This Ain’t No Unfettered Capitalism, Red in Tooth and Claw

by Dave Schuler on December 8, 2013

You know, I think that what David Simon, creater of The Wire, has to say might make some sense if we actually had unfettered capitalism in this country:

And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.

We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.

but it isn’t so it makes a good deal less sense. However, I agree there are two Americas: the part that’s able to harness the power of government to its own advantage and the part that isn’t. That’s obvious when you look at the unemployment rate or housing values in the counties that adjoin Washington, DC or the counties that contain our state capitals.

You can make a list of the beneficiaries: big banks, ratings companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, healthcare providers, people who are members of public employees’ unions, defense contractors, the list goes on and on. The political party is less important than the propensity to reap benefits from the public purse.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

... December 8, 2013 at 8:52 pm

So why should we not impute bad motives to those that profit from this system?

Dave Schuler December 8, 2013 at 9:30 pm

So why should we not impute bad motives to those that profit from this system?

How do you know their motives? You can’t deduce them from profit alone.

I think that motives are invariably complicated. And I also don’t think that critiquing them is generally necessary when discussing policies. If policies require good intent to succeed or can fail solely because of bad intent, that’s a world that works a lot differently than the one I see around me.

... December 8, 2013 at 9:35 pm

When they profit from a system that leaves others worse off, I don’t give a damn about their motives. When someone wants to profit from the misery of others, there’s no reason to assume anything but the worst intentions.

... December 9, 2013 at 1:01 am

I think that motives are invariably complicated. And I also don’t think that critiquing them is generally necessary when discussing policies.

If someone keeps proposing deals to you that invariably work out in their favor at your expense, circumspection about the other person’s motives becomes a useful trait.

Put another way, in a high-trust environment, you can assume the other guy isn’t out to screw you. In a low-trust environment … well, it’s probably low-trust for a reason. This is a low-trust era, and understandably so.

Zachriel December 9, 2013 at 7:20 am

: So why should we not impute bad motives to those that profit from this system?

People almost invariably think they earned their success. It’s the other guy who is taking advantage; or if the other guy is poor, it’s due to some character flaw.

jan December 9, 2013 at 10:03 am

Motives matter.

A long-time favorite breakfast/lunch cafe is closing down in 10 days. The neighborhood is going into withdrawals, because it has been such an endeared, affordable family place for so long. However the rent is going up astronomically. Furthermore, after being overcharged for improvements by the landlord for years, the new rent is just too much for the lessee business to bear. When one becomes privy to how the landlord has treated this restaurant owner, the only name coming to mind describing the lessor is ‘scum bag.’ His practices, intentions and motives only serve to embarrass those of us in the private sector.

CStanley December 9, 2013 at 10:24 am

Ellipsis- in the thread below this one I’m asserting that the real problem is that we get distracted by the partisan arguments. Relevant to what you are saying: whose motives exactly are you imputing? If it’s the politicians, then by all means, keep your cynicism. If it’s the voters, including those who stand to benefit from policy that is harmful overall…then it’s a mixed bag IMO. You have those who are in on the deal and those who are just being conned. So the problem with discussions of intent is that you lose the opportunity to help some people (however few that may be) to see through the rhetoric. Keeping the discussion to cause and effect of policy is the only thing that could help convince anyone.

CStanley December 9, 2013 at 10:44 am

Intent vs impact is a very old philosophical debate. IMHO both matter, for different reasons.

The point relevant to this discussion is whether we’re more likely to get to better political outcomes if we shift focus of debate away from motive. I say yes.

... December 9, 2013 at 11:07 am

Relevant to what you are saying: whose motives exactly are you imputing? If it’s the politicians, then by all means, keep your cynicism.

The pols and their more important enablers. And ultimately, yes, voters too.

It’s hard not to be cynical when you live around people who are constantly scamming the system and who vote for pols that endorse the scams. Men who won’t marry the mothers of their children, and women who won’t put the father’s name on the birth certificate because they can get more out of the welfare system that way. Business owners that hire illegals and don’t pay taxes, or not enough taxes, on the labor. Bank robbers on disability (a favorite of mine from south Florida a couple of years ago) completely incapable of doing any kind of physical labor because their back hurts – except beating the living shit out of bank tellers with their bare hands and then scampering over fences while in running gun battles with the police. The doctors who sign off on these disability claims, and the lawyers that also profit thereby. Police who WILL NOT do their jobs but expect everyone to pay for outrageous benefit perks for them. Doctors running pill mills. Lawyers. Financiers. Pols that “get by” on a salary of less than $200,000 a year who retire from office worth tens of millions of dollars. (Oh, and their wives, too.) Protestant ministers running skimming operations from their coffers while fucking hookers. Catholic priests – well, no need to rehash that. A news media that is simply a cheerleader for their party of choice.

And too many more examples of whole classes of people on the take.

As I’ve been stating for years now, the social contract has been dissolved. And looking at one’s fellow subjects and imputing anything other than the lowliest motives to them is a good way to get yourself robbed, beaten or dead. The majority may still be honest, but it is stupid to bet that way in ANY given interaction with anyone.

... December 9, 2013 at 11:17 am

So the problem with discussions of intent is that you lose the opportunity to help some people (however few that may be) to see through the rhetoric. Keeping the discussion to cause and effect of policy is the only thing that could help convince anyone.

I have never seen anyone ever convinced of anything on any matter of politics, save when that person finally realize they’ve been fucked in the ass over and over again by the people they thought were their friends. And I’ve never seen ANYONE think that anything that was benefiting them directly could POSSIBLY be ANY part of the problem.

For example, you will still occassionally here some of the Obama supporters on this site complaining about the horrific deficits under Bush. They NEVER acknowledge that the deficits have been much worse under Obama, and will not do it even if you show them the numbers. THESE deficits are signs of Obama’s exceptional ability managing the economy, you see, and also, uh, they really hate Republicans and want them outlawed, or something, and Obama has a really neat crease in his pants. Their stated concern completely vanishes when THEIR TEAM is in office. And that is that.

I’ve had people tell me on the internet that they were convinced by some well-reasoned argument here or there, but when questioned it always comes down to people realizing viscerally that they’ve been on the short end of the stick once too often for it to be coincidence. I don’t even bother to follow up with people any more when they tell me reasoned debate works with them. They’re usually lying to themselves in order to stifle that uneasy feeling that comes from realizing, “Hey, _I_ was the mark!”

CStanley December 9, 2013 at 11:38 am

Agree that it is, or at least appears, exceedingly rare. I happen to be one of the exceptions. I forced myself to change my reading habits in order to challenge my own political assumptions. For a long time, the liberal sources just pissed me off, and I spent most of my time deconstructing their arguments (those that even bothered to make an argument.)

But over time, a few points did sink in, and more importantly, it became much easier to also start having the ability to deconstruct all of the weak arguments coming from the conservative side.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that there are many people open to the possibility of doing this. However…there’s a cause effect issue here. Are people not open to doing it, therefore no one should bother to make good arguments, or are people not open to doing it because no one is bothering to make the arguments?

I don’t think I’m unique in making an earnest effort to become more informed and less partisan. I do think I’m fairly unique in my tenacity, so that I persevered through a lot of bullshit.

Dave Schuler December 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I have never seen anyone ever convinced of anything on any matter of politics

You may never have seen it happen but I can testify there’s someone who has: me. I can be convinced, given evidence and a solid argument. I cannot, however, be browbeaten or shamed into changing my views and that’s the bulk of what passes for persuasion these days.

... December 9, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I do think I’m fairly unique in my tenacity, so that I persevered through a lot of bullshit.

And it is safe to assume that your IQ is high enough that you think that punching people in the head, and getting punched in the head in return, is not a profitable way to spend the afternoon. If so, that combination of intelligence and tenacity makes you a rare bird indeed. How many more such are out there, capable of recognizing the bullshit AND having the tenacity of slogging through it to come to a new position, perhaps one that even leaves them uncomfortable? Not many, I’d wager.

And unless that number reaches some sort of tipping point, there’s almost no need to bother framing arguments as well as possible. And the country’s leaders are working furiously to make certain that does not happen.

CStanley December 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm

And it is safe to assume that your IQ is high enough that you think that punching people in the head, and getting punched in the head in return, is not a profitable way to spend the afternoon.

That’s more a matter of temperament than IQ.

CStanley December 9, 2013 at 1:27 pm

It probably isn’t very intelligent to try to persuade anyone. No doubt the odds are stacked against it happening in any significant measure.

But:
1. It beats housework

2. I can’t imagine giving up.

I don’t actually think the tipping point will come from a Renaissance blog movement. I do think it will eventually come, when it becomes impossible to maintain the status quo. When that happens, having just a few more people on the side of rationality may make a difference. Or not, but it sure can’t hurt.

jan December 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm

… it became much easier to also start having the ability to deconstruct all of the weak arguments coming from the conservative side.

You can’t deconstruct even a weak argument when a person simply doesn’t recognize the weakness of their argument. For instance, using Ice’s example of Bush/Obama deficits — people who railed against Bush will only rationalize Obama’s huge deficits as a result of what he “inherited,’ not through any economic mismanagement problem or policy error of his own.

I don’t actually think the tipping point will come from a Renaissance blog movement. I do think it will eventually come, when it becomes impossible to maintain the status quo.

…and, I think when the status quo is no longer able to be maintained it will be because the economy crashes, and there is no where else to go but dislocation of old ways, and revampment of almost everything else. After all, a level playing field offers a lot of wide open spaces to refurbish a worn-out political landscape.

CStanley December 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm

You can’t deconstruct even a weak argument when a person simply doesn’t recognize the weakness of their argument

I was doing it for my own sake, not theirs. To challenge my own thinking.

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