Fire Him?

Bobby Bowden, head football coach at Florida State, is under pressure to fire his son who his offensive coordinator.

Ouch. The Bowden family must have had a fun gathering at Thanksgiving.

How about this for gay dinner table repartee? Pass the turkey, Turkey. Or, son, you’re supposed to move the ball forward, not backward.

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Published in: on November 30, 2005 at 10:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fear, Guns, God, Oil, and Shamelessness

Here are a few excerpts from Seymour M. Hersh’s article, Up in the Air, in the New Yorker.

Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

. . .

“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an ncreasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”

So the Iraq war is about religion too. What’s the war really all about?

* Fear spilling outside the bounds of reason
* The efficacy of preemptive war
* The egos of political leaders
* Religious zealotry on all sides
* Big business and big oil
* Preserving an untenable U. S. economic infrastructure
* Diverting funding for domestic programs to mass destruction
* Combat viewed as strength
* Diplomacy and negotiation viewed as a weakness

The reasons for the war defy the imagination’s magnificent powers to make sense of it all.

What really exacerbates the issues is that the United States is such a rich and powerful country.

Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war seem a drop in the bucket, and something easily paid off twenty or thirty years from now.

A few thousand dead and wounded on the American side still pales in comparison to some of America’s bloodier wars. The small number of families impacted by the war get a lot of press, but it’s all abstract political point scoring. Virtually everyone in America can go about their business each day without a care about Iraq.

The rich get their tax cuts. A few million more impoverished families don’t matter much when there is a war to be won.

World opinion doesn’t matter. If America listened to world opinion, and signed international treaties, America could not get everything it wants. When you are the big bully on the block, there is no reason to be concerned about anyone else’s interests–to heck with altruism and morals.

America feels no sense of shame because it can drown or silence any voice through sheer volume, banality, and little white lies that attempts to shame it.

Shame? That is what a lot of the war is about too. Why feel shame and remorse when you can put the cost on your credit card and hope the whole thing goes away before it gets too expensive or one your own gets killed or wounded?

You hear a lot of lamenting about how polarized and partisan politics has become in Washington D. C. How terrible for those in the seats of political power. They no longer enjoy the polite society to which they had become accustomed. How terribly inconvenient for them all. It is getting so they cannot even enjoy a nice lunch with their favorite lobbyist anymore.

Let’s not forget the frustration caused by all those interrupted prayer meetings.

Published in: on November 29, 2005 at 10:35 am  Comments (2)  

The End of Faith

I started reading Sam Harris’s book, The End of Faith, this evening. Here is the blurb on the back of the cover.

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris delivers a startling analysis of the clash between reason and religion in the modern world. He offers a vivid, historical tour of our willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs–even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism to deliver a call for a truly modern foundation for ethics and spirituality that is both secular and humanistic.

As you can probably guess I am already enjoying the book.

I am still much under the spell of Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained. He claims that religion is a by-product of evolved cognitive systems and processes. He also claims that because of this religion will not fade away soon. One can draw the gloomy corollary from this that the more extravagant, dangerous, and false religious beliefs people hold will be with us for a long time. That means I’m stuck with a reality I don’t find agreeable.

Sam Harris does not believe in compromise with religion and Pascal Boyer does.

For myself, I am beginning to find it more than irritating to listen to people say foolish things about mundane matters and justify it by their religious faith. I used to think of it as cute idiotic nonsense, but I am beginning to see it as symptomatic of much of the current ignorance about science, politics, and morals. Too many people use their faith to justify the relativity of truth. Beliefs are true just because they have faith they are true. Many people are insulted when you call them on a bit of their foolishness. Too bad for them. Calling it your faith, Boss, doesn’t make it true or right.

I was reading a blog at the beginning of Hurricane Katrina. The author, who is very religious, related a story about how one man heroically rescued another man from drowning in the flood. The author said it was an example of god’s grace. When the death toll from the storm began to mount, I was tempted to ask her if that was an example of god’s grace too. I didn’t.

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Matthew 7:6

Published in: on November 28, 2005 at 6:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Damnable Oil

The United States needs lots of oil if it would live in the style to which has become accustomed. The damnable thing is the United States does not have much oil. The U. S. must buy it from some people who do not hold much affection for the U. S.

Oil has nothing to do with the Iraq War. The U. S. is doing god’s handiwork by spreading freedom and democracy around the world. The large oil reserves in Iraq are merely coincidental as to why the U. S. picked Iraq as the place to begin its noble and sacred duty.

“What about all the oil contracts oil companies are negotiating at favorable terms in advance of the next Iraqi elections?,” someone asks. “Shut up, and write freedom and democracy on the blackboard 100 times,” I reply.

Published in: on November 28, 2005 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  

The Draft?

Several times I have discussed the military draft at the local bar with a guy who was in the service about the same time as me. He always starts these things. I drink to forget.

My friend wants compulsory military service for all people. I try to interject practical considerations such as how we will house, feed, and arm all these new arrivals to the military forces. My friend, who has always had a few too many when this discussion begins, doesn’t care about that. He believes compulsory service would be a good character builder for younger adults. Killing somebody most likely will change someone’s character. Being killed will end someone’s character issues.

Policy makers and military leaders universally agree that a new rotation policy for troops in Iraq is needed if we are to continue our extended military adventure. A new draft of the fair citizens of the United States does not get discussed much. Pay raises for our service men and women so as to attract new recruits doesn’t get discussed much either. The poverty line for service families seems just fine in the minds of many of the good citizens of this fair country.

I am agnostic on the draft issue. All I know is that if the foreign policy of the country is to engage in preemptive wars around the globe, the military must find the bodies to fight those wars from somewhere. Some people are already on their third tour of duty in Iraq. It seems the only two options are coercion or financial incentives.

A return to a draft should not be like the shameful draft of the Sixties Vietnam era. We need something a little more equitable. How might that work?

Recruits would be selected by random lottery drawing. Everyone of military age would be required to sign up for the lottery. I mean everyone: man, woman, brave, coward, rich, or poor. If someone is a blind paraplegic, they must still sign up for the lottery. There is always the chance they might be cured by the time their number comes up.

The only deferment allowed would be a medical deferment. Everyone selected in the draft must report to their induction physical. A doctor’s excuse would not suffice to get a person out of the physical. The induction physical would determine who was able to endure military duty.

Again, there would be no deferments. It would not matter if someone’s induction day was the same day as the their final exams of their final senior semester in college. People would need to hand their induction notices to their professors and hope for some makeup exams down the road.

That would be it. Able bodies would be harvested from the fields of humanity like so much wheat or corn. The virtue of the scheme is its simplicity, fairness, and equity. Nothing is more fair than chance. It happens to all.

Welcome to the wonderful world of eternal preemptive war. Just remember doing right has no end while there are evil doers in the world.

Published in: on November 28, 2005 at 10:45 am  Comments (4)  

Football: Happy and Sad

I lost my wager this week on football. My season totals are 10 wins, 10 losses, and 1 tie against the spread. I have won 1 and lost none against the money line. That’s the sad news. Well kind of happy too. I am ahead by a paltry sum for the season. I’ll bet lots of folks who wager on football games wish they could say that.

The really happy news is that my beloved Iowa Hawkeye football team has reached the number 25 spot in the football polls. Just number 25? Give me a break. It’s better than nothing.

Published in: on November 27, 2005 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Limits of Speculation

Until there is a complete science of human nature, it seems we must observe and gather empirical evidence to make sense of it. That is one of the reasons I like both Hume and Marx.

Hume was much impressed with the Scientific Revolution and tried to apply its empirical methods for moral studies. Marx was an acute observer of history and the conditions of his time. He used the empirical evidence he gathered for his devastating critique of capitalism and blind egoism.

Hume, who many claim is one of the first apologists for unfettered capitalism, was too much the skeptic and acute observer of human nature to seriously found a just society on categorical and absolute egoism.

Hume and Marx shared a belief in the virtues of altruism over the vices of egoism. It seems, in an overly simplistic way, that is the opening to reconciling the two philosophers if one admires them both. For Hume, egoism is worthless to society if it is not useful to society. Marx lived through the disastrous consequences of societies built upon unrepentant egoism.

Both men advanced the understanding of human nature, yet both knew the limits of their speculations about human nature. They did not try advance beyond those boundaries.

Both saw the goodness of humans as the place to start when speculating about morals.

Published in: on November 27, 2005 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Our Endangered Values

I started reading President Carter’s book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis last night. The book is quick, elegant, and no nonsense. From the introductory chapter:

Americans cherish the greatness of our homeland, but many do not realize how extensive and profound are the transformations that are now taking place in our nation’s basic moral values and political philosophy.

Our people have been justifiably proud to see America’s power and influence used to preserve peace for ourselves and others, promote economic and social justice, raise high the banner of human rights, protect the quality of our environment, alleviate human suffering, and cooperate with other peoples to reach these common goals.

We have learned the value of providing our citizens with accurate information and treating dissenting voices with respect. Most of our political leaders have attempted to control deficit spending, preserve the separation of church and state, and protect civil liberties and personal privacy.

All of these historic commitments are now being challenged.

He does not shy away from identifying who is challenging those historic commitments.

The most important factor is that fundamentalists have become increasingly influential in both religion and government, and have managed to change the nuances and subtleties of historic debate into black-and-white rigidities and the personal derogation of those who dare to disagree. At the same time these religious and political conservatives have melded their efforts, bridging the formerly respected separation of church and state. This has empowered a group of influential “neoconservatives,” who have been able to implement their long-frustrated philosophy in both domestic and foreign policy.

President Carter characterizes the fundamentalist movement like this.

  • Almost invariably, fundamentalist movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers.
  • Although fundamentalists usually believe that the past is better than the present, they retain certain self-beneficial aspects of both their historic religious beliefs and of the modern world.
  • Fundamentalists draw clear distinctions between themselves, as true believers, and others, convinced that they are right and that anyone who contradicts them is ignorant and possibly evil.
  • Fundamentalists are militant in fighting against any challenge to their beliefs. They are often angry and sometimes resort to verbal or even physical abuse against those who interfere with the implementation of their agenda.
  • Fundamentalists tend to make their self-definition increasingly narrow and restricted, to isolate themselves, to demagogue emotional issues, and to view change, cooperation, negotiation, and other efforts to resolve differences as signs of weakness.
  • To summarize, there three words that characterize this brand of fundamentalism: rigidity, domination, and exclusion.

    President Carter’s credentials as an international statesman and tireless worker for his evangelical Baptist faith are unassailable. He has studied philosophy and theology all his life. President Carter said he was hesitant to write the book during a C-Span interview several weeks ago. He shows a rare humility in taking his moral stance in the book.

    I am glad he did write the book. I disagree with his positions on certain issues, but I think he identifies the moral issues that are at stake with the rise of the fundamentalist movement. Those on the right will not like the book. Those on the radical left will consider it the smoothing over of a fundamentally flawed system.

    There is a residue that rings true.

    Some people believe that tolerance of others, justice for all, basic human rights, respect for science and the environment, and world peace are the preeminent goals of politics. Others don’t.

    Everyday we see policies proposed and implemented that take America farther away from the decent values that the majority of Americans hold and that have served the country well. Everyday we see the disastrous consequences of the loss of basic values. We know who is leading the country astray.

    Defeating the opponents of morals and progress has never been easy. The hope is that one day those opponents will realize they are the opponents of the moral values that found the good life for everyone. However, there will always be a small vocal and active group of white fundamentalist conservative males whose goal is to dominate and tyrannize those who are not with them.

    That is why they must be contested everyday with an iron political will. The United States must not be ruled by a minority dictatorship whose values are not the moral values of America.

    Published in: on November 27, 2005 at 11:11 am  Comments (2)  

    Tired and Confused


    Portrait of David Hume at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

    I fell asleep at 9:30 last night. I woke around 3:30 in the morning, got out of bed for a few minutes, but went back to bed and slept until 9:30 in the morning. I must have been tired.

    I am still tired. All I want to do is read David Hume for the rest of the day and watch the snow melt in the streets below.

    I feel like fighting this natural inclination of my soul. However, my soul might be telling me something to which I should listen.

    I get so confused over simple things.

    Published in: on November 26, 2005 at 12:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

    The Entertainment Value of Passion and Prediction

    My favorite thing to do in Las Vegas is hang out at one of the spacious sports book parlors. I like to study the racing forms and the facts and figures on the sports teams, bet $2 to win on the horses in the races, bet one or two baseball, football, or basketball games, watch the races and games on TV for several hours, and take advantage of the free drinks.

    That’s what I call the gambling life—betting on the performance of different species of athlete. Even when the bets are the bare minimum, it’s fun to see what happens.

    Life can be like that sometimes too. I find an emerging event that stirs a small passion inside me, make a prediction, then I watch and wait to see the result.

    Published in: on November 26, 2005 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

    This Week’s Football Wagers

    I only placed one wager this week. I have remained confused since the opening of the line. I based my wager on pure intuition.

    Oakland -7 home vs. Miami.

    Published in: on November 26, 2005 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  

    Home

    They say all good things must end. And the reason they say it is because they do.

    I am back in Chicago and no longer in Iowa. We had a light snow fall. The streets and sidewalks are already dirty.

    I am watching Last of the Mohicans. I have seen that movie many times because I like it. I love the music even though you are not suppose to love things, but only people.

    Iowa, Chicago, or even Katmandu, you must have easy going fun while doing your own thing in your own time as best you can.

    Published in: on November 25, 2005 at 8:23 pm  Comments (2)  

    Thanksgiving morning with Hume

    I woke to find I am still in Iowa. Oh, blessed day.

    I did not sleep as soundly as I hoped. The strange matress did a number on my back. Yet I drink cofffee, am cozy in my little space, and look expectantly toward a wonderful meal at my beloved sister’s house in Mt. Vernon, Iowa which some of you may know as the home of Cornell College. She lives two blocks from campus.

    I brought along Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature to read. I leave you with a passage from the last section of Book I curtesy of gutenberg.org.

    But before I launch out into those immense depths of philosophy, which lie before me, I find myself inclined to stop a moment in my present station, and to ponder that voyage, which I have undertaken, and which undoubtedly requires the utmost art and industry to be brought to a happy conclusion. Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escaped shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances. My memory of past errors and perplexities, makes me diffident for the future. The wretched condition, weakness, and disorder of the faculties, I must employ in my enquiries, encrease my apprehensions. And the impossibility of amending or correcting these faculties, reduces me almost to despair, and makes me resolve to perish on the barren rock, on which I am at present, rather than venture myself upon that boundless ocean, which runs out into immensity. This sudden view of my danger strikes me with melancholy; and as it is usual for that passion, above all others, to indulge itself; I cannot forbear feeding my despair, with all those desponding reflections, which the present subject furnishes me with in such abundance.

    I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude, in which I am placed in my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expelled all human commerce, and left utterly abandoned and disconsolate. Fain would I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart; but no one will hearken to me. Every one keeps at a distance, and dreads that storm, which beats upon me from every side. I have exposed myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer? I have declared my disapprobation of their systems; and can I be surprized, if they should express a hatred of mine and of my person? When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; though such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning.

    A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, Section VII, David Hume

    Published in: on November 24, 2005 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  

    In Iowa

    I’m in Iowa. And why not? It’s god’s country.

    I left at 4 PM at the height of the rush hour traffic. It took me over an hour and a half to get outside of Chicago proper. I am not smart. When I do it right, I can get here in a little less than 4 hours. It took over 5 hours today.

    I found a good Sixties oldies radio station during the drive. I sang along with songs like Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison, Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Garden Party by Ricky Nelson. My singing reached a frenzy when Amy by Pure Prarie League came on. I don’t sing well, so driving through Iowa alone in the dark gives me a rare chance to let it all out.

    I did book a nice room at a cheap price off of Priceline last night. I have free DSL too.

    So here I am in Iowa, snug as a bug in a rug, happy as a pig in slop.

    Don’t be too jealous. Remember the famous line from Othello. “Jealousy m’lord, it is the green eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

    Published in: on November 23, 2005 at 9:38 pm  Comments (4)  

    Benevolence

    I will travel to Iowa this afternoon, and traverse about 250 miles of empty corn fields in the dark. The emptiness of the land will cause me to rethink my life–what I should have done differently, and what I might still do differently. My imagination will run wild to no practical effect. Nothing will change.

    I do not despise my imagination just because it is often impractical. It has worked well enough through the years to keep body and soul together. My imagination and the good people I have known are the history of my life. I often forget it was the benevolence of others made my life well worth living. I am thankful even though I don’t say it much.

    I can already see the little farm towns, products of the benevolence of the land and the imagination, sprinkled along highway 30.

    Published in: on November 23, 2005 at 10:58 am  Comments (2)  

    Reconciliation

    I am reading Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.

    I have always liked Hume and Marx. Hume died in 1776 at the dawn of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Marx lived through many of the worst excesses of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. It would seem impossible to reconcile Hume, who helped found liberal democratic ideals, with Marx. My admiration of both philosophers forces me to try.

    Hume understands justice to be that which is useful to society. That might be a key to a partial reconciliation. I don’t know.

    What if Hume had the same empirical evidence as Marx about the consequences of unfettered capitalism?

    Published in: on November 22, 2005 at 1:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

    The Week’s Final Results

    I won 3 and lost 1 against spread this week. I have 10 wins, 9 losses, and 1 tie against the spread for the season. I have won 1 and lost 0 against the moneyling for the season.

    Darn! If only I had not bet on the stupid Vikes vs. Packers game last night.

    Onward and upward.

    Published in: on November 22, 2005 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  

    The Holidays

    This is my plan for the holidays:

    • Write, write, write
    • Read some Hume, Hegel, and Marx
    • Think about a whole new theory of political economy
    • Have easy going fun while doing my own thing in my own time

    Not necessarily in that order.

    Published in: on November 21, 2005 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

    Resolve

    Yes, I admit I am harsh in my criticism of the Bush Administration. I offer the following in the spirit of making productive and practical suggestions.

    The question arises each day as to the mixed signals we are sending to the enemy about our resolve to stay in Iraq until the job is done. Thus we say there will be no timetables for the evacuation of troops from Iraq.

    Maybe, that is not the right way to put it though. Many military and political experts have estimated that the occupation of Iraq will take ten to twenty years if we intend to win the war. Why not just say that?

    One, it shows the enemy there will be no easy and quick victory. Two, it gets all those pesky war critics who want a timetable off your back.

    Just an idea.

    Published in: on November 21, 2005 at 11:58 am  Comments (5)  

    Cheney at the AEI

    Vice President Cheney just gave a short speech about the Iraq War to a small audience at the American Enterprise Institute. He praised Murtha. He recognized the right to criticize the Iraq War and its conduct. He did not fire any unpatriotic or disloyal to the troops salvos. He made a few brief unremarkable remarks about progress in Iraq. He asserted that the Bush Administration did not lie about prewar intelligence.

    Instead he concentrated on one of the prewar justifications for the war. If we leave Iraq, then al Qaeda will take over the country. After watching Richard Perle on CNN yesterday morning, it seems that will be the argument the neo-cons will temporarily use during the holiday season to diffuse the current volatile political situation. Cheney used the word terrorist instead of insurgent to characterize our military opponents in Iraq. That is consistent with resuscitating the terrorist rationale for the war.

    Making fine distinctions about the political and religious makeup of Iraqi society was not in vogue before the Iraq War began. The lyric from the Alan Jackson Country Western song about 9/11 encapsulated a lot of the thinking: “I’m not sure I can tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran.” Some people were perversely proud of that ignorance.

    The argument I heard very often before the Iraq War was “9/11, Q. E. D.” (I know. I say that a lot.) President Cheney and the neo-cons would like to take us back to those days three years ago. Ask them if you do not believe me.

    The American Enterprise Institute is a neo-con think tank and neo-con intellectual bastion. The faces of the audience for the Cheney speech were tense and grim. Inquiring minds abound and abide in all quarters.

    Like any revolution the neo-con political revolution must temporarily win the hearts and minds of the citizen. After the revolution is won, the citizens’ opinions can be easily discarded. The neo-cons need some good creative and imaginative talent infused into the Bush Administration to help the cause. The stuff coming from the White House is very boring.

    Speaking of creative, how about this? After the December 15 Iraqi elections, the neo-cons could say that Iraq is now a free country with scores of trained Iraqi battalions to secure the country from terrorists. Therefore, we are bringing the troops home at a measured and prudent pace. Q. E. D.

    Long live the revolution. It will not be televised due to technical difficulties such as its boring message.

    Published in: on November 21, 2005 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  

    Income Inequality

    The Tax Policy Center always has good stuff to look at such as this short report on Income Taxes and Income Inequality Since 1979.

    Following decades of relative stability, income inequality has risen sharply in the United States since the 1970s. Data from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that between 1979 and 2002, the share of pretax income accruing to households in the top quintile increased by almost 15 percent, from 45.5 percent to 51.5 percent. The increase was greatest for those with very high incomes: The top 1 percent earned 9.3 percent of pretax income in 1979, and 13.4 percent in 2002 — a 44 percent increase. Pretax income shares declined for each of the bottom four quintiles, with the decline sharpest among those making the least: The lowest quintile saw their pretax income share decrease from 5.8 percent to 4.2 percent, a reduction of more than 27 percent.

    By design, progressive federal taxes offset some of the disparity in pretax incomes. Analysis of estate and income tax returns among the very wealthy indicate that progressive taxation played a significant role in the decline of income inequality during the mid-20th century (Kopczuk and Saez, 2004). At the end of the century, however, the distribution of after-tax incomes is growing more unequal too. In fact, the changes in after-tax income shares for the highest and lowest quintiles display not only the same trend as that for pretax shares, but the trends are of about the same magnitude.

    Published in: on November 20, 2005 at 7:19 pm  Comments (3)  

    Partial Results

    I won three and lost none against the spread in today’s football wagering. I still have a wager on the Monday night game, but regardless of the result I will finish the weekend ahead for the season.

    I am well on my way to reaffirming that betting against the spread is like flipping an unbiased coin. A couple of weeks ago I felt it might be worse.

    Published in: on November 20, 2005 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

    Relevance: Roger and Me

    Even the most humble, such as I, are sometimes forced to express opinions about economics. Such is the case with this post.

    Michael Moore made his mark with the movie Roger and Me. Moore documents the economic demise and aftermath caused by the relocation of the auto industry from his home city Flint, Michigan. Moore’s humor and satire often override the dark side of the story.

    Flint was a prosperous city economically based upon the auto industry. The rise of foreign competition convinced companies like General Motors that they could no longer base their operations in cities like Flint. The consequences were catastrophic for the citizens of Flint. High unemployment ensued. No new enterprises located themselves in Flint to revive the economic fortunes of the city. This sets up the premise of the movie. Michael Moore attempts to interview Roger Smith, CEO and Chairman of General Motors and the architect of moving GM’s operations from Flint.

    Moore interviews prominent national religious and political leaders who visit Flint. These leaders tell the citizens of Flint that if they keep a positive attitude, then god and good fortune will eventually provide. Moore never editorializes these interviews. The interviews stand on their own regarding the absurd notions of his interviewees.

    Moore interviews the Flint civic leaders who have plans and schemes to restore Flint to its former vitality. The plans seem hopeless to repair the economic disaster the city has suffered. Moore never editorializes.

    As for Moore’s confrontation with Roger Smith, I won’t spoil the movie by saying anything about its resolution.

    At the center of the movie is the grim reality of economic dislocation. One can do worse than watch Roger and Me to learn a bit about the global economy and its vicissitudes. You might even call it relevant.

    That leads me to enquire into the reality and relevance of economic teaching in general. I am reminded of the first year introductory economics course I took in college back in the early Seventies. The textbook we used for the first semester was a mainstream text. The book we used for the second semester, which concentrated on microeconomics, was Hunt and Sherman’s Economics: an introduction to traditional and radical views. This was not mainstream. A list of its four major parts gives an idea.

    * part one – property and prophets: the evolution of economic institutions and ideologies
    * part two – prices and poverty: a radical introduction to microeconomics
    * part three – unemployment and waste: a radical introduction to macroeconomics
    * part four – socialist economic systems: a radical introduction to comparative economics

    I think the Hunt and Sherman textbook ran through about six editions and went out of print in the early nineties.

    A survey and reading of the most popular college introductory economics texts shows more homogeneity than heterogeneity. The interesting thing about these textbooks is their common source. Here are a few relevant points from the Hunt and Sherman text.

    Economic concentration and wealth was at its height during the 1870’s. Commerce and markets were not regulated. There was a ruthless drive by capitalists of the era to concentrate economic wealth into a few monopolies and oligopolies that were ruthless in their treatment of smaller firms, each other, and the public.

    During the 1870’s, three famous economic texts were published: William Stanley Jevons’s The Theory of Political Economy, Karl Menger’s Principles of Economics, and Leon Walras’s Elements of Pure Economics. The texts taught the following theory:

    * An economy made up of many producers makes it impossible for any one producer to set prices.
    * Producers maximize their use of the factors of production and maximize profits
    * Consumers maximize the utility of the goods they purchase to reach an optimal level of overall utility
    * Because of the above there is an equilibrium point where production and consumption reached a socially optimal level.

    This theory says nothing about the distribution of income. The theory makes extreme simplifying assumptions to get the mathematics to work. The theory was totally irrelevant to the conditions of world capitalism at the time.

    That’s my summary from Hunt and Sherman.

    Today’s economic models in their most pristine and pure form are the mathematical models of Jevons, Menger, and Walras. These models are the basis of today’s economics education at the introductory level through the graduate level. The mathematical sophistication by which they are taught varies depending on the mathematical sophistication of the student.

    The interesting thing about these models is that they say as little about the reality of today’s world economy as they did when they were first proposed. Make enough simplifying assumptions and you can make just about any mathematical model come out right. If you want an example of dogma, look no farther than the neoclassical economic model.

    During the past thirty years since the Hunt and Sherman text was introduced, economics has changed. Soviet Communism no longer exists. Countries around the world have bounced between liberal and conservative economic policies. The rise of global capitalism has made conditions different and more extreme in their consequences. The neoliberal consensus dominates the world view.

    The neoliberal consensus dominates the economic worldview to such an extent, I doubt if we ever see a textbook like Hunt and Sherman’s ever taught again at a U. S. college. Economics teaching has been reduced to a paltry mathematical exercise based on unrealistic assumptions, avoids discussing important issues and controversies, and is pretty much useless when thinking about the big political and social issues that attend economic issues.

    You could do worse than watch Roger and Me to get an economics lesson. You could do worse than read a used copy of Sherman and Hunt.

    Published in: on November 20, 2005 at 4:05 pm  Comments (2)  

    Hook ‘Em Hawkeyes

    Iowa leads Minnesota 52-21 in the fourth quarter. I will immodestly declare victory for the Hawkeyes. Iowa finishes the season 7-4 and 5-3 in the Big Ten. The season was somewhat disappointing since they were supposed to challenge for a spot in the top ten. They lost a few close games they could have won.

    Let’s not dwell on the negative on this bright sunny day. Iowa will get a bowl bid at a good place to play. That will give the Iowa fans something to do over the holidays. If they win a bowl game over a ranked opponent they will finish in the top twenty-five.

    Published in: on November 19, 2005 at 1:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

    Artillery Battle

    This won’t be theoretical as you know I am not good at that kind of thing. I have a Murtha/Hunter hangover. I watched too much House debate yesterday about the Iraq War. Well, it really was not a debate about the war. It was a set piece artillery battle. Republicans lobbed patriot shells at Murtha and the Democrats for not supporting the troops. Democrats lobbed smear tactics shells at Republicans for trying to besmirch Murtha’s reputation. Someone would jump in for a few seconds and actually say something relevant to the conduct of the war and its future direction. If you were at the fridge, you were sure to miss it. The sad result is that only three Representatives resolved to immediately leave Iraq. I just have to find out the names of those magnificent three.

    Oh well, now that the new episodes of Battlestar Galactica are over I need a new space opera to watch on Friday night.

    The Republicans have decided to use the 2004 campaign tactic of calling into question the patriotism and willingness to support the troops of anyone who believes that the Iraq can no longer be won militarily. When the Republicans cast that net, they haul in all kinds of folks who are uneasy about the military occupation of Iraq. Some of the folks they catch are the generals fighting the Iraq War. It is no top secret that the generals recognize the war must be won politically and can’t be won militarily. They actually say these things on televised briefing sessions.

    What about Congressman Murtha? Could there be anyone more hawkish than he on military affairs? No. Could there be a stronger advocate for military families and a bigger sponsor for aiding them in their hardships and tragedies? No.

    I don’t see much hope for the Republicans to convince the public that Murtha is some limousine liberal soft on war. He wants to take the money we would save by pulling out of Iraq and spend it on new weapons systems for the next war. Sure, that fact will bounce right off the heads of the true St. Bush believers, but how many of those are left?

    The Iraq War, which has now become unpopular, will spawn its own withdrawal logic from the Republicans during the next year as midterm elections approach. It would seem prudent that the Republican House would fire one last artillery barrage using the last of the patriot shells left in their arsenal. Soften up the enemy before the charge. From now on it is going to be over the top bayonet charges until the next election–the classic war of attrition World War I style. Should the inferior force of Republican sentiment for President Bush be charging the firmly entrenched force of public sentiment against the war? Do Republicans in Congress really believe their own words? Will the mere will to win carry the day against overwhelming odds?

    How many more rounds of the patriot and traitor shells does Vice President Cheney have left in his arsenal? He seems to be firing a BB gun these days.

    And where is President Bush? He goes to Asia to discuss the potential bird flu pandemic and his Republican House cuts the spending for his bird flu proposal. Do those folks talk at all anymore now that Tom DeLay is in court? Do they even watch each other on TV?

    Can anyone say lame duck? Can anyone say lame?

    I propose we give those three folks who voted for last night’s resolution an honored place in the history books.

    Published in: on November 19, 2005 at 10:09 am  Comments (2)