Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

07 October 2011

Us Against Them


[For information on the Occupy Wall Street movement, click here.]

People like me, who style themselves experts, are hard to rile and slow to boil. We want evidence, personally verifiable, before we go off half cocked.

For the last several months, I have been slowly accumulating evidence of our nation’s complete domination by Wall Street. I wrote a post on that subject back in June, when it first occurred to me that Wall Street’s domination is total.

Not only does Wall Street control our nation’s financial sector, which not too long ago accounted for 41% of all our nation’s business profits, including Apple’s and the oil companies’. Not only does it control Congress, to the point where a senator (Shelby) from one of our nation’s three most backward states reflexively supports Wall Street, ignoring the interests of his own largely poor constituents. Not only does our Supreme Court support Wall Street’s dominance of politics through such decisions as Citizens United. But Wall Street, which controls Manhattan, also controls our nation’s media.

That, for me, was the last point of critical inquiry. Is it true that nothing gets out in the mainstream media that Wall Street dislikes? The evidence now is overwhelming.

Back in June, my analysis was largely theoretical. Wall Street controls and feeds Manhattan, I reasoned. All the mainstream media, including PBS, are headquartered in Manhattan. Every lawyer, accountant, bank, department store, restaurant and bar there owes its living directly or indirectly to Wall Street. And therefore so do the media and their pundits. Cut Wall Street down to size, and the condo or cooperative apartment of every media analyst would plummet in value, as would their exorbitant salaries, which are based on “competition” in Manhattan (where else?).

But that was just theory. Now the evidence is in, including some very personal evidence.

Although a blogger myself, I still tend to get most of my news from the mainstream media. For reasons of quality that I explained recently, Bloomberg.com has replaced the WSJ as my primary financial/investment news source. The others mainstream sources that I read regularly are the New York Times, the Washington Post (primarily for politics) and—far less frequently—the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury-News.

With these as my sources, I was totally unaware of the Occupy Wall Street movement until this week. So, I think, were the vast majority of Americans, until NYT pundit Paul Krugman deigned to comment on it in his column today.

Here was a movement that has existed for about three weeks (probably much longer, in the planning stage) and has mounted protests coast to coast involving tens of thousands of people. And I knew nothing of it until the past few days. Not a word about it in Bloomberg.com, which greatly surpasses the WSJ in every measure of journalistic quality except coverage.

But that’s not all. For about a year I have been writing comments to online newspapers under various names. The comments have made various points and adduced various evidence. Economic themes predominated.

But lately my comments have struck new themes. It is becoming increasingly evident (1 and 2) that our economy will continue to hobble until we stop bailing out bankers and start helping their innocent depositors, creditors and foreclosed homeowners, just as we did successfully in the 1930s. Right now, we are like medieval “doctors,” bleeding a patient with leeches, rather than feeding the patient to restore her strength and health. And I don’t have to tell you who the leeches are.

Furthermore, we are right now at a critical point in modern history with respect to this precise point. Here in the US, we have decided to cast our lot with bailouts for bankers and austerity for the people. But Europe is still undecided. In the slow process of bringing the EU’s seventeen member states to consensus, there are still powerful forces in Europe that want the bankers who took bad sovereign bonds to accept more of a “haircut.” That’s the primary reason why the “fix” in the EU is taking so long.

Europe’s indecision is the best thing to happen to the global economy since 2008 (though not necessarily for stock markets in the short term). There are people in power in Europe, albeit in a minority, who realize that continuing to feed the banks and starve the people is not a sustainable proposition, let alone a solution to the continuing global economic crisis that the banks themselves created. If Europe goes for our successful 1929-35 solution, rather than Tim Geithner’s “save the plutocrats” fix, the Western world might just be able to turn this thing around. Why knows? We might be next.

But here’s the rub. As the critical decision time in Europe approaches (we’re still in it!), I found it harder and harder to get my comments published. There were strange technical errors that never occurred before. Some comments just didn’t make it on screen for unexplained reasons.

Recently key online commented journals, including Bloomberg.com and the NYT, began to post warnings that they would not explain their comment-moderation decisions. I presume those warnings were responding to more people than just me. Apparently many more people than I wanted to know why their views were not getting published in a supposedly open, public forum.

Based on this circumstantial evidence, I conclude that Wall Street and its minions are simply exercising their power over the media to consolidate their power over finance and the global economy.

It bears repeating that this is a critical time. If Europe follows our abysmal lead, it will take the better part of a decade (if ever) to restore the so-called “Western” economies of the US, the EU and Japan. The West will be irrevocably committed to the wrong solution, one that bails out bankers, starves the people and their governments with “austerity,” and concentrates economic power in the hands of fewer and fewer people who have done nothing but abuse it for three decades.

In that circumstance, China will rise to economic pre-eminence much faster than anyone has yet predicted, not entirely on its own merits, but based largely on the West’s default. Your children will have nowhere to go but the BRIC nations, or Down Under, to find good jobs (outside finance) and a decent economic future, let alone good health care. So there’s a lot at stake here, much more than just the next few years of unemployment numbers.

Make no mistake about it. This is class warfare, us against them. But I think Warren Buffet was wrong when he said his class already has won. (I also think he was wrong to include himself with the bankers. There ought to be room for smart and honest investors in any capitalist economy. But that’s another whole story.)

The plutocrats have gained a lot of ground. But much like terrorists, they have been working largely by stealth and surprise. Until recently, the vast bulk of the world’s middle class had no idea they were under constant, sustained and deliberate attack. Now they are beginning to wake up.

So the battle is not yet fully joined. Occupy Wall Street is just a raw beginning. That movement will grow, and others will follow. People will have to shun the mainstream media—even the best of it—to build those movements and fight back.

This will be long struggle. It may take decades. But does anyone doubt it is a war worth waging? At stake is the future of capitalism, democracy, and the Western Enlightenment now half a millennium old. After five hundred years of struggle, we don’t want to replace the old titled aristocracies with new ones based on inherited wealth and educational and social advantage.

So it’s us against them now. There are hundreds of million of us and only, at most, a few thousand of them. Just like the Arab Spring, the outcome is foreordained, as long as we can get organized.

So let’s get started. You can begin by paying serious attention to Occupy Wall Street, no matter how much the mainstream media try to demonize and ridicule it. And you can start doing that by reading the comments in the NYT of actual participants and direct observers, who describe how badly the mainstream media have twisted public perception of this genuine popular movement.

This is not the Tea Party—an ignorant front group brainwashed by Fox and financed by the Koch Brothers. This is the real thing.

Correction: 9/7/11 5:00 pm

I stand corrected. There is at least one person in the mainstream media (besides Paul Krugman, who is just a columnist) who has treated Occupy Wall Street with the serious attention that it deserves. He is Keith Olbermann, formerly of MSNBC and now with Current TV, a cable channel. On Wednesday, he reported the police action (including mounted police) against the movement and read, on camera, the movement’s indictment of all that our plutocrats have wrought.

The indictment is just that: a catalogue of ills wrought by unchecked banks and corporate power. It is well written, articulate, and absolutely accurate. It offers no solutions, but serves as an invitation to join the movement and help devise them.

Occupy Wall Street’s indictment resembles the preamble of our Declaration of Independence, with its list of grievances against King George III. And it paraphrases, in modern language, the following excerpt from our Declaration: “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of [democratic] ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Don’t be fooled by nattering naysayers. These young people are smart, articulate and fully conscious of the long and glorious democratic tradition that they follow, from Magna Carta on. If with our help and God’s they succeed, they may well be among the Founders of something new and better.

[For more video information on the movement, click here.]

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16 Comments:

  • At Sat Oct 08, 03:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger seanseamour said…

    Jay, it is refreshing to read a Voice that broadcasts what many believe, attempt to express but are either increasingly censored or lack the means of. Whether it is the “bankster” issue or your essay on Palestinian Statehood opposed by armchair warriors there IS censorship in our media, either by bias aka the Murdock group or financial constraint and fragile lifelines aka the New York Times and others. The problem has very deep roots that will take a far greater storm than the one brewing to topple but small streams do lead to great rivers and one must hope. The difficulty I have in supporting “Occupy Wall Street” is organizational, I do not like the Nicaragua Net connection, and perhaps you have found another avenue? On another issue, I have been following the Americans Elect organization, what is your insight on a “third column” emergence – if we cannot root out the Republicans from a legislative majority the re-election of President Obama is useless.

     
  • At Sat Oct 08, 04:24:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Sean,

    Thanks again for your continuing support and encouragement. Please feel free to send links to anyone you choose. I’m certainly not trying to hide this blog, especially now that I’ve decided to reveal my identity this Thanksgiving.

    I agree that the media in our country have become a shadow of their former selves in speaking truth to power. They try so hard to be “objective,” both to coddle their sources and to avoid the slightest criticism from the most extreme ranks. These craven tendencies let Fox and the right wing lead them around by the nose.

    I would not, however, discount “Occupy Wall Street” as a potentially influential popular movement. You have only to read the comments to Paul Krugman’s column (linked above) to see how deep a vein of popular discontent it has tapped. At its very birth, the movement has the sympathy of millions.

    That said, I must admit I don't know much about it. I looked for the Nicaragua Net and found a D.C. nonprofit ostensibly advancing the interests of Nicaragua, but no reference to OWS.

    I suppose there was a report or link on the site as a matter peripherally relevant to the site’s main mission. But I’d be astonished if Nicaragua Net is an “official” or “authorized” mouthpiece for OWS, even if such a thing exists. Other reports on the movement are linked in my brief note above.

    I would not worry too much about organization at this point. OWS isn’t even at the stage of the Transitional National Council in Libya. It has yet to secure substantial public attention, let alone a significant victory. It’s just a political babe in arms.

    You should try not to be too impatient. Genuine popular movements take time to organize and find their voices.

    Look at our own Founders, for example. They listed their grievances in our Declaration of Independence in 1776 but didn't ratify a coherent and stable plan for government until 1791, fifteen years later (with a false start in the Articles of Confederation, which wasn’t ratified by all thirteen colonies until five years later).

    That’s one reason why I think the ad hoc “leaders” of OWS were so clever. They did exactly what our Founders did: list their grievances and assert that the people have the right to alter or abolish unjust governments, but leave a precise platform and program to be worked out later, democratically.

    No attentive student of history wants to join a revolutionary movement that thinks it has all the answers at the outset, like the Bolsheviks in 1917 or the Taliban today. Our (first?) American Revolution was far more successful than its French or Russian counterparts because it didn’t operate from a cookbook but worked things out organically and pragmatically in the course of actual governance.

    As for a third party, it could only be a splinter of the left. It would inevitably insure Obama’s defeat, just as Nader did Gore’s in 2000. I don’t think we want to go there again. (That’s why I lost respect for Tom Friedman, who tries studiously to pretend he’s politically neutral, when he touted Americans Elect.)

    By all means, challenge the President in the primaries if you wish. But don’t start a third party. You might as well enlist in Romney’s campaign. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if his campaign strategists are clandestinely plotting just such a tactic right now.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Sat Oct 08, 04:35:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    P.S.

    I didn’t mean to disparage the idea of a third party in general. It’s just that now is the worst possible time in the electoral cycle to start one. A third party (other than the Tea Party) would inevitably spell Obama’s defeat.

    If Obama wins in 2012 and takes Congress with him, I think we will finally see change we can believe in. If he loses, which I doubt, that would be the time to start a third party, immediately after his loss. It is possible, in that event, that OWS might become the nucleus of a third party.

    But from now until November 2012, the most constructive role OWS can perform is as a cheerleader, goad and emotional energizer for Democrats, just as the Tea Party has done for the GOP.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Sun Oct 09, 04:13:00 PM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    Isn't blaming the bankers a bit facile? Could it not be argued the problem was greedy homeowners who put enormous pressure on the government to maintain house prices at unsustainably high levels?

    The banks made loans to people with little or no prospect of paying them back, because it was the only way that a significant number of houses could be sold at such prices.

     
  • At Sun Oct 09, 05:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    I’m glad you asked. No, it isn’t facile. Not one bit.

    You still haven’t revealed your age, but I’d bet you have never bought or refinanced a home and taken out a mortgage. If you had been through that experience just once, you wouldn’t even ask.

    When you go through that process, there is no room to negotiate or deal. You do what you’re told, or you find another bank or mortgage broker. Period.

    As will soon appear when I reveal my identity, I’ve had three demanding professional careers, one of which is law. I can read complex fine print in minutes and see where all the bodies are buried.

    It doesn’t matter. All my education and sophistication give me no power to deal with a bank or mortgage broker. I’ve tried.

    If your lender is honest, as mine was, you spend half a day collecting income-tax forms, bank statements, and brokerage statements to verify your income and assets. If your lender is dishonest and says, "Just sign here and you’ll get the loan. Don’t worry about documentation," that’s what you do.

    No borrower—especially the type of uneducated and clueless ones who were sold subprime loans—could much influence, let alone determine, a lender’s behavior. The notion that borrowers somehow inveigled their lenders into dishonesty and illegality is absolutely absurd.

    And the notion that individual brokers or lending agents could get away with making “liars’ loans” without complicity from their superiors is equally absurd. Anyone who tried that with an honest lender would be fired in days, if not hours.

    Suprime loans to unqualified borrowers were the product of a massive and systemic failure of honesty and prudence by lenders. There is no other remotely plausible explanation.

    Jay

     
  • At Tue Oct 11, 02:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    I wasn't suggesting of course that homeowners could put pressure on banks directly. What I was suggesting is that politicians put pressure on the banks to lend to unqualified borrowers, because they believed keeping house prices high would appeal to greedy homeowners and thus improve their re-election chances.

     
  • At Tue Oct 11, 08:25:00 AM EDT, Blogger Ross Wolfe said…

    One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”

    THE LEFT IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE LEFT!

     
  • At Mon Oct 17, 01:16:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    Thanks for following up and for giving me the chance to refute this second half of the right wing’s lie. Of course I knew this was part of the “argument” but didn’t have the time then to spend on it.

    Let me begin by asking a couple of simple questions. Have banks and their “leaders” been eager to accept “reform” regulation from government even after they tanked the global economy in 2008 and presumably ought to have had some tiny measure of contrition? If not, what makes you think they would have responded to government “pressure” or “influence” when they were on top of the world and making piles of money and deregulation was all the rage?

    The right wing wants to have it both ways. They want you to think that government is wimpy, stupid, and ineffective. Yet, when it comes to banking, they want you to think that the government, by mere unofficial “influence,” caused the entire mortgage lending sector to do its bidding, i.e., to make loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay them back. Isn’t that a contradiction?

    Life just doesn’t work that way. Private business owners, especially bankers, do not take their lead from government and never have. They resist government control like the plague, even when it comes through legitimate legislative and regulatory processes. That’s what they are now doing with the Volcker Rule (a mild attempt to reinstate Glass-Steagall), rules that try to keep them from gambling with other people’s money, and attempts to increase their capital reserves to avoid potentially disastrous systemic risks arising from their gambling.

    When private business owners don’t like laws or regulations, they simply don’t comply. Instead, they litigate and fight the laws or regulations. They comply only when a court orders them to do so, and then only when the order is affirmed by the highest court that will consider the issue, usually the US Supreme Court. That takes years, sometimes decades.

    So the notion that some unspecified “influence” or “jawboning” by government officials could cause them to do something they didn’t want to do anyway is as absurd as the notion that impecunious and unsophisticated borrowers could force them to make liars’ loans.

    And there is and has been absolutely no official government regulation or law ever condoning, let alone encouraging, liars’ loans. Could you imagine any politician or timid government bureaucrat advocating such a dishonest, if not illegal, thing? Even today, they would be ripped apart politically or fired, respectively.

    The notion that government caused the massive, systemic failure of honesty and prudence among lenders that led to the 2008 Crash is a bold and patent lie. It does not stand the slightest scrutiny by anyone who has the faintest idea how finance, government and the law actually work. The fact that so many people accept it (including a prestigious lawyer I met in a foreign country) is an indictment of people’s education and ability to reason, and an indication of how insidious and effective right-wing propaganda has been.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Mon Oct 17, 11:28:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Ross (comment below),

    Thank you for your extended comment. It gives me the chance to restate some things I’ve written before, but not all in one place.

    Let me begin by saying that I fundamentally disagree with the thrust of your comment. I do not believe that Marxism―or even a milder but nevertheless pure form of socialism―is the remedy for our current ills, or for any deficiency in our current system. As I’ve written several times (in different ways) (see 1, 2, 3 and 4), I see Marx and Engels as nothing more than creative writers, reacting spasmodically to the evils of the nineteenth century’s brutal, unregulated capitalism.

    Those evils included gross exploitation of workers and crushing child labor. They horrified Marx and Engels, who, in reaction, created an intellectual edifice entirely out of thin air. They were not scientists of any kind, nor were they quantitative thinkers. Virtually all of modern, quantitative economics developed after they wrote, and they knew nothing of it.

    In my view, the best economic system in human history was the one we put in place after the Great Depression: capitalism restrained and limited by strong regulation in the public interest. That system combines the dynamism of markets and the economic decentralization of corporations with a social conscience that promotes social cohesion and egalitarianism and curbs exploitation.

    Oddly enough, the strongest exponents of that system today are the Chinese, who have both their banks and industrialists under some level of social/political control. The Europeans don’t have their banks under control, and we have neither.

    Which brings me to my second point. I disagree with you about the extent of globalization and de-localization of capitalism, especially in finance. While London, Hong Kong and increasingly Shanghai are growing competitors, there is no center like Manhattan for global finance. No place but Manhattan and Wall Street had the credibility, money, influence and control to have spawned the Crash of 2008, essentially defrauding the globe’s other money centers.

    While the Crash itself diminished that influence considerably, it still remains. So I stand by my view that Manhattan rules our own nation’s finance and much of the financial sector of global capitalism. That may change as the renminbi begins to float and China’s better-regulated financial sector begins to take an appropriate place in global finance.

    (Comment continued below)

     
  • At Mon Oct 17, 11:42:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Reply to Ross Wolfe (comment below) (continued):

    Finally, I disagree strongly with you that the left should move toward Marxism, even as a bargaining ploy. Marxism is an entirely discredited philosophy, a spent “brand.” The mere mention of the word evokes visions of Bolsheviks, China’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward,” gulags and commissars. Espousing Marxism using that term is probably the single most losing tactic politically that anyone in the Western world could adopt. You might as well form a political party named for Genghis Khan.

    Your writing suggests that you’re a smart person with good command of written English. But phrases like “reified its spatial metonym” are irremediably pedantic and elitist. If you want your ideas to have political traction, I suggest you try to express them more simply.

    One last point. The right tends to beat the left repeatedly because it is invariably more unified and direct. Its ideas also tend to be simpler: pure, laissez faire capitalism, low taxes, weak regulation, “government off our backs,” and trickle down. That simplicity allows the right to inveigle and delude many people who ought to know better.

    The fact that the ideas are wrong and don’t work is beside the point. The answer to that approach is not to duplicate it on the left―with opposing simplistic but wrong ideas that don’t work. The answer is to explain more complex and nuanced ideas that do work simply and to unify around them.

    Although you disparage it, I can’t think of any better economic system than the one that FDR put in place during the New Deal. It was the strongest, most cohesive and just economic system in human history. And it stayed alive for a half century, before the forces of reaction, greed and sloth eroded it. Although it needs improvement to address such things as financial “innovations” and new institutions, we would do just fine if we could restore and upgrade it.

    Marxism has failed twice in honest trials, in the Soviet Union and in China before Deng Xiaoping. We don’t need a third trial here to see that it doesn’t work and never will.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Tue Oct 18, 02:45:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    To me it seems as though both the Marxists and the neoliberal capitalists made the same fundamental error. The original classical liberals were correct to view the economy as a three-cornered conflict between Land, Labour and Capital, while both Marxists and neoliberals erroneously fold Land into Capital to make a two-sided model.

    Capital does not exploit Labour (note that airlines have enormous capital investment, but have small or non-existent profits, and are not noted for exploiting either their workers or their customers). Rather it is landowners that exploit both workers and capitalists alike. The vast profits of the banks before the 2008 crash came mainly from interest on home mortgages (which is merely land rent by another name).

    The increasing polarization of wealth in all Western countries is because globalization has made it far easier for the rich to avoid paying income taxes. Land Value Tax is the solution, as you can't put the City of London or Manhattan in a tax haven or in a numbered Swiss bank account.

     
  • At Thu Oct 20, 09:11:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    I’m sorry to have waited so long to reply to your latest comment. But I’ve been trying to think of a way to reply that might have a chance of persuading you and also fit in Google’s comment-length limitations.

    That’s hard, because the errors in your comment are both simple and profound. Like Marx, Engels and all people who seek and follow ideologies, you are trying to understand something huge and infinitely complex with a few simple elements and principles that you can count on the fingers of one hand. That simplistic approach hasn’t worked in recorded human history and never will.

    In this blog, I’ve spent most of my time bashing right-wing ideology. But that’s just because it is now ascendant here at home and is causing us so much misery. In the last century, left-wing ideology (in the form of Marxism and its many variants) caused the most trouble. Two huge societies—the Soviet Union and China―tried if for decades and only succeeded in making themselves miserable. So I’ve spent some time debunking that ideology also, in several essays and (most poignantly and recently) in my reply to the comment by one Ross Wolfe posted above.

    The problem is not with right-wing or left-wing ideology. It’s with any ideology. You cannot understand a complex economy or society of 307 million independent human beings, let alone a global one of over 6 billion, with a simplistic model consisting of three elements: land, labor and capital. It just can’t be done, any more than ancient “natural philosophers” could understand chemistry and physics as based on the four supposed “elements” of earth, air, fire and water.

    Grand, simplistic theories of anything have never worked well and never will. The reason is simple but also quite profound. The grapefruit-sized mass of neurons that well call our brains simply cannot represent (i.e., understand completely) anything larger than itself with anything resembling useful accuracy.

    It can’t even understand the tiny DNA molecules inside it that hold its own genetic plan. In order even to remember accurately the three billion base pairs that make up a single DNA molecule, let alone understand their much more complex functions and interactions, we need modern technology, including computers and digital storage-devices. Without these mental “prostheses,” our grapefruit-sized masses of neurons would be hopelessly inadequate to the task. Even if we had discovered DNA in the nineteenth century, rather than the last, we wouldn’t have been able to exploit that knowledge until the advent of the digital age.

    So our unaided human brain is hopelessly inadequate even to “understand” its own microscopic biological blueprint. Than how can it, with a few mindlessly simplistic rules, ever hope to understand an economy of billions of beings built on different such plans and interacting with each other, the weather, climate and other poorly understood physical forces every day?

    Our limited minds spin endless theories because doing so makes us feel good. In the long run, theory provides us with incrementally greater mastery over ourselves and our environment than just thinking “the gods are angry.”

    But theory works best when it works on small parts of small things. A century after Einstein’s brilliance, we don’t even have a workable theory to unite the various fields of physics (so-called “unified field theory”). And Einstein’s cosmology now also looks inadequate as we contemplate a well-established observational result (expansion of the Universe) that his general theory of relativity cannot explain. Yet his special theory of relativity still predicts things like time dilation and length-contraction of rapidly moving objects (near the speed of light) with sufficient accuracy for useful engineering.

    (Comment continued below.)

     
  • At Thu Oct 20, 09:19:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Reply to George Carty on his variant of Marxism (continued):

    What we need is not more ideology (a political form of theory), but more experimentation and pragmatism. For example, we learned the hard way, early in the last century, that letting bankers go unregulated crashes economies, even ones as vibrant, healthy and innovative as our own. We just learned that same lesson again, beginning in 2008. How many times do we have to repeat the same experiment, with the same awful results, in order to learn its lesson for real?

    The main point of this reply―that simplistic ideology of any sort is hopelessly inadequate to improving, let alone understanding, any real society or economy―is counterintuitive and hard to accept. But it’s nevertheless right, and profoundly so.

    Societies that have eschewed theory in favor of experimental pragmatism, including England’s and our own, have so far out-competed all others. Now China is playing that same role and rapidly advancing in the race of nations. It has liberated itself from the blinders of Communist ideology and now is probably the most pragmatic society (certainly of anywhere near its size) on Earth.

    I am conceiving a longish essay to explain these points in much more detail, with examples from physics, chemistry, economics and biology. But suffice it to say here that I cannot credit your feeble attempt to revise Marxism, an utterly failed ideology that has ruined two real societies, any more than I can applaud the simplistic right-wing ideology that has brought our own country low.

    Regretfully,

    Jay

     
  • At Sun Oct 30, 11:36:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    Isn't K Street as much (if not more) of a problem than Wall Street?

     
  • At Sat Dec 03, 10:57:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    In a word, no. Much of what goes on on K Street is a legitimate form of lobbying: businesses informing legislators how proposed legislation might affect them.

    Wall Street has raised business influence to a whole new level, largely through the legalized corruption of campaign contributions. Much of that influence now bypasses K Street, for example, when bankers and hedge-fund managers get direct access to the President [search for “Coda”] and legislators as they write million-dollar donation checks.

    One other point: by law, K Street lobbyists, who generally represent multiple clients, have to register and make certain mandated disclosures. Campaign contributors generally don't; all they have to disclose is who they are and how much they gave.

    To my knowledge, no business or business sector, other than finance, has anything like the power or geographic concentration of the financial sector. My statement that Manhattan controls the nation is not an exaggeration. The only reason it doesn’t control everything is that it only cares about finance. It doesn't exercise its control through K Street, although K Street helps.

    Jay

     
  • At Sun Dec 04, 02:23:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Addendum to reply to George:

    By sheer happenstance, Doonesbury today produced a cartoon that explains much better than any words why K Street is no match for Wall Street. Read it and laugh or cry, as the spirit moves you.

    Hyperlinks to cartoons are notoriously fickle. So if the link above doesn’t work, look for Doonesbury’s Sunday cartoon for December 4, 2011.

    Best,

    Jay

     

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