Guest Post: Obama’s Teflon Melting as Outrage Over Health Care Heats Up

From Marshall Auerback, an investment management and commentator who writes for New Deal 2.0.

No more free passes. A number of the President’s supporters who expressed concerns about the pro-Wall Street tilt of his early administration decisions were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt so long as he came through on healthcare. Obama’s statement over the weekend that the public option for insurance coverage was “just a sliver” of the overall proposal, and the suggestion by Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, that a direct government role in a system intended to provide virtually universal coverage was “not the essential element“, appear to provide conclusive evidence of this administration’s capitulation to corporatist interests. The “change you can believe in” President now looks more like a Manchurian candidate of the right.

The disturbing thing about Obama taking the Rubinite path is that he now leaves government exposed as the lightening rod for everyone’s problems, rather than the solution. If he had taken a more populist tack, more public anger could have been directed at the right people from the start — as occurred under the FDR administration.

Extending the Bush/Paulson bailout policies (and, indeed, expanding them) and ignoring the needs of the productive economy, have largely discredited government fiscal activism. Obama no longer appears willing to let the fiscal position of the federal budget grow as needed to meet current challenges.

When one adds extreme income imbalances and a comparatively weak social safety net (in contrast to those supposedly horrible “socialists” in Europe), then one has the makings of major social unrest, slowly manifesting itself in town hall meetings across the country this August.

Growing social unrest is something we have warned about this for months…but it’s not being taken seriously by Obama’s people. The eruption over the AIG bonuses was the tip of the iceberg. The “experts” said it was “beside the point”, but it wasn’t. It was a basic issue of fairness that could be readily understood by the vast majority of Americans in a way that complex credit default swaps could not be.

And the experts, who derided the eruption over AIG as a sign of irresponsible populism, are now being similarly dismissive of the town hall protests ostensibly being directed against a “government takeover of health care”. True, Obama has responded ineffectively to the absurd distortions of his plan (well, what we’ve seen of his ‘plan’ as he has delegated much of the writing of it to Congress). But when government is no longer perceived as an instrument serving the general good, one can understand the susceptibility to the gross distortion of today’s healthcare proposals, however irrational they might appear to the “experts”. The rage reflects a large, inchoate sense that the government is heading in a horribly wrong direction: At its most basic level, it looks increasingly as if the government is simply rewarding bad behaviour, particularly given how the housing situation and banking bailout has been handled.

In a recent post, we discussed debt repudiation as one manifestation of American citizens’ growing sense of helplessness. Could tax non-compliance be far behind? Certainly, it is a possibility (although one we would certainly NOT advocate), given the underlying perception of unfairness. Both debt repudiation and tax non-compliance come when citizens collectively arrive at the decision that the entire power structure has no legitimacy because it no longer serves the broader population’s needs and interests.

I am quite sympathetic to the “functional finance” view that there is no inherent “value” in money (not even gold), except insofar as one imparts a value to it via a commercial or private-public transaction. Indeed, the ultimate transaction in today’s world is payment of taxes (you don’t pay them, you go to jail). The sanction is so high because the entire legitimacy, indeed functioning of a state depends on its citizens offering their labour in exchange for goods and services. Abba Lerner also suggested:

The modern state can make anything it chooses generally acceptable as money…It is true that a simple declaration that such and such is money will not do, even if backed by the most convincing constitutional evidence of the state’s absolute sovereignty. But if the state is willing to accept the proposed money in payment of taxes and other obligations to itself the trick is done.

But the quid pro quo is that there must be tax compliance.

If debtors’ revolt extends to tax non-compliance, then you’ve got the makings of a severe inflationary problem. Hyperinflations often occur when the government can print ever increasing quantities of money, but find little for sale, even as resources sit idle. The brief history of the Confederacy during the US civil war is an excellent illustration of this phenomenon. This does not require full employment; indeed, most hyperinflations take place with lots of unemployment because once hyperinflation sets in, it is virtually impossible to undertake ‘money now for money later’ operations..

The printing press, then, becomes a symptom of the problem, not the cause because it is the breakdown of the tax system which causes the government’s fiat money to become worthless, not the running of the printing presses per se. Tax gives value to a fiat currency. When one has widespread tax avoidance, it marks the beginnings of true political dysfunction.

To be sure, we haven’t come close to this point yet. But it becomes an increasing risk for an administration that seems determined to recreate the financial conditions that led to the disaster we face now. It risks destroying its legitimacy whilst the rest of its political agenda is hijacked by a small group of wealthy plutocrats at the top. In the words of Yves Smith, “All Team Obama has done on the banking front is write a lot of blank checks, hold some bogus “stress tests” in lieu of doing the real thing, and raise a stink on a few symbolic issues to try to paper over the failure to embark on real and badly needed reforms.”
Similarly, having Big Pharma enlisted in the negotiations to construct a health care plan (as reported in the NY Times last week) is akin to Dick Cheney using Enron executives to construct Bush’s national energy policy.

It is almost as if Obama’s pledge to not deal with lobbyists was never made. His “teflon” is wearing off faster than a hot frying pan.

As Howard Dean notes, without a direct government role in health care, you cannot achieve real reform. And, as Professor James K. Galbraith argues, the intrinsic costs of providing public health insurance are considerably lower than those for private health insurance. In The Predator State, Gailbraith observes,

There are no expensive inputs to purchase, not uncertainties of design or technology with which we have to concern ourselves. The major inputs are personnel and computing capacity. There are few major issues of innovation; unlike the rapid changes characteristic of medical practice, the service of providing insurance to pay for them does not evolve rapidly. A successful private insurance company follows an ancient formula: it stratifies its clientele by risk class and charges minimums adapted to each class. The most successful companies are generally those that manage to exclude the riskiest clients.

Public health insurance entities such as Medicare do not evaluate risk because they are universal. Therefore, they save the major cost associated with private health insurance. They pay their personnel at civil servant salary scales and are under no obligation to provide a return to shareholders via dividends or meet a target rate of return.

Selective provision of private health insurance is invariably inferior to universal public provision. There are ample examples of successful, publicly supported (but privately administered) healthcare programs overseas in Europe and Asia. Yet, we appear to be heading in the opposite direction. Given the inappropriate premises under which the Obama Administration has continued to operate (e.g. credit flows from the top down, rather than the bottom up, banks are suffering from illiquidity, not insolvency, we “can’t afford” a public health insurance option), we may expect that today’s many problems will continue to languish.
All of which will heavily constrain the capacity of the US economy to recover and may well lead to a Japanese-style lost decade of economic stagnation.

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27 comments

  1. eh

    When one adds extreme income imbalances and a comparatively weak social safety net…

    Actually, the "extreme income imbalances" are being exacerbated by a more than foolish immigration policy/laxity, including another pending amnesty for millions of largely poor and uneducated Hispanic (by far the fastest growing US demographic) illegals. Lots of data shows their kids do not perform much better. And I think the Democrats, including Obama, are front and center on that.

    By inordinately increasing the supply of un- and low-skilled labor, not only are wages pressured but the "social safety net", what little there was to begin with, is made even more tenuous. What incentive is there for employers to offer 'safety net' type benefits, e.g. health insurance, when labor supply and demand makes this totally unnecessary?

    I never understood the appeal of Obama, except of course he was sure to sew up the 'stick it to Whitey' vote. And I'm not going to be surprised by anything that happens now.

  2. Captain Teeb

    As an American living in Europe for the past decade, the unreality of US finance and politics never seems to dial it back. It seems to have come to the point where, aside from exporters (e.g., software, entertainment), the only companies doing well in the U.S. are those who leverage their connections with the federal government.

    As such, I begin to see Obamacare as a covert bail-out (or financial health insurance, if you like) of the healthcare-industrial complex. After all, their market is shrinking as Americans lose their insurance, and that insurance drops those who become ill.

    The answer: change nothing and put the whole thing on the government's tab. Small wonder that Auerback asks at what point does the tax-inflate-bailout system break down? And how will it look?

  3. Anonymous

    Ironically the tax revolt is being led by the United States Secretary of the Treasury.

    Geithner's former colleagues from the IMF say that there's absolutely no way he didn't know what he was doing was wrong (because the IMF sends out memos about it every few months).

  4. craazyman

    I think some sort of social dysfunction/unrest is a distinct possibility, although the form it might take is an open question.

    Tax non-compliance seems unlikely to me, simply because of the IRS's power of reach and enforcement through database technology, access to bank accounts, wages, etc. In the Civil War era or even the 1930s there was nothing like this in terms of enforcement power. And the local law enforcement establishment is far more capable than in the "old days", when folks could hide out in the country or mountains anonymously and the sherriff's office had less resources and motivation to hunt them down. No one is anonymous today or out of reach of the giant bureacracy.

    What seems more likely to me is debt repudiation and non-payment. People giving up on the credit economy and subsisting on a cash economy basis with greater use of barter and more creative ways of survival. I suppose this, in a way, is a form of tax non-compliance if cash wages are the method of payment. Of course the wage earners in the middle and upper economic strata can't live this way, but millions can. None of these thoughts are particularly original, of course.

    None of this will be sudden. Just sort of a slow burnout and a long transition, like a long afternoon fading into night.

    It's clear that the current economic model is morally and ethically bankrupt. And not because fiat money is inherently unstable, although it is to some extent, but because the sense of civic duty on the part of the power structure became so feeble and the influence of nonsensical ideology so strong that it overwhelmed common sense and prudence, like a virus of thought.

    The economy has been looted from the inside out in a giant ponzi finance scheme.

    How to make it work across the board for everyone is a fantastically complex question.

    One notion that seems clear is that free trade that saves a a dollar on a shirt but sends a million dollars in wages to a third world country has a limit, beyond which it contributes negative economic value. There's an equilibrium in there somewhere. Some free trade is good and some credit is good. But too much, like too much of a drug for a sick person, is destructive. This notion of equilibrium is missing in most economic thought that I'm aware of.

    There's a cliche notion of considering a corporation's operations and supply chain as an "ecosystem" of sorts. Often the term is contextualized in a Bambi-like sentimentality embodying the very worst and most superficial strands of American transcendentalist thought. No doubt the metaphoer was conceived by Ivy League morons enthralled by the woodpecker in the woods on their Sunday hike in the country. Well, in ecosystems, animals and plants nourish each other or pray upon each other in a bloody and violent festival of demonic carnage, depending on your point of view. Even the wood pecker no doubt is some Satan to a wood grub in the tree bark trying to feed his wormy family. ha ha haha.

    There are some sort of geographical, legal and financial boundaries to a healthy economy that define and preserve its equilibrium. "More" isn't always better. But where the limit is is not clear. Or even the methodologies and methods employed to define and locate that limit, they are not clear either.

    But what is certain is that today's system has failed millions and millions of people. And they have every right to rebel against it, hopefully peacefully and creatively, through the construction of something better and more suited to the human condition.

  5. skippy

    Meth, Guns and Alcohol in the middle America will be the epicenter of it all, the poor have nothing to lose and are usually the biggest believers (most susceptible to pathological response, see town hall meetings).

    Skippy…the mistake they will make, is to view it, as a crime wave in the beginning, requiring stronger law enforcement, BTW which has been happening for some time now.

  6. Anonymous

    Tax-noncompliance need not be dramatic and easy to crush. There's lots of scope for chiseling, which will increase as the government loses legitimacy by helping banking and insurance oligarchs screw the masses. Tax noncompliance can be a good complement to debt repudiation and consumers who go strike. As the repressive machine gears up the oligarcy's fiscal and economic underpinning only gets more vulnerable.

  7. DownSouth

    @crazyman said: "More" isn't always better."

    @skippy said: "(most susceptible to pathological response, see town hall meetings)"

    I'm not able to make a blanket condemnation of the rowdy participants we've seen at the town hall meetings. I can certainly identify with their methods and their demeanor (After all, I'm mad as hell too!). And I even find myself sympathetic to some, if not all, of their message.

    First, as to their methods, aren't they the same as those used by student protesters in the 60s and 70s? Hannah Arendt, in Crises of the Republic, went to great lengths to defend these methods:

    To claim, as is often done, that a tiny unarmed minority has successfully, by means of violence–shouting, kicking up a row, et cetera–disrupted large lecture classes whose overwhelming majority had voted for normal instruction procedures is therefore very misleading… What actually happens in such cases is something much more serious: the majority clearly refuses to use its power and overpower the disrupters; the academic processes break down because no one is willing to raise more than a voting finger for the status quo… The merely onlooking majority, amused by the spectacle of a shouting match between student and professor, is in fact already the latent ally of the minority.

    The status quo's response to all this is to enlist the aid of scientist to counter the protesters:

    According to this (the scientific) view, man acts irrationally and like a beast if he refuses to listen to the scientists or is ignorant of their latest findings. As against these theories and their implications, I shall argue in what follows that violence is neither beastly nor irrational…

    And here is the argument Arendt posits:

    To tear the mask of hypocrisy from the face of the enemy, to unmask him and the devious machinations and manipulations that permit him to rule without using violent means, that is, to provoke action even at the risk of annihilation so that the truth may come out–these are still among the stongest motives in today's vioence on the campuses and in the streets. And this violence again is not irrational. Since men live in a world of appearances and, in their dealing with it, depend on manifestation, hypocrysy's conceits–as distinguished from expedient ruses, followed by disclosure in due time–cannot be met by socalled reasonable behavior. Words can be relied on only if one is sure that their function is to reveal and not to conceal. It is the semblance of rationality, much more than the interests behind it, that provokes rage. To use reason when reason is used as a trap is not "rational"; just as to use a gun in self-defense is not "irrational."

  8. Siggy

    Down South,

    Still don't know who Arendt is.

    The provided quote sounds like an invitation to a revolution as opposed to say an evolution.

    The HealthCare-ObamaCare pyrotechnic is symptomatic of the disease that may bring us to revolution.

    Enormous fraud has been perpetrated in the financial sector. We should be prosecuting the fraudsters and have universal health insurance as an ongoing measured discussion. The healthcare issue should not be a forced march toward some settlement that serves no one very well.

  9. Siggy

    Craazyman,

    Several interesting a valid points there. I suggest you give more consideration to the motivation that flows to the body politic out of a currency that consistantly loses purchasing power. That loss in purchasing power in the short run is not especially onerous, its impact is most notable in the mid to long term.

    The inexorable loss of purchasing power drives the populus to consumption. Spending more than you earn demands debt, and why not, the dollars you pay back will be cheaper than the dollars you have borrowed.

    Go back to 1971 and what followed circa 1973. Once the dollar was off the gold standard it lost one of its most critical functions; that of being a store of value.

    What we have been losing as a nation is the motivation to save, to honor contracts and much more. All because our dollars buy less and less. The most severely damaged by this erosion of purchasing power has been the middle class. We are evolving into a two class society.

    The political question before us is: Do we want to follow a socialist regime, or that of a republic?

  10. attempter

    DownSouth, Crises is one of the few Arendt books I haven't read, but based on those quotes it sounds right up my alley.

    I especially like the part about how Obama and the "majority" are tacitly supporting neo-fascist disruption (as anybody familiar with Europe in the 20s and 30s recognizes), and how nothing could be more pointless or doomed to failure than trying to respond to aggressive irrationalism with "rationality".

    This is, in fact, irrational.

  11. DownSouth

    (continued)

    Which brings us around to the message, or motives, of the protesters. Arendt asserts that the student protesters of the 60s "acted almost exclusively from moral motives." Their protests were raised against racial discrimination and the Vietnam War. I don't think this can be said the protesters at the town hall meetings. A handful of seem to exhibit what Arendt calls the "single-minded fanaticism" that is "usually the hallmark of the crackpot." Another significant group, perhaps the majority, seem to be motivated by special- or self-interest. If the public comes to see the protesters in one of these two lights, then the Obama administration probably doesn't have much to worry about. As Martin Luther King wrote in "Nonviolence: The only road to freedom," civil disobedience only works when it is "organized around well defined issues":

    When the idea is a sound one, the cause a just one, and the demonstration a righteous one, change will be forthcoming. But if any of these conditions are not present, the power for change is missing also. A thousand people demonstrating for the right to use heroin would have little effect.

    But I believe many of the protesters have a legitimate complaint. And this takes us back to crazyman's comment: " 'More' isn't always better." Arendt explains that the doctrine of "more is better" grew out of "the tradition of organic thought in political matters by which power and violence are interpreted in biological terms." "Nothing, in my opinion," she adds, "could be theoretically more dangerous."

    Arendt explains that there is nothing new to this theory of "creative destruction" that the neoclassicists have touted with such fanfare for the past few decades:

    [T]he categories in which the new glorifiers of life understand themselves are not new. To see the productivity of society in the image of life's "creativity" is at least as old as Marx, to believe in violence as a life-promoting force is at least as old as Nietzsche, and to think of creativity as man's highest good is at least as old as Bergson.

    And this seemingly so novel biological justification of violence is again closely connected with the most pernicious elements in our oldest traditions of political thought. According to the traditional concept of power, equated, as we saw, with violence, power is expansionist by nature. It "has an inner urger to grow," it is creative because "the instinct of growth is proper to it." Just as in the realm of organic life everything either grows or declines and dies so in the realm of human affairs power supposedly can sustain itself only through expansion; otherwise it shrinks and dies. "That which stops growing begins to rot," goes a Russian saying from the entourage of Catherine the Great. Kings, we are told, were killed "not because of their tyranny but because of their weakness The people erect scaffolds, not as the moral punishment of despotism, but as the biological penalty for weakness" (Arendt's emphasis)… When Fanon speaks of the "creative madness" present in violent action, he is still thinking in this tradition…

    [So] long as we talk in non-political, biological terms, the glorifiers of violence can appeal to the undeniable fact that in the household of nature destruction and creation are but two sides of the natural process, so that collective violent action, quite apart from its iherent attraction, may appear as natural a prerequisite for the collective life of mankind as the struggle for survival and violent death for continuing life in the animal kingdom.

  12. DownSouth

    (continued)

    But besides the glorification of violence that underpins the more-is-always-better doctrine, the doctrine has a secondary consequence that is probalby just as insidious:

    Neither violence nor power is a natural phenomenon, that is, a manifestation of the life process; they belong to the political realm of human affairs whose essentially human quality is guaranteed by man's faculty of action, the ability to begin something new. And I think it can be shown that no other human ability has suffered to such an extent from the progress of the modern age, for progress, as we have come to understand it, means growth, the relentless process of more and more, of bigger and bigger. The bigger a country becomes in terms of population, of objects, and of possessions, the greater will be the need for administration and with it the anonymous power of the administrators. Pavel Kohout, a Czech author, writing in the heyday of the Chechoslovakian experiment with freedom, defined a "free citizen" as a "Citizen Co-ruler." He meant nothing more or less than the "participatory democracy" of which we have heard so much in recent years in the West. Kohout added that what the world today stands in greatest need of may well be "a new example" if "the next thousand years are not to become an era of supercivilized monkeys"–or, even worse, of "man turned into a chicken or a rat," ruled over by an "elite" that derives its power "from the wise counsels of…intellectual aides" who actually believe that men in think tanks are thinkers and that computers can think…"

    In the healthcare debates I see men and women who fear being turned into monkeys and chickens and rats. They, quite rightly so, feel their power–the power over their own lives–slowly ebbing away. And as Arendt concludes, "every decrease in power is an open invitation to violence–if only because those who hold power and feel it slipping from their hands, be they the government or be they the governed, have always found it difficult to resist the temptation to substitute violence for it."

  13. DownSouth

    @attempter,

    I only recently discoverd Arendt, and I must confess I'm just as excited about her work (Can you tell?) as I was about Niebuhr's when I first stumbled upon him.

    I recently was in the states and bought a number of her books. I read Crises of the Republic first because the four essays that make it up seem to be most germane to the times at hand:

    1. Lying in Politics
    2. Civil Disobedience
    3. On Violence
    4. Thoughts on Politics and Revolution

    @Siggy,

    I haven't read enough of Arendt's work to know how strident an advocate of revolution she is. Perhaps attempter, who has read more of her things than myself, could shed some light here.

    As to the healthcare debate, I am in a state of befuddlement. That's why I sought out Arendt, trying to get some clarification.

    One thing that stands out like a black man at a Klu Klux Klan convention is the process chosen to advance healthcare reform vs. the process used to promote the $23.7 trillion-for-bankers giveaway. In deciding the bank bailout, the Obama and Bush administrations, as well as the Congress and the Senate, should have just hung out a sign that said "NO PUBLIC PARTICIPATION ALLOWED." Do you remember that, when TARP was being considered, the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of letters and emails the people sent, overwhelmingly opposed to the bailout? And the veil of secrecy and almost complete opaqueness surrounding the administrative part of the bank bailout continue to this day.

    Contrast that to the appearance of participatory democracy the administration, Congress and Senate are trying to create concerning health care reform.

    Why the difference?

  14. drathauer

    I am really exhausted with the defense of Obama stuck at "he is really intelligent and well educated." I had my doubts about this in the debates when he kept shifting his arguments as they met resistance. Tax policy. Guns. Iraq. Then he chose Joe Biden? Biden has to be one of the dumbest politicians ever. I don't say this as an indictment of his intellect, but he chooses to say some really dumb things. He chooses his words incredibly poorly. Why was he VP? Either his selection was based on stupid analysis or there was some dirt that could not be cleaned.

    Obama is not politically bright. He has blown it, before he even started. He blew it on saving the crooks on Wall St.

    It can be summarized as follows: "You want to pass your expensive government? Get your Wall Street Bonuses that were funded by taxpayers to pay for it."

  15. craazyman

    A socialist regime has a lot of advantages — depending of course on what is being socialized and how.

    The devil is always in the details.

    These archaic words are intrinsically meaningless, like the fuzzy and incoherent logic of dreams. It's no wonder they have so much power to move people, because they take on as their essential property an ambivalence that allows them to form a subjective clarity that avoids the energy required for real thinking.

    Our army, navy, air force and marine corps are socialized. Medicare is socialized. Social security — which folks are panicked about losing — is socialized. NASA was socialized when it put a man on the moon. The internet was created by a socialized organization — DARPA.

    The degeneration of language in a democractic debate is always a threat to cogency.

    But language is completely intrinsic to any form of political thought or process and so it is unavoidable.

    When it fails, then thought and process both fail.

    Socialism, capitalism, communism, fasciscm, Marxism, free markets, free trade, etc. and etc. and etc. . . . a march of linguistical failure feeding cognitive failure feeding political failure.

    There have been some erudite references on this thread and so I'll offer another. Werner Heisenberg said of the perplexity of quantum theory that it poses "a serious problem of language."

    That is what we have today as well. And of course it is at the heart of the problems of much of human history. So nothing is really new there.

  16. Hugh

    Most Americans have jobs with W-2s attached. This means the tax is taken out before they get their paycheck. It often pays these people to file, at least at the federal level, to recoup some of the funds paid in. I suppose that those who are self-employed or work for cash could join a tax revolt but I don't think they represent that big a fraction of the work force or taxes collected. Of course, the rich don't have W-2s and they have been notoriously non-compliant in paying taxes for years. So those of us who might join a tax revolt, can't. And those who benfit from the status quo are the most non-compliant. I call that irony.

  17. Hugh

    craazyman, I agree about the degradation of language, but also discourse. Can anyone remember the last time we had a serious national debate on anything? It is always about what sells or what the public will buy. Anyone who injects facts, argument, and evidence into the discussion is accused of being a bore or overly intellectual. Anyone who asks a serious question or raises an important point is dismissed as shrill. So it is by the narratives fabriacted by our political elites and the complicity of our media that all our debates revolve around policy options, all of which are guaranteed not to work.

    Look at healthcare. We have a proven concept in single payer. It has worked in many countries for many decades. It didn't even make it to the table for discussion. Instead we have a slew of plans none of which can really control costs. None of them will be universal. And none of them will really alleviate Americans' anxieties about how they receive and pay for healthcare.

  18. attempter

    Downsouth:

    I haven't read enough of Arendt's work to know how strident an advocate of revolution she is. Perhaps attempter, who has read more of her things than myself, could shed some light here.

    Arendt was not an advocate of revolution as such (let alone a "strident" one). She was a political philopsopher whose primary concern was her fear that a propensity to totalitarianism was endemic to modern civilization. She wrote frequently on this theme but wasn't otherwise an activist so far as I know.

    As she wrote about in On Revolution, she was basically sympathetic toward pro-democratic revolution insofar as it ever had the goal of advancing true participatory democracy and positive freedom, i.e. political freedom in the classical sense (though she didn't regard even these in any simplistic, non-problematic way).

    But on the whole she thought that if the revolutionary process becomes more about violence than politics (which, she conceded, counterrevolution does sometimes force it to), it is bound to betray the goals which could have truly made it worthwhile in the process.

    So she was ambivalent toward revolution as such, and thought it highly dangerous under modern conditions which are inherenly pre-totalitarian. So although she didn't reject it out of hand, almost all of what she wrote was cautionary rather than celebratory.

    Again, she wrote as an analyst, not an advocate of any particular ideology or tactic, except that she was opposed to totalitarianism.

  19. Anonymous

    Interesting article, even if I do disagree with the conclusion. After the 20th century, I don't know how anyone would trust government to run things (they're saying they'll save on paperwork even! lol).

    Here's an alternative view of the problem:
    http://www.stumblingontruth.com/

  20. Dave Raithel

    "Neither violence nor power is a natural phenomenon, that is, a manifestation of the life process; they belong to the political realm of human affairs whose essentially human quality is guaranteed by man's faculty of action, the ability to begin something new. And I think it can be shown that no other human ability has suffered to such an extent from the progress of the modern age, for progress, as we have come to understand it, means growth, the relentless process of more and more, of bigger and bigger." (From the Arendt passages above.)

    And it is that understanding through which "free market" ideology, sanctioning the struggle for survival of the fittest, one day becomes fascism, where violence and power are natural phenomenae, expressed through the state for the natural order.

    Enjoyed the exchanges – DownSouth, you had me worried a bit there when you queried: "… aren't they the same as those used by student protesters in the 60s and 70s?" Good play.

    I have to confess that the Auerback essay fairly accurately describes me and my wife and a few others I've lately spoken with – we expected to be disappointed, but only ordinarily. We are approaching extraordinary disappointment, and sooner than we ever thought would happen …

  21. K Ackermann

    craazyman touched on something important…

    The fearful like to throw around terms like socialism like it is an all-or-nothing affair.

    The FACT is, every country with a high happiness index has strong social programs.

    The largest social program we have right now is bailing out the financial industry.

    The media, and the personalities who distort the truth, now have people going to town halls complaining the government is trying to help people. They don't want their government to help people. They want their government to do what sponsor X wants, and they don't even know it.

    There is a very simple explaination for all of it: we have a corporatist government with the resources to swing things any way they want.

    How else do people like Summers and Geithner and Paulson manage to steer so much of the publics money to failed outfits paying hundreds of billions of dollars in bonuses?

    You just have to fact it: we are going down. If people think a republican is going into office and make everything OK, then they are as stupid as the ones who thought a democrat would.

  22. K Ackermann

    It's not stupidity that makes me sound stupid. It's dyslexia. It's a real struggle sometimes. You should see how many times I have to enter the word verification on some days.

  23. Kelli K

    Enjoying the discussion of Arendt, though a bit befuddled as to why one would pick her to help sort through this particular moment of crisis…

    That part of my brain is very cobwebby, but I believe Arendt was philosophically supportive of individuals and small groups resisting quasi or outright totalitarian power. How could she not be? Having just escaped the horror show of fascist Europe? It was the dilemma of all intellectual refugees in the 60s. Which side were they on? Youth or the powers that be?

    The "town hall meeting" disruptions are genuine, albeit not spontaneous, expressions of populist rage, and as such are resonating with (or angering) large segments of the American citizenry. This is good. We were long overdue. It is almost random that the eruption of anger is here, but then again most battlefields are in odd places that just happen to have been crossroads of two great armies.

  24. Kelli K

    A few more thoughts of a historical nature.

    Advocates of single payer health care or any fundamental overhaul of the American health care system may look with envy at Europe and wonder "why can't we just adopt their system?" But this is impossible.

    Those systems were erected BEFORE the revolution in health care that transformed and extended all our lives in the west. This is not a lego system we can pick apart and put back together again in new form. We would destroy what we have for an uncertain future. That should worry everyone.

    Second, on that same theme, please keep in mind the reason Europe was able to (forced to) create socialized medicine in the first place. Two devastating world wars ripped it apart within a thirty year time span–and the intervening years were marked by economic depression and open class warfare. The postwar period kinda sucked too, as Tony Judt reminds us in his excellent history of the time. Socialized medicine was a kind of reward for putting up with ration books, consumer goods shortages, labor unrest and generally crappy living standards AFTER you suffered through and WON the friggin war. It was a bribe too to stop you going completely bolshy.

    Are we there yet? You seem like a very smart group. Go reread a few pages of The Road to Wigan Pier and then look out your window. Not much resemblance, right? So, no. The left "miscalculated" when it thought it had the mandate to do pretty much whatever it wanted after November. The people say otherwise. Good for them. For us.

  25. skippy

    @Kelli K said…Are we there yet? You seem like a very smart group. Go reread a few pages of The Road to Wigan Pier and then look out your window.

    Ahem, watch out where you point that intellectual meter please, the first to go in a revolution are the politically challenged and the intellectuals.

    Books, Books, Books, my kingdom for a self conceived Idea. Kelli K if your dying and I walk by, should I help or walk away? I would gladly help, if you pay me now if such an event happened in the future, that is unless a more profitable exchange of my precious efforts is across the road.

    Skippy…water is common till your with out, BTW thanks for tearing your self away from FTV to comment, glib for glib.

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