I saw a sight unseen,Was corrupted and pristine,Quaked without a qualm,Panicked while calm.

I resolved a paradox,Was cured by a deadly pox,Read between the linesOf unintentional designs.

And in the end it had begun,Having lost at last we won,Learning though never taught,Finding what was never sought.

I heard a thought unspoken,A portent, a sign, a token,And finally I heard,Not a single solitary word.

The crackling of the fire

On a blustery winter day,

Our woes upon the pyre

Sent serenely on their way.

Of this life I often tire,

And yet choose always to stay,

To laugh, love, aspire,

Preach, teach, and play.

Someday I will expire,

Like this flame that holds my gaze,

And join the silent choir,

Beyond the dancing blaze.

A whisper rustled the reeds by the river,The soft breath of a world in repose.I wondered if it was there to deliverMe from the burden of weightless woes.

It was the emptiness of the message it bore,That emptied the mind of its charge.Through the dark banks of the river it tore,Like the prow of an invisible barge.

And on the deck there proudly stoodA spirit that none could see.Cloaked in invisible cape and hood,I felt its eyes look right through me.

The wake of the whisper became again still.The reeds fell back asleep.And my eyes with tears began to fill,Though I knew not for what I weep.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

In a new wave of the use of Colorado Confluence, I have begun posting pithy or thoughtful short articulations on the Facebook page, in colorful boxes with fancy fonts (please stop by and check them out: One such passage is:

“Extreme individualists don’t get that we are in reality interdependent. Empathy is a good thing, that enriches us all. And there is nothing about ‘the state’ that makes it a social institution that must never, by some bizarre and arbitrary moral imperative, be used as a vehicle for our empathy and interdependence.”

A commenter named “Richard” replied, “Interesting thought, but how does that allow anyone access to other’s funds JUST BECAUSE they have more?”

To which I responded:

Richard, we start from two distinct premises, operating within two distinct cognitive frames. The first step is to recognize these two distinct frames.

One frame (yours) is that we are primarily individuals, whose relative wealth and welfare is primarily a product of our own actions and merit, that the society we belong to is nothing more than a contractual relationship among otherwise absolutely mutually independent individuals, and that justice requires a clear public recognition that “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours, period.”

Another frame (mine) is that we are simultaneously individuals and members of a society, that our individual existence is as much a function of our being members of a society as our society is a function of our being individuals, that we speak and think and feel within the framework of languages and cultures and conceptualizations that we did not individually invent, that our individuality is a marginal variation of a shared consciousness and shared existence, and that the welfare of each of us is the responsibility of all of us.

In my frame (as in Ben Franklin’s, I might add), all wealth belongs simultaneously to the individual and to the society, since both are implicated in its production. Certain, substantial, extensive protections of the individual claims on that wealth are both functional and fair, but so are certain, substantial, extensive protections of the societal claims on that wealth.

It is a balancing act, rather than absolutely one or the other. An unintended consequence of our founding ideology was a weakening of the implicit recognition that we are interdependent members of a society, something the founding fathers didn’t really have to worry about, because that interdependence was so universally historically unchallenged that they did not have any experience within which to identify any concern for its continuation. (The unlimited pursuit of absolute “liberty” is similar to our craving for sugar, salt, and fat: In the African savanna in which we evolved, we could never get enough of those essential food-stuffs, so we evolved to crave as much as we could get. Similarly, in the 18th century, it was hard to imagine getting enough “liberty,” so we cultivated an ideology that only craved ever more of it.)

So, your cognitive frame of “what’s mine is mine” is not necessarily the only rational or functional or moral cognitive frame, and it is, arguably, less rational and functional and moral than one which recognizes our interdependence, recognizes that members of a society generally are involved in the production of wealth and welfare in that society generally, and that the distributional injustices embedded in the system (through differential inheritances and birth into differing opportunity structures, for instance) are our shared responsibility to remedy. (End of response to Richard)

I titled this post “The War of American Interdependence” because we won the war of Independence, which turned out not to be just a war of independence from Great Britain, but also from one another. In fact, we have been fighting the war of independence from one another for the past two centuries, and those who have been on the side of increasing mutual independence have generally been in reality fighting for their own advantage in the context of inescapable interdependence.

Throughout our history, there have been those who have insisted that “liberty” means “my liberty to screw others.” No one shouted “Liberty!” louder than southern white slave owners, insisting that it would be an infringement on their liberty to free the slaves (see John C. Calhoun’s “Union and Liberty,” for instance). Then, when they lost that battle for American (pseudo)-mutual-independence, they re-emerged in the form of southern racists defending Jim Crow against the “tyranny” of the federal government.

It should come as no surprise, then, that they have re-emerged in our own age, reincarnated to protect those institutionalized inequalities of opportunity and privilege that exist today. Again, we have many shouting “Liberty!” as a rallying cry against increasing equality of opportunity in America, and decreasing a gross and indefensible concentration of wealth in far too few hands.

It doesn’t matter to them that the distribution of wealth in America is much more a function (as a matter of statistical fact) of what womb you are born into than how hard you work. It doesn’t matter to them that we are the most economically inequitable of all developed nations (and, largely as a result, perform worse by almost every measure of social wellbeing). It doesn’t even matter to them that this grossly inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity is bad for the economy as a whole, record-breaking concentrations of wealth immediately preceding major economic collapses.

All that matters to them is that they have an ideology that blindly defends this status quo, and blindly rejects all reason and compassion militating against it.

So now I declare the War of American Interdependence, the war to become a society once again, to recognize that we are not just a collection of disaggregated individuals, but rather are intertwined in numerous ways, along numerous dimensions, and with numerous responsibilities to one another as a result.

Freedom is a wonderful thing, but it must be the real freedom to thrive rather than the false freedom of social incoherence. Freedom must be an expression of our social existence, rather than an obstacle to it. We must strive not just to be a “free” people, but also to be a humane people.

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(This dialogue was in response to a post by DK about how “working economists” –i.e., corporate economists—denounced the bad job numbers.)

SH: One constant of world history: The wealthiest create and propagate ideologies that legitimate inequality as the natural and necessary order, and insist that addressing inequality can’t be done without hurting everyone. And yet, the continuing approach of the still elusive ideal of true equality of opportunity is precisely what has done more to generate ever more wealth, as well as extend it to ever more people. Those who counsel abandoning that enterprise now are identical to all those throughout history who have counseled abandoning it in their own time and place: Wrong.

Economics is not the study of how to rationalize inequality; it is the study of how wealth is created and distributed, and should serve the ongoing challenge to do so ever more robustly, ever more fairly, and ever more sustainably. You cite those who treat it as the former; I am one of those who treat it as the latter.

By the way, no one is happy with the job numbers. We were on the brink of a second Great Depression in 2008, with job loss rising at a rapidly accelerating rate, the trajectory of deepening economic collapse. Within two months of implementing ARRA, the tide was turned to a decelerating rise in unemployment, the trajectory of recovery. We averted a major and long-enduring economic collapse, and you’re citing 8% unemployment four years later as proof of…what? That you will do anything and say anything to further a blindly partisan agenda and reduce the influence of reason in public affairs?

DK: A “working economist” is one who has one or more corporate clients or perhaps is hired by an “industry” to project the short and long-term impact of the current economic conditions on that corporation or industry they represent (more micro economics). It helps those private companies and or industries to decide how to staff and deploy capital. They normally don’t have a political agenda, but a wise investor is going to pay attention to what they are saying. It is true that they are not making moral judgments. Somewhat like justice in that regard they are smart to be “blind”. They do help to form confidence or not. I know that “liberals” make fun of cliches like , “trickle down economics ” and “a rising tide floats all boats”, but it can’t be denied that it takes a “rising tide”, a better growth in the economy than we are now seeing, for those less prosperous to do better too. When many of the working economists (as opposed to those in the ivory towers) tell their business clients they should be cautious, you won’t be seeing growth anytime soon. It’s not politics, it’s just helping the client weather the storm. It’s their job and if done right, it floats more boats. Unlike government, businesses have to use capital wisely or they fail.

SH: It is true that short-term aggregate economic growth is one valuable dimension, which is why I always include it (“robustness”). But the dimensions of fairness and sustainability are also valuable dimensions. The form of economics to which you refer is not dedicated to any of those three dimensions, but rather a corporate or sectoral share of short-term aggregate growth. It’s akin to saying that a military strategist is more of an expert on international relations than those who study international relations in all of its myriad aspects; it may sound good to those who are inclined to think in a particular way, but it is the fallacy of saying that strategy for advantage has and is a broader view than synoptic, comprehensive analysis.

The proof of the fallacy of your argument is the combination of its antiquity, and the fact that in every other time and place in which a variant of it has been used, we now consider it to be an elitist artifact of a discredited earlier epoch. You confuse the need to have a healthy economy with the need to focus on championing the interests of the wealthiest, and while you may think that you can prevail with that position, you can only do so if reason applied to knowledge is effectively purged from consideration.

Since the onset of “trickle-down economics” (1980) in fact, the wealth of the wealthiest 1% has sky-rocketed, while the wealth of everyone else has slightly declined, graphically marking a noticeable departure from the previous decades of similar rates of growth between the two. (See the cover graph at​TheOther98.) Once again, reality has to be considered to be more compelling than self-serving speculation about how the world works that is empirically contradicted by reality.

Conversely, in those countries less infected with your elitist ideology, there is in fact a far greater extension of prosperity to a far larger segment of the society. Poverty rates are lower, along with a host of associated social problems, health outcomes are better, and the gini coefficient (the statistical measure of economic inequality) is lower (we have by far the highest of any developed country, and simultaneously the highest poverty rates and lowest social mobility rates of any developed country). Again, reality contradicts your elitist fantasy world, that serves the conscience and interests of the wealthiest, who want only to be left to continue to siphon an inordinate and economically dysfunctional proportion of national wealth into their relatively few hands, and to do so in a way that they feel able to rationalize to themselves and to everyone else.

No honest thinking person could possibly be fooled by this. Larger proportions of the rest of the developed world enjoy prosperity than Americans do, by not buying into your elitist rationalizations, which have been statistically proven to serve only the interests of the wealthiest Americans.

And, once again, I have to remind that the two greatest economic collapses of the last 100 years were both immediately preceded by the two highest extremes in the concentration of wealth in the last 100 years, which in turn were preceded by a decade or more of your favored economic philosophy. Once again, you prefer a self-serving fantasy to a very clear reality.

The tide was indeed rising, but you and your fellow neo-robber barons sealed out the rest of the ships in our national harbor from partaking in it, so that a few in an elite lock can benefit from it more extravagantly. And, as a result, since this particular tide DEPENDS on other ships rising, we all have sunk together…, except the elites, who will protect themselves until there is no wealth left to monopolize.

DK: The USA is A and China is A1 in terms of economic power and how these two nations go, so will the world. I’ve been to China and I must say in my opinion we do a much better job of equitably helping our citizens enjoy their lives. There are about as many poor people in our country, as a percentage of the population as there was in my youth, 50 years ago, in spite of all our efforts to help people out of poverty. I must say there are better safety nets for the low to middle income wage earners, but that doesn’t take into account the better products and foods available to everyone today. I think it is better to be poor here than in Brazil, China or India. Maybe it’s better in Spain or Italy, but not for long. I do believe that our economic system does a better job of creating economic growth. The proof is the USA remains the big dog in economics. What brought us to this point of great wealth as a nation is what will sustain us. I don’t think most Americans want to be anyone else, be it Sweden or Germany or whatever advanced economy you happen to think is better than us. I think we’ll go home with the girl we brought to the dance. We will at the same time try to tweak the system to help the unproductive will well, but we will not allow them to drag us all down. Any lifeguard knows this.

SH: Once again, you have responded by ignoring every single empirical point I made, and changing the subject in order to repeat your preferred talking points as if they’d never been challenged. I don’t know who buys it, but, whoever it is, they didn’t need to, because they’d have to have already been convinced to do so.

You also, when drawing comparisons, somehow managed to avoid actually discussing Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Luxemburg, France, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, The UK, Ireland, Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand…, you know, the group of countries to which I was actually referring. All you do is make a bland and meaningless assertion about how most Americans don’t want to be them, as if to say “it doesn’t matter how much better the quality of life is anywhere else; I will simultaneously make a false economic argument and insulate it by saying it doesn’t matter that it’s false, because Americans care more about ideological entrenchment than any improvement in the quality of life.” Interesting how you do that.

By the way, I’m an American too. And I care about the growth in human consciousness and the improvement of the human condition. There was a time when most Americans thought that slavery was just fine, and a minority felt that it was wrong. That minority was right to keep fighting to persuade their fellow Americans to adopt a more enlightened perspective. So, let’s not use what “most Americans” believe or feel or prefer as an argument about what is true or more useful or more moral. That’s why we have discussions like this one: To help us arrive at the best possible, best informed, and best reasoned answers.

Again, here is the reality of the correlation between marginal tax rates and aggregate economic growth (the exact opposite of what you insist it is): http://​​blogs/ezra-klein/post/​tax-rates-and-economic-grow​th-in-one-graph/2011/05/​19/AGLaxJeH_blog.html.

You can’t erase the facts, David. You make economic assertions that 80% of economists dissgree with, and that are empirically contradicted, and, when that’s pointed out, just repeat those assertions again.

So, while you’re propagating your dogmatic rationalizations for extreme economic inequality, and why it’s good for everyone, let’s take stock of some of the facts and issues you’ve never addressed:

1) The fact depicted in the graph I linked to above, that shows that, until the onset of “trickle down economics,” incomes had been rising for all of us fairly steadily and equally. After the onset, incomes began to rise dramatically for the wealthiest, and to decline for everyone else.

2) The fact that economic growth is positively correlated to higher marginal tax rates rather than lower marginal tax rates

3) the fact that we are currently still at one of two historical extremes in the concentration of wealth, both of which immediately preceded the two most catastrophic economic collapses of the last hundred years;

4) the fact that that condition, in both instances, followed a decade or more of the small (domestic policy) government and deregulatory policies that you favor;

5) the fact that, historically, the policies favored by the wealthiest members of a society have always had a bias which has advantaged the wealthiest members of the society at least sometimes at the expense of the less well-off;

6) the fact that you seem to want to rely exclusively, as your policy compass, on the policies currently favored by the wealthiest members of our society, and by the journals that exist to express and serve their interests;

7) the fact that every single prosperous, modern, developed nation has had a large governmental infrastructure in place since before the last great wave of expansion in the production of prosperity (and so how can you possibly call that antithetical to the production of prosperity, when it is universally associated with it, in what the chronology suggests is a somewhat causal relationship?); AND

8) the fact that actual economic theory helps explain why that historical reality is the historical reality, and how to approach public policy analysis with that dimension of the challenge in mind.

DK: Steve, I try to boil ideas into simple concepts. It’s bites most people can understand. In the US those who are not poor live as well if not better than those people in other developed countries. They are happy. Those below the poverty line are not as happy and I can only guess how they compare to poor in other countries. For example, the poor here live better than most people in Africa, yes? The liberal consist of 23% of our voters and they share your concern for social justice. I’m more concerned about the overall health of our economy and putting as few burdens on those who create wealth as is “fair”. That’s the focus of the debate. What’s fair? The US is still the world’s most successful economy (total production), so it’s silly to say our system hasn’t worked. Can it be improved and do some have too much wealth? OK, but I really don’t care what Steve Job’s net worth was. We do have more than our share of mega-billionaires that throw the averages off. But so what. They can only spend so much and in my experience (in trust banking), in the end they spend much of their time figuring out how to give that wealth away. I know that doesn’t work for “liberals” because you know best who and how the less fortunate should be helped. You’ve heard of the Lilly Foundation, Ford and on and on. It’s big government v private capital and private capital always wins when it comes to efficient use of capital. It’s simple, they have to pay attention to what they are doing and if they don’t they go out of business. We have a core difference. You think government is needed for social justice and the cost in the inefficient and slow growth is worth it. I think government is the necessary evil and the more decisions left to the individual the better it is for those who are productive and who create things and services. You really don’t care what I think (or my “experts”). By the way, I don’t invest in Europe, they are sinking fast, if you may have noticed. I mention Germany because they have been fiscally responsible. I like Canada too. They were sinking, but the conservatives took over and turned it around (and yes I know they have socialized medicine).

We have more mega-billionaires because we have had the economic freedoms here for those who are the most innovative to succeed big and change the world. I’ll mention Steve Jobs once again (because he was a political liberal) but the reason why we have so much wealth at the top is because of the great success of capitalists like him. Lot’s of that wealth is tied up in their companies. I’m sure many of the 99% malcontents picture these highly successful people sitting on a pile of money in a vault. Success in business is a good thing for our country and is how good jobs are created. Why making those successful companies these hustlers are never giving social justice a thought. They are focused in beating their competition and building a better mouse trap. Like Jobs, once successful, they often do think more about helping others. That’s really nothing new (Ford Foundation). The less government the better if the focus is on creating growth.

SH: David, by “boiling ideas into simple concepts,” you mean “weeding out inconvenient information, avoiding logical argumentation, and displacing empirical analysis with arbitrary and often demonstrably false speculation.” You “can only guess how (the poor) in other countries” compare to the poor in America? Guess what, David? You don’t have to guess, because we have a little something called “research,” which informs us. Here’s what it informs us of: There are far less of them, they have access to far more public goods, and their self-reported happiness is far higher than ours. In fact, the self-reported happiness in most Western European nations is higher than that of people in the United States in general.

Though the main issue currently under discussion is inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, and therefore how well off the affluent in America are in comparison to the affluent in other countries begs the question, it’s nevertheless quite debatable whether “those who are not poor live as well or better than those people in other developed countries.” Violent crime is far, far higher here, and a host of other social problems that we fail to address diminish the quality of everyone’s life. More importantly, those who aren’t exceedingly wealthy, who have children with special needs, who have serious health issues to deal with in their families, who face any of a host of potential challenges in life, on average and in general fare far, far worse than those similarly situated in other developed countries, as a result of our (well, your) pathological ideology of “I’ve got mine, so screw the rest of you.”

The valid comparison, of course, is between the United States and other developed countries, because those are the alternatives with similar economies and, in fact, slightly lower per capita GDP, indicating that we certainly have the resources to accomplish anything they have accomplished. The comparison to Africa is an irrelevant distraction, which, of course, is one of the principal techniques on which you rely.

Again, the empirical evidence demonstrates the convenient error in your premise that “social justice” and a healthy overall economy are at odds with one another. Among the many facts that you have failed to address are those that suggest just the opposite. There is a positive rather than negative correlation between high marginal tax rates and high GDP. The two greatest economic collapses of the last 100 years immediately followed the two highest peaks in the concentration of wealth in the last 100 years. You present a false dichotomy that serves to justify a simultaneously unjust AND systemically dysfunctional condition. But, facts aren’t relevant, right David? Only the constant repetition of your elitists rationalizations, overwhelmingly contradicted by the actual facts, can pass for “truth” in your mind.

You say “the less government the better if the focus is on creating growth,” but, again, the real world resoundingly debunks that assertion. Every single modern prosperous nation on Earth has, and has had for most of a century, an enormous governmental administrative infrastructure, which has proven necessary to managing such economies. There is not one single exception. And this was already the case prior to the last historically unprecedented expansion in the production of prosperity. On the other hand, there are many horribly failed countries with virtually no government at all, Somalia being the archetypal example. You’re assertion is simply the opposite of what observable reality supports.

If total wealth production were the only measure of a system working, then one that put 100% percent of the wealth into one person’s hands and left everyone else to starve, as long as the quantity of wealth it put into that person’s hands were more than the quantity of wealth produced in other countries, by your definition, that would be a country that no one could say was failing to “work.” Well, it works for one person, but not for the other hundreds of millions. Clearly, distributional issues are legitimate.

And not just because economies “work” when they work for the benefit of the people within them, not simply when they produce a lot of wealth that only a few enjoy. Also because such inequality leads to economic collapses, such as the one recently catalyzed in part by exactly such gross inequity in the distribution of wealth. A few traders were making fortunes in underregulated derivatives markets (divorcing short-term risk from short-term profit), while many were going underwater on their home mortgages. Again: Peaks in concentration of wealth = catastrophic economic collapses; higher marginal taxes = most robust economic performance. Those are empirical facts, which you love to disregard and replace with factually contradicted fabrications.

I could go on, of course, and demonstrate line by line how you simply ignore the empirical data, replace it with ideological speculation that is actually contradicted by demonstrable facts, and how you do so in service to a concentration of wealth into ever fewer hands, to the detriment both of the vast majority of Americans at all times, and to the functioning of the economic system as a whole in the long run.

It’s remarkable how consistently you make your arguments without ever citing a single empirical fact. All of your “arguments” are based on the assumption of your conclusion, mere repetitions of accepted and unexamined dogma, as if simply by saying it often enough and loudly enough, and doggedly enough ignoring all evidence to the contrary, your fictional world becomes a reality. It just doesn’t work that way. And most obnoxiously of all, it’s not even a fiction based on a love of humanity, a wish that we could achieve some ideal that serves the needs of those least fortunate, but rather a fiction designed to perpetuate human suffering and injustice and insulate enclaves of great wealth from the sea of humanity around it.

It’s also remarkable how thoroughly you rely on straw man arguments. Of course the success of business is a good thing. I am a believer in carefully considering what facilitates the success of business as we continue to refine our economic policies. It is a vital consideration, but neither one that stands alone, divorced from myriad related considerations, nor one that is incompatible with addressing those myriad related considerations. We need to attend to all relevant dimensions of a well-functioning economy as we forge our public policies: Robustness, fairness, and sustainability. (Neither is anyone here opposing enormous wealth in and of itself. It doesn’t bother me that there are extremely wealthy people; it bothers me that our system is grossly imbalanced in favor or facilitating that, and not balanced enough in favor of ensuring that others are living moderately secure and comfortable lives.)

It’s not that there are no legitimate concerns raised by the right: We do need to change our public spending paradigm, to stop a constantly growing national debt. Very few economists think that is at all defensible to try to do that during an economic downturn; that actually increases rather than decreases the debt in the long run, by slowing the economic engine that produces the wealth that generates the revenues. More generally, we should rely on legitimate economic analyses, which define a far narrower band of what’s reasonable than these blindly ideological assertions of yours. We should acknowledge and be informed by the empirical data, rather than do contortions to wish it away in service to both social injustice and economic dysfunction. And we should recognize that we are charged, as human beings, not to be slaves to the system that has evolved to serve us, but rather to channel those forces to the purpose of human liberty, human well-being, human consciousness, and human benefit.

It boils down to this, David: In any time and place, there are those who work hard to defend a status quo that is serving their interests and that they don’t want to see changed; there are those who want to change the status quo in ill-considered and irresponsible ways, and there are those who want us to use our minds and hearts and imaginations to continue to work with this ongoing evolutionary social institutional and technological landscape in which we find ourselves, to continue to refine it, to make it function better for the benefit of humanity. It’s clear at a glance that those who cling to the status quo that benefits them have never been right, have never been admired by future generations for their courage or wisdom, and have never been the ones to make the most vital and productive contributions to human history.

You cite Steve Jobs, whose genius was that he looked at the world and saw possibilities that did not yet exist, and worked to bring those possibilities to fruition. He was an innovator, a visionary, someone who introduced new ideas and new forms into our social institutional and technological landscape, to the benefit of us all. We all need to be more like that, in all of our spheres of endeavor. It’s not just about business innovation, or technological innovation; it’s also about social institutional innovation. The Constitution of The United States is a great example; it was a huge and dramatically beneficial social institutional innovation. And that project, that challenge, has not ceased. It continues; we remain called upon to rise to it.

There are many wonderful aspects of our political economy. I’ve studied it for decades, and consider it a wonder to behold. But like everything else in our world, both human and natural, it is a moment in history, an instant of a dynamical story in which we are both the participants and the authors (of the human component, at least). You are engaging in the ancient folly of defending the status quo as inviolable, a folly that has been proven counterproductive in every time and place throughout the entire story of human history. It’s time, instead, to join all reasonable people of goodwill, all people dedicated to the ongoing human enterprise, and ask with us, “how do we do better?”

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(This appeared on a Facebook thread following a post about real patriots being willing to pay taxes to support valuable social services.)

DK: It’s Interesting that a significant majority of folks who have served in the armed forces favor Romney. They do know how to make sacrifices. My bias favors those leaders who have actual experience in managing a business. Nice to have a Harvard law degree, but having a Harvard MBA too is a good base to build on. Romney proved himself as a businessman and created a fortune. But “liberals” today tend to demonize those who are successful (the evil 1%). That kind of thinking will obviously do lots to promote business creation and the needed risk taking and hard work. Romney’s success rate in turning around failing companies was about 80%. We’ll be hearing lots about the 20%. All politicians pander to their base, as you well know. The 50% of us who actually pay federal income taxes are patriots and are happy to pay those taxes. I know I’m happy to do so and frankly I’m simply amused by those who pay nothing and then have the gall to say that I don’t pay my fair share. It’s so weird.There are crazy elements on both the right and left. Some would say that liberal spendthrifts are going to bankrupt our country. Government spending is not all that different than personal finance. You have to set priorities. That is being responsible, not crazy. Most people in this country are hard working, caring people. Let’s try to get along!

SH: Actually, managing a business and managing a government involve very different skill sets, because: 1) the former allows for a far more authoritarian approach while the latter requires more ability as a mediator and facilitator, and 2) the former is driven by a single goal (maximizing the profit margin) while the latter serves a complex matrix of goals in service to maximizing the well-being of a populace.

I don’t “demonize” the 1%. I’d be happy to be among them; there are a lot of things I’d like to do with such money (esp. financing the social movement of my dreams, that I’ve outlined on my blog). I critique the system that produces such an excessive and growing concentration of wealth, and do so for two reasons: 1) It isn’t within a context of widespread prosperity, and so indicates a systemic failure to distribute the wealth produced with some modicum of equitability (and given that we have the most inequitable distribution of wealth of any developed nation on Earth, and the highest poverty rates accompanied by a plethora of associated ills, it clearly is not a necessary and unresolvable condition in a modern, successful, capitalist economy). And 2) It actually harms the economy as a whole, DIMINISHES AGGREGATE WEALTH, and WEAKENS THE ECONOMIC ENGINE.

The fact that all other developed nations have far less economic inequality than we do definitively debunks the notion that addressing socioeconomic inequality undermines economic prosperity. AS AN EMPIRICAL FACT (something people need to pay more attention to), those countries that DO pay attention to the issue of the distribution of wealth have LESS poverty, more generalized prosperity, and lower rates of all of the associated ills (e.g, violent crime, homelessness, malnutrition, etc.). As I outlined in my straight-forward “A Framework for Public Discourse” that I wrote in response to you, David, and that you never replied to, there is no a priori economic reason why we have to assume that any social problem is off-limits for us to contemplate and look for ways to solve, always doing so with attention to all relevant factors and implications. Economics is not the science of excusing inaction because it is presumed that doing so will decrease the production of aggregate wealth, as you use it, but rather is the science of figuring out how to balance a variety of interrelated and sometimes competing concerns to maximize human welfare, as people more concerned with humanity and less concerned with rationalizing inequality use it.

(Did you see the wonderful quote by John Kenneth Galbraith, by the way? “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: That is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” That sums up my above point beautifully.)

And it is clear, both historically and in economic theory, that excessive concentration of wealth diminishes the robustness of an economy in its entirety. This is because it creates a sub-optimal balance of capital investment and consumer spending, and is well illustrated historically by the fact that the two most catastrophic economic collapses in America of the last 100 years were immediately preceded by the two greatest concentrations in wealth in America in the last 100 years, in 1929 and 2008 respectively, which in turn were preceded by a decade or more of small government, pro-business, deregulatory policies. Your entire edifice, David, is counterfactual and contradicted by well-established economic theory.

As for military personnel favoring Romney, those who pursue military careers have long tended toward conservatism (though far less universally than some suppose), and the fact that they do so today is neither new nor interesting. Those individuals, in fact, are part of the inspiration for the above post, since they tend to be among those who insist that patriotism requires that it take their preferred form. This was a response to that notion. As a former U.S. Army infantryman myself, I have no compunction about criticizing our militaristic emphasis in America (nor should anyone, whether they’ve served or not). We haven’t yet struck the right balance between “supporting our soldiers” and “criticizing how we use them and how we culturally contextualize the use of them.” Vietnam was an object lesson in the horrible error of vilifying those who are also victims of our overzealous militarism, the soldiers themselves. But it has become excessively taboo to say “I oppose the glorification of warfare, and the glorification of inflicting enormous damage on enormous numbers of other human beings, in the name of patriotism, with the flag waving and stirring songs echoing in our hardened hearts.”

Something that absolutely appalls me is that, when we discuss the pros and cons of any particular military action, the issue of how it will affect the innocent civilians on the other end is almost off the radar. When we debated the costs and benefits of the Iraq war, what you heard least (barely at all, really) was “we are killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians every year, and maiming and leaving homeless tens of thousands more.” That failure, that omission, is not patriotic, and I am tired of it passing for patriotism. It is a sign of a hegemon that has become so self-absorbed and self-serving in the utilization of its rather awesome power that it has earned the enmity that much of the world feels for it, and should take to heart the lesson that should teach.

That’s the whole point: Should “patriotism” be defined by our willingness and ability to inflict massive suffering on others, or on our willingness and ability to create more well-being among the members of our own society (at the very least)? I say the latter. Conservatives, apparently, insist on the former.

Don’t use the word “gall” with me when we talk about “fairness.” In terms of the distribution of wealth and opportunity, we are the least fair of all developed nations. Repeat that to yourself a few hundred times, because you’re having a great deal of trouble grasping it: Every other developed country on Earth does a better job than we do of extending the fruits of prosperity to a larger portion of their citizenry. That matters. That’s relevant. And that’s because they, unlike you, understand that we are societies, not just random collections of mutually indifferent human beings. Your wealth (as Ben Franklin himself emphasized) belongs to the public as much as it belongs to you, because it is produced through a partnership in which your efforts and skills are facilitated by a social institutional framework in which we all are invested and to which we all belong.

You call it “gall” to consider equality of opportunity a legitimate issue of concern, and then insist that we should all “try to get along”? You talk about “liberal spendthrifts bankrupting our country” when 80% of American economists favor Democratic over Republican economic policies, and the free-market advocate Economist magazine called your economic arguments “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical”? Give me a break, David! From the point of view of the discipline of economics, on the basis of the empirical evidence, it is this excessive concentration of wealth which is bankrupting the country, not “liberal spending” (especially since our national debt has grown more under Republican than Democratic administrations, due to that same conservative eagerness to kill other people at great cost to ourselves and our economy)! As an EMPIRICAL FACT, the two most catastrophic economic collapses of the past 100 years were immediately preceded by the two greatest concentrations of wealth in the last 100 years, both of which followed a decade or more of small-government, deregulatory conservative policies. This isn’t JUST about what’s fair and humane, it’s ALSO about what’s necessary to the health of the economy as a whole!

I DO believe in fiscal responsibility, but fiscal responsibility is not best achieved by pursuing draconian cuts in a slew of extremely marginal (in a budgetary sense) social welfare policies and programs. There are really only two social welfare programs that are substantial budget items: Social Security and Medicare. And, yes, I’m in favor of reducing their budgets, in two ways: Raising the retirement age, and means testing both of them. Problem solved (especially if we stop spending far larger amounts of money beating the world into submission).

You want to keep doing contortions to find ever-more satisfying moral justifications for rank selfishness, you go for it my friend. And I won’t hesitate to shame you for it in return, because it IS a shameful attitude, and one that I will not legitimate with any degree of acceptance, even if, after a series of insulting and disingenuous statements, dedicated to perpetuating the suffering of my fellow citizens in service to continuing to tank our economy, you close by saying “let’s all get along.”

(If you really want to get along, actually listen to opposing arguments, consider their merits, look at the evidence, and realize that you, as well as those you are talking with, are going to have to compromise, particularly when the evidence is resoundingly against you. Merely attributing mainstream liberal positions to “extremists,” which you graciously indicate are complemented by far-right extremist positions that you don’t hold, followed by “let’s all get along,” isn’t enough.)

(A continuation of this exchange can be found in A Response to a Conservative on Personal and Collective Responsibility, Reason, Bias, Discourse & Humanity.)

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1) There are a set of problems and challenges and opportunities and potentials that we face as a society.

2) In terms of our economic system, they can be summed up in terms of robustness, fairness, and sustainability.

3) In broader terms, they can be summed up as the desire to create as much and as many opportunities to prosper and thrive as possible, that those opportunities be as widely available as possible with as few unfair advantages and disadvantages as possible, and that those opportunities be available in the future as well as the present (we want to be fair to future generations).

4) Reality imposes certain somewhat but imperfectly understood limits on our ability to confront these problems, challenges, opportunities, and potentials.

5) Starting with assumptions about what can’t be done, or what must be done, or why it is impossible or violates some arbitrary moral imperative to address any of those problems, challenges, opportunities and potentials imposes an artificial constraint rather than a naturally arising constraint, a presumed incapacity rather than an encountered incapacity.

6) There is no moral rationalization for why, all other things being equal, human impoverishment and the various burdens that come with it should be considered preferable to its absence.

7) There is no moral rationalization for why, all other things being equal, social injustices (i.e., systematic inequalities of opportunity to thrive) should be considered preferable to their absence.

8) Economics is the systematic study of how various factors affect these various dimensions of the production of “utility” (a broader concept than wealth, but similar in meaning) including robustness (more aggregate utility), fairness (more equitable distribution of the opportunity to produce and partake of utility), and sustainability (a system for the production of utility which can endure indefinitely).

9) Politics is the process by which public policies are arrived at affecting, among other things, our system for the production and distribution of utility.

10) There is nothing inherent to our economic or political systems that precludes contemplating how to confront and address any of the problems, challenges, opportunities, or potentials that are identified above.

11) The study of economics does not lead to any clear and indisputable conclusion that it is impossible to confront and address any of the problems, challenges, opportunities or potentials listed above.

12) When specific questions concerning the best policy for addressing the problems, challenges, opportunities or potentials listed above arise, there should be no a priori assumptions about what that best policy is or what alternatives can and can’t be considered and examined.

13) When such questions arise, all participants in the public discourse regarding them should draw on the relevant disciplines to the greatest extent possible, and should examine the empirical evidence to determine what the best policy would be.

14) Opposing parties in debates that arise as a result should focus on the same goals (as outlined above), considering only the balance of priorities among them and the means for attaining them (or of demonstrating through a cost-benefit analysis that attaining one or more of them is prohibitively costly).

It’s an odd title for a post on this social analytical blog, an odd sentiment for the perennial optimist with an impressive if unusual resume (see About Steve Harvey). But, as I’ve often said, and have even occasionally highlighted in my own case, we are not just disembodied minds cognitively engaging with an infinitely yielding world; we are also fallible and vulnerable human beings struggling with the sometimes terrifying challenges of life on Earth.

But I would not use this blog for this purpose, to address this theme, if it did not also serve some informative function, did not in some way contribute to the large, complex, multifaceted map of our social institutional landscape and our role in it that I am, brushstroke by brushstroke, attempting to paint here. Sometimes, broad understandings are best illustrated by particular examples, and as the voice of Colorado Confluence, it may be that all of my moods need to be expressed for this ongoing opus to develop most completely.

The irony is that the challenges I am currently confronting are trivial in comparison to those of most of humanity, and yet they are crushing me under their weight, particularly because I have an eight year old daughter who depends on me absolutely, and who I can’t bear to let down. We don’t measure our circumstances against global or historical standards, but rather against our own expectations, our own sense of what is “normal,” that of those similarly situated, and can, at times, jump out of Wall Street windows for losing what few ever dreamed of possessing in the first place.

The worst that is imminently threatening me and my family, at least for a while, is that we may have to sell our house and possessions and move into an apartment. But we love our home, our “Casa Azul,” with it’s brightly painted walls and beautiful little garden, as if it were an extension of ourselves, and losing it doesn’t even feel like an option I can contemplate. I can’t accept that it’s one I should have to.

As a teenager, I tried, with imperfect success, to take to heart Thoreau’s admonition in Walden not to live a life of quiet desperation, and not to come to the end of my days wondering if I had ever really lived. (Ironically, in Walden, he also mentioned the burden of having a costly house, the absence of which made one far freer, a lesson I had also lived by until starting a family.) After spending the first quarter century or so of my adulthood serving that commitment by pursuing my dream of writing an epic novel that would distill and express some aspect of the essence of our existence in beautiful and eddifying form, and doing so by pursuing experiences and studies that I thought would best prepare me to discover such a novel amidst the swirls and eddies of our collective consciousness, I’ve spent the last ten years or so (since the novel’s completion) in transition, seeking a path toward more robustly affecting human consciousness through the social institutional landscape which is its embodiment.

To do so, first I taught high school, then went to law school, then did some short contracts addressing child and family and mental health services. But I find myself now both unemployed (or nearly so) and apparently unemployable. The institutional world assumes I have no place in it because I dared to live a life which frequently deviated from the well-worn paths signalling to institutional actors a readiness to play a prescribed role in an adequately ritualized way.

At the risk of sounding bitter (which, unfortunately, I am, a bit, at the moment), little happens of great significance without imagination and a touch of bravado, and yet the institutional captains of social change cling to their unimaginative and safe check lists instead, and, by doing so, virtually guarantee that they will at best facilitate marginal improvements even under circumstances in which dramatic transformations are possible. That, of course, leaves me, with great talents and passion and a particular insight into how to ply those social systemic opportunities to maximum effect, and a desire to put all of that to work and to feed and house my family by doing so, out in the cold, almost literally, for not enough squares next to my name are ever checked off (though the squares next to my name that would be, were the producers of such checklists able to imagine greater possibilities, far exceed in value and scarcity and difficulty of being reproduced any of the superficial and easily rectified deficiencies that disqualify me). It’s enough to make one scream, which I am clearly in the process of doing, at least virtually.

I know, profoundly and absolutely, as most who have seen me in action or have read my musings know almost as certainly, that I have something unique and valuable to contribute to this human endeavor of ours, that I am able and eager to do so with intense discipline and contagious enthusiasm, and that my impressive but atypical resume is part of what recommends me for positions that that same impressive but atypical resume prevents me from getting.

It is that last fact that is driving me to the brink of despair. As I wrote recently on my Facebook page, I’m stuck in the mud on the road less traveled, hauling a cartload of esoteric cognitive wares. The night is deepening, the weather worsening, and those cherished trinkets serve no purpose unless I can get them to market, and get out of this desolate place.

Most recently (and the catalyst for this musing), I was invited first for a phone interview for a position that would be perfect for me, as the program director for an educational initiative whose logic I am intimately and professionally familiar with, and whose potential I am keenly aware of. I misread the signals, mistaking an invitation the next day to schedule an in-person interview, despite being told on the phone that such interviews would not be scheduled for a few more weeks, as an indication that they were particularly impressed with me, and wanted to move forward more quickly.

I decided to spend all of my limited political capital to seal the deal, excited and relieved to have finally found both the perfect position (which I had not yet encountered in a year and a half of looking) and an apparent reciprocal recognition that I was the perfect person to fill it (a recognition which, at least on their part, turned out to be illusory). I emailed friends and acquaintances who hold or had held public offices (including one U.S. Senator who generously came through for me), particularly those associated with education, executive directors of nonprofits and other prominent public figures, and asked them to contact either my interviewers or members of the board of trustees of the organization to which I was applying, which most did, effusively praising me. Some of them, I cannot ask again. Others, I’m embarrassed to continue to impose upon. It was capital spent and now depleted or diminished.

I arrived at the interview yesterday, unfortunately completely sleep deprived (unable to fall asleep at all the night before, something that rarely happens to me, but happened this time), only to discover my error; whatever the reason for the accelerated interview schedule, it was not some particular enthusiasm for me as a candidate. One of my interviewers, it seemed to me, was looking for candidates that satisfied the conventional check list, which I never do. I was thrown off, answered a couple of questions badly, became too animated when expressing my passion for the mission that the position represented to me, and was thanked at the end of the interview for my interest, and told that I would be contacted by the end of the week as to whether I would be invited for the next round a week and a half later.

I fell from the brink of salvation to the depths of despair in the blink of an eye. My dream job seemingly within reach was a mirage that shimmered and disappeared in the hot desert sun. I have been unable to recover from the disappointment. Even if, improbably, I am invited back for the next round, it was clear that the criteria to which I will be held are the criteria that discount me. My unique talents, my ability to rapidly learn whatever knowledge and skills are required, my passion and creativity and social institutional savvy, my leadership qualities and organizational acumen, all are irrelevant at the levels at which I must enter, because they’re qualities too valuable to be valued, in too short supply and too hard to measure to be placed on the check list of criteria to be considered.

So writing this is my therapy and my refuge. It is my note in a bottle, flung into the sea, giving me hope that maybe someone will find it and send a ship out to fetch me. When you find yourself stranded on a desert isle, you grasp hold of what hope you can.

The title quote by Harvard professor Jill Lapore during an excellent roundtable discussion on This Week With Christiane Amanpour captures the meta-argument that we all have to divert some small portion of our attention to: The argument between any one faction’s absolutism, on the one hand, and the continued dialectic of competing views reconciled through formal and informal procedural mechanisms on the other.

Each of us will feel a stronger affinity for one or another of the arguments presented in the discussion linked to above, and insist that that argument represents the one absolute truth. But recognizing that the debate itself is the essence of our freedom, and the life blood of our popular sovereignty, is the shared recognition to which we must all return, allowing the tension between foundational principles and our lived history to be played out within the crucible of a vibrant constitutional democracy.

In other words, those who insist that the growth in power of our federal government over the course of American history -starting with the drafting of our Constitution (which strengthened the federal government over the failed Articles of Confederation), and playing out through The Civil War (which ended the disintegrative cesessionist/nullificationist version of States Rights doctrine as a reality of our national existence), continuing with The New Deal, and sailing on into the present- is a betrayal of our Constitution, and those who feel that it is the realization of our national history through the framework of our Constitution, both have to realize that their voice is not the only voice, their view is not the only view, and this dialogue we are having is the hallmark of our success as a nation and a society.

I am more concerned about those on both sides of this and related debates who are adamant that their own dogmatic false certainties are the one and only Truth than I am about those who disagree with me, but have the humility to realize that none of us have the final answers, and that all of us are participating in an on-going endeavor.

As a progressive, I am not determined to force my particular substantive certainties down the throats of others, but to engage both those who agree and those who disagree in a process which favors reason and goodwill, and disfavors blind dogma and angry fanaticism. I have enough faith in what I believe to be true that I am willing to subject it to such a test, and enough humility to know that I prefer the outcome of that test to the blind dominance of what  I currently believe to be true.

In another under-publicized but overreaching government attempt to curb our Internet freedoms, Senators will be voting on what is known as the “Ten Strikes” bill this week. This bill, sponsored by Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would make it a felony to stream copyrighted content more than ten times—and could result in jail time for offenders.

Will you contact your lawmakers and tell them to oppose this bill?

This law wouldn’t just apply to sites that stream television show and movies. As TechDirt points out, “people embedding YouTube videos could face five years in jail…it could also put kids who lip sync to popular songs, and post the resulting videos on YouTube, in jail as well.” Make sure your Senators know of your opposition. By emailing them directly, you’ll be standing up to big business lobbyists and making a stand for a free and uncensored Internet.Click here to contact your Senators and tell them to vote agains the Ten Strikes Bill.

Jail You can learn more about Demand Progress and our other campaigns on our website,