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from Peter Radford

So where are we?

Nowhere further forward. Except, perhaps, that we now know about half of the Democrats in Iowa think Clinton is an extension rather than a repudiation of the past.

And I think that matters.

The time has come for us all to assess just where we are. There is way too much confusion and anger in that air for this bizarre election simply to be an oddity. I think it has meaning. Deep meaning that we need to understand if we are to venture into the future with anything other than bemused silence.

I really think this matters.

Let me venture to say that Clinton’s lost gloss – a truly accepted ‘presumptive’ nominee would not have lapsed into a tied race in Iowa – is cause for reflection amongst all those who profess to be well versed in American politics and government. She simply cannot resonate with a message for the future. She has no message of the future. In one of her last rallies before last night’s caucus she waxed lyrical about pressing on with the current agenda. Yet, surely, the electorate is no mood for continuation. The post recession muddle and thirty years of neoliberal economics have eroded voter’s confidence in our economic institutions, in our leadership, and even in our capability to get anything done. The electorate is losing both its nerve and its patience. Bad things happen when that occurs. Bad things like Donald Trump.

The problem with Clinton is that she cannot project an upbeat image. She cannot tell a grand story or sell a vision people can be excited about. Her idea of a great speech is an endless monotonous recitation of technocratic graft and detail the end result of which is a series of supposed minor steps forward. There is no leap. No great imagination. No hoopla. There’s just stolid in the weeds committee meeting boredom wrapped as policy. And all such policy is tentative.

Paul Krugman attacks – yet again – Bernie Sanders for selling an illusion. The illusion, apparently, is that in these dark days of gridlock no one is supposed to imagine a better way. Imagination is not the ally of action, it is the precursor to action. Clinton’s problem is that all her imagination has been blunted by forty years of grind and infighting. She no longer believes in transformation. She believes in nudging. And the people need more than nudging.

Nudging will not undo the decline in our middle class. Nudging will not re-invent a future of prosperity. Nudging will not combat climate change. And nudging will not inspire our younger people to aspire or explore or achieve beyond what now seems like ever hardening limitations.

Nudging is inadequate.

Which means that Clinton is inadequate. No matter how ‘realistic’ she appears to the likes of Paul Krugman.

And that we confirmed last night.

Let’s see how she reacts. Because a tie with Sanders was as good as a defeat.

  1. February 2, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Evolution really is accelerating with the expanding cosmos. I wonder what modern economists who see short comings in Hillary’s approach might imagine about the impacts of free education and health care?

  2. graccibros
    February 2, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Well done Peter I agree with your assessment. I’ve just come from reading Senator Sanders post Iowa speech, which is quite consistent with what he has been saying in his basic stump speech. I especially like his phrase that the democratic party establishment can no longer deliver the programs or the vision to lead the country forward. He specifically added the term “economic establishment” to go with political establishment, of both parties, going for the independent swing voter.

    I do have some worries though, that he doesn’t quite go deep enough at times, becomes too recitational, needs to loosen up a bit. Right now, the democratic socialist self designation is not hurting him among Democrats, but it will be a burden should he win the party’s nomination. It’s a strange matter really, because the policies he has put forth are not necessarily socialist, could be proposed by social democrats, new New Dealers and almost anyone choosing the liberal-progressive label for themselves. And when we got to his basic definition in that Georgetown University speech, he went to Martin Luther King, Norman Thomas (interestingly enough though, not Michael Harrington) and FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, which is where I’ve been urging the left to go for more than a decade. FDR was no socialist; when pressed for his own characterization of his political origins, ideological motivation, all he would offer were “a Christian and a Democrat.” And in that Georgetown speech, Sanders, chided for his alleged pie in the sky proposals, steered away from, explicitly disavowed tampering with the “means of production,” leaving many present day socialists scratching their heads, since that historically has formed, to a greater or lesser degree, one of the distinguishing features of socialism. I’d better add, for better or worse, mostly worse when they got into office in Western Europe in the 20th century. Better done in Scandinavia.

    After the 1970’s, when I was close to Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, as the country headed far right, I had to ask myself whether the burden of defending a label was worth the price since I couldn’t detect a difference in the policies socialists vs general left policy people brought to the table. And that still holds true with Sanders today. I call myself a social democrat, a green New Dealer, because I can’t imagine the world’s most intensely capitalist country shifting into the terrain of traditional socialism, but I can imagine America adopting the Second Bill of Rights, and I urge not all eight but two as the most important: the right to health care at a price people can afford, and the right to a job. I, like other commentators find it strange that Bernie chooses the first but not the second, because it seems to me with his diagnosis of the working class and middle class pain, the right to a job, with the public sector supplying them if the private sector can’t or won’t, is a good part of the remedy. It meshes so well with his emphasis on combatting global warming, and there are such robust historical examples with the CCC and WPA, that I and others are puzzled by this lack of follow through logic. Is it perhaps because this intervention into private labor markets is one of the great, if not the greatest taboos of 30 years of neoliberalism, echoing the foundations of the 19th century “liberal economy” so well presented by Karl Polanyi in his “Great Transformation,” a glimpse into the foundations of today’s neoliberalism, without the gold standard, but balanced budget austerity serving almost as well.

    I’ll close by stating that going for the full eight rights in FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, a good part of his State of the Union Address in 1944, is too much right now, that’s why I chose the two I did as those which could help the most. The public mood, which you and Sanders have stressed, seems to understand what Polanyi was telling us: that free markets left to run their own logic, would destroy civil society and nature as well (clearly echoed without citation in Wendell Berry’s Jefferson Lecture from 2012), and have to be checked, setting off the great “double movement” of left and right to push their forms of interventions (and the Right certainly has theirs, perhaps disguised better as universal access to military employment and spending, unlimited interest rates and selective asset purchases by Central Banks, the latter being one of the chief “counter movements” initiated in the late 19th century to offset the chaos of industrial life spreading to financial markets…

    Isn’t the great establishment fear in the United States, that if we head down even the road to the first of these two great rights in the Second Bill of Rights, that we destroy something unique about America, threaten the American Dream itself by destroying incentives, which, if we would look closely at our own history, often take the form of cruelties and social brutalities that create a desperate driven form of that Dream, create “Monsters of Ambition,” riding roughshod over family values, and all those decencies which Polanyi saw making up the embeddedness of society, the values which once restrained economies and economics within more powerful cultural assumptions. This was often in America cruel illusion, and I have no fear that were we to create these more decent minimums, that the powerful forces urging individuals to distinguish themselves from others will not be extinguished, but instead will be enhanced in a more human framework. It seems to me that this is the central discussion, always has been, and I don’t know if our campaigns can get there. Eugene O’Neil and Arthur Miller certainly did and perhaps a good way to remember what I’m driving out is to recall “Death of a Salesman.” I can imagine many happier occupations to replace the one he lived.

  3. Tony W
    February 2, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Brilliant insights eloquently stated, Peter. We on the other side of the pond are being energised by Jeremy Corbyn. And, for those who know them, Jesse Klaver and Rutger Bregman in the Netherlands … and many other prophets for our time.

  4. graccibros
    February 2, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    I didn’t have the following link at my fingertips, otherwise I would have inserted it at the point where I describe Polanyi’s assertion that unfettered free markets end up destroying civil society, although I guess it could go in its own section on the “inversion” of the American Dream. Every economist should read this and factor the facts revealed into their take on American Society. I’ve never read anything as devastating as this, from the Harvard Law Review, but it is not legalese, it’s the most damning indictment of where neoliberal austerity politics meets the cruelties that black lives have not mattered: “Policing and Profit.”

    It’s the most cunningly designed no exit debt and imprisonment matrix since the rise of tenant and share cropping farmer in the Post Reconstruction South. How this could ever have arisen in lawyer saturated American I don’t know since it seems to violate three basic provisions in the Constitution.

    Would someone please pass this along to the Sanders campaign; I can’t believe no reporter has picked this up as the basis for a question, to both parties…


    • blocke
      February 2, 2016 at 10:35 pm

      “Polanyi’s assertion that unfettered free markets end up destroying civil society.”

      It all depends on how “civil society” is organized. If properly organized, to include participation of organic elements in decision making about the distribution of wealth, then unfettered free markets do not destroy civil society, but civil society regulates the free markets without government intervention. This is an old discussion, which was emphasized when Germany economists were setting up the social market economy after World War II. The fact that such knowledge is ignored on this blog indicates the hazard of discussing economics solely in terms of the English speaking thought world.

  5. graccibros
    February 2, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Interesting statement, blocke. And fair enough. But embedded in your statement is the assumption that the building blocks of civil society have enough standing, and let’s be blunt, social and economic power, to balance the forces of unfettered free markets which tend towards monopoly and oligopoly. Power of unions in Germany, you were implicitly suggesting? I hear very mixed things about that; co-operatives and other forms of co-operation and mediation? Please fill us in…But wasn’t it the lament of the late Tony Judt that the effectiveness of these social democratic institutions, which Polanyi saw firsthand in older Eastern Europe…were breaking down…to the point today where Yanis Varouvakis is leading a crusade in Western Europe not, he just said, for socialism, but for an American style New Deal across borders, the implication being very clear that the status quo of the economic establishment is so threatening that a New Deal proposal for public jobs and social spending is necessary to avert the curve of the 1930’s, and he has been very explicit in describing his fears about the Right….so if you are trying to reassure me, or us, about the status quo in so called social democratic Europe, be prepared to address what Yanis is saying….and Judt before him …by the way, what the German core of thinking at the major Euro institutions rejected vis-à-vis Greece was the “Modest Proposal” drawn up by Yanis, James Galbraith and a social democat from Britain…using the tools of existing programs to set a New Deal in motion for Greece from the central institutions…and laying the groundwork for its utilization by others….let’s be clear that’s what Germany rejected.

    • blocke
      February 3, 2016 at 8:18 am

      A good place to start, graccibros, in order to understand how German outlooks differ from those in the English speaking world is with Ferdinand Tönnies’ influential work Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag, 1887, 2nd ed. 1912, 8th edition, Leipzig: Buske, 1935 (reprint 2005, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft); his basic and never essentially changed study of social man; translated in 1957 as “Community and Society”, ISBN 0-88738-750-0. (Wikepedia)
      “Tönnies distinguished between two types of social groupings. Gemeinschaft — often translated as community (or left untranslated)— refers to groupings based on feelings of togetherness and on mutual bonds, which are felt as a goal to be kept up, their members being means for this goal. (According to Confucius Gemeinschaft was governed by the “cake of custom”.) Gesellschaft — often translated as society — on the other hand, refers to groups that are sustained by it being instrumental for their members’ individual aims and goals.
      Gemeinschaft may be exemplified historically by a family or a neighborhood; Gesellschaft by a joint-stock company or a state in a modern society, i.e. the society when Tönnies lived. Gesellschaft relationships arose in an urban and capitalist setting, characterized by individualism and impersonal monetary connections between people. Social ties were often instrumental and superficial, with self-interest and exploitation increasingly the norm. Examples are corporations, states, or voluntary associations.

      Tönnies distinction between social groupings is based on the assumption that there are only two basic forms of an actor’s will, to approve of other men. (For Tönnies, such an approval is by no means self-evident). Following his “essential will” (“Wesenwille”), an actor will see himself as a means to serve the goals of social grouping; very often it is an underlying, subconscious force. Groupings formed around an essential will are called a Gemeinschaft. The other will is the “arbitrary will” (“Kürwille”): An actor sees a social grouping as a means to further his individual goals; so it is purposive and future-oriented. Groupings around the latter are called Gesellschaft. Whereas the membership in a Gemeinschaft is self-fulfilling, a Gesellschaft is instrumental for its members. In pure sociology — theoretically —, these two normal types of will are to be strictly separated; in applied sociology — empirically — they are always mixed.
      The equilibrium in Gemeinschaft is achieved through morals, conformism, and exclusion – social control – while Gesellschaft keeps its equilibrium through police, laws, tribunals and prisons.”
      The idea of a Gemeinschaft has been strongly entrenched in German society. Even in Bismarck’s semi-autocratic Reich, the state recognized the rights of workers to have a voice in the governance of the workplace; with the fall of the Monarchy in 1918, rights of co-determination were written into the Weimar constitution. Hitler, although he carried through a social revolution ruined it with his idea of a Volksgemeinschaft, which excluded races and other undesireable groups from the community, resulting in mass murder.

      The idea of a Germeinschaft reappeared in postwar Germany in the form of laws of co-determination in firm governance (which American occupiers strongly opposed and could veto until occupation ended, accounting for the laws of co-determination being established in the German federal republic in 1951-52). For a good description of how Germany differed from America in its postwar regime, read Michel Albert’s Capitalism against Capitalism, 1993). Even though, conservative coalitions have dominated German politics since 1982, the Kohl-Merkel governments have never repealed the laws on co-detemination because they realize that co-determination is a better way to manage. Volkswagen has a co-determation regime in all of its factories, except Tennessee, where the workers rejected it as socialism.

      But the two types of societies, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, are always mixed. That is what we have in Germany today. The fall of the Berlin Wall was accompanied by the financialization of the world economy, coming out of Wall Street and the City. The big German banks bought into the system, as did the people in Brussels. This is what Varoufakis is talking about and rightly so. But in Germany the local banking system has mostly rejected financialization. Moreover, in every German community there is a long-standing tradition of cooperation within the community among secondary schools, local government, and unions in a much admired system of apprenticeship education.

      Financialization drives Gesellschaft worldwide. There is not much that people who wish to have Gemeinschaft in our lives can do if we follow the UK American thought world. We have to look to other traditions for guidance in how to construct our lives, and the German Gemeinschaft tradition is one of them.

  6. February 3, 2016 at 4:49 am

    When I read this stuff I think, no one, economist or otherwise can be as naive as you folks appear to be. But every time you prove me wrong. Why would those who control great wealth and wish to control more of it ever agree to allow anything other than bare subsidence living arrangements for the billions of workers (blue and white collar) who every day make them richer? Why would they not follow the advice of “Boss” Tweed, “Hire half the poor to kill the other half,” if the poor threaten revolt or want more economic equality? Tweed’s is a perfectly rational position. And quite effective and efficient. Would moral qualms stop the rich? Would the churches stop them? Would the IMF stop them? Would a democratically elected government (if you can find one) stop them? In every case, the answer is no. So you see Polanyi is wrong. Social arrangements cannot control, let alone stop wealth from ruling as it pleases. What has worked to control wealth? Take an example from the US. What mitigated (but not stopped) the massive wealth and political inequalities that were basic in the US from the beginning of the nation revolution until World War II? Several things I think. 1) Popular revolt, sometimes violent, often led by ex-soldiers (Civil War, WW I in particular); 2) the expansion of public (not private) education; 3) the progressive income tax; 4) citizen resistance movements (e.g., NAACP, La Raza); 5) some churches (e.g. Catholic, Anglican); 6) and as strange as it sounds — the American nobility (e.g., Kennedys, Roosevelts). No economists.

  7. February 3, 2016 at 7:08 am

    I had been going to respond to blocke rather differently, but I see the discussion has moved on. I think graccibros has missed the point of Polanyi and of blocke’s comment: social organisation is not about union power as such but about a balance of forces, at least one side of which (the church, the king or President) is able to develop a Christian ethic of cooperation even if the other goes for covert conquest by the strategy of “divide and rule”, i.e. unfettered competition. In Polanyi’s time the Church was being emasculated, in ours the American President, and we’ve just had Britain’s Cameron – in what was set up after the Hitler horror by a Catholic Franco-German residue as a co-operative EEC, but via British influence and American economic education of its elite has become an American-style EU – negotiating for more mindless competition rather than more intelligent cooperation.

    The story goes back a long way in British history. These days we hear about the Magna Carta sowing the seeds of our democracy, but little of the Norman king’s men killing the country’s Catholic archbishop and being shamed into doing penance; still less of Henry VIII’s men digging up Thomas a Beckett’s popular shrine and scattering his bones to the four winds. I sometimes feel we should be doing that to the bones of the shameless Thatcher and Reagan. “God is dead”, we are told, and with him his Justice. Dark days. But still Mary sings “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, for the spirit of God can and has risen again.

    • blocke
      February 4, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      Dave, in 1974, Princeton University Press published my PhD dissertation with the title: French Legitimists and the Politics of Moral Order in the Early Third Republic. In my research I set out to answer the question, why, eighty years (1870) after the French Revolution would people in France want to restore the divine right hereditary monarchy. The answer I found resembles the one you give, a concern for the Christian ethic of co-operation. The Legitimists of 1970 believed that a worthwhile society could not exists in a Gesellschaft governed by despotism (Bonapartist), or greed (Orleanism and Republicanism), but needed a Gemeinschaft governed by a rooted believe in moral order. They lost that battled, as the Republic consolidated itself in a society of greed in the late 19th century, symbolized by the separation of church and state carried out by the Left in France in 1905. And, as you point out, that battle has been lost once again in the late 20th century by the “victory” of American-style EU mindless competition rather than more intelligent cooperation.

      • February 5, 2016 at 3:44 am

        You say, “The Legitimists of 1970 believed that a worthwhile society could not exists in a Gesellschaft governed by despotism (Bonapartist), or greed (Orleanism and Republicanism), but needed a Gemeinschaft governed by a rooted believe in moral order.” Put emphasis on the words “believed,” “could not exist,” “despotism or greed,” “needed,” “rooted believe in moral order.” Such disputes are as old as humans’ existence as a species. Since there is no essential form for human life and collective action, dozens of different arrangements have been attempted, rejected, and attempted again. Examining how, by whom, and over what period of time such arrangements are created is the work of social scientists.

      • blocke
        February 5, 2016 at 10:17 am

        Ken, you write,

        “Examining how, by whom, and over what period of time such arrangements are created is the work of social scientists.”

        I contend that social science is not concerned with examining how, by whom, and over what period of time, such arrangements are created. Historians are, but social scientists turned to nature science and mathematics for their methodology, not to history. That is why I find, as an historian, social scientists to be very poor historians in their knowledge of the literature and historical method.

  8. February 3, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Blocke, also the Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft written about in textbooks and professional monographs is not the Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft that people actually know, understand, and use. For that I prefer to look to novelists. For example, there is no better description of the ways of life of poor and semi-poor in London at the end of the 19th century than that found in Charles Dickens’ “Hard Times,” or in California in the 1930s than John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” or in Chicago at the turn of the 19th century than Frank Norris’ “The Pit.” Novelists are much better than social scientists at capturing and distilling the essence of what people believe is important, workable, unworkable in their relations with one another, and the emotional commitments that go along with that. This from Steinbeck’s, “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.” Or, from Charles Dicken’s “Hard Times,” “NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!” (to school teacher after Gradgrind apprehends his two eldest children at the circus). Historians are much better at this sort of investigation than social scientists. But perceptive novelists are more astute than even the best historian. You correctly note that Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are mixed. They’re always mixed, along with some other performances that fit in neither category. But for the two the questions are how are they mixed, for what purposes, and over what time period. Who does the mixing and how long do the mixes endure. For these questions social scientists can be useful, if not comparatively speaking accomplished observers and recorders.

  9. blocke
    February 3, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    Ken & Dave. I am a native Californian, with a BA and PhD in history from UCLA. For the first forty years of my life I lived and worked in the US, but for the past forty years I have lived mostly in small town Germany, where my two children went to German schools up to the Abitur and then my daughter took a Masters in Islamic studies in Mainz and my son a PhD in Theology at Trinity College Dublin. My point is that my comparisons are not just gained from academic studies alone but from life experiences, family experiences and community experiences, in Germany. People write best about what they know, and we do not have people blogging here who really know very much about the world outside Anglosaxonia. I lament this very much because we need to draw from the world outside Anglosaxonia if we are really to understand how concepts like Gemeinschaft can be embodied in peoples lives. We cannot just draw on ideas and experiences of Anglo-saxonia. There is not much chance that people can divide their lives as I have or would even want to, but American university communities are places where people are highly diverse in their knowledge of global cultures. Economists, in their search for a positivist scientific identity post 1945 cut themselves off from the culturally diverse university community. One way for them to correct the resultant shortcoming is to establish contact with diversity within their own balliwick.

  10. graccibros
    February 4, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    I have turned my initial comment into a 2,500 word essay at my Daily Kos location, where I am billofrights: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/02/04/1479863/-Sanders-Socialism-and-the-Democratic-Establishment. I’m sorry I couldn’t get to Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft but I do get to “Deer Hunting with Jesus,” Policing and Profits,” and the ballad of Lynndia England. Upon that topic I can only note that even though the text of major New Testament accounts wouldn’t seem to support laissez-faire capitalism and its current outcomes, if we view civil society as the basis for countervailing powers, then the dominance of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in theology, supporting neoliberalism across its many facets proves that Madison was wrong, a powerful ideology can unite commercial factions and even classes enough to sweep away checks and balances: in the courts, in the collleges, in the very range of ideas citizens here. Read it and weep, dry your eyes and get angry.

    • February 5, 2016 at 4:54 am

      Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are interesting notions to bounce back and forth. But we can’t assume they actually exist in practice. That’s not just a philosophical error but an empirical one as well. Assuming they exist and then using them to explain other events and actors is not very enlightening or useful. Examine the ways of life people actually create. Are any of them like the notions of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, or not? Then we can attempt to connect the dots.

      • blocke
        February 5, 2016 at 7:33 am

        Gemeinshaft and Gesellschaft might not seem to be useful concepts to Americans but they have been for Germans, and the proof is in the pudding. I did not come to Germany with them in my intellectual baggage, but saw the usefulness of the contrasting concepts in my interaction with people in German towns. There are so many empirical examples I could cite that space does not permit quoting them. I do not make this up, Ken, I live it everyday in my town in Germany, where I have been running a small vacation rental for years. Germany has become a Gesellschaft, something which so many Germans hate, because they still have much Gemeinschaft in their towns, as do people in small town America. A Gemeinschaft, rests on a moral order, which doesn’t require police to enforce it, because the order exists in the minds and hearts of the people who live there. If you start with this premise, you’ll understand better why Germans behave in the odd ways they do, why, for example, they fear so much the influx of foreigners who do not share the values of their communities.

      • February 5, 2016 at 11:06 am

        You say, “A Gemeinschaft, rests on a moral order, which doesn’t require police to enforce it, because the order exists in the minds and hearts of the people who live there. If you start with this premise, you’ll understand better why Germans behave in the odd ways they do, why, for example, they fear so much the influx of foreigners who do not share the values of their communities.” But doesn’t Gesellschaft rest on a moral order as well, just a different one? I can agree that the moral arrangements of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are different and that one could be preferred over the other my some individuals or groups. But I can’t see how that translates to one being superior to the other. These alternative styles of life exist really only as theories, since no one really acts in accord with either. Small communities may be more comfortable and informal, but they may also be more invasive and judgmental. Cities may be impersonal and isolating, but they also provide a varied canvas for art and the chance to take chances. I can see people being contend in either or both at varying times and circumstances in their lives.

      • blocke
        February 5, 2016 at 8:20 pm

        Ken, a Gesellschaft is not characterized by moral order, remember, Tönnies said. “Gesellschaft relationships arose in an urban and capitalist setting, characterized by individualism and impersonal monetary connections between people. Social ties were often instrumental and superficial, with self-interest and exploitation increasingly the norm. Examples are corporations, states, or voluntary associations.” I lived in New York City for four years, when teaching at Fordham University in the early 1970s. I certainly never got the impression that a moral order existed there.

      • February 6, 2016 at 6:02 am

        Tönnies may have believed that Gesellschaft did not possess a moral order. I have not read all that he wrote. If he did, he was wrong. The moral focus of Gesellschaft relationships is human independence and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty. It opposes most external interference with an individual’s choices, whether by society, the state or any other group or institution (collectivism or statism). It also opposes the view that tradition, religion or any other form of external moral standard should be used to limit an individual’s choice of actions. If you want “scholarly” and other writings on this see John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter III; St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God; Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract; Henry David Thoreau, Walden; F.A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order; etc. Individualism and impersonal monetary social arrangements, sometimes instrumental and superficial has a long history in philosophy, politics, economics and even family life, stretching back to Babylonia and Ancient China. In other words, the refusal to accept restrictions by tradition, custom, or moral order has a long tradition with numerous customs and moral obligations associated. Irony comes in many forms.

      • blocke
        February 6, 2016 at 8:15 am

        There is no moral order in a society that stresses individual liberty unless it exists in a society that has one. Don’t bamboozle me on that subject. During my four years in New York City in the 1970s, people walked the streets with fear in their hearts, while the individualists on Wall Street raped the public: As one broker said, The Street is not immoral; there is no morality there. Of my students, one semester in a class of twenty, one was murdered and one raped on the subway; we had to set up student patrols on the Rose Hill campus to escort the coeds back to their lodgings from the library late evenings; when I moved to Germany, I met an old Jewish lady, teaching music in Bad Nauheim, who had fled the Nazi’s in 1930s, but, after her husband in the late 1960s was mugged in New York and died, returned to German for safety; talk about irony, Jews leaving America for Germany to seek safe haven. The state is not the only enemy of liberty, civil society in a Gesellschaft can be, too, which is something Americans frequently ignore in their analysis.

      • February 6, 2016 at 9:39 am

        I think you’re confusing care for other humans with morality. Yes some moral orders emphasize caring for and protecting, not harming other humans – or in some instances any living thing. Other moral orders emphasize the “rightness” or “goodness” of individuals competing with one another, for things like food, shelter, clothing, or life itself. That you don’t like the latter and like the former does not change the fact that each proposes a certain moral order for the world. I don’t know which is correct, or even if there is a correct one. I’ve worked with people and companies who follow each, to one degree or another. And certainly each can be forced to an extreme – anarchy or all-inclusive protectionism. These extremes get most of the press coverage.

      • February 6, 2016 at 8:50 am

        On the contrary, Ken, Gemeinshaft and Gesellschaft and their consequences may be observed every day in the attitudes of loving parents and the occasional ones who are self-centred, with the occasional spoiled children of the one copied in the spoiled families of the other. The children themselves vary in personality between the obedient and the contrary, and the more spirited (not necessarily contrary) who want to test limits or explore beyond them; but these behavioural differences are inbuilt: neither cultural nor chosen. In relationships between parents and children, leaders and led, there is a similar instinctive difference between parents who demand obedience and those who offer explanations and choice, so one gets dictatorial moralism and tolerant liberalism; but in Gemeinshaft and Gesellschaft we are talking about relationship between equals. In aggregate, the ethos (as against morality) of a culture or sub-culture represents the balance between the two, the dominant attitude. In mainly Christian/Islamic/Buddhist cultures, this was mutual tolerance, respect and hospitality. In pre-Christian cultures it was caste, enslavement or mutual predation. In post-Hume/Adam Smith cultures rotten apples have used fraudulent financialisation to mass-produce armaments with which to infect, subdue and feed off their neighbours. Unfortunately a few rotten apples can quickly infect a whole barrel, while it may require a new generation of barrels and apples to make good the damage.

        As an American, Ken, you need to reflect post-Iowa on your own government’s institutionalisation of such post-Humean rot in its longstanding Monroe Doctrine, and its realisation in South American instability, the Cold War, the Israeli conflict, the guerrilla warfare which has destabilised the Middle East and now in the financial warfare destabilising its self-made competitor the EU: once a cooperative European Economic Community. For unsubmissive Syrian families that has reduced their freedom of choice to flee or die. Not that Britain has anything to boast about: our “government will not even allow caring Britains to offer desperate Syrians refuge. Modern America is our child and we its by now dependent parents, subject to “care” by American-trained mercenaries and the business acumen of the likes of Trump.

      • February 6, 2016 at 9:43 am

        See my response to blocke. If we want to begin a discussion about social reform I’m in. But I thought this one is about political elections and economics.

      • February 6, 2016 at 1:08 pm

        Ken, you thought “this [discussion] is about political elections and economics”? Well so it is, but you are missing or deliberately ignoring my distinction between ethics as an attitude of mind (loving or selfish) and morals as mores or taboos appropriate in specific circumstances: according to Adam Smith’s mentor David Hume, scientifically ungrounded traditions or policies empirically agreed on by rulers.

        In Hume’s view “Morals and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as of taste and sentiment”. But when the ethics of both Right and Left-leaning rulers are understood as the morals of a minority class of spoiled brats determined to have their own way; and when the mores of the political game allow only a choice between brats more or less spoiled by an economic system their forefathers set up to benefit them, it is hardly surprising that the majority of us suffer. Our more active members are being tempted to rebellion and elders like blocke and myself by the possibilities of objects of the understanding: notably logical quantification, visual perception, communication, history, and cooperation of functional subsystems within systems (not least ourselves).

        The social reform you seem interested in starts with updating and reform of our diverse aims and understandings, not least of the strategic choices every parent has to face between winning and giving way to other’s immediate priorities.

      • February 6, 2016 at 7:17 pm

        As I said if you’re proposing to talk about social reform, I’m in. I’ve worked with many economists and still do most everyday. My frustrations in that relationship are multiple. Not the least of which is most of the economists I’ve worked with seem to know very little about how economic interactions actually operate, what the primary concerns of people in such interactions are, or how to address these concerns. Frustrating for someone like me who is employed to “fix” such concerns.

  11. graccibros
    February 6, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    I’m following this conversation, which is really taking off, or digging in, maybe a bit of both, out of one corner of my eye and I will come in and give it a closer look when I catch a breather.

    But it had occurred to me that it would be an unusual family, not unheard of, of course, in the annals of therapy, for parents to allow amongst their children the degree of imbalance and inequity in the distribution of material benefits the equivalent of what Thomas Piketty, James Galbraith or Joseph Stiglitz has laid out for us in contemporary society. Could we say that in regards to the emotions parents proportion out as well? When we have documented cases of extreme emotional deprivation among children, the results are often disastrous both for them and society…could we say that the turmoil in American politics today, in both parties, stems from these great imbalances and the resentments they generate? And they are not just material, although that side is easier to document; they are psychological as well. From more than thirty years of working class people just disappearing as significant objects of concern and as significant factors in economic decision making, in the profession and amongst the politicians who consult the economic “oracles?” “The End of Men” works in the same direction, as reform forces now consist of a shrinking economic left, a growing gender fairness left, and sexual identity left…and not to be underestimated, an ecological left…to go with Black lives matter and Hispanic immigration issues. You can see these competing currents now surfacing via the fault lines in the Democratic Party…

    • February 6, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      Good points. A lot more research on such questions seems like an obvious priority for economists, sociologists, historians, etc. But speaking historically I’d like to point out that the inequality today is noticeable less than that in the US and UK in the 18th and 19th centuries. That racial tensions and outright violence is much less than in the 18th and 19th centuries. And that the number of people living in poverty and the effects of deprivation in the basic needs for life (food, water, etc.) is less today than the in 18th and 19th centuries. The 20th century saw improvements in all these areas. The 21st century is as yet uncertain in these areas. If the goal is to spread democracy around the world, a goal cited by most major nations in the world and the UN, smothering differences in wealth, human treatment of one another, and voting access must be removed. They are inconsistent with democratic governance. It remains to be seen if democratizing the world is a goal most (or the most powerful) people on earth accept and want to see implemented.

  12. February 8, 2016 at 9:23 am

    Thanks, guys. To take your last point first, Ken. I’ve just watched a documentary on shipwrecks which ended with it taking twenty years to legally require Plimsole’s safe load line because parliament was largely made up of profit-seeking ship-owners; and similarly with the abolition of slavery.

    Now, if you are like an advanced driving instructor struggling with people who learned the basics by rote without beginning to understand the niceties of engines and gearboxes, then I’m like a somewhat tongue-tied maintenance mechanic taught to cope with diversity via fundamental theory: first intrigued and then challenged not only by the art of smooth driving but by the history, science, failings and development of engines, transmission and ‘fly-by-wire’ automated control; who in his life-time has seen city slums, industrial smogs, global warming, peak oil and the growing need to go back to basics like toy steam turbines, windmills, Nature’s cyclic solar energy storage, solar electrics, rail transport and trams.

    If my toy model of economics is a map of growing up in a human household, my macro model, like Arabic numbering, is as simple and open-ended because it is algorithmic: using the same topological mapping techniques all the way from the unhindered freedoms of the Big Bang to the dictatorship of a completely monetised Shadow Economy. What is true of all is true of any, though particular cases may not be fully developed. In completely abstract (mathematical) terms I’m seeing everything from atoms to electric power circuits to political economics as parallel processing of energy flow distribution: at one level like Phillip’s hydraulic flow circuit model of the economy, manually controlled via knobs and whistles, but at another like automatic steering, in which automation of the steersman, position-finder and lookout in a PID control servo enables each of a host of vessels to travel not only together but in whatever direction they wish – invaluable of they are to avoid pirates and rocks -subject to “rules of the road” on ships giving way to each other., and the crew prioritising lookout and positional error over compass information. As I see it, such an information system providea a much more apt paradigm than today’s unbalanced see-saw for the smooth operation of an economy, and an experienced driving instructor likely a better advocate for it than an experienced but tongue-tied mechanic.

    Graccibros, your very fair critique of the family model in terms of neglect can be superficially answered by typical differences between mothers and fathers (particularly step-fathers) and by cuckoos in nests, but it comes down to the two-sided human brain having four parts interconnected, of which the emotional system is one. A few psychopaths may perhaps have missing connections, and I have some grounds for believing autism can be due to short-circuits creating emotional overload. Although to some degree we use all four parts, different cycles of activity require only three, and individuals preoccupied with making money by buying and selling rather than with others feeding their kids may simply rarely have their social emotions triggered.

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