Category Archives: Government

Socialism (2nd)

In what passes for intelligent political discussion in America, socialism has no redeeming characteristics.  It’s consistently slandered as a direct, unqualified, implacable threat to all we hold dear.

If that’s so, how does one explain that christian democrats and social democrats have functioned in coalition for years governing the German Federal Republic? ¹

Granted that no human system is or ever will be perfect, one has to admit that overall, Germany is a well-ordered, prosperous state, with national and local government maintaining mostly straightforward relationships with the electorate, including regular elections.

All socialists believe that capitalism is inherently unjust and unsustainable over the long haul, and should be replaced.

There are, however, differences in method.

Social democrat is a term for socialists who seek to reform capitalism bit by bit.  As proved by years of modern German political history, social democrats affect change through German democratic processes, which include, don’t forget, risking their access to political power in legally mandated regular elections.

Democratic socialists,² on the other hand, point out flaws in capitalism in an effort to gin up support for an all-out change in the economic system, placing the means of production under public control, again using democratic methods.

These socialists are not communists.  They don’t foment revolution.

When they lose at the ballot box, they do what other politicians do—conduct a postmortem and try again.

While we’re at it, lets briefly consider something critics of socialism seem to have forgotten—or perhaps like to ignore?—the direct influence of socialism on the American Democratic party during the Progressive Era, and on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Legislative results of that influence include the eight-hour work day, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.

How bad is that?

God help us if socialists ever get political power ?

Maybe not.


¹  Political parties active in The German Federal Republic include:  Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU);  their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU); their coalition socialist party partners, the Social Democrats (SPD)the opposition Greens; and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

² A word or two about Bernie Sanders: He calls himself a democratic socialist. His policies much more closely resemble those of social democrats. I think he selected the title “democratic socialist” because it sounds better.

Additionally, it’s been said that, as a matter of election tactics, he should drop the “S” word because it freaks out politically naive voters, and instead, present himself as advocating “catch-up” with other nations whose people already enjoy the benefit of programs he consistently advocates.

Recycling (1st)

is what I intended to discuss, but somehow it became a written exercise in free association, chasing various rabbits round the meadow.

Why do we wait for information to be spoon-fed to us by “experts”?

Experts screw up.  They’re human—they’re no better than all us non-experts.

A case in point: IBM was once convinced that random access memory, (RAM), would always be “scarce and expensive”—limited to 64 kilobytes.  Talk about getting it wrong…

Another grim example:  The Challenger disaster.

Also, we all know the Titanic was built by expert nautical engineers in a crack shipyard, while Noah’s ark was built in the middle of nowhere by nomads who had never built so much as a rickety raft in their entire lives.

Regarding experts telling us about recycling, (recycling….finally);  What’s stopping Joe (or Josephine) average citizen from snooping in the Yellow Pages for recycling info?

Things they might want to know:  Is there a local recycling center? Is it a drop-off  site or do they collect?  If the latter, what do they collect and when?

No local site?  They could call 1-800-CALL-EDF.  Ask the Environmental Defense Fund for help finding a nearby site.

And now, returning to the rabbit chase…

Calling city hall to ask about recycling, pointedly but politely asking “why not?” in case they’ve done nothing to promote recycling can serve notice that recycling is a matter of increasing concern to local voters.

Politicians set the political agenda only in the absence of our input.

The ultimate reason government gets away with ignoring voters except at election time is because we’ve let ourselves be reduced bit by bit to apathy and conformity.

We’ve come to wait for experts to decide something, and then to tell us what is to be done, assigning us our role(s).  We’re not being compelled.  We let this happen.

Politicians use these “experts” to lend credibility to their agendas, which may not square at all with our best interests.

This is not real democracy.

We should be setting the agenda(s).

By “We” I mean real people, born of a biological process, with souls, not legally constructed “pseudo-people”, whose “birth certificates” are really corporate charters.

A related post : Politics (3rd)

Socialism (1st)

Separating Wheat From Chaff

To be useful, any discussion of socialism and communism must amount to more than parroting right- or left-wing talking points. As intellectual activity, such parroting ranks just a bit higher than digesting ones breakfast while mistaking that process for thought.

A simple exercise in logic:  All dogs are four-footed animals, but not all four-footed animals are dogs.

Equally true:  All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists.

What’s the difference?  And does the difference make any difference?

Let’s talk.

A common misunderstanding—There are no real varieties of socialism.  Any apparent differences are mere window dressing.  In the end, they’ll all resolve into Marxism-Leninism—A Russian-style communist revolution, with concomitant destruction of capitalism, private property, markets, democracy and religion.

At the opposite end of the nonsense spectrum we find socialism touted as a panacea for all of life’s ills.

So the truth is..?

In 1919 communists split with all other socialists over the question of democracy.  Communists reject democracy in favor of destroying capitalism “by all available means”, pointedly including military force, to be accompanied by imposition of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

That other socialists have strongly supported democracy is not commonly understood. Critics of socialism don’t seem too eager to remind us of this—quite the contrary.

“(Democracy)…is both a means and an end.  It is the weapon in the struggle for socialism and the form in which socialism will be realized.¹ (my italics.)  Socialist and democratic socialist parties gave and give strong support to democratic forms of government, particularly in Europe following  WWII.

Communism is incompatible with democracy.

Socialism is not.

Incidentally, these names, “socialist”, “democratic socialist”, “social democrat”, etc., are not mere sloppy word salad.  They are labels for varieties of socialism indiscriminately lumped together in what passes for intelligent political discussion.

Please consider that the next time a pollster reports high levels of support for “socialism”.

For the most part, I think it fair to say that neither the pollsters nor those they poll know what they’re talking about.

More on socialism shortly.


¹ Eduard Bernstein (01/06/1850 – 12/18/1932) one of the fathers of democratic socialism.

 

Politics (3rd)

“One of the best arguments against a democratic form of government is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” —Sir Winston Churchill 

Talk relieves our tension. We feel so much better. We’re even self-deluded into believing we’ve achieved something.

From the viewpoint of self-serving politicians, that’s just fine because we’ve done nothing to disturb their daily activities.

Have you ever heard the proverb:  “Talk is cheap.  Deeds are dear?”  Or the ancient warning of metaphysicians, to the effect that unless we put wheels under our beliefs they profit us nothing?  More recently, Thomas Carlyle said, “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.”

Blah, blah, blah. We rant, rave, scream, and decry.

After which, what changes?

Nothing.

With some exceptions, we are detached from a practice of “civic virtue.”

Simply defined, civic virtue = taking a gentlemanly / gentlewomanly interest in the conduct of government officers, making sure we’re knowledgeable about their conduct, public utterances, voting history, and the like, and making sure, politely, that they know we’re knowledgeable.

Here’s a pop quiz on civic virtue:  How many of us know, (without first being pointed toward a preferred target of lobbyists, or of TV talking heads), the names of our state representatives, state senators, anything whatsoever of their voting histories, the addresses of their hometown offices, their yearly salaries, email addresses / telephone numbers of their hometown or state government offices?

More on our general competence as citizens / voters: How many voters can name six of the ten amendments composing the Bill of Rights?  While we’re at it, how many of us have read the complete text of The United States Constitution even once in our entire lives?

Is it fair to say,  (once again with some exceptions),  that we are mentally lazy couch potatoes who prefer to “veg out” before a TV or telephone screen allowing talking heads or internet scribes to stuff our minds with their preferred propaganda, in preference to doing our own homework to learn what’s really happening?

Regarding the latter, how many of us believe doing our own homework is even possible?

How many of us prefer our favorite TV programs, favorite video games, or even favorite drugs to a minimal practice of civic virtue?

Democracy won’t give us what we confidently expect to receive as sons/daughters of  “The Almighty”,  (however we understand that latter phrase).

Democracy is like farming.  Cultivate carefully or shut up about the weeds.

Said more crudely, we receive from democracy only that for which we get off our dead lead butts and work—(in the process of  which, let us remember this tidbit of wisdom from the pen of St. Thomas Aquinas:  “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

               —Various sources, among them Andrew Jackson

“The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by an elite.”

               —Thomas Jefferson

“The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

               —Plato      

“Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

               —Lord Acton

“The only limit to the oppression of government is the power with which people show themselves capable of opposing it.”

               —Enrico Malatesta

“Only power can check power.”

                —Montesquieu

Politics (2nd)

” Why, of course, the people don’t want war…That is understood.  But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship.  Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.  That is easy.  All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same way in any country. ”

Herman Goering


“Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purposes…and you allow him to make war at pleasure.”

“I am a firm believer in the people.  If given the truth they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.  The great thing is to bring them the real facts.”

“We, the people, are the rightful masters of both congress and the courts, not to overthrow The Constitution, but to overthrow (those) who pervert The Constitution.”

—Abraham Lincoln

Technology (2nd)

Have you ever been told that technology per se is politically neutral?

Lets think about that.

If a huge commercial solar power generation plant burned up completely, the total damage to the environment, and to public health and safety would relate to the damage done by a meltdown at a nuclear reactor as a loud lit fart relates to a volcanic eruption.

The difference between solar power generation and nuclear power generation is more than the danger to public safety in the event of malfunction.

Solar power plants, being far less dangerous to operate than nuclear power plants, make possible smaller government presence in the economy.  Nuclear power plants mandate larger government presence. (More bureaucracy and regulation.)

The former is consistent with the “small state” position of some present day politicians. The latter with the “big state” position favored by others.

But “small state” politicians seem beholden to the coal and oil industries and so won’t advocate for solar power.  “Big state” politicians won’t advocate for anything so “un-green” as nuclear power plants.

Technology is politically neutral?

Permit me to be skeptical.

Capitalism (2nd)

Federal law requires that corporation officers function in the financial interests of the owners, (shareholders).

A prominent economist, (Milton Friedman, I believe), once declared that the whole “social duty” of a corporation is to make as much money as possible for the owners.

It would seem that this combination of law and “social duty” has produced a pattern of conduct, a portion of which may be described thus:

•  The corporation will pollute the environment whenever doing so is deemed to be cheaper than installing and maintaining pollution controls.  Is there ever a time when dumping pollutants into the environment is more expensive than installing and maintaining pollution controls?  Perhaps—if the offending corporation is caught at it and is penalized by the government or loses in a court of law.

•  Weak or nonexistent labor unions enable corporations to offer fewer benefits and to pay lower wages.  Therefore “union busting” is to be accomplished by any means possible.

•  Government regulation inconsistent with maximizing a corporation’s profits is to be defeated by lobbying, also by contributions to reelection campaigns, in exchange for favorable legislation.  The same benefit may also be obtained by means of carefully concealed bribery.

•  Human beings are to be replaced by machinery whenever possible, because machinery will do a job much more cheaply than a human being, (no pay, no benefits, no paid breaks.)

•  Conclusions of scientific research militating against a corporation doing anything at all to maximize profits are to be discredited by means of covert, well-funded disinformation campaigns, also by reminding purchased politicians who paid the bills for their last reelection campaigns—continue to vote the “right” way and $$$ will continue to flow into your next reelection campaign treasure chest.

•  In relentless pursuit of maximum profits, corporations have all too often abandoned any shred of loyalty to the government / society that gave them birth, (gave them their charters), outsourcing jobs to any country providing cheaper labor, even including the “parent” nation’s most implacable political enemy.

This has the treble effect of strengthening the enemy’s economy, while depriving the “parent” nation of a certain amount of tax revenue, as well as depriving its citizens of jobs.

“Profit motive”, touted as justification (!) for all such conduct,  does not justify literally anything.

To be clear, I don’t advocate abandoning “free market” capitalism.

I do advocate carefully considered changes to eliminate its more glaring flaws.

Taxes (1st)

Property taxes pay for public school systems.

Nobody argues that.

However, a coworker observed that “by enacting property taxes, the government essentially eliminated private property, because one never comes to the point of full ownership of ones property.

There’s always another payment due.

One basically ‘rents’ from the government.  Failure to pay results in eviction. 

Property taxation thus enabled the government to ‘land-grab’ the whole country.”

This argument holds water logically.  And we all know politicians can be pretty tricky.

But I’m wary of jumping to conclusions.

Your comments in support or rebuttal, are welcome.

Capitalism (1st)

Can We Do It Better?

Free-market capitalism operates differently from the way it is described by economists / politicians.

Given the significance of capitalism in our lives, “We the people” might profit from discussion of this difference, which I propose to offer in sequentially numbered installments.

Your comments, of course, are welcome.

Free-Market Capitalism—a phrase with strong popular appeal, is to my mind a description of a wish-dream.

It doesn’t exist.

Our belief that it exists interferes with our ability to do capitalism better.

Consider—in a truly unregulated market…

There would be no zoning laws.  There would be no licensing requirements for doctors, nurses, lawyers, electricians, plumbers, veterinarians, cosmetologists, bar tenders, waiters/waitresses, insurance salespersons, psychologists, real estate agents, and others.

There would be no building codes.

There would be no schedule of  controlled substances.

Selling and buying slaves would be legal.

Anyone could sell or buy any type of firearm.  Hygienic laws for food factories and restaurants wouldn’t exist.

There would be no maximum permissible interest rate.  Corporation officers would not be legally required to function in the financial interests of stockholders.

Regulation is assumed to be a negative influence on the (assumed-to-be-flawless) operation of the unregulated market.  People must be totally “free too choose” if, when, what, where, and how to sell or buy.  The free-market form of capitalism seems based on an assumption that no corrective whatsoever will ever be necessary to check the negative manifestations of human nature. ¹

Lets play “What if…”

“What if…” the government decided to get real on the subject of—lets call it the “Sexual Services Industry”, SSI for short, concluding that the world’s oldest profession, being ever with us, practical regard for public health and safety required the following:

Within a given municipality, all SSI workers would operate within a single precisely defined red-light district, the sole legally permissible area of operation, with substantial penalties for setting up shop off the reservation.  All would be required to purchase a license to practice, which could be suspended or revoked for cause, such as flunking periodic mandatory testing for sexually transmitted diseases, (STD’s).  In addition, all SSI workers would pay income tax, the proceeds of which, together with licensing fees, would help to finance the licensing, medical testing, treatment, and policing of SSI workers and their clientele.

What benefits might accrue to society through the above-described regulation of this hypothetical industry and its market?  For openers, no poxy doxy could operate until he/she tested clean. Granted that mandatory periodic testing is not a perfect system, it would unarguably guarantee some reduction in STD infections.

Confining all SSI workers to a single red-light district would make it easier for morally conservative folks, parents and their kids, school busloads of students on field trips, etc. to avoid contact.

SSI workers, operating legally, openly, in the red light district, therefore not fearing the cops, might be more likely to report people who commit crimes against them.  Criminals, realizing that SSI workers were no longer soft targets, might tend to lay off.  So, all other things being equal, the SSI workers could enjoy safer lives, and the city might enjoy some reduction in the crime rate.

In the above “what-if” discussion I have illustrated ways in which government regulation can serve useful purposes.  Before that, I noted types of regulation, which together with the inherent benefits, would be lacking in a truly unregulated, free-market practice of capitalism.

There is actually no market which is not regulated in some way.  We’ve lived with the regulations and the free-market hype for so long that we’ve become blind to both.

Capitalism is no myth.  Free-market?  That’s a myth.


¹ Some professional economists need to revisit rock-bottom basics—if it were really true under any circumstances that all checks on the negative side of human nature were unnecessary, then God needn’t have given Moses the ten commandments.

Once again—unnecessary?  Ask any lawyer, cop, detective, psychiatrist, priest, minister, rabbi, mullah, youth counselor, or parent for that matter.

Do you prefer a shortcut?  Ask crime victims.