Posts from — October 2008
In case you missed it, a little earthquake has erupted in the world of political economics, and it comes by way of an absolute shocker in the NY Times: “Greenspan Concedes Error on Regulation.
I had to hit F5 on that one. I could barely believe my browser.
American history can be broken into a few major economic eras, and one of them may be coming to an end. I’m talking about the Era of the Free Market. Born out of the Chicago School of Economics, led most notably by Milton Friedman, it was an economic philosophy well-suited for the post-War conservatives – soon to be popularized by Reagan – who saw an intellectual opportunity to put a nail in the coffin of their arch-enemy the New Deal.
As Wikipedia puts it, this view holds that “regulation and other government intervention is always inefficient compared to a free market.” It’s the way we live, and have been living, for a generation. It’s why even young people – who know little about economics, politics or history – will, for the most part, almost always espouse a knee-jerk acceptance to the “Dangers of Excess Government”.
Now one of the most visible representations of the Free Marketers – Alan Greenspan – has made this startling admission:
You remember Alan Greenspan. He used to run around with the Objectivists, as a much-favored disciple of Ayn Rand. Objectivists believe that only the free market, when allowed to prosper in pure, unregulated capitalism, delivers the ideal form of human society. That’s because when individuals are free to act according to their own self interest (the theory goes), then you have a society of right-thinking, right-acting folks. According to the Objectivists, such societal freedom can only be realized under complete separation of state and economics, similar to the separation of church and state.
In other words: Regulations: very, very bad. (How a man who ideologically rejects all forms of regulation was allowed to run the Federal Reserve – the most powerful economic regulatory organization in the world – is a head-scratcher. But searching for logic among hypocrisy is often a futile exercise.)
You should check out the Objectivists sometime. They make a lot of sense when you read them, especially when you’re like 18 or 20 (I speak from experience) and have yet to live in the world – and by “live” I mean work, sweat, earn, experience, and interact with people beyond your own immediate family. That’s when you realize that few things ever neatly line up in your day-to-day existence the way they appear to line up when you’re reading books. Sure, many people are motivated by self interest. And just as often they are motivated by compassion and empathy and selflessness. You simply can’t build a social order around one or the other, since both are true.
What Objectivists fail to recognize – just like passionate Free Marketers or Communists, for that matter – is that no single ideology will satisfy every problem. If you ever find an economic or political philosophy that seems to do that, then my advice to you is to run, quickly, for you will have found yourself among zealots.
Here’s hoping for a whole lot fewer zealots running the instruments of power, from here on in. I’ll take a leader with an open mind and intellectual curiosity – I don’t care what party they’re from – over an ideological zealot anytime. Because a person with those skills will have the flexibility to apply a variety of approaches to solve a dilemma, rather than be handcuffed to a single view. Like trying to manage the US economy through 30 years of varied circumstances by eliminating regulations as part of an unquestioned trust in free market-based solutions, every single time. It’s bound to fail, eventually. And so I welcome you to the first economic disaster of the 21st century, brought to you not by “greed” on Wall Street (as if that’s something new and rare) but by an absence of appropriate rules and boundaries to keep things in good working order. Regulations by any other name.
I hope it’s a lesson well learned. We’ll see.
Anyway, getting back to Mr. Greenspan – I’ll say this much for the guy; it takes a lot to admit a major exception to one’s entire life’s rule. Turns out you CAN teach an old dog a new trick or two, at least once in a while.
It’s one thing to consider yourself a “conservative” and to be leery of a President Obama’s potential policies. It’s a whole other thing to claim the guy is some of kind “terrorist” who wants to overthrow the country.
I mean, really.
But this is the depth of desperation to which the McCain campaign has actually fallen. They’re robocalling “undecideds” across the country with this very message. And now they’re also calling the guy a “socialist” (as if).
Obama is many things. “Radical Leftist” he is not. But regardless, US Representative Michelle Bachman has been on Hardball calling for the major newspapers of the country to investigate other members of Congress to “find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.” If you haven’t seen it, and haven’t just eaten, take a few minutes (it’s long but worth it) and watch:
If this ticks you off as much as it does me, then your next mouse move should be to sign this petition to censure this nut. Oh, and tell your friends to do the same.
I had a history professor in college who once baited a room full of wide-eyed freshman by asking us if the media was “liberal”. When we all nodded our heads in youthful agreement, he threw a textbook at the wall, pulled his hair (the guy was a kook) and screamed: “The media is owned by the largest corporations on the planet, why would they want to promote labor rights, regulation, or re-distribution of wealth?!”
Of course they wouldn’t. It’s one those rare moments in your life when you recognize that your whole way of looking at things has just changed.
I know there’s a strong belief to cast the mainstream commercial media as “liberal”. Well, on one hand if the media were to take its role as investigative check on elected power seriously, then by definition they would appear contrarian to anyone who considers themselves “conservative”, since conservatives have been the dominant political power for the last thirty years.
But as for a “liberal” bias: I don’t buy it.
I have a republican friend who’s a big McCain booster. This guy expends a lot of energy complaining about Obama’s free media ride and McCain’s daily barrage of criticism. OK, I will agree that McCain is getting pretty well blasted these days, and also that Obama is getting very good press.
But I will never agree that it’s a result of some kind of conspiracy out of the liberal media to elect Obama. Maybe it’s just an example of honest reporting.
John McCain has run one of the most unbelievably poor campaigns in memory. Step by step he’s made blunder after blunder, from a self-announced “war on the media” to a selfishly unprepared choice for VP, to praising our economic fundamentals hours before an historic meltdown, to a gimmicky campaign “suspension” (while he continued to campaign), to his angry, eye-rolling and downright creepy debate performances. He’s also continued his relentless, disgraceful attack strategy even as the polls clearly showed an electorate grown weary of it. The amount of mistakes have been remarkable, frankly. I’ve never seen anything like it.
And at the same time Obama has been flawless. He’s shown not only that he can speak with great extemporaneous skill, and make almost no mistakes in doing so, but he’s exhibited a calm confidence befitting a man of much more experience, while expertly managing a national organization second to none. And he’s FINALLY shown the Democratic party a way to duck Rove-like attacks (like McCain’s attempt to attack Obama for not repudiating John Lewis’ comments even while McCain and Palin were guilty of that very thing. McCain’s punch at the last debate missed entirely, and made him look weak and whiny instead).
Meantime, the media – for once – is not taking the bait about baseless accusations like Ayers, which they ignore because it lacks the one thing a news story requires: The truth. My republican friend wants the media to attack Obama the same way they attack McCain because that would be “fair” and “balanced”. But the world is not a playground where everyone gets an equal number of marbles. Obama is not being attacked because there’s nothing obvious for the mainstream media to attack.
Can it be that the Fourth Estate has suddenly gained – wonder of wonders – integrity?
Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far. But it’s a great relief to see McCain getting the kind of honest coverage he so clearly deserves. Let’s hope it keeps up for the next three weeks.