Archive for the 'capitalism' Category

26
Jul
12

1600s France versus the U.S. today

In the 1600s, and predominantly under Louis XIV, the nobles hardly paid taxes. Because Louis was wary of angering them, taxes were levied on exactly the people who could least afford to pay. this is an example of how political power creates very oppressive results. In our society, we do not face injustice like that on a large scale, as a huge portion of taxes in the U.S. are paid by those who are wealthy. This is not surprising because our tax code is meant to be (loosely) progressive.

However, you still see many instances of how our legal regime benefits those who already have all the power. What I mean is that wealthy people can pay more to exploit loopholes in various tax requirements. GE pays very little taxes even though statutorily, they are supposed to owe a lot. Mitt Romney (not making a moral judgment on his behavior here) also pays taxes that are shockingly low for his earnings because it is worth his while to structure things carefully.

To give just one example, my dad is a lawyer and explained how he saved a client 65,000 dollars by having the money from a sale of one of his properties come in two payments, one December 31, and the other on January 2. This had the effect of spreading the income of this sale over two years. I’m happy this guy saved money, but beliefs about a “burden” that various citizens are bearing in terms of taxes are bound to be false as long as the system has series of possible exploitations that can be used. We will have an ENDEMIC prevalence of average middle class people paying taxes on their home equity, when savvier people know that there are ways to trade up homes at crucial times so that they start with fresh, untaxable equity on a new home (Texas has something like this for sure).

In a subdued way, America is still like 17th century France, and this says a lot about how political power operates over time.

03
Jul
12

The History of Western Civilization Through Social Media

The history of western civilization, as far as I can tell, is the substitution of institutional, coercive, control over people’s lives with diffused, softer, and “social” controls. First, the church, your lord, your husband, and the difficulty of human life ruled over you. Very few people had power to direct their lives each day as they saw fit, and the power that they had to direct others was stern and violent. Remember, legal courts are a comparatively new thing. If someone didn’t like what you did, it was likely that they would just kill you themselves or find someone with power that looked out for them and have them kill you.

Then the church lost its power and slowly but surely, over the course of roughly two hundred years, individuals won the right to practice the religion that they saw fit. But the freedom from excommunication and being burned at the stake by the church was replaced by legal requirements instituted by various governments, and then even those slowly died away as society finally realized the ability to. In a way, religion might be our collective sneak peek at what happens to ALL institutions and systems of value. First, they rule everything, then they are up to the state, then up to the economy, then up to the individual, and then they cease to matter altogether (as I believe will largely happen to religion, or will it have staying power? That would be interesting to see). One might say that a system of values starts its death the moment that those who believe in it cannot summarily kill those who do not.

The same thing happened with the economy. First, people owed their labor to their lord. In fact, there was slavery at the beginning of most societies, but the intermediate step was serfdom or vassalage. A huge class of people created food so that others might live. Then property became somewhat more democratized in that more people could own it, but land was still largely restricted to certain people and labor was still largely immobilized by the difficulty of travel and the power of nobles of all stripes. Also, taxes were set up to almost make sure that certain people could never participate in the economy. In France, the nobles were the ones who DIDN’T have to pay taxes for a long time, because they just didn’t want to and the king did not want to tangle with them. Today, everyone can have property to roughly the same degree. If you have the money and the skills, you can get land, cash, machines, information. Anything you want. If you have the cash. (Addendum: this trend is further backed up by a short look at the history of lending. The dispersion of capital into the economy has massively democratized access to $$)

Same thing happened with the state. At first, the state was nothing more than a group of people who had weapons or commanded the power of other people with weapons. Offending the laws of a place was a good way to die. Since that brutal starting point, the legal controls on the average person have loosened in a host of ways (though they still exist). For one thing, people can now elect their rulers. They play a role in who will rule them, to some degree. That is the legacy of the advance of democracy. Also, the state cannot do certain things. That’s never really true in practice, but there are much more barriers to outright discrimination, pogroms, and the like then in the past. That is the legacy of liberalism. Finally, breaking the law is almost never a ticket to death. There are courts, appeals courts, and finally prisons. There are many, many MORE laws because society has become so much more complex, but they do not carry the absolute and unbending character that they used to.

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In this post though, I want to focus on the economy at large. Here again, we are witnessing a substitution of one type of obvious power with a more subtle more dispersed power. The example I’m thinking of is social media and the internet. As the economy had evolved up until the 20th century, people were entitled to property of various kind by paying for it. The problem was that if one didn’t have money, one became poor. If you were poor before public transportation, you had to find a ride another way. If you were poor before food stamps and the like, you were hungry (soup kitchens being the exception).

But these days, a lot of things are eliminating that barrier by providing things for free. For example, news is now free, because sites provide them along with advertisements. Facebook is free, because they want you to give them all your personal information. Thousands of other services are provided not for a monetary cost (the old way of restricting people to goods), but by transacting over someone’s personal data.

This fits with western civilization thus far. Goods and services are made available to more and more people. Yay! Anyone can go to theatlantic.com and read pretty high quality writing about a range of interesting topics. Anyone can connect with friends and family via google voice, facebook, email, and on and on. The tradeoff though is made in terms of less understood and “softer” forms of restriction. Cynicism is the name for this and I predict it will grow as an extremely unhealthy force in our society.

In the old economy, if I wanted to buy steel, and you wanted to sell it to me, I knew why you wanted to sell it to me. You wanted my money. This was a type of honesty. As many have pointed out, it was also callous, since I didn’t care about you, but only your money. I maintain though that because everyone knew that money was the trade off, it created an activity and a respect similar to sports. If I played you in basketball, I know you wanted to win, but we both knew the purpose of our interaction. Same with negotiations and creating business. People know what they are getting into when they enter the marketplace. They expect to engage in economic competition (as I’ve argued elsewhere, the value of this competition is exactly the reason we need public education and wealth redistribution, so that this competition is meaningful). But now, when you go to get something, there is an element of fakery that breeds cynicism. Rather than posting a price that Facebook expects you to pay, it plays an ongoing game that most people do not KNOW ABOUT or PAY ATTENTION TO regarding what they will and will not do with your information. They want badly to do whatever they want, but they are bound to care about the community because they need the “community” to continue to extract the information that it needs. Thus there is a very amorphous dance that goes on about the service and what it entails rather than a price transaction which focuses the consumer on what they are buying. This type of transaction makes it very clear to the consumer what they are giving up.

The same things goes for news sites that make money through eyeballs. Rather than asking you to pay for what you read if you like it, there are now gadgets an procedures at every turn to keep your eyeballs on the site. Such things can be distractions, redirects, and prettier and prettier advertisements. But the point is simply to deluge you with advertisements. This is much less callous than simply asking a price, but it’s much more insulting. The purchase of things is becoming indirect. Rather than trying to get your money, facebook wants you to be willing to make it easier for someone ELSE to get your money.

27
Jun
12

Why did Europe become so powerful?

Niall Ferguson has written and spoken many times on what he believes is a central question that historians should help us answer: why did Europe become so awesome. I saw Ferguson speak, and he revels in the politically incorrect interpretations that can be teased out of what he considers to be a purely scholarly question.

He has really thought about the issue, and he notes that cynical explanations are not really that convincing. Yes, Europe made heavy use of slavery and exploitation, but it was hard to find an established political entity during the years of Europe’s rise that DIDN’T make use of those tools. Instead, Ferguson, thinks that western europe exploded in power because of the institutions that it developed, such as systems of property as well as legal codes enforced by judges.

Now that I’m reading through European history, I’m in a position to think more seriously about his claims. I’m barely scratching the surface, but one thing that stands out to me is the organization of European politics as a group. In the 1300s and 1400s Italy was divided into small city states, and this lead to an explosion of thinking about art, sociality, and politics. This trend continued when after around 1555, the germanic area of Europe was filled again with small, relatively internally cohesive, provinces, baronies, or whatever you want to call them. What this says to me is that an explanation of European growth might be due to the concentration of political bodies in a such a small area which forced innovation across a range of institutions as well as social development towards identities as citizens.

The trick in these sorts of debates is to find what is basic. Did Europe just strike upon institutions that helped shape its populace in certain ways (toward being patriotic, and relatively scientific, and capitalistic?). Or did social changes create people who wanted the revolutionary institutions that were later created. It’s very hard to know because the effects of “culture” or living in this society as opposed to that society is very poorly understood.

In my mind, there is something about competition that creates attitudes that are very useful for growing economically and militarily. Economists often talk about the effect of competition in how one creates goods, but I’m thinking more philosophically about competition in sports or just among individuals to ACHIEVE some goal (not necessarily just to make something). For me, competition is the cooperative production of excellence. Competition makes us consider ourselves critically (what can I do to be better?, why can’t I do what that person did?) while also forming a unique type of relationship with those we are competing with as well as those who are helping us compete. I think something like this may have been responsible for the strong national identities that were in place after 1648.

One thing I need to figure out is the best date or time period to say when Europe started outdistancing other regions in terms of economic growth and military power.

21
Jun
12

Cargo Cults

My dad mentioned to me the other day that he had read an article that had used the phrase “cargo cult” metaphorically, so he looked up and then after he told me about it, I looked it up too.

The short summary is really fascinating and should really be kept in mind by anyone who thinks about the nature of religions, society at large, the history of scientific explanation, and also consumer societies.

During WWII, the U.S. and Japan had to fly a lot of materiel to remote locations in the Pacific. It was very common for these two powers to have to set up a base of operations on these islands by building runways and then flying in jeeps, metal, and other machines. The cultures that were already existent on those island then interpreted these results, quite literally, as manna from heaven. They could not see the factories that built the planes and tanks and other machines and so saw them as just dropping out of the sky.

So, cults of worship grew up around appeasing the gods and trying to get them to drop more cargo (wikipedia says it well, as always). These cults involved the priests and religious figures building runways and worshipping by running around with guns at the ready (like soldiers) as well as wearing headphones (like aircraft communications officers). These groups never came to internalize the explanation that the planes were pieces of technology and that other technology exists elsewhere that made them.

In terms of religion, what separates from religions from cults (cargo or otherwise). Cargo cults show that religious practices are deep-seated human activities, but that they can be misguided and may not have a connection with the truth. Now, major religions may be true (not taking a stand on that), but if some of them turn out not to be, would they still, by virtue of their rich practices and historical influence, be anything other than cults? I tried to think of some answers, and one was that maybe true religions occupy themselves with the proper conduct of human beings vis a vis others that take other human beings as basically valuable, whereas cults do not. Suicide cults for example take human conduct to be important, only instrumentally, as a way to attract aliens or to get to another plane of existence (I don’t think that organized religions do the latter, but they could be accused of that if you’re cynical). Cargo cults take action to be important only insofar as it helps you GET THE CARGO. Christianity on the other hand, whatever else you want to say about it, does concern how one should act on the assumption that it matters, in itself, what kind of life you live. I have no idea if this categorization is sustainable, but I throw it out.

In terms of society, I think remote societies, far from our urban, individualistic, technological world, are fascinating insights into the basic building blocks of society writ large. Here’s an analogy. Cognitive psychologists have learned a lot about perception and brain processing from optical illusions. We learn about regular vision from looking at ways it can go haywire. The same thing goes for societies. However, be aware, I don’t think that, by and large, traditional societies are “haywire” societies, or that they are defective as societies. I do think though that it’s very hard to analyze “society” at large without becoming intimately familiar with societies that challenge the assumptions that one’s own society take for granted. For example, the west takes science for granted (or does it/ It’s actually very interesting to think about the ways in which science is ridiculed, sidelined or misunderstood) and so the idea that these peoples would or could not entertain the idea that planes transport things that were MADE elsewhere.

In terms of consumer societies, Marx thought that capitalism obscured the true source of all production: human labor. Goods appear almost as found objects, or as Manna from heaven, when in fact there is an elaborate social web of production and relations of control among various people. In that way, capitalism, according to Marx, is a gigantic cargo cult. However, other philosophers have thought that in fact Communism is a cargo cult, in that the USSR tried to imitate the prosperity of the U.S. by imitating things that are just the surface of the capitalist cornucopia. For example, the USSR tried to make a lot of steel, thinking that because the U.S. made a lot of steel, steel was key to prosperity. When in reality, it was the innovation behind the capitalistic system.

In terms of the way that science evolved, it’s also very interesting, because it shows how much human beings had to FIGHT to make science a reality. Why not just believe that fire is it’s own thing rather than the result of burning fuel of various type. Science taught us to mistrust our instincts about explanations for things and in that way DEMYSTIFIED the world by ridding it of magic. The cargo cult is just a dramatic example of that. We can construct a simple explanation for things landing in foreign countries even though there are people who leap to the belief that such objects come out of NOWHERE.

Just shockingly interesting.

24
Apr
11

Aliens and Abyss

James Cameron directed both of these movies, and they both start with “a,” but beyond that, it’s interesting to think of these movies as opposites.

You see, I just watched the Abyss all the way through (I had seen parts before) and they’re both exploring basically the same things from opposite sides of things.

Take Aliens. In this, movie, humanity sends marines, the most brute force method of offering social commentary on excessive militarism. Anyway, the tough guys show up with Ridley and they look around the colony where the aliens are running around. Of course, the military is “in the right” (whatever that means in a movie like this) and it would be good if they could destroy the aliens, which are a primal force. They are nature’s urge to destroy and procreate (see my post on Aliens here) brought into physical form and THEIR allegorical role is pretty clear too.

So you have militarism against nature’s darkest incarnation, but of course there is betrayal. The corporate executive wants to risk humanity’s livelihood for PROFIT. He wants to bring the aliens back to civilization and represents humanity’s potential to sabotage itself.

Then take Abyss. In abyss, the aliens are peaceful and live in harmony with nature. They live on earth rather than among the stars. They are intelligent rather than bestial. There are other opposites no doubt.

And the humans (at least most of them) don’t want to destroy the aliens but only to talk with them and learn from them. Here humanity is represented well. But does humanity have the potential to sabotage itself? Yes of course, and in this movie, it is the military that represents humanity’s flawed nature. It’s tendency to see enemies where there are none.

In Aliens the military is performing its righteous role as protector, and they are done in by someone who refuses to see the real risk that the aliens pose to civilization. In Abyss, the military sees the aliens as a threat when they are not. The urge to protect runs amok and creates danger and destruction where there is no need for violence.

There were a bunch of other similarities too, like the harsh environments, the use of thermonuclear bombs and strong women. I forgot a lot of the other stuff I noticed, but the lesson I got was basically that humanity is does itself in or tries to. The very institutions that it creates, capitalism for exchange the military for protection can just as easily be its undoing. And what is the nuclear bomb other than the ultimate expression of how our own technology can threaten us. And what is global warming other than a dramatization of how humans can ecologically suicide, and sometimes I think of racism or war as humanity socially self imploding; gobbling itself up.

And so, one thing I’ve been toying with lately is to think of humans as the self defeating animal. Aristotle thought we were the political animals, Kant and others thought we were the rational animal, some biologists think were are the tool using animals (wrong, monkeys use tools) or the language using animal (wrong again, prairie dogs have a sophisticated compositional language),and Marxists think we are the creating, laboring animal. All sorts of things are supposed to characterize our uniqueness in the natural order. If you follow this blog, you know I think its kind of useless to try and capture humanity’s essence in this way. Better to just leave the matter unsettled and let humankind always impress us with what it wants to be today. Despite my skepticism about “human nature” I’m finding it productive to understand human beings as the type of animal that can defeat itself by pursuing its goals.

Think of someone who tries really hard to be happy by thinking what will make them happy (I use this example all the time). Such a person defeats their chance at happiness necessarily by their intention to get it in everything they do. No other animal can defeat themselves in that way. Sure a lobster might trap himself further by struggling in a trap, but this is accidental. A lobster can never defeat its own flourishing by acting, and this is because it only one layer of consciousness, its immediate impulses to respond to stimuli. It cannot ruin one layer of consciousness by the intrusion of another. But since humans the ability to react immediately and seamlessly in tune with the environment, but also contrary to it through reflection, we can come into contact with ourselves. We can be weak willed and we can be self-defeating.

And most human problems I think arise from that very fact; the ability for us to conflict with ourselves, with our brothers and sisters and with our fellow humans. There’s something kind of Buddhist about this whole thing too — we can only live in harmony with each other when we learn to live in harmony with ourselves. But there’s nothing deep about that last part, every ideology since the beginning of human time has imagined that reconciliation with our nature.

*Also Abyss is SO much like Sphere or Armageddon (hostile environments, big stakes, futuristic means of transportation). Doesn’t leave one too impressed with Hollywood really.

23
Mar
11

A Breakthrough on Awkwardness

When it comes to awkwardness, I’ve heard it all (I’ve done it all too). So as I grow older and become more mature, I’ve become a little more guarded and jaded about the term “awkward.” People seem to use it a lot; way too much in fact. Everything now is awkward and it seems that for growing number of people, this is our default way of relating to people.

So I’ve been doing some thinking, and my thoughts were these: first, can I say anything new about awkwardness that helps this amorphous concept take on a new distinctiveness and with it, perhaps a new significance? Second, could any theory that I came up with explain the apparent EXPLOSION in the use of this term? In other words, I guarantee you that people living together in the 1100s, 1200s, 1600s, and 1800s didn’t have much  use for this term. Why now?

At long last, I think I have some answers, and I found them by going to get my haircut.

You see, I really like the haircutting job that my current “stylist” gives me. She is VERY quick, reasonably priced, and seems to do a good job. Then again, I’m comparing her work to when, until shockingly recently, I just shaved my hair to a uniform length with a razor when it got too long. NOT a hit with the ladies as you might imagine. Not even really a hit with myself when I looked in the mirror.

Anyway, the one problem with this hair person is that we are about as different as two people can be. We have nothing to say to each other. Not anything — and I consider myself a competent conversationalist. And true to form, I have been able to keep things going with her in the past. We talk a little bit about the weather, not too much, but sometimes about her kids, recent holidays.

The only problem is that to advance these conversations, I had to lie quite a bit. She would ask me why I was getting my haircut at 2:30 on a monday dressed in shorts, and to be honest, I was a little ashamed of the fact that I was a philosophy grad student and hence had no job and read books all day (today I would do things differently and would not be ashamed to admit that piece of information — call it maturity, or call “i just don’t care anymore,” whichever suits you). So, I made a vague story about how I get a lunch break from my job (which remained unspecified) which I use to get my hair cut. This has continued and now I have to keep making things up when I show up at odd times to get my haircut because I forgot my lie from last time. AND FRANKLY, I didn’t think this woman was really paying attention.

But today, everything came crashing down. I was a little tired, and had no energy to pull conversational teeth. So, things quickly lapsed, and that was when I realized that I understood awkwardness very well — it is the consciousness of futility. Here’s what I mean. I tried some topics I knew she wouldn’t care about. For example, I told her “there is a girl I really want to take sailing, so I’m looking forward to April, when the dock opens back up. I need to get back into practice.” I’m met with “O sailing?” followed by silence. Ok fine I thought. She then asked what I did on the weekend. I was filled with dread. I ran through my activities briefly, trying to think what would strike a chord. I said that I caught up on sleep and went to Chelsea (poorish, immigrant part of Boston) to work on a public health campaign that I’m a part of. “O.” And then this is where the insight really hit me, which is that after that, I wanted to find something to say, at least to be polite, to show that I was trying too, but I felt trapped. Why? Because ANYTHING that I might find interesting and worth talking about, she would not. I began to feel that the conversation was FUTILE, and I became vividly aware of that fact. More specifically, I felt trapped by my own psychology, because anything that my mind, either naturally or through sustained ratiocination, settled on as a topic, would almost certainly not appeal to her. So I stewed in this state as she snip-snipped away, and then thought “well, I can at least ask her HOW her weekend was,” but I hesitated because it’s a strange question to ask a thirty-something year old married woman. But more than anything I just knew she wouldn’t care or wouldn’t elaborate on anything, so I waited, and then realized that I HAD WAITED SO LONG that I couldn’t even ask the polite “how was your weekend” if I had wanted to.

Caught in the mirror of this salon, I became distinctly conscious that this woman and I could not bring ourselves to care about each other. Now don’t take this is the wrong way. I do care about this woman in some ways. I give her a good tip, and I like her work, and were she ever to be in trouble, or needing a blood transfusion, or on and on, I would be glad to help. And of course, she is polite to me and respects me as a customer, so she cares about me in a sense too. But in any DEEPER sense, we do not care about each other, and the awkwardness of my haircut today I think grew out of the dangerously obsessive awareness of this fact.

Awkwardness, in all (most?) situations, is, I think best understood as the realization of the hopelessness of further conversation in the situation. It is the realization that all communication will have a strictly utilitarian character. This is why it’s awkward to run into an ex that one isn’t on good terms with. All communication for the sake of communication (which is normally an entertaining exchange of ideas and worldviews –this blog has tried to show deep an activity a simple conversation is) is out. Communication is for a utilitarian exchange: “how are you?” “what are you up to these days” These are things just to fill periods of silence just as my stylist asked me questions simply to pass the time. The answers were irrelevant. When you’re at a party and a conversation is getting awkward, the reason is that your jokes and comments aren’t hitting home — they’ve become an act or a play and they aren’t finding their proper reception.

Now the extrapolation. Why is it that in this day and age, we are so enamored with the concept of “awkwardness” and why do we reach for it so naturally and instinctively?

I think the answer comes from the spread of standards of behavior (brought about partially by capitalism, but not entirely. Besides, laying everything at the doorstep of capitalism is so passe, and wrong to boot) and most recently, the way that the internet renders relationships. You see, more and more, we run into people that we respect and have some attenuated concern for, but as our web “weak” concern spreads further and further, we find that our web of “strong” concern is not keeping up. So, we run into the waiter who we trust to take our order and not spit in our food, but have no ability to josh with him before he takes our order. We have facebook friends who we may run into at a party or out in the city and its quickly apparent that our biggest connection is contained in servers tracking facebook’s data somewhere in Los Angeles (or where ever they keep the damn things). So we find ourselves draw, in some situations, to respond and acknowledge other people that it is FUTILE to speak to. We know it is. We know there is nothing we care to share with each other, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t the case for everyone. I’m not trying to depict a lonely world of disintegrating social bonds (but as you know, I believe that to be happening,  but just not in this post and with this point). People try hard to speak to others and some people (especially older people who’ve had hard lives it seems like) have an uncanny ability to launch into conversations and to genuinely TAKE AN INTEREST in another person’s life. Is this skill best classified as curiosity or kindness, or what? I don’t know but I know awkwardness is the outgrowth of our increasingly dwarf-like ability to relate to others that are very different than us, and when this inability comes home to roost in the form of a conscious moment, we find ourselves being awkward. Words become mere sounds and pleasantries become, well, just pleasantries.

05
Jan
11

Labor and Society

There are two ways to understand most things, and we often have only an imagination of one of the ways but not the other.

For example, when we hear praise for capitalism. We hear things like “markets work” and that they lead to “innovation” and “efficiency.” But there are two ways to hear those words. Liberals tend to hear those words as empty promises or deceptive trivialities. Some markets just don’t plain work due to information deficits or transaction costs and some things may not be even CAPABLE of being bought or sold, like friends, votes, or dignity. Fine, I agree.

But I want to emphasize that these words don’t have to be heard as empty trivialities. There is still many powerful effects of market organization and I want to suggest that in this post, there is even something worth having about the unceasing aggressiveness of capitalism.

The way I want to draw out this point is by, as lawyers would say, using exhibit A — southern Europe. In this excellent article, southern europe’s crushing socialist guarantees are revealed to have gone too far. Liberals often scoff at backwater conservatives who horde guns and claim that large government programs lead to naziism or whatever (obviously welfare states, don’t as a rule, cause genocide since many progressive liberal democracies today have enormous welfare states, i.e., the Scandinavian countries). However, smarter conservatives know that while the welfare state does not lead to government totalitarianism, it can lead to a more creeping, less grandiose type of social destruction.

The article makes this point by illustrating how extremely large pensions combined with generous social safety nets, entrenched bureaucrats, and a high level of social regulation can quite literally suffocate the growth of the society and culminate a kind of ugly stagnation in which obsolete bureaucrats and industry magnates hold on to their jobs at the expense of bright innovative, and hard working young people. In Italy, educated people are migrating out of the country at an enormous rate and in Spain, the unemployment is I think the article said 20%.

This is, thank god, not fascism, but again, its not pretty. The PM of Italy has declared that one of the challenges of the coming year is to deal with the widespread disenchantment of an entire generation.

What I’m trying to suggest in this post is something that is so obvious and so trite, but at the same time, for some bizarre reason, worth saying. And that is:  there is a middle ground and it’s hard to find but it must be sought.

Of course untethered capitalism throws many people without skills or training under the bus, and the damage can be daunting. And to be clear, it may be better to ere on the side of too much social provisioning than too little (not sure), but one thing is clear, which is that there is something not just necessary about constraints, but even something good about them. A society cannot enjoy harmony and prosperity if everyone is given a $100,000 pension and unemployment stipends are 80% of your salary for as long as you need (I don’t think its actually like this in Southern Europe, this is just me exaggerating). What eliminating government welfare programs does is push people to succeed on their own. And for some that’s cruel, because “on their own” isn’t very much, but it’s a balance. When someone is “forced” (as those who are very liberal would say) to work for their own living, but succeed, not only does society win from that person’s hard work (and not needing to support them) but THAT person wins by being challenged and coming out victorious. A success is worth nothing if nothing is at stake. Try playing poker for no money. Pretty boring. When real loss is involved, only then is there the possibility of real gain.

Again, it’s an ideal that’s just not an option for some people, and they need help, but instituting wide ranging job guarantees and government support ruins the chance at growth, striving, and effort. All of these things have enormous economic payoffs (compare Italy’s economy to ours), but they also have enormous social, humanistic benefits. We gain better, stronger people who get to feel the simply joy of providing for oneself.

Here’s what I mean by balance. I think healthcare is a no brainer (not necessarily that Obama did it right), but how generous our unemployment benefits should be, and how high taxes should be, etc. etc., are all up for discussion. It has corrosive social effects to consistently take money from society’s hardest working members and give it to those who may be clinging to unfair benefits. In the U.S., the rich I think are much too resentful toward the poor. Their tax burden or whatever just isn’t that much, but as we slide (perhaps) closer and closer to the mid point between completely socialism and complete free marketism, it’s worth remembering, that it is easy to go over to the other side and protect dying industries and jobs with statist coercion when hard-working people want a chance (a chance!) to go to work for long hours.

The threat of statism is not totalitarianism, but stultifying decay.