Changing Perspectives

A good friend recently commented that it was a shame I was not blogging 10 years ago so we could discern how my opinions have changed. He is right: they have changed. It is worth reflecting on why.

I can trace this evolution through a number of books. The first, Winner Take All Politics, made me reflect on the political process and on how it is influenced by money. Essentially, this is an art that has been learned by both parties and has led to the growth of the corporate lobbying business and the relative decline of the voice of unions in shaping public policy. This is not a good thing.

The second is a book that expands on this theme – Ratf**ked. It describes the extremely efficient gerrymandering carried out by the Republican party following the redistricting that took place after the 2010 census. Gerrymandering is something both parties have done. In 2010, with the benefit of some very effective software tools, the Republicans did an extraordinarily “good” job of ensuring that the their House majority would be practically unassailable at least through the 2020 census. Unassailable majorities  compelling candidates to worry more about primary challenges (a process that tends drive candidates to more extreme positions) are not a good thing for our democracy.

The third book is one written by Rana Faroohar called Makers and Takers. It traces the evolution in the role of the capital markets from one of transmitting the capital from investors to main street to one where the financial markets circulate over 90% of investment capital within the financial industry. She describes, through various case studies, how many corporations have become enslaved primarily to the short-term demands of the stock market and have failed to pay attention to the long-term interests of all stakeholders including those of human capital. This is an unhealthy trend.

Next on the list is a book that deserves to be read as a companion to Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. It is called The Great Transformation by Polyanyi. Its thesis (I am still reading) is that markets cannot and should not be “disembeddied” from society. By this, he means that markets should not be elevated to the role of shaping our society, but rather seen as something that serve society and are viewed as a tool of public policy.

Finally – on a slightly different topic – the book, The New Jim Crow (written in 2012 before the arrival of BLM), describes the emergence from the many civil rights victories of the last 150 years of a new racial caste system. It started most conspicuously in the mid-eighties with the beginning of the War on Drugs, grew through substantial federal funding of local law enforcement to wage the war on drugs, was exacerbated by the gradual weakening of the Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) and the rise in civil forfeiture and is now manifested in the massively disproportionate incarceration of the black male population. I will review this book in a separate post in due course but so far it is shocking.

All of the above reading has taken place in the context of an election process that has been particularly nasty and divisive and brought to the forefront discussions about women’ rights, minority rights, class divisions, industrial policy, political corruption along with many other emotionally charged social justice issues.

With new information, views may change. Mine have. In part, this is because, in an election cycle, one must take sides. Donald Trump may be the worst candidate who has ever run for the office of President of the United States. Hillary Clinton was not good enough to beat him. (Discussion of the popular vote is largely pointless because we do not elect our presidents that way. It is, however, informative. I do not believe that, if the system had been based on popular vote, that Donald Trump would have run a different campaign and won anyway. What I believe on this subject is irrelevant).

In choosing “not the Republican party” because they nominated such a reprehensible candidate, I took a closer look at the platform of the Democratic party.  There are things to dislike about both the Republican and Democratic platforms. While the Democrats cozy relationship with teachers’ unions is disappointing, the platform’s 55 pages contain much I applaud and support on the environment, voting rights, social justice issues, immigration and money in politics. The Republican Platform has many sentiments I agree with in the area of government reform and reduction in regulation, but its positions on abortion, reversing the progress made on same sex marriage and the perpetuation of the conspiracy theory that the majority of climate scientists are engaged in massive deception and ideological coercion are unsupportable. The language of restoring constitutional government and restoring America’s greatness seem to me more about protecting a status quo that serves well those who have benefited from it.

Obviously, there is a lot to unpack here and I aim to do so over the coming months. I am impatient with all too common chants of “left” and “right” believing or standing for certain issues. The substantive conversations that need to be had concern efficient, comprehensive healthcare, the size of the social safety we are prepared and able to support, proper stewardship of our environment, the size of our prison population, the incentives needed for efficient allocation of resources (capital, natural, human) and the manner and extent of government intervention to ensure a level playing field for commerce to operate. The level of thoughtfulness so far displayed by our President-elect about these matters is evidence enough why he and the party that supported him caused me to think again. For that at least, as I have said before in this blog, I concede I am grateful to Donald Trump. Happy New Year.