Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cantlon: Missing parts keep economy stalled out

Today Tom gets going on a metaphor and it takes him a few stops past where he wanted to get off.

He started out on the right route, outlining some of the systemic weaknesses of laissez-faire capitalism and why public policy is necessary to ensure that it works in service to society rather than the other way around.

I can't endorse Tom's definition of a healthy economy, bristling as it is with unquestioned self-references to the distorted 'norms' we generally accept. His core thesis is good, that we need to find a way back to sensible regulation, but it's buried in waffly verbiage that makes it hard to spot. I think he's fooling himself with the idea that our labor surplus will eventually go away and we'll naturally return to labor shortage. The global economy has done away with that dynamic for good.

Great pension plan, too.
But his automotive metaphor won't run. He writes, "Policies that aim at that healthy economy are the drive shaft of the system. Right now we have an engine that's humming along great, but it's not getting to the wheels. We're not getting the intended end result of moving us forward."

It seems to me, a lowly news editor for an international business paper, that the capitalistic limo is moving along just fine. The problem is that it's left American workers behind. The people driving that sleek machine feel no responsibility to carry anyone but themselves. If you want to ride, their response is "build your own vehicle, sucker." For them, workers aren't partners or passengers -- they're fuel.

Lacking a sense of responsibility to the community that might mitigate their greed, the world's tycoons would happily drive the rest of us into destitution, turn the planet into a dry rock, and call us all ungrateful for complaining. Rather than worship capitalism and pretend that it will take care of us, like some sort of ancient, fickle god, we have to consciously employ capitalist principles in the greater interest of society. Rather than hope in vain that it might give us enough work to live on, we must harness it and make it a tool for the greater good.

It's going in the wrong direction. We need to take the wheel.

Psst, Tom: Just as a temperature can't be hot or cold, a price cannot be cheap or expensive. "Cheap price" is nonsensical. You might like to check in with Eric Partridge. Your editor should have caught that.

Update, Thursday: Tom's a stand-up guy and friend, and puts a challenging question that inspired another tedious rant from me:
Okay, I'll bite. What would you change about the definition of a healthy economy?
For me economic health can be measured on three criteria: robustness, in terms of exchange and added value, sustainability (renewable production and freedom from destabilizing excess fluctuation in value), and freedom from exploitation of people or the environment.

What I infer you were trying to describe are indicators of relative health given the 'system' that Americans generally take for granted. But if we focus on robustness, we forget that this system is both exploitative and unsustainable. Should we really be satisfied with having workers simply cross the threshold from societal burden to subsistence? Is that the criterion for health? What about human
potential and freedom? Talking to a single mom pitching burgers at Mac's about the pursuit of happiness is not unlike spinning her a yarn about winning the lottery and living in a candy palace. Should we be satisfied that a skilled worker must expect to scrimp and labor until he's old so he can be rich enough to buy his freedom from wage slavery (retirement)? This is health?

I'll give you that things aren't working as well now as they did in the postwar boom, but those salad days were based largely on economic distortions left by the war, and they were really only a slight upgrade from the degrading exploitation of the robber-baron days. The depredations of the postmodern baronial acolytes have certainly made things worse again, but rather than hope in vain for a return to the old system and halcyon days, we have to adapt to a quite different
world and a smarter, more humane set of core values. Cosmetic improvements to the old system is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.

Our old empire is creaking into its dissolution precisely because most Americans are clinging to an unsustainable, illusory standard of wealth based on exploitation that is killing our planet. The longer we dick around with this, the worse it'll be for your grandkids. Sayin'.

Editorial: Editor hears all, understands nothing

In today's "United States is not the world's police," the unnamed Courier editor tells us that while he has no heartburn about having our military burn up metric tons of money in a feeble attempt to sort of limit Gaddafi's military strikes on his own people, he's ticked that various people in the government are expressing reservations about it, giving him the impression that US policy is unclear in the matter.

Against those reservations he contrasts the President's statement, "It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go," and concludes that there is no consensus in our government about this.

The editor forgets -- or never learned -- that the President is also the CinC, and what he says goes in this area. Lower-ranking officials have the right to speak their minds as well, but that's opinion, not policy. Further, the policy that Mr Obama articulated has been standing since Reagan or longer. What's unclear about that? Does he imagine that DefSec Gates will go rogue and undermine the mission because he's not wild about it? That Mike Mullen will "forget" to arm some of the cruise missiles? Gimme a break.

The editor finishes off with, "It's time for the U.S. to back off and allow the United Nations to take the lead," apparently oblivious that this is exactly what the Mr Obama is doing. You see, US policy regarding Gaddafi is not relevant to the UN action in Libya. Two different things.

I guess the editor thought it was a documentary.
This is not difficult to parse out unless you're really hung up on the idea that wherever the US goes, the US must be in charge.