In Which The Prof Works FLG’s Side of the Street

One of my regular reads is Fear and Loathing In Georgetown, and one of FLG’s favorite themes is that a key difference between the Left and Right is what he calls “time horizons.” As I understand it, he contends that liberals tend to take a much shorter frame of temporal reference, focusing on empirical points and immediate action, while conservatives tend to look at the longer term, with concern for such matters as unanticipated consequences, historical record, and so forth. (Major, before you launch on me, I must point out that when I’ve looked at historical issues for both Left and Right, you’ve acknowledged your relative disinterest on those matters and a “focus on the Now.”) I tend to try to look at the longer diachronic picture myself, not least because I study a period roughly a millennium long, looking at trends and ideas that develop over spans of centuries. Again, I’m not necessarily a medievalist because I lean Right, but I can see the connection.

In any case, I thought of this theory when I was reading Tim Kowal’s post on the Second Amendment at Notes From Babel. I occasionally hear anti-gun folks arguing that we:

1) Don’t need weapons to defend ourselves against what is essentially benign government (although Randy Weaver or Eurie Stamps might disagree), and

2) Would be wasting our time employing our privately owned weapons against, say, the Marines. (Of course, that seems to assume that overwhelming odds are never worth facing, as well as some other things.)

It’s that first point that comes under review in Kowal’s post. Even if we stipulate that the current government is well intentioned, that does not guarantee that such will always be the case:

Our Founders did not take for granted, as we do today, the stability of our political order. We don’t continue to honor the Second Amendment to protect a liberty interest in cutting down soda cans. We honor it because it is absolutely essential to the galvanizing idea underlying our political order: that our government serves by and through the people’s consent, and no version of that government could ever be deemed to have the power to strip the people of their means to exit that political order upon a declaration of a long train of violations of their natural rights.

Here, a short time horizon says, “The U.S. government is benign, so there is no need for violence against it, and perforce no need for some of what is ostensibly allowed by the Second Amendment.” The Founders, per Kowal, took a longer view, noticing that history indicates the phenomenon of government with the consent of the governed is the exception, rather than the rule. I’m glad they did, but as FLG might note, I would be.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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11 Responses to In Which The Prof Works FLG’s Side of the Street

  1. Interesting take. Perhaps helps to explain why the existence of substantiated data (e.g. medieval warm period, statistical correlation between sunspot activity and global temperatures) counter to their theory fails to transform ardent AGW believers (I chose this word specifically for the theological connotation) into skeptics.

    Or, how no amount of violence perpetrated by Jihadis around the globe seems to move the PC Left off it’s delusion the radicals aren’t in charge of Islam (as a “movement” that is).
    “Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

  2. majormaddog says:

    The flipside of my point of about my focus on the now is your predilection (and that of your fellow conservatives) to want to argue in grand philosophical terms without any consideration of how these great ideas of yours get actually implemented. There is a huge disconnect between, for example, your take on taxes and actual tax policy. Your focus is on how they’re bad and an example of the government stealing your money, but if I try to bring up the idea of where are you going to get the revenue for things that even you acknowledge we need in this country, then the conversation bogs down. Or take, for example, the conservative idea of how low taxes plus necessary spending cuts will bring us on the path back to a balanced budget. Your favored elected officials play smoke and mirrors with saying we can fix it all with cuts to everything but the items that need cuts. Your answer is to bemoan the fact that people will vote themselves bread and circuses and proclaim we’re all doomed, doomed I tell you. In the end, your conservatism seems to boil down to the idea that you think we’re doomed, so let’s keeps things the way they are right now (or even better 30 years ago) and then that doom can be put off for a little bit. My focus on the now is more like the hope that we can do something about that inevitable doom you’re talking about. And I’m able to do that because I don’t necessarily think that all change is bad.

    • I’m pretty sure that on the central question of entitlements – you are the one thinking “all change is bad.” Speaking for myself – born in 1963 – if I was given the choice to opt out of SS right now, invest my usual contribution into a private IRA, and just accept all previous contributions as a sunken cost – I’d take it as a better deal than SS offers. How’s that for change we can believe in?
      “Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

      • majormaddog says:

        That’s change that fits the conservative/right-wing ideology certainly. To the extent that Social Security NEEDS to be changed to fix the budget deficit and debt issues (Medicare/health care is a much more pressing issue), a change that I would support would be eliminating the cap on contributions (what is it now – you don’t pay SS tax on any income higher than $120k or so?) That would go a long way to fix the perceived problem with SS funding. Likewise, some sort of means testing would be a good change – make the program more into a social safety net than an overarching pension scheme for all retirees.

        But what the changes are is not my point really. Your idea and my ideas are potential fixes to part of a bigger problem that Republicans talk about but don’t really want to address responsibly.

  3. Major: FWIW, I would support both means testing and raising the cap on contributions.

    “Your idea and my ideas are potential fixes to part of a bigger problem that Republicans talk about but don’t really want to address responsibly.”

    Do you mean the problem of entitlements, or the problem that we’re broke? In either case, how do you think a private citizen should “address the problem responsibly”? I vote for the people I think most likely to do so. I write letters imploring them to do so. What do you think I should do? Chain myself to the White House railings until we get a balanced budget?

    • majormaddog says:

      When I said Republicans, I was more referring to the elected variety that bluster about how we can have no tax increases, can cut spending (except SS, Medicare, Defense of course), but still balance the budgets. You know, the kind who think a tax cut results in an increase in revenues right now (not some theoretical increase 5, 10, 20 years down the line when the economy becomes soooo awesomely better and more efficient from the low, low, low taxes).

  4. @Major: Let’s take ’em one at a time.

    1. Your Proposal to eliminate cap on SS contribution: We can take that up when the Treasury stops raiding the SS fund for current expenses. Until then, it’s a total non-starter.

    2. Your proposal to means-test pay outs: Acceptable, with one tweak – a guarantee to receive back every dollar contributed. I’ll even let the question of fair interest go unchallenged.

    3. I have a counter-proposal for a specific: Raise the retirement age to at or above life expectancy – where it was when FDR started the Ponzi scheme.
    “Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

    • majormaddog says:

      Mr. Liberty –

      With regard to the Treasury raiding comment, I’m not going to weigh in as an expert here, ’cause I’m really not that up on the exact way the finances work with SS, and it’s certainly possible you’ll be able to set me straight. However, I think you’re spouting the misinformed spin that many on the Right use when talking about the deficit and SS funding. The way I’ve heard it explained is that SS is currently in surplus. Considering demographics, the fund will eventually fall into deficit. The surplus fund (those not being paid out to retirees), just as any pension fund, is “invested” with the government using an accounting procedure technically equivalent to any private investor buying T-bills (or some such) – a low interest, low risk investment. I’m certainly interested in hearing if I have this wrong, but if this is the way it is, then that’s a different story than the Treasury raiding SS.

      • majormaddog says:

        As to your second point, your “tweak” isn’t really a tweak at all, but is a change of the system from what I’d consider to be a social safety net, to that of a contribution based retirement system. Where you save money with means testing is that people who paid more don’t necessarily get back as much as they paid in.

      • majormaddog says:

        On your third point, the problem with raising the retirement age is that it hits disproportionately hard on the working poor. The overall life expectancy in the U.S. has gone up, but a large part of that is due to improvement in infant mortality rates. The number of years worked past 65 has not increased as much proportionally as the overall life expectancy. Plus, raising the retirement age hurts the poor because they have probably worked pretty physical jobs most of their lives and a higher retirement age means more years having to work those physical jobs.

        I doubt we’re going to agree on too much as far as SS reform goes because your idea for reform will only include something taking it to a contribution based scheme and my side will only accept something which keeps it more as a social safety net for the elderly. If you ever decide to come over to my side, though, I’ll bet we can hash out some fixes for the system that would work just fine ;-).


        Paragraph 5 of this CBS News story is a succinct description of the IOUs written to the SS trust fund by Treasury over the years. It took me less than a minute on Google to isolate. It even identifies the building where these IOUs are kept. And since SS is now officially cash negative – paying out more than it takes in – Treasury has to buy back some of the IOUs – with *new borrowing* because discretionary spending is in deficit as well! That’s like you or me paying the mortgage with a credit card. It will not sustain.

        To your second point below – if my proposal turns it into a contribution based retirement system, then the investment is no better than stuffing a mattress. If you wish to position it as a social safety net (with means testing down the road), then you need to cap my exposure to loss. Or just drop the charade and run everything out off the general revenue ledger -which, btw, is the de facto reality per prior paragraph anyway.

        On your third point below, I think BHO’s deficit commission panel came up with a pretty good formula (and even ran out the actuarial math) for gradually raising the age – by 1 year every 25 years. It would be hardly noticed by recipients and go a long way toward balancing the books. Story here:

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