MSNBC w/ Cenk: Fiery Debate On Social Security

This is the best interview I’ve seen in a long time. I really dislike yelling, but sadly politicians like this will always lie unless the truth is forced out of them. Cenk Uygur is one of the few people in the mainstream media who will ask the hard questions and demand real answers.

And Cenk’s further thoughts on social security:

10 States With Ridiculously Low Unemployment — And Why

I noticed this video a while back which shows how the economic problems mostly hit the coasts and the south first and then slowly moved to the interior of the country. Some of the midwestern and northwestern were barely impacted at all. I particularly paid attention to how Iowa remained strong as the states to the south, east, and north all descended into economic darkness.

I came across an article that explains some of this.

10 States With Ridiculously Low Unemployment — And Why

The 10 states are:

  1. North Dakota
  2. South Dakota
  3. Nebraska
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Vermont
  6. Hawaii
  7. Kansas
  8. Wyoming
  9. Minnesota
  10. Iowa

Some key elements that seem helpful:

  • diverse economy
  • agriculture or another strong sector such as tourism or industry
  • highly educated population

Iowa actually has a lower than average rate of higher education, but that is probably because of a split. There is a lot more agriculture in Western Iowa and a lot more education in Eastern Iowa (I read a few years ago that Iowa City has the highest per capita of highly educated in the country). Most importantly, Iowa balances all of this with a very diverse economy.

I had to check one other factor to see if the data holds up. I’ve recently written about income inequality because of reading the book The Spirit Level. As I expected, according to the data in the book, all these states are among the lowest in income inequality (and among the lowest in social problems). This once again proves the theory that income inequality is bad not simply because it leads to social inequality but because it leads to an unstable economy. Wealthy states like Texas and California were hit hard by the recession maybe because they have some of the highest income inequalities in the country.

The moral of the story: Even if you’re a selfish capitalist or a righteous social conservative, you should still help the poor because in helping them you are helping yourself. If you don’t help the poor, you and your entire community will suffer from your sins. So, quit being an asshole and help the poor.

Henry David Thoreau: Founding Father of American Libertarian Thought | by Jeff Riggenbach

I never thought about Henry David Thoreau in terms of libertarianism, but obviously some of his views pointed in the direction of libertarianism or even some form of anarchism.

I noticed a glaring ommission in the portrayal.  Thoreau was a liberal libertarian who argued for egalitarianism and later inspired civil rights leaders such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King jr. Also, I’ve never seen any example of Thoreau defending property rights as do conservative libertarians. When he moved to Walden, he lived on someone elses property (Emerson’s property as I remember which Emerson had inherited from his wife). He did his own work as he was very industrious and knowledgeable, but he was perfectly fine with receiving gifts of goods he needed and borrowing tools.

“Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it.”

Thoreau had some anti-statist tendencies for sure, but this wasn’t based on his feeling territorial about the home he built or protective of his private property. He apparently wasn’t even bothered by minor acts of theft.

“I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or windows. I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire, the literary amuse himself with the few books on my table, or the curious, by opening my closet door, see what was left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a supper. Yet, though many people of every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time.”

Watching this video helped me to articulate the difference between the two wings of libertarianism. A conservative libertarian tends to argue for rights in terms of capitalist terminology (e.g., property rights and contractual rights). And a liberal libertarian tends to define capitalism in terms of civil rights. This shows a difference of priority. Conservative libertarians are more accepting of hierarchical power and liberal libertarians prefer egalitarianism (liberalism being the common thread between libertarianism and anarchism).

“I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.”

Anarcho-Capitalism Will NOT Work

Here is a very good analysis and criticism of anarcho-capitalism. I’ve made pretty much the exact same arguments, but this video offers precise real world examples to back up these arguments.

Info from below the video on YouTube:

I read this article in the original magazine but I see that you have to pay online. Fucking capitalist!!! Sorry.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4017690

Somali Business Council
http://www.banadir.com/somali.htm.shtml
See how this meeting took place in 2003 before the reEMERGENCE of the state.

– – –

Since posting the above, someone linked here in an anarcho-capitalist forum:

http://freedomainradio.com/BOARD/forums/t/27229.aspx

The opening comment asked about the issue of what if corporations want a state government. The whole argument of anarcho-capitalism rests on the belief that state governments corrupt capitalism and that corporations as we know them wouldn’t exist without state governments.

I think this is a moot point in that corporations and state governments develop together. Both are simply related forms of centralized power and hierarchical organization. The only type of capitalism that is even close to anarchism is bartering which is only found (as an economic system) in pre-industrial tribal societies. However, what made those pre-industrial tribal societies work was two factors:

1) They didn’t have to compete with industrialized nation states.
2) They were traditional communities probably with traditional theocratic political systems.

These societies wouldn’t fit the utopian vision of a modern anarcho-capitalist who wants to implement the Enlightenment ideals of classical liberalism. These tribal societies are egalitarian to some extent for the simple fact they were small close-knit communities and so they could operate according to direct democracy or community councils.

My point is that we moderns wouldn’t recognize these societies as being capitalist in any aspect. And, for damn sure, a modern corporation or anarcho-capitalist DRO couldn’t be run according to the traditional theocracy of a pre-industrial tribal society. Modern capitalism goes hand in hand with modern statism. It’s just a fact. I realize that an-caps would prefer it not to be so, but it doesn’t change the facts.

In the forum thread, the first response was of course a Stefan Molyneux devotee telling the person to read Molyneux’s holy books and all would be revealed. The person who started the thread said the following:

I’ve listened to it in audiobook when I first started getting into stateless capitalism. i should check it out again. But i don’t remember him covering the subject of business actually WANTING a governement.

I’m not talking about DRO’s becoming governments. That is highly improbable for many reasons that have been explained countless times.

I remember stef saying that once violence is out of the equations, life will work “however the hell people want them to work”.

Now if big business “wants it to work” with a government that they set up. What’s preventing them? DROs?

I really don’t see why it’s improbable that a DRO might become a government other than the fact that a society based on DROs is itself highly improbable (that is assuming the DROs lived up to anarcho-capitalist ideals of non-aggression). But, ignoring that, this commenter brings up the same point again which no one in the thread has yet answered. What if states don’t force themselves on corporations and instead corporations choose to create states?

This is sort of like the conundrum of a democratic country like Germany leading to an un-democratic leader like Hitler. What if people freely want to give up their freedom? Similarly, what if corporations freely want to givt up some of their freedom for the stability and security of a state? What if a free market doesn’t actually benefit big businesses? Why would big businesses support anarcho-capitalism if it decreased their profit? Also, in landlord anarcho-capitalism, what if the landless peasants decided to end their contracts and take the land for themselves or create a new government? Most governments that exist were once created or supported by the masses. If the masses rose up, how would the anarcho-capitalist feudal landlord non-aggressively maintain his power and property?

One other commenter countered such criticisms with the following:

the examples and theory have to do with societies that have simply rejected the previous form of government, not by accepting anarchy for the NAP.  This is why the business leaders that remain are still reaching for the gun.

Morality is the reason for Anarcho-Capitalism, not utility.  As Stef and the Mises and Libertarians try to point out; the moral solution is also the most efficient solution as well.

Violence is not a reason for having a government, it is the reason to not have one.

His first point is that it doesn’t count because the corporations didn’t accept anarchy despite no government keeping them from accepting anarchy. Isn’t that the point of the criticism? Why would a wealthy and powerful corporation ever choose anarchy? He tried to avoid the criticism by somehow arguing real world examples don’t count.

His second point that the moral values are noble even if they contradict reality. That is the same kind of argument a Christians make. Religious fundamentalists argue that teaching abstinence is worthy even though it fails in the preventing of teen sex, teen pregnancy, and teen STDS. Religious fundamentalists argue that making abortions illegal is the morally correct action even though countries with illegalized abortions have higher rates of abortions. The sentiment is that if somehow we could change all of society and culture to fit some specific set of beliefs then the world would be a better place. Sure. Every true believer says that. Every utopian dreamer thinks his vision is worthy. So what? Reality is still reality.

Basically, people like this would prefer to live in a dream without violence than a reality with violence. It sounds nice. The only problem is that dreams don’t feed your belly. Nor do dreams protect your family from threats.

Gitmo: The New Rules of War

Pierre-Richard Prosper said: “We’re applying the Geneva Conventions, but he by his conduct has not earned the benefits or privileges of being labelled a prisoner of war.”

That is some evil sounding rhetoric.

It’s my understanding that, according to Geneva Conventions, either someone is or is not a prisoner of war. A person doesn’t have to earn the benefits and privileges of being a prisoner of war. If you are being detained by a government because of allegations of involvment in fighting against that government, then you are by definition a prisoner of war.

Basically, Prosper is saying that the US government doesn’t care about international law and will apply it at whim without any explanation. Prosper doesn’t even explain the US policy about how someone earns the right to be treated like a human.

Prosper in this next video argues that we’re in an unconventional war that is against a private organization rather than a state. If that is the case, why did we invade and occupy two countries? And this is further confusing since the US government and other governments are increasingly relying upon private organiztions as mercenaries. Are we getting to the point where governments are stepping away from taking any responsibility of the wars they start and the killing they cause? In the future, governments will pull the strings behind the scenes while private organizations fight other private organizations. Meanwhile, innocent citizens will be caught in the middle.

Anarcho-capitalists argue only governments can fight wars and not private organizations, but I fear they are sadly wrong. If there is another world war (not of the cold war variety), it quite likely could be between private organizations that have no loyalty to any specific nation and so would have no responsibility to any specific citizenry. The private organizations who fight the wars could be the same that own the media. Just imagine if Blackwater became an large international mercenary force and imagine that it was owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Rich Liberals Vs Conservatives w/ Author David Callahan

In this interview, David Callahan’s view intrigues me.

He is arguing that the liberal rich has been smaller in recent decades than the conservative rich. However, supposedly with the growing technology industry and the knowledge economy, there has been a growing liberal rich. These wealthy liberals are highly educated and got their wealth through entrepreneurship. It’s an interesting argument. Entrepreneurs are more likely to be liberal whereas old money and established corporations are likely to be conservative.

Over the last half century or so, the conservative rich created a massive infrastructure of conservative media, think tanks, lobbyist groups, and astro-turf movements. Liberals, on the other hand, have been very lacking in organization. But this apparently has been changing this last decade. I’d probably say it’s the internet that has been a boon for liberals because the internet makes it easier to do grassroots bottom-up organization which is where liberals excel. The argument, however, is that the internet has boomed along with the wealth of the liberals who started businesses in this sector. So, there was the introduction of tools for grassroots organization at the same time new money was funding liberal organizations and media.

It still seems liberals aren’t quite organized in a lock-step way as is seen among conservatives, but definitely a shift has happened.

The shift the author sees is in that the upper class is shifting away from the Republican party. “The upper class is becoming more educated, more secular, more based in urban America (particularly on the coasts). And the Republican party is becoming more religious, more based in small town America, and becoming less educated.” This argument seems supported by the evidence showing the average IQ of Republicans has decreased since a high point during Reagan’s administration.

‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Germany

In this video, there was one particular point about Germany that stood out. Germany is 1/5 the size of the US and yet has the second highest trade surplus in the world (after China). They’ve accomplished this while having higher rate of unionization and higher pay. Interestingly, the US economy was also doing better when unionization and pay was higher in the US.

Unions in the US are considered socialists even though they represent the working class. In Germany, it’s required for worker representation to be half of board members of companies. In Germany, the industrial and financial sectors are highly regulated keeping jobs from being outsourced and ensuring main street benefits rather than just wall street. According to conservative ideology, this kind of socialist practices and union power should destroy the economy and destroy innovation and yet the complete opposite is the result.

This seems to support Noam Chomsky’s arguments. Chomsky thinks the world would be a better place if workers had more power to influence the companies they work for and influence the economy they are a part of. As a socialist liberal, Chomsky genuinely believes it’s good to empower the average person. It would appear Germany has done exactly this and has become immensely successful by doing so.

Here is an article by the interviewee:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/30/AR2010063004199.html

Most Americans, I suspect, believe we’re losing manufacturing because we can’t compete against cheap Chinese labor. But Germany has remained a manufacturing giant notwithstanding the rise of East Asia, making high-end products with a workforce that is more unionized and better paid than ours. German exports came to $1.1 trillion in 2009 — roughly $125 billion more than we exported, though there are just 82 million Germans to our 310 million Americans. Germany’s yearly trade balance went from a deficit of $6 billion in 1998 to a surplus of $267 billion in 2008 — the same year the United States ran a trade deficit of $569 billion. Over those same 10 years, Germany’s annual growth rate per capita exceeded ours.

Germany has increased its edge in world-class manufacturing even as we have squandered ours because its model of capitalism is superior to our own. For one thing, its financial sector serves the larger economy, not just itself. The typical German company has a long-term relationship with a single bank — and for the smaller manufacturers that are the backbone of the German economy, those relationships are likely with one of Germany’s 431 savings banks, each of them a local institution with a municipally appointed board, that shun capital markets and invest their depositors’ savings in upgrading local enterprises. By American banking standards, the savings banks are incredibly dull. But they didn’t lose money in the financial panic of 2008 and have financed an industrial sector that makes ours look anemic by comparison.

The above video reminds me of another video I watched a few weeks back.

The author in this second interview is comparing the US to Europe, but he specifically talks about Germany. He also mentions the importance of unionization in Germany and he puts it in the context of their quality education system. German students are taught to understand politics and the role of unions. Also, students are taught real trade skills and taught the importance of unions in protecting trades.

As Hartmann points out, the middle class in the US has been become an endangered species. The author agrees in saying that US society only helps the plutocratic rich and even disadvantages the average rich person. There actually is more entrepreneurship in ‘socialist’ Europe than in the ‘capitalist’ US. One thing that helps small businesses in some European countries is single payer which lowers business costs. Of course, ‘socialist’ Obama simply ignored single payer during the health care debate. What right-wingers in the US don’t understand is that ‘socialism’ helps both the workers and small business owners… whereas ‘capitalism’ (as practiced in the US) helps only big businesses while hurting both workers and small business owners.

Here is another interview with the author in the second video:

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/08/25/german_usa_working_life_ext2010

Why is it useful to compare ourselves to the Germans?

Germany has the highest degree of worker control on the planet since the collapse of the Soviet Union. When I saw German labor minister Günther Horzetzky in April of 2009, he said “Our biggest export now is co-determination.” He meant that other European countries were coming up with versions of it.

How did Germany become such a great place to work in the first place?

The Allies did it. This whole European model came, to some extent, from the New Deal. Our real history and tradition is what we created in Europe. Occupying Germany after WWII, the 1945 European constitutions, the UN Charter of Human Rights all came from Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Dealers. All of it got worked into the constitutions of Europe and helped shape their social democracies. It came from us. The papal encyclicals on labor, it came from the Americans.

[ . . . ]

Thomas Friedman’s “flat world” theory predicts that in the future, all countries will be competing on an equal playing field — paving the way for highly-populated countries to dominate the world economy. Do you agree with him?

How does he explain the existence of Germany? What country has the highest exports in the world today? It’s the country with the highest wage rates and union restrictions. Germany has become more of a power, not less of a power as the world has become more global. Our problem isn’t competing with China, it’s competing with Germany in China. We’re so focused on China all the time, and low-wage assembly stuff, that we’re missing what’s going on. It’s Germany that’s going in and selling stuff in China that we ought to be selling that would hold down the trade gap between the U.S. and China. It’s not China’s fault; it’s Germany’s. But no one wants to talk about that. Because that would raise questions about the whole U.S. model: Why is this high-wage country beating us? Why are the European socialists beating us? It’s too subversive an idea so we don’t allow in the discourse.

I decided to add one other comparison. I had recently perused some of the book The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett, and I had mentioned it in a post last month (Mean Bosses & Inequality). After posting all the above, I thought I should look at the data on wealth disparity and social problems in order to see if Germany does better than the US.

There apparently were problems with social disruption after reunification which led to some social problems, but the restructuring that followed decreased over time the income inequality and social problems (similar to what post-war restructuring did to improve Japanese society). Presently, Germany has less than half of the income inequality seen in the US (Germany having income equality that is about average for Europe and the US having high income inequality similar to countries such as Singapore and Israel). The US has a much higher average income than Germany, but because most of US wealth belongs to the upper class whereas most of the German wealth belongs to the middle class. Also, Germany has high social mobility and the US has low social mobility (most wealth coming from privilege and inheritance)… which is interesting to put in context of Americans working on average more hours and have less vacation time than Germans.

What this means in terms of social problems is that Germany has lower rates and the US higher rates of the following: mental illness, imprisoned per capita, drug use, homicides, infant mortality, obesity, teen pregnancy, and children’s experience of conflict (“reported fighting, bullying and finding peers not kind and helpful”, p. 139). And Germany has higher rates and the US has lower rates of the following: UNICEF index of child wellbeing, longer life expectancy, happiness, and recycling.

In The Spirit Level, the authors point out one particular impact this has on children. They write (pp 116-7), “when we first looked at data on children’s aspirations from a UNICEF report on childhood well-being, we were surprised at its relationship to income inequality.” They continue:

More children reported low aspirations in more equal countries; in unequal countries children were more likely to have high aspirations. Some of this may be acounted for by the fact that in more equal societies, less-skilled work may be less stigmatized, in comparison to more unequal societies where career choices are dominated by rather star-struck ideas of financial success and images of glamour and celebrity.

In more unequal countries, we found a larger gap betwen aspirations and actual opportunities and expectations. If we compare… maths and reading scores in different countries… it is clear that aspirations are higher in countries where educational achievement is lower. More children might be aspiring to higher-status jobs, but fewer of them will be qualified to get them. If inequality leads to unrealistic hopes it must also lead to disappointment.

Gillian Evans quotes a teacher ta an inner-city primary school, who summed up the corrosive effect of inequality on children:

These kids don’t know theyr’e working class; they won’t know that until they leave school and realize that the dreams they’ve nurtured through childhood can’t come true.

I brought this up because it’s another comparison of US and Germany. Going by the data (UNICEF – Child poverty in perspective), German children are about twice as likely to aspire to low skilled work. Most people probably think lack of aspiration for greater opportunities means lack of opportunities or lack of seeking out opportunities, but the data shows a very different picture.

In the US, children have a lot of aspiration and yet have less opportunity to fulfill that aspiration (because of income inequality and low rate of social mobility).

In Germany, children have less aspiration and yet are more likely to achieve further beyond the socio-economic status they were born into.

This goes against commonsense. Americans like to believe we live in a meritocracy, like to believe that if you dream big enough anything is possible. However, this has a dark side in that idolizing the wealthy leads American society to demonize the poor. To be working class in America and never striving to better yourself means that you aren’t living up to your potential and therefore are in some sense a failure. To be working class in Germany, on the other hand, is considered worthy. The American ruling elite told average Americans that working class jobs were undesirable and so sent most of our manufacturing jobs overseas, but Germany maintained it’s manufacturing jobs and through unionization made sure those jobs had good benefits.

Sadly, the American Dream will forever remain a dream for most Americans… and yet few Americans seem to understand why the American Dream has been dying.

– – –

Since posting all the above, I noticed an article about the relationship between economic growth and income distribution, specifically why inequality undermines sustainable growth:

Warning! Inequality May Be Hazardous to Your Growth
Andrew Berg & Jonathan D. Ostry

Here are some other related articles and papers:

http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/07/unequal-america-html

http://www.columbia.edu/~tad61/Myles_090905.pdf

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/3/62/44582910.pdf

http://www.kof.ethz.ch/de/publikationen/p/kof-working-papers/245/

http://www.marmotreview.org/

And I noticed that there are several nice graphs from the Equality Trust website (which is related to the work and authors of The Spirit Level):

Physical Health

IM

Mental Health

Mental Illness

Drug Abuse

DA

Education

Education

Imprisonment

IMP

Obesity

OB

Social Mobility

SocMob

Trust and Community Life

Trust

Violence

Violence

Teenage Births

Teenage Births

Child Well-being

Child Well-being

Rich  and Poor Countries

Foreign Aid

Equality and Global Warming

Recycling

Open-Mindedness: Pros & Cons

There are a few labels that describe my relationship to belief and knowledge: weak atheist, agnostic, weak agnostic, militant agnostic, agnostic gnostic, gnostic, Fortean, epistemological anarchist, skeptic, zetetic, philosophical pessimist, truth-seeker, and I’m sure I could add a few more. Basically, I trust both personal experience and intellectual inquiry more than collective belief, trust facts and rationality more than appeal to authority.

I, of course, consider my position to be superior to the alternatives… and, besides, it’s just my way of seeing and thinking about the world. Ever since a child, I’ve always been a questioner… and conventional answers tend not to satisfy me. I don’t have a choice but to be who I am. But, for the sake of argument, let me present the pros and cons of my attitude.

There are two main pros that come to mind.

First, I have no particular beliefs that I have to defend at all cost. This makes it easy to have a debate with someone who feels compelled to defend their beliefs. Having no absolute beliefs gives me room to shift my position.

Second, this gives me a more open attitude toward knowledge. I don’t have to worry about new data challenging my assumptions. In fact, I seek out new data to challenge my assumptions. In a sense, I can’t lose a debate as long as I maintain this open position because I have nothing to lose. Any debate is an opportunity to learn something I didn’t previously know and I’ll simply adapt my arguments to that new data.

Now for a couple of cons.

First, this may seem like an easy position to maintain, but it actually takes a lot of effort. I never accept anything on faith or on authority. I’m constantly seeking out new info and new perspectives. I’m constantly double-checking what I think I know and verifying claimed facts. This is an endless effort. I might spend hours or even days researching a single point. I honestly try to understand all sides. Because of my values and ideals, I hold truth above all else even when the person I’m debating doesn’t. Depending on time and energy, I’ll often try to understand someone else’s perspective even if they merely dismiss mine.

Second, it can be psychologically difficult living with endless questions and no certainties. At least, I live in a liberal community and so don’t have to defend my lack of belief and ideological certitude. I’m very glad I wasn’t born into a religiously fundamentalist society. Still, even in a liberal community, maintaining a lack of belief isn’t easy. There is something in human nature that makes us want to grasp onto a worldview. A sense of certainty (even when that certainty is vague and/or superficial) can be one of the most comforting things in the world. There is a reason religious people tend to be happier and live longer. Thinking and questioning might be good for social progress, but it’s not necessarily good for personal gain.

I’d say that, if you want to be happy and healthy, you probably should choose to be a closed-minded ideologue. But such isn’t the choice most of us face. I doubt most people choose their psychological attitude towards the world. Such things are a combination of genetics and experiences (especially early experiences), both of which aren’t generally within our control. I couldn’t choose to be a closed-minded ideologue even if I tried. Maybe in the future they’ll have drugs and genetic engineering that will help people to question less and think less independently. Until then, we freethinkers will have to suffer the burden of rationality (it’s similar to the white man’s burden except that it’s open to all races).