I suggested in yesterday’s entry that Ron Paul warned us about the Fed — but I should note that someone arguably even less popular, Bush, was ostensibly intervening in the current mortgage-related crisis at least a year ago, as this August 2007 speech reminds us. Unfortunately, like most people, from the Wall Streeters themselves to left-wing critics of capitalism, Bush tends to assume that short-term stock market stability is more important than long-term political/institutional neutrality and economic growth — which is why we get big bailouts that cause the Dow to breathe a sigh of relief, even while another dangerous precedent is set for future rescues of (a) irresponsible investors, (b) irresponsible home-buyers with bad credit, (c) politicians who continually tinker (via changes in the law) with what sorts of investments or loans financial institutions are allowed/encouraged to make, and (d) a Federal Reserve inclined to react to whatever the current crisis is instead of keeping its policy rock-steady, as it has tended to be during the times of sustained growth.
It’s understandable that in the current climate, you’d get people like right-socialist neocon-elitist David Brooks fretting greatly (and perhaps correctly) over Palin, worried (in a somewhat Oakeshottian fashion) that what we need now is an expert technocrat, not a populist newcomer like Palin — and also that you’d get people like Andrew Sullivan (who is explicitly an Oakeshott fan, I should note, as perhaps befits a Brit) freaking out over Palin’s purportedly populist-predator view of economics (as he alludes to in this blog entry Chris Nugent pointed out to me).
As I told Chris, after things like this week’s ban on shorting stocks (more amazing, really, than the AIG buyout, I think — though I don’t pretend to know much about finance), I’m certainly prepared to believe the worst about people, but the Palin populist-economics rhetoric sounds to me like just sort of a poetic gloss over the longstanding, admittedly weird but thoroughly pre-Palin fact that Alaska was, from the get-go, public land rented to oil companies — with Palin seeing her job mainly as an effort to cut the residents in on that process in a bigger way. It doesn’t neatly translate into free-market models, but it’s very different from, say, marching onto private land and calling for its nationalization.
Economics is a tad upside-down in Alaska (similarly, you could say everyone there is an oil-revenues-receiving capitalist or that the whole state is on welfare, given that residents get royalties from the oil-extraction money). The ideal thing would be to just sell all the land and oil outright, though the high likelihood that the major oil companies would be the buyers might well produce an anti-corporate popular backlash similar to attempts at water privatization in Bolivia. Kind of hard to extrapolate from that to anything dire in her hypothetical presidential positions, I think.
I find it somewhat encouraging, though, that despite all the hoopla over her inexperience — and Sullivan’s hysteria over her every sloppily-phrased sentence — she is the only current major-party candidate I’ve heard give the right answer on the whole financial crisis/bailout situation, which is to say that taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill. Now that is the kind of populism I like to hear, not Obama’s calls for more regulation or McCain’s TR-like search for greedy scapegoats on Wall Street or at the SEC, and if Palin sticks to simple points like that, then I’d rather have the Republican Party end up sounding like a Palinesque “Pit Bull-Moose Party” (so to speak) than a new anti-fatcat Bull Moose Party under TR-loving McCain.
(This does not excuse things like her having a potentially deadly witch-hunter as a spiritual advisor, but then, given how few people seem to take their spiritual advisors literally, I’d say you can no more expect her to renounce her witch-hunter than to completely renounce her apparent Kenyan intellectual heritage.)
Of course, if you believe a recent Michael Kinsley column, Republican presidents are worse for the economy than Dems anyway, but I think it’s a pretty weak data set to look solely at nominal presidential party affiliation while ignoring numerous factors more relevant to judging the deeper conflict between socialistic and pro-market policies — such as whether a nominally Republican president imposed wage and price controls (as Nixon did), who was in control of Congress at what point, what year the Internet became popular, etc. Free-market sentiment is in short supply, but it undeniably has a few more Republican than Democratic friends, for whatever little use that is.
If I sound like I strayed a bit from the right-left ceasefire there, here, as compensation, is an amusing pox-on-both-their-houses column from the paleolibertarian Mises Institute suggesting that more people should do write-in votes even if they don’t get counted, just to underscore our dissatisfaction.
And, more important, if I sound like I’ve strayed away from this blog’s “Month of Sex” theme again, let me add that even if political and financial apocalypse await us, I’m glad Palin is already increasing the popularity of the hot librarian look (though, in a contrary trend, I’ve noticed online ads for smalltime and online universities using decidedly non-academic-looking, conventional babes like the one in the picture above to lure men into getting degrees).
The only thing that worries me about the current hot librarian boom, though, is that if the “hockey moms” all now start wearing the Lisa Loeb/Tina Fey/Sarah Palin/Michelle Boardman glasses, the hipsters may drop them like hot potatoes (more so than they have already, this being 2008 rather than 1993). But that could be the best outcome of all: the remaining glasses-wearing, nerdy-looking women will then finally actually be the sane ones instead of being neurotic leftist-hipster faux-nerds! A dangerous false signaling system will have been rendered less misleading, by my conservative standards.
On a more serious note that you can choose to interpret as either libertarian-populist or downright Marxist if you like: to what extent, I wonder, is the culture’s view of economics skewed by the immense wealth and seeming expertise of the Wall Streeters, who in part become superwealthy merely by “taking their cut” and tweaking the rules of financial conduct in their own favor, in the course of the admittedly immensely valuable (but somewhat distinct from production) activity of shunting money to its most-valued uses (i.e., most-profitable stocks and investments)?
I am not for a moment echoing the Oliver Stone Wall Street leftist line that Wall Street’s all “smoke and mirrors” (though my financial-sector-lawyer liberal ex would argue there’s a lot more arbitrary “defining” of profits into and out of existence by financial-sector contracts lawyers than you might think) and would hate for such an attitude to become a cheap populist excuse for any and all new regulation schemes.
At the same time, though, the cut-takers’ wealth and their “local” expertise does translate into them having a much louder megaphone for (potentially self-serving) economic-policy suggestions in times of crisis than that possessed by, say, Ron Paul — and they tend to see what makes the Dow go up now as good and what makes it go down now as bad, almost by definition, perhaps even when its rise is caused by short-term emergency measures that portend terrible long-term policies (like massive government bailouts protecting established banks and firms from their own stupidity instead of letting them be weeded out, short-term pain notwithstanding).
A Wall Streeter with a salary fifty times the size of mine does not necessarily understand long-term political policies better than I do, I fear, but he probably has more impact on them — in much the same way the independently wealthy are more likely to have spare time to shape the arts and literature and may well infect the populace with more of their idle/neurotic memes than your average working joe ever has time to (or, in an analogous fashion, in the same way that the kindest among us may be the first to be rendered silent or at least civil by the guilt-inducing admonishments of religion, creating the false impression that the unchurched are uncouth).
To put it in the broadest terms: Our stupidity, as a culture, may be increased by all sorts of multiplier/echo effects in places that we may not stop to examine (or may so far have examined only through a faulty leftist lens that misidentifies the nature of the “lies” at fault). And lest it sound like I’ve strayed again from my right-left ceasefire, let me say, in a way that I think cuts across the right-left divide, that I wonder how much our ruination, if it occurs, will have resulted from simple path-dependent thinking and policies — rather than from the “worst” people or arguments currently available/thinkable prevailing, per se. Maybe the most-correct people are still not correct enough and can’t possibly attain the perspective necessary to be so, and maybe this is a bigger problem than them merely being too weak to beat their current intellectual adversaries. Not being omniscient, we can’t be sure.
UPDATE: My Arkansas legislator friend draws my attention to last week’s torrent of New York Times letters denouncing conservative David Frum’s supposed inability to grasp the issue of income inequality, a fairly impressive parade of the sorts of nigh-intractable misconceptions and deep-rooted animosities market-oriented thinkers are up against. Letters like these make one think that argumentation may be pointless after all — and simply waiting for one’s foes to die of old age the only long-term hope.