Mike the Mad Biologist

Like Atrios, DeLong, and The Krugman, I’m old enough to remember when nine to ten percent unemployment was not only an economic disaster, but also viewed as an ethical and societal one. With that, I first bring you some ethics by way of the Slacktivist:

I’m not an economist, but we’ve got five applicants for every single job opening. If you tell me that the best response to that situation is to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers, I will not accept that this means that you’re smarter and more expert than I am. I will instead conclude — regardless of your prestige or position or years of study — that you’re a moral imbecile. And knowing what I know about your inability to make moral judgments I will have no reason to trust you to make complicated macroeconomic ones.

Not that one should leave ethics aside, but what I don’t get is that the current policies don’t even make sense in terms of enlightened self-interest. Because we have lots of two things in this country (or, more accurately, we actively make these things):

1) Unemployed men.
2) Guns.

We seem to have forgotten some history. While the Great Depression started in 1929, by 1932, the U.S. was on the verge of total societal collapse. In Kansas that year, when a judge attempted to foreclose on a house, he was dragged from his court, savagely beaten, and given a mock lynching–a rope, but they didn’t kick the bucket out from under his feet (presumably, the foreclosure didn’t proceed).

In other states, farmers would hijack trucks with produce and either destroy them or give the food to the needy, in a primitive attempt at agricultural price supports. Labor clashes were common place and violent and bloody.

Do we really want to go there? Because both the volume of firepower and the willingness to use it seem to have increased since then. Eventually, a very angry man is going to figure out that his problems aren’t caused by those people, ‘feminazis’, or Unitarians (?).

Can you say jury nullification?

What many of our ‘leaders’, political and otherwise, don’t seem to get is that, if history is any guide, their positions offer them far more opportunity for arrogance than they do protection.

And the weakest among us, as always happens in those circumstances, will suffer the most for others’ foolishness.

Comments

  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    July 2, 2010

    Not that one should leave ethics aside, but what I don’t get is that the current policies don’t even make sense in terms of enlightened self-interest.

    Emphasis added.

    When your information all comes from an echo chamber, it’s real easy to get a reality disconnect. When you’ve got the mass media telling the bottom two quartiles that all the economy needs is to get rid of the “illegals” and “welfare queens” to cut the deficit — after which the economy will take off like a rocket — it’s easy to dismiss any worries that those same proles will get uppity.

  2. #2 skeptifem
    July 2, 2010

    My major break from libertarian explanations of the economy came after the financial collapse.

    I learned that the people running huge companies will more money that anyone could ever need in less than a year. They have little reason to look past the next quarter. If they don’t make a point of focusing on what will get them through the short term they don’t make it to the long term anyway. They have all the connections to get some other swanky job after they ruin whatever company they were at. This is twice as true for people with strong political connections.

  3. #3 Mary McCurnin
    July 2, 2010

    How do we shake the power tree to force the elite out of their idiocy? Voting doesn’t work. Not voting doesn’t work. The problem is that they really believe we don’t count. Or can’t count. I call our problem Imperial Fuckery.

  4. #4 Art
    July 2, 2010

    An interesting historic observation is that the New Deal was not a concession handed down from the ruling elite and business interests. It was a deal offered to the ruling elite and business interests by FDR as an alternative to a violent takeover by labor.

    It was sold as a benefit to the poor and working classes, and it surely benefited them, but there was not charity involved. It was the New Deal or proletarian revolution, blood in the streets, and the systematic dismantlement of the capitalist system by torchlight.

    It has been characterized an later days, by those who were forced to make concessions, as softhearted charity foisted upon the elite by a class traitor, FDR. Agreed to in a moment of moral weakness brought about by misguided sympathy for the poor and arm twisting by the government.

  5. #5 walter
    July 2, 2010

    I do no know where I go this from but it seems to apply here.
    “When we make a peaceful revolution impossible we are making a violent revolution inevitable.”

  6. #6 yogi-one
    July 3, 2010

    I think you have to look at this structurally, in terms of society’s institutions.

    #2Skeptifem is onto something. The problem is not so much that greedy people rise to the top as it is that our institutions reward greedy people at the expense of society in general. Politics and the business model both subscribe to that very ancient human idea that you rise to dominance by eliminating your competition.

    This works really well in a small tribal band, but contains some basic flaws that, when scaled up to a society of hundreds of millions, become flaws that can unravel the social fabric and cause the society to collapse.

    We find ourselves in a position where we have rewarded greedy and ruthless people by allowing them to occupy the most powerful positions in society, then express outrage when it turns out their actions as leaders aren’t enlightened and altruistic.

    It would take some basic re-evaluation and reconstruction of our political economic structures.

    I don’t think we’re capable of it, at least not voluntarily. So evolution will proceed in it’s usual fashion: the current dominant culture will collapse due to its own failures to cope with its own problems, which have been magnified by scale to where they destabilize the society.

    You see the evidence of failed societies throughout not only our written history, but in the archaeological record as well. Failure to adapt to environmental changes, or more commonly, a culture collapses because it becomes too successful, overruns its local ecosystem, and becomes subject to the stresses of dwindling resources, exacerbated by in-fighting between factions for control over the society.

    Corruption and violence, which can be much more easily monitored and directed at external challenges in a small tribal band, become huge problems that define the culture, and turn its destructive tendencies in on itself.

    We will get a front-row seat watching that process happen to ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way, I agree. However, trying to enlighten everyone to make the necessary changes is also a very tough challenge and puts us in a race against time, which is rapidly running out as the mechanisms play out to their own demise.

  7. #7 Paul Murray
    July 7, 2010

    Machiavelli would say that the problem is a lack of a king to reign in the aristocracy. The aristocracy (hereditary rich, powerful people) is always short-sighted about the commons.