Saturday, October 4, 2008

Headline of the week

Sudden outbreak of democracy
baffles US pundits
That's from a column about the bailout by Andrew Orlowski, which includes these insights:

It was the moment that politicians dread the most. This was not merely an outbreak of popular discontent, but a phenomenon which breaks down those convenient labels the political marketing people like to use, to shield their masters from people's true desires and intentions. Not just coarse labels like "Left" and "Right" - but the really dumb, patronizing demographic ones like "Soccer Mom" and the nadir of modern politics, those found in Mark Penn's "Microtrends." Niche marketers will have to start from scratch.
Conservatives, libertarians, and lefties all raised objections to the Bailout for very sound reasons of their own. The idea that the state should bail out feckless private enterprises offended both conservatives and libertarians, who take moral responsibility seriously. The left wanted their traditional adversaries put in jail, not given a gift of new lease of life with the public's money.
(Hat tip to my friend Terry Kane.) This point about the left's class-envy hostility toward the wealthy is important in understanding contemporary political psychology.

Liberal rhetoric -- not just from politicians, but from news media and in popular culture -- demonizes the wealthy, especially corporations and their executives. While our culture celebrates the fabulous lifestyles of athletes, movie stars and pop musicians, it vilifies executives and investors. Why? The conception of executives as "the boss" appeals to the resentment that many employees have for their supervisors.

Back in the mid-'80s, I worked for nearly two years as a forklift driver, and it was difficult for the guys on the loading dock, sweating in their hard hats, to understand why they're paid less than the guys wearing ties sitting in those air-conditioned offices. And when I got into the newspaper business, it was hard for the reporters who were out covering the beats to understand why they were paid less than the editor and publisher.

To many workers, there is sort of a cargo-cult mentality about management, as if managers and executives were born into a separate category and the external accoutrements of management -- the office, the business suit, attending meetings, etc. -- were caste symbols. Many people never seem to comprehend two basic facts:

  • Management involves aptitudes and skills that most people don't have, and requires long hours performing tasks that most people disdain. Filling out paperwork, scheduling tasks, dealing with personnel hassles and preparing budgets -- lower-level managers spend years doing that kind of mind-numbing crap in order to work their way up to mid-level managers from which executive ranks are filled. The guy who emerges atop such a pyramid must be excellent at doing stuff like that that most people can't do, and frankly wouldn't want to do.
  • A good manager is extremely valuable. The guy who's pulling orders on the warehouse floor can be replaced with a call to any temporary labor agency (I got my forklift driver job through a temp agency). Just about anybody can learn to drive a forklift. But the guy in the warehouse manager's office cannot be so easily replaced, and the difference between an effective manager and an ineffective manage has more impact on the profitability of an enterprise than does the difference in skill between two forklift drivers. And because one of a manager's key jobs is to evaluate personnel and productivity, the good manager is the guy who makes sure that the company hires and retains the best forklift drivers.
Class-warfare rhetoric that demonizes corporate executives and "the rich" as agents of injustice, profiting unfairly by immoral schemes, plays upon the common workplace resentment of "bosses" and misunderstanding of what it is that management does. And this is the raison d'etre of the Democratic Party's existence.

That's why I get angry any time a Republican utters class-warfare rhetoric. You can't promote conservatism by echoing a liberal message. A rhetoric that educates the public about the nature of free enterprise and celebrates the successes of the market economy -- the sort of thing at which Ronald Reagan excelled -- is necessary to the conservative project.

Markets work, government doesn't -- that is, or should be, the economic message of the Republican Party. The failure of the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a textbook example of what happens when government meddles in the private economy. If there are swindlers and con men in the mortgage and real-estate businesses, their potential harm to the economy would be limited, so long as they only had access to private capital. It was the implicit government guarantee of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that enabled them to engage in unsound practices that threatened a global economic meltdown.

It's hardly surprising that John McCain's poll numbers are in the toilet, given his lashing out against "reckless conduct, corruption, and unbridled greed . . . on Wall Street." Republicans never get elected by espousing the Democratic Party message.


  1. It is strange, though. In so much of my experience managers have been useless and inept at most of what they do. As you say, a good manager is valuable, but i think that perhaps because of this egalitarian mentality that we have the skill of deciding who will make a good manager has been lost.

    So many of the CEO's at the tops of these banks and other corporations who are paid up to 300x the amount of rank and file workers have done nothing but drive their companies into the ground.

    I think many of us who work in lower levels have a grudging respect for our management. They lose that respect when they display themselves as inept bunglers.

  2. What I think you miss is that class warfare agitators (community organizers, whatever) really stoke the sin of Envy.
    Marx's from each/to each dictum, properly twisted, becomes "If I can't have it, you can't have it", or, worse "You have, therefore you stole".

  3. It is true with anything the government does or in which it holds much control. Take your choice, the railway or the post office (which has seemingly been fixed by becoming more and more privatized). The government sucks at almost anything it does.

    The only reason the military works as it does, is because the men who run it are pulled from free men and have that nature which allows them to disobey an order so that they may be successful (and remain alive). If our generals, colonels, lieutenants, chiefs and master sergeants, down to pfc and fireman did exactly as ordered by people who aren't on-scene, they wouldn't be successful either.

    Yeah, it's true.

    But more, when the government buys this much, it becomes even more of an owner of wealth and it becomes a business. Both of which are very threatening to our freedoms. When a dog gets a taste for chicken, it has to be killed. I fear this dog is too big. And, it has tasted chicken.

  4. @Doom,
    The military also works because of overt removal of liberties (the UCMJ), physical uniformity in dress and grooming, visible external threats, tradition, and the fact that it's a young person's game.
    Attempting to "Declare the Moral Equivalent of War on {Drugs, Terrorism, Poverty, Crime}" devolves rapidly into farce.