Monday, September 1, 2008

Followups: Maladjusted Republicans, Tax & Spend for Prosperity, and Antarctic Icebergs

Last week I ventured that voters who cling to simple answers to hugely complex questions are mentally ill.  It would be more proper to say mentally maladapted, according to former American Psychological Association executive director Bryant Welch. Welch’s new book State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind notes that the world was once simpler, and we are still adapted to that world – not to this one.  Moreover (and this is the main point of his book), we are ready, nay eager, to allow self-interested parties to manufacture false but simple explanations that we can buy into.  Of course he really means only one Party, and its name starts with R.

The book is reviewed in Miller-McCune Magazine.  (I recently discovered this free, non-profit journal of public issues, and like it a lot.  You can subscribe here.) The reviewer punches a bunch of holes in Welch’s thesis – and to be sure, a psychotherapist can’t make a living curing mental pathologies unless there are plenty of pathologies out there, and some therapists are not above inventing new ones from thin air. But Welch’s main argument survives the review, holes and all.

In my last entry I also recommended former U. of Wisconsin president John D. Wiley’s editorial attributing Wisconsin’s dismal economy to its business leaders’ knee-jerk “reduce taxes” answer (no matter what question is asked).  Maybe Wiley should send them to Welch for therapy.  Anyway, now here comes John E. Schwarz, Professor Emeritus at University of Arizona, whose Washington Post op-ed reasonably asks “Why is tax-and-spend worse than borrow-and-spend?”  His reasonable answer: It’s not worse, it's better. It’s not only more moral (because it doesn’t take food out of our children’s mouths) but it’s also better economically.  Schwarz shows that job creation has been far greater under Democratic administrations for the past 50 years.  No, they were not all government jobs!  They happened because government invested in expensive and risky new technologies, entailing R&D costs that no single company would pay for. The results were commercialized, creating high-paying private-sector jobs. Without increasing the National Debt.

Schwarz’ column generated a lot of comments on the Post’s web site.  One cited all the innovations that came out of RCA and other companies.  Yeah, buddy, that was then and this is now.  Private companies wanted global capital liberalization, around the turn of the century, and they got it.  The FTAs have bitten them in the ass. Now they’re in a hypercompetitive environment that won’t allow them to spend on R&D.  Another commentator claimed AT&T would still be churning out innovations if the government hadn’t busted it up.  Hoo ha!

In this month’s AARP magazine, Shirley Streshinsky writes about the 2007 wreck of the cruise ship Explorer on an Antarctic iceberg.  As it happens, my faculty colleague Dr. Bob Flood was on the Explorer. 

A business professor, Bob studies Antarctic wildlife as a hobby.  He was moonlighting as a guide on the Explorer.  Bob told his harrowing survival-at-sea story to Radio Scilly (“one of the UK's smallest radio stations”).  The MP3 file of his radio interview is fascinating.  And scary. Find it by clicking through this site.

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