Sunday, October 26, 2008

Where does government end and the market begin?

The most careful writers are seeming to have trouble making a rigorous distinction between governmental economic actions and private economic actions. Where do the activities of the state -- regulation, taxation, oversight, arbitration, civil and criminal prosecution -- stop, and the independent, profit-seeking, "capitalist" private sector's domain begin? In terms of the present financial crisis, which came first, the corporate fat cat or the corrupt pol? Or are they even two distinct classes of person?

Pat Buchanan (The American Conservative, October 6, 2008) also finds a blur where this divide should be:

"'Government must save us!' cries the Left, as ever. Yet who got us into this mess if not the government -- the Fed with its easy money, Bush with his profligate spending, and Congress and the SEC by liberating Wall Street and failing to step in and stop the drunken orgy? [emphasis added] ...

"An unelected financial elite is now entrusted with the assignment of getting us out of a disaster into which an unelected financial elite plunged the nation. [emphasis added] We are just spectators."

Whose responsibility is it to rein in Wall Street? If it is the state's, as Pat implies in the first paragraph, then our system is not free-market capitalism; thus we should hand even more authority over to the state to regulate economic decision-making. If it is Wall Street's responsibility, as he implies in the second paragraph, then why blame Congress for not doing Wall Street's job? These "elites" are a confusing concept, and therefore not a concept at all.

Pat's final paragraph, however, is clear as a bell and impossible to deny:

"What the Greatest Generation handed down to us -- the richest, most powerful, most self-sufficient republic in history, with the highest standard of living any nation had ever achieved -- the baby boomers, oblivious and self-indulgent to the end, have frittered away."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Keep talking happy talk

Even before the current Financial Meltdown, there was scare talk out there in abundance. But here are some quotes from an article by Brian Kaller ("Future Perfect" in the mid-August issue of The American Conservative) that are heartening in any "crisis" environment:

"[Doomsayers]' long-held note of dread is useful only to the extent that it inspires people to do something more practical. The world we create will be, up to a point, whatever we were preparing for ...

"A critical mass of Americans who believe in an imminent zombie apocalypse runs the risk of making the future more difficult than it need be. Just as a Depression-era panic could crash a bank that would not otherwise have failed, so a widespread belief in a violent and hopeless end could actually make Americans less likely to work together during the next outage or shortage.

"... Say that Americans make only a third as much money, cut driving by two-thirds. Assume that extended families have to move in together to conserve resources and that we must cut our flying by 98 percent.

"Many would consider that a fairly clear picture of collapse. But we have been there before, and recently. Those are the statistics of the 1950s -- not remembered as a big time for cannibalism.

"Happiness, as defined by survey responses, peaked [in the mid-20th century] ... and has plummeted even as our incomes tripled.

"The tight bonds and sanguine outlook of young people in the '50s ... originated in their shared experience on the home front during World War II. Working together during a national crisis made them lifelong model citizens, who swelled rates of optimism and civic activism at every age as they passed, like a pig through a python, across a demographic lifetime. ...

"... Handled right, peak oil [which is the crisis addressed by this particular article way back in August] could bring a revival of small-town America, local farming, small businesses, and an economy that centers around Main Street rather than Wall Street."

Brian Kaller is apparently an Irish journalist who lives in County Kildare; more of his writing is at . I enjoy zombie apocalypse at least as much as the next person, but as a real outcome? Not so much!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Note to self

Never a dull moment.  Having missed the fact that my website had fallen into the public domain, I awoke this week to find an interloper camped upon it, writing as -- Marian Coombs.  So far the content is surprisingly innocuous, but the incident has prompted me to start this site instead.