Wishful thinking or disingenuousness on the left?

I have been very remiss in my blogging over the past several weeks, but one of my resolutions for 2010 will be to make blog entries on a much more regular basis.  I have been counseled to make shorter blog posts, and I expect to take this advice in 2010.

On the year-in-review edition of “Left, Right, and Center,” Tony Blankley and Matt Miller, representing the right and the center, respectively, both said that they feared a secular trend of reduction in US wage levels due to foreign competition.  Robert Scheer, representing the left, demurred, saying that he thought the US continues to have good long-term economic prospects.


Scheer’s professed optimism on this point bothered me quite a bit, insofar as it might represent either naïvete or disingenousness on the left.  I was also bothered, and continue to be bothered, by assertions, such as that made repeatedly by Al Gore during his unsuccessful bid for the presidency, that there is no conflict between environmentalism and economic growth.  It does seem to me that US wages will be under downside pressure due to a worldwide overabundance of labor for the foreseeable future, and I remember thinking that this would be the case forty years ago, when I attended a conference of labor leaders at Penn State University.


David Brooks not a moderate in defense of liberty

Where to begin, where to end, in one’s condemnation of David Brooks’s idiotic column concerning the tragedy of the Fort Hood massacre?


Brooks seems to have received a memo that was also received by Tony Blankley, whom I heard deliver Brooks’s column on the radio show “Left, Right, and Center.”  What I do not understand is the either/or mentality underlying the “conservative” interpretation of events:  either the murderer is an Islamist ideologue or he is mentally ill.  But why can’t he be both?  Isn’t this the likeliest explanation, that he is both crazy and an Islamist ideologue?  But which came first, the mental illness or the Islamist ideology?  I’ll vote for mental illness, on a priori grounds.  This is not to say that one needs to be crazy to be a radical Islamist.  I just think that this particular guy probably is crazy, given his background.  One gets the impression that the peculiar constellation of his career path in the US military, his education, and ethnic background, along with the path of recent international events all combined to create unusual tensions that led to mental illness.

The odd thing about this column by Brooks is that he is generally not an either/or sort of fellow.  The American right has a lot invested in the narrative of war against Islamic extremism, a war that requires America to be highly invested in military spending.

It seems very likely that the American press did initially downplay the Islamist angle of the massacre, in order not to inflame passions.  This does not seem to be the most terrible of sins.  Indeed, it’s better than the alternative.  Imagine a massacre of whites by an Afro-American.  Are the media supposed to lead with the racial angle, even supposing that the killer leaves a note saying that he has been motivated by racial enmity?  Where is the great harm in letting the story come out gradually?  I agree that a permanent suppression of the truth is undesirable.

In the meantime, let’s all be sure to be constant in our vigilance regarding the threat posed by Islamism.  And remember, there is no reasoning with an Islamist.  The only language they understand is that of a gun barrel.

Bob Herbert on youth unemployment

Good column by Bob Herbert in today’s NYT about the problem of youth unemployment in the US.


I have a niece who is a recent graduate from a very good (non-Ivy, not Berkeley) university who is working part-time in a Whole Foods kind of store.  France has been experiencing this youth unemployment problem for years, and it’s a very serious problem.  I saw a recent round-table discussion on CNN International with various US executives, the most talkative of whom was a financial genius named Fink, but Jack Welch was there, the current CEO of Pimco was there, the female head of Ogilvy and Mather was there.  They were talking about the financial crisis and its aftermath.  They were supposed to come up with ideas about how to get economic growth going again, but it was not a fertile plain for such ideas.  One often hears that America should learn to make things again, but one rarely hears what it should make, apart from electric cars and their accompanying batteries and solar panels.  A better traditional car is often mentioned also.  What one also never hears discussed is the distinct possibility that there is simply an international overabundance of labor – there are too many people, too many to provide professional jobs for all the people with professional qualifications.  I found this CNN round-table somewhat depressing.  While the executives were not stupid, apart from one Republican neanderthal with a shaved head, they did not strike one as profound thinkers either.  The guy from Pimco was not bad.

I want to give props to David Frum also.  On a recent edition of bloggingheadstv, Frum more than once referred to the problem that the US would likely have absorbing the most recent cohort of 18-24 year-olds into its workforce.   There are lots of people in this cohort, he says, who have very poor skills.  I am inclined to believe both parts of the hypothesis, viz. that there are a lot of kids with low skill levels and that it will be difficult for them to find jobs.  But Frum could have added the corollary discussed by Herbert in this column:  it’s also a very difficult environment for skilled young people.  In short, the US could be facing a very serious structural youth employment problem, comparable to the problem that France has had for years.  And, if this is so, it’s not a problem of French overregulation of the labor market, although that is presumably a contributing factor.

It is disappointing that one rarely hears economists discussing things like this.  Questions like this tend to devolve to sociologists and journalists.

In Today’s New York Times

There are interesting dueling columns by Bob Herbert and David Brooks in today’s NYT.  Herbert decries the racism that is coming to the fore in anti-Obama and anti-health care reform demonstrations.  Brooks says the demonstrations are about class, not race, and traces the ferment back to Jefferson-Jackson v. Hamilton.  Working-class whites, per Brooks, are proponents of payment according to product and are thus the unacknowledged students of Milton Friedman.  Strangely, Brooks ends his column with a quote from economics blogger Arnold Kling, known to me from his appearances on bloggingheadstv, which refers to “working-class whites,” a fairly prominent acknowledgment of the importance of race, I would have thought.  But American aversion to redistribution is deeply linked to the idea that the government takes money from hard-working white people and gives it to undeserving black people.  Please do not confuse the issue with statistics about white people on welfare.

Brooks likes to champion everything that is least appealing in America, provincialism in all its manifestations — the nuclear family, suburban life, the anti-cosmopolitanism and perhaps slightly veiled racism of working-class whites.  This is what “conservatism” is all about.  And it occurs to me that it is based upon a real sleight-of-hand trick.  Brooks also frequently decries the culture of narcissism, and the narcissists are always the cosmopolitan elites, bohos and the like, people who resemble me.  Are cosmopolitan elites really any more narcissistic than the provincials he is at pains to defend?  A narcissist is just someone who likes what he sees when he looks in the mirror.

Something I have learned since I “retired”:  I don’t really trust any man who is comfortable wearing a suit.  Suits are ridiculous.  The point of a suit is to say, “I believe in the system, in corporations, in the worship of Mammon.”  Our prior president liked to wear suits; Obama doesn’t.

I just saw the movie “State of Play” on a plane.  Russell Crowe plays an investigative reporter, and he most definitely does not wear a suit.  It occurs to me that one of the subtexts of this movie, which isn’t really very good, is that one cannot trust people in suits.  Ben Affleck plays a character who might be based upon Gavin Newsom, the incumbent mayor of San Francisco, a suit-wearing narcissist.  Most French men who wear suits don’t really wear them.  For example, their tie is loose.  This is not to say that there is no government/corporate sector in France that wears suits, sometimes very expensive ones, because of course there is.  But the problem with David Brooks is that he’s “straight”  and seems to be comfortable in a suit.  You can’t trust him.

John Searle Interview on “Conversations with History”

I wonder how many people other than John Searle think that he, Searle, has solved the mind-body problem, at least in principle.  One can see him assert this with astonishing confidence in the linked interview at the right.

Nevertheless, he also admits in a series of audiotaped lectures on philosophy of mind commercialized under the auspices of The Learning Company that he has no solution to the problem of free will, and no solution in principle even in sight.  He has no clue about how to solve this problem.  So his confidence as regards his “new monism” and the overcoming of mind-body dualism is completely misplaced, not somewhat misplaced, it’s just completely wrong and stupid, as he likes to say of other positions.   I like the fact that Searle can distinguish between a conscious mind and a computer, something not everyone can do, apparently.   Otherwise, I find Searle to be highly irksome and somewhat dimwitted.

Apart from expressing my general displeasure with Searle, I did want to draw attention to this series of videotaped interviews called “Conversations with History,” which is undertaken by Harry Kreisler at U.C. Berkeley, also linked to the right of this page.

I am getting a bit of respite from my usual listening to bloggingheadstv by listening to some of these interviews.  I found it a bit remarkable that Martha Nussbaum (also in “Conversations with History”) has identified exactly ten socio-political prerequisites for a satisfactory life for women.  The fact that there are exactly ten seems suspicious.  Why not eleven or nine, or twenty-three?  But perhaps ten is the correct number.