David Brooks Sees Our Problem

The Lost Decade? – NYTimes.com.

I don’t always agree with David Brooks, and in particular he and I part ways when it comes to his somewhat superficial understanding of China. I agree with him more often than not, however, and I can forgive him his ignorance of China if he will forgive me my similarly thin understanding of New York.

In what was possibly one of his best editorials yet, Brooks was motivated by the prospect of a “disastrous double-dip recession” to call out both Republicans and Democrats for their singular failures and, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, their “two-dimensional thinking.”

The prognosis for the next few years is bad with a chance of worse. And the economic conditions are not even the scary part. The scary part is the political class’s inability to think about the economy in a realistic way.

He really gets to the heart of the matter a few grafs further down when he notes:

Yet the ideologues who dominate the political conversation are unable to think in holistic, emergent ways. They pick out the one factor that best conforms to their preformed prejudices and, like blind men grabbing a piece of the elephant, they persuade themselves they understand the whole thing.

It is a balanced, intelligent essay, and one that should be read, digested, and internalized by everyone who cares about the future of the United States.

Bravo, David.

The Problem with “Occupy Wall Street”

Wall Street Welfare Checks.
Image by eyewash via Flickr

Occupy Wall Street: A Story without Heroes – Anthony Gregory – Mises Daily.

In an Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute captures the real problem with Occupy Wall Street in spare paragraph stripped of partisanship or ideology:

But overall the protesters’ message is too vague and heterogeneous — at best — to elicit much enthusiasm. As in the tea parties to which it has been compared, many in this movement are condemning a nebulous conception of the status quo without much of an inspiring alternative vision.

Even Karl Marx understood that you cannot have a better future unless you clearly and truthfully describe the current system and its faults, provide an alternative, and then stand back and let the two sides have at it. It was a problem that afflicted the radical end of the student movement in the 1960s, and it afflicts the radical left and reactionary right today.

And, sad to say, most of the rhetoric that suffuses our current electoral process suffers the same malady.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters make some good points. The collusion between rampant banks and those charged with regulating their activities have, in part, led us to the current financial crisis. But the answer is not to pull the plug on Wall Street. The answer begins with an intelligent debate about the proper role of the financial sector in our economy, and the best way to ensure it is no longer given the opportunity to endanger the nation and the world at paltry personal risk to those set to benefit the most.

Conservatives and Enterprise

Both major parties in American politics have a tendency to define themselves by their point of ascendancy. Just as for four decades the Democrats defined themselves by the policies of FDR and the New Deal, so too have Republicans defined themselves by the policies of the Reagan presidency.

The problem in both cases were that the policies pursued by those administrations were a direct response to conditions extant at the time. After several decades, they not only cease to be relevant, the dogmatic pursuit of those policies becomes a malignancy all by itself.

There have been times in American history when the rights of labor were not given their fair attention by government. The reaction to that imbalance, including the shoots of communism and socialism that sprouted during the Great Depression, brought forth the coalition between labor and the Democratic Party, a coalition that remained strong throughout most of the 20th century.

Likewise, a belief that the policy arc from FDR to Jimmy Carter had swung the pendulum too far against the interests of commerce led in no small part to the Reagan revolution. That fierce protection of the rights of business have carried the Republican Party for the past 30 years.

It is time, though, to re-assess the force of habit that has turned conservatives into the knee-jerk defenders of business. We have now, arguably, reached the point where business does not need to be defended against an ambivalent government, but where government needs to be defended against concentrations of money from both sides of the aisle that undermines government.

Conservatism stands for establishing the independence of business from undue meddling of government, and demands that enterprises be allowed to prosper without a shackle to social interests or public ownership. But that is a far cry from acquiescing to the capture of government power by business interests. And yet, we seem to feel obliged to leap to the defense of the power of commerce anytime it is attacked, going so far as to hold our tongues when enterprises are given direct influence in the outcome of elections.

Conservatism stands for the rights of business to operate freely, but not for the right of businesses or any other corporate organizations to act as political actors.

Conservatism stands for the protection of business from gratuitous action of government, insuring that private interests will not be unfairly subordinated to public will. But that does not mean subordinating the public interests to the profit of private enterprise. Conservatism is about recognizing the great value of business to national prosperity and happiness, but also acting against business when it operates in a manner that is destructive to society, undermines democracy, or inhibits individual liberty.

America thrives when there is a dynamic balance between the private interest and public good. That balance is not static, shifting as it does with the times. But we abandon the search for that balance at our peril. Just as allowing the public good to win over the private interest puts us on the road to socialism, allowing private interests to suborn the public good places us on the path to industrial feudalism.

A conservative should be equally galled by either.

The New Fiscal Conservatism

The new fiscal conservatism is matching every dollar spent with a dollar of revenue, and the wise, careful, and effective expenditure of the public treasure.

Independent Fiscal Conservatism does not mean being opposed to taxes. Outright opposition to taxes qua taxes is appropriate only for an anarchist. A patriot understands that nothing worthwhile is cheap…or free.

But spending public funds for the private good or allowing money raised from the people to be wasted for lack of appropriate care, however, is unacceptable. Waste, inefficiency, and entitlement are what we should fight.

No, Government is Not a Business

Government wastes money. Some of that is unavoidable. A degree of wastage is implicit in every human endeavor. Efficiency is essential, but it cannot become an obsession in any human enterprise whose goal is the betterment of society.

So much to the chagrin of businesspeople like me, you cannot run a government like a business.

That does not mean, however, that you cannot or should not hold individuals and institutions to account. Every dollar spent in the public interest needs to be assessed as to its benefit and its opportunity cost.

The Reality of Fiscal Conservatism

Fiscally conservative is a code word in the popular American mind for cautious spending on social programs and regulatory enforcement, but utter profligacy with tax cuts and a silent enablement of shockingly bad defense procurement spending.

True fiscal conservatism is program- neutral. It insists in a dollar or more of revenue for every dollar spent.

Rethinking Disaster Response: Six Steps

Airmen from the 374th Airlift Wing load suppli...
Image via Wikipedia

The Northeastern Japan (Tohuku) Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, the Indian Ocean Tsunamis of 2004, the Sichuan Earthquake of 2008, and the Myanmar Cyclone in 2008 have collectively given Asia and the world a brutal crash course in what it takes to successfully respond to a major disaster.

What these disasters also prove is that we need to rethink our approach to disasters, focusing not just on the immediate needs but responding from the start with the ultimate end in mind. To that end, I’ve isolated what I see as six steps to disaster response.

  • Rescue: saving human life endangered by the disaster or its aftermath.
  • Recovery: Finding and removing the remains of those who perished in the disaster, and preserving physical assets damaged in the disaster or its aftermath, or threatened by its consequences.
  • Relief: Looking to the healing, health, feeding, and housing of survivors, and laying the groundwork for a return to normalcy.
  • Reconstruction: The re-creation of personal and community infrastructure to enable a return to normalcy.
  • Revival: The return to status quo ante, ensuring that all material losses are redressed and that people’s lives have returned to consistent rhythms.
  • Renaissance or Rejuvination: The effort to ensure that not only are things in affected communities “as good as before,” but that indeed the lives an prospects individuals and the communities are materially and spiritually improved through the process of reconstruction to a point even beyond where they might have been otherwise.

The key in this process is that each step is not seen as a discreet effort, but is both integrated with the previous and following steps, and is taken in a way that enables each of the following steps to be simpler and better.

At this point, the Disaster-Industrial complex gets a part of that equation, but not all of it.