a contemplative approach to politics

Economic Freedom and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Posted by blindspotpolitics on November 8, 2012

Economic Freedom and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

In his aptly named “Stride toward Freedom,” Martin Luther King describes the means by which he and other Montgomery, Alabama African Americans achieved social justice on the bus system through nonviolence. The focus of the book is clearly these elements: a) nonviolence and b) justice. King writes of the former as the method and of the latter as the sickness. But the goals? Well, none other than freedom.

While reading King’s account I could not help but analyze the means by which social injustice occurred in Montgomery. At almost every flip of the page, another element of injustice stared me and Dr. King in the face. Interestingly, however, this “social injustice” was anything but social—meaning merely relegated to the social sphere of life. The social injustices that prevented the boycott and kept alive the gross inequalities of segregation were political, expressed through economic action.

The Negro taxi companies were unable to help the boycott because there was a mandated minimum charge for their services. The boycott was put under legal strain because of an old law that prevented, essentially, a conspiracy in the marketplace (forcing consumer to buy without their consent). The city played it tough by demanding compensation for the lost funds during the strike (a 15% fee from the busses, which, for some reason, they were legally entitled too). These protectionist policies continually hindered the progress of freedom.

Such a realization not only links the social, political, and economic spheres of life (and the disciplines) but also highlights the danger of positive liberty expressed against economic freedom. For, from where did the social justice derive? In short, from the government’s positive economic laws. Without such sanctions on the economic rights of African Americans (although never explicitly expressed of course, except for segregation itself), the boycott would have been far easier; the protestors, as consumers, would have had more options to attempt the overthrow of social injustice.

The marketplace could have provided them leverage against the evil forces that be. But instead, the government held them down through its attempts to equalize the market—equality and liberty struggled to keep in balance, the former preventing the latter. This conclusion suggests the need to limit the government’s ability to infringe on economic freedom, and more generally to limit its ability to effect positive laws—especially at a local level where factional and subjective values dominate.

There are many uses for the government, but manufacturing economic equality is only necessary if economic inequality has already been manufactured. The one precipitously leads to the other, with the power of government the benefactor of factional interests that aim to undermine one another. When power and money collide the effect is structural inequality that cannot be bypassed except by battling within the system. When money and power are kept distinct, the consumer is free to act as she pleases.

King’s “stride toward freedom” was unnecessarily a battle against government power instead of solely against the social inequalities constructed by the two race’s history. It was a stride toward economic freedom, toward negative liberty, as much as a nonviolent movement against the discriminations of the social status quo.


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A rejection of Objectivism part 1 “The Paradigm of Justice: A Rejection of Pure Rationality”

Posted by blindspotpolitics on November 6, 2012

The other day I had an argument with a friend about the value of Objectivism. Is it a worthy philosophy that can be implemented in the current world or is it a normative theory that strives for a rational utopia impossible in a world of social and economic inequalities that derive from irrationality–pathos and ethos. I argued for the latter.

The paradigm of Justice: a rejection of pure rationality

I’ve been studying a bit too much Keith Michael Baker recently. His revisionist view on intellectual history focuses on discourse. Using a Kuhnsian lens, he views various historical occurrences as the products of paradigms of language that reveal how people define themselves within the world and most especially define normative goals. For example, he views the French Revolution as the product of the discourse of the “will” disseminating from the sovereign people.

I cannot help but apply the analysis of discourse to the works we have been studying the past several weeks. New Deal Liberalism and the Civil Rights Movement (as eloquently described by Dr. King) are clearly intermingled with the discourse of “justice.” The focus of justice is different for each of these two movements but equally important.

For New Deal Liberalism (and certainly high liberalism that extends to Galbraith and beyond), the concern with justice is a concern with economic justice. Many libertarians critique that so many of the ills that derive from our economic system derive in part from the extension of government into the private sector. While this is certainly true to some extent, the development of the new industrial state—modern capitalism—has created an economic sickness that can only be cured by justice from government; positive rules that aim to combat structural injustices. As Jefferson noted, industry makes man dependent on other men for their wellbeing. This “wage labor” certainly defines the modern economy. Because of the raw capital required to start new businesses or explore new ideas in our modern age, man is intrinsically limited in his economic choices and thus, more often than not, eventually dependent on others for his wellbeing. In this system, not only do wage laborers not own the facilities that produce but they also do not own the value that they produce for society (the wages serve only as a proxy of this value, but do not represent the value in total nor neccesarily the true value of input by the producer, especially in relation to the relative input of the holders of capital). As a result, men must continually aid societies quest for progress instead of developing their personal character–forgoing passion and family to seek a higher profit margin or to develop a better product. In such a system the cream rises to the top but the vast majority of people, who have not either the desire or skills to race in such a competitive world, are subject to dependence and risk exploitation.

Rationality for progress becomes the champion in an inherently irrational world of pathos, ethos, and logos. The economic champions of progress, who see this aim as the ultimate goal of society and see no reason to expend resources on the pawns of life that by nature or Fortuna do not reach their full potential, only view the last element as a matter of concern. Yet, there is more to life than rationality and no way to obtain the objectivity that such rationalists seek in our laws and norms. Surely, the structural inequalities of modern capitalism require the enactment of positive liberty by government (the extent and mode however, is a different discussion).

Social justice is of equal concern in the modern world. Again, given the passions and instincts of man that transcend his rationality, the pluralities of men are prone to live on the initial prejudices that they develop at a young age. Fear is perhaps the best example of this. Was it an explicit and conscious attack against human rights or the motivation of irrational fear that led the first Europeans to imprison and enslave Africans? The former viewed the latter not as men but as beasts, much like children, and thus requiring the protections that even Locke affords to youth. Over time, norms develop from these initial passions and fits of irrationality. Fitzhugh defended slavery because of societal norms that defined his era: Africans, if left to themselves, would be worse off. He lived in this protectionist paradigm. It was the duty of Fitzhugh and others to defend the positive rights of the mendicant Africans. Perhaps earnestly, many slaveholders believed that they were protecting their property from destroying itself. These norms leave intractable holes in society for generations; norms that only socialization from government can hope to fix. Dr. King rightly notes that the civil rights movement must seek social and political means to gain equality. Combining the philosophy of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, he encapsulates the argument for social justice beyond the realm of negative liberty (so beyond simple protection from the state). To become valued members of society will not entail just creating value, but also being accepted at a deeper level. Positive liberty, which once kept Africans in chains, must but used to ensure social justice.

Many who bemoan positive liberty altogether (so any interference by the state that does not provide security for its citizens based on, we will say here, natural rights) do not think of the structure injustices that occur in the social and economic spheres due to the bound rationality or irrationality of mankind. To combat our tendencies to fear others or to exploit others, we must enact positive laws that seek some form of equality. Montesquieu rightly noted that “attitudes and principles were largely the product of environmental conditioning by social, religious, economic, and geographical factors.” Although globalization has destroyed many such prejudices, our environment still informs our perspective. To say that this would vanish subsequent to the disappearance of positive liberty is to misinterpret man’s nature; it is to place a veil of rationality over your perspective that blinds you from the reality that man is an animal guided by instinct as well as reason. What makes modernity special is our ability, finally, to understand the structural inequalities in economics and society that occur because of pathos and ethos. Government, in many ways, can help fix these injustices. However, we must be equally careful that the search for equality does not a) become a search for equality of outcomes rather than opportunity and b) become a vessel for more gross injustices that travel from good intentions to terrible results.

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Political Klout: How Digital Influence Can Improve American Democracy

Posted by blindspotpolitics on August 16, 2012

Ever since Howard Dean used digital media in his 2004 Presidential Primary bid, political campaigns have viewed the digital and social media pastures ever greener. Instead of spending time and money promoting traditional media (newspapers, radio, and especially TV), campaigns and political operatives now spend hours discussing strategy for Pintrest or Instagram. Digital media, and the internet in general, realize the potential of this emerging market. Facebook, Google, and Yahoo–three of the largest digital platforms for targeted advertising–now have departments that specialize in political and advocacy media.

Yet, political operatives and media buyers are still learning how to best utilize the newly discovered and ever-expanding digital space. While the older generation scrambles to learn the in and outs of this complicated industry, young entrepreneurs and political hopefuls are keenly exploiting the technologies they grew up with and use everyday. For now, the room for innovative and experimentation is immense.

As Schumpter aptly theorized, industry competition fuels innovation through ‘creative destruction.’ In the competitive world of political campaigning–where the stakes of winning and losing are so incredibly high–it’s understandable why the reluctant old-timers, like Bastiat’s candle-makers, are trying to reaffirm their importance.

The current ventures into digital and social media by many of these experienced professionals are mainly half-hearted. The internet is complicated. Even to begin the most simplistic digital media buy takes more time developing strategy and targeting universes than a $1 million direct mail buy. Instead of diving head first into the digital space, many operatives have preferred to stick to the shallows: exploring the bare minimum that current technological innovations have to offer.

In a world where we are very close to printing 3-D burritos (check it out), campaigns still canvass by hand, promote their candidates through signs and buttons, and ‘change hearts and minds’ through the Puritanical town-hall meeting. Unfortunately for them, although fortunate for the younger political operatives who better understand the digital landscape and innovation, we are discovering that our social interactions can be partly and wholly emulated on the web.

However, with the older political operatives in control and the government’s general reluctance for a modicum of change, many aspects of campaigning are (rightly and wrongly) left out of the move to digital advertising and social media interaction.

An article released on July 24th,2012 in Campaigns and Elections by Marty Stone entitled ‘Communicating with influentials’ is a reaffirmation of the ‘old school’ way of doing things.  The article promotes the importance of people like the author’s mother ‘Bubbie;’ those trusted members of communities, well known for their advice giving on political matters and thus their control over how ‘platoons’ of voters will act at the polls. The author is explicit in his rejection of digital media, writing: “There’s no question that social media outreach is key when it comes to delivering a candidate’s message, but word-of-mouth contact is still king (or queen) even in this digital age.”

Sorry, Marty, but the voters of tomorrow, used to a world where they can constantly interact with friends and join online communities (led by influential people), don’t emphasis the importance of community influencers in the same way as their parents. Instead, like in all things, they’re moving to embrace social media interaction and constructed, online communities.

What many political operatives probably don’t know is that empirically judging ‘influence’ is one of the freshest and most controversial developments in our digital age. The leader of being able to judge online and social media influence is Klout, whose newest update is another reaffirmation that they are “the standard for influence.” Klout gives individuals scores on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 that ranks how much ‘influence’ sed individual has online. Don’t ask me to explain the equations or anything behind the scenes; all I know is that I currently have a ’59.’

Although this a new technology, the implications for politics are clear. This technology would allow campaigns to target ‘influentials’–people who can influence voters far more intimately, efficiently, and cost effectively than the most well made campaign spot. Think about it for a second: when it comes to politics, whose advice do you trust more: Campaign Ads; Your local paper; Anderson Cooper on CNN; Or your friends and family? I hope, unless you have strained relations, the last choice is a clear winner.

Because of the uncertainty of the ‘influence rating’ industry, and really the uncertainty regarding the validity of the rankings, Klout is still hesitant to enter the political advertising realm. However, once these issues are resolved, there will be no reason for Klout and similar companies to not ‘dance with the devil,’ and begin picking team Blue or team Red. Although many might react negativly to this prospect–perhaps thinking, great, another way that technology and politics are going to influence and shape our lives–the shift could be incredibly empowering for the individual and for democracy in general.

Utilizing Klout in this way would be at the very heart of its mission: affirming the importance of social capital within the real world. Political campaigns, instead of utilizing ‘influentials’ as so many billboards or banner ads constantly promoting buzzwords and talking points, would be forced to court them: convincing these individuals by displaying the logic behind electing their candidate or supporting their ballot measure.

Even more interesting, having individual influencers promote ideas person-to-person instead of the ‘one size fits all’ mentality of political advertising (which, granted, has changed due to micro targeting but still lacks the intimacy of earnest social interaction) could force a deeper and more personalized discussion of politics in general.

Individuals are convinced to support or not support causes for different reasons. Klout  allows influencers to convince voters thought by thought, argument by argument, perspective by perspective. Complicated political and economic messages, discussions, and rationales that normally fall flat when promoted and consumed on a mass, 15 second ad, scale would also benefit from the personalization of politics. When we discuss ideas one on one, instead of enmass, we dive deeper into discourse, promoting and defending our beliefs through reason instead of the Pathos ubiquitous in political advertising.  Perhaps, with Klout and the creation of quantifiable social capital, political campaigns could better promote and the public could better understand inherently complicated solutions to our nation’s complex problems.

Far from making political campaigns and advertising more impersonal and machine-like, the application of digital ‘influencology’ by Klout and others would reaffirm the importance of individualism in American democracy. The influencers and influencees, who already interact online and offline in many cases, would be given autonomy over how to frame political debates. Rather than campaign messages coming from political operatives and formal campaign components, the messages will arrive informally, from online community leaders, influential friends, and trusted commentators. The only difference from natural social interaction–interaction that changes and shapes peoples opinions on important issues–would be the first step already discussed: convincing those with large stores of social capital to support and promote a specific campaign.

Today, we have dinner time discussions that alter the way we think about politics and the world. Maybe someday soon, Mom and Dad will be championing Senator XYZ by committing to support his campaign online. Although I’ve obviously left out many specifics regarding how exactly campaigns could capitalize on Klout’s technology, I think it’s clear that a) the acceptance of technology in campaign strategy means that some form of online ‘influencology’ is probably inevitable and b) this is not something to fret or fear, but something to embrace and eagerly await.

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Some Words in Favor of Opportunity or And then She Gave Me a Chance

Posted by blindspotpolitics on July 31, 2012

Some Words in Favor of Opportunity or And then She Gave Me a Chance


An occupier demands economic justice.

Of late, I’ve felt great empathy for the droves of American men and women who are unable to find work–delegated instead to combing craigslist ads. The opportunity of all men and women to succeed financially is paramount to our democratic experiment–the baker who awakes each morning should have bread to sell and customers willing to pay, the secretary in the downtown office should have phone calls to answer and messages to relate, the investment banker and the venture capitalist should have numbers to analyze and companies to represent. In America, the opportunity to awake each morning with the baker’s hopes or the secretary’s anxieties is increasingly taken for granted. The capitalist mode of political economy we currently employ demands competition, guarantying neither success nor failure. Opportunity to compete in the market, through the judgment of merit instead of man, is the true moral justification for our current capitalism. Naturally, there are many problems with it, but through the up-and-downs of the last four years, opportunity has remained the innovator’s and entrepreneurs’ north star. And yet, someone is lying to the newest generations of Americans reaching adulthood. The Occupy Wall Street movement acutely implies the naive assumption: that humankind is divided between two types of people: employers and laborers, or the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Apparently, from their perspective, America has economic classes. Furthermore, they are transfixed: our baker, innovative tho he may be, can never own a bakery.

Sadly, the justifications for progress–the reasons we have iphones,, and sweet agave syrup–and the reaffirmation of opportunity–of empowering the individual to strive for a better life–have crumbled under the weight of cosmopolitan wisdom and chest-less, virtue-less compassion. We are fast approaching the height of our collective intellectual ignorance. Belief in state sovereignty has replaced individual sovereignty, and the blind, militaristic acceptance of a national “community” has replaced the social contract.

The newfound class-consciousness of American college students and other young people is in fact very much based on Marx’s proletariat and bourgeoisie. Regardless of what Marx claimed about history, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” there exists no inherent or universal “us” and “them.”

The original Marxist labels and their modern counterparts are not absolute qualifiers of a person within a free society. The existence of opportunity, of being able to climb up the economic ladder, undermines these classifications.

Within an economically competitive society, and especially within our modern meritocracy, there is opportunity and subsequently there is choice: choice in ones education; choice in ones career; choice in ones financial decisions. Our labels are not inherent or fixed, although they may indeed define a person for a period of time.

Individual success can, within a competitive market, ebb and flow just as easily as the market itself. Man is dynamic, continually moving toward his goals, whether those are monetary, or virtue or happiness or something else. And as one moves through the peaks and valleys of the golden mean they can become rich or poor, a proletariat or a bourgeoisie.

The Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola defended that ability of man to change–to succeed and fail. In his Oration on the Dignity of Man, he wrote of God’s design for humanity:

“The nature of all creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you [humankind], by contast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody we have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. […] we have made you […] so that you can fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to superior order.”

Man is endowed with choice and with choice comes responsibility. Economic freedom is a firm way of viewing Pico’s claims.  The economic choices of a rational actor are fluid: what one decides today may not be decided tomorrow. When someone enters the voting booth of the market place they are endowed with constant agency and autonomy.

Creative destruction allows for the market to act as a revolving door; new opportunity and choice are continually created and destroyed. Within a competitive market, an individual’s decisions are not arbitrary or predetermined, but valued, difficult, and demanding—the cream struggles to rise towards the top.

Within a free society, man may turn his ideas, hopes, and ambitions into prosperity. The ability to do so is never separate from the opportunities available—success is only possible in a world devoid of predetermination and rigid economic classes.

Although the reality of opportunities and the subsequent available choices in the United States are far different than Horatio Algers wrote, economic mobility is still a reality and still part of American consciousness. We are more of a meritocracy than perhaps ever thought possible. However, poorly thought-out regulation has created a society where the great many neither think of nor place hope in opportunity.

At first glance, the widening wealth gap reveals that opportunity is dying in America. However, when one looks past the façade of the numbers and instead to their cause, one comes away with a very different picture of the problem.

A 2011 study by the Congressional Budget Office revealed that while from 1979 to 2007 income grew by 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, it grew only 41 percent for the rest of America.[1] What caused this increasing disparity?

Well, as restrictions like Glass-Stegall have been lifted for those at the top, the 99 percent has witnessed a massive increase in regulation and red tape, limiting available opportunity and choice and thus economic mobility.

Americans have made a sad mess of human nature by using government to create ineffective or harmful regulation. This fixes the game by limiting the number of players and by giving existing businesses a leg up by making entry and compliance costs too high—like an incumbent trying to keep his Senate seat against a green and resource poor competitor. In the case of economics, just like in politics, the advantage almost always goes to the former.

When the game is fixed by legislative realities, opportunity begins to vanish. As stated, opportunity cannot exist in a predetermined world—even if those determiners are outwardly virtuous men. In the modern US, many of the outcomes that should be decided en mass by the consumers of the market are instead determined by the wills of “imperfect and biased men,” as Milton Friedman once eloquently defined our legislators and democratic leaders.

The central problem, the reason for this increase in poor regulation, is that we no longer listen to John Stuart Mill’s analysis regarding the purpose of law and other advice like it:

“They [our imperfect and biased leaders] have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavouring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Those who determine government action, whether elected or unelected, have gone from trying to help society and America in general to pandering to the complaints and wishes of their constituents. These leaders, normative philosophers all, deal with the ought in a limited sense.

They promote their opinions, instead of dealing with acceptance and toleration in general. The current state of affairs is anti-liberal and anti-federal. Our leaders have become bioengineers through acrimonious pragmatism, shaping our collective environment around their own subjectivity.

We can no longer trust our leader to allow us to act as adults. We must instead instill trust in the individual, the rational actor. A major goal of our society and government should thus be securing people the opportunities to change their financial situations; creating a world where those who want to succeed have the opportunities to try but without the guarantee of success.

Perhaps afraid of failure or the struggles of progress, the main stream American progressive might howl here for Rawls’ “veil of ignorance.” Yet, this veil is also very important within a free society. What defines the difference between modern liberals and libertarians are the means by which we attempt to create a society that combats the lottery of birth, not that final outcome. The former favors equality of outcome while the latter should favor equality of opportunity.

If believers in the free market seriously want to praise the economic advantages and possible successes of economic freedom (meaning that with economic and personal freedom will arise a far more productive and equitable society than we currently have) then they must focus on expanding opportunity. The Marxist labels that limit humanity to the vacuum of class-consciousness are not rigid, nor truly applicable to our multifaceted society. The vitality of opportunity limits the rationale behind control and direction.

Only by working toward the goal of equality of opportunity can libertarians begin the discussion with liberals and progressives and others who also seek a more charitable and compassionate society, about the rationale behind the free market, spending cuts, and deregulation.

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Can Praxeology Tweet?

Posted by blindspotpolitics on July 13, 2012

What if Twitter could accurately predict the stock market?

Well, apparently it can.

Derwent Capital Markets, a London based hedge fund, recently used data from Twitter to anticipate the rise and fall of stocks. The project ended up with a 1.86% return, beating out the overall market. According to the study “Twitter mood predicts the stock market,” the social media service can be utilized for an 87% accuracy in stock predictions.

Shit. That’s pretty cool. Now, stop thinking about how you’ll now become rich by reading all your friends’ tweets (could be me, but I don’t think it’s that easy); perhaps more importantly, this study and its implications offer insight into the greatest struggle of Austrian Economists like Ludwig Von Mises or Fredrich Hayek: empirical data.

Austrian Economics, unlike most modern economic theories, rejects the principles of empirical induction, preferring, instead, to logically deduce the “laws” of economics from human action. All of this rests on praxeology, nicely defined by a recent article from the Ludwig von Mises institute:

Praxeology rests on the fundamental axiom that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals. This concept of action contrasts to purely reflexive, or knee-jerk, behavior, which is not directed toward goals. The praxeological method spins out by verbal deduction the logical implications of that primordial fact. In short, praxeological economics is the structure of logical implications of the fact that individuals act. This structure is built on the fundamental axiom of action, and has a few subsidiary axioms, such as that individuals vary and that human beings regard leisure as a valuable good.

Essentially, man is a rational actor, his actions matter, but such actions are too subjective to quantify with any supposed insight.

Here’s where Twitter comes in–

Twitter is a platform that allows individuals to express themselves succinctly and, hopefully, accurately. That’s why it can predict the stock market–a twitter update is fundamentally an expression of an individual’s will-what he or she wants to do, will do, or thinks others should. When that data is compiled and properly analyzed it should give a picture of real trends (more than just a hash-tag) that reveal how people are acting en mass.

If we can predict how individuals will most likely act then we might be able to predict fluctuations in the overall economy based on those rational decisions at the individual level. Each individual matters, but when we look at an aggregate of mankind’s thoughts, motivations, and actions we can begin to see how data can serve many purposes. If we earnestly believe that the greatest predictor of economic trends is the actions of one individual then we have affirmed praxeology and Austrian Economics more generally.

The realities of predicting the stock market with Twitter show that markets are directed by the actions of rational individuals throughout society (expressing their will via social media) , not the planned or directed actions produced by governments. From here it’s fairly simple to conclude that centrally planned economies will never work. If the individual is the vital cornerstone of an economy then by allowing economic liberties that promote free market capitalism you are allowing individuals to have true agency in rationalizing their economic choices, a freedom every individual should enjoy.

Thanks Twitter.


The Free Market

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#Healthcare: the triumph of subjectivity

Posted by blindspotpolitics on June 28, 2012

A few months ago I almost shit myself from laughing so hard. During one of the Republican Presidential debates, New Gingrich proposed that we start getting rid of activist judges who support liberal things like gay marriage or gun control or health care reform. Most of the men who shared the stage with him shared his sentiments. “These activist judges have got to go!” Newt demanded, with much applause and many a rebel yell from the audience.

Well, the big no-no happened. Health care, sorry, *Obamacare, is now here and firmly constitutional. And although I haven’t checked my RSS feed to see the responses of the day, mainly out of fear for how many updates I have from the Cato Institute, I bet there is a lot of jabbering about activist judges, and liberal judges, and how judges are destroying this country.

But wait.

Activist judges?

Well, the deciding vote today was John Roberts. JOHN ROBERTS: the guy who voted from unlimited corporate money in politics. John, freaking, Roberts: the George W. Bush Court appointee.

Is he an activist?


Whether you agree with today’s decision or not, it revealed why placing the Supreme Court above partisanship or political loyalty is essential to our Democracy.

Many people, including those who oppose activist judges, bemoan the lack of objectivity in the current Supreme Court. They see the Justices as the judicial arms of our political parties.

Today’s decision shows that this is not always the case. Chief Justice Roberts, the supposed constitutional muscle of the Republicans, took a step towards left field.

His decision surprised a lot of people and proved that the Supreme court is not rigid nor objective. The court is necessarily dynamic and organic, fueled by the experiences of the men and women under the black robes. Their respective subjectivity makes things difficult and uncertain, the antithesis of partisan politics and party line voting to be sure, but also evolutionary, revolutionary, and contemplative.

The Court evolves as we evolve and as America evolves. Yes, sometimes too quickly, but almost always in our direction. The decision today is not the creeping of socialism or the tip toeing of Stalin or Castro, but the hurrah of independent thought.

Today, subjectivity allowed one man to rise above the political muck and finally make a thought-out judgment regarding our Constitution.

Today was a victory against the naysayers of American Democracy; those zealots, on either side of the aisle, who claim that bipartisanship is dead and that we’ll soon have to fish the constitution out of a garbage dump along with all the other crap.

History might judge Roberts for his independent choice, but at least he made one.

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Two Specimens: Corporations and Government

Posted by blindspotpolitics on June 13, 2012

I like Elizabeth Warren. She’s energetic, smart, and refreshing. I think she offers a level of academic insight and contemplation that’s often missing with other senate hopefuls. Her recent comment that has sparked some news got me a thinking. She’s smart and she clearly shows that here:

“No, Mitt, corporations are not people,” Warren said, to applause. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they love, they cry, they dance, they live and they die. Learn the difference.”

The words sound good to me. Of course corporations aren’t people; how could they be? But her phrasing also reminded me of something else: the other side of the coin, the missing link between the Tea Party patriots and those Occupy folks: Government. If the institution was a virtue, then corporations and government would be on opposite ends of Aristotle’s golden mean; the former promoted for profit, the latter for truth. In actuality, however, the comparison is far more nuanced.

Government matches Warren’s truthful critique of the corporation. Our state is not an organ; live, breath, love, it does not. Rather, government is dynamic, shifting in form from one majority party to the next, like a new face on the board of directors. Corporations and government are both institutions commanded by men, not men in and of themselves. They neither have  good nor evil other than that brought to them by the actions of subjectivity.

A democratic government can encourage its citizens to sacrifice no more than a corporation can make its employees embrace a pay cut. But, then again, what can? Well: mothers, fathers, pastors, monks, friends; people we know and love and trust; not the abstract; not a form of virtue or good intentions, as so many flickers on the walls of the cave.

All government can every do is try, while its mortality plays to the tunes of Rome. The first rule of biopolitics, as Ian Hacking smartly pointed out, is that the results never match the intentions. The federal government cannot create self-sacrifice or community by saying we need it.

The doctor was right: we are, unlike corporations and government, individuals. And yes, we have communities. And yes, those communities are constructed. But at least we construct them.

America is quickly approaching a giant fork in the road. Will she choose the road of moderation and sensibility or will she choose the road of Hayek? Ironically, the individual, not our two specimens, will determine the collective path.


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Sweden and Political Ideology

Posted by blindspotpolitics on June 10, 2012

Before the recent faltering of the European Union, the average left leaning American was inclined to use the success of the European social welfare state as an example of the fairness and economic equality America should attain. Sweden, with its supposed combination of massive taxes and livable bliss, was often the epitome of this thought.

The argument would go: They live longer! They have universal healthcare! They’re happier! They have a lower infant mortality rate! And they have it all and do it all because of higher taxes, entitlement programs, and more governmental regulation. Why is America so behind the rest of the industrialized world? Why can’t we be more like Sweden?

Besides the glaring dissimilarities between the Untied States and many European “social welfare” states, such as the homogeneous populations of most Northern and Western European countries, the new question becomes, are these states really succeeding; and if so, is it because of social welfare promoted by the state?

Sure, wouldn’t it be great if everyone had healthcare? And heck, who doesn’t want to live longer or be happier?  But is the modern social welfare model sustainable? Or does it allow one generation to live rich and equal, while sentencing another to an imminent collapse and economic devolution?

Recently, Sweden has stripped itself of many taxes and entitlement programs. In these pressing economic times, the Swedish have continued to have a strong economy by heeding more to the creed of Smith than of Keynes.

However, these successes are not necessarily a rallying point for the proponents of Austrian or supply-side economics. Relative to the United States, Sweden still has high taxes and many entitlement programs. They are moving toward deregulation and lowered taxes—but are hardly an example for the triumph of unmitigated capitalism; Sweden is cutting waste, not the desire for economic equality.

Instead, Sweden’s successes indicate that a balance between social welfarism, directed by a sense of national community, and the private sector, supported by lower taxes and increased economic freedom, can lead to good things. Essentially, in recent years, Sweden has given us a balancing act.

We have seen in Sweden, if anything, the triumph of civil society, not of government or the free market. President Clinton and the New Democrats were correct—balance social responsibility with equality of means instead of equality of outcome. Sweden reveals the resilience of mankind and communities—not of governments—during hard economic times.

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Some things that inspire me

Posted by blindspotpolitics on February 26, 2012

So I’m writing some short essays for internship applications and I didn’t realize that 255 words was actually 255 characters. Woops! Well, I’m not going to waste this so here are two books by Orwell (well, really one essay and one book) and why they inspired me:

Politics and the English Language and Animal Farm – Orwell

I read the first a year and a half ago, the second when I was ten. I know, I know: Orwell was a vehement Democratic Socialist. He was, as Charles Murray would probably say, one of those good intentioned souls, who abhorred totalitarianism, and didn’t realize that the only way to secure equality in a democratic socialist state is along a similar authoritarian trajectory. However, his critique of modern politics in his essay on them is nothing short of brilliant. It was the first essay I read that revealed with scientific accuracy and emotional fortitude how politicians abuse the English language to gain political favor and make citizens believe that they need their help. He calls for simplicity in politics, just like Libertarians call for simplicity in government. I believe the two are interconnected, perhaps the former being a necessary pathway to the latter. Animal Farm is likewise a talented critique, highlighting the woes of authoritarianism and blind trust through a riveting allegory. The initial good intentions of the Animal socialist revolution, which brings “freedom” and “equality,” to all, soon evaporates as some members of society convince the rest that they deserve more. Animal nature, or really human nature, overcomes the farfetched notion of coercive communal sacrifice. To me, this is essentially a fictionalized version of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Perhaps, the best intentions, the worst results. Overall, his writing has inspired me to look critically at not only political systems, but also the leaders and intentions behind those systems.

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Rights and Responsibility

Posted by blindspotpolitics on January 19, 2012

All the recent activities of the Colbert Super PAC and increased interest about SOPA, especially after the Wikipedia blackout, have got a lot of people thinking about first amendment rights and especially about the first amendment rights of corporations. As of now, and as I understand it, there are really two sides to this argument.

The “conservative” argument supports freedom of speech for corporations in totality, expressed right now by the freedom to use unlimited corporate money to influence either political elections, the super PAC problem, or the political process in general, the media or Google pulpit problem of recent days (highlighted in here). Taking perhaps a softer approach to the often indefensible position that corporations are people, Mitt Romney and other conservatives and libertarians state that corporate freedom of speech must be guaranteed because corporations are made up of people, and taking away the freedom of speech of their collective association within the corporation would thus take away the free speech of those individuals; seemingly punishing them for being a part of a collective, although constructed, entity.

The “liberal” argument supports limiting corporate speech in the political realm; back to what some see as the good ol’ days before Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.  However, in light of the corporate backed SOPA, many liberals have favored corporations, like Google, using their special position as corporations to influence public opinion about a proposed bill they generally detest. Surely, this paradox not only undermines the liberal argument but also sheds light on the lack of theoretical and constitutional justification for limiting corporate speech.

I believe that both of these arguments are equally flawed. There is a middle ground. There is a way to protect corporate freedom of speech for the classical liberals while also limiting the possible influence of corporations that are not inherently constructed to communicate to a widespread audience.

People have individual rights. We know this. In America, we thankfully and explicitly secured certain rights within the amendments to our Constitution, such as the first amendment: freedom of speech. Liberal or not, one cannot argue with the empirical fact that, indeed, corporations are made up of people. The conservatives go on: Thus, corporations have freedom of speech because we cannot limit individuals right to freedom of speech just because they have formed an association. By this logic, corporations obviously have the right to free speech.

Individuals, in a collective association, can organize together freely, rights still wholly secured. If we take this conservative argument to its logical conclusion then shouldn’t corporations, because they have the rights of individual Americans, be subject to existing and moot FEC regulations on individual contributions to campaigns? If corporations are individuals, or at least made up of individuals as Mitt Romney and Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute have argued, and thus have the rights of individuals shouldn’t they also have the responsibilities and limitations of individuals?

Laws limit the individual campaign contribution total in any given election cycle. Thus, although corporations have the rights of individuals they cannot supersede the restrictions placed on individuals. So now what? How do we proceed? If corporations have the rights and the restrictions of individuals, what does that mean for their involvement in political campaigns and in political persuasion generally?

I propose that the only logical way to proceed, the only way to protect individual rights for all Americans, is for liberals to admit that corporations are comprised of individuals who obviously have freedom of speech and for conservatives to admit that individuals, even those within associations, are still bound by laws, especially if those laws explicitly determine the extent of political influence an individual may have through money.

Since this entire argument, the whole idea that corporations have constitutional rights, rests on them not being people but being made up of people, the amount of money that corporations can use must inherently and earnestly be limited to the money from individuals within a corporation, the individuals who chose to be a part of these free associations, who support the particular corporate message—obviously laws must also be create within such a proposal to prevent corporations from forcing employees to support corporate messages.

Essentially, corporations can use their platform to present messages, but cannot empty their internal coffers to create media/support those messages. All political power, and all monetary influence, rests on the individual, even the individual within the corporation. Corporations can freely use their own property, such as their own website, to promote any political agenda; however, when giving money to outside PACs, or even political PACs operated solely by the corporation, the monetary expenses must be limited by rules regarding individual restrictions. Media corporations obviously gain an advantage in terms of communication in this regard since they already have a pulpit for mass communication.

If Google wants to put up a banner on their site saying “Vote Ralph Nader in 2012,” they are free to use their property (i.e. their site) to do so. And if another corporation, say Exxon Mobil, wants to encourage two thousand employees to all donate the maximum amount an individual can donate in an election year to a corporate PAC, that is fine too. Exxon can use that money to produce politically influential media and even admit that they created it.

What is not fine is both limiting the free speech of individuals via corporations by attempting to control their property and allowing individuals within corporations to supersede the limits placed on all individuals. This might be a hard pill to swallow for many, particularly many conservatives, but aren’t individuals in corporations still just individuals? And if your argument for corporate freedom of speech rests on their composition, how can you defend anything but this?

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