world of politics & economics
I rant, probe, question, study, then write (and speak and consult) about the political and economic challenges of the 21st Century. Some call my approach to politics unconventional; I call it forward-looking. It's time to free ourselves from the old left-right axis of the 19th and 20th centuries.
WHO we should ROOT for in a POSITIVE SUM GAME?
our WORST ADDICTION
Could a single scientific breakthrough help get us past today's rising mass frenzy of self-righteousness that has poisoned politics in the United States and some other countries? I've long corresponded with experts, trying to find out. The resulting essay, "An Open Letter to Researchers In the Fields of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology," led to papers in psychiatric journals and a speech at the National Institutes for Drugs and Addiction.
could a TRANSACTION FEE save WALL STREET?
What's a Transaction Fee, why do we need it, and how would it save us from the Terminator? The answer to this riddle -- and to a number of other economic conundrums -- may surprise you!
"A levy of just 0.1 percent -- or even just 0.05 percent -- levied on each stock, bond, derivative or currency transaction would be aimed at financial institutions' casino-style trading, which helped precipitate the economic crisis. Because these markets are so vast, the fee could raise hundreds of billions of dollars a year -- from the sector of the economy that made towering profits while being directly responsible for our present depression," writes Philippe Doust-Blazey in the New York Times.
time to TALK TAXES
Nobody likes to pay taxes, but we all like to talk about them. My blog post on how to improve our current tax system got picked up by Pop Sci as well as io9. I also posted an article about "The 'No-Losers' Tax Simplification Proposal" here.
an ALLIANCE for us
Here's an idea for the 21st Century: Why don't all reasonable people break free of the left-right stranglehold imposed on us by less-reputable politicians and form an Alliance for a Modern World? One approach may be to form coalitions that agree to promote -- boldly and openly -- a dozen consensus agenda items, and refuse to be drawn into other fights. Is it possible to negotiate a list of desiderata that all modernist defenders of the Enlightenment might stand behind?
empowering a RESILIENT CITIZENRY
Throughout the 20th Century, the trend in our culture was monotonic, toward ever-increasing reliance on protection and coddling by institutions, formally deliberated procedures and official hired guns... none of which availed us at all on September 11, 2001. Rather, events that day seem to suggest a reversal, toward the older notion of a confident, self-reliant citizenry.
"America's flexibility and resilience in the light of recent events has been wonderful. Author David Brin does a great job illustrating our strengths. The following article is very much in the powerful voice he used in his book, The Transparent Society. I think you'll enjoy it." -- Brenda Cooper
One benefit of the two major parties fighting to a standstill may be that politics will be less important in coming years, letting folks like us stimulate the world with great projects and keen ideas! Following the election of 2008, I proposed 21 "unusual suggestions" be implemented. You aren't likely to have seen these important ways both politicians and the people might make things better. How many were tried?
- labor & management
- somali piracy
- radical transparency
- agile government
- "just in time" economics
- civil service
- inspector general
- great recession
- military readiness
- border control
- war contracts
- advisory agencies
- insure the children
- crackpot suggestions
- culture war
NEO-ROMANTICISM: do we need another crusade?
After the folly of the Iraq War, I wrote a nuanced, abstract dissection of a weird alliance that makes up the neoconservative movement, and how is actually works tacitly with radical Muslims and other romantic forces in "Neoconservatism, Islam & Ideology."
Now of course American neoconservatism and Islamic fundamentalism would -- at first sight -- appear to be polar opposites. Indeed, that appearance is deliberately promoted by both groups. Many neoconservatives speak of struggle -- even war between the Christian and Muslim worlds -- just as followers of Qutb do. They call for a return to values-based decision making in American society, with those values clearly and explicitly rooted in core religious traditions. While emphasizing cultural conflict with liberals and humanists within Western Civilization, they promote aggressive opposition to non-Western cultural styles overseas.
WHO WINS the WAR on SCIENCE?
Will the 21st Century be known as the time when our Scientific Age came to a whimpering end? The one trait shared by anti-modernists of both left and right appears to be disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things. My published review of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, explores how partisanship can explain much of this collapse of confidence... and why partisan interpretations don't cover everything.
Alas, "wisdom" is seldom obvious. We rely on politics to determine policy -- an improvement over the whim of kings. But politics, despite centuries of hard refinement, is still far more ego-driven art than craft. Habits of at least four thousand years seem to favor self-interest, hierarchies and dogma, instead of gathering evidence and cheerfully letting facts guide us.
ATLAS SHRUGS no more
Is there more to Ayn Rand than the devotion of her passionate followers, who have effectively taken over the U.S. Libertarian movement (and one recent GOP Presidential candidate)? Or is the devotion simply a manifestation of neo-romanticism? ATLAS SHRUGGED is, after all, an indictment of modernist, enlightenment, Adam Smithian-liberal civilization. To Rand, this "great experiment" has all been one big mistake, doomed to expire from its own internal contradictions.
is it CULTURE WAR or CLIMATE WAR?
Nothing demonstrates the silliness of left-right "culture war" more than the illogical fight over human-caused climate change (HCC). People who take fierce positions over a scientific matter based on their politics should be ashamed of themselves. In fact, there are legitimate questions that a genuine HCC-sceptic can ask! So how to tell a true "skeptic" from a kneejerk "denialist"? SKEPTIC Magazine commissioned an article from me -- now posted online! -- dissecting this serious matter, which may affect humanity's destiny.
can we END HATE CRIMES?
See my article titled "Names of Infamy" in Salon, proposing a solution to hate crimes -- take away the motivation!
"Journalists and shrinks and the public fret over each killer's declared motives, from Brevik's islamophobia to Timothy McVeigh's war against government, to Al Qaeda suicide bombers, to the murderous students at Columbine High School who appeared to be seeking vengeance for bullying. Yet, when we step back and look for common threads, the emerging pattern seems to be less about specific hatreds, racism or anti-Semitism than frenzied, bloody tantrums staged by a string of losers with one common goal — to grab headlines."
AMERICA's other CULTURE WAR?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I've posted this essay about how disasters are worsened when professionals and citizens interfere with each other. Another essay discusses Proxy Activism, a convenient way modern folks can hire others to save the world for them. Finally, there's a notion (cribbed from my novel Earth) about how it might be time to let the Mississippi take its natural path to the sea.
do we NEED a MIRACLE?
A strange event happened sixty years ago -- the Miracle of 1947 -- when liberals and Democrats went through a wrenching, painful self-transformation that decent, patriotic conservatives might think about undertaking today.
The article, published in 2008, also draws lessons from another historical event: In 1985 I forecast the Berlin Wall might soon come down, because once USSR at last had leaders who never personally knew war, dour Russian pessimism could ebb from outright irrational paranoia. (Perhaps then, I reasoned, many in the ruling caste could perceive the obvious, that their revolution wasn't working.)
can we PERSUADE OSTRICHES?
Do you know an ostrich -- a principled conservative who refuses to see that the current cabal running their party is the antithesis of principled conservatism? We need to begin a dialogue with such people: help them pull their heads out of the sand and look fearlessly at what they can do to restore dignity and honor to their party. Perhaps you might want to start by mentioning Bill Clinton, who the GOP demonized at the time of his Presidency.
There are still millions of our neighbors who are sincere in seeing themselves as reasonable (if conservative) Americans. Folks who have let themselves be led, step-by-step into accepting a redefinition of their movement, from prudence to recklessness, from accountability to secrecy, from fiscal discretion to spendthrift profligacy, from consistency to hypocrisy, from civility to nastiness, from logic to unreason. They make up the largest single voting bloc in the GOP's tent! If we pull enough of them out of it, the tent will unravel. The other groups will be marginalized and scattered. Culture War will wither away.
an informal QUESTIONNAIRE
I created a survey meant to illuminate why you feel as you do about modern issues... and why it seems so hard to comprehend those who disagree. The questions are provocative -- and the answers you select may have implications that go deeper than you think! Groups trapped within these ideological rifts have my sympathy, but also provoke my endless frustration as they relentlessly chew over the same old fixations even when the evidence around us shows that it's time to move on!
Articles and speculations (written by David Brin & others) dealing with politics and our future.
is it TIME to REPAIR the NATIONAL GUARD?
I also wrote this article after the Hurricane Katrina debacle, asking that the Guard and Reserves be returned to the United States -- to do the jobs they are trained to do!
"Can anyone honestly claim that we're better prepared, today, to deal with a surprise attack, or an urgent call for help from some ally, than we were before 9/11? Or, in fact, any other kind of emergency? Would our allies now be more ready to leap to our aid than before 2001? Or much less so?"
a QUICK-FIX for AMERICAN POLITICS?
Beginning in 2004 I wrote three essays proposing quick-fixes for seemingly-intractible problems with the way we conduct our politics. In the first, I proposed a way to reform the Electoral College which doesn't require a Constitutional Amendment.
In the second essay I proposed that the candidates from both major parties stipulate, or "agree to agree" about a set of issues. "What's wrong with the idea of two leaders finding a patch of consensus amid a sea of discord? We cheer when this occurs among heads of state, overcoming differences between nations in order to sign a treaty that finds common ground. Then why not between candidates?"
In the third essay I proposed we acknowledge that the winning candidate of modern-day Presidential elections typically does not earn more than 50% of the vote, and should honor the losing majority by meeting with -- and listening to -- a delegation from the opposing party.
END the CULTURE WAR?
Following the cynicism of the 2004 election I posted a layered appraisal of "The Real Culture War," showing how obsolete and irrelevant the hoary old "left-right axis" has become. What appears to be dividing America, instead, is the issue of modernity: Is progress is either possible or desirable? "Moderates" who stand, tormented, between fanatical poles of left and right are not different because their views are more tepid. They are different because many are capable of believing in science, in human improvability, and in tomorrow. My suggestions cater to neither liberal dogmans nor conservative ideologies. They are pragmatic. They serve the Enlightenment.
"None of the observations that I just offered can be made to fit the most pervasive, misleading and mind-numbing political metaphor of all time -- the left-right political axis.... That purported "political map" has always trivialized complex issues, masking a myriad inconsistencies, contradictions and details. It also defied decades of scientific evidence for how complex human brains, personalities and societies really are. Yet, we cling to an obsolete oversimplification that has proved effective at just one thing -- enforcing alliance between people who disagree deeply over things that really matter."
how do you WIN a MEME WAR?
When I gave a speech about a coming meme war at Brigham Young University in 1989, and later transcribed and lightly revised it for publication in a small zine, few had heard about memetics. After all, we were in the final phase of a Cold War waged mainly through propaganda. And yet... given the dramatic events we all saw in late 2001, doesn't "meme war" seem even more apt than it did in 1989?
Naturally, we needn't look at this struggle over human hearts and minds as a "war." I wrote it that way to be intentionally a bit provocative. Ideally, it can be "won" by changing many of the myths that children are brought up with... that is, over the long run.
The "Tytler" Calumny -- Is Democracy Hopeless?
The widely-circulated nostrum called the "Tytler Calumny" is the great example of what has gone wrong with the mental processes of our friends on the right, who used to be represented in sage debate by great minds like Barry Goldwater and Friedrich Hayek and William F. Buckley... but who are now reduced to slinging around aphorisms and fact-free faux-assertions.
DON'T JUMP OFF THE FISCAL CLIFF!
To many U.S. voters, one issue towers foremost -- the Fiscal Cliff of rising public debt. Recall when Vice President Dick Cheney famously said "deficits don't matter." Or that we were paying down the debt, under Bill Clinton? Something will be done soon! If republicans and democrats cannot end gridlock with a compromise this December, the Bush Tax Cuts will automatically expire, triggering a sudden return to rates we saw during the Clinton era. A calamity? Part of the solution?
Want to invest some time into understanding the deficit and the debt and how we moved from surpluses to crisis? I list and appraise EIGHT major reasons that deficit went south. Take the time to actually read-up. You need to understand these 8 factors, how they happened, and who made the decisions. If not, then what makes you think you know the right path for the nation?
WHAT the GOP is RUNNING FROM
I published an article about why the GOP won't run ON their record — they run FROM it: How often do they speak of their periods in power, which were far more extensive than the Democrats'? Any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects? Don't effective leaders brag about their past effectiveness?
a GENIUS of the 20th CENTURY
what were my GOALS for 2008?
Should I keep to topics I'm paid to talk about, like the future? Given the times, can I be forgiven the occasional opinionated rant? Take the problem of gerrymandering, which I examine from a dozen fresh perspectives. Another in-depth essay reappraises Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract With America, considering how this masterful piece of 20th Century political polemic might be used by the other side, in the 21st. Also, is it prudent to overstretch our military reserves in a war that is, at-best, a case of international elective surgery? These viewpoints are not classically partisan, but seek a broader view. Whether you agree or not, I promise to be interesting!
Liberals who feel only contempt for the Neoconservative Revolution and no grudging respect are deluding themselves and hurting their own cause by not studying how that revolution was achieved. Ask yourself the fundamental question: whose tactics have achieved power, and whose tactics have not? The neocons' relentless march from post-Watergate nadir to unprecedented dominion should be studied carefully, even by those who want to turn America away from amoral ruthlessness.
2006: SWINGING from OPTIMISM...
2006 was the year when the people took a leap of faith and voted closer to their own interests. The move took experts, pundits, and 'conventional wisdom' by surprise. Sensing opportunity (and danger) I posted a few thoughts about how the incoming U.S. Congress might change the nation's way of doing business. (Many of these unconventional proposals may sound good to both conservatives and liberals.)
... to PESSIMISM
I then posted something darker, more cynical, and maybe even a little paranoid: A chillingly plausible way that powerful forces may try to affect politics by using the age-old trick of blackmail.
AMERICA was NEO-CONNED!
This unabashedly political essay I posted just before the 2004 election, "War in the 21st Century," is specifically about that election and whether "Pax Americana" is a viable concept for the next few decades. (I think it is, but only if led by grownups.)
Yes, that puts it strongly! Yet I cannot overstate the extent to which the Bush Administration discarded reason and abandoned conservative traditions, enlightenment values and the public interest in favor of ideological fanaticism and short term profit for a narrow elite. The evidence is so overwhelming, even dedicated pundits of the "extreme right" have taken note, as in the following:
"We invaded a country that did not threaten us, did not attack us, and did not want war with us, to disarm it of weapons we have since discovered it did not have. We may have ignited a war of civilizations it was in our vital interest to avoid. Never has America been more resented and reviled in an Islamic world of a billion people. As custodian of the national economy and decisive actor in the management of the Budget of the United States, George W. Bush has compiled a fiscal record of startling recklessness." -- conservative pundit Pat Buchanan, in Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency
can we BECOME a 3-PARTY NATION?
What makes the Republicans so successful at building coalitions? How are they able to bring together groups that -- on the surface -- have nothing in common? In 2006 I evaluated their chances of winning the Presidential election of 2008. Can they successfully repeat their strategies in 2012 with a different outcome?
Most third-party members know -- far better than others -- that the hoary old left-right political spectrum is worse than useless. Alas, some of the "better alternatives" only serve to muddy the waters. In this speech to the 2002 Libertarian convention I suggested a few tactics that may be helpful advice for any true alternative party.
In 2005 I wrote "How Progressives Can Win Back America" (in response to the SEIU's online contest), which proposed concrete plans for how the Democrats could regain majority status. They won the Presidency in 2008, but can they win it again in 2012, or have they made too many mis-steps in the intervening years?
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Contact David Brin by email.