Super-late quick hits (part II)

1) Great stuff from Bill Ayers on the stupidity on business as a metaphor for government:

I think I’ll take my Prius drag racing.

It makes perfect sense, right? After all, a Prius is just like those cars you see tearing down the track at drag races. It has four wheels, each with an inflated rubber tire. It has an engine powered by oil-based fuel. It’s got a seat for a driver, with a steering wheel. It’s got a transmission system, and a bunch of electrical support stuff. I mean, they’re practically the same thing.

Of course, this is crazy. A Prius, despite some superficial similarities, is not a drag racer. Attempting to run mine on a drag strip is likely to fail, and cause a fair amount of damage in the process. A drag racer is built for speed. A Prius (unless you heavily modify it!) is built for gas mileage.

Along similar lines, why do so many people insist on arguing that “government should be run like a business”? …

The fact that “business” and “government” both belong to the broader category called “human organization” tells you very little about how to run the latter. The differences between them are far more important than the similarities. And like the comparison between Prius and drag racer, what is most important is the purpose for which each was built.

A business is an organization designed to produce some product or service for the wider world, usually (though not always) at a profit. A business creates what it creates. It is primarily concerned with two groups of people: the owners (who control the business, and in whose interest it presumably operates) and the customers. A business can define its own customer base, to a substantial degree, and doesn’t need to concern itself with anybody else in society. Businesses don’t even have to be all that concerned about their employees, except as these are necessary to produce the product or service.

Governments look nothing like this. They are not meant to operate at a profit, and those that do are generally regarded as corrupt and illegitimate. Governments do not produce individual goods or services, but provide public goods to a broad group of people known as citizens. Except at the margins, governments have very little ability to define who they serve, and governments that decide to serve only one segment of the population usually find themselves losing legitimacy. Legitimate governments can’t pick their “customer base”…

But the chief purpose of the government is not to be a business, but to provide a safe, secure, and fair environment in which everybody can pursue their own individual business. If businesses are like sports teams competing, government is like the referee enforcing the rules of the game.

Ultimately, the purpose of a business is to advance the interests of its owners, usually a small group of people. The purpose of a government is to advance the interests of everybody. A business is partial to itself. A good government is impartial towards all.

2) Trump’s OMB pick Mick Mulvaney thinks it’s a good idea to blow up the debt ceiling.  Ugh.  And he doesn’t think the government should fund scientific research.  Double-ugh.  And he’s part of a larger trend of Trump surrounding himself with Tea Partiers.  Triple-ugh.

3) Recently finished Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot to my 10-year old.  Perhaps the favorite book I have read my kids not written by EB White or Roald Dahl.  So good.

4) The Republican approach to health care policy?  Maybe wait before going to the ER when your kid breaks his arm.  Seriously.

5) Bipartisan Op-Ed arguing that we need nuclear power to slow global warming.  I firmly agree.  And there’s amazing technological advances in contemporary reactors.

6) Also, global warming really sucks for polar bears.  Great photo essay in the NYT.

7) So clear that we all benefit by waiting longer to merge with a lane closure and do a zipper merge.  The problem is that so many drivers are not aware and act counter-productively.  Doesn’t seem that a public service campaign on the matter would be all that hard.

8) A review of the year in cool quantum physics stuff.

9) Nicholas Kristof has a conversation with an Evangelical pastor on whether you can be Christian without believing in the virgin birth or the Resurrection.  Whether those beliefs make you a “Christian” or not, you could do a lot worse than following Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, regardless of whether you believe the other stuff.

10) John Cassidy on Trump’s challenge to democracy:

The big unknown isn’t what Trump will do: his pattern of behavior is clear. It is whether the American political system will be able to deal with the unprecedented challenge his election presents, and rein him in. Especially with a single party controlling the executive and the legislative branches, there is no immediately reassuring answer to this question.

11) I never did watch “Making of a Murderer” (mostly because it struck me as way too much of a time investment), but this really interesting New Yorker article on true-crime as entertainment from back in January (just came across it as promoted as among their most popular articles of the year) makes me glad I did not invest the time.

12) Studies less unfavorable to sugar that are funded by the sugar industry should undoubtedly draw great scrutiny.  That said, these conclusions seem reasonable:

But the scientists behind the paper said more scrutiny of sugar guidelines was needed. The researchers reviewed guidelines issued by the W.H.O. and eight other agencies around the world and said the case against sugar was based on “low-quality” evidence.

“The conclusion of our paper is a very simple one,” said Bradley C. Johnston, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Toronto and McMaster University and the lead author of the new paper. “We hope that the results from this review can be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”

Dr. Johnston said he recognized that his paper would be criticized because of its ties to industry funding. But he said he hoped people would not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by dismissing the conclusion that sugar guidelines should be developed with greater rigor. He also emphasized that he was not suggesting that people eat more sugar. The review article, he said, questions specific recommendations about sugar but “should not be used to justify higher intake of sugary foods and beverages.”

13) Excellent, thorough, Nate Cohn piece looking at how the Obama coalition fell apart for HRC.  Make sure you read this one.

14) Not surprisingly, the relationship between the political attitudes of elite donors and the Democratic party is far more complex than the simplistic portrayals we commonly get.

15) The way in which we basically let police departments steal money from people in this country is just disgusting.  Drum is not having it and either am I.

16) Greg Sargent on why we should be terrified of Trump’s decision-making process.

17) Ezra Klein asks whether Republicans are more addicted to power or ideas.  It’s cute that he even pretends it’s a question:

We are about to learn whether Republicans are more addicted to power or to ideas. This is, it’s worth noting, a live debate. In the Bush years, the GOP cut taxes, expanded Medicare, and started two wars without paying for a dime of it. Then after Barack Obama took office, Republicans became very worried about budget discipline.

 Fiscal conservatism, liberals complained, seemed to mean Republicans could rack up debt for any reason while Democrats couldn’t even borrow to save the economy during a financial collapse (which is, for the record, exactly the time you would want to debt finance).

But the GOP swore otherwise. The Tea Party, they said, was a correction to the regrettable excesses of the aughts. Bush-era Republicans had gone Washington and become addicted to power rather than conservatism. They had betrayed their own ideas and were now being punished by their own voters. It wouldn’t happen again. The opposition to Obama’s debt financing was the principled stand of a chastened GOP, not a cynical ploy to trip up a Democratic president.

If House Republicans — and particularly the House Freedom Caucus, the most debt-obsessed of all House Republicans — decide that Trump only needs to pay half the cost of his plans, then there’ll be no more mystery. Partisanship and power, not ideas and ideology, will have proven the GOP’s real addiction.

18) Poland for a very, very disturbing case study of what can happen when populists come to power in a democracy:

The Law and Justice Party rode to power on a pledge to drain the swamp of Polish politics and roll back the legacy of the previous administration. One year later, its patriotic revolution, the party proclaims, has cleaned house and brought God and country back to Poland.

Opponents, however, see the birth of a neo-Dark Age — one that, as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, is a harbinger of the power of populism to upend a Western society. In merely a year, critics say, the nationalists have transformed Poland into a surreal and insular place — one where state-sponsored conspiracy theories and de facto propaganda distract the public as democracy erodes.

In the land of Law and Justice, anti-intellectualism is king. Polish scientists are aghast at proposed curriculum changes in a new education bill that would downplay evolution theory and climate change and add hours for “patriotic” history lessons. In a Facebook chat, a top equal rights official mused that Polish hotels should not be forced to provide service to black or gay customers. After the official stepped down for unrelated reasons, his successor rejected an international convention to combat violence against women because it appeared to argue against traditional gender roles.

Over the weekend, Warsaw convulsed in street protests amid allegations that the Law and Justice party had illegally forced through a budget bill even as it sought to restrict media access to Parliament.

 

18) David Leonhardt suggests maybe Democrats have been bringing knives to a gun fight.  I think he might be right, but it’ll be a helluva mess if bullets just start flying everywhere.

If he were merely a rogue politician, this story would be a local one. But too many Republicans elsewhere have begun to ignore political traditions, and even laws, to exert power. While Democrats continue to play by more genteel rules, Republicans have subscribed to the Capone school of politics (as Sean Connery fans can recite): “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

 

19) Must-read NYT piece on Steve Kerr and how we was shaped by his father, who was assassinated as president of American University in Beirut in 1984.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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