Thursday, February 5, 2009

Changing the World One Blog Post At a Time

So I realized how this blog is becoming my virtual soapbox, and I was going write about how I should change the name to reflect that but I first wanted to check to see if I was the creator of this ingenious idea and it turns out I’m not. That’s what I get for starting a blog in 2008. I’m a man behind the times. That’s just what I do. I didn’t get a cell phone until mid 2003, and didn’t set up my IPod until 2007. But enough about my retarded technological savvy, this post isn’t about my tribulations in this interconnected and scary world, even though in future posts I will be constantly discuss ‘me’ related topics in other contexts since apparently my generation is narcissistically self-involved.

As for changing the world and standing on the soapbox, though, I just wanted to talk about a few issues in the news and make points I’m sure other people have made in many other places but since I’ve been too busy living in my ‘me’ bubble I haven’t bothered to notice.

1) I just don’t understand how people can argue for a continuation of the economic policies that have caused the erosion of the federal surplus and have coincided with the economic collapse we’re currently experiencing. I’m referring here, of course, to people who champion tax cuts as a cure-all economic solution. I mean, I do get why people hold on to simplistic catch all phrases. I understand that lay people like me, people who don’t have an informed grasp of macroeconomics, that we want to grip onto simple theories that will allow us to feel informed and engaged in public policy debates. But even with this perfectly understandable human need to feel more powerful inside of and less uncertain about this hugely complex world, I would at least hope for some semblance of reason, some sign that the scientific revolution hasn’t gone to waste. I mean, all I’m asking for is to throw out mantras that don’t match up with the observable data. So could people please stop suggesting tax cuts are a panacea and maybe acknowledge that the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which coincided with the loss of the budget surplus and largest deficits (dollar wise, not as a % of GDP) in the history of the country, and which were unable to prevent this economic collapse in the first place, maybe could you acknowledge that simply offering tax cuts as a plan to stimulate the economy isn’t sufficient because if it was then we wouldn’t be here in the first place?

2) I also don’t understand people who are upset that Obama is capping salaries of the companies that take significant government funds by claiming that the best people wouldn’t be attracted to work for these companies. I mean, I could obviously make the simple point that “Really, best people? Like the people who got us into this mess in the first place?” And I should make that point, and I guess I just did, but it’s more. We also need a fundamental rethinking over what qualifies someone to be the “best” manager of a large corporation. Obviously when these managers are obsessed with their economic self-interest and are offered eight figure salaries and nine figure compensation packages, this doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the best people. So maybe we need the government to ensure that the compensation arrangements for managers of these behemoth corporations take stock of the long term economic health of a corporation. I’m not sure if Obama’s plan already does this or if it simply limits the managers to a six figure base salary, but maybe they should just adopt the idea I suggested above, or if they have already adopted that then please excuse me for not reading complex policy proposals, but I can be a simple minded and lazy fellow at times.

2a) Anyways, I think the trouble most people have with Obama’s move is that it comes down to philosophic principles that one has adopted in their lifetime. And for those who want an unrestricted free market, they have trouble swallowing the idea of a president setting the compensation of those in the private sector, even if that private sector has come hat-in-hand to the government for a bailout and thus doesn’t quite qualify as the private sector any longer. However, the role of the government is and should be to step in when the free market is unable to regulate itself. Just as we don’t allow the free market to dictate the rules of the road or which airplane takes off first on a runway, I think the current crisis clearly demonstrates there is a role for government to play in ensuring that managers of corporations aren’t motivated solely by their economic self-interest, especially since that interest can so easily diverge from the corporation’s and country’s economic interests. (A corollary point: it’s a simplistic view of human nature to think that the best people are only those who would work for more than $500,000 a year, since many of our brightest minds don’t appear to be motivated only by compensation, as is evinced by the quality of many people who enter public service. Perhaps managers will start to see the public service aspect in working for a corporation that the taxpayers have financed in the hope that another Great Depression is avoided.)

Anyways, the point of all of this is a) I do understand why people adopt simplistic philosophic principles for understanding complex issues of public policy but b) I don’t understand how people can repeat these simplistic philosophies when economic realities demonstrate them to be inadequate methods for understanding this world.

Also, I like to end on a joke, and I don't have one right now so I'll just have to steal a line from Mitch Hedberg until I come up with my own: "I walked by a dry-cleaners at 3:00 in the morning and there was a sign on the door that said, 'Sorry, We Are Closed.' I was like, 'Don't be sorry, it's 3:00 in the morning, you're a dry-cleaners...there is no need to apologize.'"

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