Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's not a conspiracy

I hate conspiracy theories because, as Laplace famously observed of the idea of God, I have no need for that hypothesis.  You could argue that this should logically result in my merely dismissing the tinfoil hat cranks, but, alas, their pernicious influence is like that of the undead -- with their zombie arms outstretched in an endless search for brains they risk infecting all of us.

So though I absolutely agree with Barry Ritholtz when he says:

For a long time, American politics has been defined by a Left/Right dynamic. It was Liberals versus Conservatives on a variety of issues. Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice, Tax Cuts vs. More Spending, Pro-War vs Peaceniks, Environmental Protections vs. Economic Growth, Pro-Union vs. Union-Free, Gay Marriage vs. Family Values, School Choice vs. Public Schools, Regulation vs. Free Markets.

The new dynamic, however, has moved past the old Left Right paradigm. We now live in an era defined by increasing Corporate influence and authority over the individual. 
if you see the world in terms of Left & Right, you really aren't seeing the world at all . . .

I still get nervous about the way he puts it.

In my mind there is no question that the far and away the most important political question is this one of corruption, because it is the first question, the one that comes before the smokescreen of debate between left and right even gets started.

But I disagree with the idea that we should think of the corporate takeover of our political process as us versus the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and BP.  It will do us no good to blame the low moral standards of corporations, and even less to try and put a face, even a short hooked nosed Jewish one, to "our enemy".  The enemy, as usual, is within.  The enemy is the mechanism by which we elect Congress.  The enemy is the military-industrial-congressional complex.  It is a sprawling beast that even as gifted a sniper as Dick Cheney would find hard to shoot in the face.  

If we do not directly recognize the simplicity and inevitableness of this feedback mechanism we risk falling into the very trap that Ritholtz is trying to avoid.  Every time we invent a purpose and a personality to go behind a blind feedback loop we make the same error that believers in intelligent design make with respect to true evolution.  We invent a teleological conspiracy where there is only an endlessly functioning mechanism.

Maritn Wolf observed during the financial crisis that the genius of Keynes was his belief that we should not treat the economy as a morality play.  Well, we shouldn't treat politics as one either.  It's just a broken piece of technology.  We should try to repair it. 

Because fundamentally, it's not us versus the corporations, nor even us versus their executives or owners.  If we phrase things this way we will soon end up right back where we started, arguing about whether we should keep the tax cuts for the rich, and watching all the power of the tea and coffee parties get co-opted by the established political machine.  Fundamentally, it's us versus ourselves, us divided against ourselves as a cancer that destroys its own body.

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