21 February 2009

Generations of social thought

It strikes me (after reading Lebowitz's piece in Feb 09 MR) that the first generation after the revolution will be the most difficult, and in many ways dictate the path a new society will follow (how is that for deterministic thinking!).

Nonetheless it cannot be argued that successful socialism and social thinking will be the most difficult when those practicing it are born and raised under capitalism. The true hope for collective democracy will lie with the children of the revolution.
This clearly was not the case in the former USSR, however collective socialism was never attempted there, and I don't know enough of the history to know if successive generations were more accepting of the state capitalism that emerged?

Hope for the future remains slight but bright.

19 February 2009

human and technological growth

As the human population grows quickly one of the many challenges we as a race face is the attempt to have human intellectual development come even close to keeping up to the rate of population growth. The obvious pressing issue that I am ignoring for now is that a majority of the human population spends much of their lives concerned with basic subsistence and thus is unable to contribute much to species development beyond the scope of genetics.

A smaller issue but one nonetheless on my mind is that of the greater chance of "reinventing the wheel" as a greater number of people work in any particular discipline.
Certainly the revolution of information technology that has characterized my life time goes a long way towards alleviating this phenomenon however I believe the revolution to be far from complete.

As academics we need to stop pigeonholing ourselves as "this kind of economist" or an economist, or a "social scientist", we are professional thinkers...all of us, hard or soft scientist, mathematician or marine biologist, or (ugh) statistician. The sooner we stop sorting knowledge by the goals we are trying to achieve and start opening ourselves up to the compliments and contradictions that other disciplines can offer us the faster we will develop intellectually as a civilization.

There two steps that should be taken:
1. The monopoly on higher education shared by the more generally privileged members of needs to shattered. This is a common argument and I will not continue it here beyond to say that free education shouldn't be second rate education.
2. The way we approach science (and knowledge in general for that matter) needs to change. Academics need to come down from our ivory towers. Great research has had and always will have its place, but there needs to be a new focus on collaborative learning through teaching. Continued interaction in a teacher student format beyond that of a formal classroom setting is not even on the radar of many intellectuals. Sharing knowledge among friends? Interaction with intellectuals outside of one's own department is often frowned upon by colleges. Interaction with non-intellectuals is often considered a waste of time completely. We are missing great opportunities through academic elitism. The attitude of restricting higher knowledge to people who have "earned" the right to learn it causes a major drag on scientific advancement in this world.
It is time that we work collectively to change the culture outside of academia towards those of us in it. If we truly are doing anything worthwhile then we should be proud of any opportunity to share our work be it theoretical or applied with people who are outside of our area of expertise.

Free information and the time to learn it do not have to be luxuries in developed economies.
Wow this post went in a totally different direction than I had planed .....oh well.

17 February 2009

government and taxation

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, taxes are far too low in the United States.
Having grown up in a culture very similar to that in which I now live I find the different attitude about taxation in the United States very difficult to accept.
Is the government wasteful and inefficient? sure ...of course.....who is not? but the opposition to raising taxes in this country baffles me. For a vast majority of people a small increase (in dollar terms) of the taxes they pay could result in gaining far more in the way of transfers back to them. Be they directed to the very unlucky (or lazy as they are characterized in this country) or more relevant, be they in the form of lower costs on health, power, transportation, etc. Even a flat tax increase of 5% income across the board (this is not what I am advocating) would result in a vast majority of the population getting back far more in benefits than the 5% extra they would put out.
The only losers from higher taxation are the ones who can afford to lose it.
The misrepresentation that we are "being screwed" when the government takes our money is causing massive social ills in this country. I can understand why people at the top have fostered this perception, it does not take a genius to figure that out,
but it is time for the American people to wake up and pay some taxes. Only the very top would be hurt by higher taxes the rest of us would finally get some of the trickle down we so desperately need...
How do we get this trickle down? History has shown there are only two ways: take the money from the rich via taxation and use it on programs for everybody (health, power, etc.).
Or take a bigger slice with force. This second option has worked on micro level since the dawn of civilization, would it work on a large scale in the US? Not under the current conditions!

Does bigger government cause bigger waste?
Does bigger government help more people than it hurts?
For sure if it is the right kind of government.
Can our current government help more people that it hurts?
I would like to think so but I doubt it will.
Does bigger government mean greater democracy and rights as a citizen....not this government...not in this country....it is time for political a change ....a necessary beginning to the economic change we so drastically need. Not the removal of Obama, the man seems like his heart is in the right place. The change we need is a readjustment of power towards state and local governments. Places where changing who the corruption benefits are manageable battles in terms of scale.