Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A SWNIDish Thanksgiving

On the eve of every American's favorite holiday, we offer a list of items, mostly in random order, for which to give thanks SWNIDishly.

We have no doubt whatsoever that we are thankful for the following, and urge you to be thankful for them also:

  • Joe Lieberman. We like a politician who is old enough and successful enough to speak his mind directly and consequentially. We figure that Lieberman was steeled in contrarian thinking through a lifetime of Jewish observance in a nominally Christian, essentially post-Christian culture. Hooray for Joe's stand on no public option of any kind.
  • Dick Cheney. Those old enough to remember the VP debate at Centre College in 2000 will recall that it was billed beforehand as the battle of the solons and hailed afterward as a pinnacle of informed, civil political discourse. Thirty months later, Cheney was evil personified. Lieberman got the same tar and feathers about six months later. Like Lieberman, Cheney didn't care. Now he's a sort of political prophet, calling out the present administration's fecklessness about security matters and, it appears, successfully goading them into taking some kind of reasonable action in Afghanistan.
  • The 24-hour news cycle's accelerating of political developments. Thanks to the way that everything political is sliced and diced all the time, folks are modifying their opinions with reckless abandon. That doesn't promote stability, but stability is not a good thing when courses need correcting. The public has now made up its mind about Obama's actual political agenda, faster than one could have imagined it would. We therefore hope for real change in the coming months.
  • Moral hazard. We refer to the way that certain rewards and punishments created by authorities can perversely act on individuals to incentivize them to do bad things. Moral hazard is at work when loans are too cheap and easy, incentivizing people to overspend. It's at work when investors can expect to be bailed out by the government, incentivizing stupid risks. It's at work when a third party pays for something, incentivizing overconsumption. We give thanks for it because it becomes so obvious over time, providing repeated cautionary tales that the body politic must reckon constantly with the perversity of human nature. Which leads us to . . .
  • Cautionary tales. History provides bushels of examples of what not to do. Don't invade Russia. Don't tax without representation. Don't impose protective tariffs during a recession. Don't believe it when someone says, "Things are totally different now." Etc. Which leads us to . . .
  • The 1970s. It was a bad era for just about everything, and it steeled us late boomers for the present. Attention, Generations X, Y, Z, Millennials and whatever other term some pop demographer has applied to the latest group of post-adolescents going through their predictable and constant developmental stages: things are bad, but they've been worse. Not only did my generation have to endure the Munich Olympics Massacre, Watergate, Saigon's fall, Whip Inflation Now, multiple fuel crises, stagflation, the Iran Hostage Crisis, Jimmy Carter, Roselyn Carter, Amy Carter, Billy Carter, Miss Lillian Carter, and KC and the Sunshine Band, we also had to endure our parents' stories about the Great Depression. Which leads us to . . .
  • Adaptability. Say what you will about Darwinism, it identifies something that makes us happy. Successful species, like humans, manage to adapt to a changing environment. We are grateful for the dozens of people we know who have not just endured but overcome the kinds of circumstances that--we are told on a daily basis--ought to be dreadfully feared with dreadful fear by all thoughtful individuals. And we therefore castigate those who strive to create a nanny state to protect what they imagine as masses of frozen androids incapable of changing as circumstances change.
  • Music educators. Despite constant publicity given to cutbacks on music education in schools, the observable fact is that musicians are getting better and better with every passing year. Popular music has always been mostly dreck, and it remains so today. But looking beyond what is sold to the Philistine masses, we can honestly say that more people play and sing better today than ever before. Many truly amazing musicians live in penury, simply because there are so many of them. That ensures a massive supply of fine sounds for all of us. Furthermore, many who learn music but don't pursue it professionally later testify to the way that their music educations formed them for other things. Behind lots of amazing people are music teachers, whom we invite to take a bow.
  • Agricultural sciences. The true "green revolution" continues as folks who study the raising of food continue to discover and propagate innovations that increase yields. Just this week we noted a friend who is busy showing subsistence farmers in east Africa how improved cultivation techniques can increase their yields from 300 kg per hectare to several metric tons per hectare, while vastly reducing wind erosion and overcultivation. And as the production of surplus food has historically been the key to improved social welfare, we figure that the world is getting not just less hungry but more enriched generally.
  • The profit motive.The possibility of profits induces selfish humans to do good things for others. Aside from conversion, it's the main force keeping people from simply killing each other. Hooray for capitalism, which has done more to alleviate poverty, sickness and illiteracy than just about anything, including something that we note below.
  • Immigration, free trade and global travel. Thanks to these things, our Republic enjoy a surfeit of foods, manufactured goods, arts, sciences, and friendships. Facilitated by these things, the family of Christian faith is expanded so that the people in the East and South considerably outnumber SWNID and SWNIDish neighbors in the north.
  • Altruism. Despite the constant disappointment that human nature provides, the human family continues to celebrate those who give of themselves for the sake of others and to aspire to do the same. The motive gives meaning to lives that would otherwise be lived in brutish shortness. Of course, we are confident that the impulse has little do to with the sociological and biological factors imagined by, well, sociobiologists. Rather, we affirm it as a sign that humans bear the image of their Creator, the God who gave his own life for the sake of others. Our altruism doesn't so much make the world substantially better in the big picture, though it definitely does in the small cases. Rather, it points us to the One who does offer what we comprehensively call "salvation."
  • The human condition. It's miserable all the time, but that's not all bad. People who imagine that their job, workplace, family, friends, circumstances and prospects are the worst ever need only contemplate the lives of others. Count your blessings indeed, but count the curse and be amazed that people whose lives are like yours can survive and even thrive. Put your misery in perspective, get to know the God whose strength is made perfect in weakness, and find out who in the world you are.
  • Bullet points. This typographical invention makes possible essay writing without genuine coherence, a boon to bloggers everywhere.
  • Hyperlinks. Like breadcrumbs dropped on the path but never eaten by birds, they let us follow where others have surfed before, providing an endless set of opportunities to absorb the wonders of cyberspace. But when absent, as in this posting, they unburden us from the temptation to linger too long on pointless blather.


Tom_KY said...

Are you sure you're thankful for:

Dick Cheney? As George Will said, a little more dithering on Cheney's part in 2002 and 2003 might have been useful. Great SECDEF, horrible VP, worse sore loser.

24 Hour News Cycle - read: Fox News. Fox News is to News as Henry Kissinger was to comedy. 24 hour cable news - including MSNBC - is a cancer on political discourse and basic knowledge. A few years ago, The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland conducted a thorough study of public knowledge and attitudes about current events and the war on terrorism. Researchers found 80% of Fox News viewers had a misconception of at least one the following: discovery of alleged WMD in Iraq, alleged Iraqi involvement in 9/11, and international support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Of course, that was a few years ago. Let's jump to November, 2009, when Fox News had to publicly apologize for showing false footage of the crowds storming Washington over health care. Think I'm picking on Fox? MSNBC had to apologize for showing photo-shopped photos of Sarah Palin just in the last two weeks. That's not news, that's not journalism - that is propaganda!

Supporting your support for:
Agriculture - one of the giants of Ag production died this year - Norman Borlaug. Should have been front page of every newspaper in the country, but was probably drowned out by more important news of the day involving Kayne West or someone else of greater import. Not only is the world less hungry, it is less populated.

Capitalism - why can't people get their head around the fact that profit is a quid pro quo? Probably because they are watching cable news. Capitalism - and the voluntary cooperation motive - is THE best mechanism for lifting all boats. But that leads to the mechanism to correct capital markets when they fail and that is...

Government - which makes the cost of doing business cheaper, because firms don't have to build their own roads and provide their own law enforcement. Do you think government would get in the health care business if that market was not failing? Of course not, because the government isn't trying to make a better computer, mobile phone, hamburger, carpet, etc. because of competition, available pricing, cheaper pricing, and innovation in all of those markets. Insurers, hospitals, and medical companies don't meet all of these criteria. Would you put on a blindfold and shop at Home Depot? We do with health care.

Much to be thankful for, not just today, but all year long. I am thankful for the sage of the SWNID!

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

We are thankful despite the faults of Messrs. Cheney and Lieberman, and in a deliberately contrarian way. One of these days, we'll write a laudatory post on James Polk.

Our 24-hour news cycle is dominated by the internet. Living in a cable-free, satellite-free household, we eschew the noise of the broadcast for the sumptuous smorgasbord of the interwebs, supplemented by commutes with NPR.

Government is fine enough when it does what it does well. Its involvement in healthcare: cause or cure of the disease? Much depends on what it purports to provide, and whether such provision creates . . .

. . . moral hazard. As in not caring about costs because someone else pays them. Present proposals are disastrous precisely because they enhance what's worst about our present non-system.

We have come full circle, friend Thomas.