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Another Day, Another Book

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I can’t usually say that.  I’m actually a very slow and deliberate reader most of the time.  I wasn’t when I was younger, but the older I got and the more interested I got in understanding what I was reading–well, there you are.

But before I get to the book of the day, let me backtrack to clean up two things from yesterday.

First,  I seem to have given the misimpression that Betty Friedan was interested in women being academics or intellectuals–and those were certainly on the list, but what she actually wanted was a rigorous liberal education followed by graduate and professional training that would make women lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers, and that sort of thing.

She just assumed–as almost everybody did in that day and age, and as I still do–that rigorous liberal education is both the best way to train the intelligence, and the best introduction to the achievements of Western Civilization.

Second, Robert says, well, we’ve expanded the franchise to all sorts of people, and that must mean that our politics is better now than it was before.

But there are two things going on here.

In the first place, there’s the obvious.  We don’t expand the franchise to make our politics better or more honorable, but because it would be dishonorable not to do so.  The first thing we owe our fellow human beings is our recognition of their full humanity, and that includes the recognition of their full citizenship.

But on top of that, the construction is backwards.  We don’t extend the franchise and then see our politics get worse.  We see our politics get worse and then we extend the franchise. 

In other words, we first perceive that the group charged with the right to rule and decide is corrupt, or stupid, or misusing their power, and then we dilute their power by giving the people they have power over the right to participate in self government.

Slavery is morally wrong, but if slaveholders had in fact been benevolent, it would have been nearly impossible to get rid of it.

And we can see a movement of this type in the decreasing prevalence of an increasing opposition to laws that forbid felons from voting. 

What was once a widespread and unexceptionable practice has become a badge of infamy–not because we feel any more loving towards felons, but because felonies have multiplied so rapidly and populations have become so widely subject to the penalty that we no longer trust that the designation fairly singles out only those people who have done something serious enough to lose their right to vote.

If Andy the Axe Murderer gets to help decide the next election, it won’t be because we think that will make our politics better or our society more honorable.  It will be because that will be the only way we insure that Bobby the Marijuana Smoker won’t have that mandatory minimum five year sentence end all his rights as a citizen.

And here we come to our Book of the Day, which took so little time to read that I’m still a bit astonished by it.

The book is Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes. 

For those of you who don’t know:  Hayes worked for a while as an editor at The Nation, and may still work there for all I know.  He also has a regular show on MSNBC called Up With Chris Hayes, which aired after he’d spent about a year being the Official Substitute Host for Rachel Maddow. 

I first got interested in this book when I read a long article more or less excerpted from it in The Nation. I passed that article around to a couple of people and got the criticisms I was expecting, but the central premise still interests me.

We’ve reached a point where the people who run our central institutions–government, military, corporate, educational, whatever–seem to be capable of nothing but failing at the jobs they were chosen (by a highly competitive process) to do.

Now, in the first place, I find this idea interesting because I agree with it, and I agree with Hayes’s corollary–that this has something to do with the fact that this group of people is now pretty much all the same.

And starting with that, I have, not a book review, but a few notes:

1) I have long complained that the right has a better record of pointing  out that the right has a better record of putting out books accessible to a broad spectrum of readers, so I should probably shut up–but.

This thing is written for an audience with reading skills levels of about sixth grade in a good middle school.  I found it sometimes distractingly “easy,” and always annoyingly so.

But this, I think, is a complaint for myself, and may actually be a plus for some readers.

2) I have to congratulate the man for having actually listened to Tea Party people.  Hayes is–obviously, from his credentials–a man of the Left, more or less, but instead of resorting to the usual hysterical nonsense about how all members of the Tea Party are gun toting half-educated lunatics who are only protesting because they’re so racist they can’t stand a black president in the White House, he actually went and found out who the Tea Party is and what they actually have to say.

And, having done that, he came to the same conclusion I did–which is that in terms of the fundamental analysis of the problem, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have a lot in common. 

And what they both have in common, and what Hayes and I have in common, is this–that the perfect symbol of what’s wrong here is TARP. Otherwise known as the bank bail out.

And that brings me to the last note, which is this:

3) You’re humming along being happy that the man has pretty much the same analysis of the situation as you do, and then you hit the last chapter.

That last chapter is enough to make you wonder if Hayes has any imagination at all, never mind a grip on linear thought.

Because what happens in the last chapter is that he reverts entirely to the same tired, failed and completely idiotic “we need redistribution!” ideas that got us into this mess to begin with.

Or, as I responded–and others responded–to Michael a couple of posts ago, it makes no sense to answer the use and abuse of government power by special interests by expanding government power.

If you’re going to make TARP the end of that kind of politics, then what you need is not expanded government, but restricted government.

You need to end the ability of the government to institute a TARP–to forbid it to bail out bankers, and to forbid it to bail out banks that are not part of FICA.  Ever.  Period. 

You need to end government discretion in how bankers and traders and other white collar types are treated when they’ve committed a crime.  We require that low-level drug dealers be prosecuted and we have a whole set of mandatory minimums that say judges don’t get to give such people slaps on the wrist.

We should have something similar for white collar crime.  If Martha Stewart could go to jail not for “insider trading” (she actually got acquitted of that), but for telling her board of directors that she would be acquitted for that (which was against the law, even if it turned out that her prediction was true)–then Dick Fuld, Lloyd Blankstein and the rest of the crew should be spending their time in Danbury as we speak.

If you don’t want corporations using the power of government regulations to stifle their competition, then the answer is not to give government a broader power to regulate, but to restrict that power.

And you do that in ways that should be no brainers–

a) you require that regulations, which are laws, be passed by Congress.

b) you require that laws be short, to the point, and written in a way that can be read by somebody with a high school education. 

The purpose of this is to stop the custom of hiding little  gimme provisions in laws that are so long and complicated that nobody ever notices the giveaway to Archer Daniels Midland on page 456 subclause 394.

The other purpose is to leave as little as possible up to interpretation.

Interpretation is where special interests can use their clout, financial or otherwise, to expand their power.  Say “no deductions for second homes” and you get no deductions for second homes.  Say “no deductions for second homes except under these circumstances,” and bureaucrats and regulators will be open for business to the highest bidders, “interpreting” whose circumstances qualify.

c) you limit what may be regulated.  The fewer areas over which government is allowed to exert power over its citizens, the fewer areas special interests can use to force their will on their fellow citizens. 

And that definitely includes business regulations of all sorts, environmental regulations of all sorts, and the present regime of anti-discrimination law.

The problem with that last one, by the way, isn’t that it should be okay to reject people on the basis of their race or color or sex, but because it represents, at the moment, the ultimate in subjective government of men and not laws. 

If the standard of whether or not something is a violation of a law or regulation is “when the investigator thinks so in her best professional judgment,” then that law or regulation must go.

And finally, let’s institute a tax system that is, in fact, fair.

We could keep the rates we have now, IF–

Deductions were limited to a very few:  the home mortgage deduction on your house, your state and local taxes, the dependent exemptions.

And that’s it.


No special treatment for capital gains.  No special deductions for oil and gas leases, or the myriad little bips and bops that let some small group of people deduct their private jets or their aesthetically pleasing cattle raising hobby.

(Note the hobby–real cattle ranchers actually raising cattle for profit would still have legitimate business deductions–although I’d want to reduce the deductions for businesses and to make them less subjective, too.  But right now, I’m only talking about the personal income tax.)

Then, after you’ve done that, raise the exemption level to where it would have been in real dollars if it was still paying out at 1950 rates, which I think doubles those.

And what you would have is the single largest tax rise on wealthy people EVER, and it would be entirely fair, because it would be cleared, and it would be applied to everyone in the same way and without exception. 

And you’d have a lot less influence peddling, because there would be no influence to peddle.  And you’d have a lot fewer special interest power grabs, because there would be a lot less power to grab.

You’re never going to get more equality by trying to reduce the demand for inequality.

You’re only going to get it by reducing the supply.



Written by janeh

August 19th, 2012 at 11:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Another Day, Another Book'

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  1. Nononono! I didn’t say we’ve expanded the FRANCHISE. I said we’d expanded the pool from which our political leadership is chosen. Please note this did NOT take constitutional change from 1930. Even then there were a handful of black congressmen and women who had often inherited their husband’s seats, and there was no constitutional reason–ever!–why a Jew, Catholic or Mormon couldn’t be elected President. The national willingness to see a vastly wider range of people in our top offices is very truly a “revolution in the hearts and minds of men.” This is especially so because political power is the original zero-sum game. We can all be more wealthy and perhaps more free, but to the extent any person or faction increases political power, everyone else’s share is diminished.

    This ought to have raised out political game, if you will, the same way a school with 2,000 students should have a better basketball team than a school of 300. Other things being equal, with more people to choose from, you should be able to produce more tall, well-coordinated players. Compare the number of people who were, if you will, politically eligible for our top positions in 1930, and compare them with the numbers in 2010, and you’ve got at least that six or seven to one advantage.

    Unless someone thinks our political leadership really has vastly improved in competence and honesty over that period, that suggests that “other things” are not equal, and we’re doing some things wrong in educating, training and selecting our political elite that we weren’t doing wrong in the days of Hoover and FDR.

    Which brings me around to Hayes, who fails exactly that test: he sees the failure of our current leadership, but has no plan to pick any other, train these differently or limit the power they abuse. He just has an agenda to be implemented which has nothing to do with the situation he describes.

    This is what happens when the agenda is the starting point. When you start by asking what’s wrong and base your policy recommendations on what you find out, you may come to interesting and useful conclusions. When you BEGIN with your conclusions, doing honest research is a waste of time and money.

    Sadly, it’s one of the more common ones. “Research to support a conclusion” is right up there with fast women and slow horses.


    19 Aug 12 at 1:17 pm

  2. I have doubts about short laws in simple language. Consider the FDA. Drugs should be safe and effective.
    Now define “safe” knowing that all drugs have side effects. And how do you prove safe and effective?


    19 Aug 12 at 9:39 pm

  3. I agree with JD. Brevity alone is not a sign of good legislation – witness the infamous s92 of the Australian Constitution which has been litigated almost as much as the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution. You’d think nothing could be simpler or clearer than the salient bit which simply says:

    “On the imposition of uniform duties of customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.”

    I think that an important thing ought to be that every act or regulation must have a sunset clause.


    19 Aug 12 at 9:49 pm

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