Learning Notes Week of April 24
4 hours ago
The murmurs about Barack Obama being forced out began in Berlin and Beijing. After his party lost the midterm vote, there were hints that a government of technocrats would be imposed on America, to save the country from a debt crisis and the world from a depression.Reading news stories about the European financial crisis, it seems clear that some radical getting of the financial house in order, no matter how unpopular, is very much needed. And since it's not our government getting told to replace itself and take action, popular sentiment be damned, it's easy to see this as yet another turn over of far away countries which are, after all, younger and less stable (in their current incations) than ours. Still, I think Douthat's piece serves well to illustrate the enormity of what's happening (however necessary it may be under the circumstances) and the inherently undemocratic nature of the EU as it currently stands.
As the debt-ceiling negotiations stalled out over the summer, a global coalition — led by Germany, China and the International Monetary Fund — began working behind the scenes to ease Obama out of the White House. The credit downgrade was the final blow: the president had lost the confidence of the world’s shadow government, and his administration could no longer survive.
Within days, thanks to some unusual constitutional maneuvering, Obama resigned the presidency and Michael Bloomberg was invited to take the oath of office. With Beijing issuing veiled threats against our currency, Congress had no choice but to turn the country’s finances over to the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of 6, which in turn acceded to Chinese and German “supervision” of their negotiations. Meanwhile, there was a growing consensus in Europe and Asia that only a true global superstate could prevent the debt contagion from spreading ...
FOR Americans, the scenario I’ve just imagined is a paranoid fantasy, the kind of New World Order nightmare that haunts the sleep of black-helicopter watchers and Trilateral Commission obsessives.
But for the inhabitants of Italy and Greece, who have just watched democratically elected governments toppled by pressure from financiers, European Union bureaucrats and foreign heads of state, it evokes the cold reality of 21st-century politics. Democracy may be nice in theory, but in a time of crisis it’s the technocrats who really get to call the shots. National sovereignty is a pretty concept, but the survival of the European common currency comes first.
In a modern democratic state, two things are true of any policy agenda:
1. You eventually have to pay for it, with actual money.
2. You have to get those bastards on the other side to agree to it.
We seem to have an electorate who believes neither of these things, and the political class has followed them.
If someone has made up their mind to do something evil, is there any benefit to them if someone else prevents them from carrying out their intended action?...I think you're right that often someone who has decided to do something wrong hasn't, for whatever reason, really contemplated all of the consequences of the action, and so is saved from something if prevented from committing the act decided on.
Virtue ethics (my usual framework) suggest that nothing much is achieved for the perpetrator. Once you’ve psyched yourself up to do a bad thing and overridden your qualms, the damage to your character has been done; carrying out the crime isn’t marginally worse for your soul. I think Catholic moral teaching might come to the same conclusion, since the moral actor has already given deliberate and complete consent to the act based on full knowledge of the gravity of the act.
But my philosophical intuitions don’t quite jibe with that conclusion. I suspect that a lot of the time, we end up surprised by the gravity of what we’ve done – that people rarely give manage deliberate and complete consent based on full knowledge....
|This picture sold for $4.3 million|
I find the automatic response of some commenters interesting: the claim that things are worth simply what people are willing to pay for them has the direct implication that nothing can be overpriced or underpriced; that there are no bargains and no bad deals; that, in fact, it is impossible to price anything unjustly as long as someone will pay it. Nobody actually believes such nonsense; everyone attributes value and disvalue to things by comparisons that have nothing to do with the actual price paid, and we all can make perfect sense of saying that somebody paid too much for something, or that a price is too high even if someone will pay it. The conditions under which price paid can reasonably be said to track the worth of the thing in question are not universal; in part because other things beside the thing bought can be factored into deliberation about price. Status signaling, for instance, which can at times have virtually nothing to do with the thing bought. Nor is it plausible to identify actual worth with attributed worth in the absence of any consideration of practical or moral rationality. But it is interesting how easily people will swallow such an incoherent principle, merely because they have the notion that it’s ‘economics’.This brings up an interesting conflict between price and worth. Something's price is determined by some balance between how much those who want an item are willing to pay for it, how much those who currently have the item are willing to accept in return for it, and the supply of items on hand. Something like this photograph becomes particularly tricky because the article being sold (a particular print, mounted a particular way, with, one assumes, some implicit agreement as to how many identical items the original photographer will or will not allow to be produced) is unique. Thus, it only takes one potential buyer with (to use my mother's phrase) "more money than good sense" to set the price very high indeed. Because it is determined by willingness to pay, price is necessarily volatile at times, especially when you're dealing with something like this.