Monday, December 17, 2007

Do the Visual Arts Need a More, er, Visible Role in US Politics?

Charlie Finch chastises those in the visual arts for not participating more visibly in Presidential politics in his most recent artnet.com column. What research he did to conclude "the involvement of the visual arts community in Presidential politics is nonexistent" is not revealed, but he does cite a few high-profile precedents that, by having no obvious and current parallel, would seem to suggest he has a point. Here's the gist of Charlie's complaint:
That art is now defined as marginal and transgressive only adds to the general ignorance of all Presidential candidates about what is, with music, the greatest contribution of Western, and every other, civilization, to the human spirit. Organizing efforts tied to the run for President by Artsland have been sporadic in recent years. There was an effort to sent [sic] volunteers to Ohio for John Kerry in 2004 and Ronald Feldman’s brilliant marketing of Roy Lichtenstein’s print of a colorful and empty Oval Office in support of Bill Clinton in 1992.

This year, to coin a phrase, nada. Perhaps the art world’s joyous bath in collector dollars, to the strains of unknown and musically passé rock and roll bands, has eliminated any overt concern for the public weal. Certainly, this indifference is matched by the unsurpassed artistic ignorance of the candidates. Giuliani condemned "Sensation!" and Hillary Clinton was unjustly criticized for exhibiting a late de Kooning in the East Wing of the White House. That’s it.
It's not clear what Charlie considers "this year." Does that refer to the period one year out from the November 2008 election or to the 2007 calendar year? Either answer would suggest that Charlie has bought into the absurd leap-frogging urgency of moving up the primary dates. What that would indicate he's ignoring, however, is that neither party has yet chosen a candidate, and that whereas his precedents all happened when the art world's presumed favorite (the Democrat) was already nominated, we are far from that point now, and many of us in the art world are still, rightly, debating which of the candidates among those in our party running, should get the nod.

None of these issues gets in the way of his jumping to conclusions about how there's too much money about for the art world to condescend to care about politics. The truth of the matter to my mind is that it's simply too early in the process to comment on much more than just that, the process, which is what the January group exhibition "Caucus" at
Schroeder Romero will be doing, for one. As for supporting particular candidates, I know of quite a few artists working on various primary campaigns, but again, we have yet to cast a single primary vote, so the notion that those of us invested in "the greatest contribution of Western... civilization...to the human spirit" as a whole have somehow fallen down on the job strikes me as quite premature. Indeed, Charlie's charge of "indifference" perhaps reveals nothing so much as his own impatience.

Checking artnet.com's archives, we find that Charlie himself had waited until July 2004 to write what was then also titled "
Art and the Presidency" (recycling headlines? how very green of them). Back then, though, his criticism was reserved for the entire nation, via criticism of the candidates:
It says something about Baby Boomer times that none of our presidents since Nixon, even the movie star Reagan, have inspired any great art. Perhaps, we have finally reached the time when any run-of-the-mill elitist, full of moral polenta, can become president.
The same might be said for other positions of power as well.

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131 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear edward,

finch deserves no response, and is being disingenous while pretending to be outraged. 'downtown for demorcracy' maintained an active profile during the '04 campaign, which culminated in a silent auction a few months before the election. i harbored reservation about the process but gladly donated work, only to throw a chair across the room in frustration as kerry conceded defeat the morning after, well before lunchtime and amidst widespread voting irregularities. that moment marked the end of any residual belief i had in conventional partisan politics.

12/17/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

that moment marked the end of any residual belief i had in conventional partisan politics.

Which is in line with another critique I have of Charlie's column actually. His precedents, while perhaps practical, are hardly indicative of the more progressive efforts within the art world to work for third parties or challenge the system outright. In other words, he seems to criticizing us for not working that hard at playing the game as currently defined, when if anything the visual arts should have a more visibly profile in working for systemic change.

12/17/2007 09:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, edward. thanks for posting this piece today. keep up the good work.

12/17/2007 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Apparently Charlie Finch is unfamiliar with, say, Hans Haacke. Which is not a surprise because Haacke is a middle-aged, breasts-less male.

12/17/2007 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm repeatedly astounded that a for-profit arts publication would pay for such bad writing.

12/17/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous jason @ friendlyagitate.net said...

"the involvement of the visual arts community in Presidential politics is nonexistent"

Maybe this is because the arts community is so rapidly anti-government in its devotion to anarchistic principles of freedom and equality of political participation that it prefers direct action and self-organizing instead of supporting a voting process that perpetuates an unjust political system whereby, regardless of party affiliation, one is essentially forced to choose between a corporate-pandering militaristic stooge on the one hand, and a corporate-pandering militaristic stooge on the other.

Or, maybe not.

12/17/2007 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous (oops) rapidly = rabidly said...

:-p

12/17/2007 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

I plan on getting involved in Presidential politics by sending money to whoever wins the Democratic nomination.

I suppose I could do some paintings to inform people that they have no health insurance, that their sons and daughters are needlessly dying in Iraq, and that that the main difference between the Republican candidates is which flavor of Jesus Juice they drink. But who doesn't already know that?

I could care less what artwork hangs in the White House. I'm more concerned about who we have living there.

12/17/2007 12:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I do not agree that all arts are centred towards the market, business and money-making (If Chelsea only knew what is happening outside their shell!),
but I agree that contemporary visual arts have lost a certain relevancy to popular culture to make it foreseeable that any politically-grounded artwork would have any social impact (at least of such to resound outside the local realm).

They are still pro Bonos though, and I'm referring to that rock singer.

Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

12/17/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

We've got it backwards. Voting in the Presidential election, once the Political Machines have extruded a pre-processed candidate, is merely rubberstamping a corrupt system that is anything but democratic.

I suppose I could do some paintings to inform people that they have no health insurance, that their sons and daughters are needlessly dying in Iraq, and that that the main difference between the Republican candidates is which flavor of Jesus Juice they drink.

Nope. Ron Paul is actually different from the rest of them. It pays to pay attention to the opposition; I would actually vote for Paul before I'd vote for Hillary, though Barack Obama is my darling. Paul may be a nut, but he's anti-war and small-government. Hillary will keep the war going forever, and implement a totalitarian state unlike any we've seen before.

12/17/2007 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm leaning toward Edwards. He's convinced me of the fact that working from within a corrupt system (Clinton) and hoping you can convince corporations to give up some of their power through negotiations (Obama) are both doomed to fail.

I don't hold out much hope that Edwards will win, or that he won't become just as much a pawn of the corporations as Bill did if he got all the way to the White House, but at least we'll have someone beating that drum long enough through the primaries (if he gets enough votes to stay in the race) such that maybe Barack or Hillary will open their ears and listen to him.

12/17/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

PL, I have to admit I haven't paid any attention to Ron Paul, and I'll take your word for it that he's different. But after the damage the Republicans have done to this country I can't imagine voting for anyone who belongs to that party.

I like Obama too (I've given up on my hope for a Gore/Obama ticket), and I also prefer Edwards to Clinton. But if Hilary gets the nomination I'll vote for her.

12/17/2007 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I personally think art works above politics, along a much longer timeframe. Politicians think, as a rule, no further than the next election. Businessmen think no further than the point at which depreciation renders everything worthless, which economics teaches us is about seven years (I realize I'm collapsing a lot, including my ignorance, into this statement. But bear with me.) Parents think one generation ahead, maybe two.

Art doesn't think in such short terms. Art works in centuries, sometimes in millennia. I don't paint for audiences today; I paint for the next five hundred years. Art, in its highest calling, is about improving humanity, uplifting humanity, over long spans of time.

That's what I think, anyway.

12/17/2007 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Charlie who?
And what's wrong with polenta?

12/17/2007 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Good political art doesn't have to be pure agitprop or insular conversations about expanded context (pick one).

Didn't Daniel Buren make his name by dealing with a slum lord in a museum show?(shoulda sailed off then, vanishing forever into ocean legend instead of driving on to master the obvious)

Many artists feel that political art, or a requirement for social relevance is both a noose, dangled around the neck of creativity, and a weight, tied to the spurs of progress, or at best a corall to be penned or "ghettoized" within.

But ruling out political art is as much a bunker mentality as any anarchic commune's vegetarian gulash meal plan esthetic.

I find much "institutional critique" art to be ham fistedly didactic. And rightly so!

Piss Christ, for example, sucked balls (including its critical reponse) - and the reason it did so was that the sacred and the profane are about as interesting to the choir as gravy on fries but are like crack cocaine to the ideologue. Oh but piss never looked so sublime!

But the rarity of good political art may be that it is the hardest genre of art to make or "inhabit" - note that some of the other genres in the political academy are:

personal mythology tinged with nostalgia (personal is political)

Personal demons tinged with nostalgia (very personal)

Straight up navel gazing (secular isolationism)

Maths (Zen buddhism or Jewish mysticism)

Cause du Jour (activism)

Ice berg art (environmental activism)

No art after the Nazis (anti-facism)

Celebrity Worship (oligarchy/theocracy)

Transgression for transgression's sake (hedonistic nihilism)

Nordic style High vs low (anarcho-puritanist nihilism)

Bought sculpture (capitalism)

Deskilled skill (Punk D.I.Y./middle class entitlement)

Industrial process art (enlightened Marxism)

Unskilled and brilliantly unaware (Taoism)

Please feel free to add your own favorite political genres.

12/17/2007 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ron paul is an anti-war, small-government, moderate libertarian isolationist who's adept at calling attention to his cause by raising significant amounts of money outside accepted channels. his model is adopted from the one first demonstrated by howard dean, and paul will accomplish no more than dean was able to before him, if that. at least he seems possessed of a calm demeanor. that may help.

12/17/2007 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Oh Bother! said...

Thank god for Charlie Finch and Artnet, so Edward has something to think about.

12/17/2007 05:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

And what's wrong with polenta?

I wondered the same thing. Then I remembered that I was reading Charlie Finch. It's just static.

Paul is actually a non-interventionist rather than an isolationist. He believes in diplomatic relations and trade with all nations, and otherwise refraining from using American force to solve their political problems. I don't love everything on his platform, but he's anti-war, pro-civil liberties, and pro-fiscal responsibility. I'm for him.

12/17/2007 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thank god for Charlie Finch and Artnet, so Edward has something to think about.

Why do people feel compelled to offer up such stuff?

Of all the posts I've written here (approaching 500 if it's not there already), I'd wager less than 5% of them mention artnet, and less than 2% of them mention Charlie Finch. Why not write "Thank god for the New York Times/artinfo.com/The Art Newspaper/Modern Art Notes/the Guardian/etc.etc. etc, so Edward has something to think about." all of which I've cited far more times than Charlie Finch?

Seriously. The essence of humor or good snark is that the comment is at least partially true. Otherwise, you just look silly offering it up. I'm sure there's a good joke among all this just waiting to be found...try a bit harder.

12/17/2007 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

ok, so maybe 4% of them mention Charlie Finch, but most of those were very early on, when Edna was taking him to task regularly.

12/17/2007 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Charlie Finch seems to be losing ground in the ratings around here :)

12/17/2007 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ron paul has voted against establishing permanent normal trade relations with china, using human rights issues as his pretext, and has supported proposals for a physical barrier or fence along the mexican border. granted, many of his statements regarding trade and immigration seem reasonable. but if this record isn't somewhat isolationist, then it's at the very least a post-buchannanite, neo-nativist position which appeals to voters who agree with him on domestic 'america first' issues related to employment, immigration, social services, and free trade.

12/17/2007 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Any way you cut it Ron Paul is a Republican from Texas. So you'll get what you vote for... another conservative Texas Republican.

From wiki [with my comments] and emphasis

He favors withdrawal from NATO and the United Nations [Like the UN or not, at least people come together to talk]

Having pledged never to raise taxes, [where have we heard that before??]
... he has long advocated ending the federal income tax and reducing government spending by abolishing most federal agencies. [this always sounds slicker than it turns out, stuff gets paid for one way or the other.]

He favors hard money and opposes the Federal Reserve. [Another Austrian gold bug depression here we come.]

Paul is strongly pro-life, advocates overturning Roe v. Wade [Why of course]

RP? sorry but not for me.

12/17/2007 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>Thank god for Charlie Finch and >>Artnet, so Edward has something >>>to think about.


Is this comment saying that Artnet will always be above us and we suck? Or is it that if we were that much better we would never think of adressing Artnet and Finch?


I don't see anything wrong to try and dialogue about texts that are quasi presented to us as being sacrosaintly relevant to current art criticism.

If a Finch text is dropped in the forest but no one is there to read it, does it (....add your terms), etc


Cedric Caspesyan

PS: please stop being concerded about politics, the wrong people s gonna win anyway, and Canada s getting richer for it.

12/17/2007 07:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Paul supports PNTR with China but voted against a PNTR bill that had become laced with foreign aid. Details at link.

The border fence, however, is not going to work. I also don't agree with his stance on abortion (which he arrived at, to his credit, from his long career as an OB/GYN and not because Jesus talks to him). Actually, those two items are what I don't love about his platform. Everything else about it is inspiring.

12/17/2007 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

after bush anything looks inspiring

I don't want another conservative picking the next Supreme Court justices.

12/17/2007 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the link to paul's site, but the first sentence of the leading paragraph about the issue in question states he voted against the PTNR bill. paul then goes on to give his partisan, ideologically driven, neo-reaganite reasons for doing so. i half expected to read 'red chinese', 'evil empire', or 'yellow peril' in his statement.

not to be cynical here, but i suspect paul's role in this campaign is as heavily scripted as hilary's, or any one else involved, republican from texas or not. i'm not buying paul's populist rhetoric. don knotts was more convincing as a southern public servant with big ears and an 'aw shucks' attitude.

also, let's not forget that george hw bush was ambassador to china in the '70s, and that american elites have far more in common with chinese elites than they do with other americans. until someone honestly adresses this fact, we'll continue with the candidates at hand. seems unlikely.

12/17/2007 09:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you people are kidding about Ron Paul! I would definitely consider voting for Ron Paul... if it was 1870.

12/17/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Boy!

Charlie "The Bully" Finch is here again.

12/17/2007 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

So you'll get what you vote for... another conservative Texas Republican.

Another? Who was the first? You're not seriously suggesting that the current POTUS is conservative or anything?

And I am not kidding about Ron Paul. I am in full agreement with Franklin.

12/17/2007 11:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm not kidding either.

The linked statement regarding PNTR is only ideologically driven if you count the Constitution as ideology. And while only a rube would think that there's no scripting at all, it turns out to be extremely difficult to find a statement or a vote he made that's inconsistent with the government described in the founding documents of the United States. Don't take my word for it - go and look. I believe his naturalism comes from adhering to principles, which I also detect in Kucinich and to a lesser degree in Obama. I find the opposite to be the case for Clinton, but she looks like sincerity itself compared to Romney.

Speaking of China, they're lending us money to pay for our misadventures in the Middle East, which is partly why the dollar is tanking. If Austrian economics has some kind of inherent problem I'd like to hear about it, but it's clear that something is seriously wrong with our currency under the Keynesian thinking in effect. I don't pretend to understand the details of the issue (here) but as far as I know the US and Canadian dollars have never before been even in my lifetime. The UN is a great idea being executed in a ridiculous manner, NATO is a relic, and the Fed is probably unconstitutional (and notably culpable for the subprime mess). He has not only pledged never to raise taxes - he has, in ten terms in office, voted against every single tax increase. Listening to him rip on the neocons is like letting air into a damp room. I would forgive anyone for not wanting to vote Republican after seven years of this nonsense, and I can hardly believe I'm doing it myself, but a lot of what's bad about the current administration has a good chance of getting kicked to the curb under a Paul presidency. I would encourage anyone unfamiliar with him to give him a close look.

Go Prettylady!

12/17/2007 11:51:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Republicans. Ha!

Check out this months Harper's Index - I doubt the Republican's will win the popular vote (just like last time). But by all means vote Republican in NY, I'm sure your voice will be heard.

God bless Republica.

Also check out the Harper's for published letters visa vis Buchel and MASSMOCA - hillarity ensues.

12/18/2007 03:40:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

By all means, do check out Paul's record. Among other accomplishments he touts on his website is the fact that

He has never voted to raise taxes.

Sounds more like an ideologue than the sort of president we could trust to undo the damage (especially with regards to income inequality) done under Bush.

He's also living in a fantasy world when it comes to the environment:

The key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights. The strict enforcement of property rights corrects environmental wrongs while increasing the cost of polluting.

The cost of polluting is only a deterrent when it's consistently higher than the profit of polluting, which, according to Paul's own stated guideline of "never vot[ing] for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution" won't happen under a Paul presidency. Indeed, the deterrent really depends upon people having to sometimes wait until they're potentially sick and dying to have the government step in, because its all about acting after the fact and relying on fear of being sued to pre-emptively stop it. What this private property so-called "strict enforcement" policy really means is businesses with deep pockets can work to relax any environmental standard they can afford to do and if a multinational corporation pollutes your property (and God help you if you're only renting), Paul will support your right to sue them. How wonderfully lucrative for lawyers and totally impractical for working class Americans.

I won't trust my health to the "responsible stewardship" fallacy of big business, I'm sorry.

As a self-declared "unshakable foe of abortion" Paul promises to work to "negate the effect of Roe v Wade by removing the ability of federal courts to interfere with state legislation to protect life." Regardless of how you feel about abortion or choice, this is a foolhardy and very dangerous precedent. The more the power of federal courts are curbed in protecting civil rights of all Americans regardless of where they live, you can bet the introduction of other legislation permitting states to discriminate on all kinds of other fronts will follow. Paul claims that its "federal court tyranny" which threatens our constitutional republic, ignoring that it was federal court power that held our republic together on the heels of the Civil War and that a weak federal court system is much more likely to threaten the union than any other concept I can think of.

On an issue near and dear to my Heart, too, Paul is a terrible choice for President, and that's gay marriage. I know Paul claims he doesn't feel the government should be in the marriage business at all and that he's not opposed to two individuals voluntarily defining their relationship, but until that Libertarian utopia he bases such sentiments on materializes, there's a very real issue for the next President to weigh in on. I would rather have a president who will support the will of the majority (especially as the majority is leaning toward accepting gay marriage) than one who would permit pockets of discrimination that unfairly singles gays out from other couples from state to state. Imagine if Paul's world had been our world in 1967, it might still be "illegal" for people of different races to marry in Virginia.

Being a strict Constitutionalist is actually the same as being anti-progressive when it all plays out.

No thank you. Don't be swayed by the rhetoric...Paul will not save us from the mess Bush has created.

12/18/2007 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'm voting for Bloomberg.

12/18/2007 08:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

franklin, i've read the constitution and i can't find the part where it demonizes communist china as the mortal enemy of the US. edward has it right-- 'being a strict constitutionalist is actually the same as being anti-progressive when it all plays out'.

don't be swayed by the rhetoric. and beware the miesian fantasies spun out on lewrockwell.com

12/18/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

i can't find the part where it demonizes communist china

Who's demonizing China? I just think it's a bad idea to be running our country at $5 trillion in debt, and it so happens that $1 trillion of that debt is to China. We could have better relations with them if we could trade with them using strong dollars, and put force behind our moral arguments against its human rights record if we shut down our military projects abroad and start respecting privacy and freedom of expression here at home. (I personally find China fascinating and just picked up the Rosetta Stone program for Mandarin.)

Ed, I'm wondering how taxation is going to do anything about income inequality.

I don't think illness and the threat of death have to be reached in order to establish pollution, and in fact, Paul is enormously opposed to corporatism, which makes a lot of the business wrongs committed at the expense of the environment possible. (Paul has characterized Halliburton as "evil.")

I'm with you on abortion.

This is the first Republican since Reagan not to go out of his way to demonize gays (I guess I have to except Giuliani, but he's a pure and simple thug), someone who would happily let states let gays marry, and would never introduce an abomination like the Defense of Marriage Act. Regarding interracial marriage, there's a big difference between laws that restrict freedom and laws that increase it, and I think Paul understands that distinction better than any other candidate, even some of the Democratic ones.

Paul is extraordinarily progressive in some respects: he's against the Iraq war, the upcoming Iran war, the drug war, and opposes criminalization of consensual acts.

12/18/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

The constitution is hardly flawless. There's the gun thing...

12/18/2007 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

how taxation is going to do anything about income inequality

The general argument for the tax policies we've lived under since Reagan's era is that if you increase the disposable income of the wealthiest American's they will invest that into ventures that create even more wealth, which will eventually trickle down, and lift all Americans. 25 years later, though, we have an ever-increasing disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the middle class.

When does this trickle down actually go into effect? is a reasonable response to this ideology. How much wealthier than everyone else do the top 1% have to get before all Americans will see a comparable benefit of this tax policy in their lives? Or is the unstated side effect of this policy an undeclared, but tolerated, ever-more powerful oligarchy? And if so, who voted for that?

Ron Paul continues to promote this "voodoo economics" fairy tale (as George Bush Sr. labeled Reganomics) and suggests that "Whether a tax cut reduces a single mother’s payroll taxes by $40 a month or allows a business owner to save thousands in capital gains taxes and hire more employees, that tax cut is a good thing." as if the two were even remotely parallel.

They might be were there any regulations in place that ensured those new employees would be entitled to humane standard of living wages (it took the GOP losing Congress after 6 years of control for the country to finally get a raise in the minimum wage, and Paul voted against that).

But to answer your question directly, you work toward income equality through a fair progressive tax policy. It's obscene that over the past few years the increase in the amount of income the top 1% of Americans have seen is more than the income of the bottom 20% of Americans combined. By taxing the top 1% more, you can provide greater education opportunities, more law enforcement, and more affordable health care for working class families (things needed for them to elevate themselves out of their financial situations).

would never introduce an abomination like the Defense of Marriage Act

Paul doesn't oppose DOMA out of any respect for gays. He opposes it because it dares to dictate how states can act. He's an anti-federalist. Attributing that opposition to some pro-gay marriage sentiment is disingenuous.

12/18/2007 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

franklin, are we reading the same link? in his statement paul twice refers to 'communist chinese adversaries', and in a charming bit of casual redbaiting links 'liberal democrats' promoting foreign aid to china. that reads as demonizing rhetoric to me.

paul also states that free trade should progress unimpeded by government interference. here, he's either being incredibly naive or he's acting as a shill for elites who use lack of regulation and oversight for their own ends.

oh, and you're right about reagan's relationship to the gay community. he didn't demonize gays. he simply let thousands of them die of a disease he refused to acknowlege existed. that's another of his great humanitarian achivements. and while we're at it, let's recall reagan's pandering to the states-rights fanatics who helped elect him, which is something paul seems to have mastered as well.

i mean, i'm not trying to sound like a dick, but there are alot of blind spots here that should be addressed.

12/18/2007 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I just think it's a bad idea to be running our country at $5 trillion in debt,

I would agree at this level but suggest that some degree of government debt can be constructive. Curiously, the debt levels shrank during the Clinton administration, but the gain were squandered and ballooned under Bush (and Regan as well.)

and it so happens that $1 trillion of that debt is to China.

This is a function of the trade imbalance between the US and China. We buy more goods from China than we sell to them, as a result they have accumulated dollars which they have used to buy treasury bonds.

We could have better relations with them if we could trade with them using strong dollars,

This is false. The Chinese Yuan is pegged to the dollar by the Chinese government. There is some US pressure from on China to allow the Yuan to ‘float’ (find it’s value in a freely trading exchange rate rather than a fixed ratio to the USD)

Currently the US dollar is weak, to a degree that everyone is quite aware of it. This leads me to believe that the US Dollar Index is very near a bottom and will turn higher (the dollar gets stronger) against other currencies. Currency trends tend to be long in duration and in part function to equalize trade between countries. A weak dollar makes US goods more competitive overseas and conversely it makes imports more expensive. This helps to shift some of the trade imbalances except in cases like China where their currency is pegged to the dollar.

and put force behind our moral arguments against its human rights record if we shut down our military projects abroad and start respecting privacy and freedom of expression here at home.

I totally agree that this country needs to take the high road with respect to moral issues. However, I think it is naive to think that example alone would have any affect of the internal policies of other countries. As far as I can recall, this has never been the case in the past.

My take is that RP appeals to feel good conservatism but that his policies cannot be implemented without causing great fiscal harm to this country. In addition, I think it is no small matter that as a conservative he would be in a position to choose new Supreme Court justices. It is imperative that an ideological balance be maintained to insure fairness to both conservative and liberal views. Since the members of the Supreme court are elected for life his decisions can be much farther reaching than just the next four years.

12/18/2007 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger hovie said...

There's no such thing as trickle-down economics. It does not exist. This derisive and anti-intellectual term is derived from a popular misunderstanding of supply-side theory.

Keynesians see everything from the demand side: Consumers buy stuff -- they create demand -- so the best way to help the economy is to create lots of money, put it in the hands of the people, and let them buy stuff. The economy is driven by this demand, goes the theory. When small-government advocates therefore want to cut taxes, Keynesians are unable to understand where the next dollar is going to come from, since there nothing more for the US Government, that Great Money Laundering Piggy Bank in the Sky, to distributed to the poor-huddled.

The question is, what do they buy?

The theory which attempts to address this question is called "Supply-Side Economics." Dismissing it as "voodoo economics" is not exactly an academically rigorous thing to do, nor does it advance the debate. It also does not mean that a rich person will buy a Lexus and therefore the money will "trickle down" to the rest of the economy. That's the misinterpretation which stems from the belief that demand (the desire for consumption) comes first.

The correct form of the theory is that rich people build (or invest in) the Lexus factories in the first place -- i.e., the supply side of the economy -- thus creating jobs, providing income, and creating demand for stuff. Supply-side theory says that jobs come before demand -- you don't buy stuff unless you need it, which you won't need unless you have a job and a life, and more importantly for this theory, you can't buy stuff that hasn't already been made.

I'm going to repeat that: You can't buy stuff that hasn't already been made. The business needs to exist before its customers can buy its wares. It's one thing to identify needs, gauge demand, plan products and build factories as wisely as you possibly can, but you still have to make stuff before anyone can satisfy their demand for it. That's the crux of supply-side economics, the best that I as a layman can understand it.

12/18/2007 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Attributing that opposition to some pro-gay marriage sentiment is disingenuous.

I don't believe I did. His sentiment is for increased liberty. To me that's even better, because I don't have to wonder what he thinks about gay marriage per se. I think it's great to watch someone whom evidence suggests is a prude refuse to pass legislation that would flatter that prudery, on the basis that that is not what the law is for. Breeders like that are your friend.

By taxing the top 1% more, you can provide greater education opportunities, more law enforcement, and more affordable health care for working class families

The top 1% of earners are already paying 35% of all income taxes, and the bottom 50% of earners are paying almost 4%. Just like you would expect some wealth to have trickled down from voodoo by now, you would also expect for some wealth to trickle down from progressive taxation. It turns out that both are wishful thinking. The truth is that the benefits of taxation are being squandered because we regulate education out the yinyang and protect its poor functioning, what passes for law enforcement is absurdities like FISA, and health care (like farming) can't settle into any kind of reasonable state because federal policies don't make any sense. (See No Child Left Behind coupled with the latest presidential veto that would have made health care available to more American children. Or our subsidies of tobacco farming combined with our restrictions on cigarette advertising. Or lending money to kids to go to college and then taxing their income.)

Anonymous, we're reading the same link. I see repeated interest on Paul's part in normal trade relations with China. I see him also opposing foreign aid to China and taking offense at spending $100 million on radio broadcasts to China. That is not our job. The left-baiting is requisite partisan noise. Nowadays he's friends with Kucinich and is making noise against the neocons even more. I try to ignore that noise too even though it pleases my ear.

12/18/2007 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for the indepth explanation, Hovie, but I think in seriously debating supply-side economics ("voodoo" was Bush's term, not mine), rather than "The question is, what do they buy?" it's time to begin also insisting "The other question is, why do they buy?"

Beginning with economist Victor Lebow's declaration in 1955 that "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption a way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate" right up to GWB's prescription for what would help us, as a nation, recover from the 9/11 attacks: to go shopping, we're ignoring the "why" in all this and merely complying with the suppliers commands.

Annie Leonard offers a good soup-to-nuts explanation for how our values got so askew in her "The Story of Stuff" animation (h/t Ondine). She notes how Americans' overall sense of happiness declined in direct proportion to how much more of a consumerist nation we became after the 1950s. This is easily explained by the central tenant behind all the marketing used to encourage us to buy all those supplies (i.e., the argument used to create the supposed "demand" where none really exists): "You are inferior...only buying this item will change that." It's obviously as effective as it is insidious.

I think this part of supply-side economics really needs to be discussed more, especially when discussing the governments responsibility to its people in deciding tax policy.

I realize, as someone who sells the least "useful" product of all, that there might seem an implicit hypocrisy in my saying all this, but I've never once felt, after getting it home, I wish I could have my money back when purchasing art (i.e., buying art directly contributes to my happiness. it doesn't take away from it). If that's not the case for you, I wouldn't encourage you to purchase art.

12/18/2007 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The truth is that the benefits of taxation are being squandered because we regulate education out the yinyang and protect its poor functioning, what passes for law enforcement is absurdities like FISA, and health care (like farming) can't settle into any kind of reasonable state because federal policies don't make any sense.

And yet, you're opposed to being called conservative. Huh.

Where to begin?

First and foremost, all of your examples, even if true, are matters of policy, not tax policy, but education, law enforcement, and general welfare policy. Starving the funding for any of them via negligent tax policies doesn't fix them either. Throwing more money at them, doesn't either, obviously, but conflating the two, as if the reason they're failing is because they're fairly funded, is fundamentally illogical.

"what passes for law enforcement is absurdities like FISA"

Are you serious? This is your argument against enough police on the beat to secure neighborhoods to the point that people can improve their lives? How are the two even remotely related?

As for how "absurd" FISA is, I can't let that pass without noting that no one on the right side of the political spectrum bothered to raise this issue until after it was apparent the Bush administration had concluded, in private, that they could ignore this pesky, absurd little law without telling anyone. Truly, that's a laughable argument.

health care (like farming) can't settle into any kind of reasonable state because federal policies don't make any sense

Having lived in the UK, all I can say, is I'll take their system, with all its limits, over ours any day. Our system profits no one (other than management companies) enough that some variation shouldn't at least be tried in the service of extending it to the criminal number of uninsured living in the US today. In other words, your insistence that it doesn't make any sense reveals only your preference, not anything resembling a universal truth.

12/18/2007 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

We buy more goods from China than we sell to them, as a result they have accumulated dollars which they have used to buy treasury bonds.

They're being smart. We're not.

The Chinese Yuan is pegged to the dollar by the Chinese government.

Competitive mechanisms creep back into the situation as they always do. A strong dollar would still give us more options: we could have them produce products to sell to themselves, which would be extremely lucrative for someone on this end.

Currently the US dollar is weak, to a degree that everyone is quite aware of it. This leads me to believe that the US Dollar Index is very near a bottom and will turn higher...

I have to confess that this doesn't sound very scientific.

I think it is naive to think that example alone would have any affect of the internal policies of other countries.

I think it's naive to think that the internal policies of other countries are our concern in the first place, and certifiably false that our administrative sanctions, boycotts, and military interventions have resulted in anything except, to put it nicely, perverse externalities. Example at least has the advantage of nobility.

...it's time to begin also insisting "The other question is, why do they buy?" ... I think this part of supply-side economics really needs to be discussed more, especially when discussing the governments responsibility to its people in deciding tax policy.

How do they relate?

12/18/2007 02:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the only candidate scarier than rudy g. is ron paul.

i can't believe how many people are considering him. SCARY AS SHIT!!!

12/18/2007 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You know, Edward, for someone who purports to want to have a civil discussion about things, you sure do throw out a lot of bait.

And yet, you're opposed to being called conservative.

I'm opposed to being called conservative as a means of tarnishing my opinions about art, yes.

conflating the two, as if the reason they're failing is because they're fairly funded, is fundamentally illogical.

I happen to think that this is the case regarding education. We spend a colossal amount of money on education that disappears into one of the craziest bureaucracies you could envision, one that is a crushing insult to individualism and freedom of expression, and in notable cases has had a negative impact literacy since it was made compulsory. John Taylor Gatto has all the sad details.

This is your argument against enough police on the beat to secure neighborhoods to the point that people can improve their lives?

Of course not. (You knew this, I'm sure.) More friendly neighborhood cops on the street (with enormous respect for privacy and property rights) I'm down with. Warrantless wiretapping? Telecom immunity for abetting domestic spying? No-knock raids? Torture? Secret foreign prisons? The War on Drugs? Taking your shoes off and throwing away your water at the airport? The Patriot Act? Tossing protesters in the slammer en masse on false charges for protesting the Republican Convention in NYC? Alberto Fucking Gonzalez? That's law enforcement too. This is why I want a strict constitutionalist in office for once.

In other words, your insistence that it doesn't make any sense reveals only your preference, not anything resembling a universal truth.

It also doesn't resemble the late works of Auden, not that I claimed that either. Here's the Paul page on health care.

12/18/2007 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

[We buy more goods from China than we sell to them, as a result they have accumulated dollars which they have used to buy treasury bonds.]
They're being smart. We're not.

In what way? The US economy is the largest in the world, my guess is by a factor of at least 10. We import a lot of stuff and our dollars help keep the world economies afloat


[The Chinese Yuan is pegged to the dollar by the Chinese government.]
Competitive mechanisms creep back into the situation as they always do. A strong dollar would still give us more options: we could have them produce products to sell to themselves, which would be extremely lucrative for someone on this end.


This doesn’t say anything. The dollar strength or lack of it, is determined in the currency markets and reflects an arbitrage of the known and unknown currency flows between countries. In the case of the Yuan, since it is pegged to the dollar, it keeps Chinese goods at an equilibrium price regardless of how the dollar fluctuates.

[Currently the US dollar is weak, to a degree that everyone is quite aware of it. This leads me to believe that the US Dollar Index is very near a bottom and will turn higher...]
I have to confess that this doesn't sound very scientific.


Predicting market movements is less than scientific, otherwise everyone would be rich. Predicting human behavior is a bit easier and whenever there is a majority of opinion on one side of the market after a protracted move, they are usually wrong. This is the case with the US Dollar Index, the majority of opinion is ‘short’ (betting it goes down) the dollar. So I ask, who is on the other side of this trade? Ans. The big money which can afford to be wrong for a month or two and a few percentage points, eventually they are right, hence my call. (insert SEC disclaimer here)

I think it's naive to think that the internal policies of other countries are our concern in the first place,
True, but that has never stopped any country from meddling.

and certifiably false that our administrative sanctions, boycotts, and military interventions have resulted in anything except, to put it nicely, perverse externalities. Example at least has the advantage of nobility.
I never said anything of the such. I agree that example is the right path, but unfortunately it has little affect on world politics which respects or fears FORCE. It is a sad truth.

12/18/2007 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

RP on health care is a load of bull.

12/18/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

sorry guys...can't elaborate...let me just say I'm sorry if it seemed I was using conservative in any insulting way. I don't hold someone's opinions against them, especially their political views with regards to their opinions on art.

hopefully will have time later to say more

12/18/2007 04:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

the only candidate scarier than rudy g. is ron paul.

Rudy's not sure whether waterboarding is torture. "It depends," he says. I highly recommend any Democrat, including Gravel, including Gravel's dog, over any other Republican.

In what way? The US economy is the largest in the world, my guess is by a factor of at least 10. We import a lot of stuff and our dollars help keep the world economies afloat

If we're keeping the world economy afloat by importing a lot of stuff, then a weak dollar damages that exchange. China is converting external debt into national debt (for us), which I don't think is a good situation for us to be involved in. We are then spending that money in Iraq to the tune of over $120,000 per minute.

BTW, I looked it up, and it seems that China unpegged the yuan from the dollar in 2005.

RP on health care is a load of bull.

Nuh uh!

I should be working too, Ed. Thanks for the discussion as always.

12/18/2007 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

If we're keeping the world economy afloat by importing a lot of stuff, then a weak dollar damages that exchange.

Again, it is not that simple. A weaker dollar makes foreign imports more expensive, an obvious problem case is the price of oil which is priced in dollars on world markets. Its price fluctuates both as a result of demand and because of the value of the dollar.
However, a weaker dollar favors US exports by making them more competitively priced in foreign markets. This increases the sale of exports and helps the trade account deficit and this is exactly what is occurring at the moment.

China is converting external debt into national debt (for us), which I don't think is a good situation for us to be involved in.
It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the amount of the US debt (US Treasury bonds and bills)relative to the US GDP. It’s higher than I would want to see, so I would agree that this isn’t an ideal situation.
US Treasury debt is widely held because it has the ‘full faith and guarantee of the US government’ ;-) behind it. Buying in you know what your interest payment is and that you will get the face value of bond returned at maturity. In US dollars, which fluctuate. But this risk can be arbitraged out making US debt a low risk dollar investment. Currencies pay no interest.

The Yuan contract is still tightly controlled and not yet freely trading against the dollar.

12/18/2007 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

RP on health care:
It is time to take back our health care. This is why I support:
* Making all medical expenses tax deductible.
* Eliminating federal regulations that discourage small businesses from providing coverage.
* Giving doctors the freedom to collectively negotiate with insurance companies and drive down the cost of medical care.
* Making every American eligible for a Health Savings Account (HSA), and removing the requirement that individuals must obtain a high-deductible insurance policy before opening an HSA.
* Reform licensure requirements so that pharmacists and nurses can perform some basic functions to increase access to care and lower costs.
By removing federal regulations, encouraging competition, and presenting real choices, we can make our health care system the envy of the world once again.


This is all very nice. Somehow I couldn't find the section about preventing profiteering insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals because of "pre-existing conditions", and canceling peoples' policies because they develop health problems that cause them to actually use their insurance. Maybe Ron Paul deals with those issues on another part of his web site?

12/18/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

David, leaving aside that the Constitution does not put the government in the insurance business, no universal health care plan is going to provide people with unlimited coverage for every serious illness. That said, companies could still find a way around paying for your coverage under universal insurance by saying that you've exceeded allowed expenses. The only difference in that case would be the government subsidy. It's a hard choice, but I tend to think that competition is better than mandated coverage.

BTW, there are not as strong correlations between health insurance and health as one might think.

12/18/2007 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

David, if you have a health savings account, you're in control of how your own health dollars are spent, and you don't use an insurance company at all. I have thought long and hard about this issue, and I have concluded that 'health insurance' as a concept is an enormous part of the problem.

12/18/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Go, Franklin!

12/18/2007 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

We the people, in order to ... promote the general welfare...

leaving aside that the Constitution does not put the government in the insurance business

it most definitely should.

12/18/2007 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The Cato Institute is another conservative think tank.

The linked article is inconclusive and they admit it.

The question of universal health care addresses more than just the issue of 'health.' People without health care insurance can be financially ruined by a debilitating illness or accident. A principle of insurance is that the risk is spread out across the insured base so the few who need extensive care have access to it without facing financial ruin.

This is an extraordinarily complex social issue which involves more than weighing the cost for the simple provision of health care. There are hidden costs to society caused by illness, days missed from work, or later illness in children caused by inadequate healthcare in their youth or the costs incurred by emergency services which provide care to the uninsured.

Further, this country has a very large corporate infrastructure for providing health insurance. Those who assume that we can just do away with this bureaucracy just do not understand the greater social and economic ramifications of the problem.

Anyone who pretends to present a simple solution to this problem is lying, it is not possible, it is going to take a lot of hard work, compromise, and compromise after that, before this country can implement some form of national health care.

The Cato Institute will present intellectual arguments in favor of the status quo and Ron Paul is just paying lip service to the issue. It is very easy to come up with a nice set of platitudes about how the provision of health care should be handled UNLESS you have no access to it, then those arguments are more than hollow, they are potentially life threatening.

12/18/2007 08:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The Cato Institute is another conservative think tank.

Genetic fallacy.

...UNLESS you have no access to it, then those arguments are more than hollow, they are potentially life threatening.

Argumentum ad misericordiam.

...it is going to take a lot of hard work, compromise, and compromise after that, before this country can implement some form of national health care.

This is as true as can be. It doesn't stop at health insurance and access to care per se. We just passed a farm bill that encourages obesity. We send soldiers into needless war with insufficient resources and then deny them adequate care upon return, which is traitorous as well as a health issue. We subsidize tobacco farming, regulate and tax alcohol, and outlaw marijuana, with no correlation between toxicity and criminality. (Personally, I think laying universal health care on top of all this would be nuts.) Then there's the problem of personal responsibility. I don't mind paying to treat your kid's leukemia, but that hep C you came down with because you didn't have a fresh needle, not so much. It's a problem with its hooks in everything.

12/18/2007 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Well professor, vote for Ron Paul if you want, you aren't going to convince me because I'm a liberal and proud of it.

I'm sure you fit right in, in Orange County.

12/18/2007 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The most encouraging thing about this election is that the Republicans are in total dissarray and cannot field a candidate who is not a crook or a kook :-)

12/18/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm not in the habit of demonizing liberals. Good luck to your candidate, George. (I'll likely vote for him or her if this thing with Paul doesn't work out.)

12/18/2007 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Someone get some tranks into Franklin, STAT! And make sure you bill his health insurance. Or maybe Ed can write it off as a business expense.

Franklin, man, someone must've piddled in your Post Toasties this morning, because I've never seen you so verbose on a topic so far from art! Imagine if there'd been Ed's blog back when you were voting for Ross Perot!

Incidentally, I voted for Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader, too. And I'd do it again!

12/18/2007 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Franklin & PL,
Thanks for the info about health savings accounts and the problems w/ universal health care. I have some disagreements with both, but it's good to hear intelligent discussion of this, and you've obviously both thought a lot about these things. Here are some of the issues I have:

1.) A health savings account is a fine idea, but many people will not be able to put much $ into them. If someone is wealthy, no problem. But if they're middle class (I seem to remember there being one) or below, or young and just starting to work, a serious illness could kill them or financially debilitate them (as George points out above). You only have control over your health care if you've got money. So besides the rich, what happens to everyone else?

2.) The Constitution doesn't specifically guarantee health care, but there are plenty of other things it doesn't deal with, like airline safety, pollution, electric utilities and broadcast media. I don't think of the Constitution as the final word on everything our government should be, but a living document that evolves as our country does. Or one would hope.

3.) Franklin, you mention a bunch of things our government is doing but shouldn't (I agree), and say that we shouldn't add universal health care on top of all that. I agree with that too. How about if we end all farm subsidies (along with subsidies to various big corporations), legalize and tax marijuana, stop the "war on drugs" and the wars on governments we don't like who haven't attacked us. Now look at all the extra money we have!

The issue you mention about hep C is I guess what you'd probably call an externality. You mention "perverse externalities" above, but here's a positive one (for the IV drug user). I'm all for personal responsibility, but I think it's cruel to deny access to health care to the millions of Americans that currently can't afford it in order to punish a small group for their self-destructive behavior.

I pay taxes like all the rest of you, and I'd feel much better about my tax money being spent on universal health coverage than on most of the things it's currently funding.

12/19/2007 01:36:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Then there's the problem of personal responsibility. I don't mind paying to treat your kid's leukemia, but that hep C you came down with because you didn't have a fresh needle, not so much. It's a problem with its hooks in everything.

The notion that anyone...say, Mr. American Taxpayer...is authorized to weigh in on the morality of someone else's health needs because some miniscule fraction of his taxes contribute to paying for them has never made any sense to me at all. You either agree that it's the role of nation to promote the general welfare of its people or you disagree. You don't get a line-item veto on which healthcare need offends your sensibilities this week. You don't get to pry into the personal private history of each patient to determine whether you can self-righteously hold them responsible for their illness.

What this all boils down to in the end, quite frankly, is an issue of majority rule. Like David, I would prefer my taxes be spent on universal health care than a host of other things they currently get spent on, and so I'll vote for the politicians who will make that change. It's the world I want to live in, and I'll fight to make it happen. And for the record, I have complete health insurance, which I pay dearly for, and am not arguing for my own personal benefit. I simply believe a nation that will not care for its own is not the best it can be.

12/19/2007 08:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

David: I'm all for personal responsibility, but I think it's cruel to deny access to health care to the millions of Americans that currently can't afford it in order to punish a small group for their self-destructive behavior.

Ed: The notion that anyone...say, Mr. American Taxpayer...is authorized to weigh in on the morality of someone else's health needs because some miniscule fraction of his taxes contribute to paying for them has never made any sense to me at all. ... You don't get to pry into the personal private history of each patient to determine whether you can self-righteously hold them responsible for their illness.

I have no interest in doing so, and I don't have to: 60% of all deaths in ths country are caused by diseases of lifestyle. We're not talking about a small group engaged in self-destructive behavior, but a 3/5 majority (of the recently dead, anyway; I would suspect the percentage among the not-yet-dead-but-working-on-it is higher). I support your right to stuff yourself with crap food, smoke, drink, and avoid any and all exercise, but I'm not interested in underwriting the consequences, particularly in light of the effort and resources I already expend to keep myself healthy. So we're already subsidizing the production of tobacco and corn syrup and now we're talking about subsidizing the results of their use. This is not promoting the general welfare. (And it ties in somehow to Ed's concerns about consumerism, perhaps as an edible manifestation of the Don't Worry, Keep Shopping problem.) Americans freely gave $480 million to victims of the 2005 tsunami, and I'd be willing to bet that our combined intelligence, generosity, and initiative can come up with a better solution for supporting people when fate turns against them than any plan conceived by a committee of people who crave reelection.

How about if we end all farm subsidies (along with subsidies to various big corporations), legalize and tax marijuana, stop the "war on drugs" and the wars on governments we don't like who haven't attacked us. Now look at all the extra money we have!

David, this is basically Paul's platform - you might want to have a further look at him.

12/19/2007 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Your argument still boils down to "I don't approve of your lifestyle, so no tax dollars toward healthcare for you," Franklin.

Implied is the notion that if everyone lived the clean life you do things might be different.

Also implied is the notion that folks will abuse their health in search of something else you're not willing to underwrite (let's call it "the pursuit of happiness") even more if you agree to universal healthcare (because, hey, now they'll have their stomach pumped or life-saving drug cocktails paid for by the state). Statistics on the general health of people living in nations without universal healthcare, like ours, versus those with it, like Sweden and the UK and...oh, let's just call it every other industrialized nation, as measured by average life expectancy (the US ranks 45...without universal health care) indicate such an increase in self-destructive behavior won't materialize if the US gets universal healthcare.

Indeed, the hidden costs of not offering insurance to more Americans have been estimated to exceed the cost of altering our current system to provide some level of coverage for all Americans (i.e., not making everyone leave their current coverage if they're happy with it, but ensuring folks don't wait until they need an emergency room to get healthcare because they're uninsured):

The estimated value of improved health that an uninsured individual would gain with each year of coverage ranges between $1,645 and $3,280 annually. The aggregate value that could be realized for the entire population – $65 billion to $130 billion – likely exceeds the estimated costs – $34 billion to $69 billion – to provide the uninsured with the additional health services that they would use if they gained coverage and used the same amount and kind of services as the insured.

12/19/2007 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

...60% of all deaths in this country are caused by diseases of lifestyle.

I don't doubt that's true, but what it tells me is that 40% of all deaths (which is still a lot!) are caused by other factors including heredity, accidents, and other forms of bad luck. I have personal experience with this, and I'm sure you know people who do too.

One of the big problems with our healthcare system is that there are two sets of rules for it. If you're employed by a company that provides insurance (as I'm fortunate to be), then you're set. You can pick a plan that makes sense to you, do your best to stay healthy, and know that if anything disastrous happens you can get treatment for it and not be bankrupted as a result. But what if you lose your job, or are self-employed? Then the insurance companies can deny you coverage at any price based on an absurd list of "pre-existing condtions". Which basically means that anybody who's been alive more than a few years has had something on the list. A musician friend of mine was turned down by Blue Cross because he'd once had athlete's foot! It would at least be an improvement if anybody could purchase the same insurance on their own as they could as part of a "group". But they can't.

I'd be willing to consider other alternatives than so-called "socialized medicine", (though our country seems to have no issues about "socialized" education or "socialized" law enforcement). But clearly the system we currently have, which is run by the insurance companies to "insure" (okay, ensure) their largest possible profit is not working for anyone but them.

12/19/2007 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

David, this is basically Paul's platform - you might want to have a further look at him.

Franklin, I voted for Nader in 2000, since I liked what he was saying and he had the good sense to run on the Green Party ticket. Plus I knew that Gore was going to win California. I'm registered as an Independent.

But my main goal in this next election is to flush as many Republicans out of office as possible. Paul doesn't have a serious chance in this election anyway, and if he did somehow end up getting the Republican nomination I'd vote against him on principle. If he is such a good candidate why is he associating with such a disreputable organization?

12/19/2007 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Your argument still boils down to "I don't approve of your lifestyle, so no tax dollars toward healthcare for you," Franklin. Implied is the notion that if everyone lived the clean life you do things might be different.

Your argument boils down to nanny-state socialism, Ed, and implies that things might be different if everyone made as much of a display of their concern about the poor as you do. As you see, I can also use damning framing and unflattering implications, but would prefer to have an intelligent, respectful discussion about this. How about you?

But clearly the system we currently have, which is run by the insurance companies to "insure" (okay, ensure) their largest possible profit is not working for anyone but them.

This is a serious problem, David, and I don't have an easy answer for it. My concern, though, is that it is a problem that will persist even if we manage to federalize health care. The HMO-based insurers have figured out how to screw people out of coverage even as heavily regulated as they are, and I don't doubt that they will adapt to maximize their margins no matter how much coverage becomes mandated.

But my main goal in this next election is to flush as many Republicans out of office as possible.

I support that. Paul is so destructive to neocon interests that I'm supporting him pretty much on the same basis, and I think a Paul presidency opposite a Democratic congress would be pretty sweet. I'd like to see him win, but since I'd prefer any available Dem over any other Repub, his candidacy helps keep his party in disarray while they watch their ugly neocon platforms sink.

If he is such a good candidate why is he associating with such a disreputable organization?

I wish the Democrats would produce a minarchist libertarian. I'd vote for him.

12/19/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger hovie said...

though our country seems to have no issues about "socialized" education or "socialized" law enforcement

Disagree. "Socialized" implies a federal monopoly. There are thousands of school districts in this country. They all compete with each other every time a person moves between homes. There is a very strong grass-roots movement for school vouchers and school choice which would increase competition between schools even further. Also, there are thousands of police forces in this country -- every state, county, city and township has at least one -- and you don't need to do much more than watch an episode or two of Law and Order to see how much they compete. (Not to mention that little inconvenience known as the 2nd amendment, which was designed to limit the rise of "socialized" police). Everything always comes down to competition.

12/19/2007 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger hovie said...

It might be instructive to repeat Milton Friedman's famous lesson on the four ways to spend money.

A. You can spend your own money, or you can spend someone else's. When you spend your own money you care about price. When you spend someone else's you don't.
B. You can spend money on yourself, or you can spend it on someone else. When you spend money on yourself you care about quality. When you spend it on someone else you don't.

Thus Friedman's four combinations:

1. I spend my own money on me. I pay attention to price and quality. This is libertarianism.
2. I spend my own money on someone else. I pay attention to price but not so much on quality. This is charity. [*]
3. I spend someone else's money on me. I pay attention to quality but not so much on price. This is your letter to Santa.
4. I spend someone else's money on someone else yet again. Neither price nor quality is a concern. This is government spending.

[*] We can tell how much we donated for tsunami disaster relief, for example, because the amount we give is important to us, but we cannot tell what was actually accomplished with that money.

12/19/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

"Socialized" implies a federal monopoly.

I don't know, John, I think most people mean "government-run". That's certainly how I use the word.

...2nd amendment, which was designed to limit the rise of "socialized" police

That may have been its original intention, but what it's ended up doing is making it easy for any wacko to buy a gun. Though I realize that once someone's gone on a shooting spree in a mall or high school they'll have a criminal record, which (if they're still alive) will mean it's harder for them to buy more guns in the future.

Everything always comes down to competition.

Competition is a great thing. So is cooperation.

12/19/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Paul is so destructive to neocon interests that I'm supporting him pretty much on the same basis, and I think a Paul presidency opposite a Democratic congress would be pretty sweet.

Yep. That's why I pay attention to the opposition; Paul is being overtly demonized by the psychotic neocons of my acquaintance.

And what on earth is the matter with government-subsidized health savings accounts?

12/19/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

And what on earth is the matter with government-subsidized health savings accounts?

They would be government-subsidized? Who is proposing that?

12/19/2007 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Competition is a great thing. So is cooperation.

They turn out to be the same thing. Darwinism has rewarded organisms that can form beneficial cooperative arrangements in an environment of competition.

I know almost nothing about guns, so to remedy that, I went to a range last weekend and fired my first handguns under the careful guidance of someone in the know. I have to say that I had a really good time, so much so that I would recommend it even to someone who doesn't think of himself as a Second Amendment fanatic. To shoot a target, you have to hold steady and slow your breathing down even while knowing there's about to be a big bang at the end of your arm. It was almost meditative.

I have to wonder if any gun-toting wacko is so wacko that he'll open fire on a roomful of armed Americans. I admit that I like not having to brace myself, generally, for the prospect that a normal daily situation is going to turn into a scene from a John Woo movie, but I've had one or two problems in my life that competency with and ownership of a firearm would have solved. I go back and forth on it.

12/19/2007 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Today a wondorous thing happened!

The Texas state higher education panel has recommended allowing a group called the Institute for Creation Research to offer master’s degrees in science education. Please see here http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/19/education/19texas.html

OK, now sing in tune!

Hosanna Hey Sanna Sanna Sanna Hosanna
Hey Sanna Ho Superstar...

12/19/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Your argument boils down to nanny-state socialism, Ed, and implies that things might be different if everyone made as much of a display of their concern about the poor as you do. As you see, I can also use damning framing and unflattering implications, but would prefer to have an intelligent, respectful discussion about this. How about you?

Actually, I think this is the very debate we need to have... the unflattering one...because we're not making enough progress via so-called respectful discussions in this county because both sides continue to assume the worse of the other through it all and merely, when all else fails, compromise out of frustration, secretly vowing to swing the pendulum more back toward their liking when they gain enough power to do so, when if we really had it out in this country, we might actually, instead, reach a wider understanding of where the other is truly coming from. In other words, I'm convinced the secret to consensus lies in honestly verbalizing our fears of what the other person's policy will result in, not just for us personally, but for everyone.

My fear of Paul's world is it leads to oligarchical rule. With no means to curb the power (i.e., money) any given person/family can accumulate, we'll find ourselves right back in a feudal state. We're already seeing the beginnings of that with families who work two jobs just to keep up with the interest payments on their debts. If that's not indentured servitude, I don't know what it is. Yes, you can argue that personal responsibility is the answer to that situation, but that ignores the extent to which the credit industries rig the game.

Also, I fear that Libertarianism in its purist form leads not to minarchy but to the anarchy of revolution. The poor will only be distracted from how relatively unfair their situation is by TV for so long before they begin to figure out that the tax policy is the key and has to be fair, first and foremost, for justice to exist. If it's slanted to benefit the wealthy too much, for too long, the poor will rise up, and rightly so. I believe the correction to this sense that the rich are taking advantage of the system is to tax them enough to ensure the basic rights of everyone are taken care of. You can call it a nanny state, but I see it as revolution insurance, and in fact think it's essential to achieve a true minarchist state. Basic rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or in policy terms, health care, equal rights, and equal opportunity).

What do you fear about universal health care?

I spend someone else's money on someone else yet again. Neither price nor quality is a concern. This is government spending.

That's a cartoon of government spending rendered entirely untrue in systems where the pols spending the money are held accountable for their choices.

12/19/2007 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm curious what the paul supporters here think of the doctor's theory of 'blowback'.

do you take the statements seriously, or are they another pragmatic case of 'noise' (as franklin termed paul's half-hearted redbaiting) designed to attract followers, but that you feel you're able to ignore?

12/19/2007 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I have to wonder if any gun-toting wacko is so wacko that he'll open fire on a roomful of armed Americans.

Somehow the idea of a roomful of armed Americans doesn't give me a particularly secure feeling.

Anyway, isn't the standard protocol for the wacko to shoot himself when the police arrive? It's not about surviving, it's about leaving a good note for the tv stations to read. Or maybe even a video.

12/19/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You don't find out where the other side is coming from by using rhetorical jiujitsu on what they're saying. That's easy enough to flip back around at you, which I demonstrated. You do it by honestly trying to find out where they're coming from.

Minarchist libertarians distinguish themselves from anarchocapitalists, and the former ethos does not in itself lead to the latter. I believe in a strong, efficient court system, constitutional law enforcement, a single currency, and a single army. I oppose corporate welfare and the wars that enrich corporations as a rule.

With no means to curb the power (i.e., money) any given person/family can accumulate, we'll find ourselves right back in a feudal state. We're already seeing the beginnings of that with families who work two jobs just to keep up with the interest payments on their debts.

They're two separate phenomena. You could tax the hell out of the rich and still not solve the problem consumer debt. (I assume you mean consumer debt by "credit industries." Some debts, like a fair mortgage, are fine.) I hope you're not suggesting that we tax the rich and pay off the consumer debt of the non-rich. I don't know how you explain to people that they shouldn't spend money they don't have. I know how to explain it to the administration, though: Ron Paul for president.

My fears about universal health care are pretty much what I said above: that we're destined to fund the problems of access to health care instead of solving them, at enormous expense, using a layer of bureaucracy on top of another bureuacracy that generates many of those health problems in the first place.

Anon, if you mean the blowback of Islamic terrorism, his explanation is the only one the corresponds to the facts. We need to leave the Middle East alone.

Anyway, isn't the standard protocol for the wacko to shoot himself when the police arrive?

All the more reason to return fire and keep the body count down. Like I said, I don't relish the scenario.

Gotta run, folks.

12/19/2007 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You do it by honestly trying to find out where they're coming from.

If only that were happening here. There were questions asked, no doubt, but little in the way of common ground reached that wasn't immediately followed up with a sweeping conclusion that echoed the original sentiment (e.g., your constant refrain to anyone who met you in the middle, ignoring their other concerns, that they should thusly vote for Paul).

I believe in a strong, efficient court system, constitutional law enforcement, a single currency, and a single army.

Paul's on record as wanting to weaken the federal court system though. Ok, Ok, so only as to wiggle his way around Roe v. Wade (I guess he's opposed to the hard work of going throught SCOTUS to do so), but still, as I noted, that's a dangerous precedent.

I oppose corporate welfare and the wars that enrich corporations as a rule.

I'm confused a bit by that actually. If you mean what I think you mean, we agree. It's not always so easy to parse which wars "enrich" corporations and which ones merely serve their interests, though, so I want a more detailed rule myself.

I want no war that's not declared explicity by Congress after the most painstaking and open debate. I want no war that isn't, as a rule, fought with an increase in oversight, transparency (at least between the Executive branch and Legislative committees charged with it), and the outlawing of no-bid contracts. I want no war where there's not the most blinding of light shined on the relationships between those calling for the war and those who stand to profit the most from it. Finally, I want no war where the rhetoric isn't routinely vetted by demonstrably independent journalists as a matter of nightly routine and without any political interference. In other words, if the country is going to war, the country damn well better have every opportunity to understand the full who, why, where, what and how of it. There's nothing more indicative of a "nanny" state than the assertion that "you don't need to know the details....just trust that we're doing the right thing in your name."

You could tax the hell out of the rich and still not solve the problem consumer debt.

They are related, as Annie Leonard makes clear in the link above. The capital invested in making new things, only to then make new capital, requires consumption to perpetuate itself. By letting the rich become ever richer, thereby encouraging the investing in more and more gratuituous production, you create a demand alright, but it's not for the gratuitous products...it's for the marketing of those pointless products. That marketing, which fiercely targets those least able to afford the gratuituous products, does indeed directly contribute to their debtor status. Their perhaps innate notions of personal responsibility are under constant, relentless attack. I'm not saying there's anyone but them to blame ultimately, but the "personal responsibility" arguments I hear conveniently leave out the impact of all this.

I think we need to address it with policy, because the current path is truly insane.

In other words, I believe you can stablize the situation with a less laissez-faire tax policy...but rather with a more ---gasp---compassionate one. It's insane to believe a linear system in which more and more products are consumed is sustainable (by the planet or by the country), yet Paul's ideology operates on that ideal, and that's why it is directly related to the scenario where tremendous pressure is put on poor people to consume more and more beyond their means.

12/19/2007 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'm not following the back-and-forth on most of this discussion, but I wanted to add a little something that everyone here seems to have papered over -- one thing you all seem to agree on -- which is that there are such things as "diseases of lifestyle." As the neighborhood fat guy with diabetes, I object strongly to this statement.

I firmly believe that we, as a species, at this moment, simply do not know enough about how the human body works to classify anything as a "disease of lifestyle." Yes, it seems so obvious that Americans are fat because they eat too much and don't exercise enough. Hell, it's axiomatic, right? Except the Victorians were just as certain that cholera was caused by smelly air -- smelly air poor people lived near because they were too lazy to keep their neighborhoods clean. Of course, now that we're all enlightened and shit, we know that cholera is in fact caused by bacteria in the water supply and has nothing to do with odors in the air. We also know that most poor people, if they could, would not live in places that smell bad.

In our enlightened state -- which we've achieved over barely 150 years, by the way -- we now know cholera and syphilis are not punishments from God or due to immorality or laziness. But we persist in thinking that obesity is the fault of the obese. Fatty! Just exert some willpower! Never mind that all the scientific evidence points to willpower having zero to do with weight. We might as well blame the nearsighted for not squinting hard enough.

As for other "lifestyle diseases," I think there are deeper problems at their roots, also. Only ten percent of the population is susceptible to heroin addiction; why is that? Both my parents smoked and a number of my friends smoke, and yet not only don't I smoke, I have never once had even a fleeting desire to take up cigarettes. Why is that?

I've noticed that the people who hate paying taxes the most are the wealthy; and the people who hate sick people the most are the healthy. It's easy to say you're healthy because you take care of yourself; it's hard to accept that a good chunk of that is actually luck.

12/19/2007 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

They would be government-subsidized? Who is proposing that?

I am. Government-subsidized health savings accounts seem to me to be the perfect compromise between the efficient market created when people are able to control the money spent on their own health, and the need for a society to look after its poorest citizens.

I also propose that catastrophic-coverage health insurance plans be universally available, and government-subsidized.

This encourages people to look after their own health, take their business to the best healthcare providers with the most reasonable rates, and prevents them from being financially wiped out by a major trauma.

We could afford this by drastically cutting the amount we spend on the military, which now is exponentially higher than the military budgets of the rest of the countries in the world, combined.

12/19/2007 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

I know how to explain it to the administration, though: Ron Paul for president.

Indeed. The major flaw I see in all political discussions is that everybody assumes that the personal opinions and agendas of each and every candidate will be instantly implemented on the country as a whole, perfect and entire.

You can hold certain opinions about the way the world should be, without believing that government should make it so, over the vociferous objections of the people who don't agree with you.

12/19/2007 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

They would be government-subsidized? Who is proposing that?

I am. Government-subsidized health savings accounts seem to me to be the perfect compromise between the efficient market created when people are able to control the money spent on their own health, and the need for a society to look after its poorest citizens...


Well, then, I guess I'll be voting for you :)

12/19/2007 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I know how to explain it to the administration, though: Ron Paul for president.

The administration's days are numbered. I really don't care much what they understand at this point (except perhaps that torture is a war crime...they should bear that in mind as they watch the next President choose an Attorney General). From Andrew Sullivan to Franklin, it seems to me folks are supporting Paul's candidacy mostly because he the hope that the GOP can remain the party smart Conservatives and Libertarians can feel comfortable in. As I don't really care much whether the GOP does that or not, either, Paul has no appeal at all for me.

12/19/2007 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Government-subsidized or tax deductible health savings accounts might work for filling the gap between the costs of health care and the insurance payments.

As a stand alone solution this method won't work if the health care costs exceed the savings, something which is very likely in individual cases.

The insurance method pools the savings (the insurance premium) invests the money and attempts to balance out cash inflows (premiums + investment income) with cash outlays (medical payments, administration costs and graft). The assumption is that properly managed the insurance company can anticipate the aggregate health care costs and match this up with the premium charged.

The insurance method costs a healthy individual more than if they just paid for the health care. While this seems like an argument against the insurance method it doesn’t take into account the probabilities that an individual may not be healthy. As an individual you don’t always know in advance your health care needs, medical insurance allows one to spread this unknown cost out over time and across a large group of people.

The real issues which need to be addressed are not if we should have national health care, but how it should be administrated and paid for. If we delegate this to the private sector it may be necessary and useful to institute some sort of federal regulation similar to the old utilities commission.

12/19/2007 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

...The real issues which need to be addressed are not if we should have national health care, but how it should be administrated and paid for. If we delegate this to the private sector it may be necessary and useful to institute some sort of federal regulation similar to the old utilities commission.

That all makes sense to me, George. As long as the private sector is administrating and not trying to make a profit from the system, there's a chance that it could work. Unlike the current setup, their success could conceivably be measured by the health of the public, as opposed to the size of their corporate profits.

12/19/2007 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

your constant refrain to anyone who met you in the middle, ignoring their other concerns, that they should thusly vote for Paul

Yeah, yeah, I know the drill: I have a firm position, you have a constant refrain, he/she/it repeats like a CD with ketchup on it.

From Andrew Sullivan to Franklin, it seems to me folks are supporting Paul's candidacy mostly because he the hope that the GOP can remain the party smart Conservatives and Libertarians can feel comfortable in.

I don't give a shit what the GOP does as a whole. Failing a Paul nomination I plan to vote against them. I said that already. Ed, I'm beginning to suspect that you can't refrain from attributing false motives.

Chris: No offense, man. When I said that the healthcare problem has its hooks in a lot of issues, one of those issues is free will. (Cue the Rush.) As a congenitally skinny person (which turns out to have some unfavorable health consequences as well) I don't doubt that you and I experience food in highly different and biologically based reasons. The problem is turning that into policy. Ed doesn't like that the poor are being psychologically coerced into buying things they don't have money for. What are we going to do about that? Regulate how businesses market to the poor? Regulate how the poor use credit? The whole point of the Constitution is that government is an extension of the peoples' natural liberty. If we're all just biological automatons we might as well scrap it and make the smartest guy we can find the king.

If we delegate this to the private sector it may be necessary and useful to institute some sort of federal regulation similar to the old utilities commission.

Very likely.

Paul/Prettylady '08!

12/19/2007 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

If we're all just biological automatons we might as well scrap it and make the smartest guy we can find the king.

That would be the exact opposite of what happened in the last 2 elections, but it probably did come about because of an automaton majority.

Paul/Prettylady '08!

Hey wait a minute, I'm voting for Pretty Lady for President! Tell the Republican to stay home...

12/19/2007 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Unlike the current setup, their success could conceivably be measured by the health of the public, as opposed to the size of their corporate profits.

Yes, yes, yes.

A much deeper issue here is how society deals with a post-industrial consumer economy. Marxist economics is essentially concerned with issues brought on and surrounding industrialization. While I think Marx was brilliant, his ideas are for the most part out of date and have been supplanted by Corporate Capitalism. Corporate Capitalism is the problem, it is focused on achieving profit and power for the corporation first and for the good of society only second. In this new century achieving what is good for society will have t come first, the world population has grown well past the point where rugged individualism can be a solution.

So going back to health care, the most advanced methods of tracking information will need to be implemented. We should judge results based upon the health of the public in all sectors of this social issue.

Medical providers should be rewarded for positive results not just for ‘procedures performed’ Medical providers should be rewarded for effective management of their responsibilities in delivering health care.

The drug manufacturers should be rewarded in the same way, for the effective treatment of diseases with their drugs. Drug maker bribery should be eliminated.

Health insurance providers should be required to insure everyone who needs medical insurance regardless of prior conditions. Insurance is effectivly about cost averaging by pooling.

A method of trading health risk (actually sickness risk) should be developed which could be used as a form of wellness arbitrage.

Health insurance providers should be required to demonstrate effective management of the delivery on their policies, administrative costs should be contained as a source of profit, not the denial of medical care.

In other words, health care should become a not for dollar profit process, which is designed to provide the best health care possible, to provide a positive return to society. Individuals which work in the health care industry should be paid for what they do, but we need to return to the black satchel days of medical care where you doctor really did care about you, where medicine was an honored profession

There is no reason that health care industry has to be run as a for profit business, we just assume that it has to be run like any other corporate for profit business because politicians are short sighted when looking into the future.

What I am suggesting will surely come to pass, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime because it requires such a radical rethinking of societal priorities.

12/19/2007 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ed, I'm beginning to suspect that you can't refrain from attributing false motives.

I can't refrain from attributing motives, it's true. Whether they are false or not is another matter. Motivation reading is how I interpret words and actions, always have, since childhood. It's served me extremely well thus far. You seem to have a highly developed allergy to it. I don't often find that to be the case. Most folks simply explain why I'm wrong if they feel I am, assuming goodwill on my part, which I like to think is fair on their part...or there's a wide swath of folks simply humoring me. Having lived as long as I have and never once encountered the response to it you offer, though, I'm not sure you're not the exception.

I wrote "it seems to me," which is universally understood to connote "it's merely my opinion." In that context, your objecting to my attributing of motive suggests motive is never a valid topic for discussion to you. I find that curious, especially on a blog.

Ed doesn't like that the poor are being psychologically coerced into buying things they don't have money for. What are we going to do about that? Regulate how businesses market to the poor? Regulate how the poor use credit?

Education will suffice. When Bush tells a shocked and grieving nation that they should "go shopping" in response to 9/11, someone, somewhere should note that "shopping" for shopping's sake is not a virtue, under any circumstances. We knew that once as a nation...there was a time when our values included providence and thrift. The amount of excess in this country is quite literally sickening. As Leonard explains in her animation only 1% of everything (everything!) Americans buy remains in their possession 6 months after they've purchased it. We dispose of 99% of everything we buy within 6 months. That cannot be good for our souls or the planet.

As for "how the poor use credit," the Fed announced a better idea just yesterday: regulate how bank can extend credit instead, and no one will have to worry how anyone else misuses it.

If we're all just biological automatons we might as well scrap it and make the smartest guy we can find the king.

For someone allergic to attributing motivations, you're sure not shy about attributing extreme conclusions to arguments.

Echoing my point about how Paul's laissez-faire policies can indeed hurt Americans was this nugget:

“Unfair and deceptive acts and practices hurt not just borrowers and their families,” said Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, “but entire communities, and, indeed, the economy as a whole.”

12/19/2007 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Dealing with the "consumer credit" (credit cards) problem is quite simple:

Mandate a maximum interest rate of 15% (or x points over the Libor rate) on credit cards. Trust me that will solve the problem, the banks will stop issuing credit cards so freely.

12/19/2007 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

...only 1% of everything (everything!) Americans buy remains in their possession 6 months after they've purchased it.

Either we're throwing away a lot of stuff, or we're spending most of our money on food and fuel.

12/19/2007 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

only 1% of everything (everything!) Americans buy remains in their possession 6 months after they've purchased it. We dispose of 99% of everything we buy within 6 months. That cannot be good for our souls or the planet.

This is a funny statistic, we must buy a lot of consumable items, food, fuel, and fun.

Once a society is able to provide for the basic needs of the populace what’s left? consumer discretionary items. It appears to me that what has occurred since the industrial revolution is that society is able to provide the basic requirements without fully employing the populace.

So we get the consumer society where we be buy stuff we don’t really need in order to keep others employed. The newly employed make this don’t-need stuff, create the desire for it (ads), advertise it, make it obsolete so we replace it, sell it, trash it and recycle it.

We need a new economic model which doesn’t require arbitrary consumption and which provides a method for simulating full employment.

12/19/2007 07:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

affirmative action, the environmental protection agency, federal student loans, the minimum wage, the natonal endowment for the arts, osha, the fdic.

12/19/2007 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The great thing about Libertarians is that they make artists look sensible and sane.

12/19/2007 10:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Whether they are false or not is another matter.

It's the only matter.

Motivation reading is how I interpret words and actions, always have, since childhood. It's served me extremely well thus far.

Argumentum ad antiquitam.

You seem to have a highly developed allergy to it.

Loaded characterization. I have an honest aversion, you have a highly developed allergy, he/she/it has an irrational intolerance.

I don't often find that to be the case. Most folks simply explain why I'm wrong if they feel I am, assuming goodwill on my part, which I like to think is fair on their part...or there's a wide swath of folks simply humoring me.

Argumentum ad numerum.

Having lived as long as I have and never once encountered the response to it you offer, though, I'm not sure you're not the exception.

'Exception that proves the rule' fallacy with non-anticipation fallacy.

I wrote "it seems to me," which is universally understood to connote "it's merely my opinion."

'Every schoolboy knows' fallacy with definitional retreat.

In that context, your objecting to my attributing of motive suggests motive is never a valid topic for discussion to you.

This isn't a fallacy. It's just false.

I find that curious, especially on a blog.

I find it curious that for all the times you've attributed motives to me, they've never included my intention to make the world a better, more sparkly place full of kittens and rainbows. They've all been various forms of partisanship and ill will. Of course, you could ask me about my motives, but I'm sure your version of them is more interesting.

12/20/2007 02:41:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

tedious

12/20/2007 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Of course, you could ask me about my motives, but I'm sure your version of them is more interesting.

In the context of a blog, with qualifiers indicating that something is my opinion, suggesting what I think your motive is, amounts to asking if I'm correct. You spend enough time on a blog to know that, but, (and here I go again!), you seem to have your heart set on changing the nature of the exchange here (usually only when you're being challenged on your opinion, mind you). The conversation-choking diagnosis of run-of-the-mill fallacies (indeed, pointing them out ad nauseum, to paraphrase Max Schulman, must be another fallacy) was amusing, the first few dozen times, but reveals a lack of acceptance on your part that this blog don't work like that.

By all means, dictate the rules on your blog...but here, the back and forth works well and doesn't need the deflective deconstructions. Oh, I know, it's your favorite decapitating weapon on the battlefield of reason, but George nailed why we're somewhat adverse to it here. As to why, you'll note that you're no longer on topic, which is a much bigger no-no IMHO.

I find it curious that for all the times you've attributed motives to me, they've never included my intention to make the world a better, more sparkly place full of kittens and rainbows.

I've assumed that it's widely understood. ;-)

12/20/2007 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
As Leonard explains in her animation only 1% of everything (everything!) Americans buy remains in their possession 6 months after they've purchased it. We dispose of 99% of everything we buy within 6 months.

I call bullshit. This sounds about as solid a statistic as the old "50 percent of all marriages end in divorce." Someone pulled that number out of their ass and didn't even wipe it off before publishing it. Guaranteed.

12/20/2007 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Guaranteed.

OK, I'll accept that you might be right, but you know what would convince me? Your providing a countering statistic or evidence that anything else Leonard states has been proven false.

12/20/2007 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Like I said, food, fuel and fun.

These are gone soon enough. Where I suspect there might be an error is in housing. Rent could be construed as disposable but house payments should not be.

Home ownershio runs between 64.5% and 70% and mortage payments would account for a large chunk of earned income, making the 1% number suspect.

12/20/2007 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I went back and looked up the exact quote. By "this system," Leonard means the "materials economy" (i.e., the extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal system) in the US. Here's the quote:

Guess what percentage of total materials flow through this system is still in product or use 6 months after their date of sale in North America?

50%? 20? No, 1%. 1.

In other words, 99% of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport, 99% of the stuff we run through this system, is trashed within 6 months.

How can we run a planet with that level of materials throughput?


Apologies for not representing it exactly.

The point remains, however, that the current way of doing things is not sustainable.

12/20/2007 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Gee Ed, this just sounds like a wrong number or a funny way of determining what "in product or use" means.

Take any building material, steel, wood, plaster, cement, glass, sure there is waste in the process of building something, but most of the materials end up in a structure which may stand for a century.

I read somewhere that the average life cycle for durable goods, machinery and stuff, is 7 years. It seems to me that this percentage number is being skewed to make some kind of point OR misrepresents the facts totally

12/20/2007 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It does seem an unlikely percentage, but I think the materials in a house/building are just the beginning of it. From the wrappers around the materials for delivery to the waste you describe, to the waste when the materials were first harvested and then produced into their usable format, to the consumption of fuel to move it all, the waste involved in marketing and distributing it, etc. etc. I can believe the number is accurate.

I've been looking for her source, but can't find it. I'll let you know if I do.

12/20/2007 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

you seem to have your heart set on changing the nature of the exchange here

Actually, I just figured out what the nature of the exchange here is: to start in the realm of dialogue, and as you begin hearing things you don't like, you ramp up the abusives, attributed motives, mischaracterizations, and logical fallacies. Finally you accuse anyone who calls you out on it of hijacking the thread. Nice bit of information to have, really, for future participation here.

The point remains, however, that the current way of doing things is not sustainable.

I wish I could remember the reference exactly, but I recall the prediction of a Victorian futurist that London, because of all the horse-drawn carriages, would in the next century be up to its neck in horse poop. We should absolutely be vigilant about our impact on our planet and such statistics can be inspiring (in a frightening sort of way), but one always has to wonder about how closely they correspond to the problem itself. I wish I was more numerate in this regard.

12/20/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Actually, I just figured out what the nature of the exchange here is: to start in the realm of dialogue, and as you begin hearing things you don't like, you ramp up the abusives, attributed motives, mischaracterizations, and logical fallacies. Finally you accuse anyone who calls you out on it of hijacking the thread. Nice bit of information to have, really, for future participation here.

Well, I certainly wouldn't categorize it that way, but if that's how you see it, you seem to have all the information you need to respond accordingly.

12/20/2007 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

...the prediction of a Victorian futurist that London, because of all the horse-drawn carriages, would in the next century be up to its neck in horse poop.

Seems like a pretty accurate prediction to me. Happened even worse here in the U.S. The Victorian futurist just got the cause wrong.

Have a great holiday everyone! I've enjoyed playing. See you all next year!

12/20/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

er...

I certainly wouldn't categorize it that way should be I certainly wouldn't characterize it that way

12/20/2007 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed. OK, I thought about it in the shower and...
One of the complaints about the new economy is that we don’t make things anymore. While this is only partially the case, it is true that the US no longer relies on manufacturing to generate jobs. The slack has been taken up by what is loosely called the service sector. Maybe this affects the statistics, since the service sector economies do not produce capital goods.

Regardless, I think it’s a red herring, that the intention is to make us guilty of becoming consumerist. As I mentioned before, the consumption of non-necessary goods is required to maintain full employment. The other sectors of the economy, food housing etc are sufficiently efficient that they no longer require a huge work force.

That all said, I think the real problem, not just in the US but world wide, is the radically uneven distribution of wealth. One percent of the worlds population owns 90% of the worlds wealth (this is from memory it may be higher than 90%). This is wrong.

I am not opposed to people being wealthy, the accumulation of wealth seems to be a trait some posses. I am concerned that this disparity has been getting larger and not smaller over the last decade.

This is the kind of condition which leads to political unrest. When we think of political unrest historically, we think of the past revolutions of the masses, worker revolutions etc. I would suggest that world terrorism is a manifestation of this unrest.

This country’s feeble solution is to spend a trillion dollars blowing things up and then pretending to rebuild what we broke. What if we spent a trillion dollars is some other positive way? Yes, US citizens would be on the hook for the bill, just as we will surely pay for the war. The difference is that such an expenditure might just push this economic imbalance a tad towards the center. The rich will be a little less rich but a lot of human suffering might be alleviated.

So, I’m an idealist, what can I say?

Happy Holidays everyone.

12/20/2007 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Regardless, I think it’s a red herring, that the intention is to make us guilty of becoming consumerist. As I mentioned before, the consumption of non-necessary goods is required to maintain full employment. The other sectors of the economy, food housing etc are sufficiently efficient that they no longer require a huge work force.

That might be well and true, except for the fact that we in the US, a mere 5% of the world's population, consume 30% of its resources. Once the rest of the world catches up to our consumption level (and why shouldn't they, if we don't have to feel guilty about it, neither should they), we'll need a few more worlds to sustain it.

Other than that, I agree with your assessments. We need more idealists right now, in my opinion. Mostly because the so-called practicalists are screwing things up royally.

12/20/2007 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Curiously the US has a GDP = 27% of the world GDP [link is Wiki Gdpeez]

The US GDP is 4x Japan's which is #2, and 5x China's. Certainly this will change in the future and I suspect the resource allocations will follow. I would note that GDP has nothing to do with population since Japan's #2. Over time I would want to see these numbers normalize towards the popopulation percentages, but this can happen only if wealth is also more fairly distributed.

12/20/2007 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Your providing a countering statistic or evidence that anything else Leonard states has been proven false.

I looked for Leonard's sources and didn't find any. I don't need to prove the negative (which is impossible anyway) -- she needs to back up her statistics.

The sources I did find that she cites are so hilariously, egregiously biased, I'm not sure I'd believe them if they told me the sky is blue.

...a mere 5% of the world's population, consume 30% of its resources.

Another unfounded statistic. You can't go by GDP because GDP is completely unhinged; being paid to knock a building down adds to the GDP. Or another fine example: One of the major exports of the United States is clothing. How can this be? Very simple: All those clothes you put into the recycle bins are sorted and packed up by for-profit companies and shipped off to be sold in Third World countries. I find it absolutely bizarre, ironic, and horrifying that we enslave people in places like Pakistan and China to make our clothes for us, then we wear them, and when we're done we sell them back to them at a profit. Capitalists are so fucking imaginative -- they're the real artists.

In any case, this clothing recycling is classed by the United States government as manufacturing. Nothing is actually manufactured, you understand, but it's classed as manufacturing anyway.

So even if there were official numbers to back up this insane statistic, I'm not sure it'd be accurate anyway. But I've yet to find any numbers at all to back this up regardless. This is another number pulled from some unknown ass and passed forward as truth so many times no one even knows where it came from.

12/20/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't need to prove the negative (which is impossible anyway) -- she needs to back up her statistics.

She's not here though.

The sources I did find that she cites are so hilariously, egregiously biased, I'm not sure I'd believe them if they told me the sky is blue....

Can you provide an example?


this is another number pulled from some unknown ass and passed forward as truth so many times no one even knows where it came from.

Dennis Hayes cited it back in 1993. That's the earliest citation I can find. It is repeated endlessly across the blogosphere and has been printed in papers as reputable as the Washington Post (there in an op-ed, it seems), and at percentages that range from 25 to 40.

I find it interesting, though, that if it's really such an off-base statistic that someone, somewhere hasn't done the math to counter it. Usually the pro capitalist factions are all over a statistic like this, debunking it. I'm not saying that makes it true, but first hand experience of living abroad for years at a time and traveling widely has shown me that no one throws away as much as Americans do. It's really quite staggering.

And if we're throwing away more than everyone else, it only stands to reason we're consuming more than everyone else.

12/20/2007 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Chris, I don’t know if you were responding to me with your remarks about the GDP.

I used a ratio of another country’s and the US GDP as a way of pointing out the relative size of the economies. Ratios eliminate the units: 2ft/1ft = twice as far and 2 miles/1 mile is also twice as far, the units get cancelled. So it matters not how the GDP’s are calculated as long as the calculations are the same for each country, something with I think it is reasonably true.

The US has the largest economy of any nation in the world (not counting the EU as a single economy) so the fact that we use 30% of the worlds resources should not be that startling.

You say, I find it absolutely bizarre, ironic, and horrifying that we enslave people in places like Pakistan and China to make our clothes for us...

Obviously I cannot defend exploitive labor practices anywhere in the world. However I do believe that the fact clothing intended for the US markets are made offshore is a move in the positive direction towards equalizing the disparity in wealth within the world population. It is unrealistic to apply our social standards to other countries which are just crawling out of poverty.

The irony of the situation is that if we truly desire to raise the standard of living in the lesser developed nations, then we, as individuals, have to be willing to pay more for the goods we buy from them. More ironic, we need to convince the corporations which import the goods that we are willing to pay more and that they (the corporations) should enforce the higher living standards or else not do business with the exporters. It sounds good on paper, but people still shop at WalMart.

In my opinion the grossly unequal distribution of wealth is possibly the number one social problem in the world. As long as there is no hope, or progress, then terrorism has proven to be an effective outlet for anger and hopelessness.

12/20/2007 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Here are some figures for US vs Global energy usage from 1998. Energy is one of the high volume items we consume, the numbers are inline with the 30% figure we are discussing.
 
U.S. --------- World --------- % U.S. Total
Oil -- million barrels/day
18.92 --------- 73.6 --------- 40 %
Natural Gas -- tcf/year
21.34 --------- 82.2 --------- 23 %
Coal billion -- tons/year
1.04 ----------- 5.01 ---------- 23 %
Source

12/20/2007 04:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Cheney's wife buys some contemporary art

12/20/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The US has the largest economy of any nation in the world (not counting the EU as a single economy) so the fact that we use 30% of the worlds resources should not be that startling.

It's not the use, as much as the waste, I find so startling. Actually, the use will become a big problem if other countries increase their consumption to our rate, as noted, but coupled with that will be, I suspect, a resistance to altering our ways when that time comes. By fundamentally changing certain practices now, like excessive packaging to name but one pet peeve, we can ease into that transition.

12/20/2007 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I won't argue that we Americans aren't wasteful. We are. I'm especially irritated by it this year for some reason, but it's been true for a long time. It's clear that we own more stuff than we used to -- my house is essentially unchanged from 1930, and there's just no place to put all our stuff (let alone plug it all in!).

But are we more wasteful than we used to be? Are we more wasteful than everyone else on the planet? Would we really need three planets to support everyone on Earth at the American level? These are things I doubt.

Again, it seems like common sense to say that Americans are laying waste to the planet, but then it seemed like common sense that cholera was caused by smelly air, too.

We're all way too quick to swallow these numbers.

She's not here though.

Let me rephrase: If anyone expects these statistics to be believed, they should be prepared to back them up.

Can you provide an example?

She cites Amory Lovins, who I kind of like, but let's face it, the guy's whole job -- whole very lucrative job -- is based on telling us we're wasteful. She also cites "The Consumer Society Reader" and the Worldwatch Institute. Might as well check with the American Enterprise Institute to see how the war in Iraq is going.

I find it interesting, though, that if it's really such an off-base statistic that someone, somewhere hasn't done the math to counter it. Usually the pro capitalist factions are all over a statistic like this, debunking it. I'm not saying that makes it true....

Actually, that's exactly what you are saying. The fact is, wildly ridiculous statistics are tossed around all the time -- 50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce comes to mind -- without anyone seriously debunking them.

So it matters not how the GDP’s are calculated as long as the calculations are the same for each country, something with I think it is reasonably true.

I don't think it is. GDPs are political numbers, not scientific ones.

George has something of a good point regarding energy use, but I'd point out that oil is used for a lot besides energy; and coal and natural gas are something the U.S. has a lot of, so of course we'd use those. Still, it's the closest thing to a hard number anyone's offered so far, and that makes the 30 percent number, for me, a little more realistic.

12/20/2007 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But are we more wasteful than we used to be?

Ask anyone who grew up during the depression? Or are you asking about a more recent time period? If so, which?

Are we more wasteful than everyone else on the planet?

Well, I'm a bit hesitant to suggest whose statistics you should believe, as you've dismissed a wide range of sources as being so unbelievable you'd doubt their claims the sky is blue, but the following statistic is listed on the website of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

Americans represent only 5 percent of the world's population, but produce over 50 percent of the world's trash.

Actually, that's exactly what you are saying.

This takes a bit of parsing, but what I'm not saying is that just because it hasn't been disproved that makes it true. I am saying I believe it, yes, because I trust the source. But they're not the same thing.

The fact is, wildly ridiculous statistics are tossed around all the time -- 50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce comes to mind -- without anyone seriously debunking them.

The fact is that none of the statistics cited by Leonard have been proven "wildly ridiculous" by anyone that I can see. And the folks who disagree with the method for calculating divorce rates that result in claims of 50% still admit that through their calculations it's about 41%, which is not what I'd consider a wildly ridiculous difference or any indication that there isn't still cause for concern.

Indeed, in most of the instances here where you're claiming someone has pulled some number out of their ass, you're implying the resulting plausible deniability means that the conclusions based on stats are offered are false.

Often plausible deniability is employed to suggest that "there's nothing to see here, folks, return to your normal lives." Even when the best one can say about the critics of certain statistics claims is that perhaps they've demonstrated that if you count a different way there's a few percentage points difference in the results.

Long story short: divorce in the US is unacceptably high even if it's as low as 41% and how much we waste is unacceptably high. Bickering over percentage points is a distraction from the issue.

12/21/2007 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Regardless of what you think of the idea of a GDP, political or not, it is one way of representing the economic production of a country. To state that it is a political number doesn’t give much credit to the students of economics and the researchers who study and use it as a an economic metric in their work. If it was patently false or skewed beyond value it would be discarded.

Again, my use of it to calculate a ratio, eliminates any internal distortions of the GDP calculations, it’s basic math.

I agree with Ed’s perception that we generate too much waste. I wonder if this is not something which may occur early in an evolving economic cycle (consumerism) and which might taper off as the cycle progresses.

If this seems like a weird thought, consider the advent of the industrial age in the US and the rampant pollution and economic exploitation in the last century. It was only later that ‘the environment’ became an issue with significant social support to change business practices. Yes, this is not complete but at least it has started.

By contrast, China is about where the US was in 1920. The industrialization of China is occurring at a such a rapid pace they are ignoring the environmental perils and social exploitation. Even in China this is starting to change, again slowly.

I heard that China will close all the polluting factories down three months before the Olympics in order to clear the air, internal political reaction to that should be interesting.

12/21/2007 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Ask anyone who grew up during the depression? Or are you asking about a more recent time period? If so, which?

My point in questioning statistics like Annie Leonard's is to highlight that they invariably hark back to some previous time when things were better. Our "happiness declined" and such. We are "more wasteful" now than we used to be. I ask: Are we really? Again, the answer seems self-evident, if you're inclined to buy into the American Guilt Industry -- a wonderful world where a phrase like "We dispose of 99% of everything we buy within 6 months" is believable.

But it's not as if there wasn't an enormous amount of waste back in the Great Depression, either. Anyone remember the Dust Bowl?

Go back farther and there are all kinds of stories of waste. London's going to fill up with horse manure! The world's reached Peak Whale Oil!

I am saying I believe it, yes, because I trust the source.

That's not what you said. You said if it was a false statistic, it would've been debunked by now. Which is like the economist claiming there couldn't be a five dollar bill on the ground, because if there were, someone would've picked it up already.

The fact is that none of the statistics cited by Leonard have been proven "wildly ridiculous" by anyone that I can see.

They haven't been proven as accurate, either. So we should just assume they're true until someone disproves them? Is that how we're running science these days? If I say there's an undersea mountain of chocolate mousse at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, everyone should believe me until someone goes and checks? More importantly, we should all revise our ways of looking at the world to take that big-ass pile of cocoa into account until its existence has been disproved?

...still admit that through their calculations it's about 41%...

Did you even read that article? Because it clearly says "the rate has never exceeded about 41 percent". In other words, it's not even that high for most groups.

Long story short: divorce in the US is unacceptably high even if it's as low as 41% and how much we waste is unacceptably high. Bickering over percentage points is a distraction from the issue.

No, it's not a distraction at all. It's the whole point. Because, first, it's not a few percentage points. And second, because attempting to solve a problem on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate data is completely stupid. If you're not even sure that there is a problem, because you've got lousy data, anything you attempt could make the problem worse, or have unintended side effects.

For example, if Americans drastically curb their consumption -- I'm making this up, by the way -- what happens to all the people in, say, China or Pakistan whose job involves feeding that stream? Or another example: Cutting down live trees for Christmas every year might seem insanely wasteful. But if everyone buys a fake tree next year, what will the owners of Christmas tree farms do to make their land profitable again? Pave them and put up Wal-Marts? Start growing opium poppies? Is whatever they do guaranteed to be better and less wasteful than growing disposable Christmas trees?

Americans, by the way, have a long and glorious history of connecting the dots in an insane way and then going off and doing something stupid with the results.

George sez:
To state that it is a political number doesn’t give much credit to the students of economics and the researchers who study and use it as a an economic metric in their work. If it was patently false or skewed beyond value it would be discarded.

You have a lot more faith in economists than I do, then.

12/21/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You said if it was a false statistic, it would've been debunked by now.

Actually I was very careful not to say that. I said the fact that it hasn't been debunked contributes to my belief it is likely true. They are not the same thing.

Did you even read that article? Because it clearly says "the rate has never exceeded about 41 percent". In other words, it's not even that high for most groups.

OK, let's dig even deeper here, then:

The article claims:

"In fact, they say, studies find that the divorce rate in the United States has never reached one in every two marriages, and new research suggests that, with rates now declining, it probably never will."

You've noted that you're not too fond of basing actions on conclusions based on unknowable facts, and so unless this writer has a crystal ball and knows this perceived current decline is somehow permanent, we can dismiss his data and conclusions as well, no? And therefore, if there's no convincing evidence the divorce rate will continue to decline or shoot right back up to record highs, the fact that it may have somewhat recently does nothing to suggest we don't still have a national problem, no?

All of which demonstrates why the tendency to dismiss any data that's not 100% provable (as if any ever is) until what??? the evidence is overwhelming and it's too late to do anything? is something I seriously cannot understand.

And second, because attempting to solve a problem on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate data is completely stupid.

Is it better to wait for irrefutable proof, like, say, water covering the first four floors of every apartment block on the banks of the East River or not enough oil to heat Northeastern homes 24 hours a day in the Winter?

Insisting on complete data is merely another of the tools used to generate plausible deniability and never truly available while its subject is ongoing, so setting it as a prerequisite for public education (which is all we're talking about here, not any sort of draconian legislation) is the same as saying "let's keep our head in the sand and keep making money."

12/21/2007 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

And second, because attempting to solve a problem on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate data is completely stupid.

Hmm, I think that most business, political, and a good portion of personal decisions are made based upon incomplete and sometimes inaccurate data.

Individuals make decisions based upon what they expect for the future which is unknowable.

Businesses make decisions based upon statistical probabilities, "... it looks like business will be better next year, let's make more widgets... " The next year something different happens than what they expected...

Many political decisions are based upon expectations of some other countries behavior or the behavior of the constituency which is also unknowable.

We cannot know everything, nor can we know the future, but we act as if we can by making educated guesses. This strength of this particular cognitive trait is one characteristic which separates man from the other animals.

12/21/2007 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Insisting on complete data is merely another of the tools used to generate plausible deniability and never truly available while its subject is ongoing...

That this is true doesn't mean it isn't a valid concern. Franklin's had a fun time enumerating all your logical fallacies, so I'll refrain from looking this one up to put a name to it; but, basically, just because the Devil can quote Scripture for his purpose doesn't necessarily mean everyone who quotes Scripture is the Devil.

I don't insist on complete data -- although I admit I may have sounded that way when I picked on solving problems on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate data. Obviously truly complete and accurate data doesn't exist and if we waited for that we'd never do anything. What I'd like to base decisions on, though, is reasonably complete and fairly accurate data coupled with, as George says, educated guesses by qualified people.

One of the big problems with science these days -- science, politics, and the news -- is that our information sources have become so badly polluted it's hard to filter out the good from the bad. The proliferation of think tanks and "institutes" and lobbyist groups and their experts-for-hire has really made it difficult to get good numbers in which to base opinions.

I said the fact that it hasn't been debunked contributes to my belief it is likely true.

So you'd most likely believe in my undersea mountain of chocolate mousse? Because there's one of peppermint right next to it, too.

What I'm asking for here is some healthy skepticism. Before you believe something, ask yourself, "Am I likely to believe in this because it dovetails with my beliefs or because it's actually plausible?" Of course we all like to think we believe the things we do because they're plausible, but how about we step back a bit and realize we tend to believe in things for entirely irrational reasons? You've chosen to believe that Americans throw away 99 percent of the stuff they buy within six months. You could just as easily choose to believe something positive, such as 50 percent of all steel in North America is recycled. That's pretty impressive! Think of all the crap we no longer have to dig out of the ground!

12/21/2007 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

if everyone buys a fake tree next year, what will the owners of Christmas tree farms do to make their land profitable again?

A. Let the little buggers grow up into big trees then turn them into lumber to offset the spike in the demand for construction material after Katrina (house the children..;).

B: Grow soy or any other agriculture to be used in bio-diesiel production, to offset our dependence on foreign oil, (I doubt we would march into Canada to implement a regime change if the soy supply was unstable)cut our carbon foot print, and help stabilize home fuel cost (keep the children warm..;).

c: Grow any one of thousands of agricultural crops (feed the children ..;).

For example, if Americans drastically curb their consumption -- I'm making this up, by the way -- what happens to all the people in, say, China or Pakistan whose job involves feeding that stream??

In China, whatever they did that as a country that let them survive 4000 years, 3800 of which The US didn't exist. maybe if the children weren't busy making our clothes they could be playing videogames, that's a lot of potential Playstation 3 consumers. Or with the free time comment on blogs about what gluttons Americans are.

ditto for Pakistan, maybe throw in go to a mosque.

The question really is - What are we going to do without all the stuff? :(...

12/21/2007 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

...I'll refrain from looking this one up to put a name to it...

This one is a false conversion: ill-intentioned people may insist on complete data, so people who insist on complete data are ill-intentioned. Edward makes it sound more reasonable by using passive voice and leaving off the predicate, thereby poisoning the well, which you will drink from if you continue to insist on complete data and prove yourself ill-intentioned. The other one that Chris caught, "I said the fact that it hasn't been debunked contributes to my belief it is likely true," is a non-anticipation fallacy. Also, "Is it better to wait for irrefutable proof, like, say, water covering the first four floors of every apartment block on the banks of the East River...?" is good old slippery slope.

If no one has dibs on the undersea chocolate mousse mountain, I'd like that one, please.

12/21/2007 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ooh, non-anticipation fallacy -- I like that one. Easily three-quarters of the Chelsea art world is predicated on it.

12/21/2007 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Edward makes it sound more reasonable

Ahh.... That's so sweet!

Happy Holidays, y'all.

12/22/2007 11:22:00 AM  

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