Sunday, December 06, 2009
Tony Judt and the confusion of the modern Left
It is with a little sadness that I write this. I am going to comment on a recent essay by Tony Judt. Even though he is an anti-Israel Jew, he is a brilliant mind and a most knowledgeable historian. He is now however suffering from a severe physical disability and the essay I wish to comment on could well be his last substantial work. So, with respect:
The essay boils down to two things: A rejection of "economism" and a dreamy glorification of 20th century democratic Leftism. And he ends up saying that Leftists should be conservatives. A more confused, though lucid, set of ideas would be hard to imagine.
For a start, his central dilemma is one that is ever-present on the contemporary Left: He argues for moral values while also believing that there is no such thing as right and wrong. If self-contradiction is a mark of insanity, the modern Left is terminally deranged.
It is purely in the name of some unspecified moral order that Judt rejects "economism". And what he condemns as "economism" boils down to being concerned about your financial state of affairs. It is wrong, apparently, to be concerned about how much money you have in your pocket. It is no doubt an outcome of Judt's own privileged life that he literally seems unable to understand why people would have such concerns.
It was one of my correspondents who alerted me to Judt's essay and the comment he sent with the link was simply: "A moron". One can understand that judgement. Let me be a little more professional about the matter, however, and say that Judt's moral ideas are seriously underdeveloped and that a full elaboration of his moral beliefs and reasoning would be needed for anyone to draw any reasonable conclusions from his essay.
He goes on to glorify government-provided services generally but once again seems not to be living in the real world. Who has not experienced the horrors of dealing with large bureaucracies and who does not find small businesses easier to deal with? He seems unaware that you get much better treatment as a valued customer than you do if you are a mere number to some bureaucrat. You are virtually powerless against a bureaucracy but you have some weight as a person who can take his business elsewhere.
Judt's primary example of a service that should be government provided is the railways. He thinks that they are "an essential public service". That people in some places get along quite well without them and that the vast majority of Americans hardly use them at all appears to have had no impact on his thinking. His argument seems to boil down to saying that railways run purely for profit would not serve isolated regions or the poor very well. He is probably right about that but does it follow that a government-run railway is the answer? If we are going to subsidize anything, why not subsidize small buses to run on the route concerned? That would undoubtedly be a lot easier on the taxpayer's pocket.
So his final plea that we remember the past glories of socialism is as deranged as his moral ideas. Leftists should hope that people do NOT remember how awful past government services have been. What Judt wants us to "remember" is a dreamy ideal that never existed. His closing assertion that "The left, to be quite blunt about it, has something to conserve" is undoubtedly a common Leftist belief but it is just another example of his moral incoherence and blindness to the actual past.
In an effort to do justice to the man, however, I will happily concede his point that privatizations of government services have not always worked well. And since he seems to have railways on the brain, let me mention the privatization of British Rail. I remember the shabbiness, erratic services and awful sandwiches of British Rail well so am perhaps in some position to comment. Who could believe train drivers who drove off while people were still trying to board? I do because I saw it. I was one of the passengers concerned.
There is no doubt that rail services in Britain today are often very poor but that is a consequence of their very PARTIAL privatization. The infinitely better rail services of the Victorian era were provided by companies that OWNED not only the trains but the tracks they ran on. In Britain today, however, the private rail companies own very little. They bid for the privilege of providing a service and get a government-controlled monopoly in return. So, once they have obtained their monopoly, it makes sense for them to screw passengers for all they can. Roadspace and parking are severely limited in Britain so passengers usually have no real option of other forms of transport.
In the Victorian era, by contrast, railways DID compete (and also co-operated when that was useful). There was more than one set of tracks running North and if you wanted to get from (say) London to somewhere in Scotland, there were competing ways of doing so. So it seems reasonable that a recreation of the completely private Victorian ownership structure would give results comparable to the Victorian experience. But modern Britain is too socialist for that to be contemplated.
And as for government-sponsored or government-run train services in Australia these days, don't get me started. The Melbourne services are run on British lines and just ask any Melbourne commuter how that works out.
There many more points in Judt's essay that I could contend with but the eloquence of the essay hides such a poverty of ideas that I cannot justify spending more time on it.
Chinese appeasement irks Indians
By Dr John Lee -- a foreign policy specialist with a particular interest in India
President Barrack Obama’s choice of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as his first state visitor last week was meant to be about reassuring New Delhi that Washington intends to build on the strategic partnership between the two countries that blossomed under George W. Bush. But after Obama’s much criticised trip to China, the meeting was largely about repairing the damage and reassuring New Delhi that Obama will be as good a friend to India as under Bush.
Why are the Indians upset? Obama’s supporters admit that the administration appeared ‘conciliatory’ towards the Chinese. His detractors argue that by treating China as an equal partner when it is not yet one, he appeared ‘weak.’
As far as New Delhi is concerned, the joint US-China communiqué strikes at the heart of Indian strategic sensitivities. China seems to have got something it desperately wants – at India’s expense – without offering anything in return.
By prematurely raising China’s profile and offering it a central role in working with Washington to promote peace and stability in South and Central Asia, the United States has added to India’s insecurities. India sees China’s role in these regions as destabilising and insidious. China has been attempting to distract India with land-based disputes by offering diplomatic, military and nuclear support to Pakistan while Beijing extends its influence in South Asia. And it sees US appeasement of China as America’s inadvertent blessing to continue distracting India.
Obama seems to have underestimated the long-standing regional tensions when he casually offered to China ‘the fundamental principle of respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ This seems innocuous except for the fact that China has fundamental disputes with India (as well as with Russia, Japan and Southeast Asian countries) as to what constitutes Beijing’s ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity.’
Words matter. ‘Acknowledging’ China’s territorial claims is one thing. Respecting them is another and should be withheld until the disputing partners resolve the issues.
Taking a page out of the Harvard Negotiation Project’s Getting to Yes manual is not the best way to deal with the Chinese. The US-China relationship might be the most important in the world, but President Obama must learn that America cannot ‘manage’ China without help from friends and allies.
The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies. Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.
The labor union president
Journalists have spent countless hours writing and discussing how remarkable it is that a predominately white America has elected a black president. It is remarkable that a man born of a white mother would consider himself the first black president. However, based upon the actions of the Obama administration since January 20th, the more remarkable and less publicized story is how the American public really elected a purple president.
Purple is the color of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). SEIU spent 61 million dollars helping to get Barack Obama elected. Along with their sister organization, Association of Community Organizers Now (ACORN), they also contributed thousands of hours of grassroots organizing. In some cities, this grassroots “organizing” meant a Chicago style voter intimidation. SEIU and ACORN members stood at polling places to prevent voters unlikely to vote for Barack Obama from voting.
The efforts of SEIU and ACORN have not gone unrewarded. In previous Democratic administrations, organized labor spent millions of dollars to get their candidate elected, however presidents like Bill Clinton did not devote their entire presidency to achieving organized labor’s agenda. President Obama has clearly made the promotion and enrichment of organized labor at the expense of the American taxpayer the top priority of his administration. The last time this occurred was in the 1930’s under FDR, with disastrous consequences for the American people.
According to the White House visitor records recently published, the president of SEIU, Andrew Stern, has been the most frequent visitor, visiting 22 times since January. Mr. Stern’s visits have paid off, since virtually every action or piece of legislation by the Administration is for the benefit of organized labor and especially the SEIU.
Obama’s appointments have included a disproportionate number of SEIU and ACORN leaders in key policy positions. Anna Burger was appointed to the President’s Economic Recovery Board of Advisors. She was previously SEIU Secretary-Treasurer. Patrick Gaspard from SEIU Local 1199 was appointed as White House policy advisor. He was previously SEIU Vice President of politics and legislation. Craig Becker was nominated to the National Labor Relations Board. Is there any doubt about how the former SEIU associate general council will rule in labor cases brought before the NLRB?
The stimulus bill was promoted as a job creation bill so essential that it needed to be voted upon before the House and Senate members even had time to read it. In reality only about 10% of the Stimulus Act provide funding for the infrastructure projects it proponents touted. Even that 10% included provisions to ensure that only union construction workers could work on those projects.
The remainder of the Stimulus Act funded government programs, not infrastructure jobs. It provided funding to cash strapped states so they would not be forced to lay off public sector union employees to balance their budgets. When destitute California tried to lay off union (SEIU) workers to help reduce its budget deficit, the Obama administration threatened to cut off stimulus funds. The bill also provided additional funding to select Federal programs and reversed provisions of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.
One of the driving forces behind the grossly misnamed Employee Free Choice Act or Card Check bill is the SEIU. They have made numerous public statements that they do not believe in secret elections to determine whether employees want to be represented by a union. They have been extremely successful in using coercion and intimidation rather than secret elections in their organizing of healthcare workers in a number of states.
SEIU President Stern and SEIU Healthcare Chairman, Dennis Rivera, have been instrumental in determining the language of the Administration’s healthcare bills. If the public option is included, the SEIU will have the opportunity to organize millions of new government healthcare workers. It has spent millions of dollars promoting healthcare bills through advertising and sending well coached SEIU and ACORN members to disrupt healthcare rallies. If Americans are forced to spend far more in taxes to fund healthcare programs, no one benefits as much as the purple shirted SEIU.
Never before has a President allowed the policies of an entire nation to be based upon the interests of a public sector labor union destined to bankrupt America. Clearly to President Obama, “spread the wealth” means taking the wealth of working Americans through taxation and giving it to groups like ACORN and SEIU that helped him get elected.
The Fatuous Job Summit
Obama's amazing confession: He doesn't know how jobs are created. Cutting government burdens on business is a sort of Masonic mystery to him, apparently. If the summit had been solely focused on how to reduce the costs of business it might have been useful
What are the odds that yesterday’s White House jobs summit will lead to the creation of any real jobs? The summit was based on the magic theory of government: Say the right incantations and reality will be reshaped according to one’s desires. There are no economic laws. There is only will. If we all think good thoughts and exude the spirit of cooperation, we’ll end these hard times and get the economy moving again. This is the sign of a primitive mentality. In reality economic laws exist, reality sets limits, and good feelings can’t create prosperity out of nothing, especially when government stubbornly stands in the way....
The downward employment spiral we have witnessed is an effect, not a cause, of economic trouble. People were laid off and consumption slowed down, with rippling effect, because of earlier bad policies. In the current case, government housing policy and Federal Reserve conduct united to create unsustainable distortions in finance, construction, and allied industries. When the boom came to end and the bubble burst, what looked like rational investments were revealed as errors that needed to be corrected so that the market process could get back on its natural track. This takes time. Decisions cannot be instantly and costlessly reversed. There’s too much construction equipment and not enough of something else, but that cannot be rectified overnight. Capital was wasted in the boom, and new saving is needed not just to replenish the capital stock but to make sure it’s the right kind of capital.
But the policymakers won’t let the market heal itself. Why? Because letting it happen means doing nothing —or rather undoing lots of things— and politicians are incapable of that. Imperative No. 1 is to get re-elected. Whether a politician understands economics or not, the electorate for the most part does not. So he caters to the economic illiterates by appearing to boldly take on problems that were created by his earlier takings-on. Almost any policy he backs will be opposite of what ought to be done.
The two things that government needs to do are exactly what politicians find so distasteful. It must 1) dramatically lighten its burden on the people and 2) abstain from causing producers to wonder what new burdens may be around the corner.
The burden of government is great. This is to be measured not in taxes alone, but in total spending, mandates, regulation, and Federal Reserve distortion. Politicians and special interests have lived as though the burden could be increased indefinitely with impunity. We see now that it can’t. Spending must be substantially cut — departments and agencies abolished — so that resources can be left in the productive sector. Taxes must be reduced sharply — better yet, repealed. The heavy hand of bureaucracy must be lifted from production. Government is a destroyer, not a creator, of value. It must stop....
The root problem is the privilege-ridden corporatist economy that shifts power to politicians and the politically connected. This has only gotten worse in recent years, with the Fed and Treasury directly guiding the flow of capital to favored companies. Abolish the privilege, the subsidies, the barriers to entry, the impediments to self-employment, the currency manipulation — and watch a stable and growing economy appear — one based on freedom rather than privilege, mutually beneficial exchange rather than exploitation. Once again the best course for government is: Get out of the way!
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)
Posted by JR at 1:39 AM