Sunday, January 24, 2010

I'm the radical?

I love to debate. I especially love to debate liberals who are so obtuse they only look at things through a one-way mirror. From their view point, the other side is ideologically rigid and not open to the facts. Well, judge for yourself on this rather interesting facebook exchange (names have been hidden):
Our problems, which can be summed up as the decline of the middle class, have been so resistant to solutions that the readiest and most reasonable stance is profound skepticism. It is so much harder politically to do something affirmative than to stand in the way and say it can't be done. Obama has made his job all the more difficult by trying to do something--and in some cases succeeding--without offering much of a challenge to the people standing in his way. So he pays the price, and they do not.

My goal was to not post about Mass... But, I find the above quote from George Packer too insightful to resist.

Adam Freund: No surprise that I disagree with this. The one challenge I would throw out is the implicit assumption that the middle class has declined. It's not true, we average Americans live a very abundant life. When I listen to the other side, they are invested in a very dark narrative about the average American life which I find disturbing, depressing, and most importantly contrary to reality.

Well Intentioned Liberal 1: Really? You want to hang your argument on the relative strength of the modern middle class? My favorite part is that instead of offering real evidence you offer your personal observation that things look pretty good. How did your comprehensive survey of the American middle class go? I guess the growing gap between rich and poor, epidemic of uninsured, record joblessness, bankruptcy, and mortgage foreclosures are all an artifact of whiney liberal perception. You know, "the other side" (it's us vs them, baby!). They are missing the larger point: we can now get super cheap electronics and a bag of tube socks for $1!

Well Intentioned Liberal 2: I haven't done any empirical studies, but I do work for a legal aid office. Each applicant reports their income and education. We have been troubled to see how many applicants qualify for our services, when they would not have six months or a year ago. These are middle class people with good educations. They have lost their jobs or, while technically employed, have been forced to accept wage decreases, or cuts in hours they work.

I make a good living as an attorney, but I could not afford my mortgage (which is underwater by the way) for more than a couple months if I lost my job today.

Americans work longer for a lower standard of living than we used to enjoy. Meanwhile, the ultra rich profit more than ever. The same banks that accepted taxpayer bailouts channel that money into excessive executive bonuses, while declining small business loans, and charging record overdraft fees. The minute they accepted the bailout, they lost the right to the "hey, that's capitalism" argument. It's wrong.

I do like tube socks though.

Adam Freund: It's not "whiney" liberal perception I am arguing against, just liberal perception in general. "growing gap between rich and poor, epidemic of uninsured, record joblessness, bankruptcy, and mortgage foreclosure". The reason the gap between rich and poor is also cited is because the absolute lives of poor Americans is pretty darn good. Additionally, the gap doesn't track individuals, but classes of different people at different points in their lives, so the statistic is highly misleading. Think of yourself now compared to 10 years ago, you are richer today than then, but the gap being measured is really between you now and you ten years ago. Life's not perfect for everyone, but the inherent pessimism in liberalism is seriously depressing.

Well Intentioned Liberal 2: Ten years ago Bush and Gore were debating what to do with the budget SURPLUS. Our econ professors were telling us that we were living in unprecedented prosperity. Now, not so much. Anybody visited Detroit lately?

Much of our current financial woes (and foreign policy headaches) were caused by willful ignorance. There is plenty of blame to go around. The driving force was people behaving under a view of how they wished the world was, instead of an honest look at the way the world is. "Home prices will go up indefinitely". "We'll be greeted as liberators". "The absolute lives of poor Americans is pretty darn good".

I wish I could choose a political stance based on which ideology was less depressing. If I did, it wouldn't change the facts on the ground. That being said, I am not pessimistic at all. I believe there are creative solutions to these challenges we face. The answer lies in a return to community and yes, moral values*, not to mention and a serious re-evaluation of our wants and needs.

*like feeding the hungry, healing the sick, caring for the elderly, protecting the next generation, that kind of thing.

Well Intentioned Liberal 1: Adam, your knee jerk contempt for anything that might be characterized as liberal seriously undermines your credibility. I'm frequently reminded in your posts that you filter your conclusions through a rigorous us versus them paradigm that undermines any serious discussion of nuance or policy. There are more than two perspectives in most situations.

There are plenty of flaws in the quote I originally posted. It's a broad generalization. Yet, you chose the most viscerally political component to react to, despite the fact that it is secondary (though it is important!) to the main point. Another example would be in our discussions over healthcare; you get more worked up over nomenclature (is it technically 'insurance' or something else?) than you do about the tragic outcomes that need to be addressed. You defend radically free markets without bothering to detail what outcome you want. Sometimes I think ideological purity is more important to you than real world outcomes/consequences.
Put another way, you will always be able to find a liberal bogeyman but you do so at the expense of objective reality.

Adam Freund: Well Intentioned Liberal 1, you are entitled to your opinion but I believe it to be flawed. I am no ideological purist and I see you as far more of one. But that is not important. Nor is my credibility (and why the implicit questioning of mine, do I question yours?). I say exactly what I believe and I have come to those beliefs through very rigorous thought and experience.

I believe in Free Markets because that is the best way to improve the lives of all people, bar none. It also preserves liberty, your ability to succeed, and yes your ability to fail, that makes life worth living.

I am all too happy to discuss real world outcomes in the policy arena. Well Intentioned Liberal 2's post discussing the policy he would like to see is more of a wish list than anything real. Who is against feeding the hungry, etc. Why do you not call that out? As far as our discussion on healthcare, the reason it's important to distinguish insurance from a subsidy is because they serve two different functions.

Insurance is a positive economic transaction for both the insurer and the insured based on sound actuarial principles. The reason I stress this point, is that the now defunct health care reform attempted to define insurance on unsound actuarial principles. Charging less than it actually costs to insure someone causes companies to go bankrupt. I fail to see ideological purity in that statement.

As I have maintained, if we want to insure those without insurance, we can simply give them the money directly to purchase health insurance. That, in my opinion, is the proper role of a subsidy and it is transparent to boot.

Well Intentioned Liberal 1: Noted. And you are right, I didn't point out the logical strawman in Well Intentioned Liberal 2's post. It goes to the point I was making though; he talks about what he wants to achieve and hopefully makes observations that inform that goal.

As you just made clear, there is only one way to achieve what we want for our world as citizens, radically free markets. The means has become your ends. When you start with the assumption that your pure process is the only way, regardless of the mental gymnastics required to make it fit, your observations will be skewed. This is why I call you ideologically rigid: you elevate process over outcome.

Adam Freund: How would Well Intentioned Liberal 2 go about achieving his outcomes? Does it matter to you? At no point do I say I want anything less than what Well Intentioned Liberal 2 desires, the only difference is that I actually take into account how and if those outcomes are achievable.

I didn't use the word "radical" to describe free markets. There is nothing radical about letting people choose what they wish to buy and from whom. Explain how that is radical?

It does take some mental gymnastics to understand how profits and losses work within the Free Market to channel resources to their highest valued uses, thereby making everyone much better off. It's hard to see how the Free Market enables competition to keep the wolves of business honest by fighting with each other. The Free Market is hard to understand, that's why most people take the easy route and believe that some "music man" of the government can take care of them better.

Here's an outcome I want, better schools for our kids. Here's my proposal, give everyone vouchers to pay for their kids education. This lets parents select the schools they feel give their kids the best opportunity to succeed. This introduces competition into the school business because schools that don't serve the interest of the children will have no customers. Eliminate teaching certification so that people with advanced degrees (like everyone reading this) can say fuck it, I want to teach and do it right away. Would you support any of these proposals? Why or why not?

Well Intentioned Liberal 1 This has gone from public to personal. My fault. 100% if you would like to continue, feel free to email me at . There's no need to continue this vein in a public thread.


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