A place for new ideas to settle.

19 July 2013

Repairing the foundations

It might be damning with faint praise, but Elizabeth Warren could be the most lucid legislator in D.C. Even if a new Glass-Steagal doesn't end up being a panacea, I think it could have an effect akin to (but not identical to) the Civil Rights Act. That bill didn't end racism, but it did fundamentally change the cultural conversation. Now it's just not okay to be (openly) racist. Glass-Steagal makes it not okay to mash up speculative investments with routine banking.

I think it's an important but underlooked principle that while a market may be wild and free to allocate resources as it will, the foundations and fundamentals supporting that market need to be robust. Otherwise there's a greater risk that the whole thing will just go off the rails and collapse.

06 July 2013

No secret revealed

Sort of grimly foreboding if you substitute "War on Terror" for "Cold War":
We are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence--on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.
-- John F. Kennedy, speech to the American Publishers Association (27 April 1961)

The "conspiracy" JFK was referring to was, of course, Soviet communism, and what we have now is not a conspiracy but still something "no democracy would ever hope or wish to match." Definitely a case of best intentions going awry, and a reminder that a free and open society is always balanced on a knife-edge.

I don't think we're there enough to make it a perfect analogy. But it's worth noting that oppressive systems arise from, basically, oppressive emotions, particularly fear. That's one crucial lesson of the 20th century, in my opinion. Refuse to be terrorized, and demand a look-see into the halls of power.

... and all that said, I still think that Edward Snowden is a dangerously self-righteous idiot.