[FoRK] The Wrecking Crew - A Low, Dishonest Decade

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Tue Jan 19 11:33:49 PST 2010

Jeff Bone wrote:
> How ironic.
> SO Michael opines:
>> "Yes, yes...  The heroes are all on one side, and the villains are 
>> all on the other.
> Stephen quotes Moyers in reply:
>> "President Obama's made plenty of mistakes during his first year, and 
>> > we've critiqued them frequently here on the JOURNAL"
> Hmmm....  so Stephen, what you're saying is that by making this thin 
> disclaimer, Moyers is demonstrating...  what?  That he's, ahem, "fair 
> and balanced?"
> Riiiiiiight.
> This is no more convincing than when e.g. Hannity disclaims (some of) 
> the actions of Bush and claiming that he was a vigorous and vocal 
> opponent when, in fact, he was --- as anyone without partisan 
> rose-coloured glasses on knows --- one of the head cheerleaders and 
> apologists.
> BOTH "sides" of this debate are equally guilty of this kind of 
> ongoing, hypocritical apologia of their preferred brand and, 
> ironically, of the very thing Moyers is castigating in his lede:  the 
> tendency to focus on attacking the other side and apologizing for the 
> preferred side, conveniently forgetting or discounting the recent and 
> ongoing problems being created by the preferred side.

I agree.  I don't think the Democratic leaning side is nearly so bad 
overall in many demonstrable ways, however the bias is always there one 
way or another.  And it depends on how you weight things, which is a 
feedback loop of bias.
> Attack Bush all you want --- I *certainly* did.  But to be fair, you 
> must also place blame where blame is due for e.g. the failure of much 
> of the recent stimulus, the appalling mountain of debt we've taken on 
> just this year, the "surprising" rate of unemployment relative to 
> promises made / actions taken, and so on.
> Do "conservatives" have a poor opinion of government?  Well, surely.  
> Why?  Well, maybe because there are so few instances of it working and 
> so many of it *not* working.  Do "progressives" or "liberals" have too 
> high an opinion?  Absolutely;  but only because their skepticism and 
> hatred of stymergic processes --- particularly those called "markets" 
> --- obscures their ability to see that such things are the worst 
> alternatives (except for all the other ones.)
> A "low, dishonest" decade?  Well, certainly.  But Moyers and company 
> are no less guilty of intellectual dishonesty in the present 
> circumstances than e.g. the noxious Faux News and radio talking heads 
> were during the Bush reign of (t)error.

No less guilty in A) existence or even B) frequency quite possibly, 
however I cannot see anything close to C) degree and type.  Not to 
mention likely motivations.
> -- 
> I like the bit about opposition to monopoly.  That's my beef, too, 
> with the caveat that a government monopoly in anything is *even more* 
> noxious (and difficult to undo) than a non-governmental monopoly.

There is monopoly and then there are pooled effort or common goods (and 
some other categories) that are not healthy when commercial.  Military, 
judicial system, government itself...  Often, the positive side effects 
heavily outweigh the direct costs and absence of commercial handling of 
a particular thing.  I recently heard a discussion of the Postal service 
and how the Founding Fathers specifically wanted delivery of newspapers 
to be free or nearly so specifically to support free speech and good 
> Michael later says:
>> Would it be wrong to just let the failures fail? How can you actually 
>> have a "free market" if there are no consequences to failure?
> Welcome "moral hazard."

Who increased total moral hazard more in the last 15 years?  It's going 
to be hard to outweigh deregulation of banks / investment / real estate 
and indirect costs thereof.  Of course, every side was involved in 
various ways.  It would be good for someone to chronicle specifics 
> Re:  market failure, Kling recently said:
>   http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/01/market_failure_4.html
>> I want to propose a new definition of market failure. For me, market 
>> failure exists to the extent that innovation is blocked by 
>> incumbents. If innovators can succeed by out-competing incumbents, 
>> then the market is working. If incumbents have a self-reinforcing 
>> system that keeps out innovators, then we have market failure.
> Amen, brutha.  Have never seen a more concise or accurate statement of 
> my own principles in such things.

Exactly!  Don't many types of regulations, such as anti-trust and 
patents/copyright, speak specifically to this to avoid runaway effects 
by incumbents?
> Best way to guarantee such a failure?  Give monopoly power / authority 
> / responsibility for something to the government, where it is granted 
> and maintained *by law* by largely-unaccountable "public servants" --- 
> and grossly subject to incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption.

We need a way to differentiate between things that are validly 
governmental vs. commercial vs. non-profit vs. pseudo-gov./commercial.  
Any such definition should be durable over time and circumstance, 
possibly giving different results given different inputs.  For instance, 
education should have both public and private components.  There are few 
cases where a commercial military works out well, but some perhaps.  
Police / security...

I think that "give monopoly power / authority / responsibility for 
something to the government" can sometimes be descriptive of government 
departments and projects, but usually not.  There should be some way of 
clearly differentiating.  I don't think we've clearly nailed that at 
all.  More frequently, we want the government to do certain things, but 
with the people involved having commercial-environment like incentives 
and feedback.  Even military-like feedback would be a step up.  Clearly, 
we are supposed to be able to "fire" someone in charge to get these 
things fixed, but we have been too lax and allowed protective walls 
> -- 
> Small tangent:
> During offline discussion w/ one of the list members last week, I 
> apparently surprised by mentioning that I am not, in fact, opposed to 
> any / all regulation, even in financial markets.  Indeed, I am a fan 
> of regulation that increases transparency and lowers barriers-to-entry 
> in financial markets.  I.e., regulation that has the effect of 
> unblocking innovation and encouraging true, open, and fair markets.  
> The largest part of the present debacle in the finance industry was 
> created by the obscure and opaque trading activity of vast amounts of 
> certain exotic derivatives over-the-counter.  Put them on the books, 
> get them listed, then require reporting of long-term positions at 
> least to some central clearing entity.  In the various instruments, 
> assets and markets where that is the norm, things continued to "work" 
> as well as could be expected event throughout the previous series of 
> recent failures.  It's only where the "market" did not have such 
> characteristics and mechanisms that the failures really mounted to 
> create systemic risks.

Exactly right!

Unfortunately, many crave stability and predictability.  Sometimes the 
definite loser pool (existing shareholders for instance) win out over 
the potential (and mostly unknown and unidentified) winners.  This 
affects regulation of markets and preference for gov. / commercial 
choices.  This is probably a good balancing force, however it can lead 
the wrong way and shouldn't rule.
> jb


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