (whose interest is in discrimination) comes to think that discrimination is morally legitimate, and the employee (whose interest is in not being discriminated against) comes to think the opposite. If that is the case, it certainly follows that morality is fundamentally subjective.
But I think this is a false picture, at least insofar as I have imputed to my hypothetical formulation the word "necessarily": certainly, as a matter of material fact, people's views on morality are affected by their interests and their position within society, but I am not convinced that this is an exclusive source. Reason itself seems to reject it as a foundation for morality: logically, from "It is in my interest to discriminate" it does not follow that "It is right to discriminate." It might be in my interest but still wrong; it may suit my social role but still be unacceptable. So while it may be the case that people derive moral principles from their interests and social roles, rationally, people should not--and this in itself is an objective principle of "right."
Can we do better? Can we construct a moral framework that does not depend on our interests and social roles? I think it is possible. The merely formal principle I have already given, that requires making moral judgments independently of such elements, itself provides us with some of the groundwork, by suggesting that we should not make decisions about "right" that we can only accept from our private, selfish perspectives... but rather should look for principles that we can accept universally (which is just the same as saying that they are not dependent on any such perspective.)
I'm not sure how clear that was.
Posted by Unvanguard in General Discussion: Presidential (Through Nov 2009)
Sun May 20th 2007, 01:53 PM
What if the government decided to expel all left-handed people from the country, unless they submitted to a difficult and expensive process and met standards that a very large portion of them could never meet?
Would you support it because it decreased the supply of labor?
Would you advocate tougher penalties against the "illegal employers" who dared hire left-handed people illegally?
Would you be disgusted by attempts to give an amnesty to the left-handed people who had stayed in the country illegally, because they had shown a disrespect for the law?
Would you oppose attempts to let more left-handed people remain in the country?
Or would you take a stand on principle, recognizing that discrimination based on left- or right-handedness is wrong, and declare that no one should be illegal?
access to music amounts to a public good - the producers cannot restrict who gets it to those who pay.
As usual with public goods, leaving the matter to the free market means that the good will be undersupplied - there is no incentive for supply to match demand, because people who want the music can get it without paying.
So the solution, if this problem is to be solved, must be one of two things: either stringent actual enforcement of copyright laws (and thus an end to uncompensated filesharing), or the socialization of the music industry.
Let's see how much the RIAA likes that idea.
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