You Can’t Handle the Truth

This week’s news brings to mind Jack Nicholson’s famous rant in “A Few Good Men”. We see the truth staring us in the face, and we can’t handle it.

Mitt Romney’s aide Eric Fehrnstrom repeated Richard Nixon’s advice to run hard to the right in the primaries and steer back to the center for the general election. The Republican conservatives and the news media acted as if this was some sort of apostasy. Fehrnstrom’s one mistake was using a metaphor which could be visualized:the Etch-A-Sketch.

My sense is that Romney is already starting his pivot to the center because he realizes that the Tea Party is a spent force. America is not a Right Wing country despite Rush Limbaugh’s protestations. The business wing of the Republican Party see an epic defeat in their future, borne on the wings of all the talk about returning women’s rights to the 1950’s, invading Iran and impeaching moderate and liberal judges.

And then there is all the handwringing over Sergeant Robert Bales, who is accused of murdering 16 Afghans last week. The Army and the news media tried to spin this as a good soldier who just snapped because he saw a friend die from an IED. But now the truth emerges that Bales joined the Army to escape from a criminal prosecution for securities fraud.

A former victim called Gary Liebschner described Bales as a smooth-talking conman who had caused him to lose $1.2million in savings. Working as a stockbroker, he had sold AT&T shares on Liebschner’s behalf, but disappeared with the proceeds. “He robbed me of my life savings,” Mr Liebschner told ABC News. “We didn’t know where he was. We heard the Bahamas, and all kinds of places.”

The real truth is that Bales was just a cog in a senseless war. Whatever his motives for joining the Army, he was probably asking the same questions as the young Marine Rep. Walter Jones visited last week in Bethesda.

He said he had recently visited Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital to see wounded troops: “I had a young Marine lance corporal who lost one leg,” in a room with his mother.

“My question is,” the Marine asked him, “Why are we still there?”

Jones also read an e-mail from a military big shot whom he described as a former boss of General Allen’s, giving the congressman this unvarnished assessment: “Attempting to find a true military and political answer to the problems in Afghanistan would take decades. Would drain our nation of precious resources, with the most precious being our sons and daughters. Simply put, the United States cannot solve the Afghan problem, no matter how brave and determined our troops are.”

Bales’ crime may be the My Lai Massacre of the Afghanistan War, but we will still ignore the larger truth that we have been killing women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan for years. We just call it “collateral damage”.

And finally there is the very public NFL rebuke of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for sanctioning a bounty program for his defense to injure opposing players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement that he was “profoundly troubled” by the bounty program reminds me of Claude Rain’s famous line in Casablanca, “I am shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here.” The truth is that NFL defensive players are paid to do damage to their opponents. That’s the way they keep score.

I don’t really have an answer as to why the news media feels it has to constantly peddle these half truths. Does anyone really still believe that politicians mean what they say, that war is honorable or football is just a sport?


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55 Responses to You Can’t Handle the Truth

  1. len says:

    Re: Bales. The Army is in a spot and they know it. They can’t express too much outrage because they have a pot full of Bales and they know it. Also, it is their job to spot guys like that and didn’t. In effect, he is theirs and they failed. And they know it. How to get out of this without losing their own recruiting power is a problem. And they know it. The Apache crash illuminates the problem better than Bales though. They are toasty. I workd with these guys. They are tired of war but my god, they love the Army. It’s a different culture, Jon. I’m not asking you or anyone to understand that. You can’t. I ask you to understand that the wealth you have is yours because of the green beasties, not in spite of them.

    The problem for the NFL is it doesn’t start there. Take a hard look at Auburn’s championship season and count the number of quarterbacks and other players they “took out of the game”. Look at the moves used to do it. Players have to be coached to do that. Fans may cheers for Chisik but they got a trophy for a season of what is politely called “Thug ball” and impolitely other things. The alumni had to have a championship and he gave them that.

    Bullies. We have to start standing up to the bullies and make it count. If Obama makes a swing through Alabama, a state he will most certainly lose, I hope he has the good sense to talk to us like adults who were born in the USA instead of aborigines he has to tolerate. It’s good when a leader thinks past an election and understands the impression he is making because that lasts, and grits or no, the free range democrats here need some help from the people who believe they are better when in effect, they are the same or worse because they believe that. You have to ask where the mandate bullies’ enjoy originates. Look hard.

    We’re getting tired trying to turn this state around while taking pokes from the very people who ought to help. The media does what it does because it is afraid to walk in certain neighborhoods like most of us. They are a for-profit business. Where is their mandate for that? That one is easy.

    Bullies, all shapes, forms, sizes and good intentions cannot continue when people stand up to them as long as for each person knocked down, another will step up. When this country finally tires of the wailing, it will change. See Golddiggers of 1933.

  2. Alex Bowles says:

    Karen Handle’s forced resignation from Planned Parenthood; Rush Limbaugh’s abandonment by mainstream advertisers; the current outrage surrounding Trayvon Martin’s shooting – in each case the Tea Party position (typically fundamentalist, crass, and racist) is lurching into the limelight and getting swiftly excoriated. And now that the GOP is trying to stare down a major defeat this November, they’re realizing that going all-or-nothing on the wingnuts was a terrible, terrible mistake.

    The Tea Party is more than spent, they’re becoming an outright liability. Whether their members are sitting on your board, pitching your brand, patrolling your streets, or grounding your party, their astonishingly awful ethos stands a very real chance of doing lasting damage to your organization. They are the precise opposite of what anyone expects from those in governing roles.

    My suspicion is that a lot of their trouble is rooted in lying, both to themselves and everybody in striking range. Red State denizens railing against ‘socialist libruls’ while maintaining a positive balance of payments from Washington (underwritten by Blue States who send more to DC than they receive) is just one example. The ‘religious freedom’ nonsense – which seems to mean “we’re free to do whatever we want in the name of our religion, and you’re not” – is equally incoherent. And of course, they make a mockery of their devotion to ‘states rights’ (another so-called ‘core principle’) when making every effort to frustrate drives for gay marriage and moderated drug policy at the state level.

    Their core problem is that their actual interests and aims are entirely incompatible with life in a democratic, pluralistic nation. The “If you’re not one of us, you’re one of them, and that makes you our enemy” attitude is the one thing a tolerant society cannot tolerate, for reasons that are self-evident. Indeed, recognizing this base and vicious tribalism for what it is – and building governing structures to defuse it – is the central accomplishment of a classically liberal representative republic. Everything enshrined in the Constitution, from the legal equality of all citizens to the exemption of their civil rights from popular vote, is designed to prevent movements like the Tea Party from coming to the fore, claiming that the country is “ours”, and “taking it back” from the broader citizenry. So it’s no wonder these troglodytes prefer the “original” version of that document; the one predating our more-perfect union that still permitted slavery and the disenfranchisement of women.

    This inescapable fact of their core intent (blocking the more-perfect union, and the engine of progress that its founding document represents) is the reason for their intractable mendacity. They simply cannot be honest about their intentions while advancing their agenda. And so we get the wall of bullshit that has become synonymous with their positions. This is what’s killing them now.

    “Bullshit”, for those who dont’ know, is actually a wonderfully technical term. Harry Frankfurt, of Princeton University, penned On Bullshit (PDF) as a philosophical examination of the subject. As Wikidpedia notes, Mr. Frankfurt’s central insight was that bullshit can either be true or false but bullshitters aim primarily to impress and persuade their audiences, and in general are unconcerned with the truth or falsehood of their statements. While liars need to know the truth to better conceal it, bullshitters, interested solely in advancing their own agendas, have no use for the truth. Thus, Frankfurt claims, “…bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

    Frankfurt notes that we all do this to some degree. That’s an inevitable part of being human. But we also need to restrain ourselves if we’re to maintain any standing in society. That principle of restraint is the thing that the Tea Party (among others) has completely abandoned. Twisting facts is one thing. Ignoring them outright is another. What’s amazing to me is that our nominally-informed news media hasn’t figured this out. Instead of doing what every sane person wants them to do – call bullshit – we’re stuck with nitwits like the NYT’s Arthur Brisbane who honestly asks “Should the New York Times be a Truth Vigilante?” (The comment thread on this piece is incandescent, as is the thread on Brisbane’s equally tone-deaf follow up).

    If the pinnacle of American journalism can’t get this right, what hope do we have for the rest of the establishment?

  3. len says:

    We have the certainty that they will pass from history as every movement like them has. American history is a laundry list of movements like and they do have a salutary effect of moving the needle, waking up a few, enraging a few, and then the pendulum swings. The problem of a powerful rich nation such as the US is the pendulum usually swings forcefully and therefore too far in a direction and then it has to be corrected. The mistake is to believe and bet resources on it ever staying in a quadrant on the magic question board.

    Remember, “geek” didn’t originally mean “slightly awkward computer nerd”. It meant a crazy circus performer who bit the heads off chickens and snakes. Obama spread a thick carpet of bullshit on the way to the office he now holds. Some would go so far as to say he lied. He may want to try the truth this time tempered with respect for his audience because as long as the Left Coast only talks to the Right Coast about everything in between and fails to hear what the heartland is saying, they are whistling to the cactuses and rocks and neither vote.

    The scariest thing I’ve heard is that the endorsement by Jeb Bush is so important. Why? Few will admit their favorite horse was a loser and because of that it is possible for Hollywookies to be turned into objects of adoration when in truth, they are sick perverts who could give a frik about the people who adore them as long as they come to see the show. And this realization has made become a tenet of our politics. Once the show is more important than the work, the curtains fall in empty halls of dust mites and shredded scenery.

    As my son says, “Dad the weird thing is the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers goals aren’t that far apart.” To which I tell him, “True, but the day that fact really hits them, they’ll both fall apart.”

    These movements exist to endow the people who participate in them with a sense of power. It may be transient or illusory but the sense is enough to get them to the voting booth. Savvy people know that a third wave is coming. We may be that or we may only be the harbingers of that. This I take comfort in: the ideas about art, folk, music and society movements that we wer talking about here a few years ago and only being practiced by the second-raters are now being espoused by A-listers like Bruce Springsteen at SXSW, sensibly and with passion. The press will now get in line.

    Nunc dimittis.

  4. Alex Bowles says:

    Actually, the ‘convergent interests’ of the Tea Party and Occupy are superficial at best. Yes, both are appalled at what can be rightly called bad government. However, what Occupiers object to is the badness, whereas the Tea Party hates government itself.

    Occupy is focused on good government. The Tea Party if focused on the abolition of government. While they may both like to see the end of the current arrangement, that’s the only sense in which they can be said to want the same thing.

  5. Alex Bowles says:

    Speaking of Trayvon Martin, I’ll just leave this here.

    The Republican base is sinking itself.

  6. len says:

    I think their organs of communication are sinking their campaigns. The people are still there (unless I missed the rapture again).

    You’re stereotyping. Occupy is focused on reversing the social injustice wrought by class emergence and the current injustice enabled by the wealth gap. The Tea Partiers want to believe the wealth gap is the result of being successful Americans and that class doesn’t matter in America. Both are enchanted by their own charms and snake charmers.

    I’d rather hang out with the Occupiers. Better drum circles. And I think they are right about the wealth gap. Our system is seriously out of whack when it comes to the right cues for the right behaviors for the right rewards. Biden has the right rap. We are way better off than most, still enviable, and damm… the price of gas sure sucks.

    What gives me the willies are groups who talk themselves into being losers in America. Or let others do it. Rewiring the TPers may involve pointing out to them they are doing that and if they can prove otherwise, let them the heck alone. As long as everyone is getting up, going to work and making life for themselves and their family, one really should. The Occupiers who work or don’t are committted to educating each other and that is rarely wrong.

    My anxiety is a radical wing of that will emerge who believe confronting others with violent dramatic gets the cameras there in oodles means. The SDS was inspiring. The Weathermen were dammed scary. And scary trumps earnest every time.

  7. len says:

    And the Fox thing is sick. I don’t bother watching them. They sound too much like the alcoholic father of a childhood friend.

  8. JTMcPhee says:


    I’m not asking you or anyone to understand that. You can’t. I ask you to understand that the wealth you have is yours because of the green beasties, not in spite of them.

    On this, we part company. Unless that bit about the Green Beasties causing wealth instead of sucking it down was in reference to whatever investments in the MIC our host and others may have made, or the bit about using the Marines, et al, to ensure the theft of the wealth of other nations.

    I’ve been ranting about the “separate culture” since living inside the Olive Drab Womb, doing scut work for the Brass and lifers, for three years all that time ago, and watching how that voracious Audrey II has bloomed and grown in our own Little Shop of Horrors. Parallel parasitic pathogenic. Nobody listens, because too many think they profit from it, not being able to read the balance sheet and review the invoices and receipts.

  9. len says:

    I believe, Jtmc, that without them, we will be poor quickly. I don’t like it. I think it true. We do need to think long and hard and soon about what’s worth keeping because we’re getting past the point of civilization where extended armies of occupation are necessary to defend ourselves. Whatever we drag home, we should keep the rope.

    The problem for me is when the Department of Defense becomes the Department of Offense. I’m not blind to the MIC and what that means nor do I think we should be out there tromping through nasties for oil or score settling. Get out of Afghanistan.

    But we can’t let go of that rope. Nor will the others on the rolling deck.

  10. Rick Turner says:

    Has it occurred to anyone that today, the murder of 17 civilians in Afghanistan is HUGE NEWS…and in WWII the utter devastation of Dresden with about 25,000 civilians killed in 24 hours was just news…and then there was Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

    Media tilts it all…

    And none of it is good…

    More people are getting killed in the drug wars in Mexico than in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The greatest terrorist threat to the US is the Mexican drug cartels…

  11. JTMcPhee says:

    @Rick Turner
    Re drug cartels: And once again nobody — well, almost nobody — cares about the etiology of the disease, or any cure other than Georgian “counter-irritants” and bleeding and blistering of the sorts offered up by the Drug War Industrial Complex. Some seem to see the “market forces” at work, the insatiable demands of hundreds of millions of limbic systems looking for a jag, a buzz, a dope-off, all the enormous wealth transfers and frauds and scams and painful twists to the rest of the culture (there’s some coke on that $20 in your wallet, and mine). God damn Carrie Nation and her sisters, the old battleaxe — layers upon layers of hypocrisy over all those secret, guilty pleasures. Where I grew up, we had middle-class Mrs. Tooz, noted Prohibitionist, who by will and tenacity rendered Evanston, IL, “safely dry” (with lines of bars just the other side of the city’s bounding streets, and little “clubs” hidden away all over.) The refrain, as the beers and bar whiskey were raised, was “Here’s to Mrs. Tooze, who’s ever fighting Booze!” Turns out she was a serious tippler herself, behind the lace curtains and gingerbread of her Victorian manse. Legalize it, tax it, regulate it. The Voluntary Associations who run the trade don’t seem to be doing a very good job of it, from the standpoint of longevity and efficiency, and only exist thanks to the illegality thing. So much predatory else has been rendered “not illegal,” e.g., the enormous counterfeiting that is the derivative trade, and everything else Matt Taibbi writes about — maybe there’s room for this last indulgence?

    Re Sgt. Bales: whaddyaknow, a “man bites Wogs” story. Maybe there’s a reality series to be pitched in there somewhere? “Atrocities with the Stars?” “Imperial Interventions?” And my syncretist take on the Zimmerman and Bales Tales, and related “stories,” is that maybe there’s a ground swell of awakening that most of the current institutions have forfeited any claim to fealty via squandering of their legitimacy. For the short-term gain, the pleasure maximization, without fear of consequences or retribution that would affect them while they live, of a very few. Time for a flea dip…

  12. len says:

    The greatest terrorist threat to the US is the Mexican drug cartels…

    That’s a fact. Integrate the possibility of shared funding and ops with other big promoters of terrorism and a MIC looking for a new mission (they are already preparing assets) and you have a new business opportunity combined with a genuine threat. The weird wrinkles are in what JTMc and I have been discussing: a culture that is genuninely separate from the mainstream coming home in large numbers, setting up for business and then trying to make the mainstream bend to the customs and habits of their closed groups. As I’ve said before, it’s a Title VII lawyer’s wet dream. Also we did this after WWII and the man in the gray flannel shirt emerged followed shortly by the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s.

    There are some real challenges in this for Obama’s second term and beyond.

  13. Alex Bowles says:

    Also we did this after WWII and the man in the gray flannel shirt emerged followed shortly by the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s.

    There’s a connection I had not made (two, in fact). I’m wondering if this time will be different for the simple reason that WWII represented a national effort that mobilized everyone, transformed the economy, and shaped an entire generation, while Iraquistan was conducted, as much as possible, under cover of darkness with the general population told “just go shopping and don’t mind the TSA.”

    That doesn’t change the reality of significant numbers of people trying to militarize domestic policing, and the possibility of this infusion sparking a lasting cultural rebellion. Seems like a case in which history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.

  14. len says:

    It think that is right, Alex. There are other differences in that it was pretty obvious to my Dad’s generation that they really were headed out to fight an evil of truly monstrous proportions. This time members of the military objected to Iraq and went to Afghanistan to clear out the snakes. Then as happens and some of us objected, mission creep set in. Ten years later they are toasty.

    The militarization of domestic policing has been going on since even before the war. When I worked as a public safety contractor, one could see the domestic intelligence gathering and inter-jurisdiction asset sharing staring in earnest. In part the threats are real and unfortunately the web gave them everything they needed for the domestic intelligence and analysis just as we knew it would in the 1980s or before. That was obvious and it has accelerated enormously. Despite the public disavowal of Total Information Awareness, projects like that simply went dark. A very large data center is opening soon for this as the behavioral analysis techniques for traffic analysis, modeling of large scale chained behaviors and so on perfected by the commercial uses (say Target) are combined with the better hardware. The ability to use this to feedback and chain cues to preset behaviors (you are always being trained whether you know it or not) is being perfected quickly.

    Will they rebel? I’m not sure. We thought we would too then it burnt out in the face of the violence of the Weathemen (an FBI-keyed event; they followed them, put plants in, set them up and the media did the rest) and as we began to understand the counter-culture lifestyle didn’t pay or feed us very well and we blended into the new middle class, it all seemed to float away in a fog of Reagan trickling down on us. It is easy to tire of Spy vs Spy, Alex. So keep it up as long as you can but understand that you can’t keep it up for the rest of your life. There are limits that your lifestyle and your dreams impose. Don’t sell out cheaply.

    A question is how has the very long engagement changed these folks. How well can they reintegrate given so much of what they understand about social interaction is incompatible with civilian life. It’s an old story, yes, but don’t expect them to be happy about being civilians after the first few months of being home. For them, the military life style makes sense much like the character in Shawshank. They are institutionalized for lack of a better word. Even their families who have a highly interacting social life with other military families while serving have a hard time adjusting once outside because they miss the interactions. The ones who come to manage businesses want to run them military-style and as I point out, that is incompatible with the laws in some cases. So they cluster around each other forming businesses that enable them to stay close to their old units, to still play with the same toys, to be a part of what they were.

    It isn’t a simple transition. Never has been. We have the opportunity to do this better but it is a lot harder than people realize.

  15. rhbee says:

    If we’re posting things other have done or said then I post this:

    You’re trying to cheer me up, right? :)

    “not so soft” by Ani DiFranco

    in a forest of stoneunderneath the corporate canopywhere the sunrarelyfiltersdownthe groundis not so softnot so soft they build buildings to house peoplemaking moneyor they build buildings to make moneyoff of housing people

    it’s truelike a lot of things are true
    i am foraging for a phone booth on the forest floorthat is not so softi look upit looks like the buildings are burningbut it’s just the sun setting in the window
    the solar system calling an end
    to another business dayeternally circling signally
    the rhythmic clicking on and off
    of computersthe pulseof the american machinethe pulsethat draws death dancingout of anonymous side streetsyou knowthe ones that always get dumped onand never get plowed

    it draws death dancingout of little countrieswith funny languageswhere the ground is getting harderand it wasnot that soft before those who call the shotsare never in the line of firewhywhere there’s life for hireout thereif a flag of truth were raisedwe could watch every liarrise to wave itherewe learn america like a scriptplaywrightbirthrightsame thingwe bringourselves to the rolewe’re all rehearsing for the presidencyi always wanted to becommander in chiefof my one woman army but i can envision the mediocrityof my finest hour
    it’s the failed america in meit’s the fear that livesin a forest of stoneunderneath the corporate canopywhere the sunrarelyfiltersdown and the ground is
    not so soft

  16. John Papola says:

    The GOP sucks and will likely lose. It won’t in any way invalidate the “Tea Party” ideas about fiscal sanity because Romney is the anti-tea party candidate and basically an Obama/Bush clone.

    Meanwhile, the country really is face serious problems, a completely corrupt, crony administration and fiscal path that’s cementing our decline.

    As for the war murder… yep. It’s all horrible. It’s just senseless killing. But that won’t stop our government from acting as if it has a moral high ground over every other regime on earth. Sigh.

  17. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    Just a suggestion: If you have some spare time, you might pick up some thinking points and inspiration from David Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years.” That’s if Graeber is not already on the wrong lists. Includes a few thoughts that might help point toward smaller and wiser and kinder, and even more “efficient” if less “profitable,” than what seems to me to inhere in the Libertarian (whichever frame one looks through) Louvre. Or maybe you have already read the book and made a judgment on it…

  18. Alex Bowles says:


    We began to understand the counter-culture lifestyle didn’t pay or feed us very well and we blended into the new middle class…There are limits that your lifestyle and your dreams impose.

    The problem now is that people in the middle class – or what’s left of it – are finding themselves underpaid and poorly fed. Their dreams have been shattered, and they no longer enjoy the lifestyles that the once-steady trickle provided. Frankly, they’d be happy to sell out, given half a chance. But it turns out that few are is buying. At least not at prices that will restore a widespread measure of confidence in the status quo.

    Meanwhile, the ‘radical counter-culture’ has coalesced at at top, where it is systematically destroying what’s left of of a liberal, democratic republic. This is why I see the militarization of domestic policing to be such an unsettling thing. In the long run I think we’ll overcome it. But I feel very uneasy about the course that will carry us there. I suspect a lot of undeserving people are going to get badly damaged in the process.

  19. JTMcPhee says:

    @Alex Bowles
    My box of analytical tools is pretty small. One dogbone wrench that I kind of favor is Barbara Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror,” Not a script for a Hollywood remake for our own immediate present and future, but humans and their politics and social behavior ain’t evolved much, if at all, since then.

  20. Jon Taplin says:

    @Alex B -I don’t think the radical counter culture of the 1% is going to succeed. I believe the whole 2010 election will be seen in the future as a mass hallucination, complete with the Tea Party and the Mad Hatter. The hard right is going to take a hard fall.

  21. JTMcPhee says:

    @Jon Taplin
    I ain’t so much worried about the Hard Right, at least the part that has been hoarding Confederate specie, as I am about all the various motions and momenta and forces that the 0.0063% have established, operating as they do to amplify and feedback-loop the worst tendencies and predilections of the rest of us, for the profit of the Few.

  22. John Papola says:

    Hey JT, I was just watching an “Occupy” roundtable with David Graeber. That book sounds pretty interesting, especially given some ideas I’ve been having about video on the history of Debt. Thanks for the tip. I’ll likely take issue with some things since Graeber is an anti-property “anarchist” of the socialist variety, so he likely treats interest with contempt as a concept, rather than as a valuable tool for reward thrift and coordinating savings with investment.

    I’ll check this out right away.

  23. Alex Bowles says:

    Oh I think so too, JT. And women are going to give them the shove they need. The Komen thing hasn’t blow over either. Even with the most obvious perpetrator run off the lot, the demand for a deep purge is still very much in place, and seems to provide a clearer signal about the country’s fault-lines that the primaries. And Pew’s tracking of gay marriage shows that the issue has just flipped from a significant majority in opposition to a thin majority in support, with very little of this change coming from Republican ranks.

    But all this is just noise. It’s made for a terrific distraction, but it hardly represents the core of the disenfranchisement that’s been growing over the past decade. At best, it’s provided valuable cover. The deeper economic imbalance that is warping our politics remains in place. This situation is not unlike the one JTMcPhee cites, nor the ones that followed (roughly) every 200 years thereafter. We seem to be in the late stages of a particularly pernicious wave.

    Assuming Obama wins, the real losers won’t be Romney or Santorum. They’ll be Cantor and McConnell. If GOP discipline breaks down substantially as a result, Obama will have a much easier time operating. But to be honest, I don’t have any clear sense of what he hopes or intends to do with that opportunity.

  24. John Papola says:

    In the meantime,

    Obama is granting himself totalitarian-level control as an “executive order”.

  25. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    Maybe after reading and maybe dismissing or distinguishing away Graeber’s observations, or giving them the KeynesMisesHayekian treatment, you might watch “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and cogitate on the differences between George Bailey and his old man on the one hand, and Henry Potter and his people on the other.

    Of course, that’s just a Hollywood fable — nothing like Potter’s thrust at owning the whole damn town, doing what Omni Consumer Products did to Old Detroit in the silly “Robocop” movies, rewarding himself for his “thrift” by applying the law to collecting “interest” on his “prudent investments.”

    But of course I would bet you’d characterize that paragraph above as nothing more than just unrealistic gobbledygook.

    Can’t wait to see what you have to say about the ineffable virtues of “debt.”

  26. len says:

    @Alex Bowles

    Scares me too, Alex. It proceeds resolutely and perniciously. The people one would think would protest aren’t. They’ll go to Africa or anywhere else a camera follows and do that. They plead justice for all the “little people” of the world. Never a bad photo op in four day old beards wearing the latest of the rack empathy, but when Congress passes another slice of our rights away and Obama says it is for the good of all, they go back to their fancy fancies and mum.

    As for the election, a process that has very little to do with who is and isn’t a one percenter (birth and education/association do that), Bill Maher says one has to be stupid to be middle class and vote Republican. I’ve said that since Reagan but now one also has to be culturally genocidal. It isn’t simply that they are taking our money; it is that they are destroying our culture doing it.

    The one percenters aren’t free radicals. They don’t mate with their opposites. Tea Partiers and Occupiers do. :)

  27. John Papola says:


    JT, creditors aren’t evil or in the wrong simply by virtue of being creditors. That appears to the be demagogic bias in Graeber, based on the reviews of the book (and what I’ve seen of him elsewhere reinforces that expectation). Even given that bias, I’m not going to dismiss any of Graeber’s work out of hand just because it appears that his econ is wrong and he’s got an axe to grind.

    Guess what? The banks during this crisis haven’t even been the creditors. They’ve been the borrowers. That’s the whole “leverage” deal. The creditors have been everyone from pension funds to municipalities to the average joe putting his savings at risk in the hope of seeing a return. To say creditors are of some sort moral character in general is unreasonable.

  28. JTMcPhee says:

    But gee, the banks seem poised to own a whole bunch of Bedford Falls’s, all across the country, which they “bought” by issuing “debt,” along with all the other chicanery that you have occasionally derided too. And the banks are all about shipping out millions more credit card solicitations, and adding “fees” and “policies” that accelerate the flow of that stuff we call “money,” which means one thing to us schlubs who generate (with that “labor” input thing, and even “innovation,” at various scales, the stuff that is “recovering” the economy, battered and drooped on its little stool, and tending the the cuts and washing the blood out of “the economy’s” mouth, while that Perfect Blond Crewcut Russian sneers over in his corner of the ring. Daring the Economy to come up to the scratch and take yet another pounding with mostly foul blows. And means something very different, as Graeber points out, in a bunch of other contexts. And us schlubs are dumb enough and hopeful enough to think that maybe there’s enough Balboa in us to go out there and hammer the cocky bastard, even though the ref is not only biased but actually tripping and kneeing us as we circle. The “creditors” you list don’t include counterparties in those leveraged transactions, do they? Who are who, again?

    Yep, “creditor” is not a monad, a unitary term. There are gradations. But Henry Potter, Patron Saint of Ownership and Indebtedness, I and most people would have no trouble identifying as “evil.” And “destructive.”

    I don’t see a demagogic bias in Graeber, certainly not on a scale you are familiar with from your side of the round table, but hey, what’s that old catch about people being most willing to see what they want to see?

  29. John Papola says:


    The bad banks would have gone away were it not for the government and it’s printing press. There is a very sick dance taking place that all reasonable people can unite against.

    My shredder loves those credit card offers. And not a single one of them has jumped out and forced me at gunpoint to call and sign up for their service. Of course, nothing is quite so broken as the political discourse about credit and debt.

    If you want to go back to the days of usury laws, or ban credit all together, just be ready of extreme changes in wages that make today look like a utopia. If people’s savings can’t channel into investment, they will simply collect as hoards in a safe and cause deflation. That will tend to mean falling money wages in ways that lead to higher unemployment, even though prices are falling so real purchasing power is staying the same. This is bad.

    Debt is an important tool in creating opportunities. Sadly, it’s also a great way for sovereigns and their cronies to turn the people into serfs.

  30. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    The thing about Graeber’s observations is that there are alternatives to “money,” and “debt” too, historically and even in the “local economies” that Worgon used to prate about, and with all this computer stuff, you would think that Innovative People might figure out a way to transact that does not put you in the way of risk that banks will screw you and me, and the fiat money people (also banks, I am told, though quasi-governments in their own sphere) will screw you and me, while creating a zone of perfection for their very Bespoke selves. Staying with a structure that makes counterfeiting and fraud on really grandiose scales so easy (“Don’t worry your pretty little head, honey, if you don’t understand the tensor calculus behind those scary derivative thingies — we’ve got it all under control…”) would seem to be unattractive to people who are interested in actual “free markets.” But do I have it right that you have no problem with usury, however you or I might define it? Have you looked at the scope and nature of the “gray/black economy” lately? Granted, all that is outside the range of Hayek’s purview, if I remember right?

    Interesting that the Money People are so very concerned (see ALEC’s initiatives, if that’s what you call what the Kochs’ orders are) about “Sharia law.” They squawk about beheading and honor killings and all those cultural awfulnesses that continue in “Muslim” parts, but I think the real fear is that the Islamists have a religious objection to usury and the other Central Bank practices of our “enlightened Judeo-Christian West.”

    And that’s just a few imprecise words in what ought to be a torrent trying to work through the Current Horror to some sustainable, humane thing on the Other Side…

  31. John Papola says:

    I like your posts this week, JT.

  32. John Papola says:

    ps… money is just a medium of exchange. I make something. You make something. Bob makes something. Jill makes something. We each want to trade what we made for something else, but the person with the thing we want doesn’t want what we made. Money helps us sort that out. That’s it. Nothing magic. Nothing immoral. It’s an aid for trade and it emerges naturally. Even prisons see money emerge from commodities like cigarettes. Wishing for something that’s not money to come along is principally a wish for something far deeper to change… like the end of scarcity and the need for trade. Making money digital doesn’t change it from the utility cigarettes served to POWs.

    Now, you add in the time and risk factor and you get interest. People want stuff today rather than tomorrow. Any parent knows that, since kids need to be taught to delay gratification. The reward for that delay is interest. The incentive for taking a risk is interest. These things are good tools. They actually check recklessness. They help prevent us from acting like children.

    The state, on the other hand, is perpetually and systematically trying to infantilize us at every turn. At every turn the state apparatus is trying to lower interest rates and encourage profligacy. Keynes himself hate delayed gratification so much that he saw it as a moral failing, even condemning the Jewish people for the cultural propensity to save. Keynes, who pushed for the rate of interest to always be zero, in among the defunct economists whose views support this twisted infantile view.

    Saving is good. Interest is an important tool for encouraging saving. Keynes and his modern intellectual kin are wrong. Graeber, to the extent that he attacks the concept of interest, falls into that category.

  33. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    As you know, “money” is complicated, and Graeber, who it sounds like you dismiss out of hand, talks about that. Yes, some of the various kinds of money are “mediums of exchange.” Huge stone wheels on Yap Island are “stores of value.” But a “notional value derivative dollar” is not in any way in the same category as the four quarters in my right front pocket.

    Yeah, there’s an enormous inertia to go with the momentum of the System “as is,” millions of people across the planet who Live Large by being born with whatever it takes to understand how to play the Money Games, and a whole lot of behaviors that flow from what can be done with other forms of “money.” “Fiat money” and all that stuff that the central banks and their buddies do look a lot like counterfeiting to me, but we are told endlessly that Everything Depends On Liquidity, and Don’t Mess With A Sort Of Working System, especially ‘cuz a few people have figured out not only how to peel huge wads of disposable wealth off the labor and innovation of the most of us, to “buy” the personal jets and personal islands and personal megayachts and such stuff, but how to jigger the legal system to make what they do not only “not illegal” but positively virtuous, stealing the public’s need for a sense of “democratic legitimacy” via long-playing, constantly repeated theme music and jingles.

    You’ve mastered one kind of viewpoint on what I’m sure you acknowledge is an enormously complicated subject. You’re “invested” in it too, because it fits with your immediate life path and preferences and belief structure that you obviously have put a lot of effort into erecting and maintaining. I would hope you would acknowledge, in this little conversation, what you have noted in other contexts in this space — that there is something very wrong and sick and destructive about the System as it is. “The State,” any more, is not the reification that seems to underlie your context — I doubt the Kochs and ALEC or the K Street Mercenaries, want to “infantiliize” us, they just want to siphon up all the available real wealth, rent the world back to us, and reduce us to the usual serf/slavedom that folks who understand and can manipulate “money” and “markets” and “power” and what’s left of governmental legitimacy always aim at.

    And as I hear it, SOME saving is good. Too much and you got what, deflation? in an economy that rests on consuming limited resources, without a care in the world about consequences since we know, we consumers and the people who pander to us, that there are no consequences for us after we are dead, and what are any future generations going to do, dig up our carcasses and burn them? Track down our cremated component molecules and atoms, collect them and shoot them into the sun? All because “we” are too freakin’ greedy and self-pleasing to give a crap about deferred gratification you say “interest” teaches kids (you accuse “government” of infantilizing, but users and gatherers of interest are all about manufacturing demand for “stuff” that “the consumer” believes (s)he NEEDS or at least WANTS REAL BAD, right this very miinute.

    And interest at the credit union is 0.94 %, “interest” in the stock market is whatever escapes the high-speed traders and other market predators, and how about the interest on your house and car, which I am sure you have convoluted libertarian justifications for how it all contributes to the Betterment of the World?

    All you got, that I can see, are a set of pronouncements. “Interest/usury GOOD,” “government BAD.” And in the end the world you contend for is all about Henry F. Potter buying up the Bailey Savings and Loan, and the rest of the town, re-naming it “Potterville,” and institutionalizing vice and rack-rents and debtors’ prisons like the ones in many parts of the US today. My irrational soul kind of longs for what that sort of “re-allocation,” aka Grand Theft Planet, has produced in the past: violent revolution.

  34. Fentex says:

    @John Papola

    money is just a medium of exchange

    Now, you add in the time and risk factor and you get interest

    These two statements are in conflict.

    Interest, as characterised here, is not a trade with another productive person.

    If cash is nothing but a medium for exchange then interest is a fee paid by someone for use of others cash and not a reward for patience.

    I don’t think most people would worry about the idea of interest as a fee being generalised as a reward for patience but I think that, when trying to understand economics in general and money in particular, generalisation can mask understanding and hide meaning.

    Describing interest as a reward rather than a transaction may mislead one about the character of their relationship with a bank.

  35. John Papola says:


    I think you’re pretty deeply confused here. Those two statements are not in conflict at all. Interest is paid in money. But it doesn’t change what money is. Interest could be paid in grain, or work hours too. When there were usury laws, interest was paid in the form of gifts like toasters to new bank customers.

    Interest is fee for being provided with resources saved by someone else so that they will forego using those resources themselves in the present in return for more resources in the future (if all goes well).

  36. John Papola says:

    JT, I’m not dismissing Graeber’s book. I haven’t read it. I’m dismissing the attack on interest as a concept or tool, which I’ve read a great deal about.

  37. John Papola says:


    If interest isn’t payment for deferred gratification, why are rates on long-term loans higher than on short-term loans? People understand what’s going on. And the price structure of loans reflects these time preferences as well as the risk profiles (with the caveat that easy money interventions are trying to destroy these signals).

  38. len says:

    Interest is fee for being provided with resources saved by someone else so that they will forego using those resources themselves in the present in return for more resources in the future (if all goes well).

    Because the risk is shorter.

    The model of interest as paying someone for more money now because they otherwise will buy a hamburger today is interesting. However, I think otherwise. It is a fee paid for a risk taken as well. However, the borrower is not interested in or affected by except in orthogonal circumstances affected by the hypothetical uses of monies they are renting. The lender’s circumstance in the pure case is a black box, so the model won’t hold without gerrymandering.

  39. John Papola says:


    US government bonds, even with all of the Fed purchases driving up their price, are still paying interest even though they effectively are risk free. And, as you notice, they STILL have to offer higher interest rates for longer terms, even though the risk is still very low.

    People have positive time preferences. We prefer gratification today instead of tomorrow, all else being equal. Yes, risk adds a premium, and so does inflation and inflation risk. But even virtually risk-free bonds in a low inflation environment need to offer higher rates for longer terms. That’s what lenders face.

    Borrowers have to compete for the loanable funds based on their ability repay. Of course they don’t care about the lender’s opportunity cost. Why should they? But the lender’s opportunity cost DOES impact the supply of savings that are available for borrowers. It’s supply and demand for loanable funds. Interest rates are the price of loanable funds.

  40. Fentex says:

    If interest isn’t payment for deferred gratification, why are rates on long-term loans higher than on short-term loans?

    This statement attaches a judgement to a transaction.

    One should not do this if one is trying to describe the natural world accurately – attaching value judgements to measures distorts the measurement.

    Here interest is characterized as a positive thing – but given it’s merely a transaction between two parties (interest is payment for use of others wealth) whether it’s good or not cannot be established out of context of each particular transaction.

    My problem with what was said earlier is that as soon as observation is generalised, value judgements sneak in and arguments that proceed from that point are coloured by the inserted judgements.

    Interest may or may not be a ‘good’ thing, but can only be evaluated after the fact and knowing the details of the transactions particulars.

    Banks offer interest on deposits, and if a fair amount traded for holding others wealth and gathered from moral and legal acts might be said to be good.

    But if an unfair amount is pressed on people by a financial system which use of is compelled of people and/or where gathered by unethical and/or illegal methods might be said to be bad.

    But in and of itself the concept of interest has no value. It’s just a transaction. Portraying it as intrinsically ‘good’ is a mistake of a type I object to as it inserts value judgements in economic theory where they don’t belong and will mislead people.

  41. JTMcPhee says:

    If I’ve got some kind of money to “lend,” interest is “good.” If I’m an “unsuccessful” person who through fortuity or lack of the right frame of mind to “make something of myself” like a very few others have done, if I am just an upside-down “consumer” who has zero “bargaining power” in a world of adhesion contracts shoved down my throat by the “successful” who, consciously or not (see Kochs) conspire to expand and “improve” the collective niche for “owners” and “lenders” and “people who make money via counterfeit derivative transactions,” then interest is very definitely not some kind of bland notion in that null space called “economic theory,” devoid as it is of normative content — “interest,” that gigacomplexity of transactions, is not just a fee, it’s an instrument of urbane, polished theft. And it is like the toxins some plants exude, to stunt the growth of other plants in the neighborhood, take their nutrients and eventually the energy in their rotting carcasses, and increase the exuder’s “success.”

    And JP, tell me why the “interest” and fees that we taxpayers who have to make good on the US Bonds pay to Big Banks to “persuade them” to keep buying US Government “risk free” (do you really believe that?) obligations is a good thing? Hell, there’s tons of examples, way outside the picoeconoanalytic box your version of “interest” implies, of what’s destructive about “interest.” And as you get into Graeber, if you do, you’ll get a little taste of the huge “normative” burden that Lenders and Creditors have piled on top of our western culture as a way of securing their ascendancy.

    A WSJ writer, since disappeared from the Market Watch section for apparently telling it too much like it is, did a piece on how Consumers are failing in their duty — to buy, but more importantly, and immorally in the Street view, daring to seek bankruptcy protection, which per the WSJ generally is only for the Rich and Large Corporations to welsh on their contracts and agreements and obligations. She called them “toxic debtors.” It was their DUTY, their sacred DUTY, to pay on a mortgage until the last dime had been firked out of them, ahead of feeding family and self and meeting any other what, “obligation?” (This link, to a larger scale, will likely mean little to you, but gee… )

    JP, you have a nice comfortable world view to package up neatly with a bow, and are diligent and inventive, in a Procrustean way, in stabilizing your identity and position. Us “failures,” most trying to live a very different model, have reason to take a very different view, and it is not “immoral” to react to what is very clearly wolfpack or maybe piranha predation that’s eating our children. The Christian G_d, heck, even YHWH (in the Pentateuch, by the way, Israelites aren’t supposed to demand interest from each other — gentiles, of course, are fair game), was supposed to have supplanted Molech. Don’t see that, myself.

  42. JTMcPhee says:

    And if you are in mood to look things up, just in case you have not run across this concept before, there’s “Michels’ Iron Law of Organizations,” which states that oligarchy (and in the present case, kleptocracy, is inevitable. Michels himself, after some years as a wild-eyed syndicalist, went over to the Dark Side himself, producing apologetics for some guy named Benito Mussolini. So as some guy I traded barbs with on CNBC observed, if everyone else is pursuing his own interest, including by stealing, he’d be a fool not to join in the looting. So in some ways it’s wise to embrace the themes and notions that fuel the apparently inevitable rise of “government-like organizations.” It will give you “peace in our time.”

    Remember the opening sequence of Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”? Where the Ancient Crimson Permanent Assurance (by appointment to ‘Er Majesty the Queen) finally “got,” and got enough of, what was being done to them? Maybe resistance is not altogether futile…

  43. Morgan Warstler says:

    This is the only real truth you folks can’t handle:!

    Once you comes to terms with that FACT, we can discuss every thing else.

    Baby boomers are history’s worst generation. We’re going to work amongst ourselves every year to forgive you, we love our parents etc.

    But you fucked things up ROYALLY.

    Facts don’t lie.

  44. len says:


    That was the conclusion of the UN University studies I cited here before the hiatus. The emergence of the elite is a natural phenomenon historically visible in every society for which we have some records to study.

    A more general point of view than Michels can be had but the principles are essentially related to shared resources, how they are shared and most critically, how surpluses are distributed: in effect, any human social group at some density will eventually cooperate to create resources and over time, specialize and require a decision making group to coordinate that distribution. Coordination becomes control and control leads to self-satisfying or perpetuation of the status of the elites, thus class emergence. A sign is the hiring of the artisan class to create monuments or other expressions that justify or even deify the power elite.

    The Occupiers aren’t wrong and they are experimenting with ways to coordinate instead of control their own. Note in the wikipedia article the few times where elite emergence was offset particularly the power of locals who don’t want to lose their status to disrupt the global power elites. Items that help that along include global communications and means of amplifying a message. The power elite (say a Rupert Murdoch) use their control to create chaos among the locals. The locals (say that one brave fellow who would not back down until the true story of the phone hacking was known) have to rely on their constitutional rights, access to whatever media is still functional and on task, and an iron will.

    There are powerful emblematic patterns at work here that can be found wherever and whenever one cares to look.

    Meanwhile I need to find my hat and paper stabbing thingie before the next youngster with an iPad comes round to check up on me again.

  45. len says:

    Not so oddly, Morgan, our children feel the same way about you.

  46. John Papola says:


    It’s a little odd to criticize the use of “gratification” as being value-based in the same post where you rely on some notion of “fair” and “unfair” interest. How do you define “fair” if both of your examples are voluntary transactions?

    Interest is “good” because it enables coordination of savings and investment which is a core tool for economic growth… And economic growth is the number one way to help the physical plight of the poor. There has always been rich lords. Growth lifts up the rest so that today’s western poor live better than the rich 150 years ago. If our debates aren’t about how to lift up the lives of humanity as a “good” thing, what are they about?

    My definition of “fair” is that everyone is playing by the same rules. That would make corrupt, fed-fueled banks “unfair” since they’re getting special treatment that everyone else does not get. That has nothing to do with the nature of interest. And, as we’ve seen, the bias of government and the root causes of our crisis are all about trying to make rates as artificially LOW as possible. Debating high interest rates in relation to what’s happened over the pasta decade is utterly bizarre.

  47. John Papola says:

    JT, interest on government debt is necessary in order to convince people to lend our sloth state money. That’s not good. I’d rather ban government debt and force the state to fund everything exclusively out of current taxes. That way, current voters would have to honestly face the cost of their government goodies instead of leaving the costs to our children like a bunch of selfish, anti-social babies.

    That said, interest does play a useful role in checking government borrowing when the state can’t print it’s own money. Southern Europe demonstrates that. Those states lied to their people, bought votes with easy money, scammed the world but at least when rates rose on their debt it forced a correction of some kind. That correction should have been simple default. Let the banks who lent them money take a haircut rather than taxing everyone in Europe to pay for the excesses of liars. Socialization of responsibility: it’s what government does best.

  48. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    You get an “A” for tenacity and consistency. Maybe some other grade for completeness and accuracy. Keep on pushing that world view. Can’t hardly wait for the next video. More bricks in your existential edifice, so carefully and selectively constructed and maintained…

    “Sloth state:” is that yours? Or did you extract it from something by Ludovici? , in case you haven’t run across that bit of reinforcement for your ideals and identity yet. How you coming with Graeber’s tome?

    And “interest” somehow is still not a universal, across the planet. Those pesky Terrorist Muslims and their religious objections…

  49. len says:

    Dropping back to an earlier part of the conversation:

    The closed culture is indeed a challenge. Now that the Hiring Heroes initiative is underway, the air waves are filled with interviews of freshly scrubbed young people and grizzled but believable generals (say McChrystal) telling us why there are so many advantages to hiring the returning vets. There are. On the other hand, they are not mentioning the dark sides of that which can be distinctly disadvantageous for the employer who isn’t prepared and doesn’t have a process for bringing them back into the world. And they must.

    No one wants to dishonor these people or not do everything possible to see to it they get their part of the American dream for which they have endured much. But we must go about this in a way that ensures that they are reentering the civilian world and not simply being force fit while neglecting their rights and the rights of those who will be working with them.

    We have to understand the effects of the closed culture and how the habits ingrained there will NOT work in a civilian business. We have to be ready to train and we have to be able to show we are capable of that. My suggestion to the Obama Administration is that they pursue this latter problem diligently ensuring that incentives to employment of veterans are only given to those who can show they are capable and not simply getting yet another tax break. Otherwise we may see some potentially embarassing and disheartening results.

    A job is not enough. A good life is also required. This is America and we will take care of our own. That’s the contract.

  50. JTMcPhee says:

    I’m told, and am learning, that maybe the whole Imperial Warrior thing is a long, wasting disease process, with periods of active, productive, innovative, generative fever, and then glissades into the walls. For many of my war’s types, that is, and on a more hidden level maybe even the returning Greatest Generation people. I guess I can only imagine, and sense by empathy, what must be going on in the minds and souls of all those multiple-deployment, forced-retention, “thankyouforyourservce Troops.”

    The closed, also parallel, parasitic culture kind of lives on a slab foundation, a BIG lie, that I bet way too many of its citizens know is exactly that: that they are “protecting their country” and “doing God’s work” and “defending the Constitution” and “preservingfreedomandlibertyanddemocracy.” The cognitive dissonance from that set of notions, hammered against the reality of all the bits of War, The Enterprise, and their roles in it, has to hurt. Hell, I know it hurts, and it’s not a hurt that heals, easily or often at all. There’s no “closure,” and the passage of time, marked by new episodes of “war is a Racket” at irrational intervals, does not dissipate the dys.

    This former lawyer, harking back to his days in Contracts class, asks where that “contract” you reference is written down. I learned a long time ago that “oral contracts are just about worth the paper they are written on,” that “there is no right without a remedy,” and have to wonder from my review of remedies how one would go about getting a court to order “specific performance,” , of that contract. Especially since there are so many other people here who have similar claims on each other and “the government.” It’s not like “damages” are hard to prove, in this case.

    Of course, ex- and present GIs know a whole lot about maneuver-and-fire, tactical and strategic deployments, field discipline, and how to operate a really COOL range of War Toys. If the Powers That Be ain’t careful, they might be looking at a “Bonus March” with some really awe-inspiring teeth.

    Once again, the people who invoke the demons and get stroked by the virgins and stoked by the wonders of Elevated Consumption and Living Large, get a totally free fucking pass, get to live out their joyous lives and go to their comfortable departures free from consequences and with a sneer and a snicker and a nasty little chuckle at how they cozened the Rubes. Some of them even get new hearts from unfortunate young people.

    Prayers that all the toxic dissonance these fuckers foist on us will not conflagrate into that there Ragnarok.

    When does the Mayan calendar supposedly run out, again?

  51. len says:

    21st of the 12th month as I recall. I like the cartoon that shows an Oreo Cookie and the Mayan calendar side by side and asks which is the more accurate prophecy. I’m “going hippie” and asking the age old question: Do You Know Exactly How to Eat An Oreo? :)

    The contract we imagine we have is awfully powerful but as you point is imaginary and can lead us into some terrible places as it did you and my brothers who never quite came out of country. One of them managed to settle down until the last war started and the nightmares came back. The other one simply never came home although he did. I’m sure you’ve seen it.

    But my comments come out of the first-hand in-my-face experiences I am having right now as I work in a place created by generals for themselves and their lot to have after retirement careers. I’ve heard the speeches about how “we can run this just like the Army” and while I appreciate their need to keep in contact with their own, to have the assurance their backs are covered just like they were back in the corps, that they love these machines like they love their grandchildren, that they get a little lost and paranoid without the sea of green, at the end of the day, it can’t be the corps. It is a civilian business no matter who the customers are and the civilians around them don’t share those experiences, don’t accept the same assumptions of discipline and disciplining, cannot go wink wink nudge in the face of clear and documented violation of civil rights, and really, this transition has to happen.

    It is hard to shift from a mindset where the adversary is to be wasted fast and with the least expenditure of ammo to one where the competition might be your next bidding partner, where a customer is kept at a distance for the sake of legal ethics over one where the customer was your subordinate in the last command. It is very tough. Then there are the young ones who want to come home but are gun crazy, possibly and unfortunately too often alcoholic and/or med’d up like a San Francisco street walker. So we have to help them make those adjustments and that is the good companies like ours can do: provide the half-way house with a career. Give them the space and the time and the training so they will not fail, will not retreat as so many do from family and friends, and then find themselves living under a bridge.

    See Golddiggers 1933: The Forgotten Man. I think that is part of that contract and I see it both honored and screwed up. But I have to believe honoring it as best we can is the right thing to do. I’m seeing too many broken people everyday to get up and go to work if I don’t believe that. Semper fi, as the Marines say FWIW, but as an old hippie who can’t be any other way now, I quote the Bard Arlo:

  52. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    Re “interest:” Hey, you seen this little bit of financial news? “Goldman advisor says completed work on sukuk”

    And to add a little context, how about this?

    And Goldman, as I see it, is both a “voluntary association” and very clearly a “government-like organization” and pretty plainly a post-national, self-serving bunch of shit peddlers. But that’s just me. And gee, “interest” and “leverage” and the fact that there are various kinds of “money,” real and notional and fiat and stuff, makes it all possible…

    Just remember, as you work so diligently on effectuating your Ideal: a very few successful termites can bring the whole house down, if they can just chew through enough structural members…

  53. Fentex says:

    It’s a little odd to criticize the use of “gratification” as being value-based in the same post where you rely on some notion of “fair” and “unfair” interest. How do you define “fair” if both of your examples are voluntary transactions?

    My point is that I don’t think one should be evaluating these things as unfair or fair, good or bad, when trying to make a point about money being a medium of exchange.

    I gave those examples to demonstrate that a transaction can be evaluated differently by different people using different contexts or by the same person in different circumstances.

    If our debates aren’t about how to lift up the lives of humanity as a “good” thing, what are they about?

    In this particular my point is that an argument that “interest is good” is not an argument that “interest helps poor people” because the first is a mistake that does not lead to the second.

    I know you meant that interest is a good way to encourage people to save, contribute to economic expansion and be rewarded for putting a surplus aside further benefitting from that surplus later in their life.

    But economics being what it is one does not prove that by arguing that “interest is good” because that’s no more an argument than “equality is good” which I’m sure is an argument you would be suspicious of.

    In detail if banks don’t pay adequate interest that makes lending them your money wise then in that particular interest is not good – it’s a bad deal. But if a policy has been built on the presumption that interest is in and of itself good capital allocation is corrupted.

    If you want interest to be good and to encourage behaviour you seek then you may want to encourage it through policy. But I suspect that as a libertarian you don’t think governments should form policy to make such things so – you think that free movement of individuals capital do good through competition.

  54. John Papola says:


    But economics being what it is one does not prove that by arguing that “interest is good” because that’s no more an argument than “equality is good” which I’m sure is an argument you would be suspicious of.

    I believe I’ve offered the economic/utilitarian argument for interest. There’s also the fact that interest happens. So the question being implied by JT was whether or not usury should be banned by the state, which is simply a price control. The economics of price controls are well understood and tested repeated. I don’t see why I can’t argue “allowing interest is good because the outcomes which are driven by economic understanding of human behavior”.

    That’s it. I’m not and never have attempted to claim that any particular interest rate is “good” for any particular transaction. That is the charge you are leveling at me, but it’s unfounded. I’m arguing to the general principle that allowing interest to emerge in the market for savings is a good thing and prohibitions or restrictions in general are a bad thing.

    Everyone likes to receive interest. Nobody like to pay it.Everyone loves credit. Nobody likes debt. Big deal. There isn’t any sound progress to be made with dolled up versions of these truisms. Nor are we going to arrive at universal or equitable policies/rules if the rules can change based on utterly arbitrary situational distinctions about when one voluntary contract is “good” or “bad” assuming that it is entered into honestly.

  55. JTMcPhee says:

    The “Mythbusters” had a segment about whether one could swim faster in water, or in syrup. Too bad they didn’t add one more environment: a manure lagoon at a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.

    I can’t think why that notion should occur to me, when the subject of partisan scientific economics is on the table…

    Remember those termites, whose flatus is rich in methane and CO2…

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