Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"The Truth Is Rarely Pure and Never Simple." -- Oscar Wilde

The key insights of Keynes and of climate scientists are actually often counter-intuitive and usually difficult until you grow accustomed to thinking in their terms.

You simply cannot expect people to understand as it were intuitively policies driven by knowledgeable assumptions. It is absolutely necessary to educate people, to explain clearly and repeatedly, over and over and over again, why you are doing what you are doing: If your understanding of economics derives from analogies from your experience with a family budget or if your understanding of climate derives from analogies from your experience of local weather, then the assumptions and expectations and interpretations of fact that drive sound policy will simply make no sense to you, unless they are clearly and repeatedly explained.

It is a terrible thing that Republicans who know better -- not to mention the ones who, horrifyingly enough, don't -- have decided to exploit the difficulty of knowledgeable policy discourse, and actively and irresponsibly to push dangerous, destructive falsehoods based on comforting dis-analogies, all to the parochial and short-term benefit of moneyed and incumbent interests.

The eagerness of the GOP to exploit ignorance and resort to deception (rather like their eagerness to exploit arcane procedures to obstruct governance and game the system to disenfranchise the electorate) makes the Republicans who are not just outright idiots fairly obviously villains at this point. (Contra Jon Stewart.) But it must be said that it is the curious unwillingness of Democrats to communicate in clear terms, and repeatedly, the facts and assumptions that drive their policy decisions that creates the vacuum in which Republican lies make their easy play.

Hell, it is hard to find Democrats who will sensibly defend the very idea of indispensable good governance, of taxes as the price we pay for civilization, of the reliance of every individual on the general welfare of her peers, let alone explaining how governments, unlike households, actually can indeed spend their way into prosperity when that is the last resort, or how an atmosphere as apparently vast as heaven can nonetheless be so fragile that carbon released through everyday human activities can imperil all human life.

And it isn't enough to explain these things once, just as it isn't enough to understand them to your own satisfaction and then move on obliviously to the business of policy administration. Part of the responsibility of good governance in even so notionally representative a republic as our own must be not only to know what is right and do what is right but to explain and to sell what is right to the majorities who benefit from right being done.

If Democrats stand by their convictions and better communicate the knowledge on the basis of which they act then the lies of the right, however easy, however comforting, will no longer move sufficient majorities to act against their own best interests in the service of what is wrong. Sure, it's a problem that they always lie, but the solution is we must always try.


Impertinent Weasel said...

governments, unlike households, actually can indeed spend their way into prosperity when that is the last resort

Government should run deficits to moderate a recession, but must also bank surpluses to moderate the expansion. This is the whole point of managing the natural business cycle with policy. And it also happens to be Keynes' key insight, though for some reason only the stimulus part is ever emphasized.

Politicians want always to stimulate. Nobody's a Keynesian in an expansion when everything is roaring. And so we just stimulate and stimulate, introducing distortion atop distortion, bubble upon bubble, until the economy can't function without those distortions, bubbles, and stimuli.

Welcome to America 2010.

Obviously we need a second stimulus, a massively huge second stimulus. But how big? The economy has built up a tolerance to stimulus. It's going to take a whole hell of lot more than anyone's ever seen to bring the unemployment rate down to 5% in 2 years. I guess after the election, we can forget about that. And all Ben Bernanke seems intent upon doing is stimulating another stock market bubble.

I don't think most people are ready to face the reality of our situation. There will be no recovery, none at all, no matter what they do if we're not willing to admit our banking system is entirely insolvent. Everything we've done -- from TARP to the DIF increase to HAMP to ZIRP to FASB accounting rule changes to QE1 and QE2 -- is designed to paper over the abject insolvency of our banking system. And like a cancer, it just gets worse every day.

For Obama to get a second term, we need this economy to recover. It won't recover with an insolvent banking system.

Dale Carrico said...

I agree with everything but the very last bit -- I fear Obama *can* get a second term without recovery and that scares me shitless.

Impertinent Weasel said...

Yeah, that is scary.

I should add, what Ben Bernanke is doing with his $600 billion monetization scheme is analogous to a regressive tax increase. He is debasing the dollar which leads directly to higher prices for commodities priced in dollars. These commodities are the inputs to everything the American consumer needs, such as energy, food, and clothing. Cost increases will get passed to the consumer and this hits the poor and middle classes disproportionately. This is almost like an anti-stimulus.

I mostly despair over this. I don't remember voting for Bernanke, and I don't remember approving an increase in what amounts to a regressive consumption tax -- a tax that is hard to distinguish from the 'Fair Tax' the Steve Forbes-type Randroids are on about.

I swear we're in the Matrix.