Free Markets, Free People
In a patented Instapundit zinger, Glenn sums up Obama’s whining about Romney with four words:
I’LL BET HE DOES: In tough fight with Romney, Obama longs for McCain.
Obama has spent his whole life getting pretty much what he wanted, with token opposition at best. He obviously likes it that way. I suppose if I had lived a charmed life as long as he has, I would also feel entitled to see the charms continue forever.
I’m on record as being no fan of Mitt Romney. I don’t expect to vote for him. I see grave danger that he will end up being the scapegoat of an unprecedented economic meltdown – if it happens on his watch, you can be sure the legacy media journalists and the academic left will work overtime to pin it all on him, and lie through their teeth to minimize the contribution of Democrats and leftists to the problem.
But I do loathe the sanctimonious, smarmy president we have now. Let me translate some of his sanctimony:
It will only be when Mitt Romney is defeated, the president continued, "that the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that."
“There’s a tradition in the Republican Party of making a good show and then rolling over for the big-government left. Hey, they’re supposed to be more loyal to the rest of the political class, including me, than to those whackjobs that actually vote for them. It’s not fair if they don’t keep doing that.”
"The last time we ran, we had a Republican candidate who — I had some profound disagreements with him, but he acknowledged the need for immigration reform, and acknowledged the need for campaign finance reform, acknowledged the need for policies that would do something about climate change," Obama said. "Now, what we’ve got is not just a nominee but a Congress and a Republican Party that have a fundamentally different vision about where we need to go as a country."
“Come on, Mitt, don’t you want to be a loser like McCain? He understood the kabuki Republicans are supposed to perform. He embraced a whole bunch of leftist positions, but still pretended to be conservative. He knew he wasn’t supposed to really criticize me and my Lightworker persona. Now, I have to run against people who won’t play my game, and insist on setting out some kind of clear choice. That’s not fair.”
At about the same time, the Obama campaign released a web video that also featured McCain nostalgia. "John McCain stood up to the voices of extremism in his party," the video said. "Why won’t Mitt Romney do the same?"
“Why won’t Mitt Romney play the game the way I want? He should be wasting his time on the things I want him to waste time on. See, the whole repudiation thing is a win-win for me. With the help of my comrades in the media, I can keep Romney busy defending the indefensible, and he’ll still come out of it looking bad no matter how much he apologizes or repudiates. Plus, his base gets demoralized. Why won’t he go along with that? Doesn’t he understand that I need him to play the role of the valiant loser who gets a nice compliment in my victory speech? It’s not fair.”
I don’t expect that his whining is going to win over many voters, but what else can he do? His record is dismal in just about every respect you can name. He has to talk about something, and as out of touch as Obama is, even he knows he’d better not talk about unemployment, lack of growth, or troubles in Europe. When he tries to talk about foreign issues, he ends up speaking of the Maldives instead of the Malvinas, or Polish death camps, or whatever. With his speaking record already including 57 states and “corpse-man”, maybe he’s better off if he sticks to generic whining.
I’m very busy these days*, so I doubt that I’ll have much time this summer to weigh in on the election. But I don’t think it matters much. We’ve seen enough of these elections, and we now have the measure of the legacy media. It’s not that hard to predict a trajectory in advance.
Insert usual disclaimers here: future is uncertain, who knows what will happen, blah, blah, blah – hey, if any of us could predict the future in detail, we’d be on the beach enjoying all the money we made in the stock market.
With those caveats, here, then, is my expected approximate trajectory of reporting, straight from my patented combination of cracked crystal ball, Ouija board, and leaky 8-ball. It includes short summaries of legacy media narratives at various points from roughly a month ago up until past the election. Along about December, we can see how close I came.
(April) Obama is almost certain to be re-elected. How could anyone think otherwise? Plus, did you know Romney has a weird religion and carries dogs on the top of his car?
(early May) Obama is very likely to be re-elected. Though he has challenges to meet as a result of the problems he inherited from Bush. Plus challenges from wingnuts who take things out of context from his books. Which we are absolutely not going to talk about, especially any stuff about eating dog meat.
(mid May) Romney is a strong candidate because he has so much money, but Obama has the hearts and minds of the people, so he’ll win. The economy is showing signs of improvement, which will help Obama.
(June) Romney’s well-funded right-wing henchmen are going all out, and according to polls this will be a close race, but Obama has the advantage because of his committed base. The economy is improving slowly, despite some negative indicators, and will probably peak just as Obama needs it to.
(early July) Romney’s rich buddies have spent millions to make this a toss up, but Obama’s incumbency and natural connection to voters still make him the likely winner. A lot depends on the continued improvement in the economy. By the way, doesn’t Obama look presidential at this 4th of July event?
(late July) The continuous unfair attacks on Obama have put him somewhat behind in the polls, but there’s still plenty of time for him to catch up as the voters realize who is behind the negative campaigning, and as hoped-for economic improvements kick in.
(early August) Obama seems to be losing his mojo, probably because he’s tired from fighting those nasty right-wing partisans who distort everything he says and denigrate his record by blaming him for things that were Bush’s fault. In other unrelated news, unemployment continues to be high because of the Bush recession and financial markets are jittery because of events in Europe, China, and the Middle East.
(mid-August) Obama has lost his mojo because he’s distracted with important matters of governance and frustrations of unfair right-wing attacks. Yes, we know it’s late summer and Congress is out. There are still important matters of governance. (Shift to tone of the guys at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark claiming “top men” were investigating the ark.) Important. Matters.
(late August) Polls show Romney ahead. Obama is fighting for his political life against great odds, as unscrupulous racist opponents level unceasing unfair attacks and as he continues to fight the Bush recession. By the way, did you know Romney believes in a weird, cult-like religion?
(end of August) Romney’s choice for VP at the GOP convention shows just how far right he is. Choosing such a far-right partisan for VP will benefit Obama. Voters will finally realize just how beholden Romney is to rich conservatives who own yachts. Pay no attention to the polls showing Romney with a large lead. It’s just a post-convention bounce.
(early Sept, after a mediocre speech done by Obama at the Democratic National Convention after a couple of days rest, in which he sounds a little like he did in 2008:) Obama has regained his mojo and is surging in the polls according to left-wing polling organization X, and a post-convention bounce has nothing to do with it. By the way, we have an exclusive, documented report that GOP VP candidate X once threw a candy wrapper out on the highway, and is therefore unfit to be vice president.
(late Sept) Obama has pulled almost even again or maybe a little ahead according to internal polls and has momentum that will eventually give him the edge. Due to the rapidly approaching election, we don’t have time to report anything about the economy. But here’s some more negative stuff about GOP VP candidate X.
(early Oct) Romney is a mean rich guy who hates dogs, with an uncaring wife who spends her money on expensive horses, and a VP candidate who is a litterer. We don’t understand how anyone with a brain could vote for him. Look at this thing we just dug up about him which is totally legit and makes him look really bad. Meanwhile, noble Obama is struggling with troubles in Europe and the Middle East, and continued economic problems inherited from Bush, and sure is doing a great job of acting presidential. The race is still very much in doubt. The polls suggesting that Romney has a large and growing lead don’t mean anything.
(late Oct) Obama has mismanaged his campaign by not attacking Romney strongly enough and exposing the fact that he’s a mean, rich guy from a weird cult who throws people out of work. As a result, he might lose the election, though it’s still a toss up according to some small-sample polls who over-sampled urban Democrats by thirty percent.
(early Nov) With voters going to the polls in 48 hours, Obama is embarking on a marathon with twenty speeches a day to remind voters of how wonderful he is. The limited time for planning is the reason the venues are not full to overflowing. Photos of half empty auditoriums are distortions taken while the stage was setting up. Pay no attention to the ones in which Obama is actually speaking to a half-empty auditorium. Those are not from an official media photographer, and are probably Photoshopped.
(election day) As voters go to the polls today, Obama’s campaign staff are quietly confident that the marathon campaigning has turned the tide, and he’s back in the race. Nasty right-wing partisans who will stop at nothing are trying to block him with voter suppression efforts in key states that are probably illegal. Pay no attention to the noble Obama minions at polls bravely fighting back against the wingnuts, even though some get a bit over-enthusiastic and hold billy clubs while standing outside polling doors.
(election day plus two) Obama looks like he has lost a close election, though recounts in several states could still win it for him. Republicans are trying to block all recounts, probably to cover up their own illegal election tampering.
(election day plus seven) Obama is pinning his final hopes on recounts in large state X, where he is 100,000 votes behind, but his staff has expressed confidence that they know about missing ballots that will close that gap.
(election day plus nine) Some of the missing ballots put forth by Democrats turn out to be shredded newspapers in cardboard boxes, but Democratic election officials deny any attempts to manipulate election results.
(election day plus ten) Obama has conceded to Romney. As we long predicted, Romney’s money and right-wing meanness were enough to dupe the electorate into electing him over the noble Obama. Though some doubts remain as to whether the election really should gone the other way and was only decided by throwing out Obama votes that were slightly irregular but clearly indicated voters’ intent, and were certainly not votes from dead people and illegal aliens no matter what those right-wing hacks at Fox say.
(late Nov) Romney is now choosing his cabinet. We can only hope that Romney chooses wise and moderate Republicans who will reach across the aisle to the Democratic minority to craft bipartisan legislation to fix our financial crisis which is still left over from the Bush years, and exacerbated by problems in Europe and China, and definitely was not Obama’s fault. Obama and Michelle have been gracious during the transition, and rumors of broken vases in the White House after Obama’s concession speech are just more right-wing rumor-mongering. Michelle has been working so hard with Ann Romney that she hasn’t been seen in public in weeks.
(early Dec) Romney has chosen a cabinet of right-wing partisans, and is off to a bad start. With a questionable election behind him, instead of healing the nation, Romney chose hard-line GOP insiders like Mitch Daniels and Lamar Alexander as advisors. He’s probably going to be worse than Bush.
(*) If you’re a software developer and want to see what I’ve been up to lately, my first video training course for online training company Pluralsight went up a couple of weeks ago. More info here. The course is basically me droning on for four hours about user experience design principles, so I doubt that very many of you would be interested, but perhaps a few would be.
I’m sure McQ will have plenty to say tomorrow about Lugar’s 40-60 thrashing in the Indiana senatorial primary. In the meantime, though, a few points of my own:
1. The left’s insistence that the Tea Party is just a bunch of fringe extremists with no real influence should have been shown for the wishful thinking it is by the Congressional elections in 2010. Of course, it wasn’t. Lugar’s defeat should demonstrate again that it was silly wishful thinking.
Not that the left will ever get it, because they can’t really face the reality of this situation. A mass movement around limited government is their worst enemy. The left exists as a parasite on the rest of society, with government as the way to extract sustenance from the host. Even the Tea Party, which advocates what I consider a mild form of limited government, could dry up some of the left’s nourishment, and they might well have to go into a Kilkenny cats resolution to that problem. Which, I admit, would be fun to watch.
2. Lugar was 80 years old. He would be 86 at the end of the next term. Like Byrd, he clearly wanted to be taken out of DC in a hearse. I’m sorry, but that’s sick. It’s an addiction to power and self-importance. That alone is a pretty good reason to get rid of him.
3. Lugar prattled that “Over 60% of my life has been serving others.” That kind of sanctimonious drool really gets on my nerves. So you’re serving us, Senator Lugar, but you’re the one being treated like royalty everywhere you go? The one being chauffeured around? The one being schmoozed by every lobbyist on K Street? Wow, what an incredible burden that must have been while you were serving us. Schmuck.
As the blue social model collapses, it’s most vocal defenders continue their retreat into delusion. This 33 second segment of a video from Reason TV is one of the more jaw-dropping examples.
Communism caused 3/4 of a century of deprivation, misery, and quasi-slavery, and killed 100,000,000 in the bargain. The left still hasn’t come to terms with that. I’m pretty sure they never will.
You could sit the woman in the video down and present her with a mountain of evidence that Cuba is a sick society, a poor society, a repressive society in which citizens who oppose the Cuban government the way she opposes the US government are locked up for most or all their life. It wouldn’t matter. She has constructed an elaborate fantasy in her head.
After all she’s "seen Cuba" and it sounds like she really loved the role of the useful idiot being shown the potemkin society the Cuban appartchiks allowed her to see. She thereby proves to herself how moral she is, and how much better and smarter she is than we skeptics who have seen the pictures of real Cuban healthcare, cockroaches and all, smuggled out by people who would have been shot or imprisoned if they had been caught with those pictures.
You can see it in her face, and hear it in her voice – that condescension that reveals her inner conviction that she’s smart and moral, and other people ought to think exactly the way she thinks, even though to anyone connected to reality, she’s clearly delusional.
Deep down in her own mind, where she never dares go, some part of her knows that it’s a delusion and a fantasy. Because otherwise, she would want to live in this paradise she describes. She and thousands would be taking whatever measures they could come up with to go and live there, instead of it being the exact opposite, with thousands upon thousands risking their lives on makeshift boats to get out. Consciously, she spins her fantasy about how wonderful Cuba is, but subconsciously, she never dares think about actually living there.
One of the main reasons leftists talk this way is partially to convince themselves. Reality intrudes more every day as the blue social model breaks down. But facing that failure means admitting a lifetime of being a gullible fool. Most of them don’t have the psychic strength for that. They can’t admit that there’s a single thing wrong with the leftist worldview.
For example, they’ve also never come to terms with the housing bubble and the government’s role in it. They prefer to believe that a financial industry that had intelligently managed home mortgages for decades just collectively lost its mind and started writing bad loans, and the government actions that took place in the same period are complete coincidences. The pressure towards "affordable housing", the implicit and explicit threats by government to those who didn’t loan to minorities, the pipeline to offload the risk to quasi-government agencies – they look directly at those things, and apparently suffer inattentional blindness because they just can’t see them.
They’ve never come to terms with the fact that the worst areas of the country are those that have been governed by liberal and leftist Democrats for decades – including a crumbling city that was once one of America’s shining success stories, now undone by unions, liberalism, bureaucrats, and corruption.
They look at exponential curves that foretell the collapse of Social Security and Medicare, and bleat about how we just have to make the rich pay their "fair share", blind to the fact that the top ten percent already pay 70% of income taxes.
You can’t even tell them that Bush didn’t really hold a plastic turkey. They formulate their narratives and talking points, and that’s the end of their cognitive effort. They have thereby constructed a fantasy world they prefer to live in.
In that world, Cuba really does have superior healthcare and free elections.
Europe is advanced and stable, a beacon for the rest of the world, not an aging society that is broke, with an unsustainable welfare state and a birth rate that spells disaster in a generation.
China is a sterling example of how wonderful things can be when people like them run things, not a repressive society that hides its pollution and filth, keeps a bubble going by building ghost cities, and is facing demographic problems never seen in history on such a scale.
Israel is a nation of violent butchers, who just happen to save the sick babies of their enemies as a hobby.
And the US is a racist society, holding down minorities with trigger-happy vigilantes, instead of a country that elected a black president and has been the destination for every race and creed on the globe.
OK, let them live in their fantasy world. In the end, reality always wins. And it’s pretty clear that even the reality of a total meltdown of the blue social model isn’t going to make them re-examine their fantasies, any more than the meltdown of the Soviet Union did. As I said, they don’t have the psychic strength to face it.
They prefer groupthink to reality, because confronting reality means confronting their worst fear: that they might be wrong, that they might not be smarter than the rest of us. That they might be frauds who can talk or write, but who can’t think.
So let them be. Laugh at them if you like; there’s plenty of humor to be found in their floundering, and goodness knows we need humor to get through the mess they’ve put us in. But don’t let them induce you to waste your time by trying to disprove their fantasies. That’s a lost cause.
Consider the following generic proposition:
“System Y is a complex system, and its destabilization would have a dramatic negative impact on society. Factor X is known to influence System Y, and the growth of Factor X is believed to destabilize System Y and even make it possibly vulnerable to catastrophic Failure Mode Z.
“Therefore, for the good of society, it’s extremely important to reduce Factor X. Everyone must make sacrifices to avoid Failure Mode Z. “
If any particular values of System Y, Factor X, and Failure Mode Z come to mind when you read that, please note them before you read the rest.
Whether such a proposition is valid in the real world depends on many things. For example, is it proven that Factor X’s growth contributes to the destabilization of System Y? What is the probability that the current rate of growth of Factor X will cause System Y to fail in some way. What’s the probable timeline involved? What are the likely negative results if System Y becomes unstable? Are there results from the past of such systemic failure, and if so what can we learn from them about the probabilities and outcomes in this case?
Let’s take a look at a couple of real cases of the proposition.
First, let’s consider
System Y = global climate
Factor X = carbon dioxide
Failure Mode Z = significant global temperature rise with attendant sea level rise and other forms of extreme environmental degradation
With this particular substitution, most of those on the left would vigorously assure us that the proposition was valid. They would then tell us that, in order to reduce carbon dioxide, drastic measures are needed, even though those measures have some very undesirable side effects on various members of society.
Next, let’s consider
System Y = US or world financial system
Factor X = government spending and debt
Failure Mode Z = financial system meltdown, in which financial institutions fail en masse, and normal commerce is halted or seriously disrupted
Now, if we make this substitution and present the proposition to a typical leftist, their reaction would be quite different. They would very likely not agree that drastic measures are needed to reduce spending and debt. Based on recent arguments from the left, they would look to comparatively small changes to address any dangers, such as raising taxes on rich people, or “rooting out fraud and waste”. Such changes have been tried before, and clearly are not a long term fix, yet the left keeps insisting that they are sufficient to head off potential financial catastrophe.
They would certainly not be in favor of dramatic reductions in Factor X in this case. They would be very concerned about the effects on society of the spending reductions, and would likely even resort to hyperbole to highlight those effects. They might even say that those who advocated dramatic reductions in spending and debt were cruel, heartless people who were simply unwilling to do their part for other, less advantaged people.
Let’s first assume, just for the sake of argument, that both forms of catastrophism are real dangers. I think they actually are quite different in the amount of danger they pose, but for now let’s pretend that they are both serious dangers that could result in catastrophes affecting many millions of people in drastic and awful ways.
In that case, why would the left react so differently to the presumed obvious solution of reducing Factor X?
I believe the real reason the left supports drastic measures in the first case but not the second is fairly obvious. In the first case, the reduction of Factor X (carbon dioxide) requires a dramatic increase in government size and influence. In the second case, the reduction of Factor X (spending and debt by various governments) requires a dramatic decrease in government size and influence. In fact, it calls into question the entire viability of the welfare state. (More on this below.)
Of course, those on the right are subject to the symmetrical analysis. One might conclude (in fact, the typical leftist would almost certainly conclude) that the right makes such decisions solely based on their distaste for big government. They don’t accept the first proposition because it increases government, while they accept the second one because it decreases government.
However, as I said earlier, there are a lot of other factors in play. The probabilities involved and the historical analogs are quite different.
In the climate change case, there is no historical example of the climate system failing by going into a catastrophic mode. There have been ups and downs due to natural causes, but no mass extinction, for example, has been clearly traced to runaway temperature rise.
We have some geological evidence about climate change. Geological examples are necessarily fuzzy, but the best ones we have go the other way. We know that ice ages are not uncommon, and in fact occur on a semi-regular basis. We know that one ended about 10,500 years ago, and that ending (i.e. the warming that went with it) was probably a major factor in the spread of modern humans around the planet.
We know that there have been periods when the climate was warmer or colder than average, and we also know that mankind has generally fared better during the warm periods.
So there’s no tangible example from history or geology that should fuel fear of catastrophic warming. All we have are models. They have a short baseline, and even in that baseline, they have shown serious flaws. Other factors such as solar variability appear to have a greater influence than mankind’s carbon emissions than most of the models include. (This ignores the strong possibility of outright incompetence, fraud, and other human factors that cast doubt on the models.)
You can read a recent summary of the state of that argument in this article. A few extracts:
“…the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.”
“CO2 levels have continued to rise without interruption and, in 2007, the Met Office claimed that global warming was about to ‘come roaring back’. It said that between 2004 and 2014 there would be an overall increase of 0.3C. In 2009, it predicted that at least three of the years 2009 to 2014 would break the previous temperature record set in 1998. So far there is no sign of any of this happening. But yesterday a Met Office spokesman insisted its models were still valid.”
“Meanwhile, since the end of last year, world temperatures have fallen by more than half a degree, as the cold ‘La Nina’ effect has re-emerged in the South Pacific.
‘We’re now well into the second decade of the pause,’ said Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. ‘If we don’t see convincing evidence of global warming by 2015, it will start to become clear whether the models are bunk.”
Climate change has been vigorously discussed on QandO, so there’s not really any need to go further. It’s enough to note that the entire case for climate catastrophism looks a lot shakier than the left wishes to acknowledge. And again, we don’t really have any historical examples to learn from, and the geology is fuzzy.
However, on the economic side, we certainly do have examples of system failure. From Roman times to the Weimar Republic, we’ve seen that an economic system can certainly fail from too much spending and debt.
Further, the economic models have something in them the climate models don’t – clear and obvious exponential factors at work. Compound interest is one such factor that no one can deny. It’s also the opinion of many (including myself) that the spending curve for most welfare-state governments exhibits an exponential shape.
We know that exponential growth cannot go on indefinitely in the real world. Eventually, the amounts outstrip the boundaries the real world will tolerate. This is often expressed by the saying “What can’t go on forever, won’t.”
There are other differences. Climate change, if it happened at all, would happen over a span likely measured in decades. No one outside silly movies is saying that a city such as New York would go to being underwater, or too hot or too cold to live in, in a matter of weeks or months.
Financial failure, on the other hand, could happen quite suddenly. Most people would not be prepared for it, and that would cause the suffering to be worse.
Finally, it’s not clear how much of the populace would be negatively affected by significant warming of the earth. Some would clearly benefit – just ask the folks who live in Greenland. Others could suffer, of course. However, remember our history – humankind does better in warmer periods. So there would have to be a dramatic runaway spiral on heat to get into territory where the net effect would be dramatically negative.
I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but the probabilities for that look ridiculously low and we have no historical, archeological, or geological examples to point to.
However, an economic catastrophe in the US financial system would affect almost everyone here, and many others around the world. Certainly those with lots of assets could ride out the effects better (“women and minorities hardest hit”) but hyperinflation on the Weimar scale wipes out even huge fortunes. Plus, our financial system is more complex than ever, and we now have a society utterly dependent on its smooth functioning. In the Great Depression, a majority still lived on farms and grew their own food. They were insulated from the very worst effects. Not true today – if the system really broke down, a lot of people would grow hungry quickly. You can write your own ending from there, but it’s pretty much certain to involve civil violence, looting, etc. Because we’re in uncharted territory in the complexity of our society and our financial system, it’s not inconceivable that outcomes could involve depravation and widespread violence never seen in this country (though I think that’s an unlikely, worst-case possibility).
So to summarize: the left is frantically worried about climate change, even though the outcomes are quite murky. They are ready to take drastic action right away, even though those murky effects might be quite a ways into the future, if they can just get those Neanderthal righties to accept the consensus, etc.
But they are quite blasé about an approaching catastrophe that is much more likely, has historical parallels, has effects that could be worse for more people, and could happen in very short order.
How can this be? If what I say is correct, how can they support dramatic intervention to mitigate climate change, but not support dramatic intervention to mitigate economic meltdown?
Because accepting the possibility of economic catastrophe means rethinking their entire philosophy. Intervention to mitigate economic meltdown means dramatic reversal of the welfare state. Most of those on the left are mentally unable to accept that possibility, and will therefore resort to any level of rationalization necessary to reject it.
Thus, I conclude that most leftists have convinced themselves that an economic catastrophe is wildly unlikely to occur, just as those of on the right simply don’t believe that a climate catastrophe is likely to occur. As I outlined above, I think their conclusion is logically unsupportable, whereas I think doubting a climate catastrophe is completely supportable.
Given 2008, given the spending curves, given the obvious incompetence and mendacity of our politicians, how can they doubt the strong possibility of economic catastrophe? Well, in their lifetimes, there has always been one more set of kludges that kept the system stabilized for a while. They can rationalize that, if certain selfish parties just give in to another set of kludges, things will work out fine. They simply ignore historical parallels, or come up with rationalizations for why they don’t apply to our present circumstances. Some have abysmal math skills, and don’t intuitively grasp what an exponential effect really means, so they don’t give such factors any weight.
They also take comfort in the idea that they are fighting for the poor and downtrodden, and cannot conceive of a world in which the welfare state is not the framework where they do that. To them, preventing a catastrophe that has not yet occurred by taking measures that are sure to hurt such people is simply unthinkable.
I think this is insanity. Even if we accepted the most aggressive Republican proposals currently out there, they don’t even turn the tide against spending and debt. Fall 2008 gave us a pretty clear warning that the system is no longer stable. If the financial catastrophe occurs, it will hurt everyone, and it will hurt the poor and downtrodden the worse – far worse than spending reductions that gradually start reducing the welfare state.
This leads to a troubling corollary. Most leftists don’t really seem to believe the system is vulnerable to catastrophe, but, based on behavior, neither do establishment Republicans! If they did, last year’s dance around the debt limit would have a far different character to it. The establishment Republicans are engaged in only a slight variation in the “kick the can” strategy favored by Democrats, and the only reason they vary at all is the influence of the newly elected, tea-party-backed contingent in the House.*
In 2008, both the establishment Republicans and the Democrats in Washington panicked. For a while, it looked like the catastrophe might actually be imminent, and that scared them spitless. They authorized huge, unprecedented levels of spending and debt, mostly because of their fear.
They don’t seem scared now. Even though it ought to be obvious that you don’t solve a debt crisis for the long term by adding a lot more debt, and even though their measures certainly did not achieve the predicted results on growth and employment, they have lapsed back into their mental fiction that nothing that bad is really going to happen.
I’ve pretty much stopped listening to them. The coalition of welfare state leftists and establishment Republicans are living in a fantasy land. I don’t think they will really believe in the possibility of economic meltdown until it actually happens or is so imminent that it can’t be denied. As Heinlein said:
“Human beings hardly ever learn from the experience of others. They learn; when they do, which isn’t often, on their own, the hard way.”
Then, since they’ve never really considered it possible, when/if it happens, they’ll be clueless about what to do. When they take additional panicked action, it’s likely to make things worse instead of better (as I think many of the actions in 2008 did).
Make whatever preparations you think necessary. I don’t think financial catastrophe is inevitable, but I do think it is the most likely outcome, whether it’s ten years from now or twenty years or next month. I have a bumper sticker on my car that sums it up: “Believe in yourself, not the government”.
(*) I concede the possibility that some DC politicians know we might be facing economic catastrophe, but have concluded that they can’t do anything about it politically, so they might as well keep playing the business-as-usual game. I regard that as dishonest and cowardly. If we are to prevent the catastrophe, one of the absolute pre-requisites is that people understand that it could happen, and are therefore willing to endure the measures to prevent it. Also, obscuring the possibility of financial catastrophe in the guise of “not scaring the people” is condescending, arrogant, and makes it more likely that the catastrophe will actually come to pass.
I happened to run across this page on Yahoo today, containing horoscopes for 2012. I thought they were a bit optimistic, though. Considering all the other analysis I’ve seen about what 2012 is expected to bring, I think we need more realistic horoscopes. I’m thinking something along the following lines:
This is a good year to be true to your astrological sign and become a sheep herder. When it becomes difficult to buy food because of worldwide financial calamity, you’ll have sheep’s milk for cheese, and you can also shear the sheep to knit new clothing when your current clothes wear out. As a final measure, rack of lamb is delicious. Don’t forget to buy shears and knitting needles.
Of course, those under this sign tend to be bull-headed, and will probably be some of the last ones to admit that their savings and other investments have been wiped out. So harness that stubbornness, and doggedly insist that all your assets be converted to gold, and bury it in your back yard.
The sign of the twin is a good tip to stock up on duplicates of anything you really need for survival, since it might be hard to buy them after the meltdown hits. So buy another Glock, another shotgun, and another AR. Don’t forget extra ammo for all of them!
Your sign indicates that you should move somewhere that you will be able to catch shellfish for food. Watch for condo deals on the shoreline in New England and especially Alaska. You might want to consider taking a job on a crab boat to build up some expertise.
Thank goodness you are endowed with bravery, since you’re going to need it this year. Use it to plan your defensive perimeter. Sight in likely entry points, and be ready to distribute the ammo you’ll need when the marauding invaders come for your food after they’ve finished looting the grocery stores.
Be true to your sign. This is not a good year to get pregnant and have small children to feed. If you do, you can forget about toys next Christmas; they’ll be lucky to get a full meal. Plus, the collapse of the school system means that if you do have children, you better stock up on home schooling supplies.
Use this year to bring some balance to your life. Add martial arts to your shooting practice, for example. And you’ll balance better by losing some weight and getting in shape. That will make your home defense much easier during the food riots.
Your natural tendency to be short tempered must be controlled this year especially. When a suspicious character comes to the door seeking food, don’t be too quick on the trigger. Instead, put out a sign explaining that you don’t have any food to give away, and pretend not to hear the door. Only shoot if they ignore those measures and try to break in.
As with the advice for Aries, you should investigate keeping some goats. In addition to the advantages of sheep, goats also are cantankerous enough to assist in property defense. Their milk makes better cheese, but they’re not such good eating. So lay in some extra canned goods to go with your goat’s milk cheese. Watch out for Occupy Wall Street types, who will probably start rioting as soon as the grocery store runs out of goat’s milk cheese for their arugula and baby beet salad.
This might be your year to express your affinity for water and buy a house boat. It would be a great haven to ride out the riots and other civil unrest, as long as you could find enough fuel to scamper off to a safe spot. Scout out some likely spots ahead of time to lay in some emergency freeze-dried food, and don’t forget your rain collector for potable water.
Your path to surviving 2012 will likely mean lots of fishing. Tune up your equipment, lay in some lures, and don’t forget spare knives for scaling and fileting your catch. A portable mercury tester wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
For those of you who have not taken the opportunity to listen to this week’s podcast, the above was part of the summation of our situation by Dale Franks. I’d recommend you listen to the whole thing.
No one knows in detail what will happen in the next few years. The number of variables is too high. But the general outline is clear. In the near term, the US and about half a dozen European countries have unsustainable debt curves. That unsustainable debt is going to cause financial catastrophe not in a decade or two, but sometime in the next few years.
Given the interconnected nature of the world’s trade and financial system, that catastrophe is likely to spread rapidly. Even countries whose sins have been modest, such as Germany, will be caught up. Countries who depend on the US and Europe for the money to drive their economies, such as China and India, will be caught up. It’s going to be very, very messy, and a lot of people are going to suffer.
The participants in the podcast all agreed that there isn’t any obvious politically feasible way to reverse course. I agree, and I have a few comments to add.
I see the following as the biggest three groups involved in the political decision making, from largest to smallest, with some overlap among them:
(1.) The "rationally ignorant"* – those who don’t pay that much attention to politics, and have at best a vague understanding that we have a problem. These people, to the extent they think about it at all, believe that shuffling some things around a bit, electing some different people, and passing a few laws will fix whatever is ailing us.
They believe in such a “solution” because that’s the way things have gone their whole lives. Somehow the ruling class has always managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and keep things humming. They won’t believe this process will fail until it does.
There are even quite a few Republicans in this category. They can generally be identified by their fixation on finding "the next Reagan".**
(2.) The ones who have some glimmering that there’s a problem, perhaps because they are unemployed, mired in debt, or both, but have a convenient scapegoat in mind. That’s usually "the rich" and "the evil corporations", though for Republicans, it might be Obama, Barney Frank, George Soros, or whoever. Like group 1, they believe it’s easy to fix the problems – just come down on the scapegoat, and everything will work out.
(3.) The "ruling class" as defined by Codevilla. This group is mostly convinced of their own magnificence, and thus believe if the right people are in charge (which usually includes them personally), then they can solve any problems. The ones in this group with enough situational awareness to realize the magnitude of the problem also realize that it’s pointless to do anything significant to try and solve it because that would get them cashiered from the ruling class. So their efforts are in mitigation, obfuscations, and generally stretching things out until they are retired from the game.
Given this breakdown, we can talk all we want about who the GOP is going to nominate for president, but it really doesn’t matter. We have too big a cohort of people in this country who either believe we don’t really have a serious problem, or think there is a serious problem, but believe the cause is a boogieman of some kind that must be vanquished.
There’s a good reason they believe that. They are kept in the dark by a mainstream legacy press desperate to cover up the failings of the left-leaning governing style preferred by the vast majority of journalists.
In fact, none of the ruling class – which includes the politicians, journalists, academicians, lobbyists, staffers, and the like – has any motivation to tell the harsh truth about the trouble we are in. As I said above, they have a strong disincentive to do so. If they did, the other members of the ruling class would turn on them. They would likely lose their livelihood.
We’re also fighting ingrained culture. We have two generations that have been raised to believe that, ultimately, someone else is responsible for the essentials of their lives. They believe they are supposed to retire in their fifties or early sixties, with a pension followed by Social Security. They believe they are supposed to relinquish concern for healthcare costs when they turn 65. They believe that if things get bad enough in their lives, unemployment, and later welfare, will keep a roof over their head and food on the table. They’ve been trained to believe this by a ruling class that has been assuring them since the 1930s that they have the fundamental right to a soft life.
These people do not want to think about a world where these things are not true. It would be exquisitely painful to worry about those things. So they don’t. They ignore the warnings of the "radicals" who trot out the debt curves and the demographic stats. It’s easy enough to do that – the supposedly smart reporters ignore them too, if they don’t come right out and ridicule them. The abysmally ignorant social scientist cohort produces yet another round of "analysis" purporting to prove everything is OK, or at least would be if those rich people would just give up some more money. The political class assures them that it will be all right if they just keep electing the right people.
This state of affairs has no exit except catastrophe so major and undeniable that it affects most people personally. By then, it is virtually certain that the world financial system is past the point of no return in its current form.
I’ve stopped trying to talk to people around me about what is happening and likely to happen. I would have to spend hours removing the false assumptions they hold before I could even start. Plus, as I mentioned, they don’t want to believe what I need to tell them. It’s just too painful.
We are about to see a crisis that will set back living standards in this country to a level many alive today have never seen. The only reason it probably won’t get down to subsistence level is the technology base that we have. But we’re probably going to see stagnation, crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment, inability for most people to build any significant assets, and possible civil violence if the problem becomes so severe that it starts affecting the food supply (which I hope won’t happen).
I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone else does either, about how we will get through the chaos and what things look on the other side of it. I see three major categories of possible outcomes, and there may be more. But that’s a subject for another post.
(*)When I used the term "rational ignorance" in a comment at Daily Pundit about five years back, Bill Quick picked it up and had some unkind things to say about such people. (Daily Pundit is undergoing a platform change, so I can’t link to the page. It was on June 10, 2006, and I’ll link to it once the site over there is back to normal.) I understand Bill’s take, but unlike him and some other opinionists on the right, I don’t use it pejoratively. I use it the way economists originally intended: simply to mean people who are unwilling to invest the time and cost to become informed about the real underlying state of our political world.
It is expensive to become so informed, and the payoff for any individual is small. The aggregate effects, as we are seeing, may be horrendous. That doesn’t change the underlying economics. A political system that relies on individuals to invest the time to become informed about complex political issues, out of a higher understanding of their civic duty, is as doomed to failure as a system that expects individuals to commit to "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". In both cases, such an expectation crashes up against the behavior of real people, i.e., human nature. For me, this is one of the cornerstones of my strong belief in highly limited government – it’s the only form that allows people to not know much about the political world because that world is pretty simple. We just have not figured out how to make limited government stable in the long term in the face of rational ignorance plus plus the cohort of moochers that’s present in every society.
(**)While I grant that Reagan was better than many alternatives, including the pathetic scold he replaced, at best he gave us some breathing space to solve the underlying problems of a decaying welfare state. He didn’t really make much progress in actually solving the long term problem, and his inability to get Democrats to cut spending led to some significant contributions to our debt problems.
I’m coincidentally the same age as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I’ve seen and worked in the industry they created – what we first called "micro-computers" and later "personal computers" or PCs.
Even that term is falling out of favor. "Laptop" is probably heard more often now, with "tablet" and "slate" moving in.
I’m wondering, though, if "slate" will actually stick. Just as "kleenex" is the word most of us use for a small tissue to wipe your nose (no matter how Kimberly-Clark feels about it), I wonder if we’ll someday be talking about "ipads" from Amazon and Samsung. That would merely be continuing the trend where "ipod" is becoming the generic term for an MP3 player.
This is one example of the power of Steve Jobs to set the agenda in the last ten years. There are plenty more.
The changing signs on Music Row in Nashville are another testament to his ability to turn an existing order upside down. The iPod changed the music industry beyond recognition, and here in Nashville we had a front-row seat to watch the changes.
The area of most interest to me, though, is in software. I’ve focused more on user interface design over the years than any other area. I’ve watched Apple drive a trend that is powerful and desirable in our industry: moving from just making something possible with technology to making it easy.
For decades, it was enough for a software program to make something possible that was not possible before. DOS-based software was never particularly easy to use. The underlying technology to make it easy just wasn’t there.
Jobs and Wozniak pioneered that era, but Bill Gates ruled it. He reduced IBM to irrelevance, along with Novell, Lotus, and WordPerfect, all major league software companies at one time.
To some extent, Bill understood the importance of making things easy; Excel was about ten times easier to use than Lotus 1 2 3. But he never really innovated much in making things easy. His forte was seeing good ideas produced by others and then copying those ideas and making products based on them affordable and practical. Windows was never the equal of the Mac until (arguably) Windows 7, but it ran on cheaper machines and Bill made it friendly to businesses, which were the biggest buyers of PCs until somewhere in the 1990s.
Steve Jobs and his crew were Bill’s best idea source. I sometimes thought that they served as the unofficial research arm of Microsoft for user interface design throughout the eighties and nineties. Apple sputtered through that period, producing hits (iMac) and misses (Newton). At one point, Bill Gates even stepped in with a capital infusion that saved Apple from likely irrelevance or even bankruptcy. I suppose he didn’t want to see his free research lab disappear.
During that era, Steve Jobs kept pushing the boundaries. The very first Mac was a pain to use, because it was too slow to do what he imagined, and had a screen that we would laugh at today. But it made some new things possible, such as real graphic editing. Though a PC was my main machine in the mid-1980s, I would put up with the Mac’s flaws to do my graphics work. The salesmen at our company often said our diagrams of the system we were proposing often clinched the sale.
I believe Jobs had a vision during that period of what personal technology could be like, but the nuts and bolts were not quite there. Nevertheless, he always insisted on "user first" thinking.
Jobs understood something that is still misunderstood by almost all companies in technology. You can’t innovate by asking your users to tell you what to do.
The typical technology company convenes focus groups and does market research, and then says "Ah, what buyers want is X, Y, and Z. OK, you lab guys, go create it for the lowest possible cost."
Steve Jobs understood that consumers and users of technology don’t know how to design technology products any more than movie goers know how to write screenplays. To create innovative and delightful user experiences, it is necessary to get inside the mind of the user and understand them so well that you know what they will like even before they do.
This is hard. It’s so hard that only two companies in my lifetime have been any good at it at all: Apple and Sony. And these companies have dramatically different batting averages, with Apple up in Ted Williams territory while Sony languishes around the Mendoza line.
Finally, about ten years ago, the underlying technology started matching up with Jobs’ vision. The result was the iPod.
There were plenty of MP3 players that pre-dated the iPod. I had one, from Creative. It had about enough storage for three albums, and required me to organize files and folders on it to store my music.
Steve Jobs saw the small, low power hard disks coming on line and realized they could be the foundation of a new, reimagined device. First, it would store hundreds of albums or thousands of songs – a typical person’s entire music collection. It would use software designed earlier to manage music – iTunes.
The big departure was the approach to user experience. The iPod was so simple to use that someone could pick it up and figure it out in about two minutes.
This was done by purposely leaving out features that were arguably useful. While the other MP3 makers were designing and marketing on checklists of features, the iPod stripped things down to the basics. And kicked the others to the curb.
Jobs realized before others that it was time to stop working on "possible" and start emphasizing "easy". When technology is new and rapidly evolving, something new is possible with each passing year, and giving buyers new features is enough to sell products. But when technology reaches a certain point, and the feature lists get long enough, all products have the essential features. The differentiation then becomes based on something very simple: what people like.
This is particularly true as technology starts appealing to a broad market. If you try to satisfy everyone in a broad market by including all the features anyone in a broad spectrum wants, you’ll end up with an unusable mess.
At some point in the evolution of technology for a given space, people just assume that the features they really need will be in all the devices they see. They start choosing based on emotion. That is, they seek what feels elegant and fluid to them, something they really want to be a part of their daily life.
This is where genuine design, based on universal design principles that go back decades or centuries, starts adding value. For example, Hick’s Law says that the time required to choose an option goes up as the number of options increases. Simply put, users get frustrated trying to find the feature they want from a long list of features in a menu, or trying to find the button they want on a remote control that has fifty-eleven buttons.
There is an entire body of knowledge in this space, and the first major computer/software company to emphasize designers who knew and understood this body was Apple. The culture at Apple values people who know how to get inside the mind of a user and then create a new way of interacting with technology that the user will love.
Jobs created and drove that culture. He went from turning the music business upside down with the iPod to turning the phone industry upside down with the iPhone, and now Apple is remaking their original territory, the personal computer, with the iPad.
I’ve discussed before in the comments here that I don’t like the iPad. It’s slow and limited for my purposes, many of the web sites I use are not compatible with it, and I don’t like iTunes.
But it’s not designed for me. That’s a key lesson that designers grow to appreciate. Each design has a target audience, which must not be too broad. The true test of a good designer is whether they can design something for someone who is not like them.
I put my iPad in the hands of my 76 year old mother, and she immediately took to it. I showed her a few basic touch gestures, and she could immediately do the only things she uses a computer for – browsing and email. For her, it was easy, and as a veteran of the made-to-do-anything-and-everything Windows (I got her a computer for email and such six years ago), she really appreciated that.
The culture created by Jobs can do things that Microsoft, for all its money and brains, is not very good at. Microsoft people are smart. I work with many of them, so I’ve seen it firsthand. But almost all of them have a tendency that is all too common in the human race. They can only see the world through their own eyes, and are not very good at seeing it through the eyes of someone with a radically different background or different abilities.
When Microsoft teams start designing a new product or version, most of the times I’ve been involved, the process started with a list of proposed features. In other words, their process starts with what they want to make possible for the user.
Unlike Apple, the culture at Microsoft places little or no value on making things easy. This isn’t surprising, because Microsoft’s success over a span of decades has not been dependent on innovation in making things easy. It’s been in making things possible and affordable. They copied the "make things easy" part from someone else, usually Apple.
But even Microsoft has seen the direction for the industry laid out by Jobs and Apple, and realized that things have sped up. Copying isn’t good enough any more. Jobs perfected the process of laying entire segments waste with an innovative new entry, and as the iPhone showed, it can happen in a single year.
Those at Microsoft are starting down the path of worrying more about user experience. They may not like it much, but they realize it’s now a matter of necessity.
First, they created the XBox – an entirely new product in a separate division that successfully challenged established players in a world where user experience trumps everything else. Then, shamed by the abysmal Windows Mobile products they had produced in the phone space, they created a pretty decent product there in the Windows Phone.
Their steps are halting and tentative, but at least they are toddling down that path now. I hope they learn how to walk and run on that path, but given the effort it will take to turn their culture around, that will take a while.
I don’t know that they would have ever gone down that route if Jobs and Apple had not pushed them down it. I’ve chafed for most of my career at the apathy and ignorance in the Microsoft community around user experience. I’ve always believed that our systems and devices exist for users, not for our own aggrandizement. As such, we owe them the best experience we can give them.
I was never a major Apple customer. Apple was never a cost-effective choice for the business and data oriented software I’ve created.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what Steve Jobs did for our industry. I absolutely do. I wish he could have been around for another decade or two, continuing to show the world that "possible" isn’t good enough, and push the rest of the industry into respecting our users and making things easy.
I remember giddy Republicans in early 2001. At last they had won the Presidency and both houses of Congress. They were like football fans whose team had just won the SuperBowl.
What exactly did we get out of that wonderful deal, again? Oh, yeah, a higher rate of spending than under Clinton. A new entitlement we couldn’t afford. Intrusion of the federal government into education. A blatantly unconstitutional law limiting free speech during elections.
However, it was a good time for DC Republicans. There were lots of jobs and lots of opportunities to get on the talk shows.
I suppose I understand, then, why DC Republicans look at elections more like a football game. If their team wins the game, there are goodies to go around.
However, the rest of us, including many disaffected Republicans, have realized that the rah-rah, go team approach to politics is a pointless waste of time, money, and energy. This is shown in the Tea Party’s character, for example. They want to discuss issues, and they’re not dazzled by nice hair, experience in the establishment political world, or all the other characteristics that political consultants find so important when they rate candidates.
One would think that the establishment GOP would have enough self-awareness to understand that it’s time to change their view on candidates and elections. I’d like to think these people are intelligent enough to read the charts and realize that the time for playing games is past. We are very probably approaching a worldwide financial crisis that will rock the very foundations of Western society.
Unfortunately they don’t seem to notice, as I was reminded this weekend when I read this piece on The Corner quoting Mary Matalin:
…Republicans should get over their puppy love, she said, and realize that no candidate is going to be perfect. The important thing is that they can beat President Obama.
No. That’s not the important thing. That statement may sound wise and obvious to DC political types, but it’s absolutely wrong, and there are two ironclad reasons why.
First, if it gets us a Nixon or a G.W. Bush, then it actually makes things worse. Suppose we expend our limited opportunity to reverse our current headlong rush to catastrophe by electing such a person. Then suppose the catastrophe comes on their watch.
The result is that it’s probably then the last chance the GOP will ever get to fix things. The left-leaning media will pin all the blame on the Republicans, and contort every fact they find to make it look like the Democrats can fix things.
An observant, rational person might note that the notion of the Democrats fixing anything about large, intrusive, expensive, debt-ridden government is laughable. But the media will sell that ridiculous notion, and clueless moderates will buy it, just as they did in 2008. The GOP brand will then be tarnished for a generation (“See, those Tea Party types just make things worse!”), and there will be plenty more fiddling while the country burns. The Tea Party types will likely try a third party, and given the structural problems in our system, that’s highly unlikely to work fast enough to make a difference.
Second, the very idea that we can predict who can or can’t beat Obama is just silly. I remember when Reagan “couldn’t beat Carter” because he was just a B movie actor. Bill Quick is fond of saying that his Pomeranian could beat Obama, and if things continue to move in the direction they’re going now, he’s clearly on target.
Just to pick out someone, let’s look at Hermann Cain. By conventional wisdom from establishment types, he can’t possibly beat Obama.
Well, why the hell not? He won the Florida straw poll decisively, so he seems to have something in his tank to motivate the base. Given that he’s black, suppose he changes the voting in that population from 90-10 Obama to 70-30 Obama. That alone would be enough to tie him even if Obama did as well among all other groups as he did in 2008. And Obama isn’t going to do nearly as well in most groups except for those firmly on the left wing.
I’m not endorsing Cain here. I’m just pointing out that playing the “who can beat Obama” game is silly, and could even cause catastrophic long term damage to the very party these people belong to.
Contra Mary Madalin, the important thing is to find a candidate who understands the depth of the crisis we face and has the courage to go to the wall against dozens of special interest groups to fix it. Without such a person, winning the White House is pointless and possibly counter-productive in the long term.
Of course, I’m not sure the DC establishment types care much. Matalin was married to James Carville last I heard, so if there was ever a couple deeply invested in business-as-usual in DC, it’s them. They and the other DC establishment types probably expect to be safely ensconced in their nice houses, drawing a guaranteed check, so they won’t suffer as much as the rest of us when TSHTF.
But that means we need to ignore anything and everything these people have to say.* We’ve been paying attention to them for decades, and where has it gotten us? The old saw about doing the same thing over and over comes to mind.
It’s time to throw the dice and try something different. It might not work, but it has a chance, and that’s better than the certain failure of DC politics as usual.
(*) The folks at National Review are some of the main ones who need to pay attention to this. The time for standing athwart history, yelling stop, is past. Only a serious U-turn will do us any good now. And we’ll never, ever get that from establishment GOP types.
Microsoft’s //build/ conference is on, where they are rolling out plans for a pretty dramatic shift in Windows for the next generation.
I’m in sunny Anaheim at the conference, with no time to pen a long post. If you’ve got ten minutes to waste listening to me ramble, and you care about the Microsoft side of the tech industry, you can watch this video which was posted a couple of hours ago. Actually, it might be better to watch some other videos in the series that feature Microsoft executives with a lot more interesting and detailed things to say, but, hey, if you make fun of them in the comments here, they’ll never see it. Whereas you can point out that the camera angle makes me look like I have some kind of weird arthritis, and I just have to take it.
If you don’t care about software development, or do care but are apathetic or hostile to Microsoft, my apologies. Please return to our usual program of economic and political doom.