Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Just Do It

Quoting Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama met face-to-face Tuesday with congressional Republicans who have been chafing over parts of a $825 billion plan to pull the country out of recession, and he urged lawmakers to "keep politics to a minimum" and quickly approve the measure.

"The statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation. The American people expect action," the new Democratic president said in brief remarks between private meetings with House and Senate Republicans at the Capitol. "I don't expect 100 percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now."

Notice that in the current debate over the “stimulus” bill there is an underlying premise that “bi-partisanship” is good. In other words, if the two parties agree to something or anything then it is seen as “good”, but if the two sides argue and do not agree it is cast as “politics” or “partisanship” or “standing in the way of getting something ‘done’”. The presumption is that the actual action being debated is not actually relevant. It is just important that “something” get done. Under this theory, the real problem is that one side or the other is “ideological” and is standing in the way of getting this something done. Since the action being taken undoubtedly involves state expropriation of taxpayer wealth for the unearned benefit of others, a corollary of this theory is that state sanctioned theft is a natural and unquestionably necessary function of the state. Only an “ideologue” could stand in the way of this unquestionable “good”.

What philosophy could give rise to a situation in which the exasperation and frustration over a proposed government program relates not to the nature or virtues of the program but to the motives of anyone who question it? The answer is exactly what I have been posting about for months[1, 2]: the philosophy of Pragmatism.

Recall that to the pragmatist, ideology is not relevant. Obama has explicitly stated that he is "concerned with facts not ideology." In other words, he does not want to debate what is good or evil. He does not want to debate over individual rights, justice, or the role of government. He is not concerned with “why” this economic catastrophe has occurred or how this catastrophe is a logical consequence of the very actions he is proposing to take. He is not concerned with the long run consequences of these actions in terms of what effect it will have on the economy or what precedent it will set in terms of the role of government. This would require ideology or a set of principles derived logically from observation. The “facts” or "statistics" show that people are suffering NOW as the economy contracts. Businesses and individuals are losing money NOW. Equity prices are going down NOW. The pragmatist must act. If there is no money, create the money. If people are losing jobs, create jobs. Sure, there might be some disagreement but "the American people expect action."

An ideologue might argue that those who earn money have a right to it. They might tell you that it is immoral for the government to initiate force against businesses and individuals in order to take their earnings and redistribute them to those who have not earned them. Ideologues might demonstrate that the function of government is to protect the rights of those who earn wealth by punishing those who initiate force and that any initiation of force by the government against the productive is a fundamental inversion of its role and profoundly evil. Ideologues might prove to you that, in practice, the government is not productive so it can not create wealth – it can only spend it. Any dollar spent by the government is a dollar not spent or saved by someone else. Therefore they might prove how government is responsible for the current economic disaster and demonstrate that freedom not government is the solution.

To the pragmatist, this is all irrelevant. He must act. And how should he act if he has no ideology? He accepts the default philosophy of the culture: altruism and self-sacrifice are morally good and selfishness is evil. Therefore, to “act” means to act in a way that maximizes sacrifice and that reduces selfishness. For example, if some people are richer than others, they must be forced to give away some of their wealth to those who are poorer. If a corporation is seeking to profit, they must be throttled with taxes and regulations. But isn’t this an ideology? It is, but to the pragmatist minds of Obama, the academics, and the liberal media it is metaphysically given that altruism is the standard of morality. Anyone who would argue that wealth belongs to the person who earns it would be cast as a lunatic or worse – an “extremist”… gasp.

Even Republicans will not make this argument. Republicans make a “practical” argument that Obama’s plan is destined to failure which it is, however, they do not question the ethical premise underlying the proposal nor can they uphold a proper morality based on reason, self-interest, and individual rights. Thus, the Republicans "compromise" with the Left which means, instead of opposing the program on principle, they fight for say 10% less than otherwise while "me too-ing" the pragmatist-altruistic sentiment that they are acting bi-partisan, helping the poor, sticking it to the rich, etc. This pisses off the principled voters who backed Republicans because they bought their "less government" rhetoric and pisses off the Left who rightly see them as hypocrites who publicly proclaim sympthathy for the Left's ethical philosophy while trying to obstruct it politically. This is why the Republican's keep losing and the country keeps drifting Leftward.

Defenders of freedom and capitalism need to argue that partisanship is good. Ideology and principles do matter. We need to argue that Obama's ideology of non-ideololgy is profoundly wrong and is a smoke screen that obscures his underlying philosophy of altruism, collectivism and statism. Before we can argue for the right principles, we need to argue for principles!

5 comments:

Beth said...

Well said.

Michael Labeit said...

Very good blog post.

Millionaire Maker said...

I agree with you guys here, Just Do It! Do what ever it takes but lets just do it.

Doug Poretz said...

I think you are wrong in saying that Obama is all pragmatist without ideology. Clearly there is an ideology at work here: government has a preeminent role in everyday life ... it will own or at least control the nation's banking ... it will not only regulate but it will set corporate strategy for such major industries as automobiles ... it will assume the resposnibility for creating jobs ... it will run the healthcare system ... it will underwrite the cost of education through college ... it will control the debt market ... etc. That looks like an ideology to me. I'm not certain the ideology is good or bad, needed or not, but I am pretty certain we are seeing a very major ideology at work here -- and we better realize that because just as there will be a legacy of debt, there will be a legacy of structural political change.

Doug Reich said...

Doug,

Thanks for your comment.

I think you misunderstood my post. Obama is a pragmatist in the sense that he overtly rejects ideology and wishes to "get things done", "act", "reach consensus", etc. However, I argued in this post and in previous posts that pragmatism is essentially a nothing. Wishing to "get something done" begs the question "what exactly do you wish to get done". Therefore, every pragmatist has an implicit or default philosophy. I have argued that Obama's default philosophy is Christian marxism (or some form of liberation theology).

Quoting the post:
And how should he act if he has no ideology? He accepts the default philosophy of the culture: altruism and self-sacrifice are morally good and selfishness is evil. Therefore, to “act” means to act in a way that maximizes sacrifice and that reduces selfishness. For example, if some people are richer than others, they must be forced to give away some of their wealth to those who are poorer. If a corporation is seeking to profit, they must be throttled with taxes and regulations. But isn’t this an ideology? It is, but to the pragmatist minds of Obama, the academics, and the liberal media it is metaphysically given that altruism is the standard of morality. Anyone who would argue that wealth belongs to the person who earns it would be cast as a lunatic or worse – an “extremist”… gasp.
end quote

It is important to identify and understand that Obama is a pragmatist and that socialism is a default. That is because he will not come out and argue that "socialism" is a good ideology. He argues against ideology. He would say a socialist is an extremist too and call for "compromise". The consequence of pragmatism is that the battle is no longer between the ideology of capitalism vs socialism but only over the degree of compromise. You can see this with the "stimulus bill". Of course, in reality, you can not compromise between food and poison. The poison or in this case socialism will win.

Our culture is steeped in the idea that "there are no black and whites", "no one really knows anything", "it's all subjective", etc. which leads to the idea that compromise on anything is necessary and reasonable.
The Republicans buy into the "compromise is good" theory and since the religious republicans are steeped in altruism as well they end up drifting leftward with the Obama's of the world.

This is why I said we must argue for principles first and then argue for the right principles.

I hope this clarifies my position better.