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May 15, 2008

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Maybe another way of making the same point is to say that the modern GOP is an ecological monoculture.. and monocultures tend to be brittle.

I don't have anything to add. But I thought it would be appropriate were I to post directly after someone named "Fermion the Clown."

Thus, there are calls for Republicans in Congress to return to their conservative principles. However, I don't think this is going to work, since two things have happened during the last decade or so.

I'd add a third thing to this list. The fact that Republicans have been so verbally absolutist on these points, and then still broken them in practice, means they have nowhere else to go. They can't stress their allegiance to these principles more strongly, since they've already stressed it in the strongest possible way, without letup, for a decade. So given a population that thinks they've broken their principles, what could they possibly say to convince someone that this time they're serious? They have no rhetorical room to show that this time is any different from all the other times, which conservative true-believers thought they sold out on.

It's always best to have a tightly controlled organizational structure when you trust your leadership and *are thinking only of the short term*

I think this is the other reason the Republican party doesn't seem to be able to change.

Republicans are the party of Big Business, and Big Business has become more and more driven by short-term, quarterly results. How can the GOP think long-term when their coremost constituency specializes in short-term thinking? Even if some people in the party could *think* long-term, they can't *do* long-term, because that's not what their power center wants.

It's an excellent post, and I wish I could've gotten before Stephen Frug to comment after the Clown and the Enchanter.

Here’s a breakdown of American workers:

Value Creating Categories:
7 million: Construction
13 million: Manufacturing
15 million: Retail

Indeterminate Categories:
18 million: Professional (probably half wealth-generating)

Value Consuming Categories:
18 million: Education and Health (maybe 10% wealth-generating)
14 million: Leisure
22 million: Government (maybe 10% wealth-protecting)

Non-Working Citizens:
150 million+

So there are less than 50 million American wealth generators and around 260 million American wealth consumers. The core of the Republican Party used to be the 50 million wealth generators who are being asked to support everybody else.

That demographic of 50 million (one in six of us) will stay united in the face of being asked to pay more and more, regardless of the form they take. In an interesting parallel, it is estimated that only one in six Americans were eligible to vote in 1789. People had to meet tax thresholds to be able to vote back then.

I will say that it’s a funny time for the Democrats to be calling the Republicans fractured though.

these days, they're even having trouble keeping it up for war (their caucus, that is).

George Lakoff had the somewhat controversial idea that people's internal concept of government was based on the metaphor of the family. For conservatives, the model of the family is (according to him) the "strict father" model, while for liberals, it's the "nurturant parent" model.

There's a lot to argue with in Lakoff's analysis, but I think it reflects much of what you're saying. A strict father family has a centralized, top-down command structure (like the military and police forces, etc., which, maybe not so strangely, have highly conservative memberships). A nurturant parent family is less structured, more chaotic, and tends to value interdependence and consensus over authority.

In thinking about it, I realized that there *are* some situations where the conservative model of the family works better. For example, a nurturant parent tends to explain and discuss things with her children rather than just issuing orders. But if you're crossing a busy street, you want your kids to stop *immediately* when you say "stop". Discussion gets people killed.

In government, I think conservatism tends to work better when there is some sort of imminent danger. If that danger is not present (or can't be manufactured), conservatism loses appeal. It's interesting to note that family structures over the course of history have become steadily more progressive. My guess is that this is directly related to people not having to worry about immediate survival.

david: the thing is, I think there are variants of conservatism that really would take a different approach. The Burkean "things need to change organically" version, for instance: that would seem like a natural fit with a more consensual form of organization.

They seem to me to have adopted a more Leninist view of organization. It shouldn't follow from anything they believe, really. And yet there it is.

this is very well done.

i had never read the schmitt argument, which was (characteristically) very interesting. one question i have is -- why now? why not earlier? the policy impoverishment has been around for some time.

the answer i think is defeat. the 2006 election really drove it home -- these special elections will add fuel to the fire. victory has a way of hiding structural problems (e.g. Dems prior to 1994).

of course, somethign had to lead to that defeat. but b/c of the command-and-control structure, the defeats (and the fear and mutiny they'll cause) will lead to deeper and faster-developing problems.

i mean, 2008 could be an absolute nightmare. white house is clealry in jeopardy. the house could be Dem +60-70. The Senate is what's tricky -- Dems need 9 to get to 60. Unlikely, but at least possible:

1 - VA
2 - CO
3 - NM
4 - NH
5 - Minn.
6 - Oreg
7 - Maine
8 - Alaska
9 - NC/KY/Tex

Sure - the last half starts getting increasingly unlikely. but it's also possible for the floor to drop out completely, particularly if mccain flames out.

Brick Oven Bill,

Please post your source for the numbers you have quoted. Unless of course it was just the usual rhetoric, then don't bother.

Jim;

Google ‘jobs report’. It’s something put out by the government every month. You can trust it. There will be subtraction required to figure out the number of people who aren’t working.

In government, I think conservatism tends to work better when there is some sort of imminent danger. If that danger is not present (or can't be manufactured), conservatism loses appeal.

I'm not sure why conservatism would work better in imminent danger. Can you explain? If you're in real danger, especially a novel danger, it seems like you want the most flexible and adaptive organization to combat it. I'm thinking here of allied governments in WWII for example (although some of them -- ahem -- were not in as much danger as others).

It's interesting to note that family structures over the course of history have become steadily more progressive. My guess is that this is directly related to people not having to worry about immediate survival.

I'd guess that it has more to do with increasing complexity and rates of change. Rigid command families can't effectively seize opportunities as well as more flexible families. For example, modern military organizations place a very high premium on the ability to function semi-independently in a decentralized manner even though their personal survival is often at stake.

"I think there are variants of conservatism that really would take a different approach. The Burkean 'things need to change organically' version, for instance"

That's a plausible way to go. It's a mantle that could be taken up by the wealthy and also the libertarians (who haven't been faring too well in the GOP for a while). But I think it would mean cashing out on social conservatism to a large degree. They'd have a lot of breaking down to do before building up.

Plus, if they don't remember their Hayek, how will they remember their Burke? ;)

By the way, libertarianism was definitely one of Lakoff's weakest points. It was a real stretch to fit them into the "strict father family" framework. Maybe government-as-free-market would fit their conceptualization better than government-as-family.

Value Consuming Categories:
18 million: Education and Health (maybe 10% wealth-generating)
14 million: Leisure
22 million: Government (maybe 10% wealth-protecting)

Yup, as a librarian, I am totally unnecessary. As are teachers, food inspectors, customs agents, air traffic controllers, police, fire fighters, diplomats, building inspectors, attorneys, rangers, intelligence officers, soldiers, archivists, health officers, town planners, sewer workers, coastguards, cartographers, network analysts, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, bailiffs, prison guards, traffic wardens, economists, case workers, civil engineers, civil defense planners, researchers and - oh yes, administrators, managers and analysts.

If only you could get rid of us, life would be perfect.

I for one look forward to the great productivity explosion that will be unleashed when we finally throw off the dead weight of the air traffic controllers. For too long they've strangled our economy with their rules and their order and their permission and their nanny-state-ness!

The Invisible Hand will guide the planes gently to their rest!

Dear PiatoR;

We managed before and, I’m afraid, we’ll be forced to manage again. Thanks for your service. It's all about service. You’ve been great. This is wonderful.

Keep your eye on that pension. See Vallejo.

I promise I will never die.

"I'm not sure why conservatism would work better in imminent danger. Can you explain?"

I was talking particularly about the rigid, centralized, authoritarian aspects. If you consider our social structures to be adaptive, then it sticks out that the ones that deal with danger (military, police, Winston Churchill, etc.) tend to be conservative and centralized. There are probably quite a few reasons, but the ones that strike me are:

1. Centralized structures can generally react more quickly. A novel danger might best be confronted by an adaptable organization, but there are only two valid reactions to a truly immediate danger. An organization that can get everyone doing one or the other in short order is going to have an advantage.

2. Conservative groups tend to be more suspicious of out-groups, and so are more isolationist and bellicose with outsiders. When there's danger, this can be safer (if stifling in the long run).

3. Conservatives are traditionalist. Liberals like to explore and try new things (which is maybe why intellectuals and artists are liberal to the same degree that soldiers and cops are conservative). In a dangerous/rapidly changing/catastrophic environment, it probably pays to eat what the chief says to eat rather than trying that wild looking berry you saw by the river.

You make a good point about military decentralization. I'll have to think about that. At first glance, I'd say that its effectiveness might hinge on one member of the group's ability to predict what another member will do, which means that you can't have a bunch of semi-autonomous sub-groups. Maybe it's our advances in instant communication that make it possible.

It's also important to note that many Repiglicans think their policies were written in the blood of Jesus on the preserved ass-skin of Stonewall Jackson, and they're not about to change very quickly given that, uh, level of authority.

um, no.

Centralized structures can generally react more quickly.

They can? I thought centralized organizations can only react quickly to simple threats similar to what they've seen before. Multifaceted threats however can easily overwhelm the limited processing abilities of a centralized organization. There's only so much information that one (or even a small group) of human beings can process and if you can put enough balls into the air, you can easily overwhelm centralized organizations.

A novel danger might best be confronted by an adaptable organization, but there are only two valid reactions to a truly immediate danger. An organization that can get everyone doing one or the other in short order is going to have an advantage.

Only two? What are they?

What happens if the organization gets everyone doing the same wrong thing because they're too overwhelmed by information to correctly analyze the situation?

2. Conservative groups tend to be more suspicious of out-groups, and so are more isolationist and bellicose with outsiders. When there's danger, this can be safer (if stifling in the long run).

It seems like this really depends on the details. Certainly, isolationism would not have improved the UK's safety in WWII. And given that most wars are negative sum games where all parties (including the winner) are worse off because of the war, I'm not sure how enhanced bellicosity benefits anyone.

It may be the case that instead of liberal versus conservative, the issue we're stumbling over is authoritarian versus non-authoritarian.

One of the many problems with command-control structures is that they have no room for individual initiative or independent thought.

And this is why I give rank-and-file Republicans very little credit. They've stood by Bush through thick(-headedness) and thin(-skinned). They've called us "cowards", "traitors", "moonbats" and say we suffer from BDS.

Nuts to them.

Presumably, no one thinks that we should pay no taxes at all; if not, then there must be some point at which cutting taxes is not the right thing to do.

Are you sure about that? I can't remember ever hearing a conservative politician say "We've got to be careful that we don't go too far with this whole tax-cutting business."

In fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and predict that you will never hear a conservative politician say that taxes are already low enough and don't need to be cut any more.

"They can? I thought centralized organizations can only react quickly to simple threats similar to what they've seen before."

I think that's right. Non-conventional and non-state warfare have arguably thrown our military for a loop in recent times. Centralized organizations can react quickly, but are prone to make high-cost mistakes. That's conservatism's weakness in a nutshell. But it served us well at one time.

"Only two? What are they?"

Fight and flight.

"What happens if the organization gets everyone doing the same wrong thing because they're too overwhelmed by information to correctly analyze the situation?"

Annihilation is the worst-case scenario. History is full of events like that.

"It seems like this really depends on the details. Certainly, isolationism would not have improved the UK's safety in WWII."

You mean in terms of alliances? I don't know. You could be right. Non-interventionism wouldn't have helped, but that's a different thing. To take a more simple example, let's say that the U.S. had large numbers of terrorists trying to get in and pull off attacks. In that case, isolationism might be the best reaction.

"And given that most wars are negative sum games where all parties (including the winner) are worse off because of the war, I'm not sure how enhanced bellicosity benefits anyone."

Bellicosity isn't always engaging. Sometimes it's sabre rattling, threatening, or sending Dick Cheney places. It's hard to see how that could be effective in the modern world, but once again, it has obviously served us well in the past.

"It may be the case that instead of liberal versus conservative, the issue we're stumbling over is authoritarian versus non-authoritarian."

Yeah. I'm trying to tie conservatism and authoritarianism together, but maybe Lakoff and I are both wrong about it.

To me there's one major problem with talking about conservatism in America. Before I was born someone called Ronald Reagan was elected president. Reagan might have been a member of the Republican party, but he was a reactionary rather than a conservative. As were Gingrich and Delay. And in reaction to Reagan, the Democratic party became the one in favour of slow and measured change. The natural place of conservatives in current American politics is the DLC. (And Clinton's been the best Republican and only conservative US president of my lifetime). The so-called "Conservatives" in the US are nothing of the sort.

"Unlikely, but at least possible:

2 - CO"

Are you kidding? It's certainly possible for to lose to Schaffer, but I'll be astonished if it happens. What on earth makes you think it's remotely "unlikely," rather than close to a lock? What on earth would put Schaffer in a position to stand a strong chance, other than Udall (my great buddy ever since I became precinct captain and a delegate to the state and CD conventions) being found in bed with a dead boy?

Sorry: I'm referring to my Congressman (until I reregister to vote in North Carolina, and officially resign my position in the Colorado Democratic Party), Mark Udall, and his Republican opponent, former Congressman Bob Schaffer.

But I have to wonder how anybody with a clue about Colorado politics could say Warner's "unlikely" to win: wtf? Really? Did you think Ken Salazar was also "unlikely" to win in the far more hostile environment of 2004?

Setting aside the environment, Schaffer hasn't won an election since 2000. He couldn't even win the Republican primary race in 2004 against the incredibly weak Pete Coors, who crushed him. He hasn't been in office since January, 2003. He's tied to Jack Abramoff. He's got a long anti-environment record (in Colorado this isn't popular).

What makes you think Colorado is crying out for a convervative of his ilk in 2008, let alone Schaffer?

Sure, Mark is a "Boulder liberal," and it's possible he could lose, but it seems, yes, very unlikely to me, so I'm just really wondering what your reasoning is.

Unlikely, but at least possible:

1 - VA
2 - CO
3 - NM
4 - NH
5 - Minn.
6 - Oreg
7 - Maine
8 - Alaska
9 - NC/KY/Tex

What makes you put Oregon and Virginia in "unlikely" territory, too? Oregon and Virginia would both surprise me significantly -- particularly Oregon -- if Mark Warner and Jeff Merkley didn't win: why do you think otherwise?

Tom Udall also seems reasonably likely to win New Mexico, and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire; again, I'll be surprised if they don't. What leads you to think differently? What do you know about these races that I don't?

Value Consuming Categories: 18 million: Education and Health (maybe 10% wealth-generating) 14 million: Leisure 22 million: Government (maybe 10% wealth-protecting)

Yup, as a librarian, I am totally unnecessary.

It seems too obvious to be even worth pointing out that if education doesn't add value to people's lives, as well as to their economic potential, wtf does? It's not like there's controversy over the measurable statistical increase in income with a degree, and if knowing more doesn't add something to knowing less, we wouldn't call them "more" and "less."

Ditto healthy people earn and produce more than disabled people. Why is this even worth bothering to argue about?

Also, unstressed people would seem more likely to be more productive than stressed people, though I don't feel like investing valuable time in pulling up figures on that right now.

"Repiglicans"

Posting rules.

Reagan might have been a member of the Republican party, but he was a reactionary rather than a conservative. As were Gingrich and Delay. And in reaction to Reagan, the Democratic party became the one in favour of slow and measured change. The natural place of conservatives in current American politics is the DLC. (And Clinton's been the best Republican and only conservative US president of my lifetime). The so-called "Conservatives" in the US are nothing of the sort.

How was George H.W. Bush "reactionary"? Or George W. Bush for that matter? The former strikes me as a classic realist Burkean conservative, the latter as a wannabe transoformative moral statist. On what basis are you arguing this?

And this is why I give rank-and-file Republicans very little credit. They've stood by Bush through thick(-headedness) and thin(-skinned). They've called us "cowards", "traitors", "moonbats" and say we suffer from BDS.

Nuts to them.

What Sebastian wrote in 2005 seems appropriate, as well as some hundreds of comments Moe Lane wrote on why such generalizations were verboten on ObWi.

This isn't a Democratic site. You may not have noticed.

See again:

[...] Unlike many other blogs, the success of Obsidian Wings depends upon a balance of authors and a balance of commenters. When the site begins to falter, it's almost always due to an unbalance one way or the other.
And again, Posting Rules:
Lastly, just a reminder that Left and Right have very broad definitions and that people are going to take it personally if you inform them that of course all Xs eat babies, should they themselves be Xs (or Ys trying to keep things cool).
Similarly Moe would warn, and then ban if not obeyed, anyone who made any negative generalizations about "Democrats" or "Republicans."

If these rules have been changed, I missed the notice.

Customs agents, police, fire fighters, attorneys, intelligence officers, soldiers, judges, prosecutors, bailiffs, prison guards are surely engaged in protecting Bill's wealth (brick ovens aren't cheap!) See, government does everything worse. Except the things B.O.B. needs them for. Those things they must keep doing.

"How was George H.W. Bush 'reactionary'? Or George W. Bush for that matter?"

Who said they were? Can you quote what you're responding to, where someone asserted these things?

Basic MBA Organizational Theory - there are two basic structures - horizontal and vertical.

Short Summaries for those who don't want the 3-credit Graduate Level version:
Vertical Structures are best when low cost leadership is the best because they promote efficiency.

Horizontal Structures are best when learning and understanding are best because they promote new solutions.

If your environment is highly stable, then a vertical, highly formalized, highly centralized decision making is best; however, if your environment is highly unstable then you will want a more horizontal structure that is better suited to adapt and deal with the situation.

The US government is fairly efficient considering its size; yes there are inefficiencies; but just as there are benefits to being able to buy in scale; there are inefficiencies as well, just look at the differences in transportation between most European countries and American; anecdotally, I've always understood that many of the problems start to fail due to the vast distances between urban centers - or to quote a friend of mine who lives in Texas "They just don't get driving three hours to get to another city in the same state!"

Now neither party is perfectly one way or another; however, there are most definitely tendencies that arise, IMO, Republicans as a more vertically oriented preference; Democrats as a more horizontally oriented preference. Though there are some strange ideas when you get into the centralization of decision making; but like I said, this is the brief overview and not the full class. :)

It may be the case that instead of liberal versus conservative, the issue we're stumbling over is authoritarian versus non-authoritarian.

Exactly. Cole even admits that that's what's going on: "It's not for me to second-guess the president of the United States."

Of course it's for you to second-guess the president of the United States, you moron! Just because he's the president that doesn't mean that he's been granted superhuman powers, or been given some divine insight. (Would that it were true...) But since Bush is the president, the Republicans are helpless to do anything unless he tells them to do it.

Who said they were? Can you quote what you're responding to, where someone asserted these things?

I did. Francis argued that the Republican party, beginning with Reagan, essentially became the party of the reactionary right, leaving the DLC wing of the Democratic party as the natural home of conservatives. He also stated that Clinton was the only conservative President of his lifetime. This clearly implies that Bush pere and fils were of a piece with his characterization of post-Reagan Republicanism, which I disagree with.

To Mr. Bush Jr.
Are you a Communist, Sir?

Yes!
This would have been the given answer, if the question had been submitted during the Cold War era, before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
How have I came to this conclusion regarding U.S’s President?
Simply because Mr. Bush, through his policies in the Balkan region, follows Stalin’s and Tito’s aspirations for reducing Greece’s national entity.
The pseudonym state, the so-called nation and the newly invented language of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was one of Stalin’s dreams. Both Stalin and Tito manufactured this state, back in August 1944, in the frames of Yugoslav federation.
They simply altered the name of old Vardarska in Macedonia and they baptized the multi-ethnic population of Vardaska constituted by Bulgarian, Serb, Greek Albanians and others into a so-called “Macedonian nation”. Using as a pretext the fabricated name of the state, they claimed that the inhabitants of “Macedonia” are “pure” descendants of Alexander the Great.
Today, Alexander’s descendants they call their state as “free Macedonia” and they argue that Macedonia is under Greek occupation!
They strive to find an exit to the Aegean Sea, following Stalin’s plan to absorb Greek territories and establish a new state, under the protection of the Warsaw Pact, under the name “Macedonia”. This important detail is clearly mentioned in f.YROM’s constitution and is globally transmitted through state propaganda. Their main aim is to incorporate Thessaloniki – Greece’s second largest city – into their national frontiers and proclaim Thessaloniki as their future capital! It is important to note that this kind of propaganda is not presented in the web, but is also recorded in school books.
Back in 1944 U.S reacted rational. Edward Stettinious, the then American Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that “Every discussion about Macedonian nation, Macedonian homeland or Macedonian conscience constitutes unjustifiable demagogy and does not correspond any kind of national or political reality whatsoever”. And he concludes by saying that this kind of behavior is an act of aggression against Greece.
During the I and the II World War and during the Cold War era Greece helped US, and US assisted Greece through the reputable Marshall Plan. However, now Mr. Bush Jr maintains this communist monstrosity and strives to aid f.YROM stealing the unquestionably Greek name of Macedonia from their legitimate title – holder, Greece.
Mr. Bush’s wants to make real Stalin’s and Tito’s dream, put an end to a hundred years of Greko-American friendship and alliance. He supports American enemies, till some years ago. Mr. Bush must answer the following question. Who fought side by side with the American soldiers in Korea. The pseudo-macedonians or Greek soldiers, many of them originated from the ancient Greek soil of one and only Macedonia?
Traditionally, Greeks stood side by side with the United States of America. However, neither Mr. Bush Jr. nor Mrs. Hilary Clinton value this honest attitude. In order to rectify the aforementioned damage to the mentality of the Greek nation, the American President or his Foreign Secretary should admit that: nowadays citizens of f.YROM are not of Macedonian ethic roots, but they come from the Slavs. My proposal to them, if they question this historic fact, is to approach American academic historians or archaeologist. Maybe, after that they will be able to re-approach history form a valid point of view.
Maybe….

Anastasios Kazantzidis
A Greek Teacher


Who said they were? Can you quote what you're responding to, where someone asserted these things?

I did.

Regrettably, you did not.

This was the claim:

Reagan might have been a member of the Republican party, but he was a reactionary rather than a conservative. As were Gingrich and Delay.
Your response was:
How was George H.W. Bush "reactionary"? Or George W. Bush for that matter?
No mention was made of either Bush. Apparently you're imagining one, if you can't point to such mention.

"This clearly implies that Bush pere and fils"

No, it doesn't. Not in English, it doesn't.

It's most useful to reply to what's actually written, rather than to something it sort of makes us think of, which is vaguely related. The latter, which is essentially responding to the voices in our heads, isn't terribly helpful.

I recommend replying only to stuff people have actually written and asserted, and not to something that they didn't remotely say, if I might be so bold as to make that suggestion.

I recommend replying only to stuff people have actually written and asserted, and not to something that they didn't remotely say, if I might be so bold as to make that suggestion.

Gary, the point is taken, but do I think you're splitting a rather fine hair here. Francis clearly stated that Reagan, Gingrich, and DeLay were, in his view, "reactionaries", that there was nothing conservative about their party, and that Clinton was the "the only conservative president of my lifetime". The most logical inference to be made from these statements is that the entire Republican party, including the Bushes, was further right than conservative, e.g. reactionary, but even if you don't want to grant this, that last statement clearly implies that Bush senior was not a conservative, an assertion with which I quite pointedly (and I hope reasonably, even by your standards, you will acknowledge) disagreed. I also stated that while I agree that Bush Jr. is not a conservative, it's not at all because he's reactionary - if that is, in fact, what Francis meant to imply.

If there waws such a thing as a conservative phiosophy then I think that the people who adhered to the philosophy would know what it was and would recognize each other.

That Doesn't seem to be the case in America. When people who call themselves consesrvatives are on the political ascendency their rhetoric tends to be fearmopngering and their policies tend toward the authoritarina and they recognize and support each other.

When the people who call themselves conservatives are on the decline politically they get into big internal fussies about who is really a conservative and who isn't.

AS a person who is not a conservative it seems to me that there isn't really a conservative philosophy at all. there is a lot of rationalizing for some of the baser human instincts and some principles that have so little applicatin to the real world that even the people who callthemsleves consevatives don't apply the principles to themselves, but not a set of agreed upon principles that have any positve,sustainable application to life in a domeocracy.

And thaht's been the case about people who call themselves conservtives in America for about one hundred years.

So it isn't surprising that the curent leadership of the R party, comprised as it is of people who call themselves conservatives, would have trouble doing more thatn dog whistling to baser human instincts.

AS a person who is not a conservative it seems to me that there isn't really a conservative philosophy at all.

I'm not sure who originally had this insight (perhaps de Tocqueville?), but the fact is that the 'conservative' position in the US is that change is good and we are working towards perfection (I'd suggets that this is a general notion in all liberalism, but for the purposes of discussion, I'd like to confine it to the US, where the notion/myth of progress is a pillar in the national identity), so to be a conservative in terms of hewing to the status quo, you are actually a liberal. This helps explain why much of 'conservatism' (a la Gingrich et al) was/is reactionary, with and why liberals are often on the defensive because they have to argue that progress demands that we be 'conservative' in our approach to things like social security and the like.

We managed before and, I’m afraid, we’ll be forced to manage again.

Yes, we did manage before. By and large, we grew our own food, raised or hunted our own meat, built our own houses, and made our own clothes. Things we could not grow or buy we bartered for.

Not a bad way of life, as long as you don't mind a lot of physical labor.

We don't live that way anymore, and folks who do still live that way don't want to live that way anymore either.

I'm not sure if, net/net, that's a good thing or not. It just is what it is.

Your analysis equates 'create value' with 'directly generate goods and services that can be bought or sold'. I'm not sure that's a reasonable equation.

All of the occupations Phoenician names, and which you characterize as net 'consumers of value', make it possible to have an economy and society in which everyone doesn't do every damned thing for themselves. The result of that, historically, has been a dramatic increase in the overall wealth of the nation and of the world.

Never mind Hayek, you need to read your Adam Smith.

Personally, I don't necessarily see this as a completely unalloyed good. It has its downside. But I don't think we're going back.

If you really want to live that good old way, you can. Get some land, get some chickens, pigs, and cows, dig a well, and have at it.

But as a normal way of life, those days are kind of over.

All of which is somewhat OT. To return to the topic:

9/11 gave Bush carte blanche, and Republican officeholders couldn't get in line fast enough to get them some of that electoral goodness. It went to their heads like a pipe full of crack.

In the process, they forgot about governing. Winning was too much fun; the actual work of governance was much duller.

Welcome to the day after. Bush was a crappy President, 'social conservatism' of the brand that has been on offer is not really all that popular, and people who are losing their jobs and houses, and who can't afford to drive to work, are quite naturally going to be interested in a change.

Republicans are losing because they don't have much of substance to offer. It's all identity politics and misty-eyed 'morning in America' flag-waving. IMVHO, natch.

You can only go to that well so many times before it runs dry.

In the end, Republic policies just aren't all that good for the average person. People figure that out after a while.

Thanks -

Gary,

I think what publius was saying was not that all the races he listed were unlikely wins for the Democrats, but that it is unlikely that the Democrats will pick up nine seats. The list described a possible set of nine wins, ranked more or less in order of likelihood, and seems to suggest the difficulty of actually scoring nine wins.

At least that's my interpretation.

"Of course it's for you to second-guess the president of the United States, you moron!"

Would someone else like to also take posting rules duty this morning? We seem to have had a recent influx of people who don't understand that this isn't a partisan blog, and that civility is part of the rules.

(Whoops, thought I posted this nearly two hours ago, but came back to find the captcha hadn't worked.)

Breaking away from the usual deviation of the thread into election prediction and addressing myself to Hilzoy's post, she wrote

Mark Schmitt said that when a command-control system breaks down, "it breaks down completely. The collapse is sudden, and total." I'm not sure about the sudden part: I think such a system can continue, like a chicken running around without its head, for a while. In fact, I think that that's what the Republican party has been doing for the last few years.

But I think he's absolutely right about the collapse being total.

Our recent Australian experience would be interesting to you I think. Rudd's victory over John Howard (who ran a classic command and control operation for 11 years) seems to have gained some attention in the US but I doubt you would know what has happened since; Howard's party, which until only about six months ago seemed the dominant force in Australian politics, has become a laughing stock.

The alternative prime minister (Brendan Nelson) is trailing Rudd as preferred PM by a margin (yes, a margin) of around 60%, and the only reason he's still in his job is that none of the alternatives want to share his fate.

And a sense of priorities? Just this week the new government produced its first national budget and the opposition in its response decided that of all the issues facing the nation, the one that they feel compelled to go to the mattresses over and try to block in the Senate is an increase in the taxation rate on premixed alcoholic soft drinks. (I swear I am not making this up.)

For those who wished to see it, the headless chicken manner of the previous govt in its last years was pretty obvious prior to the election, but for all that Rudd did not win by much. But once the Liberal Party lost both power and its leader, they lost all sense of purpose and public support plummeted.

At the moment the one thing propping up the existing power structures of the GOP is the fact that Bush is still in office. I would be prepared to bet that unless McCain wins in November, 2009 will be a good year for popcorn companies.

and that Clinton was the "the only conservative president of my lifetime". The most logical inference to be made from these statements is that the entire Republican party, including the Bushes, was further right than conservative, e.g. reactionary, but even if you don't want to grant this, that last statement clearly implies that Bush senior was not a conservative, an assertion with which I quite pointedly (and I hope reasonably, even by your standards, you will acknowledge) disagreed.
Responding to the claim that "the only conservative president of my lifetime" was Bill Clinton is perfectly reasonable, of course (and that claim is pretty damn arguable, even if the writer is only 9 years old); conflating that claim with an assertion that either Bush is "reactionary" has no grounds in the text that I can see. No such assertion was made, clearly.

However, it's true that you did politely ask, and there's nothing wrong with that, either. I just don't see that the implication you see is there, but that's a matter reasonable people might differ over. So I'm differing, and now dropping it. Thanks for your courteous response.

Oh, and since it's slightly digressively relevant, I posted this around an hour ago.

If there waws such a thing as a conservative phiosophy then I think that the people who adhered to the philosophy would know what it was and would recognize each other.

That Doesn't seem to be the case in America.

I think there are a variety of types and flavors of people who self-identify as conservatives, just as there always have been, just as the same is true of liberals.

But I don't otherwise agree that there's no such thing; I have no trouble telling who is familiar with Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, the Taft family, Hayek, W. F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and the like, and who isn't, from what they write.

"AS a person who is not a conservative it seems to me that there isn't really a conservative philosophy at all."

I respectfully emphatically disagree, and suggest that a good general rule is that when someone not a member of a group doesn't understand something about that group, that it's more likely that they're fairly ignorant of the details of that group than it's likely that their generalization about the group is true.

This applies as much to non-liberals or lefties trying to explain that there's no coherent liberalism, or otherwise explain liberalism and leftism, as it does as regards non-conservatives who haven't made a study of conservativism.

But ask Rick Perlstein if he agrees, if you don't take my opinion as worth anything.

"I think what publius was saying was not that all the races he listed were unlikely wins for the Democrats, but that it is unlikely that the Democrats will pick up nine seats."

You may be quite right; perhaps he'll clarify, or not. In any case, I'd still likely to know why the races I wrote of aren't all highly likely Democratic wins, rather than in the least "unlikely," because I don't remotely see it.

Bill, your distinction between "wealth-generating" and non-wealth-generating workers reminds me of the functionalist revolutionaries in Heinlein's classic story "The Roads Must Roll." These people had the inspiration that because they could bring the economy to a crashing halt by going on strike, they were the natural leaders of the country.

As the hero of the story pointed out, though, any idiot with some dynamite could do the same thing.

I knew a small businessman once who considered every non-business owner a parasite. He reasoned that he created wealth, and his employees and everyone else fed off his wages and taxes. He refused to notice that he could get nothing done without them. Marx looked at exactly the same facts and concluded, equally stupidly, that capitalists were the parasites. The truth is, as Hillary Clinton might put it, it takes a village to support a factory.

So I'm not impressed by the notion that your "wealth generators" do it alone, when the fact is that they need a vast social support system to keep their factories humming along.

Looking at the other side of the equation, many of your "productive" class members are not very productive. Most businesses fail. Others succeed only because of tariffs (American cotton, sugar, etc.), which is to say they waste resources that could be used more efficiently. Luxury goods are by definition wasteful. Some goods (e.g. munitions, snowmobiles, cigarettes) don't just waste their own factors, they destroy other resources when used. I'm not saying we should switch over to a top-down control system, that's a known failure, but let's not pretend that generating "wealth" always actually increases utility.

The division into wealth generating and non-wealth generating along the lines you do is ironically Marxist as you use it.

I think what you are trying to get at is something more akin to the economist idea of rent-seeking. In that concept non-rent-seeking workers and businessmen attempt to earn money by fulfilling a need that people will pay for. Rent-seeking workers and businessmen attempt to get money by having the government restrict their competition or otherwise help create monopolistic situations. A lot of the disagreement about certain large-scale practices come down to rent-seeking problems.

For example, the difference between being pro-market (IMO a good thing) and being pro-business tends to come down to rent-seeking. The pro-market position is to let bad business practices get punished so that bad businesses get taken down by their competitors--allowing consumers to get better quality and/or lower prices. The pro-business position can be anti-market by trying to protect currently existing businesses from competition. Instead of trying to produce profit through a better product, rent-seeking businesses attempt to use the government to subsidize them and/or restrict their competition.

Most of the objectionable parts of Republican corporate pandering (though recent Democratic behaviour on farms or hedge funds is similar) is not free market oriented, but rather rent seeking.

Similarly, many objections to say unions are not against unions per se, but rather rent-seeking behaviours that unions often employ. For example I don't have any problem with employees bargaining collectively, but I do have problems with unions being able to force all the employees to go through the union. And much of the complaint about union firing rules is not that employee protections in general are objectionable, but rather that as unions go on the rent-seeking ones begin to dominate over the value-adding ones. (A good example of this is in the longshoreman issues on the West Coast. The unions won't even allow a buy-out of existing workers to be replaced by machinery because such an arrangement would be great for the employees, excellent for productivity, but bad for the union as an institution because their would be fewer people needed to do the same amount of work.)

My objection to a lot of government work is that it either is rent-seeking, or it encourages rent-seeking. But that isn't at all the same as saying that everything or nearly everything the government does is necessarily non-'productive'. Teaching for example is very useful and productive. Our current system also has a lot of rent-seeking in it (the proliferation of not-amazingly-useful credentialing for example, or the enforcement of pay-by-length-of-service system). But saying that 'teaching' is unproductive would be silly. What you really object to is all the rent-seeking activity that surrounds the public education system as it is currently set up.

A similar critique could be made of the so called military-industrial complex. It isn't that everyone who objects to it hates the military or something. They just see tremendous amounts of waste created through the rent-seeking side of it.

It is a fear I have about increasing government control of medical prcatice in the US. I'm not against medicine for poor people. I'm against creating an enormous rent-seeking system in addition to that.

They seem to me to have adopted a more Leninist view of organization. It shouldn't follow from anything they believe, really. And yet there it is.

This is something that has struck me at times as well, that some of the more extreme personalities in the modern GOP keep saying things which remind me of incidents and personalities documented in the works of Solzhenitsyn, Roy Medvedev and other writers regarding the development of Leninism and Stalinism in the USSR. The psychology seems to me to show eeire parallels, albeit with a dramatically lower body count.

Taking as a starting point Bob Altemeyer's work re: the Authortarian Personality, I wonder about how A.P.'s will be distributed across the ideological and political spectrum in a pluralistic society like ours, and what factors are influential in determining that distribution. I've been thinking for some time that the fall of the Soviet Union and the post-1989 ideological collapse of Communism may have shifted the political climate here in this country to the point where A.P.'s who used to be divided more or less evenly between the major political parties migrated en-masse into the GOP and tipped the internal balance of power within that party against the Burkean conservatives.

If this is correct, then I would expect a counter-migration of A.P.'s from the GOP to the Democrats in the wake of a sweeping victory by the latter party. With luck the Burkeans in the GOP will have a chance to take back their party, while Democrats will have to contend with an influx of A.P.'s who follow the scent of power where ever it goes.

Great, great post.

Sebastian: For example I don't have any problem with employees bargaining collectively, but I do have problems with unions being able to force all the employees to go through the union.

I'm confused; how is this rent-seeking?

A vertical system can be quite flexible, if it encourages everyone in it to think two levels above their pay grade*. The top makes the general plans but leaves the details to those below (while explaining to them what the general intent is). If any part of the plan runs into trouble it will be noticed first by those on the lower levels that can decide how to react based on the knowledge of the general intent. This of course requires much more efforts in training the lower ranks to take well considered initiative without it leading to anarchy. This is of course the opposite of slavish disobedience as authoritarian vertical systems usually demand (those also have a tendency towards extreme micromanagement as Rummy so "ably" practiced).

*aka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission-type_tactics>Auftragstaktik

"I'm confused; how is this rent-seeking?"

It uses governmental power to force workers who wouldn't for whatever reason what to transact with the union to do so giving the union monopolistic power that it doesn't have to otherwise earn in good service.

The problem I have with that, though, is you're regarding the union as a "transaction" with the workers. It's not; the union isn't, at least a priori, a business unto itself. It's a representational organization, which is IMO completely different.

My objection to a lot of government work is that it either is rent-seeking, or it encourages rent-seeking.

Seb, do you reject patent and copyright law as well? I ask because, those seem to involve rent-seeking in its purest form.

"Seb, do you reject patent and copyright law as well?"

And military service. Don't forget military service.

"It's a representational organization, which is IMO completely different."

And so far as representational organizations are voluntary I'm all for them.

Forced not so much--especially as the union drifts beyond collective bargaining.

Patent and copyright laws are hybrid--not pure rent seeking, they seek temporary government protection for original contributions. (Though in the ridiculous current copyright regime it is more permanent than I would think is justified on balance). I don't think of rent-seeking as having much of an original component. (Now certain manipulations of the patent regime are definitely rent seeking, but patents as an concept are a hybrid).

And, david, I don't think you're understanding the concept well if you think military, police or firefighting are pure rent seeking (or even very close). Generally asking to get paid for risking your life to help a public isn't what I would consider rent seeking. And I already mentioned the military-industrial side of things as having a strong rent seeking component.

Just kidding around, Sebastian. I was imagining a pro-market government that allowed vigilante groups and armed citizen militias to compete with the police and armed forces. Like many of my jokes, it was only funny to me ;).

We managed before and, I’m afraid, we’ll be forced to manage again.

Russell nailed this wooly mammoth skin so elegantly and firmly to the wall that nothing further need be said.
However that’s seldom stopped me.

So, Bill; you’re intending to suggest we’re on the verge of a return to the Paleolithic? Certainly in the Neolithic there was a lot of specialization and stratification. So further back than that, yes?

Seconding Eric, LeftTurn; excellent and acute. We must hope and work to keep the process in your last paragraph as conscious and attentive as possible.

"They seem to me to have adopted a more Leninist view of organization. It shouldn't follow from anything they believe, really. And yet there it is."

Isn't Grover Norquist a big fan of Lenin?

A possible additional factor in the probable coming Republican collapse: the attraction of being a wealthy ex-official and lobbyist, vs. the relative poverty of being a government official. We're seeing Republicans in Congress racing for the exits; how many of them are, like Trent Lott, squeezing into that last place at the trough? Maybe government based on the current Republican model of cronyism and corruption is self-limiting.

Re librarians:

We managed before and, I’m afraid, we’ll be forced to manage again.

Ah, so you're advocating returning society back to the good old days before the rise of the Sumerians.

Gotcha...

And so far as representational organizations are voluntary I'm all for them.

Like bar assocations? And the AMA?

The state bar association isn't voluntary, at least in California. I know almost nothing about the AMA.

That was a total dismissal of intellectual property. A lot of us work on creating value that does not lend itself to physical manifestation outside of serialization. There is far more virtual construction going on than real construction, so if you want to start quantizing value, include the non-physical forms of value please.

That was a total dismissal of intellectual property. A lot of us work on creating value that does not lend itself to physical manifestation outside of serialization. There is far more virtual construction going on than real construction, so if you want to start quantizing value, include the non-physical forms of value please.

That was a total dismissal of intellectual property. A lot of us work on creating value that does not lend itself to physical manifestation outside of serialization. There is far more virtual construction going on than real construction, so if you want to start quantizing value, include the non-physical forms of value please.

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