Friday, July 1, 2016

Loss of Confidence in Western Leadership

Fascinating diagnosis of modern Western crises of confidence in our ruling/"elite" class here.

Another run down of symptoms and possible solutions here. Excerpts (links in the original):
Aside from "The Cult of Smartness," why are present arrangements -- let's call ourselves an "aspirational meritocracy" -- failing us?

Hayes' theories are many:

  • Institutions designed to reward merit are being gamed by the privileged, who create a self-perpetuating elite. The most familiar example concerns admission to prestigious schools. Admissions tests like the SAT began as a high-minded reform. Applicants would be chosen for intellectual prowess and compete for their spot on a level playing field. Thanks to test prep, the rich get lots of time to practice on it, while even smart poor kids don't.
  • More broadly, inequality begets more inequality. "Those who climb up the ladder will always find a way to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies and kin to scramble up." Thus the astonishingly outsized gains seen at the very top of American society.
  • The intense competition inherent in meritocracy creates powerful incentives to cheat, and encourages the attitude that whatever you do in pursuit of dominance is fine as long as you profit or win. For example, at Enron traders who broke the law weren't punished if they were making money. And in Major League Baseball, everyone pretended that steroids weren't around.
  • When elites break the rules they aren't punished like regular people. They're bailed out of trouble, or spared criminal prosecution for their lawlessness. This is actually the subject of Glenn Greenwald's latest book.
  • There is too much social distance separating the people in charge with the folks subject to their decisions. Thus Catholic bishops who sympathized more with molesting priests than their victims, Senators who send men from a class they rarely encounter to fight the wars they approve, and the disaster planners who couldn't conceive of how the timing of Hurricane Katrina at the end of the month would affect the ability of poor residents to evacuate. There is a long history of Americans complaining about the gulf separating them from their leaders, from the 'distant, unresponsive' King George to the 'out-of-touch, inside-the-Beltway' politicians of today.
.. why not embrace and emphasize reforms that either address elite excesses more directly or have a better chance of having some cross-ideological appeal? Some of the ideas that follow fit those criteria. Others are longtime hobbyhorses that would go some way toward mitigating some of the elite pathologies that Hayes' adeptly identifies.

With that end in mind, I present them for debate, the doable right beside the implausible thought experiments:

Write simpler regulations. Complexity advantages the people at the top, who are always best positioned to exploit its vagaries. As Kevin Drum once put it, "Dumb, blunt rules are the only kind that can work in the playpen of modern finance. We simply don't understand the world well enough to pretend that we can regulate things in minute detail, and we sure as hell don't have regulators who are either smart enough or can move fast enough to stay ahead of the rocket scientists trying to outwit them. That's not just impossible in practice, it's pretty much impossible even in theory. It's just plain impossible. But dumb-as-rocks rules about capital requirements and trading limits and collateral requirements and term structures? Yeah, that can work."

End the War on Drugs, the most extreme example of rich and poor being punished differently for the same behavior.

One way elites "pull up the ladder" is through credentialism. So how about doing away with the many unnecessary professional licensing laws that disproportionately hurt the economic prospects of the poor?

Tax test prep courses, and use the proceeds to subsidize test prep for anyone eligible for free school lunch.

Move the Supreme Court to Omaha, Nebraska, or Salt Lake City, Utah, or Portland, Oregon. And transition to an e-Congress, so that House members spend more time in their districts, being required to cast votes from among the people they represent. One way to decrease the social distance between elites and citizens is to better disperse the elites among the people.

Stop subsidizing college tuition. Instead, take the total sum spent on that enterprise and divide it equally each year among all graduating high school seniors, who can use it for more education, trade school, or more professional development as they see fit.

Stop subsidizing mortgages.

Privately funded media does a great job covering rich people culture. Why should NPR do the same? Publicly radio and television ought to be given a mandate to cover, serve and seek programming feedback from the lower reaches of American earners and the long term unemployed.

That is by no means an exhaustive list, but it's enough for now. ..."

And one more:
... The Nixon pardon, and the way it was sold to the country, became the template for justifying elite immunity. Nowadays, with only rare exceptions, each time top members of the nation’s political class are caught committing a crime, the same reasons are hauled out to get them off the hook. Prosecuting public officials mires us in a “divisive” past when we should be looking forward. It is wrong to “criminalize policy disputes”— meaning crimes committed with the use of political power. Political elites who commit crimes in carrying out their duties are “well-intentioned” and so do not deserve to be treated as if they were common criminals; moreover, politicians who are forced out of office and have their reputations damaged already “suffer enough.” To prosecute them would only engender a cycle of retribution. Political harmony thus trumps the need to enforce the rule of law.

...

That dynamic expresses the underlying motive of the political and media classes’ general defense of elite immunity: by protecting the lawbreaking license for other powerful individuals, they strengthen a custom of which they might avail themselves if they too break the law and get caught. It is class-based, self- interested advocacy. That is why belief in this prerogative and the devotion to protecting it transcend political ideology, partisan affiliation, the supposed wall between political and media figures, and every other pretense of division within elite classes. It is in the interest of every member of the privileged political and financial class, regardless of role or position, to maintain the vitality of this immunity. And what we have seen over the last decade is the inevitable by-product of elite immunity: pervasive, limitless elite corruption and criminality. ..

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rod Dreher notices the symptoms of a society-wide adoption of the pedagogy of the oppressed. Excerpts:
... Honestly, I’ve had it with people. I’ve had it with Trump supporters who think their anger and their outrage gives them the right to punch people in the face. I’ve had it with Black Lives Matter and other Social Justice Warriors who think the so-called righteousness of their cause gives them the right to silence those who disagree with them. I’m sick and tired of people who think everything wrong in their lives is because somebody, somewhere, has wronged them. Guess what? You can’t screw whoever you like, have as many kids as you like, or as many partners as you like, walk away from your marriage (if you ever marry), and expect everything to be okay. You can’t drink, drug, party, “keep it real,” make excuses for your children, make excuses for yourself, allow our degraded popular culture to raise your kids, and expect a good outcomes. You can’t throw money at problems and expect them to go away (e.g., pay to send your kids to a Christian school, and assume that your tuition fee contractually entitles you to opt out of the moral and spiritual formation of your children), or assume that being a Nice Middle-Class Person is sufficient. It’s not. I’m tired of the rich and the middle class who expect everything to be handed to them, and fall to pieces when it isn’t. I’m tired of the working class and the poor who live as if their relative material deprivation gives them a pass from having to live by basic standards of conduct that most everybody understood and affirmed within living memory, but which are all but forgotten today.

Above all, I’m tired of a culture in which so many people have no idea how to tell themselves no, to anything, ever. A culture of entitlement. Believe me, I’m talking to myself as well. This is the beginning of Lent for us Orthodox Christians, and I am taking inventory of my own tendencies to sin, to disorder, and I don’t like what I see. You might try it too. ...

Bill Cosby and Abortion

An interesting point. Excerpt:
... Notre Dame is set to award the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden, a man whose record on abortion could hardly be worse. He is not slightly in favor it; he has often been one of abortion’s strongest supporters in the Senate. When you award a man with this record your highest honor, what do you say about yourself? At least these three things.

First, you show that don’t really take the evil of abortion all that seriously—certainly not as seriously as other forms of sexual assault against women, which is precisely what abortion is, since you would never consider awarding any honor at this point to Bill Cosby. ... 


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Catholics Oppose Trump

Oh, certainly not all Catholics oppose Donald Trump in his presidential election bid. But the voices raised in opposition are significant, and getting louder.

From the earliest, there was Mark Shea, a man whom I've always considered a remarkably accurate barometer of where the Catholic middle really is. He's generally right, even if he sometimes gives into his feelings and is rather more polemical or less than polite in his zeal for truth.

There was CatholicVote, right around the same time that National Review came out with the "Trump Edition," lining up an array of conservative leaders to lay out the case against the Donald (who really seems to be more of a Scrooge McDuck than a Donald, but I digress).

And now, there's George Weigel, Robert George, and many of the mainstays of what could be called the Catholic Right writing in National Review, calling on their fellow Catholics and all people of good will to oppose the Donald.

And, of course, there's Pope Francis, sort of.

I really hope Catholics take note--Trump is a reality TV show star, running for president as though he's just in one more telecast contest. He's a character, and so he plays well on TV, but there's no hint of any political, diplomatic, or governmental expertise in his repertoire. He's not someone who should be president, especially not given the tremendously difficult and dangerous times we live in at present.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Recession in a Jubilee?

It may actually be time to pay the piper.

Excerpts:
...[D]espite record low mortgage rates, first-time homebuyers can no longer afford to make the down payment. And without first-time home buyers, existing home owners can't move up.

Likewise, the total value of stocks has now become dangerously detached from the anemic state of the underlying economy. The long-term average of the market cap-to-GDP ratio is around 75, but it is currently 110. The rebound in GDP coming out of the Great Recession was artificially engendered by the Fed's wealth effect. Now, the re-engineered bubble in stocks and real estate is reversing and should cause a severe contraction in consumer spending.

Nevertheless, the solace offered by Wall Street is that another 2008-style deflation and depression is impossible because banks are now better capitalized. However, banks may find they are less capitalized than regulators now believe because much of their assets are in Treasury debt and consumer loans that should be significantly underwater after the next recession brings unprecedented fiscal strain to both the public and private sectors.

But most importantly, even if one were to concede financial institutions are less leveraged; the startling truth is that businesses, the federal government and the Federal Reserve have taken on a humongous amount of additional debt since 2007. Even household debt has increased back to its 2007 record of $14.1 trillion. Specifically, business debt during that time frame has grown from $10.1 trillion, to $12.6 trillion; the total national debt boomed from $9.2 trillion, to $18.9 trillion; and the Fed's balance sheet has exploded from $880 billion to $4.5 trillion.

Banks may be better off today than they were leading up to the Great Recession but the government and Fed's balance sheets have become insolvent in the wake of their inane effort to borrow and print the economy back to health. As a result, the federal government's debt has now soared to nearly 600 percent of total revenue. And the Fed has spent the last eight years leveraging up its balance sheet 77-to-1 in its goal to peg short-term interest rates at zero percent....
Interestingly, all this comes in the context of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. Jubilee years, historically, have been characterized by debt forgiveness of one sort or another. Perhaps it's time to return to an ancient remedy for the fix we're in.

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