The Remnant

A liberal relative of mine wrote recently on Facebook:

I am probably about to get railed at, but here goes. I’m not sure I understand why people are more upset about being submitted to targeted airport investigations that have already been determined to be constitutional and justified, than they are about a video game system that scans your living room and sells the information to advertisers. Just sayin’.

To which I replied: “Advertisers can’t deny your freedom to travel. All they can do is offer you stuff.”

I might have added that the freedom to travel is a lot more important than the freedom to play a video game system. I might also have noted that a video game system can’t reach out and fondle your penis. Not yet, anyway. (Did the Founders ever suffer a like indignity? All I can think of is the slave auction.)

I did link to him this piece by James Fallows, which I’m sure League regulars have already seen. Here are some relevant bits:

1) The TSA excesses are creating strange bedfellows. Charles Krauthammer writes today about the “idiocy” of the TSA’s approach to airline security, including the nuttiness of body-searching the same pilots who will soon have the flight controls in their hands. David Weigel, via Andrew Sullivan has his own analysis of why, as in the case of Krauthammer, the TSA is proving the one issue that can bring about previously elusive bipartisan unity.

1A) Bonus idiocy point about strip-searching the pilots, as a United pilot pointed out to me yesterday. I don’t know this first hand, but I’m told that most airline cockpits come equipped with a safety device known as the “crash axe.” This is to allow the flight crew to break through cockpit windows or doors, if needed for escape from a crashed plane. Even my little Cirrus propeller airplane comes with a crash-hammer, whose “safety” purpose is to let you get out through the cockpit windows but which, like the “crash axe,” would work perfectly well to brain someone.

So, pilots must be patted down, to make sure they have nothing hidden in their underwear; and we insist on this safety-first step before trusting them not only to fly the plane but to do so with an axe in arm’s reach? Where in God’s name is the logic of taking pen knives or over-3-ounce tubes of toothpaste away from them in these circumstances? I think this is the kind of “security” “strategy” for which the term WTF was invented.

He’s right, except for the stuff about bipartisan unity, which is almost always nonsense, or pernicious, or both. The bipartisan unity here still seems mostly on the side of growing government power, alas.

It works like this: The majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority party can’t do much about it. We are a democracy, and minorities have fewer resources in a democracy. Rather than fight, lose, and be seen as a loser, the minority acquiesces.

When the minority party becomes the majority, nothing changes. Once again, the majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority acquiesces. The cycle repeats.

A very few will resist the growth of government power regardless of which party rules. Albert Jay Nock called these people the “Remnant.” In the Bible, the Remnant is what remains of a community after a disaster. Said the prophet Isaiah (10:1-4,20-25):

1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
4 Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain…

20 In that day the remnant of Israel,
the survivors of Jacob,
will no longer rely on him
who struck them down
but will truly rely on the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel.
21 A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob
will return to the Mighty God.
22 Though your people be like the sand by the sea, Israel,
only a remnant will return.
Destruction has been decreed,
overwhelming and righteous.
23 The Lord, the LORD Almighty, will carry out
the destruction decreed upon the whole land.

24 Therefore this is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says:

“My people who live in Zion,
do not be afraid of the Assyrians,
who beat you with a rod
and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did.
25 Very soon my anger against you will end
and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.

We live in the wasteland of power; we Remnant are losers. Like Christians, we take it for a badge of honor. If you are wondering about the persistent, elusive link between Christianity and libertarianism, this is it. The best libertarians and the best Christians alike are always a Remnant. (Can you ever be sure that you are among them? Short answer: No, never.)

Among the many things left unsaid on Facebook, I might have noted to my liberal relative that being constitutional is no guarantee of good policy. It would be constitutional, for example, if all fifty states were to prohibit alcohol. It would also be stupid and evil. The Constitution, while great, is not now and has never been a perfect defense against power. The Remnant has no perfect shelter in our fallen world. Eternal vigilance is the price of both Christian and civil liberty.

If these enhanced screening procedures — an ugly phrase, a twin to enhanced interrogation techniques — if these procedures are constitutional, then our Founders, or those who interpret them today, have been idiots. There is no definition of the word “reasonable” by which these searches could be so termed. We face either a failure of common sense or of language itself. I am not sure which prospect disturbs me more.

These screening protocols aim at a preposterously unlikely danger. Estimates suggest that one is as likely to get cancer from the backscatter X-ray as to die in a terrorist attack. The risk, in both cases, is roughly equivalent to the risk we brave when we fly in an ordinary airplane for even a few minutes, thanks to cosmic radiation.

Oppressive as the new system is, it remains full of holes. Airport security neither respects the privacy of the traveler nor stands much chance of doing its so-called job. It’s both over-inclusive and under-protective, and it seems likely that any screening system will have the same problems:

Of course Abdulmutallab boarded his flight to Detroit in Amsterdam, so these enhanced screening procedures would have done nothing to stop him from getting to the United States, and that remains true for vast numbers of foreign terrorists who could theoretically carry out an attack on an American airliner without ever stepping foot on American soil. Richard Reid boarded his flight to the United States in Paris, for example, and the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 took place without a single terrorist entering the United States. In that case, the explosives that brought the plane down over Lockerbie, Scotland were put on the plane in Germany. Neither the attempted attacks by Richard Reid or Adbulmultallab, nor the successful attack on the Pan Am airliner, would have been prevented by screening procedures in the United States. So, forcing American travelers to undergo invasive security procedures doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything.

So what’s the score now?

The first group of winners are those who enjoy stripping down men, women, and children, and treating them like cattle. Sadists and humiliation fetishists will get “opportunities… for cheerful and unalienated labor,” as Robert Nozick once put it.

The other winners are politicians — no less the lovers of power — who can say they have Done Something about a Very Serious Problem. Politicians only count as winners when they Do Something. This is so even when not doing anything is the wiser course.

The rest of us will get nothing, and we will pay for it with our national dignity.

Not so long ago, my liberal relative was a staunch opponent of the George W. Bush administration. We commiserated together, often and at length, about the evils being done by it, supposedly in our name. Now his party is in power, and that power is growing, and he is happy, and he does what he can to rationalize. I am troubled to the depths of my soul about it. I stand now — uneasily — with conservatives, of all people. Perhaps some of them are of the Remnant too.

I know full well, however, that most of them are not. As Jim Peron put it:

For the last half century—and before that as well—the conservative movement has fought virtually every attempt by anyone to expand an individual’s control over his own body. You [conservatives] have been explicit in your denunciation of the idea that the body is under the sovereign control of the individual and insisted that some collective good required that the State have the final say in what one does with their physical body.

Today the Obama administration has introduced the most intrusive assault on the bodies of the American public that has ever been done by any government in the world, as far as I know. Anyone, American or not, who travels by air is subjected either to a scanner that takes what amount to nude photos of the passenger or they must be subjected to a government agent fondling their buttocks, genitals and breasts. Government agents now take their fingers and rub them along the length of a man’s penis in the name of a greater good.

And you are outraged. I am thrilled that so many conservatives are outraged about this. But on what premise do you base your outrage? It certainly can’t be on the claim that each individual owns his body. You have spent the last half-century claiming that such ownership is a fraud. Are you upset that the State has asserted control over a person’s body? But the entire modern conservative movement has argued, since I was born and then some, that the State must be the final authority over what individuals do with their bodies.

As much as you may loathe the man, Barack Obama and his administration are acting fully within conservative principles when the subject Americas to intrusive, intimate searches. And, just like you, the Obama administration is appealing to some greater good that takes precedence over individual liberty. Mr. Obama and Ms. Napolitano may be intruding on the bodies of Americans in ways that are totally unheard of in any civilized society, but they are not violating conservative principles.

Quite so. Conservatives opposed interracial marriage, supported sodomy laws, fought the war on drugs, panicked over pornography, and in general did whatever they could to assert communal control over our bodies — especially over the naughty bits.

Now they reap what they’ve sown, and they are outraged. All the best slogans are on the other side: Keep your laws off my body, anyone? Can any conservative say that with a straight face?

So I join my friends on the right, with no illusions and plenty of regret. To believe oneself a part of the Remnant is gloomy, I will no doubt be told. I will shortly have to break bread with my liberal relative, and I do have a heart, despite all appearances to the contrary. It will be awkward indeed.

Yet if I were asked how a bourgeois, dovish, small-government, just-plodding-along political philosophy like mine could ever be inspiring, this is what I would point to. The Remnant often loses, but there is a grandeur in its loss that Power can never have.

And sometimes, too, the Remnant wins.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

59 thoughts on “The Remnant

  1. That’s one of the more common liberal confusions, this weird melding of coercion and something that is not coercion but can be re-phrased in such a fashion as to be unsettling to people on first glimpse.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. “Now his party is in power, and that power is growing, and he is happy”.

    I am not. I’m utterly appalled by the conduct of the Obama admin on the state secrets privilege and on the conduct of war in Afghanistan and on its approach toward civil liberties generally. I have three more-or-less exclusive choices: 1. Obama’s rhetoric about civil liberties during the campaign was mostly a lie and he’s now acting consistently with his true beliefs; 2. Obama has been cornered by the national security / military / industrial complex. There’s too much money in increasing security, and too much risk (mostly electoral) in decreasing it. 3. Obama has been briefed on just how much torture and other violations of American law occurred during the Bush admin. If he allowed investigations to start, he’d have no choice but to prosecute Bush, Cheney and their senior advisors for war crimes. Obama believes that if he does so he will cause irreversible damage to the country and/or the Democratic party.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. Great essay, dude.

    I’ve long thought that there was much liberty to be found in a “Right to Privacy” but neither party is particularly interested in that… people might “sin”.

    Republicans hate the idea of non-procreative sex, Democrats hate the idea of non-procreative money.

    Privacy might allow people to use their own junk however they want… and, Lord knows, that will lead to Sin. And we have laws against murder, right? We have laws against rape, right? Therefore we can, and ought, legislate morality.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. Two points. The first:

    “We live in the wasteland of power; we Remnant are losers. Like Christians, we take it for a badge of honor. If you are wondering about the persistent, elusive link between Christianity and libertarianism, this is it. ”

    A good post, but this seems a little over the top and self-important. As well, it seems the kind of link about the glories of libertarianism and Christianity that wouldn’t occur to anyone unless you were really, really looking and hoping for one. (In other words, apropos of a thread from ED last week, the label leading to the argument, not the situation leading to the label.)

    Second:

    I think you and your relative might have both missed the more obvious answer: That we all feel OK with the State taking some steps to secure us against things we are all scared or nervous about and and feel it a breach of our God-granted rights when it takes similar steps about things that don’t really worry us at all. It’s just that we all worry about and are frightened of different things.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • To your first point: I am not a Christian. I am an atheist. Also, see the parenthetical right after the sentences you quote:

      Can you ever be sure that you are among [the Remnant]? Short answer: No, never.

      I may very well appreciate the idea of the Remnant, while failing to be a part of it. The parallel with the Christian idea of the elect is a neat one, and seductive to me as a historian of systems of thought, even if I do reject both election and Christianity itself.

      As to your second point, you are probably right — for most people. Personally, I find it creepy or annoying when the State does these things.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  5. “It works like this: The majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority party can’t do much about it. We are a democracy, and minorities have fewer resources in a democracy. Rather than fight, lose, and be seen as a loser, the minority acquiesces.

    When the minority party becomes the majority, nothing changes. Once again, the majority party supports the growth of government power, under its aegis. The minority acquiesces. The cycle repeats.”

    This much is evident, but doesn’t this at least suggest that the politicians are not where the problem is? If the growth of government power continues regardless of who is in charge, then shouldn’t we look for what has been constant throughout? K Street and the national security/military/industrial complex (to borrow Francis’ phrase) are making the rules. The politicians are merely the tools.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. I have to admit you’ve lost me now. The Cato piece takes the position that advocacy for libertarian principles within our current system is “an utter waste of time” and argues for “calculated action.”

    You say this isn’t promising, so I take it you’re arguing that advocacy is not a waste of time. Then, what are you advocating for here?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. Is there a reasonable examination of one’s person that we would admit flyers on jetliners are potentially subject to as a justifiable condition of flying in the post-9/11 circumstance, or just none?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • The combination of locking cockpit doors and air marshals seems sufficient to me, along with the other ordinary security procedures used before. Any additional security provided by these “enhanced” patdowns and backscatter X-rays will probably not even decrease net mortality. Particularly not on the margin, as most of the foiled airline terrorism isn’t foiled by any form of security at all.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • But before you were potentially subject to a hands-on pat down of some kind, I believe on a random-plus-if-suspicion-warrants basis. I myself experienced one. I completely get that the kind of search what they’re doing now is way more invasive. But it seems to me then that what we’re trying to deal with is just identifying the level of touchy-feeliness that is reasonable and not an unjustified infringement of liberty, especially if you’re saying that how it was before they ramped up the procedures this year was tolerable (if unwelcome), and what they’re doing now is not tolerable. I believe we have always been subject potentially to a hands-on search of our persons if we want to fly, basically at the discretion of authorities. The fact that such searches were not routinely administered doesn’t really change the principle. So again, is it an intolerable infringement of our right to move freely to be potentially subject to being searched using the hands-on-our-person method as a condition of flying, or is this merely a matter of identifying the specific level of invasiveness that is tolerable in such a search? It’s one or the other.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I do think it’s a question of the specific level of invasiveness. Sorry if I was being unclear. And while clearly moving to that level of invasiveness is sometimes warranted, given the results of less invasive searches, starting out there isn’t remotely appropriate, as I see it.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Okay gotcha. From what I’ve seen I think what happening now is obviously out of proportion. But I think that the fact that pat-downs in some form are, at least between the two us, sill understood as a legitimate security procedure means that there is a lot less fodder for principled outrage here than it might seem, and more space for simple negotiation of an acceptable medium arrangement. I think that most of the reaction really hasn’t based on any principled distinction between measures that are infringements on a definable standard of privacy and those that aren’t, but rather in a visceral reaction to the experience itself or videos of it. And those reactions are perfectly legitimate, and are rightfully being expressed and taken on board in what amounts more or less to negotiation amongst ourselves about what exactly we want to undergo for the sake of some ostensible amount of increased security on airliners. I don’t think there’s actually much that’s win/lose, black/white, legal/illegal here. It’s just a continuum question that we have to figure out as a society.

              Quote  Link

            Report

      • I agree that the locking cockpit doors and air marshals would be sufficient in almost all cases.

        But alas, Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine has taken hold, so it is hard to be surprised that screening methods continue to be ratcheted up. Those in charge will be excoriated as long as anyone can argue that something more could have been done the next time some attack is even attempted.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  8. Jason, I agree with you about the TSA, which is the bulk of your post. But I still don’t get why you’re okay with a product surveilling the inside of someone’s house and selling that information to a third party without their knowledge or consent. You write, “Advertisers can’t deny your freedom to travel. All they can do is offer you stuff.” That’s certainly true. But why should I trust that the good spies and data miners who maintain this hypothetical file on me- incidentally, not knowing who they are or where that database is- would never sell that information to the government or to anyone who could use it against me? Because they usually work with advertisers so they’re on ‘our side’? I mean, say the state has questions about me and my private life, and there’s a company that knows what books I have on the bookshelf in my living room- walk me through why I should trust that no deal would ever be made there or hasn’t been made already. Is it that someone else would boycott the data mining company if they ever did something like that?

    I think what your friend was commenting on wasn’t that libertarians tend to distrust the state (although, of course, he could have been griping about that, and I’d disagree with him); but that they tend to overidentify with capitalism and be extremely trusting when it comes to business and business people. And, I know, I know- we don’t have to buy things, but we do have to live under the state- but that doesn’t quite explain why that is. Why are libertarians so often willing to extend boundless good faith so long as the people spying on or manipulating us are, on some level, involved with commercial interests?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • One reason I’m unworried about the Microsoft incident is that there’s no there there. The entire thing was based on a stray, off-script remark by a lone executive at a shareholder meeting. His comment was immediately repudiated in a statement by the company, and observers all around noted that it violated the Kinect’s EULA.

      So on the one side we have a totally artificial panic, with no privacy breach at all. On the other side, we have the TSA.

      But even if Microsoft did take pictures of your living room and give them to advertisers — well, there’s nothing saying you have to buy a Kinect. I’d certainly deem air travel to be more of an inherent part of modern life, difficult to do business or often to conduct private life without, at least in the way to which we are accustomed. Sure there are substitutes, but these are vastly inferior for many of the purposes we have come to incorporate into our lives. There is a real loss of dignity to restrictions on air travel that isn’t seen in the restrictions on one’s choice of game system.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Well, if it’s just an unfounded rumor, fair enough. I’d never heard this Microsoft rumor before this post. So what I heard there was that your friend was asking why it would not be a violation of privacy for a company to take pictures of the inside of your house without your consent and then sell those pictures to some unknown third party, and then you saying that the device can’t touch your penis. You can see why I found that unsatisfying. But I take the point that your friend was repeating a silly rumor.

        I guess what I’m trying to work out, in a fairly inarticulate way, is that I’ve never been able to keep straight whether libertarianism is a critique of the state that makes use of a larger argument about innate rights, or a larger defense of innate rights that happens to bring libertarians most often into conflict with the state. I assume that someone must have posted on this question by now, but it’s escaped me somehow.

        Your point that a private company could, hypothetically, violate my privacy in such a way because I don’t have to take part in the market is why I have this question. I don’t remember ever having a conversation with a libertarian about a violation of rights that didn’t originate with the state. I mean, yes, I do understand that the state has a monopoly of legitimate force that makes their coercive power much worse than most private parties. And, in your hypothetical, I do get why restrictions on air travel would be a hell of a lot worse than a video game system taking pictures of my living room. But, of course, private bodies can still violate my rights. I assume that libertarians know that. But, as far as I can tell, when that happens, it’s not on the libertarian radar.

        Question: Is it possible that what I’m seeing as a lack of concern about other groups violating the rights of the individual is really just an awareness of how difficult it is to respond to those violations without bringing the state into it?

        Frankly, when libertarians speak rapturously about human freedoms, or even just rapturously about their love of human freedoms, I wish they’d qualify it. It seems more plausible that libertarianism is a critique of the state (which I happen to agree with) than a defense of individual liberties as such. Because, if the defense of individual freedoms in themselves was taken to its logical conclusion, I think we’d be talking about anarchism and we’re not.

        I should note, of course, that I’m working through thoughts I’ve had for some time here and not entirely responding to your points. I’m also not, in any way, trying to critique you. I’m really just trying to figure out why I so often agree with all the points made by avowed libertarians here, while not really considering myself a libertarian. It’s certainly not out of any loyalty to the Democrats or Republicans, who often tend to be full of it in exactly the ways you’ve outlined in this post. I suspect that I’m maybe just too paranoid for libertarianism. Not trusting the state is just the beginning of it for me.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • These are large and important questions. I would like to respond to them at greater length than would be appropriate for a comment, and also I’m visiting with family through Monday. As I understand you’re in France, let’s postpone. Ping me if I’ve forgotten next week, because I have a lot to say.

            Quote  Link

          Report

  9. We live in the wasteland of power; we Remnant are losers. Like Christians, we take it for a badge of honor.

    Wow. Self-dramatize much?

    You make a nice living at being a libertarian. I’d call people working three menial jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ head the losers, myself. But by all means, let’s take away their food stamps in the name of freedom.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • You make a nice living at being a libertarian.

      And you know quite well that I’m unusual that way. Very unusual.

      Why do people work three menial jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ heads? Often, I’d say it’s precisely because of the economic power and privilege wielded by others. Where does that power and privilege reside? Where does it originate? In the unholy nexus between industry and government, and in the direct favors of the latter to the former. That’s also what I’m talking about here.

      Now, I don’t recall saying anything about taking away anyone’s food stamps, but do you really feel good about living in a country where one in ten get them? And do you feel confident saying that welfare traps have absolutely nothing to do with the prevalence of welfare?

      Even though my motto concerning welfare is “end corporate welfare first,” and even though, as a longtime reader, you ought to know this about me…. still. Let’s not have any illusions. It could be done a whole lot better than it is.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • > Why do people work three menial jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ heads? Often, I’d say > it’s precisely because of the economic power and privilege wielded by others.

        I’d say it’s because they don’t have skills valued sufficiently by the market to pay a living wage. Part of this is the continuing trend of moving jobs offshore. Whether it results in net efficiencies or not, executives love the notion of paying their workers less. (This isn’t just cynicism: I’ve lived through the time wasted trying to co-ordinate with a team 12 time zones away, created because claiming lower development costs would be a talking point during the hypothetical IPO.)

        > Now, I don’t recall saying anything about taking away anyone’s food stamps,
        > but do you really feel good about living in a country where one in ten get them?

        I’d much rather there were enough jobs paying living wages to go around, but that’s not the case. And I have no faith that cutting taxes and regulations would create them. It’s just as likely that the money freed up would go into more Ponzi schemes like CDOs.

        > And do you feel confident saying that welfare traps have absolutely nothing to do with the prevalence of welfare?

        No. Do you feel confident enough to let people starve to find out?

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • “No. Do you feel confident enough to let people starve to find out?”

          Jason, it’s useless discussing matters with someone who sees the world as a choice between the current welfare state and starvation. I understand what you are saying — you want to make sure that people who need assistance get it, but you believe the welfare state leaves a lot to be desired, and that we should be spending a great deal of energy developing a better way to provide assistance that helps people escape poverty and become independent. How anyone can argue with this is impossible to understand, yet, they do.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • You’re basically right, but it seems that I tried to argue anyway. I’m sincerely curious what Mike has to say about it, because his idea of what I believe doesn’t square with what I actually do believe. For which see below.

              Quote  Link

            Report

        • I’d say it’s because they don’t have skills valued sufficiently by the market to pay a living wage. Part of this is the continuing trend of moving jobs offshore.

          If they do not have skills valued highly enough to pay a living wage, that may also be due to regulations, interventions, and the like. Or it may be due to the fact that a “living wage” in the richest country in the world is far, far above an objective living wage. Many of the things we consider essential aren’t, ultimately. And wealth is not the given or natural state of humanity. It does have to be created.

          Yes, it’s distressing to think that sometimes we may be market losers, but it remains an objective possibility. By my reckoning, people in other countries — who are vastly poorer than people in the United States — have just as much moral worth and dignity as we do, even if their skin does happen to be brown. I’m presuming that you feel the same way… but your comment here does lead me to some uncertainty. If they outcompete us, do they not deserve to reap the rewards? Or do they fail to deserve the rewards? If so, is it because their skin is brown, and they’re Mooslims?

          I know I’m throwing a firebomb here, but really, we ought to have the courage of our convictions, including the conviction that all people are human and all deserve a fair chance to compete. In the long run, this form of competition is by no means a zero-sum game, and I look forward to a richer planet, particularly among those who are the very poorest. These folks don’t live in the United States, you know.

          I’d much rather there were enough jobs paying living wages to go around, but that’s not the case.

          And I’d rather that everyone earn a living wage… AND get a pony. So that makes me the winner, doesn’t it? The real world isn’t measured by what you druther.

          Do you feel confident enough to let people starve to find out?

          My favored welfare program is a guaranteed minimum income combined with a negative income tax. Under such a system, anyone who starved would have only themselves to blame. Anyone who didn’t have health insurance likewise would have only themselves to blame. And I’d be okay with merely private charity for such cases, even if I don’t find it adequate in the world we now live in.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Is your negative income tax going to cover the whole world? If not, you’re talking apples and throwing oranges. (I agree that it would be a fine system domestically, assuming the natural demagogic tendency to keep cutting the levels could be restrained.)

            > And I’d rather that everyone earn a living wage… AND get a pony.
            > So that makes me the winner, doesn’t it? The real world
            > isn’t measured by what you druther.

            Since that was exactly my point (i.e. that the current usage of food stamps is necessary because the employment situation is so bleak), I have no idea what yours is.

            > If they outcompete us, do they not deserve to reap the rewards?

            To quote one of my favorite films, deserve has nothing to do with it. If I thought it did, I’ve have to question a system in which CEOs make absurd amounts of money for being mediocre or even failing miserably. Or in which the very people whose incompetence drove their employers into bankruptcy are paid bonuses for it.
            But if I had to answer the question, I would say that, no, being in places that lack rules about workplace safety or child labor makes foreign workers more exploitable, not more deserving.

            And if you think that in the current political climate, food stamps and other current forms of assistance are going to be replaced by superior ones, rather than tax cuts, I’d like you to pass whatever you’re smoking over this way.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • CEO pay is such a star-spangled distraction. I’m not saying I love CEOs and think they deserve to get paid as much as they do. Frankly, that’s for shareholders to decide.

              The big picture is that most of this goes away if we allow people to fail. Also, any CEO’s salary is a drop in the bucket compared to the money that gets shuffled around and used to reinforce existing power structures anytime there’s a recession. If you’re gonna make CEO salaries an issue, I suggest paying attention to the number of zeros.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • A negative income tax need not cover the entire world to be an improvement. Adopting it here might even increase pressure elsewhere to do likewise. Tax competition changes the incentives for governments.

              My point about “a living wage and a pony” was merely that the living wage you love so much is essentially an arbitrary construction. You may wish for it, but then someone else wishes for something better, and morally they’re the winner.

              The real world is not made of wishes. It’s made of really hard work. Stamping your foot and demanding something for nothing may look superficially like the moral high ground, but it’s the same as hoping that ice cream will cure cancer. Passing a law won’t make it so either. Poverty is both the state of nature and a very difficult problem. If I knew how to solve it in a direct manner, by legislation or sheer force of will, I’d be trying whatever solution I thought would work. Unlike many, I don’t profess to know such a way. Do you? (If so, I’m going to laugh, mind you. But I’m curious.)

              As to CEO pay, I concur with Christopher Carr, below. Crunch the numbers and you will find that even paying CEOs nothing, and giving their salaries to ordinary workers, would yield them a pittance. And at the same time, being a CEO takes talent, and talent is in short supply. I’m quite sure companies would prefer to pay only for talent that delivers on its promises, but again, this can’t be predicted in advance. There are legitimate grievances here, but they aren’t ones whose redress would overturn the class structure. Not by a long shot.

              As to foreign firms doing the work of Americans, I do feel you’ve moved the goalposts. Your initial complaint was about their doing it more cheaply, not about their labor standards. If labor standards are your real issue, you ought to have said so up front. In any case, poor labor standards tend historically to be temporary, and they are most likely only a phase. Following their initial transitions, countries rapidly adopt not just better labor standards, but better environmental ones too. The way to hasten them on this journey is not to cut off trade with them. It’s to increase that trade.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • And at the same time, being a CEO takes talent

                Depends. Not if you take Ken Lay at his (post-indictment) word: that he was just a front man, and had no idea how the company was actually run.

                The real world is not made of wishes. It’s made of really hard work.

                Really? That thing I do 50-60 hours a week (when I’m not commenting on blogs) that puts food on the table is hard work? Thanks. I had no idea.

                Your initial complaint was about their doing it more cheaply, not about their labor standards.

                Are you suggesting that the two are unrelated?

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Not if you take Ken Lay at his (post-indictment) word: that he was just a front man, and had no idea how the company was actually run.

                  Now you’re just throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it’ll stick. Why on earth am I supposed to believe him, of all people?

                  Are you suggesting that the two are unrelated?

                  In some respects, yes! Living in Bangalore is a whole lot cheaper in real dollars than living in New York. On top of that there are labor standards issues, but those alone aren’t the whole of the difference.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

  10. Now you’re just throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it’ll stick. Why on earth am I supposed to believe him, of all people?

    Because he and Enron represent the free market at its best, of course, and anyone who thinks otherwise is envious and consumed with class hatred. I’ve read that dozens of times.

      Quote  Link

    Report

        • So… a convicted felon says something preposterous, and desperate, to save his own ass, and it’s automatically representative of all CEOs everywhere?

          I suppose by your logic that I’m positively forced to consider Ted Bundy an upstanding citizen too. And it reflects on my character, you know. I’m a very bad person! Anything to hurt the defenders of the free market! (Can I give you Hitler?)

          I hope you realize that your guilt by association is just preposterous here.

          I held no esteem whatsoever for Enron. Truthfully, I didn’t give them much thought one way or another. At the time they went belly-up I was not actively involved in policy research, so unfortunately I have nothing to offer you personally.

          But objectively, Enron was in no sense a free-market concern. It was a skillful manipulator of a rigged market, engaging in arbitrage made possible by government quotas and price fixing. And who did the rigging? Consider the following:

          http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3381

          http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1511

          There are relatively free markets, but Enron never played in one. Instead, they took the elaborate quota and price fixing scheme in California’s energy market and exploited it for their own gain. The mere fact that California’s energy markets were called “deregulated” doesn’t matter.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Both of those date from 2002, before Enron’s role in shutting down power plants to cause artificial shortages had been documented. That is, Enron did much of the rigging. Duke Power did quite a bit too, on the gas pipeline side.

            And, no, Ken Lay isn’t typical, except in being given far to much credit for the success of his company. He’s simply the most obvious example of it being a crock.

            And I don’t know why you’re talking this so personally. No one (least of all I) ever accused you of being responsible for all the sins of the market.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • No one (least of all I) ever accused you of being responsible for all the sins of the market.

              Mike, Jason’s point is that these weren’t “sins of the market” because Enron wasn’t playing in a free market.

              Before you can persuasively argue that these were in fact “sins of the market,” you need to demonstrate that it was in fact a free market.

                Quote  Link

              Report

                • Concurred with both James and MFarmer. It never ceases to amaze me how everything bad done by everyone is automatically a failure of “the market,” and how, at least to some folks, all good seems to come from the government.

                  I am on the edge of my knowledge here, but as I understand it, Enron’s shutting down of power plants would not have been a viable market strategy without the production caps present in the California system — caps that by definition would not exist in a free market.

                  (Of course, without production caps, someone would probably make a profit, and someone in the government would have to come along and save us from that evil.)

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • It’s been a heck of a long time since I looked at this issue, but if I remember correctly, the structure of the power grid was a big issue, too. While the system was moving toward a deregulated market system, the grid–a big costly infrastructure–had not yet had time to be significantly enhanced, creating choke points that made it vulnerable to manipulation depending where power was produced.

                    But, again if I recall correctly, not all of the allegedly bad actions Enron took were so bad. They were blasted for taking plants off-line to do maintenance, and while maintenance could have been their clever euphemism for screwing-with-supply, most of those plants had been running at more than capacity for several years due to California’s economic boom in the ’90s. Maintenance has to be done sometime.

                    Then there was the tremendous stupidity of California’s government in agreeing to really long-term contracts at really high rates. They got totally snookered by the energy companies on that one, and while you can legitimately criticize the energy companies’ for bad behavior there, you also have to ask the question of why you would trust regulation to a group of people that so vividly demonstrated the ease with which they could be outsmarted and outmaneuvered by those they would regulate. (That’s the other thing that never ceases to amaze me–the faith in government bureaucrats to be clever enough to successfully constrain companies.)

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *