Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thought of the Day: We Already Have Effective Gun Control... For the Elite

Do you think they allow guns into Congress and the state legislatures, where gun laws are made?  No, they have the best security there to keep the guns out: guards and dogs and cameras and metal detectors and x-ray machines.  Talk about gun control, there it is, in practice.  Congress critters don’t want to be threatened, they want to feel safe.  And the same is true for the corporate offices, where dwell those who have so much control over Congress.  If Congress and the elite want to feel safe by posting guards and security machines to keep the guns out of their space, then in parallel the whole country should posting guards and security machines to keep the guns out of all public spaces -- schools, malls, movie theaters, churches.  That’s what would be needed, with so many weapons floating around society. 
But that would be too much surveillance, yes?  And it could be used for other nefarious, and tyrannical, purposes.  So the rational response is to pass reasonable gun restrictions and control weaponry at the point of production and of sale, and regulate who can carry them and when.  Hell, even many old west towns used to make you turn your six-shooter in to the sheriff when you entered the town’s jurisdiction.  
And don’t tell me that the Second Amendment says you can’t control guns -- it clearly ties gun ownership to militia membership, and thus to the protection of the community.  Unlimited ownership of guns is a clear threat to the community and thus a corruption and perversion of the Second Amendment. 
The Second Amendment says, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state...," the people should have a right to carry arms.  The Founders put that clause there to protect the safety of the people from the dangers of a professional standing army, and from gangs of bandits and thieves.  The Roberts Court, ignoring the historical reality that weapon ownership is a collective, public thing, ruled a couple years ago that people have an individual right to own weaponry.  They were wrong.  In my view anyone who's in the Guard or Reserve has the right to own a weapon -- and only people in the Guard and Reserve.  For everybody else it's a privilege, one that can be restricted as necessary for the safety of the people.  The purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect the safety of the people, not allow unregulated ownership of weaponry that harms the safety of the people. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Political Polls: “The Economic News is Overwhelming Everything Else”

Obama and his campaign team have hit on what would should be a really good plan of attack by focusing on Romney's aristocratic refusal to release his tax returns.  Despite Americans’ glorification of business elites, one thing that has traditionally been deplored is wealthy people taking on aristocratic airs.  Even when scions of wealthy families like Romney or Bush aren’t self-made millionaires with common origins, they’re expected to act like it.  We Americans (unfortunately) don’t have a problem with people being rich, but we also don’t tolerate rich people rubbing it in our faces or setting themselves up above the rest of us.  
Romney’s assertion that his wealth, how he got it, how he offshored it, and how much he returned to the public coffers in taxes displays exactly such an aristocratic attitude -- as does “Anntionette” Romney saying this week "we've given all you people need to know" about the family finances.  The Obama campaign is right to target this Romney soft spot.
Yet the Democratic attack isn’t working, at least not yet -- Romney just tied Obama in Virginia, and the polls remain close nationwide. One Obama insider has confided that his top campaign advisors believe he’ll win re-election by the thinnest of razor margins -- 51 percent to 49 percent.  Why is the race neck-and-neck?  Because the economy sucks: Obama has not delivered for the people in a way that they can feel in their daily lives and pocketbooks:  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The President’s Right, Businessman: "You Didn't Build That." Your Workers Did.

Apparently President Obama made a speech recently in which, echoing Elizabeth Warren, he recognized economic reality: we are all interdependent, and economic production is an inherently social activity.  Obama didn’t explicitly say so, but what that implies is that there is not justification for allowing the few at the top to take the lion’s share of the wealth:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me, because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  
It threw the Right into a conniption -- but he's right, and it’s about time that he came out swinging this way.  I HOPE THAT HE AND HIS PARTY SHOW SOME POLITICAL COURAGE AND DON’T BACKTRACK. 
You see, we have this problem with language: we say things like "Steve Jobs made the iPhone" or "Bill Gates built Microsoft" or even "Frank Gehry built the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao." But those are  just metonyms: these individuals didn't build them: they may have designed some things, or made some organizational decisions, but those businesses and structures were actually, literally built by thousands or even millions of people, all working together to coordinate their actions. 

So go ahead and attack this, conservatives. You didn’t build that, businessman; your workers built it, mainly, with some small contribution from you too. It was a cooperative effort.  And guess what?  The government DID contribute, by making the conditions under which it is possible for anyone to build anything, you ingrate.  No, it isn't all hard work and smarts; these are (sometimes!) necessary conditions for success, but they are not sufficient conditions; you have to get lucky or have connections or be born into wealth too, because a business has fixed start-up costs which are a barrier to entry for most.  And you also depend for you success on your employees, you customers, your contractors, your communities, your country, and even the rest of the world. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Business Should Be a Licensed Profession

Currently, anyone can go into business.  Sure, to open a business you have to pay fees to various levels of government to incorporate and meet building codes and whatnot.  But the people themselves running a business usually don’t have to exhibit any special requirements of craft or character.  It’s not like teaching a college class or conducting a medical exam, which require long training and a special degree that certifies you as a member of a profession.  As long as you want to make money and have the gumption to get a business started, you can do so.  (Whether you succeed or fail is a separate question.)
Business is thus very different than the other professions, such as law, medicine, or academia, which require a long educative and character-building process conducted under the supervision of those who have already mastered the field.  People who achieve professional degrees are also socialized to the ethical norms of their professions, which, most importantly, tie that profession to the health of the wider society.  Professionals are expected to practice their profession not solely in pursuit of self interest, but also for the public good.  
Business as a field is currently not like this; in fact, the successful pursuit of naked self-interest is its highest aspiration.  With the emergence of neoliberal economics since the 1970s, “greed is good” infiltrated the ethical thinking of too many of our elites, certainly in business but in many other areas of life too.  The worst, most destructive economic theorist of the age, Milton Friedman, wrote in Capitalism and Freedom, “Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible.” This is entirely wrong, as we charter businesses to provide goods that society needs, business occurs in a larger social context, and much business activity causes negative effects like pollution and exploitation of workers if unregulated.  Business is conducted with, and affects, the wider society, and that society is more important than business is, for that society consists of everyone.  Business is merely an instrument to meeting the needs of the members of society: business should serve the requirements of society, not society the requirements of business, and we’ve had that backwards for far too long.