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05/03/2011

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Koukopoulos

It could be that Athenian democracy is explained by the emergence of a special type of liberty related to freedom of speech. Democracy in Athens correlated with the heightening of free competition in public debate, which was not a result so much of protected individual liberty but of the public's need to better judge which teacher/philosopher/doctor's services to choose. At a time when these relatively new professionals were travelling from city state to city state in a pretty much free way, the only criterion for prospective customers was who could explain his merits better and debate with his competitors. It is not too far from here to realize that obstructed speech and one-sided debates do not produce the required results, hence "equality of speech" (ισηγορία) becomes a social value, one which may have played a role in the adoption of democratic rules.

NEH

From my point of view, there are complex Socio-Politico-Psychological factors at work that creates the conditions for the various types of Social order. Be it an Autocracy, an Aristocracy, or a Democracy. These conditions are constantly in flux and allows the Social Order to "float" between the various Social Orders or become "locked" into one of them at any given time. As Will Durant put it, "When Liberty becomes License, Dictatorship is close at hand". Or when Dictatorships become corrupt, Liberty is close at hand.

As for the impact on Political Economics and the wealth and well being of a Nation, these complex factors,Socio, Political, Psychological also come into play in the making of the Economic Order. Such that, the Social order in question must give precedent to the raising and maintaining of the Commonwealth. Whether it comes from an Autocracy, Aristocracy, or Democracy.

It is important to remember, that what works for one, may not work for all; at any given time...

Harris Don

Seems unlikely that a stable civil society and democracy can emerge in circumstances where people must constantly worry about the basic necessities of life. This implies some (1) advancement in food production technology, (2) checks on state power otherwise wealth is hyper-concentrated and civil institutions cannot develop, (3) literacy, and (4) appreciation for the value of the individual.

Jack

Well! General agreement with both this week! Amazing!

A few observations: Posner, along with Don H here, considers concentration of wealth a hindrance if not a fatal flaw to implementing liberty and democracy -- and "justice for all?"

In previous essays about the US neither have had concerns about the soaring concentration of wealth and incomes in the hands of the often politically connected few. Whereas I think the "entitlement" culture of the privileged is so corrosive to both democracy and our economy that even with such precepts in the minds of most of our citizens that our whole system is in danger of collapse. NEH.. and Durant: "When liberty become license......"

Indeed......... a whole financial sector corrupted and blatantly fleecing our nation for a decade? And is it some case law I've yet to hear, that has created "personhood" in the corporations Andrew Jackson never trusted as a business form? or wealth and political power that gave us what appears the worst 5-4 decision since, what, Dred Scott?

I've watched fairly closely and even through involvement Alaska's growth from a really quite poor colony to, today's oil wealth, and it's been an interesting study.

Once a decade or so ago on a resource issue there were a majority of native Alaskans. At one point seeing there were the votes to bring the matter to close, I suggested a vote. No, I was told, we discuss it longer until their is consensus. Yes, I thought, in small villages of extended families its like that consensus is better than votes and "sides".

The new arrivals to Alaska, of course came with our democratic precepts in mind, and with the opportunity of a new state, I think we were a lot more interested in "getting it right" than dealing ourselves a face card from the bottom of the deck. Economically Alaskans ranged from really quite poor, those living something of a subsistence life style on up to perhaps "rich" being a guy with a homestead and three small "bush" planes.

Just before the oil wealth -- during the construction boom of the 70's pipeline era we passed a bill limiting campaign expenditures for the House and Senate seats to $7,000 along with a tax credit along with a bit of a public funding program. That fell with Buckley decision in New York.

With the oil wealth overflowing our short term needs a moderate Republican, Gov Hammond led the way to our implementing the Permanent Fund, that seems an ideal means of spreading one time resource extraction wealth among those here today and on to those not yet born. It remains untouchable to both left and right.

While oil made us "rich" it corrupted our legislature. Bill Allen once the head of the Veco (union busting) oil services company would sit and turn thumbs up or down like Ceasar, until an incident involving bribes to get a "private prison" scheme going resulted in a visit from the FBI that sent half a dozen legislators to court and prison, along with some individuals, and later took down Sen Ted Stevens of 35 years seniority and chair of Senate Finance, or ranking when the Repubs were out of power.

Today, economically Alaska looks much like America, with declining wages for working folk, wealth consolidating in fewer hands and with the influence of oil and big outside mining or fishing companies, again something of a colony.

In this example, I conclude that being small 350,000 "back then" and poor was little impediment to democracy and likely a strength as "regular folk" might run for various public offices and they were (and mostly still are) accessible to the public.

Had oil wealth been here prior to statehood? God help us! We'd have been colonial serfs here forever!

SANTIAGO LEON GOMEZ

If the "The normal evolution is from autocracy to democracy with liberty the intermediate stage", how you explain Guantanamo, the Iraq Invasion, and Osama Ben Laden death? are these democratic expressions of a rich country? how democratic countries return to middle ages? Which are the economic incentives behind this facts?

NEH

Santiago, Somtimes in order to protect and defend the good, one at times must practice that which is bad. Such is the reality of the real world. Just take a look at our Civil War where we slaughtered each other wholesale in order to preserve the Union and put an end to an evil institution known as Slavery. Today the issue is International Terrorism and its threat to World Peace...

BTW, Jack, you'd also probably be speaking Russian and Seward would never have been the fool... ;)

Jack

NEH Ha! Mostly agreed, though it's interesting to consider. Apparently there was a bit of "misunderstanding" as Russia was short of money for something, warmongering perhaps, and MAYBE Seward's purchase was really intended to be a secured loan.

But the Russians, had by then, gotten themselves so universally hated, with acts like a couple officers whimsically wondering how many bodies might be pierced by their new weapons and lining up half a dozen Aleuts to find the answer, that I wonder if they'd have been able to hold Alaska anyway though their Orthodox religion and a number of churches have survived.

Also interesting is that of Dutch Harbor being bombed by the Japanese, and the only US territory ever to be held by an enemy were two Aleutian islands. Huge military resources were deployed here, with largely "blacks" "unfit for war" braving mosquitoes and mud and cold to complete the 1500 miles of Alaskan Hwy in a year. My father once claimed we hoped they would try to push up into Alaska, with as he put it "By the time they got to Vancouver they'd have blue eyes".

If you can find a copy of, long out of print, The Thousand Mile War" it's a pretty good read. There would have been many battles between the navies, but in the mountainous, often fog shrouded Aleutians the fleets couldn't find each other. It was difficult to fly as well, as testified by wrecked planes on mountainsides and some that got lost at sea.

Jack

As for democracy, is it possible to put infectious ideology aside and make a study of what features made America, and some other nations great, including the many things we've done badly wrong but can't fix due to politics and corrosive levels of ideology, package it up something like a Starbucks or WMT business plan to replicate?

Instead of getting mired in the details of reinventing the wheel under trying circumstances the political choice would be that of trying the off-the-shelf plan for the first 5 years and then tuning on the fly with the advantages of having jumped to a democratic process?

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good thank like your "explosive" analogy, I use it in my business as well. Thanks for the great content.

SANTIAGO LEON GOMEZ

The German Democratic Constitution, during the Weimar Republic, was substitued by the facts of the totalitarian Nazi regime. Under this constitution, the concentration camp shows how under a formally democratic order, human liberties and moral values are eliminated.(see Giorgio Agamben: Homo Sacer for this argument)

A similar situation is happening under the US 1776 Constitution, and is affecting the democratic values in an unseen manner. Guantanamo prisioners are reduced to a state similar as the suffered by the jewish prisioners during the Holocaust. They have no rights at all, they are in a state where life is only an option. Probably, some of them are guilty, but as recently has been shown by wikileaks, there are innocent people in this situation. Does law and economics theory offer and explanation of this facts? is this democratic and acceptable? is fair? is a cost of the democratic order?

NEH

Jack, I'm familiar with the Alcan Highway. Impressive civil engineering project and the WWII Campaign in the Aleutians. My father was a part of the 17th infantry regiment of the 7th Infantry Div. that landed at Attu and later Kiska. His comments, we were being trained in the hot deserts of Socal as an armored infantry unit destined for Africa. Instead, they sent us to the Arctic where we near froze to death. Frostbite was a bigger threat than the Japanese... ;)

Xavier L. Simon aka Xavier

My apologies to Judge Posner! In my first comment of 05/04/2011 at 12:29 PM on the Becker side of the blog I originally misunderstood his concept of liberty and how it is necessary for there to be a real democracy. I have since read and reread the post. In a way my model may have redeemed me a little since it emphasizes personal participation which is definitely liberty.

What threw me initially was Posner using the formulation of an economist and their proclivity to work only with measurable variables. Some things just can’t be measured. There is a wealth that is not measurable and I think that the wealth that produces liberty is not always or necessarily measurable in dollars. We can have dollar wealth and not be free, and we can be free without dollar wealth. On much more careful reading I realized that Bilson had hedged his correlation of freedom with wealth saying only that individual freedom is “likely to be greater when per capita income is higher.” Thus you can have higher income, misuse it, and not be free, and, conversely, you can be a slave and have mental and even physical liberty.

In my view the keys in Posner’s formulation are education and property rights. On my first reading I didn’t focus enough on “likely”, “education”, and “property rights.” In part I was working out of a mental model where during my extensive travels I saw perfectly happy people that were very poor but that arguably had liberty. These are people that work hard for what they have, barely make ends meet, but use their preciously limited spare time to pursue personal likes and interests. These are their property and if they can exercise a right over it they are happy and I would argue free. The ones I met also tended to be tribal but participated actively in their small community, including assuring that there are rules that protect their property. I believe that this made theirs a democracy in the sense of Posner.

In a way we are all a slave to something, in our time particularly to our work. In the tribe the likes and interests, luxuries and property of an individual may be to weave extra rugs and blankets for her home. This she does in her spare time from the slavish chores that are mandatory to have food and shelter. A slave too has some spare time that he can dedicate to such interests and I would argue that if he is then allowed to have and protect the product, as I think they could in Republican Rome protected by the Patter Familia who in turn was sanctioned by the Senate, then in a way he had some liberty.

A common way of achieving liberty in our society is through education. But that assumes that we use it properly, including to look out after our earned property and rights, and the chances that we do that are only “likely to be greater.” Instead in our society many are becoming accustomed to get without necessarily working for it, and then to misuse it. And this is slowly being extended beyond just education, including certain goods and services, and even free money. I would argue that that is not liberty. Liberty only happens when are willing to defend something we value because we work for it. And we only value what we pay for with our own hard earned time and money.

Thus in my entry of 05/05/2011 at 04:59 PM on the Becker side, Presbyterians and particularly the more Calvinist place undue emphasis on the work ethic, while for Catholics it is important but not to the same extent. Moreover, Catholics, at least in Mexico, tend to be far more paternalistic.

In the comment where I originally disagreed with Posner, 05/04/2011 at 12:29 PM, I asked “how does he explain that as societies develop and grow they drift towards despotism, not less Europe and now even the US who is told by at least one of its more noted leaders that if the people want to know what is in a proposed law they have to pass it first.” When our leaders can get away with such statements I believe we have begun the drift down the slippery slope towards a “Democracy without liberty—the ancient Athenian formula—[one that] is highly risky, since it is easy for the first elected officials to refuse to allow (or to rig) the next election.”

Isn’t that what happened in Imperial Rome when emperors begun to win over the people by giving them more free bread, better spectacles, and even better housing after Rome burned? Isn’t that what is beginning to happen when winners of a presidential contest are picked more for their marketing savvy than for the content of their policies? While it is not likely that a future president will refuse to allow the next election, he can and will use his bully pulpit to “rig” it in favor of his party, something I don’t believe the Founding Fathers had in mind, and that only started when Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson began bypassing Congress to take their case directly to the people.

Jack

NEH -- yeah, and our geography challenged recruits tended to send them light weight Pacific gear. I often think of what it must have been like for some kid scooped off a big city street, sent to then 25,000? if that, Anchorage, only to be told he was going 1,000 miles further out in the country. Your Dad surely did his part.

Jack

Xaiver: It seems that sitting Presidents have had limited success in "rigging" 2nd terms since FDR's passing. As for the despotism and extremism that "gave us" "personhood" for the corporate shells used by their current hustlers and scammers for personal enrichment, I've still enough faith to predict, (hope?) that the heavy pendulum soon slowing as it reaches its rightmost apogee will eventually be accelerating rapidly back toward the center. Not much room left over here.

Jack

NEH, the ALCan, now fully paved is shorter now; it had been built with curves and around hills to prevent strafing runs on convoys and they taken a lot of those out.

bestmishu

If the "The normal evolution is from autocracy to democracy with liberty the intermediate stage", how you explain Guantanamo, the Iraq Invasion, and Osama Ben Laden death? are these democratic expressions of a rich country? how democratic countries return to middle ages? Which are the economic incentives behind this facts?

Xavier L. Simon aka Xavier

Jack, I grant you that it is a hard case to make, particularly if you look only at the short and medium term. That is why I started this series on 05/04/2011 at 12:29 PM with “I’ll start…by laying out the territory of my comments. I take a very long view that attempts to explain development and growth over periods of many hundreds of years, a view that tries to encompass the whole cycle of ascent and decline of societies like of Rome’s one thousand years of Republic and Empire…” And I’ll further grant you that other forces may get in the way before the US follows the path I tentatively outline. But my purpose has been to understand the deeper underlying forces and those can only be seen and, particularly, I think but could be wrong, validated through historical analysis.

It took Rome (in the West) more than three hundred years before it finally collapsed. Its Senate and Assemblies continued working throughout most of that period but they gradually lost their influence. They slowly ceased to operate as an effective check on the power of the emperor (except by occasionally contracting to kill him and hope for a new better one!). At the same time Rome gradually lost the effectiveness of its intermediate institutions, like the role of the Patter Familia, and deeper value systems. It is one reason why Constantine adopted Christianity in order to find a new and more effective deeper relatively automatic coalescing component for the social glue of his Empire.

At the same time, and with a slow loss of influence over its outlying territories, the Roman government gradually lost its capacity to continue feeding its large populations, particularly its urban populations. It gradually went broke much like can happen to the US if it keeps increasing its government spending and its population keeps becoming increasingly dependent on that spending even as new major competitors, like for the world’s limited supply of oil and in time other commodities, develop in new very large economies like those of China and others.

Now, you always harp, over and over, about “the despotism and extremism that ‘gave us’ ‘personhood’ for the corporate shells used by their current hustlers and scammers for personal enrichment.” I only disagree with you in degree, the source of the problem, and how to fix it. I see it as the result of the gradual loss of values of society in general, and to fix it, in addition to looking for new sources of values (and I don’t want to wait as long as Rome did because by then, as Constantine discovered, it was too late!), I would restore the checks of the invisible hand by cutting the larger ones down to size, a size where others that are more ethical can compete and put the dishonest out of business. This would have the added benefit of adding to the adaptive capacity of the economy and society, of producing more locations for further innovation, and of taking out large sources of potentially destructive instability. I've been making that case over and over.

Jack

Xavier: So we learned from Rome that over-expansion is a dangerous strategy and a reminder to question the US having 722 bases on foreign soil and being Johnny on the spot in most of the fracases that pop up.

Our militaristic "right" appears to consider being well out on the plank as "national security" and vastly superior (for some obscure "reason") to that of much of the burden of peace and security being put in the hands of NATO, SEATO and the UN. WE should closely consider what we're buying for our Trillion bucks of military spending each year.

In the Roman era, surely the "justification" was that of a colonial power gleaning wealth and substantial taxes from the bowed backs of the conquered. Today? We're far better off paying the price to buy stuff from the Chinas and Indias rather than pay the costs and social frictions of colonialization.

As for whether the US is drowning in a sea of Federal red ink, it would be good to at least listen to Sen Simpson and Erskine Bowles, or to, ideology and hrsht aside LOOK at the big chunks yourself. What I see is that of our having spent 18% of GDP in the post WWII era. Pre-Reagan we collected about the same figure.

Since (whatever -- to lessen the partisanship) caused our revenue to fall behind generally similar levels of spending, we've added 3% of GDP to cover the mortgage payments of the accrued debt. So........ 21% is required IF we are to maintain the social contract as is. Further, (whatever happened during the Bush admin) our once strong economy is in the tank, big time! 18% either under or UN-employed with revenues accordingly DOWN and unemployment and other welfare costs sharply UP. So........ tack on another 3% of today's lagging GDP and we're at 24% of GDP.

So Big Whoop? with the sun soon setting on the Stars and Stripes? Surely not. Like one of our many families, long under or unemployed with a pile of credit card vigorish to pay, it won't get fixed overnite.

The prescription is....... and I use that word purposely as it IS a completely OUT of control H/C system that gobbles 17% of our GDP (much of it through government -- Fed employees "insurance", Medicare/Medicaid, CHIPS, Military and VA costs et al) with far worse outcomes than are provided in Germany/France and others for 12% of GDP. That IS THE biggie! worse even than the overhang of DEBT amassed under "voodoo" supply-sider, "starve the beast" or whatever failed experiments created it. Gotta fix it.

In the meantime after much parading, posing and caterwauling, we need to make SENSIBLE trims to Fed spending in the range of 2%, then HAVE the cajones to pass the hat for 2% of GDP from increased taxes and fewer tax bennies. Folks KNOW and for at least a while enjoyed, the costly military adventurism halfway around the world and really should be willing to pitch in for it. A bit more commitment than slapping a "Support Your Troops" decal on a gashog and calling it good....... but come on! a bit of sacrifice from those staying home with many cashing in?

So no....... we, with (today's paper) CEO "earning???" more this year than before the depression, and "AVERAGE" wages higher than ever, are hardly headed for the poor house. Instead, it's a time when our perpetually adolescent "boomers" may finally have to grow up and PAY for the services they've been getting on a discount (totaling $14 trillion today).

And in finality what IS up with this caste of prima donnas of the top 1% and .1% who "feel" entitled to be paid more than anyone has EVER been paid for their typically mediocre and at times criminal contributions AND expecting to pay only 25% or so of their gleanings? Agreed those few, though they DO have control of 40% of US income, can't "balance the budget" but surely we could not only roll back the unaffordable when they were implemented, Bush tax cuts AND claw back a bit of what they were gifted during those fat ten years. Wouldn't hurt a thing.

Lastly on corporate grifters? Look there MAY have been a time when what was "good for GM was good for the country". Since that era our corpies are no longer "ours" but mid-ocean creatures doing biz for themselves, where ever, and pitting tax laws of one nation against another or hiding out down in the Caymans to duck them all.

NOW as we've clearly seen with say bondraters as one example, those "running the company" are not EVEN loyal to the company but trading on long reps for THEIR OWN accounts and care not if they leave an empty debt-laden husk behind for those to follow.

And "we'd" want to let such a cabal of sleazers take out and pay for any attack ad, under any cute "I'm for the People" moniker their ad-men can come up with? So some decent candidate -- as McCain was in 1999 is going along and some corporate billionaire can tag him for "being nuts" and in SC "having a black baby" under some anonymous group name, and elaving the candidate to "fight back" with only legitimate donations? or........ go get his "own" corpie to fence with the attacker?? Sorry, I've run a number of campaigns and this thing is huge, evil and nation tanking.

Jack

Xaiv -- BTW I never harp but do drink a Harp on occasion.

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NEH

Xavier, The "Fiction" you refer to (corporate and institutional entities as "person") was but a dodge by Common Law Courts, back when, to apply a body of Law and precedent that applied to persons to new and rising entities without having to go back and recreate a separate body of Law. Unfortunetly, we in the Modern Age have set these new entities outside of regulations and requirements that apply to "persons" (I won't raise the fullblown issue of various restatements of Law, although they do play a part) per se by a separate legal regulation or deregulation and in some cases outright manipulation of that body of Law to create legal loopholes.

And so, we have the problems of financial and corporate import that we are having to face down today...

Jack

So..... In regard to the topic of "affording Democracy" it looks as though we conclude with Becker and Posner that poor nations can't afford NOT to adopt a functioning democracy..... but that it's extremely difficult to get one working where it hasn't evolved ( or lightening hasn't struck?) before.

I heard China's "problem" put succinctly the other day; as that of the "bad emperor". Just now their undemocratic system is lucky to have rational leaders, but there are few safe guards to prevent the return to something like Mao.

Ha! while, observing from afar, think of the "China model" as we once viewed Japan's success, observers closer to China seem to pepper their observations with "unsustainable" and similar descriptions. Aah yes, the old "past performance is no predictor of future success" warning.

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And in finality what IS up with this caste of prima donnas of the top 1% and .1% who "feel" entitled to be paid more than anyone has EVER been paid for their typically mediocre and at times criminal contributions AND expecting to pay only 25% or so of their gleanings? Agreed those few, though they DO have control of 40% of US income, can't "balance the budget" but surely we could not only roll back the unaffordable when they were implemented, Bush tax cuts AND claw back a bit of what they were gifted during those fat ten years. Wouldn't hurt a thing.

Lastly on corporate grifters? Look there MAY have been a time when what was "good for GM was good for the country". Since that era our corpies are no longer "ours" but mid-ocean creatures doing biz for themselves, where ever, and pitting tax laws of one nation against another or hiding out down in the Caymans to duck them all.

NOW as we've clearly seen with say bondraters as one example, those "running the company" are not EVEN loyal to the company but trading on long reps for THEIR OWN accounts and care not if they leave an empty debt-laden husk behind for those to follow.

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