Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some Must Reads

Sarah Palin wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post today.  I was originally planing on writing a short rebuttal, but after reading Conor Clarke's response (and follow-up) over at the Daily Dish, I don't see how I can really add anything to the conversation.  In the article is one of the better (if not best) non-technical summaries of externalities that I've read in quite some time:

The point of cap and trade is to solve a problem of social cost: As an energy consumer, I am imposing a cost on society (pollution) that I do not take into account when I make the original decision to consume.

In this quote,  Clarke is cuts through the political obfuscation of Palin's article, gets to the definition the words being used, and how these words apply to the topic at hand.  As Palin's op-ed illustrate, political arguments in America consistently rely on emotional appeals driven by charged vocabulary; vocabulary which is embedded in decades old culture war debate.  For example, inside language of Palin's article—the "Cap and Tax" epithet—is itself part of a clear attempt to 're-brand' the proposed energy plan with the 'tax-and-spend-liberals' narrative of American politics. 

This is what is so frustrating about our nation discourse, not just on energy bills or general politics—this is an element of the country and culture as a whole. We place a greater emphasis on the appearance of things, and how these things fit into our pre-determined narratives and understandings; than on the realities and facts of a situation.  It is because of this emphasis on appearances that Sarah Palin can write an opinion piece on energy policy, have it published in one of the country's major national newspapers, even though, as Derek Thomson (in another excellent appraisal of the op-ed) points out:

"Palin wrote a 700-word takedown of cap-and-trade that did not include the words pollution, emissions, carbon, or global warming."

It seems one doesn't need data, facts or a solid argument.  Just a reasonable appeal to the traditional monsters that lie under the bed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Politicians (Really) Are People Too

Sarah Palin was a flashpoint for me, and I think many people, during the 2008 campaign.  She crystallized a lot of what the right of the Republican party was about; she fought the battles of the culture war, she recalled the Richard Nixon's contempt of the (liberal) elite.  At the same time Governor Palin personified the GOP's patten of emphasis of winning over governing, as well highlighting politics over policy.  Because of this, I've spent some time reading about her resignation-the commentary, the analysis and the theories behind her decision.  The speculation is exciting, but is monotonous as it is empty.  A series of 'maybes' without answers is the daily parade of modern news, yet has no real meaning to the reader.  Ellen Goodman, in her column today, gets to the heart of why Palin's resignation is so compelling, and places a human emphasis on the soon-to-be-former Governor:

"What fans loved about Palin was her perceived authenticity. She was repeatedly described as “real.’’ I think it’s what Palin believed about herself. Even after her resignation, she described her role as governor, saying “This is who I am. This is what I am.’’ But, forgive that gosh-darned empathy, this is a woman who hit a moment when she doesn’t really know who she is. Or what she wants."

Goodman is pointing out the very obvious, but often forgotten point that politicians are human beings; they have thoughts, feelings, needs, goals, passions and failures.  This is lost in the noise of the 24/7 news cycle and the political games the country plays every 2 and 4 years.  After the crucible of American media and politics; CNN's candidate tracking, 538's daily poll updates and RealClearPolitics' daily aggregate, candidates lose their humanity—slowly they become abstractions.  Cardboard cutouts for supports to fill with expectations and values.  Times like these, Palin's resignations as well as Mark Sanford's personal meltdown, remind us that politicians are dynamic—living and feeling beings just like everyday people.  So it is ironic, yet ultimately fitting, that Sarah Palin's final show show of authenticity is her political undoing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My critique, of Kerouac's critique, of the Collegiate life

"-colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time with the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization"

-Jack Kerouac,  The Dharma Bums (39).

Kerouac is in one way, correct.  College education is locked in a traditional method of education; that one purchases and consumes textbooks, and regurgitate the materials at the behest of a professor, who assigns a grade based on the proficiency of said regurgitation.  It is rote education based on a model of information memorization and synthesis, in the form of seven page research papers and blue book exams.

But, Kerouac is wrong to blame America's conformist trends on the ubiquity of undergraduate education.  Kerouac, and many like him, are clearly looking for authentic and genuine experience through deep introspection and reflection of the world around them.  Such experiences are found in the real world though hard living, tough choices and dangerous situations; such authenticity cannot be found in a textbook or a lecture.  But the absence of authenticity from the experience college students learning experience is not a full impeachment of the collegiate model.  If everyone simply tramped around in along the mountain ranges of the American wilderness, nothing would get done; the discoveries of scientists, the works of artists, and the inventions of the entrepreneur are all a part of the luxurious lifestlye that allows young men and women to enroll in a university and care only about their intellectual and social development.   But in turn, if everyone spent every ounce of their energies simply trying to move, create, and invent, such an existence would be aimless. 

 There is room for both action and introspection-ideally both working together in a dynamic system.  

Monday, May 4, 2009

In Conclusion

When trying to eradicate the foreign supply of drugs, we seem to only “succeed in shifting sources, not in reducing drug abuse (Gray par 13).  Similarly, the domestic arm of demand reduction has been met with equal setbacks.  Drug use seems to be a persistent, if not pervasive aspect of modern America.  I believe this is the hidden trap of drug policy; the perception of prohibition as the status quo, and the interpretation of drug use as a corrosive and immoral byproduct of America’s industrialization and modernization.  

Historically, drug use has been common in human cultural the policy of prohibition is a recent development of the 20th century.  Looking to the future, this author believes that America’s, and other nation’s policymakers need to accept that affinity for drug consumption as a given and work toward more realistic policy goals.  Perhaps this is the definition of retreat, or the acceptance of failure, but the truth of our current situation is that “[…] culture and addiction are powerful forces—equal or greater than all the legal barriers and social programming arrayed against them” (Simon, Burns 541).  The goal of policy is to be in congruence with societies values, some reassessment of just what America’s values concerning drugs is in order.  In cold policy terms, the implementation of some kind of decriminalization/legalization initiative is the only possible step toward a more effective approach.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quick Thought

Before I go to bed: why do we look at torture with a partisan lens?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Modern 'Calvinism'

Since this is supposed to be an economics blog, (in intellectual content, anyways) this seems appropriate.

The irony, I see anyways, is how relevant Calvin's voice is in our current political/economic climate.  It's frustrating that it's taken so long for the United States to have a cultural/economic crisis on a national scale to finally engage in some soul-searching about our overall political philosophy and understanding of personal ethics.  We live very much in a "me"- based culture; which has some positives and negatives.  One of the biggest negatives that I see, is an insistence on 'if it doesn't effect me, why should I care?'  I see this commonly coming from conservative and especially libertarian political affiliates.  THe biggest problem with this, as I see it, is a willful ignorance of not only the practical issue of second- and third-tier effects, but also a override of the concept of empathy.  

People suffer, and it is a shame.  A person suffering, even if it does not immediately, or even transitively effect you, I feel a ethical actor should have an empathic approach in mind. 

Hilzoy (I believe) wrote a few weeks/months ago: 

if morality requires anything at all, it requires that we take other people seriously as people, with their own independent existence, rather than using them as screens onto which we project our own psychological needs at will. So I would think that anyone who was genuinely concerned to do the right thing would recognize this sort of freefloating hostility, and the lack of concern for others that lets it emerge, as vices dressing themselves up as virtues.
I'd like to build on this point some more later.  I feel like this is, in a way, at the heart of the liberal philosophy, and the mark of a mature society.

I actually

ran this morning?  Sheeeeit.  

No time or distance (yet).  Just trying to get my head straight.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is Jeff Jacoby Stupid?

Or better yet, just how stupid is Jeff Jacoby?

In his latest column, Jeff makes an economic argument.  He suggests that, since environmentalists are for high gas prices, they also should support the biggest gas-guzzling cars.  The reasoning goes that, since low mpg vehicles use more gas, they'll drive gas prices up faster, and reduce gas consumption.  Whereas high-mpg vehicles would have the opposite effect, reducing the petroleum consumed, and keeping gas demand stable (or even reducing it).  

While I am happy Jeff understands the concept of supply and demand, and I'm sure he feels like he's really put one over the leftists with his awesome point to prove they wrong; he, like certain Texan representatives, Jeff's awesome attempt to make a sweet political point just makes him look stupid.  Why?  Because while he stuck around in Econ 101 to learn that rule of supply and demand, he didn't stay long enough for the coverage of externalities.  Carbon consumption hurts everyone, in the form of increased presence of greenhouse emissions, throwing the planets carbon cycle out of whack, and contributing catastrophic weather.

So Jeff's point, that environmental activists should support the use of low-mpg vehicles, because they'll drive of the price of gasoline up, misses the point of why high gas prices would be desirable; which is to reduce overall petrol use.  If everyone switched their car from whatever they owned; to a hybrid, or any general 'low-mpg vehicle,' then gas consumption would fall.  Which is the point.  A high price of gas is just another way to reach the same end, a reduction of carbon emissions.

I can go even further into this, if we start considering the elasticity of gasoline demand.  Gas is, and will be for quite sometime, a necessary part of the U.S. (and global) economy.  This makes the  individual, and the economy as a whole, very insensitive to the price of gasoline - i.e. our demand is inelastic.  So why not gradually reduce demand over time, with the use of low-mpg vehicles, allowing this very essential, and soon to be scarce resource to be slowly reduced from demand, rather than drive a ton of Hummers and invite potential oil shocks?  

So this whole piece on how environmentalists are "silly" in lobbying for increased low-mpg vehicle use isn't, in any way, an intelligent addition to our policy debate.  It's sophistry, and a really lame example of that too.