Diatribes - Computer, Economic & Political

This blog is really just for me. If you find something interesting on it, leave me a comment. If you disagree with something, let me know what and why. In this blog I am just putting some of my thoughts for computers, the economy, politics, and other topics in writing.

29 October 2008

Obama v. McCain - they still both suck

I know I'm going to sound like an Obama apologist here, but some of the criticisms leveled against him are just so absurd they hardly dignify response. Hardly.

This is once again adapted from an email I wrote in response to someone. In summary, the email claimed that Obama is a Marxist, that he hates the constitution, and that all government wealth transfers are immoral. Ok that is a bit of an charicature, but not much.

In summary - Obama is only a marxist if you conflate socialism with marxism, there are arguments for socialism (even if I don't buy them), and Obama is not in any way anti-constitution.

I guess my disagreement over Obama's supposed marxist leanings are one of broadness of definition. If all wealth distribution (i.e. socialism) is the same as marxism, then sure, Obama is marxist. So is all of Japan, Australia, and all of Western Europe. But if marxism is restricted to meaning a few traditional things, looking at Obama's positions on economics, I don't think he's anything like a marxist. Just to be clear, I'd suggest marxism is the following (taken & adapted from wikipedia):

* a belief that capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers by the owners of the means of production
* a belief that people's consciousness of the conditions of their lives reflects the dominant ideology which is in turn shaped by material conditions and relations of production
* an understanding of class in terms of differing relations to production, and as a particular position within such relations
* an understanding of material conditions and social relations as historically malleable
* a view of history according to which class struggle, the evolving conflict between classes with opposing interests, structures each historical period and drives historical change
* a belief that this historical process will ultimately result in a replacement of the current class structure of society with a system that manages society for the good of all, resulting in the dissolution of the class structure and its support

Historically, every communist country has had a control & command economy, rather than a market economy - with the exception of China. Every communist country has had an autocratic government too. Obama does not support ditching the market system, or democracy, in favor of an autocratic control & command economy. He supports wealth distribution, which is maybe a step towards control & command, but it isn't C&C itself.

I'd also remark the line between socialism and capitalism isn't so bright. We're well on the socialist side of any bright line you could draw already - we have lots of entitlement programs, welfare programs, & a graduated tax rate. Does that make us socialist? A little bit, yes. If you were wholly against any form of socialism, that'd mean we should do away with social security, medicare, medicaid, WIC, subsidies (through tariffs & tax breaks), and everything like it. Neither candidate is talking about that.

As for justification of socailism generally, there are theoretical and practical reasons to support socialism. I'm not saying I sign on to these, but to avoid addressing them is makes the issue far too one sided. The anti-socialism argument goes like this "it is immoral to take from those who've earned income to give it to those who have not." Socialists, in rebuttal, would say a few things. First, they'd argue those with money haven't necessarily earned it - some people inherit vast fortunes, some people walk into them. Second, they'd argue a graded tax system balances a system that is fixed in the first place. Warren Buffett remarked recently that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary because the capital gains tax is not graded (it is fixed at 15%). Add to that the sophisticated tax evasion (see Caymans), special tax breaks & loopholes the rich use, favoritism in government contracts (not just firms, but entire sectors too), and stuff like the 700 billion dollar bailout, 10% of which is going to exec salaries and a large chunk of the rest is going to mergers & acquisitions (see NYT).

Third, they might argue that the rewards to certain type of labor are disproportionately large/small (which I'd largely disagree with) - why should someone pushing money around stocks make tens of millions while someone actually doing the work at the firms who's stock the rich guy owns, gets much much less. Last, they'd probably argue that in a country with so much wealth, and so much poverty, if the wealthy won't take care of the poor (which is clear doesn't happen completely), the government should. We know most of the homeless have mental disorders, and that many of the poor are so simply because they're uneducated & don't have great opportunities, not because they're lazy.

There are good arguments on both sides and good responses to all these points. I make no comment as to which is right, I only mean to point out that logic isn't going to produce a clear winner, it comes down to preference. And as to academics being anti-capitalist, certainly there are some. But there is no general movement that direction from what I can see - although economists are finding more and more market failures and ways to fix them - that is more about perpetuating the market system than getting rid of it. Of course the market system has produced more wealth than anything ever, more technology, and has so drastically raised standards of living, that it needs no defense. But I can only speak from my experience as an econ/english student at BYU and a law student at IU.

As for Obama on the constitution, if you actually read what he said and listen to the context, at no point did he criticize the constitution. He said the court decision in Brown v. Board of Ed wasn't that radical, that they remained constrained by limitations placed by the constitution. All of that is true. He didn't say the decision *should* have been more radical. He didn't say the court *should* have broken the seperation of powers constraints placed on it by the constitution. He didn't say the court *should* have mandated redistribution - he explicitly says community organizers putting together coalitions of power should. That means the lobbying the legislature.

The tragedy he cites isn't that the court didn't force wealth redistribution, but that the movement focused on the courts to the exclusion of all other types of political pressure. He was merely defending the Brown v. Board of Ed decision against cries of judicial activism, and describing some of the failures of the civil rights movement, as he sees them. Which - for all you "no judicial legislation" people - is one case where I think we can all agree forging new common law by the judiciary was a good thing.

At no point did Obama say the words "fundamental" or "flawed" in that interview - they were added by rightwing pundits. If you listen to what he actually says, he defends the constitution. He defended the constitution when Palin said "Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights." He defended the constitution when Bush fired the 8 US attorneys for political reasons. This all seems to revolve around this bizarre and baseless notion that Obama, being black, is going to extract reparations from white people for the abuse & intolerance of centries past. Patently absurd.

I have to say it is crazy to think that Obama would trample the constitution more than McCain. McCain has supported Bush's warrantless wiretap scheme. McCain has supported stripping those in Gitmo of habeaus & due process. McCain has supported stripping federal courts of habeas jurisdiction. McCain has supported the right of the executive to imprison anyone (no citizenship limitation) indefinitely if suspected of being an enemy combatant. McCain supported the kangaroo courts that congress setup to replace federal courts. McCain has opposed the Intelligence Authorization Act on grounds that the prohibition on torture would hamstring the war on terror. Obama, a constitutional law professor at a top 10 law school, has opposed all of these. Unfortunately, both supported the FISA expansion, which no longer requires executive branch to get wiretap authorization from a secret court that has rejected less than a dozen requests since the 1970s.

And again about spending, it isn't clear that Obama will spend more than McCain. He'll just spend differently - on social programs rather than wars. Cutting taxes doesn't cut spending, and government deficit spending is far more damaging than spending from income. So cutting tax revenue without a corresponding cut to spending is even more reckless than simply spending more than you take in. Bush Sr. knew that when he raised taxes despite his "read my lips" promise, and he lost an election because of it.

As for affirmitive action, Obama hasn't come out one way or another yet, and he's actually suggested changing it. From the NYT: In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Obama, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, said affirmative action programs should ultimately become 'a diminishing tool for us to achieve racial equality in this society'." On the other hand, the last time McCain spoke about affirmative action, he said he supported non-quota affirmative action. "In 1999 McCain pushed legislation which would give companies tax breaks for selling media properties to minorities. In 2003 McCain reintroduced the legislation." Now he's changed opinions on lots of things since then, but has not yet repudiated this position.

The candidates aren't exactly the same. I'm definitely on McCain's side of the abortion debate (even though I'd take a slightly different position). However, I think for too long abortion has pushed all christians into the republican camp, despite good scriptural reasons to support the demcrats, libertarians, or others. It is a very important issue, but it isn't the only issue.

I read the Glen Beck article, but at no point did he actually quote Obama saying marxist things, or define what he thought Marxism was. He seems to be taking the comment Obama made about the civil rights movement not pursuing redistribution through the political process as a confession of marxism. I guess I have a different definition of marxism (see above). I know Mr. Beck makes his living from pushing shock and awe, but at some point he's got to lose factual credibility, even if you like what he says. I also read the "repeal the 16th amendment" petition. I'd like to cut taxes as much as anyone, but again - cutting taxes without corresponding spending cuts is fiscally irresponsible and *more* harmful to our economy. Since neither candidate is serious about cutting spending (see my last post), repealing the 16th amendment is totally reckless. By the way, Ron Paul was the only one who wanted to get rid of the income tax & had a specific (albeit drastic) plan to cut spending. Neither Obama or McCain would countenance tossing income tax & cutting spending that far.

Again, I won't be voting for either McCain or Obama (unless they radically change many of their positions), but there are reasonable arguments on both sides as to which is better (or worse).

If pushing the federal government to enshrine conservative family issues are most important for you, McCain is your man. If pushing the feds to liberalize family issues is most important, Obama is your man. If you care most about the economy, federal spending, and any of a host of other issues - neither candidate is a clear winner in my opinion.


Blogger Aaron said...

Repeal the 17th amendment instead.

29 October, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat in favor of that, but I don't think it'd fix any of our current problems. And I don't see the relevance to this post...

30 October, 2008  
Blogger Aaron said...

Oh I agree on both counts. It was just in reference to your "repeal the 16th amendment" deal.

30 October, 2008  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home