Friday, December 23, 2011

#100: The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Proseprity by Matt Miller

Times Books: New York. 258 pages

Well, this is it, 100 books in one year. Would it be that this book was in the top 10 of the year, or the top 50. The first half of the text, which deals with Mr. Miller's Dead Ideas, is excellent, reasoned and well argued. I found myself nodding in agreement with most of his points, especially those about taxes (should be higher) and schools (should be nationalized). Most of Miller's points are diametrically opposed to the talking points of both parties.

Take taxes, for instance. He quotes Wagner's Law, which posits that as people get more affluent, they demand more of the services (police, schools, strong military) that only government can provide. (90) He also points out the idea that taxes have little or no effect on income levels; the argument of "putting more money in consumer's pockets" is misleading. (102) The real problem is one of low wages, which torpedoes his arguments on globalization.

If Wagner's law is true, then as wages drop or remain stagnant (as they have in real dollars for the vast majority of people since the 1980s) then we should be asking for less government services, not more. Defense spending is still through the roof, and the money bomb that is Medicare and Social Security is not far off. Miller does allow that we need less protectionism and more protection for those who get hurt. I agree, but we will not get that in an age where

1. The average hedge fund CEO makes 12,000 times as much in a year as the average American family. Why would they give that up without a Progressive movement making them do so? Meaning a Progressive Movement with actual balls, not limos. (141) To his credit, Miller quotes historian Michael McGerr, who wrote that people will revolt only when the plutocrats attempt to set themselves up as a new aristocracy. I agree, but that has to come from the bottom. The political elites and the plutocrats are the same people. Why else would Mitt Romney not want to release his tax returns? Why else are 54% of the US Senate millionaires as of 2010?

2. With businesses paying multiple millions in lobbying costs to get billions of federal dollars, who do you think will be protected? The owners of these businesses. The rest of us will get low paying service jobs with little or no bennies. I do agree that business needs to get out of the health insurance business, which may allow higher wages. But I doubt it. Call me cynical, but since corporations are people (shareholders, that is) they have been proven over and over again to be more important than the workforce.

In any event, the Dead Ideas that Miller points out are right on, but his remedies are vague and uninspiring. For example, this on making education better: "institutionalize skeptical thinking, challenges to orthodoxy and questioning of fundamental premises." (232) That sounds great! Have you ever actually tried it? I have multiple times, and am tired of reaping the "benefits": charges that I indoctrinate students, am a liberal bull shit artist, a fraud, cruel and a jerk. And that is just from the parents in the last 4 years. God knows what my bosses think, but I have a pretty good idea. America loves individualism but abhors the individual. Unless they are rich or a celebrity. Then we are supposed to forgo our individuality and act like them. I suppose this is what Miller is railing about.

1 comment:

  1. Quite right..and depressing. I like your statement about America and our "value" of individualism. Congratulations on Book 100, Barney! I hope you continue to read, write, rant, reflect, irritate, and inspire. I, for one, have enjoyed the journey through your blog.