Thursday, April 24, 2008

Some changes in direction

A few posts back, I noted that one problem with this blog was the lack of a focus. It was little more than random stuff, and unless you were interested in me, you had little reason to read it. Even my wife was uninterested. I guess she's heard my thoughts on all this stuff. Not only that, since the blog really seemed to lack any purpose, postings were infrequent and irregular.

As you can see, I've changed things around a little, indicated the new direction of this blog. The basic idea is to discuss ways in which political philosophy can generate insights into our current political condition.

The premise to this blog is that political philosophy provides more coherent analysis of political issues than current ideological label of liberal and conservative or left and right.

In that regard, the sources of my political thought are Hobbes and Machiavelli. Isaiah Berlin has been an important contemporary influence, and I'm currently spending time working thorugh the ideas of Michael Oakeshott.

That is not to say that I have transcended ideology. Rather, my ideology has different sources than Limbaugh or Begala. Logical coherence combined with careful attention to political reality I think lead to uncommon conclusions on current politics. Properly executed, political philosophy can provide a way for people to seriously think about politics for themselves, escaping the litanies of pundits and talk show radio hosts. In my opinion, there is no one on radio or television today worth listening. They are as dumb about politics as Joe Morgan is about baseball.

Finally, though I doubt many readers will care about this, I have serious reservations with the way political theory is practiced today. Too much of it has no connection to politics, and is little more than moral philosophy on a large scale. Thus, there is a vacuum, one which has been filled by charlatans who do not care about this country.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It seems what my readers like (all 8 of them) are my political posts. While that won't stop me from posting about the minutia of my life, I'm here to please. So, I'm going with another political post.

A few years ago, I was at the American Political Science Association annual meeting, and at several panels I attended, the name Schumpeter kept coming up. Joseph Schumpeter was an economist whose most well known work was Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. In that work, he coined the phrase "creative destruction" to describe the way entrepreneurialism transforms existing economic relations.

Schumpeter argued that there were important differences between the behavior of entrepreneurial capitalism and oligopolistic or monopolistic capitalism. In short, he argued that the promised efficiencies of capitalism are only applicable to the entrepreneurial version. There is nothing surprising in that, of course. Except that Schumpeter went a step further, and here is why he is of interest to political scientists. He suggested that oligopolists, big business if you will, are essentially willing to operate under more or less socialistic conditions. The triumph of socialism will not come at the hands of Marxist revolutionaries, but at a political alliance between big business, who are seeking capital preservation, and democratic citizens, who seek the protection and security of the welfare state. Those with a stake in the established ways of doing things would have every reason to stifle innovation.

Considered by most people today a conservative, Schumpeter can be read as a response to Galbraith. Both are working to come to grips with the reality of twentieth century capitalism, which was very different from its nineteenth century predecessor, especially in the aftermath of World War II. Schumpeter did not believe that capitalism would endure past the twentieth century. Like Galbraith, he recognized that there was essentially no difference in the behavior of corporate managers and government bureaucrats. They dealt with other people's money, and responded to whatever incentives the structure they worked in provided, rather than the discipline of the market.

Given all that, it is difficult to categorize Schumpeter. Though Austrian, he is not part of the Austrian School. He obviously differs in important ways from Keynes and Galbraith, yet there seem to me to be certain continuities with these thinkers. He is sometimes linked with pragmatism, and there might be certain affinities with other mid-century thinkers like Walter Lippmann. He also appears to owe a debt to Max Weber. One thing should be clear by this: While he is he is no ideologue, he lamented what he thought was capitalism's demise. Regardless of your politics, a revival of interest in Schumpeter's thought is to be welcomed, for he has much to offer in coming to grips with the dramatic changes we see in our economic and political world. It would be nice if innovation led to the availability of less expensive editions of his work. It appears that he underestimated the resilience of capitalism. Or perhaps he was just off a bit in his timing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Carport sale--the day after

We managed to sell some of our remaining stuff, and in fact got a pretty good price on it. We might have a buyer for a few other things. The rest went to various thrift stores. We put a few baby clothes back up in the attic. In total, we've made over $200, not bad.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wrapping up

Pretty dead in the last hour or so. We planned to end it around 2, but with 25 minutes to go, we're packing things up. We made about $150. Annabelle made about $10 on lemonade sales. I don't know what we're going to do with this stuff. Janet's going to try to sell most of the rest of the stuff on line.


We had another flurry of customers. Sold more baby clothes, and it looks like we're up to $150. We might have had some shrinkage, but since we don't want to put anything back, it's not really a problem. We had a laundry basket full of old magazines (we weren't trying to sell them, we just didn't know what to do with them) and and someone took them off our hands.

It's quiet again, but some friends are visiting.


A few flurries, it looks like someone bought a bunch of baby clothes. But there's still stuff available. A few big ticket baby items remain for sale, none of which I want to bring back inside. The lemonade sellers appear to have lost their interest in commerce. I think from here on out, it's going to be slow.

We're now giving some stuff away.


A flurry of customers have bought some of our things. There's still a long way to go, but some large items have been sold, and someone made a good deal on an old computer printer with three ink cartridges. We also now have a $100 bill, which I hope isn't a big problem in terms of depleting our change. And lemonade sales are still strong, despite the lingering morning chill.

I think our total right now stands at about 80 bucks.

Still, there's a lot of stuff available.

Live Blogging our Carport Sale

8:37 AM CDT

After emptying our attic, and scrounging all over the house for other items we no longer want, pricing them, and setting them outside, we are now live at our carport sale. We've already had a few customers, and we've had about $27 in sales. No, wait, make that 27.50. Woohoo! And Annabelle's lemonade stand is also raking in the money, though it's a little chilly (55 F) for lemonade right now. It's a little odd to have people (strangers!) going through our unwanted items. Alas, it seems like many so far are unwanted by other folks as well.

My great fear of course is that at the end of the day, we'll be stuck hauling most of this stuff back in the house. Seriously, folks. Make an offer.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is small government conservatism relevant?

These days, if you are a conservative, you generally have to pay lip service to your preference for small government. Yet, despite the prominence of this as an idea, as a political reality, small government conservatism is dead. At one time, these people called themselves libertarians, but when that idea proved to be unsalable, libertarians took up residence in the Republican party They emphasized economic issues and took up the label small government conservative.

And they have had about as much success there as the American Communist Party. And I have come to the belief that small government conservatives are very much like the old fashioned academic Marxists. Indeed, you can even say of both ideologies that they look good on paper, but fail in practice (to which both sets of true believers will retort it's never really been tried).

I think there are two main causes for the failure of small government conservatism. First, it doesn't work. Business is not opposed to government involvement in the economy, they thrive on it. They simply want regulation to contribute to their profits. If we look at the current economic issues, we see major corporations and financial institutions lining up for government handouts, and getting them. They are demanding increased regulation and supervision as well.

Second, the American people like government when it helps them. The idea of eliminating the big government programs like Social Security and Medicare is a non-starter politically. Proposals such as Social Security privatization and Health Savings accounts (which are not even really about shrinking government) have little appeal outside ideological think tanks.

But the biggest reason probably stems from the nature of the American right itself. I'm not especially thinking about religious conservatives. The real element on the American right that is in stark contrast to small government conservatism is its general pro-military stance. You simply cannot have the worlds most power military force and small government. The US military is the most successful socialist entity ever, providing soldiers and sailors all the necessities of life, including health care, food, shelter, and education.

At this point, you might expect some kind of wistful nostalgia about the frontier and an argument that small government conservatism still reigns in the American west, but that is simply ridiculous. Settling the frontier was a government program--subsidized land, large government subsidies for railroads, and all kind of assistance in logging on government lands.

The basic fact is that the US Constitution was ratified so that we would have an active government, and ever since then, the race has been on to see who could grow it faster.

I fully expect in 20 years time, kids will walk around in Milton Friedman T-shirts like they wear Che Guevera today, and they will be just as relevant.

Community Theater Update

We're about a week and a half into rehearsal, and I'm having creative conflicts with the director, who happens to be my wife. I had been doing Dr. Einstein's voice in a higher register than I normally use, with a vaguely European accent. (The script provides some guidances--Chonny for Johnny, schlipped for slip.) But I want to try it in my natural register. I think this might make Dr. Einstein more creepy and less whiny. True, it does end up sounding something like Dana Carvey in the Hans and Franz bit from Saturday Night Live, but I think it's funnier that way. We don't have any rehearsal until Monday, so maybe I'll use the weekend to try this new approach out.

I also need to work on the physicality of the role. I know I'm not getting this in rehearsal quite yet. I'm supposed to be slightly intoxicated, so whenever I am standing still, I grab whatever I happen to be standing near. However, there are also parts where I have to move quickly from one side of the stage to another. I think I need to do that more drunkenly.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I got the part!

Yes, indeed, my wife cast me as Dr. Einstein! Three rehearsals in, though, I'm still working on how I want to play the part. I have affected a sort of slightly foreign sounding accent, without trying to make it German or anything. I am also resisting the temptation to see the movie. I want to make the part my own.

The other thing I realize now with 3 rehearsal is that lots of people give up a lot of time to participate in community theater. It's fun, sure, but it's a lot of work. Everyone should consider attending a performance in their own community. There's a lot of talent out there.

Even better, get involved. Audition. If you aren't up to getting on stage, there's still lots of backstage opportunities. It's a great way to get out of the house and get invited to cool cast parties.

Of course, if you happen to be anywhere near SW Arkansas May 22-24, come on by!