Between Rhetoric & Reality

In a preview of the jobs speech he will deliver on Thursday to Congress, President Obama told a Labour Day rally in Detroit that there are numerous roads and bridges that need rebuilding in the U.S., and many construction workers available to “get dirty” and build them.

Obama stressed the city’s proud industrial heritage “where men clocked into factories” and one “that built the greatest middle class the world has ever known,” while recognizing that in recent years it had “been to heck and back.”

That’s why we chose Detroit as one of the cities that we’re helping revitalize in our “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” initiative. We’re teaming up with everybody – mayors, local officials, you name it – boosting economic development, rebuilding your communities the best way, which is a way that involves you.

All well and good, but hardly congruent with reality…

If ever you want to see a vivid demonstration of the wealth inequality and racial divide in America, Detroit is the place to visit. Not 10 miles from the apocalyptic hellscapes of the inner city can be found the leafy all-white suburbs of historic Grosse Point…


28 Replies to “Between Rhetoric & Reality”

  1. “wealth inequality “, it seems that corporatism is the problem. Those that caused the problems and were forewarned continue with their ways. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out but it seems that Wall Street and the boys still are getting it wrong. It mostly boils down to greed…

  2. Big surprise that black unemployment is high when the U.S. economy is in such a dismal state. But hey, I’m sure under a McCain presidency, it would have been much lower! And everything would have been gumdrops and lollipops had the Republicans been in power for another 4 years after the bang-up job they did from 2000-2008.

  3. That’s quite the stirring battle cry for a new election cycle: “The other guys would have done no better than we did!”

  4. Sure, but as this post shows, the other side as a message that resonates and yours doesn’t. I’m not trolling here–resonating messages can be very dangerous–but when I read progressives complain how flat and boring and uninspiring Obama’s rhetoric has become, my reaction is: “So, what are all you bright people on the left giving him?” (BTW, again, why does the comment box go all wonky after the first few sentences, even on different computers?)

  5. Peter:

    The problem with the contemporary Right (I am old Right a la Sir John A.Macdonald conservatism.) is that they are just as programatically ideological as the Soviet Communists once where. There is no deviation from “the script” and errors are never conceded. The US economy is in tatters – not because it is not “free” enough, but because it is not regulated against the type of mass greed that is detrimental to the common good of society. This is not the type of Conservatism that Richard Hooker, Edmund Burke, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Salisbury, Andrew Bonar Law, or Winston Churchill would have recognised. Blind Ideology is NOT Conservatism as it has been understood for the majority of the period from the Restoration to 1980.

  6. Peter: Not sure why the comment box goes all wonky… It seems fine on my computer. You could always type your message in Notepad or Word and then just paste it into the box.

    As to your point, I wouldn’t say that the “progressive message” doesn’t resonate because, as Bill Maher (to name but one) has quite accurately pointed out, there has been no such thing coming from Obama during his tenure in office. To the contrary, he routinely dismisses and even scorns the progressive caucus with his party — even though their policy prescriptions generally have the overwhelming support of Americans polled. Instead, he prefers to suck up to the Republicans and conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, caving to their demands at every turn.

  7. Red:

    Great Link. Although The US Republicans always been essentially classical liberals, the point in-context is well-made with this 1960’s Interview from “Firing Line.”

    There used to a tradition in Western Politics, where party philosophy trumped individual ideology – one accepted the big tent as part of the price to be paid to live in a representative democracy. Compared to our forefathers, we are merely children and child-like. If the party does not blindly accept our grocery list, we take our toys and run away screaming hysterically – to mix the metaphor.

    I find it laughable – and quite insipid – when modern “conservatives” tell us that what we need is even less deregulation of the marketplace. It’s as if they checked their brains at the door. They have no concept of history. They probably don’t even know what the “gilded age” represented. Ignorant sods.

  8. Aeneas, I had this argument here with Shiner just last week. I pointed out that there is already a very large, not terribly well-coordinated, but nonetheless well-manned regulatory regime watching Wall Street, and they missed everything. His answer was that the people were second rate, so why would we impose more supervision by second-raters? I’m not a libertarian and I care nothing for Wall Street bankers guilty of something between egregious breach of trust and outright crime, but the whole issue of government regulation goes far beyond that. Are you saying regulation is always benign and that there is no such think as overregulation? Can we both admit we don’t nearly have enough knowledge and experieance to be as confident of our favourite shibboleths as we are?

  9. Peter:

    There is an ebb & flow to history … and life. I am 48 now, and I recall the overregulation of many things in the 1970’s. These regualtions were loosened in the 80’s and 90’s and some of the deregulation was right – FOR THE TIMES.

    However, times have changed. It is time for the pendulum to swing us back into some form of equipoise again. Just like Burke indicated wise and judicious statesmen should do.

    Having said that, today’s “conservatism” (merely a variant of 19th Century liberalism) rejects such flexibility and good sense. It is not interested in balance and equipoise, but instead cleaves to a nonensical belief in ideological purity. Sounds like Soviet Communism to me.

  10. Perfect Competition only and always leads to service of the lowest common denominator. I left formal politics after it appeared that FTA was bad for Canada in the long-run, and at that moment in time when Mexico was being offered a treaty position in what would become NAFTA.

    Why Canada should trade-away its standard-of-living to Mexico, Columbia, and China in order to level the playing-field to their advantage ? This never made sense to me.

    I self-identify as a Red Tory. I am actually a “Tory”, in the classical sense, but I apply the appellation “Red” only to differentiate my beliefs from those adherents of the CPC. I am for a multi-racial Commonwealth, I have no qualms with trying to raise the standard-of-living of Loyal Commonwelath States, but I draw the line at impoverishing Canadians whilst enriching Communist China. Or some Spanish-speaking republic.

    Free Trade is a balderdash, and has seen the foreign (mostly US) takeover of over 10,000 Canadian Firms since 1990. We are actually becoming poorer by the month – high resource commodity prices and easy credit has merely camouflaged that reality.

    The sagacious and loyal people of Canada rejected Free-Trade in 1911. We are not worthy of those people. We have betrayed them – and the sacrifices they made in Flanders. We have sold-out them out. And we did it fairly quickly.

  11. Sounds like Soviet Communism to me

    I don’t recall the Soviets calling for limited government and deregulation. Is it too much to ask that those calling for more regulation of financial services state precisely what they want to regulate and why they think it will make things better? If you are going to challenge rhetorical excess from the right, surely you can do better than simply engage in your own version with loose talk of greedy bankers and wholesale condemnations of ’19th century liberalism”.

  12. How about this?

    * Make Hedge Funds illegal. Make the trading in derivatives illegal. They serve no productive purpose in the creating of goods & services. They are gambling vehicles, and serive no legitimate ecnomic purpose other than to allow Insititions to “spin the wheel”.

    * Make any Financial Instrument that is entirely speculative, and devoid of intent of raising capital in equity for companies to produce goods & services illegal.

    * Make willful Financial Malfeasance (such as operating a Ponzi Scheme and Credit Default Swaps) a Capital Offence. Make unintentional Financial Malfeasance a serious criminal offece akin to accessory to murder.

    * Empower Securities Regulators to become an economic police force – with the force of govenment behind them. Do not allow Securities Regulators to come from the ranks of the Investment Community.

    There’s a start.

    AND YOU MISS THE POINT on my comments about Soviet Communism; modern “conservatives” talk about the unregulated market with the droning devotion similar to how Soviet Communists talked about Marxist Orthodoxy. The historical fact is that unregulated markets – over time, lead to excess and more frequent recessions and depressions. Regulation can go too far as well, and when it has, one repeals and reforms regulatory regimes as necessary.

    A real conservative would be interested in regulated or reforming excesses that endanger the commonweal. Protecting the sacred market from intervention is the purview of Classical liberals and manic libertatrians. It is not way to organize a civil society.

  13. Peter: There’s an enormous difference between regulation that’s both sensible and effective and that which is ill-conceived, convoluted, needlessly burdensome, and then to make matters worse, poorly or arbitrarily enforced.

    For example, I don’t think that it’s possible without being disingenuous to argue that the financial system in American would have been a whole lot better in retrospect had the New Deal regulations designed to reform the banking sector after the Crash of ’29 and ensuing Depression not been repealed by the Clinton and Bush administrations.

    Of course there were still regulations on the books and institutional “watchdogs” like the SEC in place to enforce them prior to the latest financial crash, but it’s clear now that both were inadequate to the task at hand. Heck, even in cases of patently obvious fraud like that of Bernie Madoff, the SEC miserably fell down on the job, turning a blind eye to it, even when warned years in advance by other investment managers that it was a Ponzi scheme.

    So I think we can agree that a certain amount of government regulation is necessary (a “necessary evil” if you want to think of it that way) for various reasons within a capitalistic free market system, whether it be to level the playing field, prevent unfair competition, protect consumers from fraud, or whatever, the question is to what degree and extent is needed to ensure the desired outcomes occur. Which isn’t to say regulation will necessarily always guarantee that happens, of course. There will always be those attempting to corrupt or outfox the rules for their own selfish gain. One only needs to look at the Tax Code for a livid example of that principle in action…

  14. ATY: I quite like the notion of making willful financial malfeasance a capital offence (no pun intended, I’m sure). The idea of seeing Goldman’s Lloyd “doing God’s work” Blankfein and Lehman’s evil CEO Richard Fuld swinging from a gibbet or otherwise dispatched to Hell wouldn’t be an unpleasant one. Heck, maybe it could even be turned into a grim reality game show of some kind, but you know… with a terminal outcome broadcast on live TV. I know I’d certainly tune in…

  15. Aeneas: I gather you have a bit of an issue with speculators and speculative investments. But why stop there, man? Why not abolish paper currency, return to gold coinage and make collecting interest a crime? Geez, I know you red tories are nostaligc, but aren’t you supposed to stop with MacDonald and the National Policy? You’re on the verge of returning to the medieval Church’s theory of economics.
    RT: I agree with you, but, given how reasonably you put the argument, who wouldn’t. I don’t share your sweeping, top–down views on the geral need to regulate “the market”, but I actually do with respect to banks and investment services. Unlike our cousins to the south, even some of us wacky Harpercons understand that the principle of a trust relationship exists with those who manage our money, and, boy, did they breach it. Aeneas is out to lunch on modern economic realities, but his call for drawing and quartering financial miscreants is fully consistent with the principles of our conservative ancestors. At least, the ones who lost when the bubble burst. 🙂

  16. So, banning pure institutional speculation is “out to lunch” ?

    Who knew? I though Capitalism was all about economic actors competing to produce goods & services for consumers in a civil society.

    I never realised that what it really was about was investing large sums of capital into zero-sum games and then hanging the last sucker in line with a big steaming bag of shit – and then screaming “caveat emptor”!

  17. No, my friend, I am not equating interest with skimming ponzi schmes or strangling puppies or whatever. But surely you are aware that economic growth since about the 1880’s has been in a ratio of about eight years of expansion to one of contraction, resulting in a screamingly obvious overall gain? Do you want to regulate the market or protect your daughters from it?

  18. The current “race to the bottom” is not sustainable – not for the West anyway.
    The wealth generated in this country over the last 100 years happened because we began to add value to our resources in the form of finished goods. We killed the Tarrif and let it all migrate to low-cost producers who we can’t compete with – like totalitarian China.

    Now, those with bleak career prospects demand ever lower prices for the basics, which in turn drives production to the next lower-cost regime – thus exacerbating the problem in the form of a perpetual downward spiral. A race to the bottom …

  19. Peter: I don’t much care for the characterization of my view of regulations as necessarily being “sweeping and top-down” which sounds kind of heavy handed, but I guess you’re more or less obliged to ascribe negative connotations to the basic concept of regulation as a matter of principle.

    I prefer to think of regulations as basic “rules of the road” that everyone has to abide by and therefore don’t see anything inherently negative about them. That said, I’m just as easily riled to irate frustration as the next person when that rulemaking goes to the absurd extremes of pettiness or when its enforcement lacks any reasonable discretion.

    By the way, there would be a lot fewer government regulations if corporations weren’t constantly petitioning their elected (and often bought and paid for) representatives to enact new and evermore complicated ones to advantage their particular enterprise in some way or other.

  20. Peter has no idea as to who the Economy really works. I have worked for two Fortune 100’s (still do), one Large Canadian Firm, and one Proprietorship. That’s not theory, Bub; that is reality.

    I once got into political trouble in a meeting where all the other Managers were bemoaning the fact that we did not command a monopoly; my defence of competition and the way it forced us to remain innovative fell on largely deaf ears. I was labeled a “troublemaker” for some time inlight of my efforts. That is a small indication of the self-interested and petty mindset of some Management in Business. It is indicative of the spirit of “wanting what one wants”, regardless of the net benefit or cost to society.

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