November 17, 2007

I know I haven’t been updating this blog recently….  That’s partly because it’s hard to tell if anyone actually reads it.  If you do, post a comment and let me know if I should update it more often. Thanks.   (You can actually find a lot of my posts on http://forums.philosophyforums.com/philosophy-of-politics-and-law/. )


Inflation & Social Security

October 23, 2007

The recent annual cost-of-living increase in social security payments seemed skimpy to some. But it all matters what you buy. With the price of consumer electronics going down while the cost of medical care goes up, senior citizens can obviously stretch their dollars further by buying more iPods and less medical care.

(Thanks to Tim Iacono for that one, on Seeking Alpha or at  http://themessthatgreenspanmade.blogspot.com/)

The Social Contract and Fairness

October 6, 2007

The social contract, which you may remember from school, isn’t much discussed any more, but it provides the framework for how political decsisions are made in the U.S. My own thoughts on the subject:

1- Given: people have an innate moral sense of fairness and sympathy, which appears to have proven by psychologists and neurologists, and which my own study of history leads me to agree with

2- Given: a strongly held belief system, or a strong emotion, can override this moral sense

3- Given: the US is a pluralistic society like it or not. John Rawls: within this society there are “communities” that are not pluralistic, but the overall nation is, because it’s made up of many such communitites

4- Conclusion: if each community tries to enforce its belief system on the other communities, constant strife will result. Or an oppressive police state.

5- Conclusion: a social contract or cooperative agreement, such as the US Consitutution, that requires people to compromise, is the only way these communities can get along

6- Conclusion: decisions made under a social contract should be made by gathering the facts (inductive thinking) and seeing the situation from the other guy’s perspective (fairness) — because it seems to be the best method. It’s better than utilitarianism, because of the difficulty of measuring happiness. And it’s better than decisions made according to a particular belief system, including libertarianism, because that’ll destroy the social contract.

A Theoretical Future

September 26, 2007

Current US government policy, especially foreign policy, has for the past quarter century been largely based on a philosophy sometimes called neoliberalism, a.k.a corporate globalism or corporate mercantilism.  It consists of the following tenets:
– Promotion of hypergrowth and unrestricted exploitation of environmental resources to fuel that growth
– Privatization and commodifiction of public services and of remaining aspects of the global and community concerns
– Global cultural and economic homogenization and the intense promotion of consumerism
– Integration and conversion of national economies, including some that were largely self-reliant, to environmentally and socially harmful export-oriented production
– Corporate deregulation and unrestricted movement of capital across borders
– Dramatically increased corporate concentration
– Dismantling of public health, social, and environmental programs already in place
– Replacement of traditional powers of democratic nation-states and local communities by global corporate bureaucracies
(From the 2002 International Forum on Globalization, reported by Peter Soderbaum in the Sep 2007 Post-Autistics Economic Review)

Economist Soderbaum (Malardalen Univ, Sweden) goes on to note that neoliberalism is legitimized by neoclassical economic theory, with its narrow emphasis on economic efficiency at the expense of the big picture.  As Steve Fleetwood (Lancaster Univ, UK) noted earlier in PAER, issue 17, neoclassical theory is based on deductions obtained from inital assumptions about closed systems.  But as closed systems only rarely exist in the real socio-economic world, neoclassical theory, notes Fleetwood, therefore explains nothing at all.   There’s something vaguely disquieting about knowing the future of the planet is based on this.

Health and Wealth

September 21, 2007

I came across a forum post a while back that wondered out loud why poor people were complaining so much.  After all, they had access to a much greater variety of consumer goods than did people, even rich people, in the Middle Ages.  Richard Layard, noted in the Happiness post below, had something to say about what a society’s goal should be:  the happiness of the citizens, or just better shopping.

I was reminded of that by “The Growing Inequality in the Neo-Liberal Heartland”, by George Irvin, in the current issue of the Post-Autistics Economic Review — see the link on the right.  Irvin notes that even though the income disparity between Bangladesh and Harlem is huge, infant mortality is higher in Harlem.  Ah, but Harlemites have more choice of sneaker styles….

Irvin relates this seeming mystery to social status — that what affects health is not absolute income, but income relative to others.

A Sound-Bite Society

September 20, 2007

Chris Hedges, in an article reprinted by Common Dreams, about Bill Clinton and NAFTA:  “… in a sound-bite society, reality no longer matters.”

Hedges goes on to say that the results of NAFTA disprove everything Bill Clinton had asserted it would accomplish.  In particular, once Mexican trade protections for farmers were removed, Mexican farmers were forced to compete against US agri-business.  Many couldn’t, and were forced to leave their land.  (Some 2 million between 1993 and 2002, according to Hedges.)

A similar result in Jamaica was reported in a documentary, now on DVD, “Life and Debt”.  As one Jamaican farmer described it, the machete can’t compete against the machine.

Free trade is a triumph of theory over reality.


September 19, 2007

The media reports of Hillary Clinton’s new health care proposal, and how she’s learned her lesson, reminded me of the last time she did this.  As everyone knows, the right-wing orchestrated a concerted attack on the proposal, effectively convincing the public that it was absolutely, positively, no good.

What was not widely reported, and probably long forgotten by now, was a survey done shortly afterwards by the Wall Street Journal.  A WSJ reporter removed the Clintons’ names from the proposal and simply asked people what they thought of this unidentified plan.  The general comment was:  “Oh, this is a great plan, much better than the Clintons’ plan.”   Politics = perceptions

Faith in What?

September 18, 2007

Since I started this blog, I’ve become attuned to the use of the word “faith” in the media. In common usage, the word can mean belief in the supernatural or it can mean belief that a friend will do what’s right, or any of a number of related things. It could be useful if we differentiated the non-religious usage of “faith” from the religious usage.

(This is one of those thinking out loud posts, lol.) When we say we have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow or that our spouse is not a serial killer, what we really mean to say is that there is a very high likelihood of that event happening. Perhaps close to 100%. But it’s not 100%. Whereas, when a true believer uses the word “faith” in a religious sense, he is in fact referring to something he believes is 100% true, with no element of doubt whatsoever.

The origin of faith in these two cases is also different. In the non-religious sense, our confidence in the event is based on our observation. We’ve seen the sun come up every day, and we know from what we’ve read of the experiences of others in the past, that it always came up for them. The scientific explanation for why it comes up is also available to us — it’s not a priestly secret. Contrast this to religious faith, which stems from belief rather than observation — and which may carry no available explanation. (Unless you consider “God is unknowable” as an explanation.)

In practical terms, I’ve noticed that true believers — my term for people who accept things on faith, without observation, and especially in disregard of observation — generally have no Plan B for when things don’t work out. If the sun didn’t come up tomorrow, for instance, we would probably turn on our TVs to get a scientific explanation of why the Earth stopped turning. Whereas, the true believer would simply think the gods were punishing him and would pray for forgiveness. Actually, that is a kind of Plan B too, but it’s the same Plan B for everything that doesn’t go right, and generally doesn’t work very well.

If we use some other word for non-religious faith, like trust, then my answer to the question in the title is: Absolutely nothing.

The Moral Sense

September 8, 2007

I’ve just finished reading a remarkable book, “The Moral Sense” by James Q Wilson.   Wilson notes that, despite differences in culture, mankind holds in high esteem the qualities of fairness, sympathy, duty, and self-control.   Culture  certainly affects these qualities, as do gender differences, but the basic qualities  are there — they stem from a need for socialibility that has been honed by evolution.

It’s my contention in this blog that ideology and culture — belief systems — draw us away from these basic human values.  I will continue to get more into this in future posts.  In the meantime, I readily recommend reading this book.

Free Trade as Religion

September 8, 2007

“Free trade is the religion of our age.  With its heaven as the global economy, free trade comes complete with comprehensive analytical and philosophical underpinnings.  Higher mathematics are used in stating its theorems.  But in the final analysis, free trade is less an economic strategy than a moral doctrine.  Although it pretends to be value-free, it is fundamentally value-driven.  It assumes that the highest good is to shop. It assumes that mobility and change are synonymous with progress.  The transport of capital, materials, goods, and people take precedence over the autonomy, the sovereignty, and, indeed, the culture of local communities.  Rather than promoting and sustaining the social relationships that create a vibrant community, the free trade theology relies on a narrow definition of efficiency to guide our conduct.”
David Morris, essay “Free Trade: The Great Destroyer” in “The Case Against the Global Economy (Mander and Goldsmith, editors, 1996)