On ideology and economics and the apathy of the American public

This is me thinking out loud (on paper). Comments are appreciated.

During crisis we often see economics come toe-to-toe with ideology because government becomes a more openly active player in our lives. This crisis has been no different. It is one reason I saved a space in my credit crisis timeline to outline government action (see the part labelled "Government intervention" here.

Most people think of government action through the big versus small government frame. I have said:

When thinking about government and its role and size, there are three camps of thought.

  1. Big Government. Supporters of big government believe that government can do good. In this view, an increase in the size of government is not just warranted but necessary in a severe economic downturn in order to fill the void left by the private sector’s fragility. The large scale fiscal stimulus enacted in 2001 at the beginning of President Bush’s first term, in 2008 at the tail end of the Bush Administration, and in 2009 during the Obama Administration are examples of Big Government in action.
  2. Limited Government. People in this camp believe that government must always be held in check – even in times of economic distress. If not, a self-perpetuating bureaucracy develops, with a cadre of individuals dependent on government and wedded to institutions or programs which no longer have great value. In this view, expanding government is like moving to into bigger house;  the new space must be filled with stuff, with size justifying the need for possessions rather than the need for space justifying the size.
  3. Small Government. Individuals in this camp see government as a parasite which, while necessary in small measure, always and everywhere raises the specter of despotism and cronyism. In this view, government must be kept as small (and as local) as possible because it feeds on society and on power to usurp property and wealth for its own use and that of its cronies.

Now, the big versus small government frame is often not a very good one in my view. When we think of government action, we really should be labelling specific economic policies as effective or ineffective and deciding on a course of action based upon this. For instance, While Lehman-style bankruptcies leads to systemic collapse, I have argued that the bailout hustle we have witnessed for the too-big-to-fail institutions was the worst of all possibilities.

Which is more free-market – a bailout and mega bonuses all around or asset seizure and recapitalization?

There is a price for bank failure in a capitalist society, you know. It’s called bankruptcy and seizure. The FDIC seizes and resells bank assets every week. That’s the right approach. But apparently, Lehman’s demise and the inadequate preparation for it scared everyone into bailouts – and that’s how it’s going to stay it seems.

The Swedish banking crisis response or the bailout hustle?, Feb 2010

Is America turning Japanese then? In a word – yes.

But, what’s done is done. Nevertheless, I have a few thoughts on ideology and economics which I wanted to run by you. Right now I’m thinking mostly about two opposing concepts: ideological purity and hypocrisy. I first talked about this last December in Humans are built to be hypocritical based largely on a post by Robin Hanson. At the time, I said:

If I understand Robin correctly, he is saying that a leader or pundit who seems to make coherent but more inaccurate statements is better regarded than one who makes less coherent but more accurate statements. A June article in New Science summed this regard up as “Humans prefer cockiness to expertise.”  What this means in practice is that ideologues (those who express extreme but more coherent views) are attractive because of the apparent coherence of their views – and I stress the word apparent…

reality is filled with contradictions that belie the apparent coherence of ideology. I have labeled the belief in strong versions of the efficient market hypothesis as misguided for just this reason.  Markets are efficient and de-centralized and we should almost always prefer them to the heavy and coercive hand of government – the stress being almost always. So, when I point out my belief in the primacy of markets, I guess I am following Robin’s dictum of wanting to seem ideological to some degree.  I hope I am also intelligent enough to know when ideology can lead us astray as well.

What I was trying to get across in that piece was my belief that humans build up two-dimensional models of how the world works called ‘ideology.’ As a result, most people gloss over the many unavoidable contradictions that real life offers. Jonah Lehrer puts it well when discussing personality and temperament:

It’s not that people don’t have personalities, or that these personalities can’t be measured – it’s that we aren’t the same person in every situation, which is what all these “tests” implicitly assume. It turns out that Shakespeare had it right all along. Just look at Hamlet – the Danish prince wouldn’t fit neatly into the categories of Myers-Briggs. He’s brooding and melancholy in one scene, and then violent and impulsive in the next. But this doesn’t seem strange to the audience. Instead, the inconsistency of Hamlet seems all too human.
Read More http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/08/the-personality-paradox/#ixzz0wQKryPUU

Getting back to economics, I see ideology as very dangerous. It produces cookie cutter responses to complicated economic questions that can have catastrophic results. For example: does a lax regulatory environment lead to freer markets? For the past generation the answer to this question has been yes. But I see deregulation as practiced more of what I call ‘corporatism’ i.e. the favouritism of incumbent well-connected large organizations at the expense of individuals and smaller enterprises. As an aside, note that Ron Paul sees the Obama Administration as another corporatist administration favouring incumbents. Also see Obama should be pro-market, not pro-business by Jim Pethoukoukis.

Those of you who are buying the big business propaganda about Obama calling him a socialist fail to understand that large corporations want a free hand to continue run roughshod over individuals and small business. Rhetorically, this is a good approach by corporations because people buy into this.

And of course, the ideology the elites build helps to maintain this fiction. See my piece "A more in-depth description of how elites maintain status quo ante" for more in this vein.

Take net neutrality for instance. Here’s something from the blog A VC I agree with as a civil libertarian:

Somehow net neutrality got painted as "regulating the Internet" when it is really all about not regulating the Internet. Net Neutrality is about keeping the way the Internet works today; an open Internet where innovation is allowed and freedom reigns…

So now we have a situation where the access providers want to change the game. And they are seeking the regulatory approval to do just that.

Venture backed startups and venture capitalists don’t use regulations and lobbying as competitive advantages. We don’t have armies of lobbyists. We don’t have congress on our payroll. But the access providers certainly do. They have been regulated for a long time. They know how the game is played and they use it to their advantage. Regulation is their game. They want our government to regulate the Internet and they want those regulations written in a way that allows them to do what they want to do. A regulated Internet is a comforting thought to the access providers and a frightening thought to entrepreneurs and the ecosystem around them.

I don’t want to see the Internet regulated. I don’t want rules that require oversight and adjudication. But given that we now have an on ramp that is tightly controlled by a small set of access providers with almost identical interests, I would like to have one basic rule that is so simple that everyone understands what it means and we can simply follow it.

I expect the Obama Administration to cave in to the big telcos and give them de facto monopoly over the mobile Internet now that Google has sold out.

Sound familiar?  This is exactly what the big banks are requesting, isn’t it? Remember when I said:

There is a price for bank failure in a capitalist society, you know. It’s called bankruptcy and seizure. The FDIC seizes and resells bank assets every week.

Why don’t too big to fail institutions go bankrupt?  For the same reason you see access providers resisting net neutrality  — because they are rent seekers who want government-regulated advantages.

Why does this happen? A researcher quoted by Science Daily makes an intelligent proposition which fits:

"Ultimately, patterns of hypocrisy and hypercrisy perpetuate social inequality. The powerful impose rules and restraints on others while dis regarding these restraints for themselves, whereas the powerless collaborate in reproducing social inequality because they don’t feel the same entitlement."

Why Powerful People — Many of Whom Take a Moral High Ground — Don’t Practice What They Preach – Science Daily

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about in a recent piece on Newt Gingrich and what he told his wife regarding the affair he was having while Bill Clinton was being impeached for the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.

He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, "How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?"

"It doesn’t matter what I do," he answered. "People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live."

Rather than tie all this up in a neat and tidy bow, I’ll just leave it hanging and hope you respond in the comments.  But, my overarching comments to all this are:

  1. The real problem in the U.S. has been government capitulation to large corporate interests in fields like healthcare, banking, real estate, defense, agriculture and oil and gas.
  2. The elites in America in both government and large corporations feel a sense of entitlement that exempts them from the rules. I see the Charlie Rangel scandal this way for example.
  3. The revolving door between government and large corporations reinforces this sense of  entitlement by staffing elites in corporations and government with the same players.
  4. The result is a tilting of the playing field toward elites who accumulate wealth. The U.S. seems headed toward a Latin American style income distribution with a wider dispersion of wealth.
  5. There will be no substantive change to the financial system unless we get a full economic collapse.  Financial interests are just too powerful now. Re-regulation has just meant greater power for regulators. None of the real systemic issues like too-big-to-fail are off the table.
  6. Elites are convinced they have it all figured out. They see themselves as the best and the brightest. That is why re-regulation has increased regulator power in institutions like the Federal Reserve rather than decreasing it (see A few comments on this blog’s harsher tone about the credit crisis for more on this).

Here’s how Glenn Greenwald puts it:

Let’s recall what former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson said last year in The Atlantic about what happens in under-developed and developing countries when an elite-caused financial crisis ensues:

Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or — here’s a classic Kremlin bailout technique — the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk — at least until the riots grow too large.

The real question is whether the American public is too apathetic and trained into submission for that to ever happen.

What collapsing empire looks like – Glenn Greenwald – Salon.com

I say yes – the American public IS too apathetic.

16 Comments
  1. Olivier Travers says

    Ask people belonging to what’s called the middle class in emerging countries what they think of the US “poor” with their cars, air conditioning and big TVs. They’ll laugh and ask back in puzzlement “so that’s what you call poor?” The American public is apathetic because they still have a long way to go before they hit the bottom. Until then, comfort trumps opening your eyes and seeing there’s an incoming train at the end of the tunnel.

    Hence my full agreement with “There will be no substantive change to the financial system unless we get a full economic collapse.”

    1. Edward Harrison says

      Agreed. The US is rich. The US middle class is rich. So there is a very long way to go before it hits bottom.

  2. Tom Hickey says

    Ed, I take the engineering approach to the size of government at any particular time. This is anaylzing the design problem and elaborating potential design solutions, evaluating options on the criteria of effectiveness in accomplishing the end in view and efficiency in means. “Efficiency is doing things right and effectiveness is doing the right thing.” (attributed to Peter F. Drucker) This m.o. provides the best chance of achieving the optimal solution. It is therefore not a matter of big government or small government, but rather what is the objective of government and what is needed to meet this objective in any particular situation. The general rationale of the US government is set forth in the Preamble.

    Then it becomes a political question as to what, e.g., “promoting the general welfare” means. Politicians pay a lot of lip service to “the will of the people,” and then they follow the money. There will be no rational discussion of politics that results in anything other than a corporatist state as long as the US does not get the money out of politics and shut the revolving door. All the rest is jabbering. It is nearly impossible to change things much as long as big money talks.

    What it takes to provoke change under such circumstances is crisis severe enough to wake enough people up to their plight. But the problem at that point is that most people are unable to grasp complexity, so the outcome of change is uncertain. Moreover, causes are difficult to determine, so the impetus is to scapegoat instead of to think things through. The likelihood of a Hitler or Mussolini riding to power on the horse of nationalism seems to be as great as an FDR getting in.

    Humanity is a great experiment. There are no guarantees of how long it will continue to be a successful one. The challenges are rising as humans increasingly multiply, and their power to effect change exceeds their wisdom in doing so. Humanity is presently running ahead of itself, and in the process fouling the nest.

    Economics. especially macro, is supposed to shed light on the situation by providing scientific analysis based on data and a theory of how the world works, with a view to formulating policy options. The dominant theory at present is market capitalism, with different schools of how it should be implemented. The dominant school in the US at present is neoliberalism, which has already showed itself to be a failure in policy-making. The single most salient reason that I have been able to locate is that economists don’t get out much, and they do not pay sufficient attention to research in other fields of social science. As a result many of their assumptions are simply not tenable in light of this research. Economics, being about human behavior, is chiefly about choice, and the assumptions about humans make economic choices are contradicted by research in other fields. As a result, economics as presently practiced resembles religion a lot more than science.

    1. Edward Harrison says

      Very good comments. The question you ask regarding what specifically “promoting the general welfare” means is the right kind of question to be asking. I tried laying some of this out in my post on the limitations of government. But, like you, I am left feeling that the process has been fatally compromised by money.

      Can anything change this? I am not so sure. The Supreme Court is giving legal sanction to even more free speech by corporations and unions. It will be very hard to fight against this – especially in the house. I am left thinking -as you – that only economic collapse really changes this dynamic. Ironically, this is one reason for the bailouts – to prevent that sort of outcome.

  3. Jamie says

    Edward-

    I would agree with your statement if I can add two words: the American public IS too apathetic so far. The more that oppress others, the more momentum they will build towards a tipping point with the general populace. You and Glenn are correct in pointing out the submission of the average citizen, and at the same time you must certainly be aware of the almost infantile low tolerance of said citizen being uncomfortable. We’re a nation of people accustomed to being coddled, and I’m terribly nervous about what will happen when folks begin to realize that their reality has evaporated right under their noses. In my opinion, that’s when you’re going to see the real dialogue begin.

    In the meantime, it would appear that you’re still involved in the diplomacy business and relaying information back to the rest of us. Keep up the good work!

  4. Element says

    I always like to read your views Ed, and I rarely disagree much with the logic of them. However, I see the overall situation more plainly and always seek to turn toward the implications for people as there’s no other reason for the economy to exist.

    I see the current situation like this;

    Past performance is not indicative of future results.

    Yet media commentators suggest a US double-dip is unlikely as historically they are rare? But a large number of economic developments that don’t normally occur, have occurred during the course of the past 3 years.

    In late-2008 the majority of US ‘expert’ commentators showed they did not know what was going on, or how to address it, except to flail about in panic with trillions of USD and push nationalization of banks. I think the entire planet noticed US TV ‘experts’ were thoroughly incompetent.

    Only a few unpopular marginalized and tedious mavericks had predicted the sequence in some detail.

    But less than two years on the same failed commentators are suddenly competent, confident and regarded as ‘expert’, to the extent that they declared the recovery was yokely-dokely, and virtually dismissed the possibility a near-term negative growth phase as decidedly unlikely … now that everything … has been … … fixed.

    Which is really odd given Richard Koo’s April 2010 lecture tour and .pdf paper, “What Post 2008 US, Europe And China Can Learn From Japan 1990-2005”, that clearly showed the US is now in much the same position Japan was during 1990. Most US commentators reject Koo’s Keynesianism ‘answer’ to avoiding actual Depression, but what Koo showed still can not be easily ignored or discounted, as people sought to promote a belief in green-shoots.

    Japan not only had two sharp phases of negative-growth in quick succession – it had several of them!

    In mid-2009 many US economists agreed the Japanese stagnation outcome was the most likely soft-landing path the US would of necessity follow.

    Well that implied several (more than two) sharp periods of negative growth in quick succession–right?

    So what I’d like to know from mainstream media economics commentators is;
    If the preconditions for total systemic failure and a sudden Depression existed in late-2008 then why do they think the pre-conditions for negative growth simply don’t can can’t exist in mid-2010 in light of protracted die-back in US personal and business credit, sustained high unemployment, low capacity utilization, plus unfavorable currency trends since late 2009?

    What do they say has fundamentally changed since mid-2008 within US economic and financial fundamentals that would preclude negative growth or make it particularly unlikely, in 2010, 2011 or 2012?

    See: “Real GDP per Capita at September 2005 Level”, August 2, 2010
    http://econompicdata.blogspot.com/2010/08/real-gdp-per-capita-at-september-2005.html

    “Even after the ‘recovery’, real GDP per capita is still 3% below the level seen December 2007 or roughly the level of real GDP per capita in Q3 2005.” – Jake (econompic)

    Jake’s graph within that link shows that recovery didn’t occur, there was just a stimulus bump in real GDP, that’s rolling-over.

    I see a whole range of issues that are fundamentally dragging upon US growth and will continue to do so for years. Other than spending and public sector jobs growth I can’t think of much that’s pushing US GDP growth to counter immediate growth-drags (not that public sector jobs are a solution).

    Thus my own guesstimate for US negative growth before the end of 2010 and lasting well into 2011 is >95%.

    As negative GDP arrives three things will be evident;

    (1) People and businesses will note that even unprecedented stimulus policy and deficit spending did not shunt back renewed economic weakening.

    Note: CMI Weekly Trailing 91-Day Percentiles graphic clearly shows that the slowdown toward US contraction that began on 15th Jan 2010 (according to CMI data) had started to falter from mid-October 2009, or ~6-months before the Fed stopped QE. The US was furiously pedal-to-the-metal the whole time, but the economy just slowed even as the US inventory re-build was beginning, and the Christmas 2009 spending peak was occurring (minus blizzards). Even with ZIRP, QE, and a total of $3.143 trillion in spending (in July 2009) still being rolled out, on top of an inventory rebuild from a deep and protracted recession, the US economy still slowed down. The CMI slowing actually gathered pace as the inventory re-build cranked up.

    (2) People and businesses will see again that mainstream economic commentators are dangerous self-satisfied quacks who spread willful ignorance.
    (3) People and businesses will experience a second sharp but also much longer-lasting shock to confidence and their sense of family security.

    Will quantitative economic models predict people’s consequent economic reaction and risk-aversion? A second phase of negative growth means more persistent and stronger risk aversion and credit shyness, and reduced capacity to service debt.

    Fool me once … shame on you.
    Fool me twice … shame on me.

    On Sept 16 2009 (~2-weeks before the CMI data downturn began) Ben Bernanke announced the US recession was, “very likely over”, and forecast “moderate growth” for 2010.

    Now Ben says the 2010 recovery was “more modest” than he expected. This is Ben’s way of saying US recovery is, “very likely over”.

    If you have not read, “Masses of Worthless Paper”, by Frederick Sheehan in Faber’s May 2010 ‘Gloom Boom and Doom Report’, I’d highly recommend it. I read it several times. It comprehensively showed that the Great Depression did not begin in 1929. It was made seamlessly inevitable and unavoidable well before 1929 and the similarity with what happened in the 1920s USA, to what happened prior to Sept 2008 absolutely stunned me. We learned nothing at all, and Ben Bernanke certainly and undeniably has no clue whatever about what caused the Great Depression.

    But triple-dip is the real danger now.

    A danger that’s not well appreciated. Despite what media economics commentators have said about the historic likelihood of a double-dip recession, even a triple-dip can occur, and is actually increasingly likely.

    Don’t think so? Ask the Japanese as they know what can easily happen in the situation the US is currently in and their confidence in credit-powered growth has not recovered since.

    There was actually no rational consistent reasoning to expect sustained US positive GDP growth in 2010, or in 2011. I personally don’t expect to see sustained US growth until I see 150 US banks going broke and closing every month.

    And thus people will have more money in their pocket, because they are no longer paying back unaffordable loans to what are really still undead banks.

    Then, and only then, can aggregate demand rise sharply on its own, and not via either credit or stimulus spending (though these will help, especially the latter).

    Look at a graph of what occurred to US GDP in 1933.

    Then look at a graph of the ~4,000 US banks that failed a year later during 1934.

    What that chronological relationship makes clear is that the failure of a massive chunk of the US banking system did >> NOT <> THINKS << that if thousands of banks naturally go bust this would lead to sharp negative growth? Why is no one trying to explain this chronological relationship?

    The peak S&L ~570 bank failures in 1992 coincided with economic recovery, not with GDP decline!

    So whence the baseless notion that massive US bank failures lead to US GDP decline? Who says so? And what evidence is there for it? Has anyone actually made a rational for that belief/expectation?

    Or is it just a nonsense meme being repeated within banking and political circles?

    Why is no one paying attention to the fact the US GDP began to take-off long before the majority of the banks failed?

    Why doesn't any one seem to want to face the obvious fact that loan defaulters have much more cash to spend? i.e. that the more credit defaulters you have the more aggregate demand will tend to rise, as they spend freed-up cash? If 40 or 50 million people stop paying their loans back (in part or in whole) and start spending the cash difference this frees up, what do you think will happen to aggregate demand, and to GDP, and to deflation, and to klepto-banks?

    Yup! The same thing that occurred in 1933, and in 1934. Namely, a sharp consumer and GDP recovery, followed by about 5,000 banks closing in the following year or two. One way or another, the bank's paper-value will be forced to adjust to and reflect the actuality that exists right outside their front door. Or they will fail to do so – and close their doors permanently.

    If you as an employed or marginally employed person stopped paying 25%, 50% or 100% of your loans would you not at some point be spending the resulting cash on other stuff, that you would otherwise not have bought? Would your disposable income not relatively rise, as though you had received a wage rise?

    Would deflation not thus be impeded from deepening further?

    Is this so hard for the White House, Congress, Senate and political parties to get their head around? Or for economics commentators, promoting more and larger spending, for banking support, to grasp?

    If banks are not allowed to freely fail via this defaulting and are artificially propped up by public money and accounting goobledy-gook you'll surely get stagnation, then triple-dip, and quadruple-dip.

    And people will simply default in larger and larger numbers, anyway, no matter how much a Washington klepto-establishment furiously tries to maintain banking wealth and the status quo. And the longer Govt strings this out with special protections for systematic accounting fraud (i.e. mark-to-make-believe), the more the long-term dangerous blowbacks will become maximized.

    If banks are officially formally allowed to fraudulently mark-to-make-believe then I see no reason at all why it is any less acceptable for people to informally and strategically default on non-repayable and underwater loans.

    The only dignified response to mark-to-make-believe asset price accounting 'rules', is mark-to-make-believe loan repayments. We'll see who does better out of that process. Quid-Pro-Quo

    A stimulus you can believe in, Edward. The apathy and economics will be resolved in a ways that are not generally expected.

    1. Gbgasser says

      Well stated element

      Ive thought the same thing many times. We need to be encouraging folks to pay less on their loans. Screw the moralizing from the banks etc. Corporate America behaves exactly the same way when the numbers go against them. I’ve never heard any of them agonize over “restructuring” their debts.

      The only way out of this is for folks to just say NOOOOO MORRRRRE.

  5. Ignorant Blowhard says

    Full blown economic collapse ala Argentina 1999 or Weimer Germany is inevitable at this stage in the game. The only financial institutions that are actually solvent using real world accounting are Goldman Sachs and maybe JPMorgan Chase all the rest are zombies. The administration knows this fact which is why the policy of “extend, pretend, bailout and kick the can” will continue until it doesn’t. The only real question is will the United States survive as a viable political and social entity when the can finally blows up. My gold and silver is on the United States of Argentina/Mexico emerging from the ashes.
    Thousands of nukes, civil war and economic meltdown, change none of us may survive.

  6. Scott says

    Hi Ed:

    I think the apathy in America is indicative of a dislike for ideology. This may be what you’re trying to say, but I think a lot of Americans are increasingly disinterested in politics and economics because they just like to live their lives. That is the environment we built in America. It is a safe and free place to have a family and try and survive without dealing with other people making decisions for you.

    It is true that as long as times are good, we could care less. However, I think the ironic thing that this current economic situation has revealed, is that when times are bad, we care even less about ideology. We revert to the homestead. We’re becoming ideologically opposed to the political class.

    The root of the problem is the role of government, and as you lay out, I think in America, as opposed to other societies, we’re more willing to throw out the fools and just continue striving on our own, as we have in the past. This is me speaking. My dad is a lifelong democrat. He loves the political fight. He worked in the Carter administration and has always “fought for the poor” but when he took that fight to his family, all he ended up doing, was distancing much of his family, because they did not care (they were apathetic). His family is not rich and they don’t care if they are rich, they just want to live the lives they have known. If that lifestyle is no longer available, they blame folks like bankers and politicians, not the fact that we, “as Americans”, made wrong decisions. They don’t blame recessions or depressions, they just blame changes from outside made to their lives. In the end, intervention is the enemy and so you get apathy because it is very difficult to take a stand against those forces bigger than you.

    Apathy is all you get when trying to fight bankers. Otherwise you would have revolution. We are not pressed to the bone here. This is not Tiananmen Square where a stand was necessary. Apathy is a symptom of Americans, respectful Americans, not willing to take the fight to the next level because they are civilized and respectful people and have hope that things are not as bad as they may seem.

    For myself, I’m looking the other direction too. F this drama. Let’s move forward in our own ways regardless of what any expert tells us. It’s not worth the time being an ideologue if it costs you years of your life that you could otherwise be living. That is the opposing ideologue’s dream. Getting you to waste your life fighting them. Be apathetic until the end, take care of yourself, and don’t give an s about what the ideologues say.

    Thanks again Ed. My main thesis is that we should not care, because caring about ideology costs us our livelihoods. I’m defending apathy in America.

  7. Cecil Laplaunt says

    I am against most of what Obama stands for, but on this he is right. When we begin to disregard the basic principles of our constitution, we are handing the terrorists a major victory. We must understand that the vast majority of Muslims are good moral people. The extremists are the ones causing the damage and they are a disgrace to most Muslims. Christians have had their extremists as well…..think of the loonies who protest at soldiers funerals, the KKK, and other Christian Militant groups. It would be ashame to let these fringe groups define the Christian Identity. We should not let that happen to those of other religions either for it will, eventually, come full circle!!!

  8. Namazu says

    Your points are well taken, as usual. I believe there are two key structural factors which differentiate us from other developed countries and make our predicament more dire. First is the complacency (not to be confused with apathy) that comes with great national wealth and power, and the freedom from having to fight on our own soil for over a century. Second is the remoteness (not to be confused with size) of our national government, and the evolution of a Ivy League monoculture which dominates government, finance, and various rent-seeking vocations (but also medicine, scientific research, and other activities with positive externalities). Ideological rigidity, hypocrisy, the tendency to steal: these are at least as common in most other countries in my experience. To what extent America’s natural strengths, like naive optimism and entrepreneurial energy, are enough to outweigh the impact of these legacy issues is not clear to me.

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