To Be Ruled By Engineers

“Some of the sources of Chinese success and American decay are not entirely mysterious. As it happens, the typical professional background of a member of China’s political elite is engineering; they were taught to build things. Meanwhile, a remarkable fraction of America’s political leadership class attended law school, where they were trained to argue effectively and to manipulate. Thus, we should not be greatly surprised that while China’s leaders tend to build, America’s leaders seem to prefer endless manipulation, whether of words, money, or people.”
~ Ron Unz, China’s Rise, America’s Fall

This made me think of two things.

First, American poitics isn’t just dominated by lawyers and legal experts. It is also dominated by business managers.

The legal types are great at rhetoric and persuasion. They are the sophists of the modern age. They play at being statesmen, but law school doesn’t prepare them for what is needed to be statesmen. They are experts in legalese and so they create more of it, with bills so complex that even they can’t understand it all. Obfuscation is a large part of the game, clever minds trying to outwit other clever minds, and yet none of them as clever as they think they are. They get so lost in words and abstractions that they forget a democracy is supposed to be about the people.

The business types, however, have a different but equally problematic mindset. They see the government and the population as something to be managed. They are the technocrats who see themselves as a meritocratic plutocracy of pragmatic problem-solvers. They will get things done, democracy be damned, but they don’t actually know how to get things done because a democratic government is about as opposite as one can get from a for-profit corporation. The only way for them to succeed according to their skill set is to make government into an extension of business. That is how we ended up with what some call soft fascism, corporatism, or inverted totalitarianism.

These are the twin forces of bureaucracy. Neither type is trained for building things. They aren’t engineers. They don’t even have the training to deal with objective reality, as neither are they scientists. Far fewer have any kind of experience that would connect them to the larger world, especially to the lives and experience of most Americans.

They exist in a bubble. As I recall, in recent history, all presidents, vice presidents, and every major party candidate for those positions have come from one of two Ivy League schools, Harvard and Yale. Many of them belonged to the same fraternities and clubs, socialize among the same people at the same events, live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same churches, send their children to the same private schools, and get the basically same info from the same sources.

I’m not saying the Chinese political elite don’t also live in a bubble. But at least they have real world knowledge about building things. Is it any wonder that the American infrastructure is not being maintained and most definitely not being expanded? Americans once built great things. That is no longer the case.

I don’t see it as a mere coincidence that American mainstream society used to revere engineers and scientists. At one time, there was a great push to get American kids into these fields. The engineers and scientists were highly respected. They were the hereoes during an era when we were competing against first Nazi engineers and scientists and then later against Soviet engineers and scientists. With the ending of the Cold War, Americans have lost their edge and even China’s challenging our power has only been met with apathy and cynicism. Now Americans attack scientists as anti-American and, since the Space Race ended, don’t give much thought at all to engineers.

The Chinese aspire toward power and greatness. Whether or not they will succeed, that is their vision as a society, especially among the ruling elite. They do make major mistakes in thei engineering schemes, as they seek to socially engineer an entire society, but at least they are trying to improve themselves. We Americans, on the other hand, rest on our laurels. Too much success and power has made us lazy and self-satisfied.

The second thing I was reminded of is Rome. Americans inherited the European love of comparing themselves to Rome. The Roman Empire is the touchstone for Western Civilization. In that light, I offer the following:

“Rome lived upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face. Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought out nothing but loads of dung. That was their return cargo.”
 ~ Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man

That quote touched upon something that come up in a recent conversation. I forget the context, but the point made was about the contrast between the early and late Roman Empire. Romans didn’t start out as a ruling elite operating a bureaucratic empire. What allowed them to become an empire in the first place was that they were great engineers. They built things better than other people did, from roads to aqueducts.

Importantly, Romans weren’t even the most innovative society. The Greeks produced greater thinkers. It was the Romans who were better at building armies and waging war, and hence they defeated the Greeks. But once victorious, Romans were only able to build their great society by borrowing from the great thinkers of other societies, such as the Greeks.

That resonates with today. Many Americans will say admit that the Chinese are smarter and maybe are better at building things. However, we are supposed to believe that America will always come out ahead because we are innovative. Chinese are better taught in terms of the rote memory that is necessary for science and engineering, but Americans have more patents and nobel prizes. Ignoring that much of America’s innovation comes from immigrants, I’m not sure innovation by itself will keep us on top, assuming we want to stay on top.

The ancient Greeks boasted of having had a great society. Without Hellenism, Rome as we know it wouldn’t be possible. Still, I doubt it comforted those defeated Greeks that at least their culture lived on in the Roman Empire. As the US declines, should Americans comfort themselves that American culture has left a permanent mark on the world.

There was something that once made this country unique.

“When Thomas Huxley, a famous British biologist, visited America in 1876, he asked, as the ship approached the New York harbor, what were the tower and the tall building with a cupola – then the city’s most conspicuous structures. When he was told that they were the Tribune newspaper and the Western Union Telegraph buildings, he replied, “Ah, that is interesting; that is American. In the Old World the first thing you see as you approach a great city are [church] steeples; here you see first, centers of intelligence.””
 ~ Andrew Friend, A Bell Curve, Kindle Location 763

Now, as we look at growing US cities, what are the buildings that dominate the skyline?

Here in my local community, the tallest or one of the tallest buildings in the downtown used to be for a tech industry company. However, the most recent tallest buildings built are high-rise apartment buildings for the super wealthy and they are smack dab in the center of town, dominating not just the skyline but also towering over the public space of the pedestrian mall (one part of the pedestrian mall has for all intents and purposes been made into the front yard for one of these high-rises). That symbolically shows who dominates and rules this town.

In other places, the tallest buildings are increasingly finance-oriented. Many have noted the increasing financializatioin of the US economy. It should, of course, be noted that this financialization is propped up by the US dollar which is in turn propped up by debt the US owes China.

The US once could have been compared to the Greek Alexandrian Empire, but now the closer comparison is the late Roman Empire. Signs of decline and decay are everywhere. Yet our military might remains immense. We could hobble along like this for a few more generations. Or we could choose to not repeat history and instead take a different path.

Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

There is an interesting article by Alex Preen on Salon.com:

Politicians think Americans are super-conservative
A survey of thousands shows candidates from both parties think the electorate is way more right-wing than it is

“According to a working paper from two political scientists who interviewed 2,000 state legislative candidates last year, politicians all think Americans are more conservative than they actually are. Unsurprisingly, Republicans think voters are way more right-wing than they actually are.”

It’s unsurprising that right-wingers are clueless about the average American. That is the nature of being a right-winger, often not even realizing one is right-wing, instead thinking one is a normal mainstream American

“Liberal politicians, meanwhile, don’t imagine that their constituents are super-liberal. A majority of them also believe that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are. Which, well, that explains your Democratic Party since the Clinton administration. They weren’t polled, but I’m pretty sure “nonpartisan” political elites in the media share the exact same misperception. (“It’s a center-right country,” we hear all the time, which it turns out is both meaningless and untrue.)”

Now, this might be surprising to many, especially those on the right. It’s far from surprising to me. The average American is way to the left of what is considered ‘liberal’ in mainstream politics and media.

“Left-liberals who actually pay attention to surveys of popular opinion on things like raising taxes on rich people and expanding Medicare instead of raising the eligibility age are frequently a bit annoyed when they watch, say, the Sunday shows, and these ideas are either dismissed as radical or simply not brought up to begin with, but all of Washington is still pretty sure that Nixon’s Silent Majority is still out there, quietly raging against the longhairs and pinkos. In fact the new Silent Majority is basically made up of a bunch of social democrats, wondering why Congress can’t do serious, sensible, bipartisan things like lock up all the bankers and redistribute their loot to the masses.”

I’m one of those left-liberals who actually pays attention to surveys of popular opinion. The one thing that surprises me is that so few people do pay attention. You’d think it would be a politician’s business to pay attention. Their whole job is theoretically to represent and yet they don’t know who they are representing.

One commenter put it well:

“Constituents? Who cares about them? MONEY votes conservative, and that’s what counts. to both parties.”

Another commenter extended that thought:

“I suspect what’s going on is that many politicians (a) feel they’re supposed to represent their constituents, (b) find they’re compelled to represent their donors and other fat cats, and (c) mitigate the cognitive dissonance by telling themselves (a) and (b) aren’t far apart, although, of course, they are.”

I makes me wonder. Can these seemingly clueless people really be that out of touch and just plain ignorant? People in politics and media tend to be people who are above average in both IQ and education. None of this polling data is a secret or difficult to find.

At least for those on the right, not knowing or pretending to not know is conveniently self-serving. The way they act and what they support implies that on some level they do know, as a commenter put it:

“Republican politicians may be in the grips of delusion about the beliefs of their constituents, but at the same time they understand the need for gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other aggressive antidemocratic uses of power, when they have it, to enforce rightwing priorities. Something isn’t quite right here.”

I care less about the politicians and media. If the public became self-aware of their own leftism, it would become more difficult for the mainstream elites to keep their ruse going.

Do Politicians Racially Discriminate against Constituents?

Here is an example of how racial prejudice persists. Racism is institutionalized because institutions made by and operated by people. People make racist decisions not necessarily because they are overt racists but because most prejudices operate below conscious thought.

One thing that surprised me a bit is that racism existed similarly among both blacks and whites. Black politicians are also racially biased toward perceived black email senders. I’m not surprised that blacks are racist just like whites, but I am surprised that the racism operates the same way. I’ve seen other research that shows, in courts, both white and black jurors are more biased against black defendants. So, apparently context matters in how racism manifests.

Do Politicians Racially Discriminate against
Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators
Short Title: Do politicians racially discriminate?

Daniel M. Butler, David E. Broockman

Abstract
We use a field experiment to investigate whether race affects how responsive state legislators are to requests for help with registering to vote. In an email sent to each legislator, we randomized whether a putatively black or white alias was used and whether the email signaled the sender’s partisan preference. Overall, we find that putatively black requests receive fewer replies. We explore two potential explanations for this discrimination: strategic partisan behavior and the legislators’ own race. We find that the putatively black alias continues to be differentially treated even when the emails signal partisanship, indicating that strategic considerations cannot completely explain the observed differential treatment. Further analysis reveals that white legislators of both parties exhibit similar levels of discrimination against the black alias. Minority legislators do the opposite, responding more frequently to the black alias. Implications for the study of race and politics in the United States are discussed.

US Politicians For Sale?

This is why Washington politics is corrupt and why it will forever remain corrupt.

Also, understand that even Ron Paul who complains about Washington himself is a Washington politician who accepts corporate money and who accepts earmarks for his state. If Ron Paul left politics, I’m sure he could find a lobbyist job.

No one, not even Ron Paul, gets into Washington and stays there without playing the game. All politicians are corrupt. Some politicians may be less corrupt, but still all are corrupt. No real libertarian or real liberal will ever be elected as president. Corporations own the government and we are all indentured servants of our capitalist overlords.

Politicians don’t represent the voter. Politicians work for corporations. The corruption in Washington politics is merely a symptom of the disease that is capitalism. The tiny fraction of a percentage of the world’s population who are the powerful elite own almost all the wealth, almost all the land, almost all the media, almost all the corporations.

We live in a Banana Republic. Politics is just the theatre that capitalists put on to keep the masses distracted, to keep the poor working class from revolting. Bread and Circus. Enjoy the show!

Wall Street Scams & Collapsing Middle Class

You know change is in the air when mainstream media is this blatantly honest about how lobbyist politics works. Wall Street has pumped billions of dollars into Washington politics and yet the leaders of the Tea Party continue to blame Washington for regulating Wall Street too much (Republicans Support Big Government… just as long as Republicans are in power).

Rightwing Politicians: do they believe what they say?

This, of course, can be generalized about all politicians. But lately it has been conservatives who have been making the most extreme statements. There is nothing worse than blatant lies and rhetoric. It irritates me because it insults my intelligence, but sadly it doesn’t seem to insult the intelligence of many people.

My question isn’t rhetorical. I genuinely wonder what politicians believe. Sometimes I feel all politics is a staged show and that we never see the reality that is going on behind the scenes.

Maverick? No attacks under Bush? Secession? Do politicians just say what makes for good melodrama in the moment?

“Political Winners” Circle Filled by Figures Close to Obama

“Political Winners” Circle Filled by Figures Close to Obama
Lydia Saad (Gallup)

This offers some useful insight.  It shows two things that I suspected.  The liberals are doing fairly well.  And the conservatives aren’t doing so well.

Here are the highlights:

  • “In Americans’ estimation, the top three political winners of 2009 are all women closely linked with the Obama administration: Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sonia Sotomayor.”
  • President Barack Obama, himself, also falls in the political winners circle, although the percentage calling him a political loser is somewhat higher than is seen for the three women.”
  • “More than half [of all Americans identify as a political loser] the Republicans in Congress generally.”
  • “Nearly half of Americans (46%) call Sarah Palin a winner, but slightly more (49%) call her a loser.”
  • “About equal numbers of Americans call… radio talk host Glenn Beck winners and losers, while a large segment has no opinion…”
  • Democrats are much more unified in considering Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama winners (each called a winner by at least 90% of Democrats) than Republicans are in calling Sarah Palin a winner (at 76% among Republicans).”
  • “Now that the presidential election in which the McCain-Palin ticket was defeated is more than a year past, Sarah Palin is nearly as likely to be viewed as a political winner as a loser. Hillary Clinton lost a bitterly fought primary for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, but has been visibly filling her role as Secretary of State and has risen above the political fray…”

Even Obama is maintaining a positive rating despite the economy and terrorism, but maybe the American public is smart enough to realize that you can’t blame a president in his first year for what he inherited from the previous administration.  Furthermore, considering the top three political winners, the Obama administration as a whole seems to be going above and beyond merely maintaining a positive rating.

I’m happy that the American public has been critical of Republicans in Congress.  They’ve been playing a game of deception and obstruction with the Obama administration.  They’ve been able to cause problems in the political arena, but it turns out the American public would at the moment prefer their politicians to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Most interesting to me were the results about Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.  I had my suspicions that these two weren’t as popular as the media sometimes portrayed them.  Yes, they have some very devoted followers who have been quite vocal with the Tea Party and all.  There, however, is no majority of favorable opinion about either.  Actually, more people view Palin unfavorably than favorably and a large segment couldn’t care less about Beck. 

I’ve always been of the opinion that the Tea Party has been overly hyped.  Beck may consider himself a populist (“We surround them.”) as the leader of the Tea Party, but the fact that the Tea Party was heavily promoted by Fox News proves it never was primarily a grassroots movement (rather, what is called Astroturf).  The anti-war movement during the Bush administration was way larger and more organized than the Tea Party could ever hope to be.  The anti-war movement accomplished that without support and promotion by a major political propaganda machine.  In fact, the anti-war movement accomplished that even while mostly being ignored by mainstream media in the US.

I should give the Tea Party some credit.  Surveys do seem to show that it is a popular movement, but that seems mainly because the Republican party at the moment is so unpopular.  The ex-Republicans have to go somewhere.  However, it’s important to point out that not all people in the Tea Party are ex-Republicans or necessarily even conservative.  Many are independents and libertarians who may or may not hold any allegiance to the conservative movement, and I’m sure many of these don’t consider Beck and Palin to be their leaders.

Even though I’m obviously critical of Beck, I should thank him.  It was his e-mail newsletter that notified me of the Gallup poll.