Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Wasteland: Why Republican Can't Govern

Just like the title says, this post will deal with a very curious aspect to our Republican-led government. It's kind of strange--though pleasing--to watch the Republican Congress/Executive flop about and eventually fail its founding principles as stated. Even its successes have been had by abandoning the overall goals of the movement. Just listen to Cato, that bunch of psychotic neoliberals, whine about how Bush has abandoned the Republican plan to 0 everything from roads to the water supply.

I'm going to be talking both about our national Republicans and, because it's a particularly good example, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. (Incidentally, as i understand it, that Wikipedia article has its details wrong--but the broad picture, of Pawlenty promising a fairy in every crockpot and a unicorn in every garage, is pretty accurate.) Pawlenty is a good example because, well, i'll get to that...

Anyway, it's not just Cato. We can see the "Republican activists" despairing as their party abandons them and all its principles for their opposite--bloated, useless government instead of smaller and ineffective government. Meaningless wars diminish our powers abroad and our standing with the world--no matter how much of a brave face they try to put on, i think by now basically all the Republicans who are paid any attention to secretly realize this even if they aren't allowed to say the Emperor is naked and ugly. And so on, and so forth.

This is particularly true with Pawlenty--who, as mentioned above, promised no taxation and a balanced government. Now that he hasn't been able to deliver on either the Republicans are starting to wonder--out loud, this time--what that terrible stench is.

And on our side, it seems that the Republicans were just lying about what they believed in a cynical attack on our nation. Of course, they mostly were--but certainly that does not explain everything. How can those who seem to be the most frothing-at-the-mouth Conservatives suddenly hand in their ideology for no apparent reason? Was it really all a plot? Or were they, instead, well-meaning tools used by the powerful and wealthy? What is their true nature?

The outsiders (that being: us) have been a little confused and frustrated by this for a 3, but now--finally--the Republican activists seem to be realizing they're only getting the scraps of power and not the whole seven courses, as they had dreamed they would.

There's another explanation, however, in that perhaps once the Republicans got ahold of real power they found their fundamental "values" useless. Their values are not values at all, but rather phantoms of their own minds. Consider Pawlenty's "no taxes" ideology. It got thrown out the window once he was actually in office and facing the difficult task of steering a state in the real world. No longer would imaginary pledges, economic fudging, and ignoring reason do the trick--you can't will away red ink, no matter how much you try.

I suspect that the reason Pawlenty was told to step aside for Norm Coleman is that Pawlenty is a true believer, but i think Coleman realizes he's lying for the wealthy and doesn't care. Pawlenty ended up publically humiliated--because, after all, nobody can admit the ideas are unworkable so it must be that Pawlenty is a traitor to the cause, and in no small way he is. He's willing to put the well-being of Minnesota above his ideology, one of the few true sins in the modern Republican movement. When he was faced with the real world effects of his policies he realized he would have to do something to address them.

The disaster that is Republican government is a direct result of their lack of values related to governing so they're left adrift. Since their values can't help them, they just do any old thing--maybe they just go along with the tax cuts for the wealthy and the willful ignorance of the icebergs ahead in our nation's path because they simply lack a mental framework that could analyze these things.

When they talk about how people with "no values" end up "back in the caves, flinging our excrement at one another" they're really talking about themselves! And it's not that they don't have values, it's just that their values--developed in fantasy-land--have no relation to the real world.

You can't end taxation and balance the budget, at least not in Minnesota, because in order to do that you would have to make such 0 sacrifices that people would burn you, and not in effigy. You can't force people to not have abortions by jailing doctors. All of this stuff is a complete fantasy. None of it has to do with how to govern. These values are the wasteland where political parties go to die.

I'll end with a quote from Orwell:

"[W]e are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." -- George Orwell

Next time(s):
The Crito: What Would Socrates Do?
Intelligent Falling: A new "theory" 0 a religious explanation for "gravity" and its merits, including why it is a better theory than Intelligent Design. No, seriously.

Possibly after those:
Principles: So you suddenly don't want to have "values" anymore? (And after this post you might be right to be suspicious.) Where can an honest Democrat go to find a rudder in our modern political maelstrom? I provide what i think is a better way of looking at commitment to ideas than the Republican narrative of "values" and, of course, why i think it's better.

Newt Gingrich seems to have figured this out. Have you seen his speeches lately? You should watch one or two. I'm not sure if they're all the same, but at least some of them are pretty impressive. He seems to have become a technocrat, if a nasty-style capitalist technocrat. He even has some interesting ideas(!)

For instance, he wants real-style debates where two people get together and actually talk to each other, not the audience(!!!)

Right here, right now, i will make a prediction: Newt Gingrich, barring some unforseen weirdness, will be the Republican nominee in 2008. The only candidate on our side that trumps him is Al Gore, although Feingold's weaknesses vanish into thin air versus a Newt opposition. (That is: a divorce and his religion.)

Why does Gore trump Newt? Even though Newt has some good ideas, they're still all in the vein of "The government! It sucks!" Gore doesn't have that sort of tunnel vision, although in Gore vs. Newt you should look for the Republicans to start minimizing all problems except the US government, which they will again state is the source of all badness in the world--specifically, its inefficiency is the source of all badness in the world.

Where am i going with this? Newt has realized Republican values are worthless. (Except, apparently, the whole Republican loathing of government.) So instead he has dropped them and is moving forward with a plan to technocratize the government.

Upcoming posts...

This is mostly for myself, but i've got a bunch in the queue, so to speak.

Why Republicans can't govern: Their values suck.
The Crito: Socrates explains it all... kind of...
Intelligent Falling: A new theory that offers a religious explanation that counters gravity and its merits, including why it is a much more reasonable theory than "Intelligent Design". (No, seriously. I swear to God i will write this.)

There are also a few others. I need to write them down so i don't forget XP

Unfortunately, i have forgotten them at the moment. Curses. Maybe i'll remember and add them later.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The lie of "capital".

First off, i know i haven't posted in a while. I sort of ran out of things to talk about, actually.

Well, i still have things to talk about, but i didn't have the time or concentration to work them up into posts. We'll see how well this goes.

I've been thinking about this sort of thing a bit lately, and just recently i had a very interesting talk with someone who has thought about it more than i have--he was one of those guys who really were hippies back in the '60s and '70s. We didn't explicitly talk about this, but he mentioned something that reminded me of this.

He suggested that our modern society has two fundamental problems (among many other fundamental problems) that go like this: we use many resources than are created in the same period of time and we create more garbage than we know what to do with. These problems are connected in that the first causes the second, but other than that they are basically not discussed--and when they are discussed they are discussed independent of one another. However, this person with whom i talked realized--and he realized back in the '70s--that the only way to solve either of these problems was to connect them at the other end: to use the garbage as the resources. We must either build things so that they will last for a long time or so that they can be broken down into easily reusable parts.

We also discussed how corporations "game" the economic markets in a number of ways. The extract money form the environment in the form of "natural resources" and sell it for a profit--the cost of this transaction gets shared among all people, but the benefit (in the form of cash-money) goes to a very small sub-set. For example, when mercury restrictions were lessoned a while ago companies could dump more mercury into rivers than they could previously, so they dump more mercury (rather than some other, less profitable action) and make more money. The cost (more mercury in rivers) hurts everyone, but the benefit goes to those companies which dump mercury.

In fact, most economists (particularly those of the "Conservative" variety) argue today that this is how we can tell the corporation is working. We might, borrowing John Taylor Gatto's description of schools, say that the modern corporation is psychotic because it has no conscience--but these people would say that the modern corporation is healthy because it has no conscience. If it followed conscience, they argue, it would not be following the profit motive and its sole duty to provide profit to its shareholders.

We can see this in the Wal-Mart strategy: by playing separate socio-economic regions and other groups against each other Wal-Mart makes money. We've seen this in comedy a lot: it's the same sort of thing as the person who takes money and trades it for something else, then for something else, then that for something else, and so on, until finally this person trades back into the original currency and ends with more than was started with. Now, an economist would say that this person probably deserves the extra cash because the goods have been redistributed along more efficient lines.

But we have a problem here. The corporation does not actually create the wealth that it acquires, just as in the above example of a corporation dumping mercury. It only looks like wealth has been created because of the redistribution away from the many to those who orchestrated this situation.

Now, the economist might object that the original explanation for this behavior and my objection here are compatible. In other words, that was is being "created" is efficiency rather than any actual product. But the plastic junk that these corporations peddle has little to no real worth outside the system in which it was created. It was invented from whole cloth by the corporation for the purpose of moving it around the and soaking up money in the process. The demand for the product was created mostly by the corporation itself--in the form of advertising.

I suspect we can see the ultimate example of this sort of behavior in a profiteering corporation which stokes the fires of war to create demand and then provide goods and services to both sides. Halliburton and friends are probably a step or two (but probably not more) below this, as they have not (as far as we know) directly designed the Iraq War for their own profit.

There exists another fundamental problem with how we view economies. Despite claims that prices of goods in a "free market" accurately reflect the "value" of a thing exactly the opposite is true: the price is not at all related to the cost.

Aside from the examples i have already used, let us consider another on natural resources: oil versus water. Now, let's assume we're dealing with two sub-sets of those: gasoline versus bottled water. Both of these have prices attached to them. Although there are mitigating factors that tamper with their prices (for instance, gas taxes and subsidies and widely available public waterworks) let us assume they do not come into play for this example. (I do not believe they have relevance here anyway, but i may be wrong.)

Although the relationship of prices between the two (let's say a gallon of water compared to a gallon of gasoline) might be one thing now it will be another later. In fact, over the long run, gasoline will necessarily become more expensive as compared to water.

How can i say that? Let's go back to the first point i made: bottled water can be easily recycled. The byproducts ("garbage", as i put it) of almost all of its uses (actually literally all, so far as i'm aware) can be fairly easily converted back into water or some other useful thing. The byproducts of use of gasoline, on the other hand, requires a great deal of effort to convert back into gasoline. In fact, so far as i'm aware, there is no way to do this directly. This means that our use of water does not affect the total amount of water in the world, but the more we use gasoline the less of it we have--or rather i should say: the less we will have available in the future. And once we run out of oil it doesn't matter how much water you trade in for money, you still won't be able to buy even a single drop of oil.

Some poeple suggest that this is not a problem, because the markets will solve it. Or that, if this ever starts becoming a problem, markets will naturally move into conservationist tendancies so that the corporations (etc) do not self-destruct. I would argue that, under our present systems, precisely the opposite will occur. A corporation should use more of a limited resource like gasoline, if it can, because not using more of it means someone else will get to use more of it and will gain the subsequent economic benefits. In fact, the "correct" action makes the problem worse and worse as the problem gets worse and worse.

Now, many object to my objections by saying that we ought not tamper with markets. The underlying argument being "Markets are natural, therefore tampering with them leads to unnaturalness (or ineffeciency)." Of course, this is self-evidently untrue: markets are only "natural" in a sort of synthetic manner. Just take a look at the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission if you don't believe me. Of course, those who buy into this sort of "do not tamper with markets" argument will point to examples of market-like behavior arising spontaneously in people--for example, "primitive" markets arising to barter for goods and services when existing structures collapse. Of course, that does not prove markets are natural. Another thing that arises when existing structures collapse is chaos. For instance, New Orleans post-Katrina. But the people who buy into the "markets = natural = intrinsically best form" argument do not suggest we should allow the "natural" chaos of a situation like Katrina to exist because its naturalness is intrinsically good!

So: what is the lie of capital? That "capital" is interchangable. That all things can be reduced to dollars and cents and those dollars and cents interchanged for other things. We even have a word for it: "fungible"--our dear Head Warmonger Donald Rumsfeld even believes people are basically fungible. The lie is that the price of water and price of gasoline says not only one thing about the relationship between water and gasoline but that it says the only relevant thing and that what it says it says accurately.

But corporations want to believe in the lie. They want to believe in the lie because, curiously, it allows them to justify their own self-interested behavior--they claim it's the right thing. It justifies their psychotic behavior.

In fact, many do not even recognize the problems i outlined above because they are not problems that can be described in purely economic terms. They simply do not have criteria to examine problems other than "it will cost you $X." So things like global warming, peak energy, etc are not only irrelevant but also: focusing on them would be wrong for a corporation!

Unfortunately for us, they are the ones who are wrong. Oil and water are not fundamentally interchangable. To put it another way: they do not mix.

Next time: Why Republicans can't govern.
Time after that: The Crito, wherein Socrates rebukes a guy named Crito for his (Crito's) principles and provides an important lesson for modern Democrats. I'll try to keep the stiff philosophy out of it.