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American Character - Ch. 1: Maintaining Freedom
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Author:  LanDroid [ Sat Oct 12, 2019 3:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 1: Maintaining Freedom

OK I s'pose it's a fair point that "each leg of that stool can readily be corrupted." However I disagree that what Woodard calls "the would-be aristocracy or oligarchy" equates to business. He is not talking about small businesses like butchers or even corporations. This refers to very large businesses that exert great or near-monopolistic control over an industry or geographic area. This also refers to extremely wealthy individuals. It is not unusual for these entities to have a corrupting influence - procuring favors or demanding concessions from Government, destroying opponents, etc. Consider the international influence of outlaw Russian oligarchs.

The American conversation on these matters has been too simplistic, pitting small butchers against Government regulators seeking to extract punishment. My point is adding "the would-be aristocracy or oligarchy" to the equation is an improvement.

Author:  Taylor [ Sun Oct 27, 2019 9:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 1: Maintaining Freedom

The triangular model seems an appropriate description and is well time tested. I will add that even as hard as I've become against modern libertarian power/tyranny, and even though I had intuition as to the historical depth of libertarianism, I hadn't pictured so clearly the early history of that libertarian influence in the development of the continental congress and the associated constitutional conventions.

This chapter has been the start of what has been for me a genuine over night page turner. Woodard has put together a body of work that is very important to the understanding of "The American Character". I am reluctant to bring in the idea of confirmation bias but Woodard for me has so-far confirmed much of what I have been railing against that it seems preternatural.

The orientation of the individual toward the group and vice versa is determinant in that region of social conquest in the vain of E.O. Wilson and his idea that a group of individuals will surely perish where as the group of altruist will survive. That seems to me to be the one sure lock in the social humans DNA. It is that agreement between the individual and the group that gov't derives its necessary powers, Woodard's application of E.O. Wilson to the historical portrait he is presenting demonstrates the wide band of influence he's accepted as part or the research for this book.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Tue Oct 29, 2019 7:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 1: Maintaining Freedom

LanDroid wrote:
OK I s'pose it's a fair point that "each leg of that stool can readily be corrupted." However I disagree that what Woodard calls "the would-be aristocracy or oligarchy" equates to business. He is not talking about small businesses like butchers or even corporations. This refers to very large businesses that exert great or near-monopolistic control over an industry or geographic area. This also refers to extremely wealthy individuals.

I think I agree with Robert that the oligarchy of the business world is not automatically corrupt or corrupting. I am generally resigned to a sort of oligarchy structure, in which a small portion of the population runs things the way it thinks makes sense. In modern society we (fortunately or unfortunately) have strong tension between different oligarchies: commercial, political, academic and cultural. These are always going to be working for their own good, however that is conceptualized, but it has different degrees of identification with a vision of the public good. For all the nasty comments about meritocracy from the communitarian wing, it has mainly given us a system in which naked power did not determine success or failure for any of these. In fact, the conspicuous absence of "military" from the categories of oligarchy is one of the true blessings of the modern world

So what are the oligarchs doing? By and large, promoting their vision and their own personal ability to pursue that vision. The really influential minds in the military world these days are those who have been good at grasping the mind of the enemy in asymmetric warfare. Imagine a world in which empathy is a cardinal military virtue, and you understand why Trump's foolish bravado is so de-linked from anything resembling actual success. Plays well to a certain peanut gallery, but nobody who understands things takes the actual ideas of our Dear Leader with any seriousness.

I see a growing threat, however, from the willingness of commercial oligarchs to band together as a self-conscious force in politics. Since they are people who are good at commercial success (which sometimes, as with Jeff Bezos, corresponds to contributing value to the economy, and other times, as with Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts, corresponds to exploiting opportunities to squeeze the juice out of some institution which does not fit the economic forces of the time), they imagine that whatever they see and think must be an accurate picture of reality (some scientists have the same attitude). And crucially, the advent of economic theory as the creed of professionalism in government has lent an unwarranted dignity to that conclusion.

Since the income distribution (and the wealth distribution even more) has reached an unprecedented imbalance in American society, this overweening group of myopic "visionaries" feels they must try to convince the public to do what is good for the public, which of course happens to correspond to maximum liberty and power for the oligarchs. If, along the way, they stumble seriously on medical care, opioids, fossil fuels and nominating populists, well, that just shows what a tough job they have, guiding society to enlightenment and prosperity.

LanDroid wrote:
The American conversation on these matters has been too simplistic, pitting small butchers against Government regulators seeking to extract punishment. My point is adding "the would-be aristocracy or oligarchy" to the equation is an improvement.


Highly developed regulation is the defining mode of government in our time. That is inevitable in an economy in which value is created by complex mechanisms and legal abstractions, just as women's emancipation is inevitable in an economy in which education matters more than hierarchy. If we weren't convinced by the crash of Lehman brothers, then surely the Boeing Max 737 was a clincher. We need some improvements in our regulatory regime though, both for accommodating variation at the level of small business and for aligning the interests of corporations and consumers without expensive lawsuits as the definitive mechanism. It's really rather dismal what a bad job the oligarchs have done of sorting out this conundrum, choosing to treat it as a battleground for symbolisms rather than a technical matter ripe for someone to pioneer in. Maybe Liz Warren is the answer - she at least gets the problem.

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