Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Comments on Belmont Club "Opening the package"


Yesterday I went to a debate on the Green Subsidies sponsored by the Smith Family Foundation http://www.thesmithfamilyfoundation.org. These are always the best policy debates available. A nice enough fellow arguing for "green investments" on behalf of the National Resources Defense Council pointed out that he had spent years working for Nomura so he knew that mindless stimulus spending wouldn't work and the problem was that the lack of liquidity brought about by the housing manipulations prevented the presumably worthy projects he was advocating from getting market financing. When I pointed out that no one could seriously trust these projects to the same corrupt people who created the financial meltdown to begin with he could only spread his hands and smile.

When asked which was more environmentally destructive a regulated socialized society or a freer less regulated one the representative of Green for All claimed not to know. The representative of the American Enterprise Institute happily took that ball and ran with it. I was reminded of:

Vaclav Havel's New years Speech

At the end a nice campus radical, I do not know if he was a Sparticist or a Revolutionary Maoist or a member of some other alphabet party, tried to have some fun with me after assuming that I was a representative of Wealth and Power. Since I was alas painfully aware that he had no judgement in these matters I was not threatened and enjoyed the encounter. Shows you that the left are more slavishly dependent on appearances and good clothes than the right is. His problem was that he wanted people to want "better things" cleaner air or dignity for old auto workers, choices that meant altering their preferences. When I pointed out that the preferences were a priori to the economic analysis he wanted to make people change their desires, what I called their Utilities. Given the extensive track record on the results of having sincere people use government power to change the General Will to a more moral position I felt safe in urging him to, in Vaclav Havel's words, "Look out the window."

@Eggplant (Comment #201),
This is similar to the problem I faced when talking to the campus radical in my post #75. He was emotionally ready I think to emulate other great revolutionary intellectuals such as Pol Pot and sacrifice the selfish inhabitants of the present for a more moral future. Regrettably I do not see that the external code is sufficient protection against following that path. Humans are to smart, to adaptable and flexible for that. The most subtle and competent among us are the most likely to succumb to the temptations of solipsism. Any decently trained scholar can twist a moral text to justify purging a guilty land in blood.

What is needed is an internal brake and not one that is sophisticated but rather one that is more durable for being modest. Whiskey is right is pointing out that the responsibilities of domestic life make women, and I would think men, more practical and focused. This reduces the risk of their engaging in selfish and romantic explorations that could endanger society at large. One reason that I believe in 6 months of universal military training after the 17th birthday is that, at a minimal cost to society since little other productive activity would be forgone, people would get sufficient training in practical problem solving to reduce the probability of their falling prey to irrational exuberance in the future. People need to be taught, in Vaclav Havel's phrase, to "look out the window."

Of course we will always need some risk takers, visionaries and rule breakers. A general encouragement of individual restraint and modesty in the culture, in far more than the sexual sense, will allow for personal liberty and creativity while stopping conditions in which the "Sex and the City" Left both milks the productive cow dry and ties down the risk taking sheep dogs, while falling prey to Millenarian moral extremists.

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