Tag Archives: crazy

Live-blogging a response to my Marx piece

I’ve been tweeted this video more than a few times, so I figured I’d use this President’s day to put down some thoughts (I wrote this up on Monday, just got around to publishing it).

1:00 – Sean doesn’t define capitalism

It’s a 1,000 word piece, I can’t define everything.

1:21 – Molyneux defines capitalism as “respect for private property” and the “non-initiation of force.”

These are contradictory. There is no way to enforce property rights without violence (i.e. the state).

2:14 – Communism when implemented resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people

I’m defending some of Marx’s predictions, not Stalinism or Leninism. Marx and Engels, of course, believed that democracy, not totalitarianism, represented the road to socialism (a revolution of the working class, not a vanguard party).

2:23 – Marx was wrong about the labor theory of value.

I’m daily amazed that the same people who champion Adam Smith will then pillory Marx for accepting the labor theory of value that the former developed.

2:52 – Millions died in agony

Again, because of totalitarianism. Also, I’m not interested in the vulgar parlor game of counting bodies (too common to debates about religion and Marx) but the slave trade and the Belgian occupation of Congo were both wholly “capitalist.”

3:00 – I’m over-afflicted with compassion for the endless victims

Very selective and politically beneficial compassion, but compassion nonetheless. It may be more useful to aim the frustration at Stalin, Lenin and Mao, rather than Marx, though.

3:37 – Cambodia

Perfect example here. Marx spent very little time on how socialism would come about and what it would look like (Capital was supposed to be 12 volumes, only three -four if you include the partial publication of Volume IV by Kautsky – were published). In the manifesto, Marx notes that the distinction between town and country should be eliminated, the KR did so by a violent forced relocation of the people in the city to the town. It strikes me that there is a more humane way to do this. I never really see a logical way to get from Marx’s work to the violence committed in his name (I would countenance one on the teleological view of history, but then Hegel is the problem. Also, my piece is specifically on marxian economics, not his theory of politics or morality).

5:00 – 11:00 – A list of ways that the U.S. is now socialist

I note that the progressive income tax was something Marx proposed, and it was something that did not exist before he advocated it.

Of course, what is so odd about libertarians is that they would almost certainly agree with Marx’s conception of government as a means for the bourgeoisie class to exert power.

It is odd that in a rebuttal of my argument that Marx predicted 2014, Molyneux literally goes through and shows how to varying levels the ten planks of the manifesto have been implemented. It’s incredibly conspiratorial, and would disagree on many, but it seems to prove my point (and appears to come from here).

11:44 – Capitalism means the government doesn’t interfere in private property rights

Here it is again. Always confused when libertarians make this argument. Without the government, you can have no private property, anyone bigger and stronger will just take your shit. Read Hobbes.

11:51 – Government can’t create currency in a capitalist system

Wow, this is getting very crazy.

12:00 – Children are indoctrinated in government schools

Okay, so we’re talking like, an Alex Jones type of character here.

12:45 – Governments create bubbles

Right, because they never happened before the federal reserve

13:00 – Sean is deluded.

Well, he might be right there

13:30 – The federal reserve caused WW2

I pass this assertion to you, dear reader, without comment. Okay, okay, I’ll comment. Milton Friedman, no friend of Marx, argued that the federal reserve’s folly in the aftermath of the Great Depression is that it did not act enough. So…

14:45 – Asserts that I have never exposed myself to opposing views

I interned at the Reason Foundation and the Fox Business Network and described myself as a libertarian from the age of 13 to about 18.

15:00 – Government causes recessions via monetary policy

Google Dutch Tulip Bubble. Very humorous to hear me described as a fundamentalist by a person who ascribes all evil in the world to governments.

15:34 – War on Drugs!

The war on drugs is a terrible policy. But this is an odd segue.

18:15 – Federal reserve is fascist!

Again… No comment

18:39 – The housing market crashed because of government (Community Reinvestment Act)

Not supported by the most comprehensive study of the financial crisis.

19:52 – Government shouldn’t take on debt, because that is a violation of private property

Really?

20:29 – Choke back anuerism when struck by [Sean’s] rank insanity

Lots of rhetoric, little argument.

23:38 – Globalization was greater one hundred years ago because you didn’t need a passport, labor was more mobile

I assume he’s talking about immigration controls, not travel. I don’t know the data here. I do know that the mobility of capital and goods has increased dramatically, and I suspect the same is true of labor. Anyone who knows history knows that immigration quotas have been a feature of American society for centuries.

24:00 – Sean lives in cliche

Pull out the plank in thy own eye before examining the mite in thy neighbor’s

25:00 – He views business as a jackal constantly eating up resources

As did Smith, Malthus and Ricardo. Most classical economists felt that imperialism was the invetible result of the tendency of the rate of profit to decline.

25:15 – Sean has never run a business and nor have most economists

I hear this one a lot. It’s a very silly argument rooted in an anti-intellectual mindset.

26:00 – Businesses satisfy consumer demand

Sometimes. I like what I get does not mean I get what I like.

26:40 – The idea that businesses destroy stuff is absurd

Google ozone layer, smoker’s lungs and Amazon rainforest

27:00 – “I don’t know what that means”

Yeah, I know

27:05 – Businesses don’t eat each other, they compete

Google Comcast and Time Warner.

28:41 – Small businesses are good, but unstable

True, and yes, he is proving my point.

29:45 – Walmart more satisfies people and is environmentally friendly

I like what I get, but do I get what I like? Also, Walmart is hardly a paragon of environmental virtue. Studies show it also depresses local economies when it comes around.

30:00 – Walmart reduces inflation

…By keeping wages low

31:21 – Big banks replace small banks because of politics

Always weird how much libertarians essentially parrot Marx’s theory about the bourgeois overtaking the economy and give him no credit for the idea. Also, again, he’s conceding my point.

32:48 – IPR is bad

Yeah, I know, I’ve written about it. Pretty big red herring though.

36:40 – In a free market if there is an excess of labor, the price of labor will go down, or people will become entrepreneurs

Yes to the first part. The second part is only true if there is enough demand.

37:00 – The progressive income tax does not fight inequality

See Thomas Piketty

To sum up:

This guy mainly just shits on the federal reserve for 30 minutes and occasionally references my article. He does know a lot of multi-syllabic words, which I’m sure will impress many, viewers more interested in style than substance.

I’ve been struck through-out this video of how well my prose stands up. Essentially, this is just a denunciation of the straw man I called elsewhere “vulgar Marxism.”

 

The GOP and Tea Party Are Heading for a Split

The conventional wisdom right now is that, although there appears to be a rift in the Republican party, it’s not going to break-up. The Slatepitchy proposition is that Republicans disagree about “tactics not goals.” To quote Jonathan Chait,

Mainstream Republicans and the tea party have fallen out almost entirely over political tactics. Tea partiers and conventional Republicans alike want to abolish Obamacare, cut taxes, eliminate Dodd-Frank, stop any regulation of carbon emissions, and impose cuts to social programs for the poor.

Matthew Yglesias writes in Slate essentially the same thing as Bernstein in Salon, “The tensions between Ted Cruz and John Boehner and Peter King and Mitch McConnell and whomever are all about tactics.”

But this overstates the case: the Tea Party is a nationalistic fringe right-wing party and will inevitably have to split with the GOP.

I realize the World Net Daily is a crazy website, but I think this op-ed by Joseph Farrah summarizes my argument here, and provides definitive proof that the Tea Party and GOP are never, ever, ever getting back together:

There are groups and individuals who would like to constrict the tea-party movement to fiscal issues.

That would be a huge mistake.

It’s not just about government spending, even though it was government spending that precipitated the unprecedented, spontaneous, grass-roots uprising.

More precisely, it’s about the law of the land and the will of the people.

It’s about a nation whose government has lost its moorings.

Remember the list of policies that Yglesias and Chait think the Tea Party and Moderate Republicans agree on? Maybe they should consult TeaParty.org where these fifteen non-negotiables are dilineated:

1. Illegal aliens are here illegally.

2. Pro-domestic employment is indispensable.

3. A strong military is essential.

4. Special interests must be eliminated.

5. Gun ownership is sacred.

6. Government must be downsized.

7. The national budget must be balanced.

8. Deficit spending must end.

9. Bailout and stimulus plans are illegal.

10. Reducing personal income taxes is a must.

11. Reducing business income taxes is mandatory.

12. Political offices must be available to average citizens.

13. Intrusive government must be stopped.

14. English as our core language is required.

15. Traditional family values are encouraged.

Those goals aren’t at all in line with the policies pushed forward by the GOP. They are not the goals of a major political party, but rather a fringe nationalistic movement. In fact, similar nationalist movements are cropping up all over Europe, fueled by the influx of immigration, especially of Muslims.  Such movements are not historically unique either.

We can see a similar movement in Britain in the 1960s. when Britain’s Conservative Party faced the same struggle the GOP face today. In 1964, Peter Griffiths, a Tory, won a seat with the slogan: “If you want a n*gger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” In 1966, when the moderate Conservative party lost, A.K. Chesterton (winner of the creepiest lips award), along with John Tyndall decided that they would be better off splitting off from the Tories and forming their own National Front, which later evolved into the BNP.

The Conservatives worked to create a more center-right party and worked, haltingly, to rid itself of racist past and towards a more centrist agenda. In contrast, the BNP is pro-life, pro-capital punishment,  a strictly anti-immigration pose, reject any government spending that doesn’t serve British interests, teach the British heritage in schools, support stand your ground laws and believe all races are equal, but they just shouldn’t mingle. Sound familiar? Try to see if you can tell the difference between a Tea Party manifesto and the BNP manifesto.

Viewed in the light or the BNP, the Tea Party’s odd desire to maintain farm subsidies while cutting aid to the poor makes sense: any government program which supports the “other” is bad. Programs to support middle-class (read: white) farmers or homeowners are fine, supporting the poor hispanic and black population is terrible. The goal isn’t to shrink government, it’s to cleanse government. This also helps explain the Tea Party fascination with birtherism, strange theories about neo-colonialism, and they are absolutely terrified of the U.N.

The Tea Party has all of the hallmarks of a nationalist xenophobic (dare I say Fascist) movement:  89% white, 58% keep a gun in their house, a faction believe that violence  against the government is justified, most believe America is a country in decline, they are anti-immigrant, authoritarian, opposed to social progress, anti-gay and anti-abortion. overwhelmingly support the death penalty, really dislike Muslims, very much dislike immigrants (to the point of militarizing the border) and they’re really, really racist. Obviously, the Tea Party is not a single cohesive group, but it’s clear that the anti-immigrant wing holds major influence in the coalition of crazy. Sinclair Lewis summed up the situation a century ago, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

While the “Tea Party” sentiment has existed for a long time in the Republican party, but it has remained dormant, largely placated by the race-baiting language of Republican candidates. Reagan promised to cut benefits for the welfare queens (black women) and imprison crack addicts (black men). The recent rise of the Tea Party was ignited by three things:

1. The failure of the George Bush Presidency

The Republican has courted racial votes for a long-time, but recently has failed to deliver what they desire. George Bush’s push for immigration reform, his pivot toward India and China, embrace of compassionate conservatism and focus towards nation-building abroad all frustrated the nationalist right.

2. The election of Barack Obama

The election of Obama and his re-election provided both racial animus (s is it any wonder that the enemy of the Tea Party is not a liberal, but rather an immigrant black Muslim), but also the hopelessness of trusting the establishment. The reason for the National Front splitting with the Tories is disturbingly prescient: A.K. Chesterton was convinced that a purer party would  more successfully compete in national elections.

3. The destruction of the Middle Class

The middle class got screwed in 2008, and they saw their government support the wealthiest and the poorest and leave the middle-class out in the cold. If you look at the economic policies of the Tea Party, it’s broadly similar to that of the BNP – government support isn’t inherently bad, it’s bad if it goes to support immigrants, poor or blacks. Thus, the bailout of banks was not bad but the bailout of poor homeowners (who were, in the Conservative narrative, because of the Community Reinvestment Act were primarily minority) ignited the anger and fear.

If America was a parliamentary democracy (as it should be), the current split would have happened a long time ago. We would have four parties: a nationalistic “Tea Party,” a center-right “Rockefeller Republican” party, a center-left “New Democratic” party and a green party. Instead, we have two parties that . On the left, the green party has been so terrified of the right it grasped for the Clintons,  and Kerrys (and the center-lefties sat through McGovern and Dukakis). The right has had to grapple with something far more difficult. Middle-class and working-class nationalists have watched Republican presidents work towards immigration reform (to win the votes of Hispanics), send jobs overseas, work tirelessly to export American ideas to the Middle East and give up the fight on social issues. Now, they also have something else none of the other far-right movements in America have had, the mobilization capacity to shut down the government. The GOP has tried to placate the Tea Party while also bringing the party into the 21st century. How long will it be until the Tea Party decides, like A.K. Chesterton, that they’d be better off on their own? How far will the GOP go to win over the votes of disenchanted Southerners, afraid of the increase of secularism, the infiltration of foreign peoples and races into their society and the decline of the white middle class? To quote the Gospel of Mark, “A house is divided against itself cannot stand.”

The Republican Empathy Gap

The “War on Women” debate gives us an interesting insight into the Republican Party. The “War” began when Republicans voted against the Lilly Ledbetter pay act, then they refused to renew the Violence Against Women Act, then tried to prevent women from accessing birth control. Then they said some really stupid things about rape and were generally buttholes about the whole business. But now the Republicans think they have ammunition against the Democrats. “We just pass legislation that make it women harder to get fair wages, get an abortion in the case of rape and report sex abuse,” they say, “Democrats hurt real women by harassing them at work.” As the AP oddly puts it, “While the controversies surrounding Akin and Murdock focused on words, the spectacles involving Weiner and Filner center on actions.”

But the Akin controversy wasn’t about “words.” It was about legislation. Akin endorsed the dreadful “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which would have added the qualifier “forcible” before rape, in an attempt to change the definition of the word. “Words,” after all, communicate ideas, which serve as the basis for policy. By implying that public policy debates are only so many “words” detached from policy, the Republicans and AP illustrate the profound disconnect in Republican politics.

Republican governors who chose not to accept the Medicaid expansion and therefore leave millions of human beings without healthcare consider these people merely pawns in the political game. Bob Woodward has noted has much in his quintessential book on the debt ceiling debacle. Republicans, he witnessed, simply didn’t care about the possibility that the U.S. might default on the debt, some gleefully welcomed it. Some people just want to watch the world burn.

It’s tempting to place this observation in the larger picture of Republican ideology. Ezra Klein and other liberals constantly chide this Congress (and the last one) for how little legislation they have passed. But for Boehner, the test will be how much legislation they repeal. Because Republicans believe the government can do no good, allowing it to shutdown or savagely cutting benefits are not bad policies, rather, this is the goal. Republicans want to systematically dismantle Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, slowly starving the beast of government. Like ardent Stalinists, no human cost can stop them.

Of course, this was not always the case. Nixon wanted a guaranteed minimum income, as did Milton Friedman (he proposed the Negative Income Tax). Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System and invested heavily in science and technology (he also appointed William Brennan to the Supreme Court).

Much of this may be a result of an empathy gap – few politicians actually see the people affected by their programs, especially when they remained ensconced in D.C. That means politicians must rely on either anecdotes from the campaign trail and those with whom they interact. This creates an empathy gap, with Woodward noting that Cantor was concerned about small business owners and Obama poor mothers on Medicaid.

To understand the empathy gap, we can turn to the unadulterated Id of the Republican Party, Fox News. In that Daily Show clip, we see a bunch of rich people saying really dumb and awful and disconnected things about poverty and John Oliver does a great job tearing them a new one. But, in the second half of the clip, we get two delightful “pundits,” one arguing that, it’s not McDonald’s job to pay to feed her kids, “no matter how many she has.” It’s an interesting twist on Reagan’s race-baiting welfare queen tactic, although now the woman has a job, and just wants to unionize. The other “pundit” in particular stands out, Mrs. Tracy Byrnes, who excoriates those on the minimum wage, and yet feels intense empathy for those who make $250,000 and can’t afford to put their kids through college. $250,000, she explains is, “actually close to poverty.” Read that again (and note that $250,000 actually puts you in the richest 5% of earners in America).

But this isn’t actually entirely surprising to me. I know many people who assume that $100,000 is the median wage ($53,000 is), or that everyone goes to college, or that it’s not weird for their parents to still be paying their bills at 26. The reason Tracy Byrnes thinks that $250,000 is close to the poverty line ($23,283 is the poverty line, meaning that $250,000 is about 975% more than poverty) is because Tracy Byrnes, like most Fox News anchors, pundits and politicians, have never been, or met poor people (or know how to do basic math). In America, as incomes have diverged, so have social opportunities and social interactions. We live in a skybox nation, where the rich and the poor very rarely meet and therefore understand little about each other. For Fox News anchors, a minimum wage job is a fun thing you do over the summer to get out of the house; for most people, it’s their livelihood.

The empathy gap is thus rooted in another social phenomenon – our society’s dramatic increase in inequality. David Madland argues in Democracy,  “Studies across U.S. states, of the United States over time, and across countries all find that societies with a strong middle class and low levels of inequality have greater levels of trust of strangers.” This trust brings about economic advantages. Madland cites one study which found, “a 10 percentage-point increase in trust increases the growth rate of GDP by 0.5 percentage points” over five years.” International studies have confirmed this effect.

This decline in social trust begins a downward spiral. Bo Rothstein and Eric Uslaner note in a fabulous paper for World Politics, “The best policy response to growing inequality is to enact universalistic social welfare programs. However, the social strains stemming from increased inequality make it almost impossible to enact such policies.” The lack of social trust caused by inequality makes increasing opportunity harder (as I’ve noted above) which further erodes social trust and increases inequality. Wealthy citizens see themselves as “makers” and the poor as “takers,” while the poor see the rich as selfish. Rothstein and Uslaner continue later, “Unequal societies find themselves trapped in a continuous cycle of inequality, with low trust in others and in government and policies that do little to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and to create a sense of equal opportunity.”

Other research has confirmed this “empathy gap.” Last year, Paul Piff caused quite a stir when he published his finding that, upper class individuals were, more likely to break driving laws, take goods from others, lie in a negotiation, cheat and endorse unethical behaviour (this, of course, stands at odd with Charles Murray’s rather naive belief that the rich are rich because of their superior moral scruples). Piff summarizes his conclusions, “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything, the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”

Most social phenomenons can’t be pegged to a single event. But the Republican Party’s shift from empathy to disgust and from viewing government as a force for good to a necessary evil, although developing for a long time, is aptly summarized in two lines from Ronald Reagan’s A Time for Choosing speech. The great orator said, “Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater. We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well that was probably true. They were all on a diet. But now we’re told that 9.3 million families in this country are poverty-stricken on the basis of earning less than 3,000 dollars a year.” This was much more radical then than it seems now. Poverty, had for decades been, “not a trait of character,” but rather something,  “created anew in each generation, but not by heredity but by circumstances.” Now it was a choice, not something to war against, but something to mock. As Noam Chomsky noted, some victims are considered “worthy” and others “unworthy.” With those simple words, Reagan created a large class of “unworthy” victims that do not deserve our help or empathy. Government, he decided could not help them. Is it any wonder that inequality began it’s increase under Reagan and has spiralled out of control ever since?

 Contact Sean: seanadrianmc@gmail.com