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The problem - Input Junkie
March 2nd, 2011
09:02 am

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The problem
Poll #1712453 To summarize the summary of a summary....

Our main problem is ....

Business-- it rewards and facilitates irresponsible greed, but government is controlled by the public
24(17.0%)
Government-- it rewards and facilitates irresponsible power-lust, but business is controlled by competition
7(5.0%)
Both business and government, about equally
9(6.4%)
When major institutions are despised, good people are less likely to go into them
23(16.3%)
Human societies are made of people
32(22.7%)
It's complicated (comments welcome)
22(15.6%)
James would have used radio buttons
14(9.9%)
Click!
10(7.1%)

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
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From:whswhs
Date:March 2nd, 2011 02:20 pm (UTC)
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I picked "it's complicated." My take is that the primary problem is government; but one of the big reasons government is a problem is that it lends itself to sheltering businesses (and labor unions) from competition, thus enabling them to become dysfunctional and exploitative. Moreover, many businesses and labor unions have been complicit in encouraging government to behave this way. Libertarians have said for quite a while that big businesses are among the worst enemies of the free market, by and large.
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From:arashinomoui
Date:March 2nd, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
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The issue is the lack of check and balances - a free market will, inherently, not remain a free market because it is not in the interests of the leaders of market not to raise the barriers to entry into their markets. Therefore, there must be a check on the powers of business; nominally the government fulfills this role. However, business, not being stupid, attempts to subvert this, and there must be sufficient counterweights to prevent this and all more interests to be heard.

Unfortunately, with the concentration of wealth, this is not so much the case.
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From:bemused_leftist
Date:March 2nd, 2011 04:31 pm (UTC)
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Agree.
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From:dglenn
Date:March 2nd, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC)
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With the understanding that this is the sound-bite version, yeah, pretty much.

Government can be a valuable check on business, or in cases of regulatory capture, it can be an accomplice.
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From:siderea
Date:March 3rd, 2011 01:36 am (UTC)
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Agreed.
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From:chickenfeet2003
Date:March 2nd, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
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It seems to me an entirely false dichotomy. The problem is that both are controlled by a small group of greedy and irresponsible people. The problem continues to get worse. Politicians are absolutely in the pocket of business interests. Wealth continues to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. Every time when it comes to the crunch, whatever the rhetoric, politicians legislate to further enrich the already rich and impoverish everyone else. It doesn't matter whether you analyse the US, Europe, Russia or China its the same story. At a detailed level it gets more blatant by the year. The bank bail out is one of the most blatant and massive examples of wealth being transferred wholesale to the wealthy but look also at things like Murdoch's influence over the Metropolitan Police or the British government intervening to prevent BAE being prosecuted for corruption.
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From:whswhs
Date:March 2nd, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
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Blaming "the few" for problems always strikes me as at best one-sided. There have been a lot of cases where "the many" were the source of institutional dysfunction, whether through simple lack of knowledge, short-sighted greed, or active ill will. Consider, for example, widely held public attitudes toward blacks, East Asians, or gays and lesbians in various periods. Or the problems the United States faces now because majorities in most states are equally opposed to higher taxes, to cuts in services, and to unbalanced budgets.

There need to be checks against the power of the few to twist public policy for their own gain; but there also need to be checks against the power of the many to use public policy as a vehicle for their delusions and resentments. The Constitution was a brilliant failed attempt to provide both.
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From:chickenfeet2003
Date:March 2nd, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
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I'm not against checks and balances that prevent majorities oppressing minorities. Far from it. But right now we are far away from that being a root problem of the current malaise. The concentration of wealth and power is the biggest problem the democracies face and it's the last thing anybody seems prepared to do anything about.

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From:trinker
Date:March 2nd, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
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Why do people believe in opposing higher taxes, etc.?

Rather a lot of FOX news propaganda, and politicians' soundbites. They could just as easily be coached to believe something else.
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From:whswhs
Date:March 5th, 2011 04:12 am (UTC)
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I've believe in keeping taxes as low as possible since the days when the only networks were ABC, CBS, and NBC. My favorite political soundbite on the subject is this one:

A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicity.

A little long by today's standards, but then it's from the 1801 Inaugural Address.

Really, it astounds me that anyone could suppose that any position other than opposition to higher taxes made sense. I try to be careful about how much money I spend on food, on entertainment, on books, on transportation, on clothes; why on earth should I suddenly change my mind and think that spending larger amounts of money on government is a wonderful thing?
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From:trinker
Date:March 5th, 2011 08:58 am (UTC)
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from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

This at a period when much of wealth was dependent on doing just that, by endorsing slavery?

The question is whether one should have "low taxes" as the ultimate goal, or if one should look at what services can and should be provided by government sources. A system where profitability triumphs over everything is a system where there ends up being a large exploited underclass, and an increasingly inviolate plutocracy. Taxes are a social leveler, and an effective means of staving off bloody revolution.

I believe in a system where there is social mobility, rather than a feudal style where one is constrained by the privileges or disprivileges of one's forebearers, and where access to safe roads, decent education, and health care (among other things) are not the sole provenance of the already-rich.
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From:whswhs
Date:March 6th, 2011 07:47 am (UTC)
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You and I seem to live in different historical timelines. Taxes as a social leveler? Tell that to the ancien régime, the historical prototype of rent-seeking. The government of the Bourbons massively regulated the economy, and used that regulation to enrich itself through monopolies and other special privileges, and through selling such privileges to royal favorites, or to any members of the large noblesse du robe who could come up with the price of an official position or a noble title. It was in protest against that exploitative régime that the saying "laissez-nous faire" was first uttered. I would also note that the heavily taxed ancien régime didn't do so well at staving off bloody revolution!

Conversely, the British government of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, by decreasing the burden of taxes and regulation, really did achieve an unprecedented measure of social leveling, in which many people without titles or lineage earned fortunes despite the contempt of the old landed aristocracy. It's also worth noting that the British advocates of laissez-faire were among the leaders of the antislavery movement; indeed, Thomas Carlyle coined the phrase "the dismal science" for economics specifically because he detested the antislavery movement.

Powerful and active government is inevitably associated with systems of privilege, whether the privilege is directly claimed by state officials such as the nomenklatura or sold off to the highest bidder, as Gabriel Kolko documented in Railroads and Regulation and as Mancur Olson explained in The Logic of Collective Action. I don't think it's possible to immunize a political system against the emergence of a privileged class, but minimizing the economic powers of government is the best way yet found to make a society more resistant to it.

One of the ironies of current American politics is that the Democrats have become the party of the elites, and the Republicans have become the populist party, as can be seen by looking at statistics on voting patterns across the income distribution in the United States.
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From:richardthinks
Date:March 2nd, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
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I voted in 3 categories: despised, human and complicated. Sorry if this messes you up: at least you know what I did...

Adam Smith's ideas are awesome. Too bad people aren't really like that. Although if they were maybe I wouldn't have so much power-expressing weirdness to study.

Also, too bad that Smith and his successors tend to deal with systems of humans at the expense of individuals. Really efficient, brilliant sausage factories are a problem for the person that falls into the meat hopper.
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 2nd, 2011 04:31 pm (UTC)
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No apology required-- if I'd wanted single answers, I'd have used radio buttons.

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From:kgbooklog
Date:March 2nd, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC)
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As others have said, the problem is business' influence over the government. I'd love to see what would happen if lobbying and campaign contributions counted as bribes and conflict of interest was grounds for removal from office.

I didn't check "people" because I think that's where the solution will come from. I am pleased to see things like the protests against British tax-dodgers, and the SCOTUS decision that corporations don't have the "personal privacy" of humans.
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From:agrumer
Date:March 2nd, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
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None of the above.

Our main problem is that we've got an aristocracy of wealth, and a culture in which the non-aristocrats identify with the interests of the aristocracy ahead of their own.

The tendency to think of "business" as all one thing, or "government" as all one thing, or imagine that the two are in opposition to each other, these are aristocratic propaganda designed to keep people from noticing the influence of the aristocracy.

This isn't any more complicated than your other options; you could add a checkbox saying "The Ruling Class -- it concentrates wealth and corrupts market and governments".
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From:siderea
Date:March 3rd, 2011 01:42 am (UTC)
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Our main problem is that we've got an aristocracy of wealth, and a culture in which the non-aristocrats identify with the interests of the aristocracy ahead of their own.

This is very similar to what I was thinking when I clicked "Human societies are made of people." A quote from my quotes file, from a Pratchett book (Feat of Clay) I haven't read yet:
It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: "Kings. What a good idea." Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.


What's the proper term for someone who espouses aristocracy as a social organization but who is not themselves one of the aristocrats? I mean, aside from "serf"?
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From:agrumer
Date:March 3rd, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
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Well, the Marxists have a concept they call false consciousness which nicely described the phenomenon, but it doesn't describe the people themselves, just their malady. I'm tempted to draw some kind of tenuous analogy with the philosophical zombie concept, but that'd probably be too obscure for common use.
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From:richardthinks
Date:March 3rd, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
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ambitious. Or just plain hopeful.

I grew up with a strong "eat the rich" contingent at my schools (even though the kids were far from poor). I could never understand it, though, because the same people who espoused this view also wanted to become rich themselves. I wondered what they thought would happen then.
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From:orawnzva
Date:March 4th, 2011 03:40 am (UTC)
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Well, ideally the system has a locally stable mode at "comfortably middle class", and people oscillate around that.
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