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The Jester, the Preacher, and the Tool

Republicans may call themselves conservatives but the core economic philosophy of the Republican Party is Neoliberalism. Each and every serious candidate in the Iowa primary subscribes to Neoliberalism, and this is one thing that makes it hard to choose between them. But each candidate has a characteristic relationship to Neoliberalism. I will propose that there are three basic relationships; the Jester, the Preacher, and the Tool. As examples I will be looking at Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney respectively.A good definition of Neoliberalism can be found in David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposed that human well being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skill within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate for such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defense, police, and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices) and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions (particularly in democracies) for their own benefit.

I think that this is a fair statement that none of the three (nor any of the Iowa also-rans) would disagree with. But I think that each of the three candidates has a certain relationship to these ideals that constitute the main differences between them; differences that can be characterized by the terms I have used above.


In European tradition, the Jester is a fool, but a certain kind of fool. Tradition has it that the Jester is able to say the harsh truths to the ruler that others cannot. His power isn't vested in some arbitrary ability to insult people. Rather, the Jester is a wise fool who is able to criticize people or a system in terms of their own stated ideals. He is allowed to call people hypocrites. Ron Paul is a wise fool in this sense. What makes his so aggravating to the Republican establishment and so attractive to people who really believe in Neoliberalism is that he demands that they be consistent with the libertarian underpinnings of that philosophy. The Republican Party as a whole has no intention of allowing themselves to be hamstrung by something like consistency, but it is really hard to argue with someone who says If you are really serious about playing by your own rules, this is what you would have to do and is right. Neoliberalism as a philosophy of liberty, while not against large government as such, is for narrow government, something that the Republicans have certainly not embraced since the Reagan years. Ron Paul would take the Party at its own narrow government word and leave the bankers and Afghans to their own devices. His wisdom is the wisdom of consistency; and there is where his foolishness is too, because a Party that supports the rich is not going to dismantle all of that wide and expensive support just to be consistent to some principles.

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, plays the foolish fool; the Preacher. He completely accepts Neoliberalism as the moral basis of the economic order, but this only forms the background of his Preacher act. For Santorum, the world consists of individuals and families. There really is no society, although there is a civilization based on aggregations of individuals and their values. The good society for Santorum is the Neoliberal free market, but filled with decent people. Since Neoliberalism in fact doesn't really care if people are decent or not (as we can certainly see from many things that Ron Paul has said), Santorum has to put the State in the role of coercing morality; a role that contradicts what the Neoliberal state is supposed to be. A manifestation of Santorum's incoherency is that he is both a Neoliberal and a Neoconservative at the same time. He doesn't just want to spread free markets like a good Neoliberal; he wants to spread American civilization like a good Neocon. What really makes him a Preacher is that he talks about liberty and then keeps pulling pet moral issues out of his hat for the entertainment of the crowd. He is the most successful of the morality Preachers on the circuit, having smoked Perry and Bachmann (in part by keeping his mouth shut about the economy). As a Catholic, he has embraced a sort of economic Calvinism married to Catholic personal morality, which is why as a Catholic I refer to him as a Roman Calvinist. He pays lip service to the plight of the poor (like everyone else does), but in fact he believes in the Gospel of Every Man For Himself.

And what about Romney the Tool? The gearing of the economy to meet the needs of the rich requires true flexibility, and no one is more flexible than Romney, which makes him the perfect Tool. Being a Mormon, his appeal to people who like a good Santorum Preacher act is limited. It's not that Romney doesn't belong to a strong and, in fact, perfectly conventional moral tradition. Pound for pound most Mormons probably put most Catholics to shame in regards to fidelity to their gospel. But since Romney is not a mainstream Christian, there are some things he cannot easily fake, like say, a Bush could. Still, in the world of high finance, Romney's tendency to flip flop is a plus. We are in unpredictable economic times and the last thing the Republican Establishment wants is someone that would be bound by principles (like the Jester) or by extraneous moral issues (like the Preacher). Calling the Republican nominee is going to be difficult. Ron Paul is attractive to some so-called independents; more so than either Santorum or Romney. But the Old Money is not going to trust him to do the right thing if some major government intervention is necessary on their behalf. Romney is not going to be strong with the people who want a Preacher; even Paul has been picking up evangelical support. Santorum could be strong among the Preacher vote and he is plain vanilla in his Neoliberalism to probably go along with what the rich want. But his moral positions are far too extreme for average America (he has a bit of the Jester in him too).In any case, I predict that the Republican side of the race will be around Jesters, Preachers, and Tools (Oh My!).

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And then there is this:"Soft, pale, creamy, untroubled, the English fruit fool is the most frail and insubstantial of English summer dishes. That at any rate is how it should be, and how we like to think it always was."Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/lifestyles/food-and-cooking/article_8973ce9d-2871...

Very astute. That's why I liked Huckabee because he actually wasn't a conventional neoliberal. And, of course, that is why the money people had to sack him.I enjoyed your Relic Thief in the print edition. I think the editing improved it over the version blogged here.

Thanks U: excellent analysis.ISTM: The Free Market is a huge hurdle for neo-liberals. The U.S. doesn't have one and none of the Repubs, including Paul, are really capable of creating one. We can all think of examples where government subsidies, regulations, and barricades prevent a truly free market (sometimes to the good, sometimes not). EG. The subsidies for corn syrup that subvent corn farmers, Archer Daniels Midland, etc., are also making American fat, especially children. Who is going to take away the subsidies so there is a free market in sweeteners? Ron Paul, the most likely to do this, wouldn't last a day in the WH; not to worry he'll never get there.

Do I detect in the estimable Unagidon's analysis the mentality of a neo-Waldensian with a partiality toward paleo-Saint-Simonianism, all of which he skillfully crafts to appeal to the paleo-neo-nominalists of the centripetaloid and confused center-left?Or perhaps my thought is merely a case of "Obscurumper obscurius" - - Explaining the obscure through the more obscure.

I don't know whether to say I've been busted or not!

"I enjoyed your Relic Thief in the print edition. I think the editing improved it over the version blogged here."I'm trying get my husband more Catholic-ized, so snuck an e-subscription to Commonweal Magazine on his Kindle a couple of months ago. I think he is starting to read it; he was much taken by a story about a kid who dressed up like St Patrick and an 80 something year old blind grandmother who is a cop with a gun. That sounds like Mr Unagidon; if so, thank you for furthering my family's spiritual development.

Patrick ==It seems to me that there is a certain objectivity clarifying the political waters these days Everyone is extremely dissatisfied with practically all the pols, so we're actually considering what the other side has to say. It happened to Obama immediately, and that was tragic because he leaned too far to the right fiscally. (His original impulse was Keynesian, but he got nothing in return from the financial segment.) So we're all re=adusting our political spectacles. Lots of trifocals where there used to be, maybe bifocals, e.g., paleo-neo-nominalists :-) I find myself reading David Frum daily. Sigh.(Should one be Keynesian in a recession and Hayekian in good times? Those two knew and respected each other, actually.)

Without quibbling with any of Unagidon's characterizations, which seem more or less apt, it just seems to me that neither Paul nor Santorum are driven primarily by economic philosophy. Paul's animating spirit is primarily political: the gospel of Libertarianism and personal freedom taken to the absurd extreme. That has economic repercussions, but also touches on a number of other areas of human life, e.g. a President Paul would screw up foreign policy at least as badly as he would the economy. I see Santorum as driven primarily by faith and values. Again, there is an economic dimension, but it's broader than that. I don't see Santorum as a very deep or original thinker on economic philosophy. I guess I give Paul points for originality, but it is originality of a rather unfortunate variety.

"Should one be Keynesian in a recession and Hayekian in good times? "Probably.An interesting question in that respect is whether these actually are recessionary times. As measured by GDP, we've been growing slowly, or at least not shrinking, for a number of quarters now. But unemployment numbers are not at recovery levels. Given that mixed bag, to we go Keynesian or Hayekian? Krugman is screaming himself hoarse for more Keynesian intervention - if you read the column linked here, you will need to clean the the flecks of his spittle from your eyeglasses, if you use them - but Washington, and the nation at large, are not thinking in those terms.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/opinion/krugman-nobody-understands-deb...

Presidential politics aside, I can't help but conclude when I read the above definition that American politics today is essentially an argument over a stronger or weaker version of Neoliberalism, each party having its foregoing characters. Take financial market reform - both Obama & Huntsman's support and opposition to Dodd-Frank, respectively, is rooted in arguments over what is best for the market. Moreover, it is an undeniable fact that, for all the President's rhetoric about Wall Street, the largest financial institutions have only gotten bigger since he took office (is it any wonder that the lion's share of campaign contributions from the financial services sector continue to flow, then, to the President?). And although it went entirely unheeded here (not Randian enough I suppose) for all his rhetoric, Paul Ryan teamed up with Ron Wyden to release a Medicare reform proposal last month that keeps his essential framework - premium support - but also preserves the status quo as a choice that future Medicare participants can elect.In light of this, I can't help but futher conclude that each party (or if you prefer in their more pristine varieties, OWS & the Tea Party) are essentially half right and half wrong. The Left is rightly concerned about the now-solidified wage stagnation and its accompanying inequalities. And the Right correctly points out both that the Left tends to underestimate the contribution its preferred solution - government intervention in increasing sectors - tends to contribute to the problem (larger numbers of dollars increasingly go to the not-so-poor, slightly-upper middle class older voter) and that the winners from those programs tend to be particular interest groups (Solyndra, organized labor, and, politicians themselves).All this made David Brooks's suggestion in his column yesterday that if someone managed to find common ground between Rick Santorum voters on the Right and Sherrod Brown (I prefer Elizabeth Warren) voters on the Left, you'd have a potent political coalition, thought-provoking to me.

I'll agree with Jeff that Democrats and Republicans both tend to be neoliberals nowadays and to a great degree one is just voting for a particular flavor. I'll say to Jim that this underlying strain of neoliberalism is the most important thing about all of the candidates and the flavors cover up what I think should be the main issue.My problem with neoliberalism is that I think it is a heresy and it is opposed in principle to Catholic social teaching, whatever neoliberals on the left or right say about the poor. I almost wrote the blog about that, but I am no scholar of heresies and I didn't want to get bogged down in definitions of heresy. But neoliberalism is the single most important thing that has happened to the United States in the last 25 years. The grinding down of all people and all things into an alienated world proletariat is what is really behind our moral problems. So when someone (and I'll use Santorum here, but it probably applies to everyone running to one degree or another) talks on and on about personal morality as though our basic socio-economic system is neutral and just in need of some moral tightening up, I get, well, angry actually. I don't think that the question of whether neoliberalism transfers risks away from the rich and transfers assets towards them is even a question any more. Nor should we be under any illusions about whether favoring this class (and it IS a class) will lead to any mythical job creation. It never has. A pox on all their houses.

Amen to that.

The grinding down of all people and all things into an alienated world proletariat is what is really behind our moral problems. So when someone (and Ill use Santorum here, but it probably applies to everyone running to one degree or another) talks on and on about personal morality as though our basic socio-economic system is neutral and just in need of some moral tightening up, I get, well, angry actually.This NY Times article on income mobility may be of interest.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/us/harder-for-americans-to-rise-from-l...

Sorry, the first paragraph in my previous comment was copied from a comment by Unagidon. I neglected to enclose it in quotation marks.

"Ill agree with Jeff that Democrats and Republicans both tend to be neoliberals nowadays and to a great degree one is just voting for a particular flavor."unagidon --Back in the80's Alasdair MacIntyre made the point (see his After Virtue) that both parties descend from the optimism of the Enlightement's view of man as naaturally perfectible. He rejected both the individualism of the conservatives and the bureaucracy of the liberals. In a later book, Dependent Rational Animals, he argued against the libertarians, pointing out that even a biological consideration of humans shows that human beings are intrinsically vulnerable, that they need the help of others to flourish, and the notion of providing all one needs for oneself is simply impossible for human beings.He is wearing very well indeed.

Jim P. --Thanks for pointing out the Krugman article. It sums up what he's been saying for years now. He has said from the beginning of the economic crisis that even given the size of TARP, it still wasn't big enough. Looks like he was right. We'll just have to inch back up the ladder to economic well-being unless the conservatives get over their unjustified fear-of-debt and start significant federal spending. Krugman's last sentence below is the lesson they need to learn: "Deficit-worriers portray a future in which were impoverished by the need to pay back money weve been borrowing. They see America as being like a family that took out too large a mortgage, and will have a hard time making the monthly payments.This is, however, a really bad analogy in at least two ways.First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments dont all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base."

unagidon --It seems to me that Santorum and Paul are not as far as they seem. Paul says individuals ought to care for themselves, and if they don't they'll just fail and it won't affect the other hard-working individuals. His society is sort of a social atomism. For Santorum, on the the other hand, the unit that should take care of itself is the family. He sort or romanticizes what families are capable of. They're not atoms, but they're relatively simple social molecules. I think he gets a lot of his rhetoric about "family" from the American bishops, but the bishops don't make his mistake of underestimating what families need from neighbors and extended family -- and government.

Rather than spending all this time and typing on politicians and imagined ideologies, why not discuss issues? All this political handicapping makes me think of what sports talk must be like in bars. Too much knocking and too little building up, too much showing off a little knowledge and too little trying to learn.Ah, well. As you were.

David S. --The reason we have to talk about ideologies is because that's what this crop of politicians talk about. They don't go into depth as to *why* they think their ideologies are correct. And, I must admit, most journalists these days don't hold their feet to the fire and force them to answer pointed questions. Only when Americans become truly interested in what the pols are thinking will the journalists shape up.

First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments dont all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base.

For family or individual or government, debt reduces future flexibility in return for instant gratification. And long-term debt shifts responsibility away from oneself onto others.

"Rather than spending all this time and typing on politicians and imagined ideologies, why not discuss issues?"You need not be (a) concerned (troll). I do discuss the issue of neoliberalism. It looks to me like you don't think this is an issue.

"For family or individual or government, debt reduces future flexibility in return for instant gratification. And long-term debt shifts responsibility away from oneself onto others."It's not that simple. You are completely ignoring debt as investment which increases future flexibility and postpones gratification. All modern economies run on this kind of debt; if they didn't, one would not be able to control inflation via interest rates. Families incur this kind of debt as well, not only when they take out loans for their own small businesses, but when they take out loans for education. One can also argue that housing debt is a kind of investment a family (or person) makes to enter a particular community for the family's long term advantage.You are also ignoring what kind of national debt we are talking about and who the "others" are that have to pay it back. GW, for example, pushes through a major tax cut for the rich. Instead of using this money to create jobs (as their paid mouthpieces claim they do) they speculate on real estate or use the money to move jobs from the United States. This also creates a deficit that the country needs to cover by borrowing (from abroad). The interest payment on this debt (as well as the payment of the principle) now becomes the responsibility of the middle class and the working class. In effect, GW took out a loan for the rich that has to be paid back by everyone else.I can practically feel you thinking at this point that the rich pay more taxes than anyone else. Let's pretend this is true. They still get 100 percent of the benefit of the "loan" they got, but they don't have to pay back 100 percent of the liability. The nature of the "loan" that the rich got is also different from money borrowed to actually provide jobs or benefits for the middle and working classes. We are back in the area of investment. The bad thing isn't that we have a deficit. Almost every business runs one. It's that we spent the money on the rich(!) and on a bunch of useless wars rather than on investing it in something useful for the country as a whole. We are stuck now with a deficit AND the need to invest in things that support the general population. What the Republicans want is to reduce all social services, "privatize" Social Security and Medicare and basically gut current programs to pay back the debts the rich ran up or hold (the debt run up in the great real estate speculation is still on the books of the rich at their original inflated "value") on the backs of everyone else. That's what an IMF style austerity program is about.

I would agree with you, unagidon, that the rabidly individualist turn in late 20th century capitalism, and therefore politics, is an insidious evil. I concluded after a few classes in the political science department infused with economic & political utilitarianism that the more interesting debate wasn't between more or less conservative/liberal individualists, but between individualism and communitarianism, of which there are obviously conservative and liberal flavors. I think Catholic Social Teaching falls squarely in the communitarian camp, which is why it transcends the current American political sphere. I also think a shift to a more communitarian politics would restore some of the virtues of political & economic life that have seemingly evaporated. For all their problems, I can't imagine what you call in your original post "Old Money" honestly believing it would be ok to bet against your own clients, and to make millions off your clients losing the bet.However, and as EJ Dionne, Ross Douthat, and David Brooks show, I do think you're not giving Santorum enough credit for tying his personal morality to economic and social justice. As Brooks writes in his column this am:"One of Santorums strengths is that he understands that a nation isnt just an agglomeration of individuals; its a fabric of social relationships. In his 2005 book, It Takes a Family, he had chapters on economic capital as well as social capital, moral capital, cultural capital and intellectual capital. He presents an extended argument against radical individualism. Just as original sin is mans inclination to try to walk alone without God, individualism is mans inclination to try to walk alone among his fellows, he writes." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/opinion/brooks-a-new-social-agenda.htm...

It was Margaret Thatcher who said "there is no society; there are only individuals". She was forced to amend this and say "there is no society; there are only families". This is what Santorum believes and it's the same thing. The family is a moral unit with its own dynamic just as the individual is. But Santorum wants to treat the family as THE social unit; this is neoliberalism and it makes him no different from radical individualists.

Unagidon - I agree with much of your response to David S., but here I think you fall seriously off into the mistaken liberal argument I mentioned above: "What the Republicans want is to reduce all social services, privatize Social Security and Medicare and basically gut current programs to pay back the debts the rich ran up or hold (the debt run up in the great real estate speculation is still on the books of the rich at their original inflated value) on the backs of everyone else. Thats what an IMF style austerity program is about."As I said above, I think this exemplifies how liberals ignore the contribution the big entitlement programs like SS (less so) and Medicare (especially so) have made to the reaping of the "loan" by the rich. More and more of these dollars go towards the not-so-poor older voter. So I think you mistakenly characterize conservative reforms as simply gutting or privatizing, when, as Paul Ryan has consistently said, it is about ensuring these programs meet their intended goal. This is why I find the tax debate so stale; yes, the rich should actually PAY taxes (which would mean ipso facto that they will pay more), but you can tax them 100% and the structural problems remain.

"But Santorum wants to treat the family as THE social unit; this is neoliberalism and it makes him no different from radical individualists."I simply see no evidence that this is what he is saying. Its what you're saying what he's saying. But cest la vie.

One of Santorums strengths is that he understands that a nation isnt just an agglomeration of individuals; its a fabric of social relationships. In his 2005 book, It Takes a Family, he had chapters on economic capital as well as social capital, moral capital, cultural capital and intellectual capital. He presents an extended argument against radical individualism. Just as original sin is mans inclination to try to walk alone without God, individualism is mans inclination to try to walk alone among his fellows, he writes.He's also against "radical feminists": "The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness." (I thought orignal sin was "man's" desire for knowledge. Odd, imho, to consider individualism and a desire for knowledge sinful.)

Unagidon - I don't believe you've pegged Rick Santorum exactly right.Do read the Brooks column that Jeff linked to above. here's some more reading, if you or anyone is interested:EJ Dionne: http://billingsgazette.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnists/e_j_dionne/... Gerson: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/rick-santorum-and-the-return-of-c... find Santorum's embrace of Catholic social teaching, and his serious application of it to real world problems, to be intriguing and exciting. It seems he's a very long shot to win the nomination. But I'd think we can all be glad to see Catholic teaching being injected into a presidential race.

"As I said above, I think this exemplifies how liberals ignore the contribution the big entitlement programs like SS (less so) and Medicare (especially so) have made to the reaping of the loan by the rich."I don't feel as though I am speaking as a "liberal" when I say that the so-called "entitlement" programs (which are actually insurance programs) had nothing to do with creating the deficit in the first place. (A partial exception was Bush's sweetheart deal with the drug companies). They only become an "issue" because of a deficit that was caused by something else (such as running two wars and having a deep tax cut at the same time). The problem is that we won't get off the track of spending on "defense" as much as the rest of the world put together and we won't stop bailing out Wall Street.As far as gutting is concerned, the GOP definitely wants to gut the programs by both down overall spending (that is, benefits) and by privatizing them which will hand them over to the tender speculative mercies of the market. We have already seen how the free market works in healthcare and the stock market.

"For family or individual or government, debt reduces future flexibility in return for instant gratification. And long-term debt shifts responsibility away from oneself onto others""David S. --True. And my old generation in the past paid for the debts of our older generations which went before us. And besides that my generation has paid a huge portion of the grand new infrastructure of schools, highways and churches, etc. after WW II. (And please note that your generation seems unwilling to even repair that infrastructure.)I usually can't stand Heideggerian nonsense, but he had one great insight: that people live in time and that human lives can be understood only over a period of time in the long human historical process. Individual lives are not lived in an instant, and Iindividual lives overlap. We have to look at each person within its own time period nad then see if we can really compare them.

"I dont feel as though I am speaking as a liberal when I say that the so-called entitlement programs (which are actually insurance programs) had nothing to do with creating the deficit in the first place."And I don't speak as a conservative either in saying that the rapidly growing rise in heatlh care spending entitlements is and will continue to contribute to the growing deficit. The statement is less about the past and more about what is the not-so-distant future. Health care spending will soon eat up the federal budget. It is not liberal or conservative to conclude so, it is arithmetic. I agree on your point re: the unfunded wars, but your total denial of the increasing contribution of health care spending is simply unsubstantiated.And I'm pretty sure what you term "Bush's sweetheart deal with the drug companies" was one of those rare (and much heralded) breakouts of bipartisanship, as I seem to recall some big heavies on the Democratic side pushing the deal, too."The problem is that we wont get off the track of spending on defense as much as the rest of the world put together and we wont stop bailing out Wall Street."But this is true under the current administration as well. Again, since 2008, the biggest banks have gotten bigger. I'd suggest a vote for Jon Huntsman would change that."by privatizing them which will hand them over to the tender speculative mercies of the market. "Have you read the Ryan-Wyden proposal? Rivlin-Domenici? Bowles-Simpson?"We have already seen how the free market works in healthcare"Well, actually, no we haven't.

This discussion is very interesting and I thank everyone for the helpful links which have really clarified my thinking. One point: I agree with unagidon that entitlements is an incorrect term. I would go one step further than insurance programs and call them earned benefits. Words do shape attitudes--especially when repeated endlessly by politicians!

I use the word "entitlements" in no disparaging manner at all; except that they represent duties owed to recipients.

"I use the word entitlements in no disparaging manner at all; except that they represent duties owed to recipients."Like a cheeseburger could be called an entitlement by someone eating in a restaurant?

" You are completely ignoring debt as investment...unagidon --Once again this is exactly what the super=conservatives don't understand. Call borrowing for expansion an "investment" and they're all for it. Call call borrowing to create jobs and they call it "socialism". Economics should be taught in the high schools. There IS some agreed upon content that kids can master. They at least need to learn the basic vocabulary so they can talk about it without being blinded by ideological prejudices.

.

Its not that simple. You are completely ignoring debt as investment which increases future flexibility and postpones gratification. All modern economies run on this kind of debt; if they didnt, one would not be able to control inflation via interest rates. Families incur this kind of debt as well, not only when they take out loans for their own small businesses, but when they take out loans for education. One can also argue that housing debt is a kind of investment a family (or person) makes to enter a particular community for the familys long term advantage.

That's the rationalization, but it's still reducing future possibilities and flexibility and often shifting the burden to others for doing what one wants to do now. Taking on debt should never, I think, be a common recourse, but an exceptional action taken only reluctantly after first looking for other options. Debt always involves betting on the future.

David S. --Yes, debt is a bet on the future. And as I understand the economists, it is because American industry was willing to take on debt rather easily that it was enabled to build such a vast and unusually successful economic machine. It's the timid folk who don't get rich.Here's an article about Karl Wittgenstein, Ludwig's father, and his family. From modest beginnings Karl W. built the largest pre-WWII European fortune except for the Rothschild's. He was so rich that even after he had lost a chunk of his forutnte, he still had 13 major houses in Vienna, including the palace they lived in. Here's what he had to say about a businessman's taking risks: 'He must be prepared to gamble everything on a single card when the moment demands, even at the risk of failing to reap the fruits that he had hoped to gain, losing his initial stake and having to start again from scratch.'Unfortunately, our current so-called American "capitalists" aren't willing at the moment to invest/risk that 7T American dollars they have sitting in the bank thanks to government welfare for the rich.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3559463/The-Wittgensteins-Viennese-wh...'s a fascinating article about a most extraordinary family. Not a happy one, however.

I actually prefer the word "entitlements" to the suggestion of "earned benefits". We should be entitled to these benefits because there are certain basic things, such as medical care and basic economic security, to which all human beings are entitled - they are human rights. "Earned benefits" also lends undeserved credence to the fiction that the Medicare and Social Security payouts that we receive upon retirement are our own personal contributions. In reality, the contributions we make during our working career are funding current retirees. When we retire, it is the next generations' contributions that support us.

Jim --Yes, theoretically the younger generation helps fund the older generation's retirement, and when the younger one becomes the older one they too will be funded by the even younger generation.However, when the younger generation is only *borrowing* to pay for the old folks retirement can they be said to be paying for the old folks retirement? Looks to me like they are just handing down their responsibilities to the grandchildren.

Ann, many businessmen risk a lot and many fail. We hear only of those who succeed. Gambling on the future is a foolish thing to do. It takes a special kind of fool to even have a small chance of succeeding at it. You can plan prudently, of course, and should. That's dealing with probabilities. Isn't it far better for governments to plan prudently than to gamble?Of course, it all depends on definitions. One man's gamble is another prudent plan. Beyond the principle, there's probably no chance of agreement.

We should be entitled to these benefits because there are certain basic things, such as medical care and basic economic security, to which all human beings are entitled they are human rights.

Ouch. "Rights" are imaginary constructs, political buttons. You can assume the dignity of man, but what you do what that concept is purely political. You're conscience bound to do something, but whatever you do, don't claim God told you to do it. It's your decision, and it's arbitrary.

"Rights are imaginary constructs, political buttons. You can assume the dignity of man, but what you do what that concept is purely political. Youre conscience bound to do something, but whatever you do, dont claim God told you to do it. Its your decision, and its arbitrary."This seems rather cynical for a Catholic position (if you are speaking in that sense).Rights are about justice and I think that we believe that there is such a tangible thing as justice. How justice is served of course changes as society gets more resources. Different people will also have different interests within justice that will pit them against each other. (A "different interest" is the particular place that a particular person is likely to suffer injustice; not everyone is positioned to suffer the same injustices.)Since this is in flux it might look arbitrary, but I don't think that one can say that it therefore does not exist or can't develop.

"Isnt it far better for governments to plan prudently than to gamble?Of course, it all depends on definitions. One mans gamble is another prudent plan. Beyond the principle, theres probably no chance of agreement."David S, --You seem to be assuming that risks never involve probabilities. Not so, and these days corporations spend a lot of money trying to figure out just what the mathematical probabilities are that certain decisions will have a favorable outcome. There's a whole discipline now called "decision theory", which includes math (lots of statistics), psych, economics and whaever. Prudence is relative to ones station. A man with 10 kids may not take the risks a 20 year old with none might take. But let's consider Karl Wittgenstein again. He had 8 kids, but was a major billionaire by today's standards. He shouldn't take risks? Or take the billionaire Irishman who is helping Haiti mightily (read about him in today's NYT). He's working like a Trojan to improve the Haitian situation including its economy. He shouldn't take risks by investing there?There is such a thing as taking *foolish* risks. But not taking non-foolish ones is also risky -- it can leave you with less than you need when you need it.You keep saying "It all depends on definition". Nonsense, That couldn't be further from the truth. Definitions are just descriptions of possibilities. It's the *realities* that economics depends on, and it doesn't make any difference whose vocabulary you use to describe the economic facts and relationships -- and risks.