Individualism vs. collectivism

Here is how George Will answers Elizabeth Warren’s statement that we posted yesterday:

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds. . . .

Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.

Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

via Elizabeth Warren and liberalism, twisting the ‘social contract’ – The Washington Post.

The choices are individualism or collectivism.  Or is there something in between?

The social contract

In addition to my other pessimistic predictions, I am thinking that liberal ideology will soon return to popularity.

Here is a forceful statement by the liberal law professor and Obama administration regulator Elizabeth Warren, now running for Scott Brown’s Senate seat in Massachusetts:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

via Elizabeth Warren and liberalism, twisting the ‘social contract’ – The Washington Post.

So does she have a point?  How would you answer her?

(By the way, she’s from Oklahoma, and, as I recall, my brother Jimmy, sometimes commenter and contributor to this blog,  knows her!)

It’s the European economy, dummkopf!

Ezra Klein argues that neither presidents nor congress, no matter which party, will be able to do much to influence the economy.  What will either pull us down further or bring improvement is what happens in Europe.  And so, if the state of the economy is what determines who gets elected president, our elections are in the hands of Angela Merkel:

Sometimes, the things driving the country’s economy are not passed by Congress. Sometimes, Congress has almost no influence over them. And this is one of those times.

Europe has reached a tipping point. Without a systemic solution — and fast — Greece will default. If Greece falls, chances are that Ireland and Portugal will follow. Desmond Lachman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, compares it to Bear Stearns collapsing and dragging Lehman down with it.

If that happens, we’re going down, too. The European Union is a big economy. Bigger than ours, in fact. In 2010, the United States exported $240 billion worth of products to the European Union, and imported $320 billion. And our other major trading partners — Canada, Mexico, China, etc. — are similarly interlinked with the European economy. So just as a financial crisis that began in the United States was capable of creating an economic crisis around the world, a debt crisis that begins in the European Union has plenty of channels through which it can shatter a fragile global economy. . . .

Even the not-so-bad outcomes are still, well, pretty bad. Goldman Sachs estimates that if the European Union simply limps along the way it is now, the financial stress “is likely to slow the U.S. economy to the edge of recession by early 2012.” . . .

That’s the reality of the economy over the next year. If Europe gets its house in order, we might see a recovery. If it continues staying one step ahead of catastrophe, we’re likely to continue stagnating. And if it makes a mistake, we’re likely to follow it into recession.

In determining the likely future of our economy, Europe will probably also determine the outcome of our election. And that means that Congress, the president, and even the Republican presidential candidates, for all that they will pretend otherwise, will not. In 1992, James Carville, an adviser to Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, used to constantly remind his candidate, “It’s the economy, stupid.” In 2012, it may well be the European economy, dummkopf.

via How Angela Merkel could defeat Barack Obama – The Washington Post.

The genius of Steve Jobs

I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website.  I’ll link to that when it goes up.  In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s  genius.

It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S.  Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones.  People were looking for matters of appearance.  But look at the reality of what this new device can do:

The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.

That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.

Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.

If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.

Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:

Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”

Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”

Me: “Change the time.”

Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”

After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.

More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.

via Apple Siri: the next big revolution in how we interact with gadgets? – The Washington Post.

It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace.  Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success.  Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of.  He led the marketplace.

There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact.   Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much.  Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs.  Don’t just imitate the dominant styles.  Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant.  Don’t follow the culture.  Lead it.

This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.

A tea party of the left

Since the middle of September, some 1000 protesters have been demonstrating on Wall Street, denouncing big business and high finance, calling for more regulations on banks and corporations, an end to housing foreclosures, and more taxes on the rich. The protest movement is called Occupy Wall Street.

The protests have been growing.  This weekend 700 demonstrators were arrested on Brooklyn Bridge.  The movement has spread to Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other cities.  Celebrities from Roseanne Barr to Michael Moore are supporting the cause.  So are intellectuals such as Salman Rushdie, Noam Chomsky,  and Cornell West.   Reportedly, some labor unions are considering getting involved.

Occupy Wall Street is claiming kinship with the Arab Spring.

See Occupy Wall Street – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Is this potentially the tea party of the left that liberals have been calling for?  Do you think this will bring new life to political liberalism?  Is there actually an underlying kinship between those who protest big government and those who protest big business?

Why the government makes a poor investor

A chronicle of the failure of Solyndra–a “green energy” company that received half a billion dollars worth of government “investment”–demonstrates the larger point that government bureaucracies are just too ponderous to function as venture capitalists:

The Obama administration’s vaunted initiative to catalyze the U.S. clean-energy industry — under attack for betting half a billion dollars on the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra, which closed last month — has become a case study of what can go wrong when a rigid government bureaucracy tries to play venture capitalist and jump-start a nascent, fast-changing market.

[Uwe] Schmidt [whose company scored a similar loan but turned it down] concluded in early 2011 that the influx of inexpensive flat solar panels was undercutting his company’s year-old proposal to use a field of mirrors that concentrated sunlight on a thermal tower. Despite market changes, however, the terms of the federal loan guarantee wouldn’t let Solar Trust switch in midstream to flat panels. So Solar Trust sought private financing.

“We look at a lot of technologies, and I don’t care which one we build — I want to build the one that makes the most financial sense,” Schmidt said.

The inflexibility of the terms for Schmidt’s project was just one of the troubles that have plagued the Energy Department’s $38.5 billion loan-guarantee program from its beginning in 2009. . . .

Solyndra, a solar-panel maker that went bankrupt in August with $535 million in federally backed loans, was riskier than many other proposals, industry executives say. Its cylindrical tubes captured a high percentage of the sun’s energy and its panels were easy to install, but they were expensive to make.

Silicon prices hurt, too. When Solyndra first sought financing during the Bush administration, which picked its proposal as one of 16 finalists, the price of silicon was soaring. Solyndra’s tubes didn’t use silicon, an advantage then. Since 2008, however, silicon prices have collapsed and Solyndra’s costs haven’t come down as much.

“The Solyndra project . . . assumed that the cost of materials, silicon, would remain high and that the cost of panels would not go down as fast as they did,” said a senior executive at a renewable-energy financing fund. “In the end, those assumptions were wrong.”

Many industry experts said the Energy Department should have anticipated that because projects were underway to bring more silicon onto world markets.

via Some clean-energy firms found U.S. loan guarantee program a bad bet – The Washington Post.