Friday, July 13, 2012

“’Gardenbrain’ – An Arcadian World of Make Believe”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“’Gardenbrain’ – An Arcadian World of Make Believe”
July 13, 2012

Patronizing blather in the newspaper noted for reporting only the news they find fit to print is not uncommon, even when it is presented in what the authors would term a fair-minded, light-hearted fashion. The authors, Eric Liu, a former speech writer for President Clinton, and Nick Hanauer, a billionaire venture capitalist who recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Rich People Paying More Taxes is Good for the Economy.” In that article, Mr. Hanauer stated his three principals for economic recovery: feed the government, strengthen unions and get tough with China. Together, Mr. Liu and Mr. Hanauer wrote “The Machine and the Garden,” which appeared in the July 10 issue of the New York Times.

Why is it when Democrats speak of Republicans and taxes they only talk of tax cuts for the wealthy? Republicans have always believed in lower taxes for all citizens; that has always been their policy. The tax cuts pushed through by the hated George Bush in 2001 and 2003, for example, were for all taxpayers and resulted in the wealthy paying a higher share of total taxes than ever before. Fiscally responsible Republicans believe in the concept of smaller government, requiring less tax. They believe that everyone should pay some tax, and they agree with the progressive nature of the tax code. Republicans recognize that a flatter simpler tax code, which eliminates myriad deductions that serve special interests but not the general interests, is fairer, more efficient and will collect more money at less cost. They have no trouble seeing their tax payments rise, when it is in concert with a growing economy. Fiscal policy is all about expanding the economy; it poses the rhetorical question as to which is the best allocator of funds, the private sector or the government?

Among the more humorous aspects of Mr. Liu and Mr. Hanauer’s piece is their deploring the use of metaphors, because, as they correctly proclaim, we become “prisoners” of our metaphors. Yet they make constant use of the garden as a metaphor for the economy, something Mr. Hanauer has done in the past, and probably Mr. Liu as well. They write of an economy, like a garden, being “fruitful” if it is “well tended” and not “overrun by noxious weeds” (presumably Republicans.) They go on about how wise regulation can turn a “useless jungle into a prosperous garden.” I almost threw up when I read that, but I persevered. They go on about “organic feedback loops” and how tax dollars (fertilizer) being spent on education and healthcare will “circulate nutrients” throughout the garden to foster growth. Perhaps because the authors are antithetical to the concept of Social Darwinism, they conclude by borrowing a line from Biblical literalists, about whom, one can feel certain, they only think of in the most condescending way: “Humans, it is said, originated in a garden.” I wonder how that line will go down in Hollywood or the Hamptons?

The authors see the world of economics as being either “Machinebrain” or “Gardenbrain.” It is far too simplistic an approach. Economies are dynamic. They are confusing. The study of them is as much about art as science. There are, in reality, many (perhaps not fifty,) shades of grey. What we do know is that attempts at promoting equality of outcomes have always failed. It was the promise of Communism, Fascism and Socialism, which have almost always led to some form of totalitarianism. We know that people in democracies are born equal in terms of basic human rights. We know that all people should have equal opportunities; but, in terms of education, it is something too often denied the poor by the very unions Mr. Hanauer supports. We also know that only a few rise to the top of any professions. That is just the way of the world. We know that an excess of dependence and a lack of motivation doom individuals to mediocre lives. We know that self-reliance, aspiration, desire, hard work, intelligence and luck are what lead to success.

And we know that one of biggest obstacles facing people today is the corruption that cronyism brings – a merging of perfidious business leaders, fraudulent politicians and crooked union heads. Cronyism knows no political party and is as much at home in the “Gardenbrain” world espoused by Messer’s Liu and Hanauer, as it is in the “Machinebrain” world, allegedly occupied by the enemies of a strong central government.

Conservatives want regulators to actually enforce existing laws. They are uncomfortable with the notion that more regulation is needed to compensate for the failings of existing regulators. In the cases of Bernie Madoff, Jon Corzine and now Russell Wasendorf of Peregrine Financial Group, all three broke, or allegedly broke, existing rules. New regulations are not needed in those cases, enforcement is.

The world painted by Mr. Liu and Mr. Hanauer consists of an idyllic garden, peopled by those submissive to the desires of their Panglossian government superiors. It conjures an image redolent of Evelyn Waugh’s observation of P.G. Wodehouse’s Edwardian world, which he saw as releasing “future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in” In other words, it is a world that exists only in the minds of the authors – a world of Make Believe.



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