Tuesday, January 11, 2011

As far as history goes...

“As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don’t know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach.”— President George W. Bush, Fox News Sunday, 2/10/2008
I think the President meant "by people" or "from people" rather than "about people." But in the uncertainty of the moment, I certainly must say he was right, I think. It is decidedly uncertain at any given moment of exactly what is happening around us. In school I remember learning about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In computers and psychology we had the "observer effect." All point to some kind of effect that we have on our surroundings to the point that we cannot ever be sure what our surroundings specifically or scientifically are.

I have spent a lifetime noticing the causes and effects of my actions, with moderate levels of observational success. I can say that I developed some skills in positioning myself away from bad things and influences. However, the bad things that happened to me in my life were the ones that gave me the most experience. Paradoxes are plentiful in life.

When I studied eastern religions for quite some time, I learned of many of these paradoxes. One of the things that has always bothered me is the insistence of some people that they are absolutely correct, when there are so many facets of any given argument. In playing the devil's advocate, I can too sound like I feel I am absolutely correct. When proven wrong, I shrink though, and admit a good argument when I hear it.

Politicians by nature never admit their mistakes. I think the main reason is that everything they say is on record for all time as if it was said yesterday. It is to their best interest to allow others to reveal mistakes while never revealing that they too know they made mistakes. An admission would be on record for all time, while accusations tend to fade.

Ideologies never let politicians down. They can always explain their decisions in terms of the reason's why they were made. Regardless of whether something turned out terribly, history may well prove them right if they follow an ideology that remains through time. The why can make up for almost any mistake.

I too have relied on some principles in my understanding of life, if ideologies can be equated with principles. I think I have always had a bad memory, from early days, and had to rely on unifying concepts more than others. Things had to be organized up there or all this knowledge I was learning and forgetting would be useless. It makes sense, from a librarian's perspective as well. However, a librarian doesn't have much of a need to distinguish between the worth or importance of information. The unifying principle is simply in how to find it. The Internet has turned us all into librarians to a certain degree. But the question still remains as to what is important enough to focus on.

Some time after President Bush started relying on future, possibly yet to be born, historians to come to his defence, there was some study that quantified that 61 percent of historians thought that the Bush presidency was the worst of all time. As I have said, I'm not finished with President Bush's book so I can't really make a judgement yet. :)   But there is a reason I rely on this humorous backpedaling. I'm always uncertain.

The reason I have become fascinated with economics is that I still don't have a unifying principle or ideology that answers the questions in a coherent way that I can fully understand. I know a bunch of things I dislike about our system, but I'm not sure what the next step is. No one asks this question. Even in the midst of a massive system failure that must have shaken every one's core beliefs just a little, we still adhere to old ideas that seem completely unworkable except when we step in and take serious and massive governmental action to get back to our core ideology, which will inevitably fail yet again.

Capitalism has destroyed our manufacturing companies and export figures. Other countries do this capitalism thing much better and in a much more ruthlessly pure form than we are now capable of. Worse, we seem to have little hope of catching them.We have exported our capitalistic ideas quite successfully but exported none of the underpinnings that make it a gentleman's game. None of our morals or highly paid skilled labor or environmental laws seem to be catching on in the internationally pure form of capitalism. These aren't capitalistic concepts and we will continue living with them no matter who we elect to office. Why are we so surprised that outsourcing of jobs and cheap labor, and environmental catastrophes are a clear result of the capitalistic development coupled with a lack of economic morals?

What I keep hearing is how we need to get back to a pure form of this capitalistic system to cure all our ills. But what we have done in the past, has affected what we can do in the future. Like the uncertainty principle, we have observed the problems, changed the system to correct them, then thought we were observing the same system as before. We describe the system today as if we have made no changes to moderate it. When we loosen the regulations of the system we put into place, we see the original system in all its glory.

Booms and busts did not begin with capitalism. But capitalism does nothing at all to moderate them, in fact it makes them much more liable to happen due to the emphasis on self interest as a value. In fact any extra freedom capitalism gives us is most often used to organize people to act in concert. Competition being an important part of capitalism, seems to be antithetical to the value of self interest. It is seldom in my best interest to go against people who can help me. Both ideas of competition and self interest are necessary to success in terms of the sole measurement of success, profit. But competition is undermined by self interest. If you and I buy the same stock, we both profit. If we don't act in concert, we don't gain as much. If you sell yours, I had better sell mine, too, because the price will be going down.

All is uncertain when we consider how it might look through history's perspective, but we act as if all is very certain in the now. If we look back into history at the certainty of the financial experts before 1929 and those before our more recent panic, we will see that certainty has nothing to do with reality. We effect the reality by expressing our certainty about it. We influence others to think the same way en masse, and we doom ourselves to the booms and busts that are inevitably the result. All would be well if booms and busts efficiently used resources by some magical invisible hand, but alas, there is a human toll to our expressions of certainty.