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.

 

Trump – Hysteria Exhaustion

I have read “In the Garden of the Beasts” and am aware that vigilance is appropriate. Trump has said so many bad things during the course of his campaign that all manner of worry and concern is justified. The incidence of prejudice attacks and speech has increased post-election. It came from somewhere; and that somewhere is a dark place we all hoped had gone the way of smallpox.

However, we need to pause and think where we place our outrage. Recognizing that the NY Post did endorse Trump, the following article is worth a read:

Muslim Registry-Fake News

Their point, essentially, is that this is a weak story. If, aided by George Takei (of Star Trek fame), the mainstream media is reaching internment camps from this starting point, it is going to sacrifice yet more of the credibility it has already depleted in the ‘echo chamber period’. There are only so many strawman arguments that can be had (and Trump’s campaign has seeded many) before the mainstream media becomes a house of straw itself and cedes readership to the blogosphere.

If Trump begins to implement some of the awfulness his campaign presaged when he is actually President, there will be substantive reason for the outrage. Resistance, if that is what is warranted, must be well designed and strategically planned. In the meantime, people ought probably to stop posting “Not My President” to FaceBook.

The mainstream cannot, as Dave Pell put it so well in his “Next Draft” summary of November 21, 2016, crowdsource its editorial judgement. He was referring to the furore over President-elect Trump’s tweet demanding an apology to Mike Pence from the cast of Hamilton, but he could have added this story to the mix.

It seems we may still be experiencing the after-shocks of the campaign and post-campaign. The interview with the NY Times is a great example of this. It was scheduled, canceled by Trump out of what seemed remarkably like petulance and then rescheduled. It took place and Trump said he had great respect for the NYT but had found their coverage ‘rough’; said he would not pursue Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation; had an open mind on Climate Change; and suggested people would be very happy with his first amendment stance. What next? Maybe he will nominate Mitt Romney as Secretary of State (#burythehatchet)…..

In closing, one more link worth reading:

Understanding Donald Trump’s victory

Not sure this has been quite so succinctly expressed in the US media.

This one is for Janet….

This is for my good friend and fellow parishioner, Janet D. Janet, you are kind enough to admit that you occasionally read my blog posts. You have asked whether I have been writing in this tortured period of election politics. The answer is that I have, but on the private side of the firewall that separates my journal from my blog.

So, crossing over to the public side, here you go.

I was saddened by the outcome. I really disliked the Trump campaign. I need not repeat the reasons – they are well known. I had managed to convince myself that Hillary was a supportable candidate who deserved to win. I was good with that. I loved the fact that we were going to have a female president (#overdue) and I loathed what I saw as a clear double standard in many of the critiques of Hillary.

She was the better candidate, in my opinion (and that of 61 million Americans). But she was not a great candidate. The values she stood for were very much aligned with the Christian values we share and that Bishop Dietsche set out in his recent letter to the parishes in the Diocese of New York:

(https://www.dioceseny.org/we-pray-bishop-dietsche-writes-in-a-letter-to-the-diocese-that-god-grace-mr-trump-with-the-wisdom-and-courage-to-rise-to-the-high-calling-of-his-office-as-we-will-also-pray-that-he-be-imbu/)

I would not have been nervous and fearful as I now am if Hillary had been elected. I would not have been fearful about the safety of those whose rights and concerns have been lifted up over the past 8 years. I would have been more hopeful about improvements in women’s lives. I would have been hopeful about continuing focus on climate change.

However, I believe that the forces of the progressive left – I hate labels but that will have to do for now – have a large measure of responsibility for the position in which we now find ourselves. The near obsession with shutting down speech that has been deemed offensive; the celebration of safe places in which one can hold one’s politically correct views without fear of being challenged or triggered have created something of an echo chamber in which all are in agreement. Within this echo chamber all adherents are affirmed and all who are outside are just wrong. The news media, also, on the whole, horrified by Trump, provided further affirmation for this echo chamber. The polls took the pulse of the world according to the respectable news media and found it to be healthy.

Settled upon the chosen candidate and affirmed in our belief that what was right was good and that Hillary ought to be elected, we marched to victory.

Along the way, we managed to convince ourselves that, because Hillary was our choice, she was a good choice – the best choice in fact. But she really wasn’t. People hated the email and the inside the beltway politics as usual. We all knew she was not inspiring, but we told ourselves we were done with inspiring. Competent, detail-oriented, serious, committed to worthy things would do.

Not enough. We needed a better candidate who could appeal more broadly to the WWC (white working class). WWC did not enjoy being referred to as deplorable – who does? Labels are the language of division and we were (are) divided enough. Not enough inspired, enthusiastic support; too much hatred. Hate trumped “good enough”.

So now we have to pray that this new president clears away the brush without starting a forest fire we cannot contain. We have to pray (and take appropriate action to ensure) that the institutions of our democracy are robust enough to contain the worst potential excesses of a Trump administration.

We have to try to recover some civility and mutual respect in our national discourse because courtesy, respect and civility are the necessary ingredients of the infinitely connected lives we all lead (#ubuntu).

I hope that’s helpful Janet. Continue reading This one is for Janet….

Financialisation And Politics: Why We Need To Rethink Our Metrics

I recently posted the following to “TheMarketMogul” , a relatively new publication. It was a different experience – my first of being subject to editorial review before publication….

Here is the link: http://themarketmogul.com/financialisation-and-politics/

I have reposted below for convenience, but the site is worth a look.

In George Monbiot’s How Did  We Get Into This Mess, he discusses the failure, as he sees it, of Neo-Liberalism. As one considers the history of the financial crisis and the talking points it has provided for the candidates in the recent Presidential election in the United States, it is a subject worth pondering – an emerging theme.

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom has some great insights. Capitalism, he says, is very much aligned with human nature: it relies on the creativity of the majority outside the government to figure out, in the free market, the best allocation of resources. Friedrich Hayek details the deep flaws of five-year plans and the tendency of a centralised government to gather ever more power to itself to reinforce its goals and, when they go awry, to cover up the mistakes. Remember the time he was writing: WW2, fascism, totalitarianism, the rise of communism. He correctly describes the tendency of socialism to evolve into totalitarianism.

Markets Compromised

Hayek’s insights are as relevant today as they were when he was writing. However – and there is a risk that this sounds like the same apology that socialists made that the system was never properly implemented – the problem is that Friedrich Hayek’s philosophy depends on free markets. In many areas, the scales are tilted. People, whether in government or the private sector, have a tendency to want to accumulate power and protect it. Monopolies are a good example. Libertarianism deals very specifically with this, setting out certain areas where monopolies are indeed more efficient and must, therefore, be regulated. The book Winner Take All Politics describes how the system is “rigged”. It talks about how, traditionally, trade unions have provided a counterweight to the power wielded by corporations over workers and that the demise of unions has been to the detriment of workers. In this sense, the Bernie Sanders diagnosis has a lot of truth to it.

There is lots of good diagnosis and remarkably few prescribed cures. If you want to know why people are having a hard time getting things done in the US, take a look at a book called Ratf***ed. The argument is not that the Democrats are free of blame – rather that the Republicans have done a very good job of doing a very bad thing.

Even someone who has benefited from the financialisation of the last 30 years may feel ambiguous about all this. The Hayek model is appealing and receives wide support in the financial community, a community that aligned closely with Thatcherism and Reaganism mostly out of self-interest. Even within this community, though, there are many who, thinking about the next generation making its way in the world (frequently advising career paths outside financial services), are pausing to reflect and find it hard to ignore the anger of those who have been left behind. Support for President-Elect Trump was born out of this anger.

Playing Into Biases

Trump, Clinton and Sanders certainly polarised the electorate and it has been hard to distill the distinct arguments from the passions surrounding the campaigns. There is undoubtedly a tendency to select information that confirms biases. The discussion between the media and elite bubbles is currently heated. Perhaps, a letter-writer to the NY Times suggested, the NY Times should stop telling people what to think and how to behave and report more of how people are feeling and behaving.

Exploring opinions from all sides is important but requires discipline and a willingness to hear points of view that may change one’s own. The credibility of the writer is, of course, important. The books “Winner Takes All Politics”, “Makers and Takers” and “Ratf***ed” are well written, well researched and, while not without a point of view, cannot be dismissed easily. The book “Hillbilly Elegy” is an important insight into a social group very foreign to those not familiar with Appalachia.

The ultimate challenge is to figure out how to create a playing field that is sufficiently level to embrace a broad distribution of wealth. If there are too many people in the cart and no-one to pull it, the cart falls over. The purpose of economic growth cannot be an unfocused celebration of the path without any idea of where that path leads. The greatest good for the greatest number sounds great provided there is clarity about what “good” is. It does, of course, imply something of an enlightened elite to promote the greater good.

As the recent election in the US shows, there is tension between elites and others. “WWCM” (white, working class males) have clearly found a voice in this election. Traditional party affiliations are shifting. Those policymakers ignore this at their peril. Enlightened self-interest should inform our behavior and shape our actions. Enlightenment may need a little more attention.

What Markets Are Signalling

Traditionally, the financial markets have been thought to provide an objective point of view, reflecting the enlightenment of millions of transactions, millions of decisions about current events and their implications for the future. Monbiot asks people to consider that this point of view may not be as representative as it should be of all the viewpoints one needs to achieve a balanced assessment of how well the economy is doing for all its stakeholders.

Financialisation is the term used to describe how the markets may have lost their way in their mission to aggregate and disburse capital to productive ends. One key data point is that, over the last decade, factoring in dividends and buybacks, net equity issuance has been negative $416bn per year. Main Street, in other words, has been starved of equity capital as this capital has been returned to the financial sector. Has corporate America become too much in thrall to the short-term concerns of its shareholders and forgotten how to build long-term shareholder value, valuing and investing in all capital including its human capital?

Another academic, Thomas Philippon, discusses the cost of financial intermediation and notes that its cost has remained remarkably stable for over a hundred years: 2%. The implication that rent-seeking behavior in the financial sector has been at work for many years is clear. Given the fact that most large banks and investment banks are currently valued at below liquidation value (pace Trump rally), it suggests there may be room for disruption – hence the Fintech ‘revolution’.

In conclusion, Monbiot has a point. Financial markets can go awry, banks can do very bad things absent thoughtful regulation and well-designed incentives, corporations need to pay attention to a more diverse set of interests than just those of the capital markets and politicians must pay attention to leveling the field of play to ensure the market, broadly defined, can do its job in distributing wealth and avert the need to re-distribute through taxation.

The assumptions that markets are the best arbiter of economic outcomes, that thoughtful government policy always represents unwelcome interference need to be questioned without fear of being labelled a liberal heretic. If people fail to pay attention, there are more surprises ahead.

Post Brexit – The Curse of Democracy

Thoughts on why people need to earn their vote. This sounds oppressive and intolerant, but seriously…there should be a minimal level of competence before wielding a pen at the voting booth.

Troubling spike in Google searches related to the consequences of Brexit  – after the polls closed.

We know that democracy is the worst system – apart from all others. But we should try harder – shouldn’t we?

I mentioned Fukuyama’s End of History in my last post – I am still reading it so there will be more. The thesis is that History ends with liberal democracy as the system most able to deliver everything the heart desires. History ending does not mean history stops – just as finding the perfect diet does not mean life ends. It means, we can stop struggling to find the perfect diet and instead just exercise the will to stay with it.

Similarly with liberal democracy. It works. We just have to keep it intact. Why does it work? It works because it provides the optimum environment for the expression of our productive capabilities as human beings. And so, it allows us to create economic growth and wealth – the currency that allows us to sustain the other key ingredient that sustains our life as humans: recognition. Fukuyama draws on Hegel here to tell us something that seems obvious when we hear it: we seek recognition of our humanity, our equality, the worth of what we say and do, what we achieve. Everybody wants to feel heard.

Our Episcopelian baptismal covenant urges us to respect the dignity of every human being. So simple and self-evident.

And yet, recognition contains a little tension. We strive for recognition and that involves status. Status is relative and abilities are not equally distributed (life isn’t fair). So striving may end up with competition for recognition. Only one Steve Jobs, Elon Musk. We may have to live with a little inequality in our equilibrium. Multiculturalism celebrates the identity of a specific group and allows recognition to group members who previously have been ignored or suffered some form of social or political oppression. It may, however, erode the bonds of an integrated society. Tension.

The identity and group aspirations of EU members obviously contain tension. The means of resolving those tensions has apparently become too much for one of its members – hence Brexit.

Rejecting the broader goals of the EU group – or any group larger than an individual group member with a sub-group identity – is complex and dangerous. Groups such as the EU come together slowly, with consensus and mutuality. Independence is historically associated with independence from a previous oppression or conquest (think Commonwealth or Roman Empire, or Yugoslavia) – not as idiot, Nigel Farage, claimed, independence from the EU (freely entered into).

So, we have representative democracy, designed to provide a more deliberative process for making laws and policies, to avoid the process whereby direct democracies may succumb to passions and short-term considerations, ill-considered and manipulated by voices and influences motivated by unworthy goals.

Changing the US constitution requires a two thirds majority in House and Senate and ratification by three quarters of State Legislatures. Brexit required a simple majority. It didn’t have to be that way. Hence my sadness at the failure of leadership – a self-inflicted wound.

Participation of 100% all voting entities and individuals in a constitutional change would be virtually assured, so the super-majority provisions were designed to make it a very high bar. In the Brexit referendum, 72% of the population voted. So, 52% majority means that 37% of the population is causing the UK to withdraw. Democratic, as defined, but ill-conceived.

The continued success of liberal democracies requires considerable effort. Progress is not assured. The 19th century was an optimistic century full of promise for the advancement of mankind through science, technology and education. The 20th and 21st so far were and are less optimistic and contained many setbacks: wars, conflicts, Nazism, Communism, Totalitarianism, terrorism. How could Providence and a benevolent God survive the Holocaust (see earlier post on The New Atheism and one to come shortly, specifically on Providence)?

There is wisdom in crowds but danger in mobs. We live not so far from a very dark version of ourselves (imagine three days without electricity). People ‘get’ to vote when they reach the age of majority. (In the US, by the way, we seem to consider this something less momentous than acquiring the right to buy and consume alcohol…). Sometimes, though, we can become ‘drunk’ on democracy and suffer something similar to a hangover. As Kingsley Amis put it in Everyday Drinking, there is the physical hangover and also the metaphysical hangover – “that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future”.

So, having needlessly handed a decision to an electorate that would probably have been happier without it, received an unexpected result, experienced ensuing trauma, one is left with the impression that we need some adults in the room to do what elected representative are supposed to do: calmly and deliberatively figure a way out of this mess.

It might be better if the men stepped aside for a while and stopped playing their university power games. Could we maybe have Angela Merkel and Theresa May work something out?

 

 

 

 

Brexit – Why Am I so Sad

Markets hate surprises. So do I. But markets will sort out their level in due course and the economic impact outside of Britain may not be as bad as today.

What bothers me is the social trends that led to this – they still exist. Left-behinds is the term. Those for whom capitalism over the last, say, 10 years has simply not delivered. They have no houses on the monopoly board, have not passed “Go”, did not pick up $200. Why not turn it over and storm out of the room?

Call it distrust of experts: politicians, economists. A feeling that banks and corporations no longer care about their employees.

The poor in England have increased by 64% from 1980 to 2010; the rich by 36% and the middle-class has declined by 26%.

In the US, the Federal Reserve conducts an annual survey to gauge economic health. It found 47% of Americans would either have to borrow, sell something or simply had no means of coming up with $400 to cover an emergency.

Existential questions of human rights, gender rights, fiscal union, EU free trade and movement of goods, the EU project of combining into a larger sovereign negotiating block, preventing the fractures and disputes that led to a millennium of wars and conflict do not matter if you are stressed about living paycheck to paycheck. Brecht said, in the Threepenny Opera, “First comes a full stomach, then comes ethics.”

Why am I sad? I am sad because the arc of history is supposed to bend towards progress: education and the advancement of knowledge should lead to better ideas, more productivity, better stewardship of our resources, better economic outcomes for more or the world’s population, more understanding, better relationships – international, national, group and individual. Sometimes it’s not so obvious it does.

A friend explained today his view of Brexit and the rise of Trump in the US as a repudiation of bureaucratic liberalism in favor of populism/nationalism. He concluded that, since people “hate having sanctimonious liberalism” rammed down their throat, they are prepared to make impulsive decisions to register their anger and frustration.”

Since 1980, non-financial corporations have returned an average of $376 billion per annum in dividends and share buybacks to the stock market. In the decade 2003-2012, the 449 companies in the S&P 500 Index in January 2013 that were public listed in 2003 expended 54% of net income ($2.4 trillion), on stock buybacks and another 37% of net income on dividends. That left 9% for new investment in productive capabilities (such as R&D), or profit sharing with employees through increased remuneration.

This financialization of the economy has been profoundly damaging, has led to an increase in debt capital and that has become associated with higher risks of cyclical financial shocks.

I am sad because I have not informed myself about this until recently. Have I been asleep?

I am sad because this is messy to fix. There is a wall of special interest money standing in the way of change. Maybe it takes the zealotry of an Elizabeth Warren to make this change.

I am sad because this is a world we are bequeathing to our children and we have not been good stewards.

I am sad because Brexit reminds me, sitting in the US, a dual US-UK citizen, that a democracy much older than the US, is struggling; that maybe, Fukuyama’s vision in the End of History  of the eventual global triumph of political and economic liberalism is not as certain as I would have liked.

It may be that the tendency of liberal democracies is to reach a point where the accommodation and recognition of the equal needs of all leads to a kind of impotence to act because meeting the interests of so many becomes too complex and too entangled.

It may also be that we are just on a bumpy patch and that the culprit is inequality – our failure to harness technology and innovation to increase the well being of all. If we can fix this, the vision will be restored.

Combatting inequality as we experience it today in America and Great Britain will require politicians of vision prepared to work together to achieve a common goal. Who are they?

And here is the final reason for Brexit sadness. I had thought the quality of leadership in Great Britain to be superior to that we are currently suffering in the US. Evidently not.

A sad day – at least for me.

At your age….

Standing on the 8th tee of a recent twilight golf event, Jimmy, a fireman six months from retirement , who has been caddying at the club for about 20 years, remarked that I was in good shape. That’s great. I thanked him and asked what he meant, not sure quite how he was able to get to this conclusion. Hey, he said, at your age, if you haven’t got a belly, you’re ahead of the game. Ahh!

I was immediately struck by the fact there could be some benefits to aging. Are we, on average, beginning to fall apart in our mid-fifties? Losing sight of our toes as we weigh ourselves; balancing the occasional attempt at physical exertion against the risk of a heart attack, torn ACL or other mileage-related physical ailment?

Look around you next time you go to Walmart. Review the number of diet emails that go into your spam folder. Look at the guys on the commercials – the kids on the commercials. Look at the parents carrying excess weight and the children with them. Are they genetic time bombs primed to go off in thirty years, or is this all avoidable?

I know this is a little obsessive. I agree. It’s one of the consequences of being a chubby kid, constantly feeling on the verge of gaining girth through lack of willpower or insufficient exercise. I know that some have a really hard time with weight; their best efforts sabotaged by a mysteriously slow metabolism. If you lose weight, you’re doomed to gain it back and more. Go paleo. Dump sugar. Avoid carbs. Peanuts only. Fruit and veg may not be as good as you think: hidden sugars; pesticides. It’s complicated.

Back to the benefits of aging. It’s not unreasonable to conclude that, if you’re focused on improving your overall fitness as you get into your 40s and 50s, you are going to have a huge advantage vs. your peer group. Go to your doctor and mention an ache or pain and dare to ask if there is anything you can do. Ehh! At your age, what do you expect. I am wondering why my knee gets a little swollen after two solid days of powder and bumps, some pickup basketball? Ehh. At your age, what do you expect? We could take a look, but honestly, what are we going to do? If you were in your twenties, maybe… This is not so original. Louis CK did a skit on this.

I am not sleeping so well. My IT band is tight. My lower back gets sore. My posture is bad. My hips are tight. My neck seems to be in a bad position. I feel tired when I wake up. Fill in the blank. Your mileage may differ. Injured myself at Pilates, Yoga, Crossfit.

So, for anyone that has an interest, my recommendation is a program called Turbulence Training or Home Workout Revolution. You can check out the whole background at www.earlytorise.com. www.turbulencetraining.com and www.homeworkoutrevolution.com are the specific sites. There is a lot of video and written content for $47 per program. Great value. All levels. I have been using it for about 3 years. Probably feel in the best shape ever – this from someone who spent 25 years running 30-50 miles a week, frequently sidelined by overuse injuries. 30 minutes, 3 days per week. I admit, I fill in the days in between – I told you I was obsessive.

Thanks to Jimmy for this post.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the nominee

It is so difficult to get outside the echo chamber of partisan opinions. Everything you believe filters the information you seek out and digest. The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; MSNBC; Fox; CNN.

Fox does not know where to go. The GOP nominee can’t help himself and continues down a path of racist, sexist, disability-mocking utterances, demonstrating with every appearance how unfit he is for public office. Hillary is criticized not only by the right but by the left also for her email, her foundation, her speeches to Wall Street, for daring to proclaim Lincoln her favorite President.

As someone who spent years nurturing the goal of citizenship being a means of one day voting against Hillary Clinton, I find myself in the position where I am learning to stop worrying about the past and support the only nominee that has a credible claim to be the next President of the United States.

Once you make this very simple choice and conclude that the Republican party has signed its own death warrant, the path is obvious – but it has some strange, though perhaps not surprising results.

In supporting Hillary, I begin to filter the news differently. I read yet another Wall Street Journal OpEd and sigh, wondering what the goal is of printing yet another anti-Hillary article. There is nothing new here. She is evil, corrupt, will say anything to get elected, has peddled influence, courted wall street for its money, wants to continue Obama’s policies, is shown lying for 13 straight minutes on youtube, sounds screechy, strident, can’t campaign, is not a natural politician, rose to nominee alongside her husband and not on her own, is entitled, is the worst candidate the party could have chosen, would have been beaten by anyone but Trump….

And yet, at 74, with all this history, having run in 2008 and lost, served under Obama, been sat in front of committees designed to pillory her on TV, she ran again and has the nomination. It turns out there was a worse choice – Bernie Sanders.

When you realize that the only viable choice is Hillary, you start to look for the positive – a Democratic voter in transition, so to speak. You stop resisting the logic of what she says because you don’t want to hear it and the voice annoys you. You give what she says the benefit of the doubt. You start to wonder where some of the very gender-specific criticisms come from. You start to think what you have actually seen and hear directly, rather than by hearsay. And you know for sure that knowledge of facts, policy and detail is far preferable to “it’s gonna be beautiful folks”.

There are second order effects also, though. I have recently been recommending a book, Makers & Takers by Rana Faroohar for its thoughtful analysis of a phenomenon called financialization – how the capital markets have lost their mission to provide capital to corporate America to facilitate long-term growth of businesses and jobs. Perhaps a more thoughtful exegesis of what the Occupy movement was instinctively highlighting and what Bernie Sanders was highlighting. The difference is that Faroohar nails it.

You begin to wonder if the current Republican party is capable of nominating anyone who would agree with Faroohar. Having worked in banking for a long time, it is obvious to me that banks and asset managers cannot be trusted to act in anyone’s interest but their own and that, absent clear rules, they will act badly. Voluminous legislation such as Dodd-Frank, though does not help. It just creates the opportunity for endless loophole-seeking lobbying.

This week in Dresden, the Bilderberg Meeting is taking place. It is an annual gathering of world leaders, executives, and assorted grandees, established in 1954 and named for the Dutch hotel where the secretive group first gathered. One of the agenda items is discussion about the “precariat”, a term popularized by British economist Guy Standing, describing a growing class of people who feel insecure in their jobs, communities, and life in general. They are…

…the perpetual part-timers, the minimum-wagers, the temporary foreign workers, the grey-market domestics paid in cash… the techno-impoverished whose piecemeal work has no office and no end, the seniors who struggle with dwindling benefits, the indigenous people who are kept outside, the single mothers without support, the cash labourers who have no savings, the generation for whom a pension and a retirement is neither available nor desired…

Ironically, this segment of society is somehow attracted to the populists such as Trump. Trump, though, does not have the answers. Does Hillary? I think she has the wherewithal to get there. Not sure, but sifting with a positive bias….

US Election

It upsets me that we are where we are in this process.

It is easy to be upset by Donald Trump – his candidacy is an embarrassment of bad ideas, poorly expressed in a vulgar manner that devalues public discourse. It is embarrassing that he has such traction with primary voters.

It was easy to be upset by Ted Cruz. His ideas were well articulated but offensively presented.

Hillary is disturbingly inexorable given the known negatives.

It is upsetting that Kasich did not do better.

When I was granted US citizenship I said I was happy that one day I would be able to vote against Hillary Clinton – this was in 1995. How ironic that 20 years later I may end up having to vote for her against Donald Trump. Hey, you have to make a choice and I don’t think not voting is a good choice.

We are coming to the end of 8 years of a President who, while he has certainly not besmirched the office as some of his predecessors have, has certainly not lived up to the promise of his 2008 campaign.  His speech has been divisive and I believe he has contributed to the demise of the ‘reasonable people can differ’ doctrine. The idea that failure to agree with any aspect of the Obama doctrine constitutes ideological failure that must ultimately be corrected has become an orthodoxy of the left. It may also be an orthodoxy of the right. Everyone with a firmly held view based on reasoned thought and sound evidence is an advocate for that view. There must, however, be an element of humility, a recognition that, if there is an opposing view that is also well researched and based on sound evidence, there are differences to be explore in the spirit of earnest inquiry rather than a zero-sum clash that all too often results in further entrenchment of both views.

So, we appear to have lost the ability to have a reasoned debate of contending viewpoints with the goal of achieving an executable way forward that can be supported by all contenders.

It is not such a surprising goal. The adversarial system of justice is based on this premise: vigorously contend for opposing points of view based on the presentation of arguments and evidence within a system of rules designed to be fair, based on legislation and precedent. The sanction of failure to respect the rules is contempt of court – a kind of judicial time out for the offender that ultimately can result in disqualification from being able to proceed. The problem is that there seems to be no such constraint in the arena of politics. The only practical limit seems to be the court of public opinion.  Given the tools available to manipulate the message, the biases of the various media and the short-attention span of the typical listener,  the limit is largely non-binding. And so we have a mess: a face-off between the ‘oppo research’ teams on either side.

What we miss is an informed and informative discussion about the size of the safety net, the financing of entitlements, the proper role of government, foreign policy, immigration, trade policy, the sources of economic growth, the limits of capitalism and socialism. These are all great discussions that everyone acknowledges as such but has little expectation they will be discussed, or, perhaps, patience to listen to such a discussion.

More to follow….

 

Language Matters – (T)read carefully

Just read an article about recently deceased author on language and usage, Robert Fiske and was inclined to get busy.

Precise use of language is such a fundamental tool in effective communication, it saddens me that it’s importance is undermined by the plethora of media sacrificing precise and correct usage in favor of timely posting.

People judge typos and incorrect usage as indicia of an untidy or poorly educated mind. These failures contribute to misunderstandings and misunderstandings are a mischief guilty of causing countless hours of wasted time and emotions.

So why compromise? I fear the answer is our reluctance to hold people to standards whose attainment is challenging in case we injure their self-esteem and erect barriers to their happiness or progress that may indict us for lack of sensitivity.

Separating what matters from what is merely pleasant decoration is, of course, important. We must not be distracted from the weighty business of arbitrating the many aspects of social discourse by matters that only serve to establish our credentials as members of a privileged, cultured elite concerned only with self-aggrandizement at the expense of those who have not gained admittance to such rarefied ether.

And yet. If one wishes to acquire a skill, there is a necessary apprenticeship to the cause of learning the key ingredients without which one simply never acquires that skill. An unequal distribution of opportunity for educational advancement must not incline us to devalue the worth of the advantages that a good education affords. Rather, we should redouble our efforts to make sure the access improves. Failure to attain a goal for lack of opportunity or application does not make that goal any less worthy.

Habits form us, so they may as well be good ones. Habits of hard work, study, self-improvement, self-awareness, cordial, empathetic behavior, respect and the pursuit of high quality relationships are to be prized. They do not come easily and require life-long application. The challenge to do better, wherever it arises, should be embraced as an invitation to do and be better and not derided as an attempt to undermine our self worth. Language touches this at many points and must be embraced as one of those challenges. Thank you Mr. Fiske.