Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Brain Dump

Yet again, a while elapses between posts. Oh well. Here are a few things on my mind...

- There's a lot of bleating out there about Obama asking GM chief executive Rick Wagoner to resign. A lot of it's coming from the traditional right-wing noise boxes, but the meme that "Obama fired the GM CEO" has even come from people whose opinion I generally respect, so I'll go ahead and address it.

The thing is, Obama didn't fire anyone. No one is forcing GM to take bailout money. If Obama's going to offer the cash it's his prerogative to attach conditions to it. In the business world this is called "negotiating." If GM doesn't like the offer, like I said, it doesn't have to take it. GM is perfectly free to turn down the bailout money and go wherever that path takes them, be it into Chapter 11 or wherever. I'm not in favor of giving GM a cent of my tax money, but if the government's going to give GM a massive handout, I feel better knowing that it's not just shoveling money into a dark pit of despair.

Look at it this way. We place conditions on recipients of personal welfare all the time. You have to be actively looking for a job, you can't be on drugs, yadda yadda yadda. Why should we put less restrictions on recipients of corporate welfare, especially since corporations are receiving far larger welfare payments?

- Jim Webb is awesome. Just read the Greenwald article I linked to - he says pretty much everything I want to say. I will add this - having watched Webb in action the past few years, it's gonna be a tough sell for Republicans to call him soft on anything, crime included. So he is really one of the few elected officials who really has the political capital to pull this off, even if he is from a purple-leaning-red state.

- Dear Dan Snyder: Stop it. Seriously, we already have Jason Campbell, and he's pretty good, and he'll be better once he stays in the same offense for more than a year. While it would be pretty awesome to have the potential for an all-Vanderbilt touchdown pass (Cutler to reserve TE Todd Yoder), I don't think it's worth it.

But if you do go through with the trade, just remember to remove all the emergency phones from the vicinity of FedEx Field, for safety purposes...

(No, making fun of that will never get old.)


Mike said...

Yes, Jim Webb is awesome, I'm continually impressed with what I hear from him. Yes, Cutler would be a horrible move for the Redskins. And no, making fun of the emergency phone thing will never get old.

Matthew B. Novak said...

First, amen on the putting restrictions on corporate welfare.

Second, that article on Webb is fascinating. The best stuff isn't even on Webb or prison reform, it's on politicians as leaders. It made me think an awful lot about Paul Wellstone, who was one of my favorites because of how proud he was to stand up for the things he really believed, and who strived for the ideal.

Ben said...

It's good to read an opinion that doesn't call the ouster of GM's chief a "fascist" policy.

Yes, Webb is awesome. I hope every commenter on this post mentions that. Every time they post.

And the phone's all the more funny because non-Vandy people probably don't get it.

Ben said...

Also, you call this a long gap between posts? That's nothing. Look at my blog sometime! And then stop looking at it, because it's boring to look at the same thing for too long.

Also, Jim Webb is awesome.

Jacob Grier said...

Your point about GM is well taken, but the concerns from people who don't like the "firing" of Wagoner are, in my view, warranted, even if in this particular case it happens to be a good policy (the same outcome might have come out of the bankruptcy process, for example).

There's a real difference between placing general conditions on the acceptance of well-defined government funds -- such as no welfare if you're on drugs, not looking for work, etc. -- and ad hoc conditions attached to spontaneous billion dollar handouts. The latter opens the door to all sorts of political abuse, putting the decisions about which companies receive money and who gets to lead those companies after they do into the hands of political actors. That's a worrying development for democracy and free markets. And if "fascism" is defined as indirect government control over economic entities, it's accurate to call that a step in a fascist direction.

To put it another way, if George W. Bush had bailed out an oil company and empowered his Treasury department to influence who takes over the board of directors, would you be telling left-wing commentators to move along, nothing to see here?

And at Ben's request: I agree, Webb's prison reform agenda is wonderfully admirable.

Jeff said...

To put it another way, if George W. Bush had bailed out an oil company and empowered his Treasury department to influence who takes over the board of directors, would you be telling left-wing commentators to move along, nothing to see here?

Probably, because once a company accepts taxpayer funds, the representatives of the taxpayers should have the right to oversee how those funds are used. The problem isn't in the ad hoc conditions, it's in the billion dollar handouts. Like I said, I don't think government should be giving out corporate welfare, but if it's going to do so, politicians have every right to dictate how the money is to be used.

If you're a company and you're begging for government assistance, I don't think you're in any place to cry "free markets" when the government places conditions on its assistance that you don't like. As long as the company's on the government dole, it has forfeited its right to operate free from government interference.

Miguel said...

I'll have to agree with Jacob here in that it is very troubling when government is meddling this much in private business, regardless of the circumstances. Whether it's the "right" or "wrong" thing to do is kind of irrelevant. The precedent it is setting is rather dangerous.

It is even made more troubling by the fact that Obama is itching to forcibly take over other non banking businesses against their will. And if in doing so he asserts the same authority to do similar things to those companies like what he's done with GM, that will be downright scary.

As for Webb, I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised. It's very rare for a politician the consequences of the war on drugs may not be worth all the effort the government puts into it.

I'm not all that interested in the Skins, but since everyone else has commented on it I guess I feel compelled to: I really don't understand why everyone within the Skins organization and all the talking heads are so down on Jason Campbell. He's been a starter for what, all of 2 years? The local sports station here isn't clamoring for getting Cutler, but they sure have been down on Campbell once things started to go downhill during last season. I just don't get it why people are so negative about him.

Jacob Grier said...

Jeff, there's no separating the bailouts and the conditions. If politicians can use bailouts to affect who gets put in charge of huge corporations or to further unrelated policy goals, they're going to be much more inclined to give away more bailouts.

Matthew B. Novak said...

To Jacob and Miguel -

How is this government meddling? I think Jeff's point is being overlooked: the companies are requesting the assistance. It is not being forced upon them. If it were, then we could talk about fascism and troublesome meddling. But when they are voluntarily signing up for a deal...


P.S. Jim Webb

Jacob Grier said...

Matt -- I don't think anyone's all that concerned about GM's rights. What we're concerned about it is the massive use of taxpayer money to enrich corporations, empower the executive branch to advance its agenda using bailouts, and distort the market.

Ben said...

The federal government has been attaching strings to the taxpayer money it spends for decades, maybe a century. Nonprofits and states are often the beneficiaries/victims of this conditional largesse. (One restriction which I think you may support, for instance, was something Obama talked about on the campaign trail. Religious organizations serving secular purposes (i.e. job placement for ex-cons) cannot discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion if they accept federal money.) Why do the cries of "fascism" suddenly arise when it's a for-profit corporation that's affected? I think it is because people are concerned about GM's rights and I think Jeff and Matt are spot on: you accept government money, you get government conditions. It's why some of my favorite nonprofits (like the Georgia Justice Project), don't accept government money.

Also, fascism is defined as "a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppresion of opposition." I don't see Obama glorifying one race over another. I don't see people being stuck in one economic or social class with no hope of ever getting out. I don't see critics of Obama being herded into jails or shot by Secret Police. That's because he's not a fascist and America is not a fascist regime.

Fascism is NOT defined as "indirect government control over economic entities." Perhaps that's quasi-socialism. But it seems that the label "socialist" didn't work so well during the campaign, so now people are moving an toward a term that's still more emotion-laden....more likely to provoke a negative reaction regardless of the policy being criticized.

Criticize Obama and his policies all you want. He may be gathering too much power. But don't use the term "fascist" when it doesn't apply. It's false and it's an insult to everybody's intelligence.

Ben said...

Oh, and Jim Webb's prison reform ideas are awesome. And the War on Drugs sucks.

And my word verification is "shictios", which sounds like some terrible breakfast cereal.

Miguel said...

My concern about the GM CEO being fired by the government is not out of any sympathy for either him or for GM in general.

In fact, this whole thing by itself might not have really mattered to me at all.

But, you combine this with Obama's assertions that he needs to have the power to forcibly take over companies he feels that "we cannot let fail", and this gets a little disturbing to me.

Mike said...

But all that really matters is: Cutler has been traded to the Bears.

That and Jim Webb's prison reform ideas. Which rock.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I don't see critics of Obama being herded into jails or shot by Secret Police. That's because he's not a fascist and America is not a fascist regime.

I don't know... maybe it's just because the secret police are very effective at their duties?

Jacob Grier said...

Ben -- I'd like to know who you're reading who is sympathetic to GM. Most of the people I've seen writing about their concern about political control of the company were against the bailout and would have preferred to see GM go into bankruptcy, during which even worse things might have happened to it. I don't know how you read that as pro-GM bias.

Our objections are not about placing conditions on receipt of government money in the abstract. They're about the way they're being applied. Rules like "do not discriminate based on religious belief" are generally applicable and not to the benefit of any particular party, and are presumably decided on legislatively. Rules like "Obama says you gotta go" are not generally applicable. They are ad hoc, non-legislative, and open up the door to all sorts of corruption and cronyism within the executive branch. That's what has advocates of small government and free markets worried.

As for the definition of fascism -- You can choose your definition, but many would say that a key difference between socialism and fascism is that socialists owned the means of production directly while fascists exerted their control by other methods (monetary policy, exerting influence on corporate decisions, setting wages and prices, etc.). No, we are not yet in a fascist state. But the administration's current economic policies fit disturbingly well with that definition.

Ben said...

Okay, I think I get a better sense of your concern re: ad hoc, non-generally applicable rules. That makes sense.

But I still say that the fascism label is a political cheap shot meant to inspire an uncritical negative reaction. When people hear "fascism" they don't think of economic policies. They think of claims of racial superiority, secret police, forcible suppression of the opposition, and a dictator with absolute power. (Even if he has too much power, in some people's opinion, it's not near the level of unchecked power of, say, Hitler or Mussolini. You know, actual fascists?) People who bandy about the term "fascist" to describe Obama's policies know this and they don't care. Or rather, they want people to think of these things.

I'll say it again: It's insulting.

Jacob Grier said...

That's a fair point. Libertarians tend to see economic policies and civil rights as more closely related than the average person, part of our intellectual history coming out of the Austrian school of economics (Hayek's Road to Serfdom in particular). But you are right, those are not the aspects of fascism that most people think of when they hear the term.