Stimulative Effects of Environmental Regulations

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman wrote about the current partisan nature of environmental laws and how it wasn’t always this way, Pollution and Politics.

I think it is important to understand why doing something about pollution is good for the economy — at least when economic demand is low as it is now. As you have no doubt seen, since the economy crashed in 2008, corporate profits are at an all time high. Because there are so many more people looking for jobs than there are jobs, there is no pressure to raise wages, so the the owners of capital can keep more of the profits of productivity gains to themselves. It’s funny that conservatives think that in this environment, businesses need incentives in the form of lower taxes and fewer regulations in order to “create” jobs.

The problem with this situation is that the rich — the owners of capital — end up just sitting on the money. There is no incentive for them to invest the extra money, because demand is low in the economy and they are likely to lose on the investments — in the short term at least. But by requiring that the owners of capital invest to improve their infrastructure, this money that would be sitting around in the pockets of the rich doing nothing would be cycling in the economy. (Say’s Law is a myth!)

It is understandable why corporations would not want to be forced to upgrade their physical plant. But the effect on the macroeconomy is win-win: there is less pollution and the economy is stimulated. And given that the corporations are sitting around harming the economy with a kind of paradox of thrift, there is no reasonable political complaint against environmental regulations in a depressed economy.

Of course, what we hear from conservatives is that a depressed economy is a bad time to enact environmental regulations because it will kill jobs. To start with, this is a disingenuous argument because they would make the same argument in a booming economy: we can’t harm the good economy! This second claim actually has a theoretical basis. But environmental regulations in a depressed economy is a jobs program. It takes money that the rich are refusing to spend and makes them spend it to create jobs. And meanwhile, we get a better economy and become more competitive compared to other countries.

Marketplace Magic: And Then a Miracle OccursConservatives always argue for their policies of letting the business community do whatever it wants because this will somehow create jobs. It is similar to their healthcare logic, “High cost healthcare; then a miracle occurs; low cost healthcare.” But in this case it is: cut taxes and regulations on corporations; then a micacle occurs; jobs are created.

Krugman suggested that the issue is primarily rising income inequality. But I really think it is mostly ideology. Environmentalism poses a huge problem for conservatives and that is especially true when it comes to global issues. Conservatives cannot accept that collective action is sometimes needed. This is actually quite a typical conservative-liberal divide. Liberals have no problem with individual action. In fact, if we could have a good society without government, liberals would have no problem with it. As I note a lot around here: liberalism is a very practical ideology. But conservatives are not okay with collective action. To them, the need for any collective action other than getting together occasionally and killing hundreds of thousands of people would prove that the government isn’t always the problem. Ronald Reagan would be wrong about, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

This is why distinguishing between different economic situations is anathema to conservatives. Monetary stimulus is always inflationary. Deficit spending never creates jobs. And environmental regulations always kill jobs. My atheist friends rightly mock fundamentalist Christians who are immune to proof. But perhaps they should spend more time looking at political conservatives who seem to be no less immune to proof.

Afterword

Note that in practice, conservatives are not for a small government. But because they hate government, they simply turn it into a corrupt system that enriches their already rich friends. And the one area where they think the government absolutely much be small is in its role to help the weak.

Anarchist: Brown Family Shoulda Hired Prosecutor

Center for a Stateless SocietyI came upon an article by Chad Nelson, The Inherent Flaw of the Criminal Justice System. It is from the Center for a Stateless Society. Their slogan is, “A left market anarchist think tank & media center.” I just want to give them a big wet kiss and pat them on the head. They are so adorable! They are also deeply pernicious. These are the kind of guys that I was when I was a libertarian. And just as I was then, they are now fooling themselves. Who thinks that if you get rid of government all will be well? It takes studied ignorance to think that absence of government wouldn’t create a power vacuum filled by organized business interests that would be totally unaccountable. Neo-feudalism, here we come!

The article at hand is about how there is a conflict of interest when police officers are being prosecuted because the prosecutor’s office works so closely with the police. This is true. It is hardly the biggest problem with prosecutors in this country, but it is definitely a troubling issue that we should give serious thought to. But according to Nelson, this is just a sign that the government is out of control. The different branches of government don’t keep each other honest because they are all dedicated to the same government. Did you catch that?

Because there is a problem inside one branch of government, the different branches of government can’t work to limit power grabs. That’s kind of like saying, “My home network is down; the internet doesn’t work!” But what Nelson is really saying is that he hates the government and any part of the government will understandably support the idea of government and so this is bad. But he doesn’t come right out and say it because it sounds stupid. Because it is. Basically: the government is bad because I think the government is bad.

What Nelson thinks should have happened is that Michael Brown’s parents should have hired their own attorney to prosecute Darren Wilson. But where exactly the court for such a case would come from is not clear. Would the Brown family have to purchase a legal system on the free market? And if that was the case, why would Darren Wilson feel that he was bound by its findings? So that can’t be what Nelson thinks. Instead, it must be that like most libertarians, he thinks that the legal system is one proper governmental function. But given that he thinks that the government is completely useless in all other ways, why should we accept that collective action would work in terms of the courts?

As with all things libertarian, it only takes the slightest scratching to find gaping holes. If we can work with a government court system, we can certainly make the different parts of the larger court system work. In this case, it is hardly necessary for the Brown family to have their own lawyer (especially since in Nelson’s utopia, they would have to pay for it). What the Brown family actually asked for would have been far better: a special prosecutor. The problem in this case was that democracy didn’t work. It wasn’t that government didn’t work.

The problem here is that Chad Nelson, and I’m sure everyone at the Center for a Stateless Society, thinks that government is always the problem. Like voters in a general election, he really ought to grow up. The question is not between government and his utopia. It is between this government and the other that we would necessarily get. And history shows us that we are a whole lot more free than we would be under the rule of Walmart.


See also: There Are No Libertarian Republicans

Don’t Mistake “Friends” for Friends

Facebook SucksJenée Desmond-Harris writes a kind of advice column at The Root, Race Matters. And this week, she wrote an interesting article, How to Deal With Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson. It is about people on Facebook, who find that many of their “friends” are, in fact, bigots. The whole thing is kind of new to me because I don’t use Facebook. I use Twitter and there I “follow” people. And on Google+, I also “follow,” but the people can be subdivided into friends. On Facebook I guess you “like,” which implies friendship.

Desmond-Harris gives the advice to just block such people. There are a few reasons for this including the fact that the stress is just not good for you and that life is too short to deal with awful people. I agree with that. It’s not to say that I require that all my friends agree with me. In fact, I would have no friends if that were the case because they seem to disagree with me far more than they agree with me. But they don’t disagree with me about the most basic humanity. For example, I can’t imagine being friends with someone who did not value empathy. (Of course, I would empathize with the fact that they are basically psychopaths, but I wouldn’t want them in my life.)

This whole thing is a reminder that friendship is truly a dying art in our culture. In fact, it is so bad that most people don’t even realize that friendship is an art. Most friendships exist only because they are convenient. “Out of sight, out of mind.” That’s the status of most friendships. And this kind of facile friendship is made all the easier with Facebook. Even e-mail seems to be too much of a hassle for most people. Instead, they just puts their trivial thoughts out into the ether and maybe someone will respond. Maybe someone will “like” the fact that you had a burrito for lunch!

Because I have a very small amount of fame (infamy is probably more accurate), I get e-mail from people I once knew. But I’ve learned to be extremely short with these people. Such e-mail is almost always a kind of emotional drive-by shooting. I’m not at all interested in having a superficial relationship with these people, much less acting as a kind of circus freak to spice up their sad, paint-by-numbers lives. The other side of this is that I’ve developed some fairly deep relationships with people I’ve never met that have involved tens of thousands of words in correspondence. The internet really can act as a way to facilitate true friendships. It is just that it rarely is used that way.

So if I were on Facebook, I have little doubt that the majority of the people I went to high school would be sending out the most vile of comments about the death of Michael Brown now that all conservatives “know” that what Darren Wilson said is The Truth™: officer friendly was brutally attacked and got vewy vewy scawed. But such people show their true colors long before an event like this occurs to make it obvious. But I’m trained. I know what to look for. And regardless, I never mistake someone giving me a +1 on Google+ with friendship.

What Black People Know Cannot Be Said

Ta-Nehisi CoatesBlack people know what cannot be said. What clearly cannot be said is that the events of Ferguson do not begin with Michael Brown lying dead in the street, but with policies set forth by government at every level. What clearly cannot be said is that the people of Ferguson are regularly plundered, as their grandparents were plundered, and generally regarded as a slush-fund for the government that has pledged to protect them. What clearly cannot be said is the idea of superhuman black men who “bulk up” to run through bullets is not an invention of Darren Wilson, but a staple of American racism.

What clearly cannot be said is that American society’s affection for nonviolence is notional. What can not be said is that American society’s admiration for Martin Luther King Jr increases with distance, that the movement he led was bugged, smeared, harassed, and attacked by the same country that now celebrates him. King had the courage to condemn not merely the violence of blacks, nor the violence of the Klan, but the violence of the American state itself.

What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence — like nonviolence — sometimes works. “Property damage and looting impede social progress,” Jonathan Chait wrote Tuesday. He delivered this sentence with unearned authority. Taken together, property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. It describes everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining…

What cannot be said is that America does not really believe in nonviolence — Barack Obama has said as much — so much as it believes in order. What cannot be said is that there are very convincing reasons for black people in Ferguson to be nonviolent. But those reasons emanate from an intelligent fear of the law, not a benevolent respect for the law.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

Randy Newman

Randy NewmanThe great singer-songwriter Randy Newman is 71 today. He’s also an acceptable film composer. But let’s say no more about that. And to be honest, I’m not terribly fond of his more recent songwriting. He’s become something of a hack — a really successful and wealthy hack — but a hack nonetheless.

So instead of talking about his work, I’m just going to present some of my favorite of his songs. Let’s start with one of his trademark offensive songs, “Yellow Man.” Yes, it is about what you think it is about:

Next up is probably my favorite of his songs, “Political Science.” It is such a perfect rendering of a very common conservative outlook when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Now it is a bit out of date because people don’t talk so much about the bomb. Although you still hear the same reasoning, “The only reason we lost the Vietnam War was that we didn’t use nukes!” But more than that, there is the naive idea that our foreign policy is just about helping everyone. The first lyrics are perfect, “No one likes us; I don’t know why.” American conservatives still don’t know why. It reminds me of those great bumper stickers, “Be nice to America, or we’ll bring democracy to your country.”

Actually, there are a lot of songs during this period that I really like. He supposedly wrote this song for Frank Sinatra, “Lonely at the Top.” It is sad that Sinatra did not have enough of a sense of humor to do it. It would have been fantastic:

Wow, I’ve only made it to 1972, and I’ve passed by a whole bunch of songs that I love. So let’s finish up with a later song (1983!), “My Life Is Good.” When I saw Newman live around that time, he introduced it by noting, “I’m sorry to say that this song is autobiographical.” I believe him. He does not seem like a very nice guy.

Happy birthday Randy Newman!