Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cleveland; Are We Even Trying to Understand?

Goodness. The arguments that presumably smart people are willing to make.

For instance, we have the reactions to the “lock her up” chant along the lines of “we don’t jail our political opponents” and “this isn’t a banana republic”. Objections made not just by Dem hacks (see Al Franken) but by conservative intellectuals.

Are we really going to take that chant out of place and time context? A majority of those polled disagreed with James Comey’s decision not to indict Hillary Clinton for her use of a private server. That decision was made less than a month ago. The chant was made at a political convention which is decidedly more pep rally than philosophical symposium.

And then again the reaction to Ted Cruz’s speech last night. We get this sort of thing:

“Any party in which 'Vote your conscience & honor the Constitution' gets you booed off stage is not my party”

It’s perfectly clear that what was being booed was “vote your conscience” not “honor the constitution.” And it’s perfectly clear that the former was a rather high minded (or weaselly) way of saying don’t vote for Trump, made at a convention to nominate and get elected Donald Trump. The Trump backers took it as an affront because that’s what it was.

It would be nice if our public intellectuals didn’t spend so much time spouting cant arguments to support their initial premise.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Government's Authority and the Comey Verdict on Clinton

Many have already commented on the contradictory announcement made by James Comey yesterday in regard to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for emails while Secretary of State. Having methodically documented Clinton’s carelessness and contravention of known policy and laws Comey whipsawed to a no charges should be brought conclusion. It seems to many that the operative aspect of "no prosecutor would bring this case" was that "this case" was against the presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.

As the Comey announcement shuts the door on an actual indictment and as Clinton is unopposed by a credible Republican it isn’t perhaps too early to ask what this means for a Clinton presidency. And what I have in mind here is its perceived authority.

Authority as a constitutive element of governing is distinct from power, competency, and our agreement with what is done. However much one might disagree with Comey’s decision, no one should question that as Director of the FBI he was authorized to make it. And a joke on twitter that he was promised lands in Ohio, gets to the fact that only proof of corruption, a quid-pro-quo would compromise his authority.

Further, it seems clear that authority rests on belief, on myth. It is reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch where the Amazing Mystico and Janet constructed apartment towers via hypnosis. As long as the tenants believed in them they remained standing. The foundational myth of kingdoms was the divine right of kings passed down via heredity. For democracies it is that the people have a right to rule themselves and that this is properly accomplished through representatives.

In English history rebellions almost always (always?) included more than just a complaint of bad governance. There was also a question of the King or Queen’s authority to rule by calling into doubt that they were the rightful heir. The stories of the true heir dying at birth and being replaced are directed at authority and they parallel our own birther conspiracies.

Of course such questions need not be conspiratorial and democracies may be seen as target rich environments. Charges that the government is run by whites for whites, by fat cat capitalists, by the bourgeois are all to my understanding attacks on authority. They are making the claim that authority rests with "the people" but the actual government is in the hands of only a subset.

The question is how much Hillary Clinton, having dodged what seems a quite logical prosecutorial case, will be seen as an illegitimate President from the start of her tenure. And what is remarkable here is that the Democratic Party has proceeded on this path, not only acquiescing in her nomination but tipping the scales in her favor, when the essential facts of her private server use has been well documented for months.

The likely retort that this is comparable to George W Bush being elected despite the vote counting controversy in Florida simply won’t hold. In that instance we had an unforeseen occurrence in the general election, adjudicated through the Supreme Court, with a later confirmation that the right person was declared the winner in Florida. Quite a distance from the current situation where another nominee—Biden, Warren—would also almost certainly win, and carried out with determined malice aforethought.

Undoubtedly at the Democratic Convention and the inauguration we will hear a call to restore our confidence in government, to heal our divisions, and to come together as a people. With the probable exception of Donald Trump no one is worse positioned to accomplish this than Hillary Clinton. As to the foundational perception of authority, we are pressing our luck.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Business Lesson for Cities

“I am of two minds about democracy…We would certainly tolerate no different system yet most people are disenchanted with the way it works. One reason is that our rulers now manage so much of our lives that they cannot help but do it badly. They have overreached themselves.” –Kenneth Minogue

On Redstate today Leon Wolf makes the case that the reason for the events in Dallas can be found in the historically driven perception in black communities that the police are not to be trusted as protectors. He points to the incidents of police shootings and the relative lack of cases being brought, much less actual penalties being handed out, as strongly supporting this suspicion.

As Mr Wolf explores it, the lack of a simple solution is evident and it brought to mind what I take to be a contributing problem. Now as readers of these posts know, I am highly critical of approaching government from a business perspective. But there is a business idea, naturally ignored, that might be helpful here and that is what is the optimal interest of a business.

In the 1960’s and 70’s the fashion was for conglomerates. A company would consist of many otherwise unrelated business. Superior managers in the ‘best’ companies wouldn’t be limited by the size of the respective industry, profits could be smooth out, and synergies among the companies could be found and exploited.

But the reality was quite different. Synergies weren’t found, coordination problems grew, poor businesses were kept going despite failures. Young focused firms handed the conglomerates their lunch proving there was something to the jack of all trades master of none adage. By the 1980’s the theory had reversed to one of being focused on core competencies and “sticking to your knitting” and by noting that investors could hedge away volatility themselves if they so chose.
As Ken Minogue points to in the quote I opened with, part of the problem is that our governments have taken on too much (and also promised too much). Policing in the present circumstances in a way that builds trust is a formidable challenge. It would be helpful if government stuck to what it and only it can do and left the rest to others.