Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Political Luddites

Luddites were the workmen, named after Ned Lud, who in the 1800’s, tried to prevent the use of labor saving devices by smashing them. That is, they didn’t try to understand the real role of labor saving devices in the long run. They were content to attack the problem in a short sighted way that fit their existing narrow and outdated view of the world.

Political luddites have a firm, fixed view of how things are, or previously were. They are not open-minded to how things have changed, may be changing, or will change in the future. They seek sources of information to reinforce their already held beliefs and avoid sources that may challenge their beliefs.

They deal in hackneyed clichés rather than discussing specifics in their own words. They first look at the source of the information, and if it is not from a source they know to be sympathetic to their views they reject it. They deal in personalities. There are personalities they can identify as being sympathetic to their views. Any others are immediately considered untruthful, untrustworthy, or have a hidden agenda. They are quick to hitch their chariot to the former, and are brutally loyal from that point on.

To allow you to spot these political luddites by the clichés they use, here are some of the most popular ones and a description of what they mean when they use them.
Liberal – Anyone promoting the general welfare, advocating for the average citizen at the expense of the political donor class, or advocating redistribution, class warfare, fair markets, or regulation as defined below. Often used interchangeably with libertine or big spender, and prefaced by the adjective, bleeding heart. Not to be confused with the more conventional definition of an open minded, tolerant individual of free birth and noble ideals.

Socialist - Anyone who may have discovered that the preamble to the Constitution includes the charge that government is to establish justice and promote the general welfare, in addition to providing for domestic tranquility and the common defense. A person who believes that taxation is not a form of theft, and believes that taxes can be used for things other than national defense and policing. Anyone who supports government involvement in programs that could be handled in the private sector. This definition is not to be confused with the more conventional definition of a socialist as someone advocating government ownership of the means of production.

Redistribution - The spending of tax money to abet one class of people over another, even if this expenditure is to correct injustices or inequities in the system, or ensure survival of individual citizens who are threatened with economic disaster. Any money used to promote the general welfare, as opposed to spending for national defense and policing. Implicit in this definition is that all salaries, wages, profits, and other income are accounted for and taxed fairly. There is no recognition of any class of people including the political donor class. All laws are assumed to be legitimately made, and the influence of political contributions is assumed not to have any effect on how tax laws and exemptions are made. No account is taken that corporations pay taxes on net income and individuals do not.

Class warfare - This is said to occur when citizens discover and complain about a political donor class funding politicians to obtain access and pressing for laws that advantage them. Used to fight any form of progressive taxation or discourage any recognition of an increasing income gap between the political donor class and the rest of the citizenry.

Free market - The holy grail of luddites economics. An unregulated interchange of goods and services without government involvement. Generally means that any form of regulation disrupts markets and prevents them from operating efficiently. Implicitly fair. No distinction between free markets and fair markets.

Deregulation - Getting the government out of market regulation. Allowing unimpeded consolidation. Sometimes implies advantaging business over consumers. Not necessarily full deregulation. As in the energy market in California, deregulating wholesale prices, while keeping retail prices regulated to advantage producers over consumers. Allowing decisions to be made by suppliers rather than consumers, as in the cable TV industry.

GDP – Gross Domestic Product. Another holy grail of luddites economics. An aggregate measure of the goods and services produced in the country. Used as a measure of the health of the country, as opposed to using employment, job satisfaction, health or other citizen related indicators. Implicitly ignores variations between different segments of society and between the donor class and others, but still considered all important to luddites.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Homeland Security

Are we ever going to be secure with thousands of unidentifiable people in our midst? Can we check every bag, secure every aircraft, every train, every building, every gathering place, every power plant, every dock, every vehicle against satchel bombs of one kind or another? Can we protect our air, water, and food from lethal contaminants everywhere? In a few words, aren’t we going about this in the wrong way?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to approach homeland security like we approach motor vehicles and handguns? Every car is inspected and registered in a database by make, model, and description, or it can be impounded so it can’t be driven. Yet people can enter the country illegally at most places along our border or obtain a drivers license with a fake piece of paper without even as much as a picture on it. Are we stuck in such a time warp that we can’t have a positive, verifiable personal registration system because we think the government is someday going to gather us all up and put us in jail if we are registered in some database. On the contrary, we should have a system where the government can gather up those who aren’t registered in a database and deport them or otherwise determine why they are here illegally. Only then will we have any hope of being secure in our person and property.

Such a registration system could be very simple, consisting of simply a number and a picture in most cases. When you are involved in legal infraction, go to board a plane, or interview for a job you produce the picture and the number and the airline or employer looks up the number in a database. If the picture stored there doesn’t match the picture you furnished, or doesn’t obviously look like you, further investigation is required. In cases where people have criminal records or other past history of illegal behavior, a fingerprint or a DNA sample may be required. For citizens to be registered in the database would require proof of domestic birth or naturalization.

For people requesting entry to the country, a much more complete registration would be required. For limited term visitors, a visa with pictures and fingerprints, together with purpose of entry, country of origin, planned itinerary, length of stay, and most importantly, a responsible party in the country whose responsibility it would be to keep track of the whereabouts of the visitor, and notify authorities if such whereabouts were ever in doubt. This party could be a tour company, employer, school, a relative or friend being visited, or a series of hotel registration and departure notifications. The database computer would automatically kick out the names of those who have overstayed their visa or whose whereabouts have been determined to be uncertain.

I suspect the reason we don’t already have such a system has more to do with special interests and politicians desire to utilize undocumented labor, expand tuition receipts, or pad voter rolls. And the price is our homeland security.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Worker Capitalism

Recently, maybe forever, corporate titans have been giving themselves big raises and bonuses by being on each others boards, buying tax code favors from politicians, and letting trickle down take care of anyone that doesn’t have any influence over who gets what in the corporate world. Lately, some have even gone so far as to adopt corrupt practices to make sure their bottom line titillates Wall Street, to ensure that their stock options reap big rewards. So what about the old maxim that the primary responsibility of a corporation is to its stockholders? Some capitalists seem to be taking issue with this tenet of corporate practice if the stockholders happen to be owners of large pension funds who exercise their voting power to curb the excesses of corporate managers.

Jay Hancock of the The Baltimore Sun has recently reported that as early as 2001 U. S. pension funds owned 26% of corporate America, while mutual funds controlled only 19%. The only difference is, pension fund managers seem to take their fiduciary responsibility more seriously than mutual fund managers. Pension fund managers are starting to press corporate managers to pay more attention to owners and less attention to feathering their own nest, while mutual fund managers seem to count on their “investors” automatic approval of management decisions, as long as the bottom line is competitive.

Since corporate titans own politicians, for the most part, particularly those in the Republican party, not much is ever going to get done in closing tax loopholes bought and paid for by their benefactors. So, if the widening gap between rich and poor is ever going to narrow, it calls for even more worker capitalism. If more workers can be encouraged to invest in funds which exercise their power for the benefit of workers without killing the goose that lays the golden egg, the situation for those in the bottom 99% of the economic ladder might actually improve. If there is pressure from worker owned funds to reduce executive compensation in all industries and pass it down to those without corporate decision making power, maybe the welfare of workers, whose economic progress has stagnated for the last thirty years will actually improve. After all, are these executives going to quit if they make ten million a year instead of a hundred million? I doubt it. Ditto for overpaid athletes and celebrities. They all work for one corporation or another that could be owned significantly by funds owned by workers.

Maybe if workers actually saw the fruits of ownership they would come to appreciate more and more the benefits of the invisible hand, honest dealing, competitive pressures, and realistic regulation of business, without just demanding a greater share of the take. Maybe they would accept reductions in corporate taxes, reduced corporate paid benefits, and accept more responsibility for their own welfare if the result was a more competitive company and more income tricking down beyond the command level.

Of course this would be labeled the new socialism by those in high places who would no longer have the run of company to divert profits to their own pocketbooks. But, really, it’s just capitalism at its best.