Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Ayn Rand’s Dichotomies

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I think this guy was comparing the Bush administration to heroes in an Ayn Rand novel, meaning it in a negative way.

I realize that I’ve over-simplified.  But in order to properly refute Rand’s philosophy, I’d have to write a tome as large as any of hers, and  this is not the place for that.

Thankfully. 🙂

Do you see the parallels?

What’s happening in the Bush administration seems akin to Rand’s story.  Bush is destroying the economic strength of this country with his feeble- minded tax breaks and other policies.  He has painted the poor as having got that way through their own laziness, yet he himself is the embodiment of a human leech, living off the tax-payers’ hard earned cash while producing nothing worthwhile for the largest groups of tax-payers.

The closest parallels I see are not to Rand’s heroes but to a certain class of her villains. It’s been a long time so I can’t remember any characters’ names. I mean the businessmen who believe that the way to succeed is not by honest work and production but by having friends in high places and trading on their connections.

So when I hear about the Bush administration’s no-bid contracts to favored firms for reconstruction work in Iraq and the secret meetings with the energy industry, that’s what I think of. The plan to privatize Social Security is more of the same — it would be a way to steer more money to Wall Street brokerage firms, who would get more commissions not because more people chose to purchase their services but because the government made it happen. Likewise the prescription drug plan was a handout to the pharmaceutical industry; if helping the people over the long term were the real motive, there would have been more attention to adequately financing the program.

immigrants from the Soviet bloc, where socialization was implemented so poorly.

In this respect “We the Living” gives the clearest picture of where she was coming from.

In Rand’s world, there was a dichotomy.  One small group of people was all yang, and the remainder of humanity was all yin.  While Rand was an excellent author, I cannot accept her judgment of humankind.

Actually I think that such a stark dichotomy is a literary failing. I’d rather have leading characters who have more internal struggles and have to grow through the course of the story. Okay, maybe Dagny Taggart did, but did John Galt or Mr. Rearden or, umm… the architect from The Fountainhead?

Of course this is a failing that can be outweighed if the author tells a good story in other respects.


Iran News Poll

Monday, January 26th, 2009

  1. Do you know that the full official name of the country is The Islamic Republic of Iran?
  2. Did you know that they had a presidential election and a runoff this summer?
  3. Did you know that unelected religious figures decided which hopefuls would appear on the ballot and declared others ineligible?
  4. Do you know they have an elected parliament?
  5. Do you know that the same unelected clerics “vet” the candidates for parliament as well, and also veto any laws that they disapprove of?
  6. Do you know that the voting age in Iran is 15 years?
  7. Do you know that Iran’s population has grown rapidly and that a majority of the people are too young to remember when the American embassy staff was taken hostage in 1979?
  8. Do you know that there is a democracy movement among Iranian students who want to enlarge the freedoms they already have and do away with the extreme religious laws?
  9. Do you know that some of these young student activists still look to the United States and other Western nations as examples of democracy?
  10. Do you know that there are uranium mines in Iran?
  11. Do you know that uranium enrichment is a dual-use technology, that is, it has both civilian and military applications?
  12. Do you know that the European nations who are pressuring Iran to cancel its plans to enrich uranium, are hoping to sell them uranium enriched in Europe?
  13. Which of these are your main sources of news on television? NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, other: ____

[Originally published in 2005.]


Who Controls Government?

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Someone wrote:

But you probably have not heard much about a government controlled by its customers. Economic historian Frederic Lane laid the basis for a new way of understanding where the control of government lies in some of his lucid essays on the economic consequences of violence discussed earlier. Thinking about government as an economic unit that sells protection led Lane to analyze the control of government in economic rather than political terms. In this view there are three basic alternatives in the control of government, each of which entails a fundamentally different set of incentives: proprietors, employees, and customers.

It is easy to characterize the incentives that prevail for governments controlled by their employees. They would be similar incentives in other employee-controlled organizations. First and foremost, employee-run organizations tend to favor any policy that increases employment and oppose measures which reduce jobs. As Lane put it, “When employees as a whole controlled, they had little interest in minimizing the amounts exacted for protection and none in minimizing that large part of costs represented by labor costs, by their own salaries. Maximizing size was more to their taste also.”

A government controlled by its employees would seldom have incentives to either reduce the costs of government or the price charged to their customers. However, where conditions impose strong price resistance, in the form of opposition to higher taxes, governments controlled by employees would be more likely to let their revenues fall below their outlays than to cut their outlays. In other words, their incentives imply that they may be inclined toward chronic deficits, as governments controlled by proprietors would not be.

I replied:

 I saw this where I work. We had to comply with new federal regulations which were billed as protecting consumers. Similar laws had already been in effect in several states, and they were usually administered in a straightforward and simple way. But the federal program was full of fees and complex paperwork that the states never needed. I soon saw that protecting consumers was just a side effect; justifying the jobs of bureaucrats was the main purpose.

They continued:

But wait. You may be saying that in most jurisdictions there are many more voters than there are persons on the government payroll. How could it be possible for employees to dominate under such conditions? The welfare state emerged to answer exactly this quandary. Since there were not otherwise enough employees to create a working majority, increasing numbers of voters were effectively put on the payroll to receive transfer payments of all kinds. In effect, the recipients of transfer payments and subsidies became pseudo government employees who were able to dispense with the bother of reporting every day to work. It was a result dictated by the megapolitical logic of the industrial age.

My comments:

I believe FDR was quite deliberate and open about this in the way he structured the Social Security program.


When you think closely about the terms under which industrial democracies have operated, it is more logical to treat them as a form of government controlled by their employees. Thinking of mass democracy as government controlled by its employees helps explain the difficulty of changing government policy. Government in many respects appears to be run for the benefit of employees. For example, government schools in most democratic countries seem to malfunction chronically and without remedy. If customers truly were in the driver’s seat, they would find it easier to set new policy directions.

My comment:

An independent school district shows this principle in its purest form. The school board elections are on a different day than any other elections, so that only the highly motivated — teachers and their families — turn out to vote.

Appointment of Judges

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Someone wrote:

This means almost all our Judges have been appointed by conservative Republicans (Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43).  These Judges are of no mind to rule against DOMA regardless of the Declaration (where the “all men are created equal”) line is, or the Constitution (which guarantees all citizens equality under law).  Who you vote for does have an enormous impact on your own lives.

Someone else replied:

Well, why can the People not vote for the Supreme Court, too?  It seems like an enormous BIAS to allow the President to choose the Supreme Court using his own innate biases, too!  What sense does that make?  Surely the Founding Fathers were smarter than *that*!

I replied:

They did think about that.

I’ve been reading “The Federalist Papers,” which is a series of essays that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote to encourage ratification of the Constitution. They went over all the provisions and explained how each one would work, giving pros and cons over other alternatives.

In numbers 76 and 77, Hamilton writes about the appointment of officers of the government. This includes Supreme Court justices, other federal judges, department heads, and other high officials. He outlines three alternatives: “The power of appointment…ought either to be vested in a single man, or in a select assembly of a moderate number, or in a single man with the concurrence of such an assembly. The exercise of it by the people at large will be readily admitted to be impractical; as waiving every other consideration, it would leave them little time to do anything else.”

The State of Iowa did not take this advice for its own officials. How much time did you put into deciding who to vote for for Secretary of State or Secretary of Agriculture?

Hamilton goes on to consider the three practical possibilities.

  1. Appointment by the President alone can encourage careful consideration and judgment, because the President would know that nobody else could override his decision and everyone will know where to lay the blame for a bad choice. On the other hand, placing the power in one person’s hands could lead to enshrining the one person’s bias (as you point out).
  2. Having the Senate or a small committee make appointments removes the concentration of too much power in one person’s hands. However, each person involved brings their own biases, which may add up rather than cancel each other out. Appointments could be chosen according to who can keep together a majority coalition rather than who is the best for the job. Or factions could trade off by approving one side’s choice for one position and the other side’s choice for the next one. If a bad choice is made, all those involved can point fingers at each other because it is not clear who to blame. Hamilton relates some bad experiences from his home state of New York, where appointments were made by the governor and a few councilors meeting in secret.
  3. The third alternative is to have the President make the choice, but subject to approval by the Senate. Here the appointees are chosen by one person, who will be encouraged to use careful judgment and discretion, and the people will know who is responsible for a bad choice. Thus we have the advantages of the first alternative. But the Senate can reject an appointee they believe is unwise, so we have the benefits of the second alternative. Since the Senate can only approve or reject, there is not the scope for bargaining and horsetrading, because they don’t know whether the next nomination will be any more to their liking.

Further, this is part of an overall scheme in which the people involved in different parts of the government are chosen in different ways and at different times. The hope is that this will result in people having different interests, and that even if some of them become corrupted or despotic, they won’t all go corrupt at the same time.

So the plan includes:

  • House of representatives, elected directly by the people in each district, every two years.
  • Senate, originally chosen by the state legislatures, for terms of six years. This was intended to safeguard the interests of every state and to provide a defense against federal encroachments onto the rights of states and the power of state governments. It was also intended to insulate the Senate from popular but transient feelings among a majority of the people that might disregard the rights and interests of minorities. Early in the 20th century this was changed to direct election, and I believe this is one of the causes for the expanding scope of federal government power we have seen over the past 90 years. The longer terms and the election from each state at large still make the Senate a little different from the House.
  • President is elected indirectly. The people of each state choose electors, who are not otherwise part of the government, to meet in their state capitals and discuss who would be the best President, and then cast their votes accordingly. Almost immediately this developed into the system we have today, where the electors are pre-pledged to support a particular candidate for President. But it still gives the President an independent base of support, unlike countries with a parliamentary system, where the leader of the majority party in parliament becomes the prime minister.
  • Department heads are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The President can ask for their resignation at any time.
  • Supreme Court and other judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They serve for good behavior, which means for life unless they do something bad enough to be impeached.

That’s this week’s civics lesson.

Some Ramblings About the 2006 Election

Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Maybe George W. Bush really was elected in 2004 after all. If Ken Blackwell stole Ohio for Bush, wouldn’t he have done it for himself too?

Not all that much will really change with Democratic control of Congress.



Health Insurance Misdirection

Sunday, January 25th, 2009
I wonder the same question that [another commenter] asks: When the decisions are made about how to allocate our resources, will society take the so-called lifestyle choices into account?


When I say this, I’m not hoping it will happen. I’m fearing that we will attempt to do it and make an awful mess of it.



Republicans in Trouble

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

No difference between Democrats and Republicans? It all depends on which Democrats and which Republicans you’re comparing. Kucinich and Brownback? Loads of difference. Clinton and Giuliani? Not so much.

There’s a difference. There’s just not enough difference. For once I’d like a presidential candidate I can wholeheartedly support, not just someone who is only half as evil as Huck McRomney.

[Originally published in May 2008.]

Richard Dawkins Blames Religion for 9/11

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

My first reaction to Richard Dawkins’ article is that it is moderately subtle Muslim-baiting.

My second reaction is that he does have something of a point, but he is painting it with a too broad brush. All of the prophets have taught that how we live our lives in this world is immensely important; we shouldn’t be concerned only with an afterlife. Just what does Dawkins mean by “religion,” anyway? And “religions of the Abrahamic kind,” to use his overly clever phrase?


Dear Senator Winters

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Dear Senator Winters,

I am writing to ask you to report the anti-bullying bill, HB 270, out of committee and recommend its passage without any amendments.