Friday, February 10, 2006

Are government welfare programs Satanic?

Drawing upon uniquely Mormon resources provided in Alma and the Book of Moses, J. Nelson-Seawright (a.k.a. RoastedTomatoes) has cobbled together a nifty liberation-theology-style argument about poverty being Satanic that Catholics could only dream of. I’m no fan of poverty, and I am definitely a fan of JNS/RT’s fine blog; but I wonder, could similar logic be used to arrive at a result expressly repugnant to what I would guess this Latter-day Left-winger’s political predilections might be?

Money quote:
Within Mormon theology, the concept of being compelled to make a spiritually desirable choice — and therefore losing agency and blessings with respect to that choice — is associated with Satan. Indeed, some program or other built around these ideas is typically presented as having been Satan’s plan in the preexistence. This discussion has argued that poverty plays a partially coercive role in people’s moral and spiritual lives to the extent that, as Alma says, it compels humility and acceptance of the gospel. Hence, there is some reason to believe that poverty is, in Mormon theological categories, a Satanic force in our world.
So here’s my question: If coercion is the key diagnostic of Satanic forces, are government welfare programs—in which a spiritually desirable choice (helping the poor) is enforced by involuntary contributions in the form of taxes—also Satanic?

I suppose it might be argued that taxes are levied by democratically elected officials, and are therefore voluntary in some corporate sense; but in terms of morality and spirituality, it is individual motives that matter, and any individual who chooses not to pay taxes for any length of time will soon find out how voluntary they really are.

[Note: I didn’t take the time to read the comments on JNS/RT’s post. I hope someone already didn’t come up with this question, or I will look really foolish.]

49 Comments:

JNS concedes, and I press the point. See a couple of follow-up comments here  and here

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/11/2006 08:20:00 AM  

In case you haven't come across this , Ezra Taft Benson made a related argument (in the sections titled "The Source of Governmental Power" and "The Proper Function Of Government"):

"Leaving aside, for a moment, the question of the divine origin of rights, it is obvious that a [republican, democratic] government is nothing more or less than a relatively small group of citizens who have been hired, in a sense, by the rest of us to perform certain functions and discharge certain responsibilities which have been authorized.... The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this: What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form?"

"...[T]he proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute the wealth or force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will."

It's a common argument often used by Mormon fundamentalists (browse around the site hosting the quote above to get a better sense of what I mean). I also have heard but can't quote sources where he links the pre-mortal battle of agency with the evils of socialism and "coerced charity" government welfare programs. Probably in one of these books: The Red Carpet  , Title of Liberty , or An Enemy Hath Done This (I don't know which are for a Mormon audience).

I think F. A. Hayek makes related arguments in The Constitution of Liberty, and maybe The Road to Serdom, a much more academic work. Libertarians find much in Hayek's work to justify their political stance.

Nate Oman (at T&S) would be a great one to ask if you want a good summary of serious political philosophy on this topic (a la Rawls, Hume, Burke, etc.).

Anyway, I hope you'll keep us posted which militia you decide to join.... 

Comment by Robert C. | 2/11/2006 09:46:00 AM  

Sorry, I meant Hayek in general is more academic than Benson, not that The Road to Serfdom  is more academic than Constitution of Liberty--I'm not sure which work of Hayek's is more academic (I know some is very academic and some isn't, but not which is which...). 

Comment by Robert C. | 2/11/2006 09:52:00 AM  

Robert C., thanks for the sources and interesting quotes. Ezra Taft Benson is someone JNS/RoastedTomatoes has referred to on his blog as defining an entire era of Mormon stance on economics, which I thought was a little overboard, because he described it in completely individualistic terms as if Elder Benson didn't even support the Church welfare program.

Nowadays I do tend towards the liberterian side of Republican, but don't worry, I'm not going to join a militia. And I wouldn't go so far as to say government welfare programs are Satanic---I was mainly being a devil's advocate to JNS/RT's post---but I do sympathize with the philosophy of voluntary help to the poor (and time limits on impersonal government aid), which I think has a better chance of avoiding the generation of a culture of dependency. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/11/2006 10:12:00 AM  

Since I'm a financial economist and haven't lost an arm yet , it's hard for me to actually form opinions on these issues. In terms of church policy, I think it's hard to reconcile ETB's views which sound pretty libertarian (at least from the quotes above) with GBH's policies against moral laws, which I think is one reason many members (incl. me) are a bit puzzled/surprized seeing the church get politically involved on these issues. Sorry to clutter up your thread with quotes, but here are the relevant non-libertarian sentences from the GBH talk, for comparison w/ ETB's libertarian views above (some of ETB's views were expressed in General Conference too in the Constitution's bicentenial, if someone wants to argue that only GBH's views were 'declared prophetically'):

"[W]e deal only with those legislative matters which are of a strictly moral nature or which directly affect the welfare of the Church... We regard it as not only our right but our duty to oppose those forces which we feel undermine the moral fiber of society.... Some portray legalization of so-called same-sex marriage as a civil right. This is not a matter of civil rights; it is a matter of morality." 

Comment by Robert C. | 2/11/2006 12:13:00 PM  

Christian,

The only human institutions that have thus far proven in terms of reducing poverty on a large-scale level and of sustainability over a period of decades were the Western European welfare states. Even they no longer seem to work.

I think the church welfare system, as well as the PEF, are wonderful ideas. However, they're both horribly underfunded, as evidenced by the fact that they can't provide nearly the same level of service to third-world members that they can to first-world members. This in spite of decades of our best efforts. I surely don't want to eliminate such programs, but they've proven insufficient to the overall magnitude of the task. So probably we need supplements. 

Comment by RoastedTomatoes | 2/11/2006 07:56:00 PM  

Hi Christian,

I appreciate your desire to play the devil's advocate, but based on the thread of comments flowing from RT's post, there's no shortage of devil's advocacy on this subject.

It would however be very helpful to hear more reasons why demanding a moral budget and prioritization from "our" government might go a long way toward taking back our democracy.

This stuff about the evils of taxation is getting mighty old. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's need not be interpreted beyond the fact that the money is printed by the government...and that our finances are therefore tightly associated with government.

God gives us vast resources and stewardships which we control and are held accountable for and which are not regulated by any institution of man. One of these stewardships for which we must render unto God is the care for each other.

Delegating some part of this stewarship to that social contract which we call government is a natural and often-times logical step to take...no different than leveraging government to provide police, defence, legal system, infrastructure, monetary system, regulation, etc, etc. In fact, if we were to approach government from a moral perspective, things like health care and anti-poverty programs would have a higher priority than much of what our government currently is consumed by.

Comment by Watt Mahoun | 2/11/2006 09:32:00 PM  

BTW, I'm riffing-off you and RT with "Is Taxation Satanic ". :-) 

Comment by Watt Mahoun | 2/12/2006 12:58:00 AM  

Everyone, sorry I haven't responded to comments yet. I will later today after Church. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/12/2006 08:59:00 AM  

Robert,  I address your comment in this new post .

Watt: Your blog looks great! I hope and expect to read and drop by often.

RoastedTomatoes and Watt: You're also mentioned in the new post!

Government programs could also be voluntary. We "employ" the Church to do our social justice for us but on a voluntary basis. In general I think voluntary approaches have a better chance of success because the contributors have more interest and confidence in getting the personal transformations that come with getting out of poverty to actually happen. Throwing large amounts of resources at the problem without individual treatment may do more harm than good (e.g. do western "great societies" simply promote cultures of dependency?)

I have not thought much about poverty, so here are some basic questions you guys might want to address: What should we take away from Jesus' statement that the poor will always be with us? How could the U.S. develop into the economic powerhouse it is without any foreign aid, and why don't other countries do the same? 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/12/2006 05:40:00 PM  

With respect to the statement that the poor will always be with us, I think that's descriptively true but not a commandment.

With respect to international development, Christian, the idea you need is from W. W. Rustow about 55 years ago: once one country develops, all other countries face a different -- and worse -- set of conditions for development. The reason is that they face competition from the early developer. This is the reason that almost all developers since Great Britain and the US have had a healthy, or more than healthy, state role in development.

But I'm not talking about government-level international aid. That usually gets stolen or misallocated in the third world. We need to be creative and find new ways of working.

I'm in favor of voluntary programs, whether from the government or not. But in actual fact, people are lazy. Voting to implement a mandatory government aid program is a great precommitment device, much like a retirement account, that helps us force ourselves to spend in ways that reflect our long-term priorities. 

Comment by RoastedTomatoes | 2/12/2006 08:15:00 PM  

Christian, thanks for the compliment. As a relative new-comer to the bloggernacle, that's very encouraging. Of course, I've already been reading you. :)

I don't have much more to add to RT's response. Just that I appreciate your concern with retaining our liberty. I think we should also seek to influence government as an expression of our freedom, rather than simply refusing to delegate to it.

At the same time, most of what government does is involuntary in the sense that you suggest about social programs. We all benefit, like it or not, from government programs and oversight; defense, roads, monetary and legal systems, etc, etc, All are all things we are compeled to participate in with our money and our lives...as long as we wish to call ourselves Americans. The only difference between the things we're getting now and what we could get should we change our priorities, is the lack of political will.

I think we can and must change our priorities, and the first step to this is seeking to influence the will of the people.

Comment by Watt Mahoun | 2/12/2006 10:56:00 PM  

RoastedTomatoes,  to what extent did the development of the US and British economies depend on trade? To what extent does the development of contemporary economies in the third world depend on trade---is it different than it was for the US and Britain? The reason I ask is that I don't have any feel for how much "internal" domestic development there could be in third world nations that wouldn't depend on the goodwill of developed nations, if they were to just get their own act together. What you say about competition among nations would seem only to apply if trade were critical. But another thing I don't understand about this is that our trade deficit is at an all-time high; should I understand this to mean that other nations are actually "beating" us?

More responses later, on this and the new thread... 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/13/2006 10:13:00 AM  

I must agree with RT that church welfare and PEF are underfunded and with the premise that the underlying reason is that they are voluntary. Why? Because not only are humans naturally lazy, but we are naturally selfish so we don't want to work and we don't want to give what we have to others. Until we embrace the concept of Work we must, but the lunch is free we will continue to struggle with these aspects of the natural man.

Is it Satanic to coerce charity? Are government-based transfer payments just legalized theft? I don't believe so, because as society we have the obligation to provide for those who can't provide for themselves and because of the above reasons, we don't seem to do so voluntarily.

Regarding U.S. and Great Britain foreign economic policies and the reason for their growth: they both embraced capitalism (legal structure that discriminates between those who have capital and those who don't) at the expense of free markets (a truly level playing field). They have used their political and military power to manipulate the economies and politics of third world counties in order to maintain access to cheap resources and cheap labor in these countries: That is how they have been economically successful. 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/13/2006 12:49:00 PM  

RoastedTomatoes,  I can see how forcing people to have retirement accounts might be a good idea so society doesn't have to bail them out later, similar to forcing people to have car insurance (I do think the way Social Security is implemented is a bad idea, however---I think it should be real money in indvidual accounts, not a pyramid scheme as it currently is). Perhaps instead of general funding of government welfare programs there could be individual "charity accounts" people were forced to contribute certain minimum amounts to, but be allowed to make their own selections of programs or organizations the money goes to that they feel work best.

Again, more later... 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/13/2006 02:24:00 PM  

Mike W., I'm curious as to how your concept of a free market where the playing field is level. What sort of laws do you have in mind? Are you referring to anarcho-syndicalism (perhaps this is a better reference...), or do you have something else in mind?


Comment by Robert C. | 2/13/2006 07:45:00 PM  

Watt,  I can sort of see your point, but I think that superficially at least there's a difference between the things you name and welfare: the things you name are services we receive, as opposed to indiscriminate resource transfer to people who are not working or whatever, without the person-to-person oversight and encouragement churches etc. can provide. Now perhaps the bread and circus argument would say that keeping people fed and therefore out of criminality and prison, which entail greater costs down the road, are actually a service to us as well... 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/13/2006 10:20:00 PM  

Mike W.  (and RT), I don't know how drastically underfunded those programs are. If things were as calamitous as you make it sound I would imagine President Hinckley would be pounding the pulpit every General Conference for vastly greater contributions, and he would get them.

I think there are limits to how quickly effective programs like Church welfare and PEF can grow and absorb funds, as they require individual leadership, shepherding, mentoring, etc. I agree that those who cannot provide for themselves need to be provided for, and that people deserve educational opportunity, but if more money is thrown around than can be individually administered I don't know that it will accomplish long-term good, and could actually backfire. (How well can national beauracracies detect and help those who cannot help themselves?) 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/13/2006 10:32:00 PM  

Mike W.,  you'll have to forgive my rudimentary American Heritage level understanding of economics, but my knee-jerk reaction is that capitalism and free markets are intimately related rather than being contrasting schemes. Could you spell this out for me a little more?

Also, could you substantiate the charge of our manipulation of the third world in such a way as to intentionally keep them down in order to get cheap labor and resources? I'm open to arguments, but I don't see politicians of either party acting that cravenly, at least intentionally, so the charge lacks surface plausibility with me. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/13/2006 11:07:00 PM  

Capitalism is an economic and legal environment that is set up to provide increased access to capital for those who have capital (i.e. tax breaks for Wal-Mart, incentives to large corporations). Free enterprise is a system in which if I want to open a retail store, the same laws apply to me as apply to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart would need to submit to the same regulations (or in a true free market economy, the lack thereof). The way it currently stands in the U.S. is tax laws and regulations give huge breaks to big business and there isn't free enterprise.

As for U.S. involvement in third world politics and economics--say a Central American country freely elects a president who wants to institute a 40 hour work week and allow the banana growers to unionize. However, that would dramatically increase the price of bananas in the U.S. So the U.S. helps depose the freely elected president and helps prop up a more economically friendly executive in his place. (This is not a hypothetical situation nor is it an isolated incident). There is more here.  Noam Chomsky is a very adamant critic of U.S. foreign policy going back to the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations and doesn't distinguish between political parties as targets for his criticism. I don't buy everything he says, but I think he makes important points.

 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/14/2006 12:03:00 AM  

Robert C.

Don't you think there is a dramatic difference between the free market economics of Hayek and Von Mises and the current state of capitalism? Our system has soooo much regulation and manipulation (market subsidies, tax breaks, corporate welfare). It is their system of free market economics to which I refer.

I'm not an anarchist (although it might be interesting to see it in an educated, post-enlightenment world). | 2/14/2006 12:09:00 AM  

The last comment was mine also.

Christian,

Because fast offerings and church welfare are run on a local level, there is a lot more available in the U.S. than say Paraguay (where the need is much greater). If we could increase the donations where members have more to give we might be able to alleviate much more poverty in the church worldwide. Additionally, increased support for the PEF would allow expansion to include older members (>30) who need the same service and assistance.

I believe that Pres. Hinckley knows how to best grow the PEF and that slow growth with appropriate management is the most effective and efficient way. But if the adequate funding were present, so much more could be done. 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/14/2006 12:16:00 AM  

Christian wrote:
"I think that superficially at least there's a difference between the things you name and welfare: the things you name are services we receive, as opposed to indiscriminate resource transfer to people who are not working or whatever..."
--

I understand that there's potentially a difference...that's why I didn't use the welfare word (such a baggage-laden term). I'm not talking about welfare...at least not only or primarily. I'm talking about setting priorities on eliminating hunger, poverty, poor/no healthcare and such. How it's done need not be confined to current paradigms.

Additionaly, everyone gets the benefit of current government services...whether rich, poor, unemployed, invalid, or even tax-evading. That's the beauty of it. And this is in fact a gigantic form of resource transfer.

Again, I'm thinking in terms of prioritites. It makes me sick to see us spending (and borrowing) billions for war, corporate subsidies, and tax breaks...while our infrastructure, education system, etc. rots and while people go without food, shelter, healthcare, etc.

It's a sick, sick system that can and must be fixed. Arguments about the evils of wealth redistribution (actually I greatly prefer your term: "resource transfer") are not only inaccurate and unequally applied...they are a huge distraction...in my opinion.

Comment by Watt Mahoun | 2/14/2006 12:26:00 AM  

BTW, I'm enjoying the discussion in both threads. Good questions, Christian. I also want to let RT, Robert C, Mike W, and Anon know that I really enjoy the comments and thoughts.

Comment by Watt Mahoun | 2/14/2006 12:54:00 AM  

Thanks, everyone, for the comments. Once again my responses will be dribbling out slowly today, with some not coming until this evening.

Mike,  I'm ignorant on the differential tax breaks and regulations that apply to large and small businesses. Perhaps you have some more concrete examples? Without that, my default guess would be that efficiency factors associated with economy of scale play a much, much bigger role than differential government policies towards large and small businesses when it comes to the success of WalMart over a mom & pop corner market. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/14/2006 08:14:00 AM  

Christian 

You are right that the economy of scale makes Wal-Mart much more efficient and thereby able to charge lower prices that small businesses and out-compete them. That's not the point. The point is that our system actually given the Wal-Marts and Home Depots of the world legal  preference. See here  and here and here. This system is anti-competative and anti-free market. 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/14/2006 09:57:00 AM  

Mike,  I didn't take the time to look for the specific banana story on Chomsky's page (broken link by the way, here  is the correct one). I have to say I would be very, very surprised if the U.S. would overthrow a government because of banana prices---to use a phrase I used earlier, this lacks surface plausibility (physicists are trained to be bold in deploying their finely-honed bullshit detectors, and slash and burn their way to the fundamentals that actually matter to outcomes---and I seriously doubt that the price of bananas is one of these).

I did take a couple quick clicks to poke around Wikipedia re Chomsky, and see that he is identified with "libertarian socialism." Per the quadrants on my other thread, this seems like an obvious oxymoron---which likely means it is either very stupid or very profound. As a linguist with seminal contributions, Chomsky is obviously a bright guy; but there is a lot of convincing to do before it will make sense to me. "...abolition of the State and of private control over the means of production", the Wikipedia capsule description of libertarian socialism, sounds like nobody is producing anything, which frankly does not sound very promising. (BTW, Robert C. was astute in bringing up anarcho-syndicalism, as this also comes up in connection with libertarian socialism on the Wikipedia page.) 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/14/2006 10:07:00 AM  

Christian 

Here  is a link to a book detailing the events taken from declassified government papers.

Regarding Chomsky, I don't agree with his solutions to the problems, but I do think that we need to take his criticisms seriously, especially regarding U.S. foreign policy. 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/14/2006 11:39:00 AM  

Christian, you might be surprised to learn that I'm entirely sympathetic to your idea of private charity accounts with mandatory contributions but control over spending. Waste and corruption are a fact of life in welfare and development, and competition might well help address that.

With respect to trade and development, the answers are far too complicated to put in a comment. At some point, I'll try to put together a post on the topic of late development. Let me just make a few points. The question of surplus vs. deficit in trade isn't equivalent to exploitation. Nor does the difference between early and late development require exploitation. Instead, it's simply about relative prices. While England mechanized cloth production, its only competition was laborious, hand-created cloth. Hence, the long, slow process of refining technology and developing social institutions compatible with industrial processes could happen in an economically supportive environment. However, the second country to industrialize cloth production had to compete with cheap, efficient English cloth production and therefore faced immense costs in making the technological and social changes necessary to achieve efficient industrial production. The basic problem for late developers is that domestic capital and technological innovation are relatively scarce in comparison with early developers -- both because of direct effects of competition and because of the resulting reduction in time available for experimentation. 

Comment by RoastedTomatoes | 2/14/2006 01:09:00 PM  

Watt:  It's a sick, sick system that can and must be fixed. 

I don't know if I would go that far. For the most part I don't see the "hunger, poverty, poor/no healthcare and such" here in our country. I don't deny all these things exist for very many people in today's world, but from what I can gather from occasional exposure to historical novels and movies (sorry I haven't read much real history) all of this seems to have been much, much worse in ages past. I think our "sick, sick system" has led to much for which we can be very grateful. Of course, that's not to say there aren't things that couldn't be better! 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/14/2006 02:30:00 PM  

"Of course, that's not to say there aren't things that couldn't be better!"

That's the spirit! :-)

I agree that we should be gateful, and gratitude should increase our hope and drive us to continued improvement...not static acceptance.

Also, I didn't mean to restrict my "sick" reference to the US only...but while we're on the subject...

From the US Census :

Poverty

* Among counties with 250,000 or more people in 2004, poverty rates ranged from 2.6 percent in Johnson, Kan., to 43.6 percent in Hidalgo, Texas. Among places of a similar size, the poverty rates ranged from 7.4 percent for Anchorage, Alaska, to 33.6 percent for Detroit.

* Among the 37 counties with 1 million or more people in 2004, seven experienced changes in their poverty rates between 2003 and 2004. Of those seven, Broward, Fla., and Oakland, Mich., showed decreases, while Allegheny, Pa., Bronx, N.Y.; King, Wash.; Nassau, N.Y.; and Wayne, Mich., had increases. Among the nine cities of this size, New York, N.Y., saw its poverty rate rise, while poverty in the other places remained unchanged.

Health Insurance Coverage

Overview

* The percentage of the nation’s population without health insurance coverage remained unchanged, at 15.7 percent in 2004.

* The percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance declined from 60.4 percent in 2003 to 59.8 percent in 2004.

* The percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs rose in 2004, from 26.6 percent to 27.2 percent, driven by increases in the percentage of people with Medicaid coverage, from 12.4 percent in 2003 to 12.9 percent in 2004.

* The proportion and number of uninsured children did not change in 2004, remaining at 11.2 percent or 8.3 million.
--

Yes, even in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world: Houston, we have a problem....

But no, let's talk about tax cuts and military spending for a more "secure" America. :-)

Comment by Watt Mahoun | 2/14/2006 04:52:00 PM  

Mike, I think there are some obvious problems with most of the links on corporate welfare you provided. I don't have time to write an elaborate response, let me just outline a few thoughts instead:

* In general, corporations have to pay much higher taxes than privately-owned businesses. C-Corps have to pay roughly a 34% income tax (actually it's a progressive schedule that maxes out around 34% last I checked), whereas S-Corps, LLC's, partnerships and sole-proprietorships are all exempt (they only have to pay regular income tax, whereas corporate investors have to pay income or capital gains taxes on earnings, in addition to the corporate income tax--this is often called double taxation. Of course there are retirement savings programs that can offset these taxes). I'd imagine the magnitude of these effects is orders of magnitude larger than the anecdotal stories the links you provided mention (it's hard to tell b/c the links don't provide much by way of documentation).

* Banrkuptcy laws are quite lenient to small businesses and individuals as well as large corporations. Hard in my mind to make a case of corporate favoritism on this issue....

* You bring up some good points about government playing favoritism, that's something the public should always be wary of. However, it's often viewed as the lesser of evils. An important role played by stockholders is monitoring of corporations. Although there have been big headlines recently about accounting scandals, such issues are extremely uncommon in relative terms when compared to corruption that occurs with small businesses and other types of government systems.

* I think the distinction between free enterprise and capitalism is a bit artificial. Yes, I agree we have a lot of regulation in our economy, but I see the distinction you present as a matter of degree, not a fundamental difference. I understand many people have notions of a completely unregulated capitalist system, or a completely unregulated socialist system (a la libertarian socialism), but it seems these are abstract philosophical terms. In describing current economic systems, I think characterising them as more or less regulated is more accurate than trying to say they are or are not free market systems.

Hope I'm not coming off as too abrupt. You raise a lot of good issues, but I think many of the links you provided use unsubstantiated inflammatory language that I don't have a lot of patience for. 

Comment by Robert C. | 2/14/2006 05:53:00 PM  

RT, I'm curious about your point on early vs. late developers. The rationale for patents by way of example is based on providing incentives to encourage innovation. China right now is a late developer but trying to steal technology that the rest of the world recognizes as patents. Are you implying that laws such as these unduly punish late developers? | 2/14/2006 05:58:00 PM  

Robert C. 

I agree with you about the language. It is emotional. Unfortunately people don't seem to listen to the calm, collected appeals to logic because we feel too comfortable in our current system.

As for regulation, it is necessary to the point that it protects workers and consumers from abuses, but we need to take a hard look at subsidies and lobby reform as it affects business structure.

 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/15/2006 12:26:00 AM  

Mike  (from way back here ), I'm not a big fan of "corporate welfare." Robert apparently knows more than I do, but it is also my impression that there are federal tax breaks and even grants for small businesses. And I'm not sure I see anything wrong with communities or states offering tax breaks in order to bring in more jobs (as long as it's a reasoned judgment and not simple corruption).

Anyway, as we agreed before, economy of scale is the real driver here, and I get the sense that this taxation and corporate welfare business is just tinkering at the margins.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardal | 2/15/2006 06:42:00 AM  

Mike  (from here ), it sounds like what I suspected: the driving motivator for U.S. actions was a perception (rightly or wrongly) of communism---thought to be an issue of larger moment---rather than concern about fruit prices. But even if there was a larger motivation, I would not be surprised if there was a lot bungling and incompetence in its pursuit.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardal | 2/15/2006 06:57:00 AM  

Christian 

I think that Chomksy (in a well-documented and much more intelligently-stated fashion than I can) has demostrated, at least enough to encourage us to question the assumptions and the party-line coming out of Washington, that much of the foreign policy actions were not so much due to fear of Communism, but more so to enforce long-lasting control over markets and resources. I'll try to find a most appropriate specific link for you to check out. 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/15/2006 12:43:00 PM  

This talk  by Chomsky is a good primer to his view and documentation. 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/15/2006 01:03:00 PM  

RoastedTomatoes,  I agree the topic is huge, and am grateful for your answer as far as it goes, and look forward to any future posts you may produce. Just so you're aware of what people like me with more opinions than knowledge about the matter might wonder about, I'll mention a couple of other questions.

First, I know that trade deficits do not mean there is no "exploitation," but I find it puzzling that between free market economies such trade deficits would result in "underdevelopment" and "exploitation" indefinitely---either because the trade ends up smoothing out the gradients between nations, or even if gradients pesist, because in absolute terms of human suffering conditions improve to the point that the labels "underdevelopment" and "exploitation" are not really applicable anymore.

Second, your account of the difficulty of secondary development seems unable to explain the transition to the present condition, which locates much (most?) industrial production outside  the U.S. and Britain. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/15/2006 07:51:00 PM  

Watt,  I wonder about definitions and changes thereof, but nevertheless I don't dispute the basic point... Not all is well in Zion, so to speak.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/15/2006 08:02:00 PM  

Mike,  thanks for the link. I've only had a chance to skim it very briefly. I'll confess it initially strikes me as pretty fringe, conspiracy-theory type stuff. I have a hard time believing such ideas could be the intentional mainspring of U.S. policy for decades on end, driven by some hidden cabal across both political parties, without more open discussion and awareness of it coming up and catching on. Even the harshest critics of Vietnam are not far enough for him, which shows he's pretty "out there."

Of course, that in and of itself doesn't make him wrong. Joseph Smith was pretty "out there" too, and I admit I may be reacting like someone with a knee-jerk uninformed opinion about him. But for better or worse being "out there" means they are either very right or very wrong, and I guess most people make "safe" choices on what to spend their limited resources of time and interest on. But who knows, I may now become curious enough to read some more. At least you've succeeded in exposing me a bit to something new. ;-> 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/15/2006 08:29:00 PM  

Christian,

What definitions are you referring to and what changes were you wondering about?

Comment by Watt Mahoun | 2/15/2006 08:42:00 PM  

Mike, I thought I posted something yesterday, but I don't see it today, I must've miscued. In short, I think Chomsky is a pretty careful thinker and worth studying. Not having stuying him very carefully, I understand many his criticisms of the current system, but I don't know what his solutions are. I agree there are lots of problems with our current sytem (though I might quibble about some points he makes), but I don't think that's in dispute. What is in dispute, is whether a proposed solution would be better than the system we currently have, despite all the problems inherent in it. So, echoing Churchill, I think the hard case to make is that capitalism isn't just the worst economic system save all others.... 

Comment by Robert C. | 2/16/2006 06:46:00 PM  

Watt,  if I were to dig into the matters you mentioned (which I probably won't do right now), I would wonder about how things like "poverty" are defined, and how those definitions might have changed.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/16/2006 07:43:00 PM  

Robert C. 

This is the same problem I have with Chomsky. Is he suggesting that we just throw off the US government as it stands? How do we influence central foreign policy planning to make the necessary changes? Do we need a complete revamping of the political system? The problems seem deeply rooted and any changes would need to be equally profound, which makes it exceedingly difficult. Maybe we will just deteriorate in the market state that Alvin Toeffler and Phillip Bobbit predict.

Thanks for the statement from Churchill...it hits the mark...but is there another system not yet explored??

 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/16/2006 11:19:00 PM  

Sorry about not including links. I am still getting the hang of this blogging thing.

Philip Bobbitt  and Alvin Toffler
 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/17/2006 12:08:00 AM  

Mike, thanks for those links, I've heard of Bobbitt regarding constitutional law, but not Toffler, nice to learn a bit about him.

I while ago I started a couple rough wiki pages of notes here  and here on some of the issues we've been discussing, more in terms of LDS beliefs and scriptures, but if you find any more interesting sources, blog threads, or just have any new thoughts, I'd appreciate you bringing them to my attention by adding them to the wiki page (just be sure to leave your name so I know who to thank).
 

Comment by Robert C. | 2/17/2006 10:02:00 PM  

Christian 

Perhaps this  link will explain more clearly where I was coming from in this earlier comment about the difference between capitalism and free markets.

 

Comment by Mike W. | 2/23/2006 02:59:00 PM  

Mike,  thanks for the link. I could only skim it but it seems like an interesting history lesson.

I don't deny that "corporate welfare" exists, but there are also grants etc. for small businesses I believe. Likewise there is regulation of both. But are either of these heavy enough to say we don't have free markets? Or that small businesses cannot succeed? I doubt it---I haven't seen quantitative figures that would persuade me how big these factors are as a fraction of the total amount of money flowing through the system (I'm not an economist so I don't know what the best measures of impact are). It seems like big companies die and new small businesses are born all the time---Google is a multibillion dollar company that started from, what, two graduate students? ---so I still remain skeptical there's horrible flaws in the system or something. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 2/23/2006 09:50:00 PM  

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