Archive for Philosophy and Logic

Sep
11

An economic cult

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Paul Krugman this morning writes about “the inflation cult,” doomsaying pundits and supposed economic experts who, economic rain or shine, predict that a steep rise in inflation is coming anytime now and, quite reliably, get it wrong time after time.

Part of that appeal is clearly political; there’s a reason why Mr. Santelli yells about both inflation and how President Obama is giving money away to “losers,” why Mr. Ryan warns about both a debased currency and a government that redistributes from “makers” to “takers.” Inflation cultists almost always link the Fed’s policies to complaints about government spending. They’re completely wrong about the details — no, the Fed isn’t printing money to cover the budget deficit — but it’s true that governments whose debt is denominated in a currency they can issue have more fiscal flexibility, and hence more ability to maintain aid to those in need, than governments that don’t.

And anger against “takers” — anger that is very much tied up with ethnic and cultural divisions — runs deep. Many people, therefore, feel an affinity with those who rant about looming inflation; Mr. Santelli is their kind of guy. In an important sense, I’d argue, the persistence of the inflation cult is an example of the “affinity fraud” crucial to many swindles, in which investors trust a con man because he seems to be part of their tribe. In this case, the con men may be conning themselves as well as their followers, but that hardly matters.

This tribal interpretation of the inflation cult helps explain the sheer rage you encounter when pointing out that the promised hyperinflation is nowhere to be seen. It’s comparable to the reaction you get when pointing out that Obamacare seems to be working, and probably has the same roots.

Not just economists, but the country (and perhaps the entire Republican Party) seems to be in the grip of an economic cult concerned with much more than inflation — that’s just a symptom. As Krugman suggests, ethnic and cultural (and class) divisions factor into it. Digby has written repeatedly (and just yesterday) that many of the same people “have always been wrong about everything.” And yet, their followers keep listening. Conservatism never fails. It is unfalsifiable. I wrote last week that the Koch brothers’ evangelism for the their libertarian Kochification Church resembles recruiting techniques used by cults.

Hey, let’s start a meme.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Sep
09

If Dogs Could Talk

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Don’t you like a good new fashioned dust up between two biologists who you would expect to agree on most things? A recent hypothetical draws a strong reaction which draws an even more outlandish hypothetical. Biologist, author, blogger and atheist PZ Myers recently wrote in a post titled The only abortion argument that counts:

We can make all the philosophical and scientific arguments that anyone might want, but ultimately what it all reduces to is a simple question: do women have autonomous control of their bodies or not? Even if I thought embryos were conscious, aware beings writing poetry in the womb (I don’t, and they’re not), I’d have to bow out of any say in the decision the woman bearing responsibility has to make.

Which drew this reaction from Richard Dawkins:

To which PZ responds by drawing up an even more fantastic hypothetical Read More→

Sep
08

Privileged lanes

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London bicycle courier, Oxford Street
Photo: ProfDEH, Wikimedia Commons

Can’t stop thinking about Ferguson, MO.

Over at A Little More Sauce, jdowsett draws an analogy between bicycle riding and white privilege that doesn’t rely on impugning anyone’s character. He very cleverly uses the highway infrastructure’s bias towards cars over bicycles to illuminate how the social infrastructure is skewed in ways many rarely notice.

I can imagine that for people of color life in a white-majority context feels a bit like being on a bicycle in midst of traffic. They have the right to be on the road, and laws on the books to make it equitable, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on a bike in a world made for cars. Experiencing this when I’m on my bike in traffic has helped me to understand what privilege talk is really about.

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I have long been wary of the fetish among the business and political classes for efficiency. It’s a frequent rationale for bureaucratic decisions that seem to come at the expense of living, breathing people.

A Good Read

Thomas Frank (“What’s the Matter with Kansas?”) speaks with Barry Lynn at Salon on the reemergence of monopolies in America. Lynn describes how, rather than overturning laws on the books for decades, the Reagan administration changed the way the laws regulating monopolies were enforced.

Yes, that was what was so brilliant about what they did. The Department of Justice establishes guidelines that detail how regulators plan to interpret certain types of laws. So the Reagan people did not aim to change the antimonopoly laws themselves, because that would have sparked a real uproar. Instead they said they planned merely to change the guidelines that determine how the regulators and judiciary are supposed to interpret the law.

The Justice Dept. went from raising its eyebrows in the 1960s at mergers that concentrated a few percent of a market to waving though deals involving 80-90% of it.

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Mar
16

The Politics (And Theology) Of Who Suffers

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Last week was the funeral of North Carolina state senator, Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt. Big Baptist church. Two governors (one sitting, one ex), two former lieutenant governors, most of the North Carolina Council of State and more politicians of both parties than I have ever been in a room with at one time. After eulogies by senate colleagues, the preacher gave a sermon about salvation. I got the message. Just not the one he intended. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

“When I hear Republicans in the United States say that taking away people’s food stamps will do them good I ask, what do you know that allows you to say this?” — Avner Offer

Avner Offer is Chichele Professor Emeritus of Economic History at Oxford and author of “The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950.” Chris Hedges shared Offer’s epistemological inquiry into what they know and how they know it at Truthdig. Offer studies neoclassical economics and “just-world theory.”

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Feb
01

The Monetization Of Human Beings

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David Simon on America as a Horror Show


We’ve changed and we’ve become contemptuous of the idea that we are all in this together. This is about sharing and about, you know, when you say sharing there’s a percentage of the population (and it’s the moneyed percent of our population), that hears socialism or communism or any of the other -isms they want to put on it. But ultimately we are all part of the same society. And it’s either going to be a mediocre society that, you know, abuses people or it’s not…

And that once they’re in that situation, they’re not only marginalized, they’re abused. I mean, we are the country that jails more of our population than any other state on the globe. More than totalitarian states we put people in prison. We’ve managed to monetize these irrelevant people in a way that allows some of us to get rich.

Now, we’re all paying for it as taxpayers for having this level of incarceration in American society which is unheard of in the world. But we let some people, you know, get a profit off of it. The monetization of human beings like that, you know, anybody tells you that the markets will solve everything, the libertarian ideal.

I can’t get past just how juvenile the thought is that if you just let the markets be the markets, they’ll solve everything.

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Jan
29

SOTU Postmortem

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For those who did not see the State of the Union address last night, as you could guess there were some amazing moments of non-applause by the GOP for things like, you know, sick people being able to see a doctor and ending decade-long wars. All the while — with the exception of calling out “Congress” for trying over 40 times to repeal Obamacare — the president remains, for the most part, unwilling to call out his adversaries for their obstruction. That is his temperament. And that ain’t working. A friend points out that sometimes being nice is not leadership, especially when faced with adversaries with no compunction about not being nice. The liberal tendency to be vain about being highminded can be a mistake (below). Sometimes a little rhetorical Roadhouse is justified. 

So, I’m posting an old piece from Digby (largely excerpted from others) that addresses the partisan divide and how the left, like Obama, doesn’t seem to “get it.”

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Jan
13

Doing It Right

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I advise liberals that if you’re thinking of voters as (or calling them) stupid right before going out to ask them to vote with you, maybe they don’t because you’re doing it wrong. Sally Kohn nails why that is true. Just because you don’t work at Fox News is no reason to apply the lesson.

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Compassion for America’s poor and the long-term unemployed is audibly absent among many of the well-to-do, their on-air groupies, and politicians who once upon a news cycle tried to rebrand themselves as compassionate conservatives. A caller to a progressive radio show this week asked when heartlessness became fashionable in America.

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The cattle barons are nervous and getting reckless.

The United States has come to resemble those iconic westerns with a Wild West economy in which cattle barons rule, politicians and lawmen are on their payrolls, and struggling settlers are either compliant or prey.

But after the 2008 crash and bailout on Wall Street, one after another Occupy, the Consumer Protection Bureau, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Moral Mondays and now Pope Francis have put the cattle barons on notice that their grip on power is weakening.

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