Saturday, May 25, 2013
Education is powerful. To train a person to use that brain is powerful, when the training is real training in thinking, in how to look at a question properly, in how to search answers to it and also in how to live with the fact that there will always be ambiguity, always be uncertainty always be we-do-not-know.
I love real education (which doesn't necessarily happen in formal institutions of learning or only in them) and I see it as the medicine (sadly, a slow-acting) for much of what ails the social and political systems of this world. Real education doesn't just teach information and skills; it also teaches how to find information and how to learn skills, it teaches how to think about something very hard, very slippery, very controversial, and, if done properly, it teaches a certain kind of tolerance.
Conservatives, fundamentalists and extremists of some types fear and hate education, because of what education accomplishes.
Some believe that it brain-washes the youth. Brain-washing can be done in education, of course, but more often it is carried out in anti-education, in systems where you are not ever allowed to speak about the invisible elephants sitting on the living-room sofa, suffocating you with their weight. Real education only washes your brain in the same sense a car-wash makes your car all shiny and squeaky clean: It improves what is already there.
If education causes a person to change her or his basic values, then those values were not firmly attached in the first place, were unable to face the interrogation by facts and by other values, perhaps were truly not values at all but just stories others had deposited in our heads.
When I write about learning to live with ambiguity I mean ambiguity about facts, not about values. But proper education challenges the learner to dig deep, to find which values matter the most, how to figure out the hierarchy of the values and what to do when those values clash.
Should anyone else fear real education but the extremists? In a sense, but only in the sense that we might fear all that challenges us, that demands we stretch, grow larger, grow into what we were meant to be.
That was today's sermon for you. Enjoy the rest of the day!
Asked who his favorite female comics were Thursday at a Cannes Film Festival press conference, Jerry Lewis listed Cary Grant and Burt Reynolds. He then added: “I don’t have any.”
In 1998, Lewis famously said that watching women do comedy “sets me back a bit” and that he has trouble with the notion of would-be mothers as comedians.
Asked Thursday if he had changed his mind at all because of performers like Melissa McCarthy and Sarah Silverman, the 87-year-old Lewis said of women performing broad comedy: “I can’t see women doing that. It bothers me.”
“I cannot sit and watch a lady diminish her qualities to the lowest common denominator,” he said. “I just can’t do that.”
Roman Polanski says the birth control pill has had a "masculinizing" effect on women and that the leveling of the sexes is "idiotic"
The director made the comments Saturday at the Cannes Film Festival, where he came to premiere "Venus in Fur," a film adapted from the David Ives play which stars Polanski's wife and toys with the subject of gender.
Polanski said the pill has "changed the place of women in our times" while talking to reporters. He further lamented that "offering flowers to a lady" has become "indecent."
You might not suppose Roman Polanski and the 87-year-old Jerry Lewis had a great deal in common, but today the director followed Lewis' suggestion that broad comedy is inappropriate for women actors by complaining that aiming for female equality is "a great pity".
Cardinal of Cologne Joachim Meisner:
told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper this week that he wanted to see German women having more babies rather than leaving the home to develop careers and earn money.
He said all-day schools and child care were not a problem for him, but suggested, "It would be better for society to create a climate where women had more children. That means promoting the high value of the family with mother and father for the children. Of course the material security of the wife, for her later pension too, must be secured."
He said he had experienced what he called a one-sided tragedy growing up in communist East Germany - where he said women who stayed at home to look after children were told they were demented. He said child care was invented to free up women for the workforce.
When it was suggested to him that women wanted to experience careers and develop themselves at the workplace, Meisner said, "Not all" and criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy of encouraging young foreign workers to come to Germany.
What all three quotes share is the advanced age of the men who make them and probably also their belief that publicizing their views is right and proper. I also suspect that most people find them asshats for making those comments, because none of them cares about women at all, except as mirrors of their own magnificence and as tools to make the society the way they wish to see it be.
Friday, May 24, 2013
Read the list of the journalists who met with Obama. It's an interesting list on its own right. For instance, one might ask how many on the list have predicted stuff correctly in the past. But it's also interesting in the light of those who argue that us feminazis are ruling the earth and so on.
What that "it" is are government budget cuts:
The federal budget sequester may be dampening a rise in economic optimism: Nearly four in 10 Americans now say sequestration has hurt them personally, up substantially since it began in March – and they’re far less sanguine than others about the economy’s prospects overall.
Thirty-seven percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’ve been negatively impacted by the budget cuts, up from 25 percent in March. As previously, about half of those affected say the harm has been “major.”
Perhaps surprisingly, given the partisan nature of the debate, views of the cuts don’t divide sharply along party lines. Majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike oppose the cuts – 59 and 54 percent, respectively – as do a similar 58 percent of independents.
One reason: Republicans are 14 points more apt than Democrats to say they’ve been harmed by the sequester. And among Republicans who’ve been hurt by the cuts, 68 percent disapprove of them. Among those unhurt, disapproval drops to 42 percent.
Ideology has an effect: Forty-seven percent of “very” conservative Americans approve of the cuts, as do 42 percent of those who call themselves “somewhat” conservative. It’s 36 percent among moderates and 24 percent among liberals. But again, impacts of the cuts are a bigger factor in views on the issue. Among conservatives hurt by the cuts, 65 percent disapprove of them; among those unhurt, just 34 percent disapprove.
Similarly, 66 percent of Tea Party supporters who’ve been damaged by the cuts disapprove, vs. 44 percent of those who report no personal impact.
Bolds are mine.
Many years ago I read a political science study which argued that people who want government spending cuts do understand what they are voting for. The background to the study was the possibility that voters with those views somehow might think that government can be cut back without any negative effects on themselves. I believed that many people don't expect to be negatively affected by such cuts, even though they will be, and that made the study interesting to me.
I haven't kept up with the field. Perhaps other studies had different findings. But I still suspect that some voters may not think their decisions through in the longer-term sense, that they don't think of the street outside the house as something that is maintained through taxes, for example. The street, after all, just is there and probably has "always" been there, and in any case isn't the government just frittering away our heard-earned money?
Waste obviously happens in the government. But it would be naive to assume that the cuts would be just some kind of waste with no negative effects anywhere.
This may be far too boring. But I'd really like to know if the drown-the-government-in-a-bathtub people truly want to live in a country with no public infrastructure or other services we really take for granted in the US.
Perhaps not the best possible title? Never mind, it's Friday, Friday.
Some interesting stuff from Gallup:
Forty-one percent of Americans now characterize their economic views as "conservative," or "very conservative," the lowest since President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and on par with where views were in May 2008. This year's downtick in the percentage of Americans identifying as economically conservative has been accompanied by an uptick in the percentage identifying as economically moderate -- now 37% of Americans, up from 32% last year.
While economic liberalism remains stagnant, the percentage of Americans describing their social views as "liberal" or "very liberal" has achieved a new peak of 30% -- in line with Gallup's recent finding that Americans are more accepting on a number of moral issues. Thirty-five percent of Americans say they are conservative or very conservative on social issues and 32% self-identify as socially moderate.
I'm not that happy with the increasing confusion between social conservatism and "moral issues". The two are not the same, and I would like these surveys to ask about support of equal rights for women and men, for instance. I want to know what social conservatives think about that, and if they disagree about the goal of gender equality, I will call them immoral.
But these news are good news, because the acknowledged American political spectrum has in recent years stretched from Nice Polite Conservatives (exemplified by the NPR) to foaming-at-the-mouf rabid extremist conservatives. That's not terribly representative of either the real views in the American society or the actual spectrum of political thought.
The best illustration of the definitional confusion is the fact that some wingnuts call Obama a communist or a sympathizer of militant Islamists. That's pretty hilarious.
Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R):
Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R) on Thursday told a woman that she wrong to have an abortion after it was discovered late during her pregnancy that her fetus had no brain function.
At a House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice hearing to push for a 20-week abortion ban, Christy Zink testified that the bill would have required her “to carry to term and give birth to a baby whom the doctors concurred had no chance of a life and would have experienced near-constant pain.”
“Being there in a neonatal ICU, I did see that there was one child there that was missing parts including a spine,” Gohmert said, recalling the birth of his daughter. “And the parents ended up, when it was clear that there was no brain activity whatsoever, there was decisions that they had to make at that point.”
“Ms. Zink, having my great sympathy and empathy both, I still come back wondering, shouldn’t we wait, like that couple did, and see if the child can survive before we decide to rip him apart?” he asked. “So, these are ethical issues, they’re moral issues, they’re difficult issues, and the parents should certainly be consulted.”
“But it just seems like, it’s a more educated decision if the child is in front of you to make those decisions.”
There is a reason why I call the so-called pro-lifers forced-birthers: That is what some of their arguments boil down to: Women should give birth, in essentially all cases. What happens to the child after birth is of no real concern to these folks.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Gender reversals, that is*. Now there's a new Tumblr focusing on that:
A new Tumblr aims to expose how gender roles are upheld in the news—simply by putting them through a simple rewrite. Flip the News takes articles and changes subjects’ names, gender, or race to make readers more cognizant of potential unbalance.
That's great news!
*For a few examples, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,
here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
You may have read my earlier take on it. If not, do read it, because it matters for understanding the newest stage of the saga: Michael Kinsley's response to various critics.
Let's face it. He doesn't talk to me there because I'm a very tiny (though divine) blogger. So it may be understandable that his answer isn't about any of the invisible and inaudible points I made, such as the obvious one: The correct policy depends on what works. Or the other pretty obvious one: Generalized demands of suffering do not change the moral incentives of those who, in fact, caused the suffering and have the power of causing more suffering in the future, and generalized suffering of that kind also punishes the innocent.
But whatever, as wiser people in the media say. We talk about what we talk about. And Kinsley talks about the bad press his earlier piece received:
The other article was the latest chapter in my ongoing discussion with Paul Krugman and his disciples about the economy and what we now call “austerity.” I hoped this article would be regarded as a useful contribution to the debate, but I had no great aspirations for it beyond that. It’s this one, though, that has produced one of those flattering but scary web hailstorms. People I don’t know are calling me things I don’t know either.
There are two possible explanations. First, it might be that I am not just wrong (in saying that the national debt remains a serious problem and we’d be well advised to worry about it) but just so spectacularly and obviously wrong that there is no point in further discussion. Or second, to bring up the national debt at all in such discussions has become politically incorrect. To disagree is not just wrong but offensive. Such views do exist. Racism for example. I just didn’t realize that the national debt was one of them.
I assume from the way he writes that Krugman is out there most Sunday mornings painting poor people’s houses
I’ve always been dubious of people claiming to be victims of political correctness. They generally exaggerate, and I don’t care for the self-congratulatory element. It requires no courage to say almost anything in this country. But the reaction to my piece—or really to my side of the whole debate—has that “how dare you” element that is associated with political correctness. Never mind the argument—this is something you just don’t say. Instead, let’s go straight to the impugning of motives
That ancient term "political correctness" was always misused, by the way. What was (and is) politically correct are the opinions which the political powers-that-be support. But the term wasn't used thataway. It was used to imply stuff such as that the oppressors are oppressed by not being allowed to oppress without push-back and so on.
Well, that's an extreme example. Others are similar, however, with the implication that vast masses of powerful people stop the real truth-tellers in the guise of political correctness. And of course there were silly statements from the other side, too. But mostly seeing a sentence begin with "this is not politically correct but" gave me warning to put my hazmat suit on in case I was next told that people like me are stupid, fickle, lazy, greedy and intended only for sexual use.
This history may make me biased about the way Kinsley uses the term. I thought his initial piece suffered from any lack of economic proof that austerity is at least as likely to lead to a quicker end of a recession than alternative policies. Without such a proof discussing the importance of generalized suffering is pointless.
Both Kinsley's earlier post and this new post do ask questions about the federal debt. He wants to know how Krugman would pay for it if not through austerity politics during a recession.
I cannot speak for Krugman, but the usual economic thinking is to pay off debt during good times. That's when the government can more easily afford it and that's also the time when tax revenues naturally rise, given rising unemployment and incomes.
And of course the government must use federal debt properly. To use personal life analogies (with great care, as governments do not have the same tasks as families do), it's not a good idea to permanently live above your means by using credit cards without ever paying the debts off. Anyone who does that should try to increase income and/or cut expenses.
But it's also not a good idea to decide to pay off all credit card debts during an exceptionally bad year when the breadwinners in the family lose their jobs or get very sick. This is the case whether those debts are justifiable by the family's long-term budget or not.
This campaign, now in its third day, contacts advertisers in an attempt to change Facebook policies about misogyny:
Or put in another way, Facebook's rules about what gets you banned or censored are oddly tilted:
The trolls will always be with us, but corporations have an obligation to set the tone. Free speech isn’t hate speech. Free speech doesn’t look like a group called Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs. And a hostile, violent environment makes the concept of a place built around the word “friend” just a cruel, stupid joke. Or, as one of the letter’s commenters noted Tuesday, “On Facebook, hating a religious or ethnic minority gets you banned, but hating half of humanity gets you Likes.”
If you wish to join in the campaign, you can thank advertisers who have reacted positively here and ask other advertisers to reconsider how they spend their funds here.
Women's rights are not at all secure:
Afghan lawmakers on Saturday rejected the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, which would criminalize child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence and the exchange of girls and women to settle arguments, among other things. The law would also make it illegal for women to face criminal charges for adultery for being raped. (You heard that right.)
Conservative religious lawmakers argue that the law encourages “disobedience,” and says the law goes against Islamic principles (the familiar blame-God-for-the-freedoms-we-take-from-you argument). Mandavi Abdul Rahmani, one of the conservative lawmakers who opposes the law, said the Koran makes it clear that a man can beat his wife if she does not obey him, as long as she isn’t permanently harmed. (Hey, bruises go away! Even broken bones heal!) He added, “Adultery itself is a crime in Islam, whether it is by force or not.”
Human Rights Watch is urging international donors to pressure Afghanistan’s government to improve women’s rights in the country. The critical date for activists is April 2014, when Afghanistan elects a new president who will have the power to eliminate the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women.
More on this all here.
*The meanwhile-series is about bad stuff happening to women because of governments, cultures or religions, with not much commenting by me.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Content warning: Rape
This story about cicada courting rituals is fun on its own, but it has a deeper importance for the study of what might be wrong in the academia and its research incentives.
We may not know all the facts about why these cicada researchers are still adjuncts. But it's certainly true that the increasingly common "profit" model of universities rewards research with big overhead payments for the institution.
A horrible story about the consequences of cutting back on funding for the police:
Last August, a woman in Josephine County called 911 and pleaded with dispatchers to send police — “my ex-boyfriend is trying to break into my house. I’m not letting him in but he’s like, tried to break down the door and he’s tried to break into one of the windows.” The woman had good reason to be afraid of this man, as she told the dispatcher on the other side of the phone, this same abusive ex had put her in the hospital just a few weeks before. But the dispatcher has no one to send. Because the local sheriff’s department recently lost millions in federal funds, it laid off 23 of its 29 deputies and limited their availability to eight hours on Mondays through Fridays. The woman’s call to 911 took place on a Saturday.
With no deputies available, the 911 dispatcher transferred the woman to the state police — but they would not come rescue the woman either. In the words of the state police dispatcher, “I don’t have anybody to send out there. You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away? Do you know if he’s intoxicated or anything?”
Eventually, the ex-boyfriend, a man named Michael Bellah, pried open the woman’s front door. Choked her. And raped her. After he was caught, he plead guilty to kidnapping, assault, and sex abuse.
But despite these dire circumstances, yesterday Josephine County voted 51 to 49 percent against a public safety levy for more law enforcement. The levy would have raised county property taxes from 59 cents per $1,000 of property value, the lowest in Oregon, to $1.48 for the next three years. It rejected a similar property tax levy increasing the rate to $1.99 per $1,000 shortly before the initial cuts 57 to 43 percent.Josephine County might be a fiscally conservative place. But I thought fiscal conservatives still fund the police. This looks more like an obstinate belief that if the locals do nothing someone else will open a wallet.
Finally, Rush Limbaugh, slowly paddling his boat towards historical oblivion, has an interesting rant about the perfidy that is Liberals. If it is worth listening (not quite sure), it is as a pattern of how a group is made into "the other" (and yes, the other side does it, too), but mostly for the way he sees powerful women as frightening, permanently filled with rage, always wanting more. That bit begins at about 2:52 in the audio. And yes, he turns Lois Lerner into a sexual character.
That was a big thing around the time I became a goddess and took up this blogging bidness. Opinions varied, but I think us feminazis were blamed for being humorless about the whole thing, for pointing out that the pictures on the net were forever and that the blame assigned to such parties was not meted out equally to all. Though I don't think I wrote much about it. The Blogger doesn't let me search for posts before 2008 so I could be wrong.
In any case, the man who created the phenomenon was found guilty of falsely imprisoning women a few weeks ago. Sic transit gloria mundi.
These are supposed to be common: Dreams in which you float in the air like a feather. But I never had one before.
Here's the dream, in summary: I was comfortably reclining on my back about five feet up in the air, somewhere inside a very large and noisy railway station. Suddenly I noticed that people were looking at me funny, so I sat up, grabbed some pretend oars and started rowing, to look more natural.
This blog has really gone downhill!
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
I sent thank you letters to all who donated money for chocolate and other blogging expenses. This is for those whose e-mail addresses failed: Thank you!
In other news, I have now polished all my stainless steel cutlery with baking soda to avoid working on that dratted book chapter. Next project: Toothpicks to clean all the crevices in the stove and toaster and coffee-maker!
An interesting bit of news about the Apple company:
Senate investigators accuse Apple of wiring together a complicated system to shield billions of dollars in international profits from both U.S. and foreign tax collectors.
A report released ahead of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s inaugural Capitol Hill appearance Tuesday alleges the tech giant took advantage of numerous U.S. tax loopholes and avoided U.S. taxes on $44 billion in offshore, taxable income between 2009 and 2012 — a characterization Apple flatly rejects.
You can help through the American Red Cross. For other possibilities, check here.
For stories about the bravery of teachers, the scorned group in today's fashion, go here and here.
The Oklahoma Republican Senators:
Oklahoma’s two Republican senators are pledging any assistance needed for areas devastated by the tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on Monday, but they’re maintaining their conservative views on federal spending.The offsets are an interesting argument. What should be cut to offset federal tornado help? Subsidies to the oil industry? Military spending? Care of the poor? Care of the elderly?
Sen. James M. Inhofe is warning against a supplemental spending bill that balloons with money to assist other areas. Asked by MSNBC about his opposition to the aid package for recovery from Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast, he called the situation in Moore “totally different” because of extraneous provisions.
“They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They were getting things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C., everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place,” Inhofe said. “That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”
In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Tom Coburn said he had already spoken with the top Homeland Security official about the need for aid.
“I spoke with Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano last night about FEMA’s response. We still don’t know the scope of devastation and won’t for some time. But, as the ranking member of [the] Senate committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay,” Coburn said.
Coburn’s statement Tuesday followed comments Monday first reported by CQ Roll Call that emergency supplemental money for tornado recovery would need offsets, maintaining his long-held view on that issue.
Once we go that offset route, different groups in the society are in some sense asked to pay for the disaster relief, and the identity and income and health and the ability to pay of those groups does matter.
Monday, May 20, 2013
For those of you who have been made despondent by being told too often that wimminz are meant for the kitchen and the bedroom:
The first Saudi woman has climbed Mount Everest. Whether climbing it is a good idea, from other points of view, should be set aside to celebrate Raha Moharrak's achievement. She climbed more mountains than one.
And this from the annals of no-girl-can-do-science:
An 18-year-old science student has made an astonishing breakthrough that will enable mobile phones and other batteries to be charged within seconds rather than the hours it takes today’s devices to power back up.Khare tied for the second place in the competition.
Saratoga, Calif. resident Eesha Khare made the breakthrough by creating a small supercapacitor that can fit inside a cell phone battery and enable ultra-fast electricity transfer and storage, delivering a full charge in 20-30 seconds instead of several hours.
The nano-tech device Khare created can supposedly withstand up to 100,000 charges, a 100-fold increase over current technology, and it’s flexible enough to be used in clothing or displays on any non-flat surface.
Yes, I know it is long even though it is well-written. But it is important reading: A case-study of the reasons why the concentration of all media in just a few diamond-ringed paws is a Disastrous Thing For Democracy.
That would be true even if the paws had callouses from ditch-digging and irrespective of the color or gender of the owner of those paws. Democracy has certain basic requirements for it to go on breathing and having all information filtered by one viewpoint means turning off its oxygen supply.
Yet this is the trend I see in all media: The very rich individuals, a handful of them, are buying it all up and that's who will give us masses most of the information, pretty soon. The Koch brothers are contemplating buying up a large number of newspapers, right now. If the deal goes through, those newspapers will not criticize the Koch brothers or perhaps even their values.
The political games about the media and its concentration are weird stuff: The Republicans don't want the government to subsidize any media, because once that is removed only the moneyed ones will own the media outlets. And what those outlets will cover tends to take the viewpoint of their owners.
The weirdness in that is naturally the support of millions of not-wealthy people for those viewpoints. My guess is that the support is based on short-sightedness (get glasses!), not realizing how news are selected and covered, or perhaps the need for only our daily circuses: sports, naked women and celebrity news.
That we could get the Soviet-style Pravda and Izvestia not because of the government but because of the billionaires is something that either doesn't occur to those supporters or something they don't think matters in their own lives.
But accurate information matters. It matters in deciding whether a country should go to war, it matters in how many victims cigarette industry manages to produce, it matters in deciding whether to import products from China or from India or from Pakistan or from some other country. Yet those with power and money have certain incentives not to give the rest of us accurate information.
And so does almost every individual. That's why we need a real marketplace of ideas! I bet you never thought I'd use that wingnut term! But I mean something different by it.
A functioning marketplace has many, many firms and many, many customers. The firms which wish to enter can borrow funds to do so, and the funding is available not just to a very select few but to all who otherwise have the necessary training and experience and know-how. This marketplace is not a totally chaotic one. It has some way of organizing to allow interested consumers to find the various sellers of information, and the market adheres to certain basic rules of honesty. Those rules of honesty are monitored.
To see what I mean by the honesty rules, think of an ideal farmers' market. The rules are that the products must be what they are advertised to be, that the scales are not fixed so as to cheat the consumers, that basic hygiene is followed, that there is a complaints procedure unhappy customers and sellers can use, and that some organization checks all that stuff out and makes sure all is going well.
Markets for information and opinions are trickier to monitor and what to include in the rules would certainly be debated. But under no conditions are we going to have a well-functioning marketplace for ideas if all the stalls at the idea-farmers' market are owned by the Koch brothers, for example.
Friday, May 17, 2013
From this article about why feminism is still needed:
Because it’s assumed that if you are nice to a girl, she owes you sex — therefore, if she turns you down, she’s a bitch who’s put you in the “friend zone.” Sorry, bro, women are not machines you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.
Here's a fascinating story for you: First the New York Times publishes an op-ed piece stating that economic austerity kills. Then Michael Kinsley writes a piece partly seeded by that but mostly aimed at Paul Krugman's arguments about austerity as a misplaced policy during economic depressions of the type we have been (or still are) experiencing.
What's fun about Kinsley's arguments is that they have nothing to do with economic theory debates about what works or what doesn't work in squashing depressions in the bud. Nothing.
Instead, Kinsley wants to talk about morality and sin and its just desserts:
Krugman sometimes writes as if, right or wrong, his view is the courageous one, held by folks willing to stand up to the plutocrats and their lackies. But his message to all classes is: party on. It’s your patriotic duty. How much courage does that take? The really tough message—once again, right or wrong—is the one the austerians have to deliver, which is that the party is over. And this leads to a question that Krugman finally addressed in a recent column: What’s in all this for the austerians? If Krugman is right that the results of austerity are harmful and potentially catastrophic, why should the elites who he says have the real power be pushing it so hard? No one on either side of this debate actually wants the economy to tank, surely. But before you can have an ulterior motive, you’ve got to have a motive. What is the austerians’ motive?
Krugman’s answer isn’t bad. He writes:
Some [powerful people] have a visceral sense that suffering is good, that we must pay a price for past sins (even if the sinners then and the sufferers now are very different groups of people). Some of them see the crisis as an opportunity to dismantle the social safety net. And just about everyone in the policy elite takes cues from a wealthy minority that isn’t actually feeling much pain.
There’s something to this, though not enough. There may be a Snidely Whiplash out there somewhere who is willing to take a recession if that’s what is required to rip apart the social safety net. But surely the Obama administration is not filled with people secretly trying to repeal the New Deal, although it’s the Obama administration whose policies Krugman finds so disturbing.
Krugman also is on to something when he talks about paying a price for past sins. I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. And future sufferers are not necessarily different people than the past and present sinners. That’s too easy. Sure let’s raise taxes on the rich. But that’s not going to solve the problem. The problem is the great, deluded middle class—subsidized by government and coddled by politicians. In other words, they are you and me. If you make less than $250,000 a year, Obama has assured us, you are officially entitled to feel put-upon and resentful. And to be immune from further imposition.
Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about “premature” fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.
Mmm. I love that! But the reason for my love is an awful one: It's so bad that it's good for me because now I can tear it apart. So I sin.
Let's begin that tearing-apart by noticing that mumbly-mouthed muzziness. It is the first alarm bell here: Everybody sins! Everybody deserves to be whipped! Nobody is at any special fault.
The sinners in Kinsley's morality tale are everyone and no-one, though he singles out the middle-classes as deluded, subsidized and coddled by the government. Perhaps there should be no middle classes in this country, if they are so very subsidized and coddled? Only the rich and then the vast hordes of the poor? But I digress.
So everybody sins. Yet the people who sinned particularly, in the sense of causing the system collapses we have observed, are not defined or named or discussed. The sin is a general one, hovering above all humans everywhere.
We have all lived beyond our means, we have all partied all night through and then slept through the productive part of the day and thus we all need to be punished. And because nothing and nobody is actually at fault here, everything and everybody must suffer! No specific punishments are needed for those who did more than just breathe during the relevant period of sinning. We are all miserable sinners and must suffer. Except for the top one percent.
That's what I mean by the mumbly-mouthed muzziness (probably not a real term but should be).
Kinsley's article is also unhelpful by asking us to relate to economics as if it was a religion (perhaps the other guys are right, perhaps not, but they believe fervently in their cause), rather than an imperfect research tool used to find out what works and what does not work. It is even more unhelpful in not being interested in the answer to that. For under any and all morality scenarios, putting suffering people through more austerity if it doesn't help at all is immoral. Right?
What's odd about much of the morality writing I go through is how bad it is, in the sense of not diving through the surface of some sort of inherited masochistic-flavored relief, of not asking what kind of morality it is we are talking about or what religious system defines the sins we discuss or whether intent matters at all here.
The common consequence of all that is to assign sinning to everybody but preferably to "others" and to argue that we are all belt-tightening equally if a poor person loses a job and health insurance and a rich person must postpone that new yacht. From that muzziness come false equalities and also false prescriptions, I believe.
The Echidne rules about economic crimes is first to try to prevent them. In the case of the financial and housing market crashes, find out why they happened and change the laws so that they cannot happen again. Give regulators of the markets new and sharp dentures (their teeth have all been pulled out) and give them real power to punish the criminals they find. Don't put the criminals back in the economic saddles as is happening.
In the case of Greece and other similar cases, make stupid gambling with countries much more difficult. If you find that one country exploits the EU by having certain individuals get all sorts of benefits (retiring at fifty without any health problems, say). throw the book at that country and stop the undesirable practices early.
The second rule is to find out the culprits and punish them. General self-flagellation appeals to some people, but economic systems work much better if a person contemplating an economic crime also contemplates the consequences of getting caught. That so much of the morality tale writing talks about our general sinfulness helps the real criminals and also makes similar crimes in the future much more likely to happen. Systems provide us with incentives. If the incentives are bad, bad outcomes are more likely.
I'm tempted to have a third rule about such crimes which would be to avoid that overall muzziness, not only because it's utterly useless but also because it can be used for any type of sin, to justify any sort of vileness, and also because it ignores the reality where some people have much more power to "sin" in economic terms and other people have very little power not to "sin" in those terms if pushed towards an immoral move by the more powerful. Think of the nineties games between those selling mortgages to uninformed buyers who didn't actually qualify but were told that they did by the sellers. The former knew the game, the latter did not, in many cases. The sins were not equal, but it is the latter who got punished.