Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hopeful Experience/Experiential Hope

The Kennedy clan's recent endorsement of Barack Obama has the press likening Obamamania to a new Camelot. Obama's beautiful rhetorical abilities leave many of those left of center (and some right of center) swooning over a perceived ability to "bring the country together".

JFK asked us to think not of what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country. He represented a trans-partisan coalescing of the American Ideal . . . or is it represents?

No, I wasn't around for JFK. I am not able to give a first-hand account the 1960s fabric of America. But wasn't this the age of police turning dogs and fire-hoses on American citizens? If Americans were truly brought together by JFK's message of hope, why was the election of 1960 so agonizingly close?

The truth is that while America may be existentially polarized today, it was certainly civically polarized in 1960. For us JFK represented something transcendent for America, but the hard psychological truth may just be that it is only what could have been that we long for, not what was. Dallas tragically took care of that.

Hillary Clinton was roundly pilloried for her assertion that it took LBJ for America to realize Martin Luther King's dream. But it was in the end LBJ, the uncharismatic technocratic former congressman, who saw America through its civic crisis of the 60s. Kennedy for some then, and for many more now, represented hope, but the historical change came in a different form.

Perhaps this is simply a message for the cynical. But even the most clearheaded and logical have profound political differences. Is it possible for America to truly come together? And if so, what banner could we possibly all share?

I seem to have hit a little on something.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Economic History (hidden behind controversy)

A recent George Soros op-ed in the Financial Times warned the world of an impending financial crisis, the worst since WWII.

This spawned a flurry of repudiations from market fundamentalists - the true believers.

I have yet to see any economists take on the Soros article. I would be willing to bet some real money (albeit, grad student money) that the outlook is not necessarily so bleak. But this isn't the point I'm trying to make.

As the basis for Soros' article is the historical assertion that the financial crises of the last 70 years have been corrected not by the Market (big M), but by governmental regulatory intervention. He goes on to say that it is the intervention that is artificially keeping us afloat, but it is intervention nonetheless that has saved our economy from collapse.

Intervention. Not the Market itself.

Market fundamentalism is the dogged belief that the market is an animal that, unleashed into the wild, unfettered by constraint, will find true harmony. It's the scientific recounting of the age old liberal theory (careful, not Liberal) that the greater good is served by pursuit of self-interest embodied in property. This medievalized dogmatic belief found its age of reason in Free Market economic theory and has since become the religion of America, with Republicans as true believers and Democrats as lapsed agnostics.

Soros is pointing out the agnostic realism of history. We need government, and as is evidenced by our current financial crisis, governmental regulation in order for our "free market" to work. Is this then a planned economy, socialism behind the sheen of capitalism? The question is just political semantics. This is economic/political/social reality.

There has never been a perfect "free market" society. Locke's original man, living happily consuming the fruits of his own labor, is simply a creative myth. Market fundamentalists might be better served politically by dropping the rhetoric, taking a hard look at history, and inserting a little agnosticism into their lives.