The latest LEM
I thought this recent blog posting by LEM worth posting here for comment:
May 17, 2012
With just a bit less than six months before the fall elections, in one sense, I can’t wait for the elections to be over, if only to get a respite from political news and sensationalism… but even that respite isn’t likely to be very long, because politics has become not only continuing news, but something resembling a spectator sport. And like all spectator sports, the political arena is filled with commentary. Unlike athletic spectator sports, where the acts of the players and the results can be seen immediately, in politics the results of political actions, laws, and policies, in the vast majority of cases, can’t be discerned clearly for years, if ever.
This allows everyone to comment with “equal validity,” because very few members of the public have the knowledge of economics and politics, as well as the patience, to wait and see how things actually worked out. Nor do most people remember what did happen accurately. So they tend to trust the commentator whose views most nearly mirror those, not necessarily the commentator or expert who’s most likely to be right.
One of the things that appalls me the most is how both parties distort not only each others’ positions, but also employ the most inaccurate comparisons, and truly inapplicable facts and comparisons. What makes it worse is that very few commentators or talk show hosts, or columnists, have either the ability or the nerve to suggest that such distortions are doing extreme violence to accuracy [I won’t say “the truth,” because that’s become a pseudo-religious term] and relevance.
Some of the worse offenses to such accuracy lie in the fallacious ignoring of well-known and proven facts. For one thing, economies react slowly, often ponderously, to changes in law and policy. So like it or not, Bill Clinton got a tremendous boost from policies enacted by the first President Bush, and in turn, the first President Bush was forced to raise taxes by the policies of his predecessor, a fact gloriously ignored by those who cite the great Reagan prosperity. Admittedly, in Clinton’s case, he had enough sense to continue them when he was under pressure to change them, but the conditions for his highly praised period of expansion lay in his predecessor’s actions. Likewise, to blame President Obama for current high unemployment and recession when those conditions were created by policies created well before his election, and when the U.S. also has to absorb economic fall-out from all across the world, is politically easy, but factually inaccurate, especially when political gridlock in Congress has restricted his ability to attack the problem in the way he would like. But few of his critics will admit that they’re judging him as much, if not more, by Congressional inaction than by his own acts.
Comparing one economic recovery, or non-recovery, to another is not only inaccurate, but disingenuous, because the underlying factors differ greatly, yet such comparisons are a staple in the political arena, because politicians and their aides have an addiction to the simple and superficially relevant.
In addition, some factors are beyond any President, or any Congress’s, ability to change. Oil is a fungible global economic good, and, in the short run, no change in U.S. environmental, energy, economic, or tax policy is going to measurably lower the price of crude oil in the months ahead, although the Saudi actions to flood the market with cheaper oil will likely cause a temporary respite, at least until world economic activity picks up. Unwise government action can, as Richard Nixon proved with his ill-fated experiment with price controls, cause gasoline and heating oil shortages and increase prices in the long term.
Another problem in assessing government/political actions is determining how effective preventative actions are… or accepting the benefits while disavowing the means. We know that the U.S. safety net for the poor has in fact historically reduced overall poverty in the United States – but which programs really work the best? Which are failures? Which work, but are so inefficient that they should be replaced? How many of all the Homeland Security measures are truly necessary? Most Americans seem to have forgotten that before the enactment of the Clean Water Act, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland actually caught fire, or that the Potomac River was actually toxic. Or that before the enactment of the Clean Air Act, office workers in Pittsburgh often took a second white shirt to work because the first got so soot-filled by midday that it looked black and gray? Instead of the debate being about drinkable water and breathable air, it’s become about whether environmental protection costs too much and slows or hinders job creation, and almost no commentator questions the terms of the debate.
As I’ve pointed out all too many times, there has not yet been any determination of personal accountability for the latest economic meltdown – and now we’ve had a reminder, in the recent Citibank derivatives loss/scandal, that neither Congress nor the President [either Bush or Obama] ever truly addressed the problem, but merely papered it over. But I’ve never heard any commentator mentioning that – or attacking the corrupt culture of the financial world and those who lead it.
Instead, we get media and political emphasis on the irrelevant, the inaccurate, the inappropriate, and the inapplicable… and the worst part of it all is that it’s only going to get worse over the next six months.
dict-leo.org gives as a possible translation "to put the fox in charge of the henhouse".
It's too easy for political "enemies" to blame someone of - let's say recession - that he or she wasn't responsible for, because the ground of the recession (in my example) has been laid down long before …
Here, we have a similar case : People now see that the economy-oriented policy of the current parties ruling the parliament (CDU, FDP) has become ort of … "anti-social", but in fact people too easily forget that the grounds of this were laid down by the parties which are nowadays in the opposition (namely the SPD). I'm talking of the "Hartz IV" laws here.
Within the early 60s activists formed a movement - really tiny at first, only a few people - to get the river Rhine get better water again.
I saw a documentary on TV last year which was looking at the Rhine as a source of fish. During the industrialization, rivers became so polluted that everything life practically died out in them. The river Wupper was coloured. Source were clothing plants. The river Emscher is even oday nicknamed "Die Kloake des Ruhrgebietes".
These activists were there long, long, long before the environmental issues came into the minds of the public. the "Green Party" formed within the early 80s, out of a movement against pollution & against nuclear energy.
But in the 60s, they were only few, they were threatened by chemical plants workers fearing loss of their jobs (if their companies weren't allowed to pour their waste and whatnot into the Rhine, that is) - and often by foreworkers who of course were working for the companies.
Through this documentary I learned ONE huge lesson : Hoping that companies would save nature based on free will does not work. If they had let them doing as they wanted to, the river Rhine would still be polluted. Because it's so easy. Why bother with polluting the rivers if this is actually allowed ? Why bother about thousands of fishermen losing their jobs because the fish were toxic, too ? Why bother about/with water quality ? If you hope they'll do it based on free will, you'll be screwed, I learned through this documentary. At least with huge companies. You have to squeeze them, you have to force them, and that's what they finally did, because otherwise they would happily pollute the river Rhine even today. Because keeping and cleaning their waste (and in the end cleaning water, too) = costs, and no sane company chief allows his company to hve additional costs that reduce the profits.
Here, in my own own, a scandal came to light when the chemistry company openly admitted that it was of more importance to them to get their wastes into a big heap of waste than to take care of the people (often their workers !) living in houses close to that waste-hill. It didn't matter to the company's chiefs that they might become polluted by the toxic waste, too. All what mattered to them was to get their toxic wastes away, no matter where to.
This made me believe that a liberal market just doesn't work. In a liberal market, companies only do hat THEY want. And NOT what the public wants. If they believe that getting their wastes out into rivers - they'll do so. If the actual law allows them o do so - the better ! And if they get enough lobbyists into the law-making groups or at least influence the politicians in their own ways so that the laws can become extremely industry-friendly - even better !
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