Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Easily Identifiable Low Points in Human Society (Updated)

We humans, being social apes with language, have overtaken the world through previously unseen levels of sophisticated cooperation.  But, as with our ape cousins, there remains a dark side to our deep sense of family dependence and investment.  We can also be tribal, hateful, and violent.  We have an innate sense regarding political control, which, at its worst, can be ugly and self defeating.

History is filled with stories of groups of people who become targets of tribal ire.  A sort of script of irrational scapegoating is recognizable in many of these episodes.

1) If the group has some economic or political standing, they might be treated suspiciously, as dark figures who are secret and deceptive holders of power.

2) As these suspicions increase, these broad groups might be vaguely blamed for hardships that come out of complex human endeavors.  We have a strong bias for stories and causation, and a knack for judging categories of people.

3) Narratives build against these groups - narratives where the antagonists are viewed as being responsible for suffering or even gaining from the suffering of others.

4) The distrust and hate may reach a tipping point where success or advancement of those in the targeted group, in and of itself, is seen as unjust or unacceptable.

5) This leads to a demand for punitive legal or political actions, where rules or taxes specifically aimed at the target group become more severe.

6) The advocates of intolerance may deny that their political targets are being treated punitively.  They may draw on the suspicions of deception and power to intimate that policies which look punitive on the surface are not, in fact, carried out in a punitive fashion.

7) Members of the targeted group may begin fleeing the community to avoid the punitive treatment.

8) Consumed by irrational hate, and unwilling to admit to the punitive treatment they are imposing, the advocates of intolerance will then impose controls on the targets, making it difficult or impossible for them to leave.

9) The deepening imposition of intolerance is often accompanied by dehumanization - rhetorical assertions that the targets are less human - that they aren't entitled to typical treatment based on our moral norms.

This script is distinct and easily identifiable, and it is far too common.  Societies that become vulnerable to this mania can damage their targets, but furthermore, they do great damage to themselves.  Status gains against the targets within the society come at the expense of broad moral corruption and general economic and social decline for the entire society.  The horror stories of human history tend to be the stories where this script leads a community off the rails.

One difficulty here is that groups engaged in tribal scapegoating rituals aren't generally capable of reviewing their actions.  As surreal as these things can get, stepping into the middle of a proverbial (or literal) witch trial and suggesting that everyone take a look at what's happening with clear eyes is likely to be met with anger and denial, especially when the targeted groups are perceived to be powerful or dangerous.  Yet, we do have many examples where these scripts ease and disappear before becoming catastrophic.

So, is my implication (from the links) here absurd?  If it seems absurd, does that prove my point or rebuff my point?

Should I be shamed for even suggesting that this script could be in play regarding capital and corporations?  How dare I put on a pity party for powerful interests when the truly needy are suffering?  I don't need anyone in the comments to alert me to the existence of moneyed interests, power brokers, and influence peddlers.  I am aware.  I am dealing here with the subtle difference between healthy skepticism and derangement.  My subject here is more about the intellectual corruption of the judgers than it is about the targets.  But, of course, that's exactly the tack I would have to take if I was going to stand athwart a witch hunt, isn't it?  "Look, I'm certainly not here to defend witchcraft!  Don't misunderstand me!  I'm just saying, maybe the harvest wasn't so great because weather patterns are part of some larger random and uncaring pattern of events over which we have no control."

If this seems absurd, please consider three notions from the list above, applied specifically to the current popular rhetoric in the US. (a) Corporations have control of our government.  (b) Even though our official corporate tax rate is the highest in the world, corporations have gamed the tax code so that they really pay very low taxes.  (c) Corporations are escaping (to Canada!) by using "inversions" in order to escape high taxes.  Honestly ask yourself, has it occurred to you that these three things can't all be true?  Either (a) and (b) can be true or (c) can be true, but not all three.  And, of the three, only one claim is easily verifiable by observation.  That is (c).  And, it is verified by observation.  It is, in fact, noted most vigorously by the very people who are following the above script.  How strange for corporations to want to escape the very country that is being governed at their fiendish whim.

PS: The Obama administration today implemented a set of anti-inversion capital controls that would set Dolores Umbridge's heart aflame.  I have two thoughts:
1) Maybe we should just build a wall around lower Manhattan, manned with armed guards, with a sign over the top saying "We hate you, Wall Street.  And, don't you even think about going anywhere."
2) This seems like a great opportunity for some hedge funds to take advantage of regulatory arbitrage.  They could set up funds in foreign countries, attract American investors, and then just buy up assets of American corporations outright.  How far down the road of inbred bureaucratic obstacles toward Banana Republic land would our leaders be willing to go to stop it?  Are they going to forbid foreign firms from doing business in the U.S.?

PPS: I note the irony that while the script says the US government does the bidding of American capital at the expense of the working poor, we are building walls to keep out the working poor, who are desperately trying to get in, and (figurative) walls to keep corporations in, who are desperately trying to get out.  I believe economists refer to this as "revealed preferences".


  1. K-
    Please see my latest post at Historinhas

    1. Sorry, Benjamin. I'm not on board yet. If you want more QE, that's fine. And if you want to get rid of FICA-funded SSI, that's fine. But, I don't see what the advantage is of combining the ideas. Why tie monetary policy to some factor that is unrelated to the appropriate monetary base?