Archive for the ‘History’ Category


Original Intent and the Shame of My Generation

July 19, 2013

I was born in 1955, a tail end member of the baby boom. Too young to enjoy the sixties, too old not to have been inspired by them. Recent events have caused me to question that generation. I am not that much younger than the Antonin Scalia crowd, with their “original intent” delusions. I am not so old that I am not more at ease with the younger generation’s genuine presumptions of racial and sexual meaninglessness. I am delighted to realize I finally voted for the exact man I wanted to be my President.

I would like to explore the notion of original intent. Having read a great deal about our founding, I do think that I generally have an understanding of our so called founding fathers. I have written about the importance of remembering we got it wrong with the Articles of Confederation. And important to remember we fixed that! Important because the current political divide is the same argument that occurred after it became obvious that the Articles were not working. It is important to remember that the ancestors of the current conservatives were represented at that convention, and ultimately agreed to have a stronger central government. They lost the battle for a confederation of States, losing a second time in the Civil War. Fighting the battle again today is simply absurd.

The original intent of our judicial system was to maximize justice! It was to protect minority rights, while maintaining a democratic–majority rule–system. Current advocates of “original intent” seems to mean that we didn’t intend to have our current system of government. We did. I do.

I am personally much further to the left than is currently represented in our government–but I am completely accepting of that system. Largely because I have yet to see a government that more closely represents my views that comes close to delivering the justice our original intent. It has worked over time. Not without problems, but never problems we couldn’t overcome.

I can live with the injustice of the recent case in Florida if I believed he was found innocent according to the original intent of our forebearers.  But I don’t believe that: we have lost our way. We are confused about justice, about race, and about the right to bear arms. I am hopeful that this confusion will pass with time. I am having trouble waiting.


What is an amendment?

May 5, 2013

I am a bit tired of the loose talk about the Second Amendment. Senator Ted Cruz has declared his intent to fight any laws that threaten our Second Amendment rights. What could this mean? The second amendment is part of the constitution. Any law limiting it would be unconstitutional by definition. The idea that you would prevent discussion, the literal point of filibuster, of a laws unconstitutionality is strange at best. What he wants to prevent is a discussion of his unreasonable view about the Second Amendment.
Of course, this is said by someone who continues to declare that life begins at conception. Life only began once, conception only continues it. A fertilized egg is not more alive than it was prior to being fertilized.


Voter ID

March 3, 2013

How should we address the anti-democratic moves involving the requirement of voter IDs?
One way would be to join the battle.
Being old enough to remember being required to register for the draft, I would be fine with universal registration of 18 year old citizens. I would be fine with giving everyone over 18 five years to register.
Step two would be to require everyone to vote at least one time out of three. There would be an option on the ballot to vote none of the above for those who strongly don’t want to make a false choice. I would also make it easier for minority parties to both exist and cross endorse candidates. Thus if I wish to form a party to run local candidates, I can endorse major party (or other minor ones) for those races in which this party does not field candidates (or not). The system inNew York does something like this.
Step three would be to make elections easier to vote. Longer periods of voting, including over weekends, and expanded voting options ( I.e., Internet and nontraditional outlets, say where you can buy a fishing license or a lottery ticket) should be explored. Washington state and Oregon have some of this, I believe.
Create a truly non-partisan group to apportion voting. Perhaps even let the voters to select one. This group would only need to be diverse, truly diverse, to be valuable.


Creative Destruction for Goldman Sachs

March 14, 2012

cMust read: Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs

Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has written a stinging indictment of the “culture” at Goldman Sachs. Refusing to learn any lessons from the recent derivatives crash, Goldman continues to think about its own profits rather than making money for its customers. This should be a wake up call for any of these customers who are in denial about Goldman’s “interests.”

Once again this represents a deep misunderstanding of “capitalist reality” by so-called capitalists. Where previously the error was in misunderstanding “spread the risk” to mean “give everyone a big piece of risk,” now the twisting of the old saw “what is good for General Motors is good for America” into “what is good for Goldman …” is based on the mistaken notion that the two companies stand for the same thing. Now, I don’t actually believe the first claim to be actually fully true, but I will take the intentions of that group of General Motors managers over that described by Smith at Goldman. When Adam Smith spoke of “self-interest” he did not mean “selfish interest.” See here. The recent government support for the auto industry has shown us how much larger “auto interests” are than just the companies themselves. “General Motors” in this sense includes the UAW. It includes the middle class jobs that result in retail sales, housing sales, state and federal tax revenue, et al. Virtual circles of capitalism. The Goldman approach only creates business cycles in which only Goldman appears to win short-term. Profit, profit, profit! forgets the word has other meanings. Profit from your mistakes means learning not gaming the system.

The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us that “markets are conversations.” I hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation that results in a market correction for Goldman. There can after all be an upside to “creative destruction” after all!


Reflections on coverage of Super Tuesday

March 9, 2012

There seemed to be genuine confusion this week about the fact that “Super Tuesday” did not resolve the Republican Presidential race. History, we are told, tells us that this is usually not the case. As I have said before, history tells us nothing–it has no mouth. History is, or at least should be, a perspective rather than a series of answers. That perspective also tells us that the candidates are different, and indeed so is “Super Tuesday.” Far fewer states took to the polls. This alone should stop us from declaiming historical facts about this political season.
Of course much time is given to discussing these mitigating facts. It just seems like they don’t listen to their own discussion. They can discuss the lack of parallels between the Obama/Clinton primary and the current one, but they then ignore that to ask why this is so different. Might it not be the same? It is of course never the same. Even when historians talk of cycles they speak of broad tendencies not exact patterns. The human brain is attracted to patterns. This should not be confused with their existence or helpfulness. This is not to say that we should deny or ignore our brains. We just shouldn’t take them quite as seriously as we do.
History should represent a approach toward understanding: Dilthey’s “verstehen.” This means not just positive assertions about patterns, but negative assertions about such patterns. Noting the exceptions is just as important as pointing out general trends. I often hear this practiced in general discussion, but almost never when attempting to create historical perspective. Why? Perhaps because we teach history is such a horrid and misleading manner. History is not a Jack Webb “just the facts” subject.
In this primary it doesn’t help to have a professional historian spouting so many anti-historical “truths.” I understand the Newt’s degree is not in American history, but still. Too much of what he says is just plain wrong. To the degree he has historical understanding, he refuses to let us in on it. But then almost all of his writing on American history literally is fiction. What-if historical fiction is a legitimate book category, it just isn’t helpful in advancing the cause of historical understanding. Its relationship to Jack Webb is more that he was an actor than a concern with the facts.


Work as capital

March 1, 2012

I have been thinking about the nature of work a great deal lately. Perhaps because I am not doing any. It seems to me that one of the primary problems capitalist ideology has at the moment is a deep misunderstanding of the nature of work. Generally labor is seen as a business expense: the largest single expense that any company faces. This is simply incorrect. In exchanging labor for money the laborer more correctly gives the “capitalist” capital and receives a monetary settlement. By definition the laborer gives more capital than they receive. Labor productivity creates the extra value that is the actual basis of all business. You can have all the capital and product ideas you need, but nothing happens without labor. Or at least nothing truly productive. Finance is a world of its own. Certainly this is not restricted to the labor part of a business but extends throughout the “human capital” of the organization. Only raw materials are free of this type of capital, and strictly speaking this is also false since it has to be brought to a factory and can be done so only through human developed means. It is all about people!

Now the truly remarkable thing about this exchange of labor for money is that it also represents the basis of the other side of market economics: customers. Without labor exchange for cash there would be no customers for products. Thus labor dynamically creates value on both sides of the economic equation. Capitalism doesn’t work when labor is limited. Hmmmm Could this have anything to do with the economic realities of the moment. In response to to the housing bubble crash, businesses immediately started laying off labor–and the recession began. You get what you wish for. By treating labor as an expense, business sheds itself of its most dynamic capital and declines.

Economics is called the dismal science because it is insanely misdirected. It is not a science. It cannot be a science. It is only about people. It is only about psychology, and psychology is in worse shape than economics. This is of course overstated. They are only extremely spotty subjects marred by their deep misunderstanding of humanity. There are exceptions. Do you know whom they are??


Myth of the founding fathers

January 24, 2012

We tend to forget that the founding fathers got it wrong: it was called the Articles of Confederation.

The political confusion that is the Republican primary season is largely based on a deep and abiding misunderstanding of the beginnings of American style democracy. The founding fathers, note the plural, were not of one mind. They had deep and abiding disagreements. They were able to put many of these disagreements aside.

Benjamin Franklin told the Continental Congress:
“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”

Who is today’s Franklin? I see many anti-Franklins. Certainty is the new definition of leadership. The President failed to live up to the promises he didn’t actually make. He failed to make the right guesses. We are assured that all his opponents would do otherwise. They won’t say how, or even why we should trust them. But they lead by being certain.

The founding fathers were not certain. they had doubts. Some that we try to avoid talking about. When given the chance to fix what they had done wrong, they created a dynamic and uncertain structure. Filled with conflicting constituencies, checks and balances. Why? Because they were certain? No because they knew only that nothing was certain, and no majority was fully benign. Freedom–everyone seems to be for that–depends not on certainty, but on the opposite. Minority rights in the midst of successful majority rule. They were for a strong central government. That is why they were in Philadelphia. They wanted a government and they wanted a government that worked. Jefferson didn’t disband the government when assuming power despite his often quoted rhetoric. He was not for making it so small it could be drowned in a bathtub! That is not American history. That is not American democracy.

American democracy is not the thing that didn’t work the first time we tried it. American democracy is that we fixed it, not only in 1789 but in 1865, and 1932, and 1964, and in all the time between and since. The genius of the Constitution is that our democracy is not in it, it grows from it.