11 June 2012

Can the US Have an Honest Debate About Political Economy?

Brian Wang takes a look at Ed Conard, the author of the book on the US economy "Unintended Consequences."

Brian embeds several videos in his posting, including Conard debating Jon Stewart of the Daily Show on tax policy, and also videos of Conard debating Nobelist Joe Stiglitz on income inequality.

It is my impression after looking at an excerpt from Conard's book, and looking at Conard debating Stewart, that most people do not want to have an honest debate on the topic of political economy. This is particularly true of celebrities such as Stewart, politicians, academics, and others who are essentially ideologues, rather than honest searchers for what works in the real world.

If the US is to recover from the slow motion economic collapse of 2007 - 2009, it will need to enact economic policies on the basis of what will work over the next few decades, at least, rather than what will work until the next election cycle.

From what I can tell, Conard leaves out some important pieces of the puzzle when he looks at the recent banking collapse of the late "noughts," but on the whole he captures more of what is wrong and what should be changed than knuckleheads like Stewart -- who play to the peanut gallery for laughs and votes as if the future of the world's largest economy were a popularity contest.

A short look at Conard's professional background:
Ed Conard was a partner at Bain Capital from 1993 to 2007. He served as the head of Bain’s New York office and led the firm’s acquisitions of large industrial companies. He sits on several boards of directors including the boards of Waters Corporation and Sensata Technologies. Prior to Bain, Conard worked for Wasserstein Perella, an investment bank that specialized in mergers and acquisitions, and Bain & Company, a management consulting firm, where he headed its industrial practice. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School and the University of Michigan. _Ed Conard

Excerpt from Conard's "Unintended Consequences":
Read Intro and Chapter 1

The US economy is far too large and complex for anyone to understand completely. But basic fundamentals of human behaviour are likely to apply.

Al Fin's philosophy of political economy follows much more closely with the reasoning expressed by Thomas Sowell in his fine book, "Knowledge and Decisions" (PDF excerpt Chap 3). Along with Walter Kaufmann's "Critique of Religion and Philosophy" and a few other choice volumes, Sowell's look at political decision making helped to form Al Fin's total philosophic approach -- although not his "philosophy."

Wiser and more intelligent people tend to eschew ideologies and fixed philosophies in favour of philosophical systems which are able to grow and learn along with the person's dynamic experience.

That is why popular discourse in North America -- including Canada as well as the US -- can be so depressing at times. The number of ideologues in prominent view always seems to outnumber experienced, competent, and intelligent people of sound judgment -- people who are willing to take intellectual chances and risk looking ridiculous at times so as to discover working principles.

Ed Conard is not a great thinker or philosopher -- he misses a lot of things because of gaps in his knowledge and the limits to his experimentation -- but compared to most of the people he debates, he is a rock of wisdom.

There is a lot of popular discussion on internet forums about societal collapse from peak oil doom, overpopulation, climate doom, resource scarcity, ecosystem collapse . . . But the greatest threat to the greatest civilisation -- western civilisation -- is the neglect of risk taking and hard work in the service of what may be unpopular and not trendy, but true and important, nonetheless.

The dumbing down of the US is proceeding apace. We are reminded of this watching the video debate between Stewart and Conard, taking note of the cheap debating tricks used by Stewart to garner applause from his pet audience. But as more and better alternative methods of acquiring an education become available, more people will avoid the well placed traps of dumbing down which have damaged lare portions of a number of generations to this point.

We should have a better idea of how quickly this will all play out by sometime in November of this year.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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