hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Friday, February 11, 2011
Keynes - A Treatise On Money (1930)

It has been usual to think of the accumulated wealth of the world as having been painfully built up out of that voluntary abstinence of individuals from the immediate enjoyment of consumption, which we call Thrift. But it should be obvious that mere abstinence is not enough by itself to build cities or drain fens.

. . .It is Enterprise which builds and improves the world's possessions… If Enterprise is afoot, wealth accumulates whatever may be happening to Thrift; and if Enterprise is asleep, wealth decays whatever Thrift may be doing.

We can't spend our way out. We can't cut our way out. We can only work our way out. Increasing spending is worthless indulgence if it fails to create jobs. Cutting spending is worthless masochism if it reduces or fails to create jobs. And since government borrowing capacity is a finite resource, the most important policy metric is "extra jobs created" / "extra amount of externally held debt incurred". If it means the jobs created are public-sector entry-level jobs, so be it. We can worry about the composition of the workforce, and increasing the share of private sector workers, once we're at full employment.

Note that if the Fed monetizes the deficit, by buying up some government debt, that doesn't count against the jobs created / externally held government debt metric. So unorthodox monetary policy has some role to play, IMO, in getting us out of this jobs crisis as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A plea to seasoned citizens: We'll protect your Social Security & Medicare, you support full-employment policies.

National Down Syndrome Congress - Medicaid Funding Shortfalls Threaten Community Services

The state of Arizona has asked the federal government for permission to change maintenance of effort provisions for the federal/state Medicaid program because of a substantial increase in state Medicaid spending. Several other states are expected to try doing the same because of Medicaid costs.

If states change standards without a federal government waiver, they risk losing federal funding which would devastate the program and individuals who rely on Medicaid for services. Medicaid is the primary source of funding for support services for adults to live and work in the community.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides several options to help reduce spending on Medicaid including:

· The Community Living Assistance Supports and Services (CLASS) Act , a voluntary insurance program which offers employees with disabilities (including part-time employees) or their employers the opportunity to purchase long-term insurance by paying monthly premiums.

· A rebalancing initiative which financially rewards states for increasing the percentage it spends on community v. institutional services.

· The Community First Choice option which financially rewards states for providing community services for individuals on the waiting list. States must make services available statewide, with no caps or targeting by age, severity of disability, or any other criteria. Services must be provided in the most integrated setting appropriate, given an individual’s needs.

To read more about state efforts and concerns, go to Kaiser Health News

National Network of Abortion Funds - How are women's lives affected?

. . .My husband and I have five children. We love kids and we love having a big family. But when my husband got laid off from his contractor job, having a big family got really hard.

When I found out I was pregnant again, it was terrifying. . .

. . .An abortion fund. Who knew, right?

They gave us what we needed.

And when I broke down on the phone and admitted that we didn't even have gas money to get to the clinic, they helped us with that, too.

So now I pay the pawn shop every month to keep our things -- my wedding ring and my husband's tools are the only ones we can afford to pay on. And if you miss a month, the payment is doubled from then on. So we're stuck in this cycle. We'll be paying for this abortion for a long time.

But the panic is gone. The rest of it, well...we'll figure it out. We'll do whatever we have to do to take care of our family.

Especially after living in a poor country, you realize that it's not a given that that there exist institutions where people in trouble can go to. Pseudoscandals aside, does anyone doubt that Planned Parenthood is a valuable institution that does valuable work? When there's a scandal in the military, we don't contemplate throwing away the military. Why, in response to some manufactured outrage, do we consider threatening institutions like Planned Parenthood?

Dorothy L Sayers - Begin Here: a statement of faith (1941)

. . .I fear we may forget the paradoxical nature of these things. . .peace can be preserved only by unremitting vigilance. . .prosperity is the reward of hard work and hard living. . .security dwells in the midst of danger. . .(vii)

. . .it does not matter that the arguments are inconsistent: the aim is to set the good against the good by attacking every virtue on its more vulnerable side, and so divide and rule. . .that tendency to split up the nature of mankind. . .into a number of distinct and mutually incompatible "absolutes". . .(x)

God the and poets. . .have an unpleasant habit of stimulating searching inquiry into meanings and motives, and it pays better to push them away into water-tight compartments, where their dangerous habit of synthesizing human activities can exert no control on public affairs. .(xi)

. . .the first step towards constructing the kind of world he wants is to decide the kind of person he is, and ought to be. Dorothy L. Sayers (Christmas, 1940) (xii)

War is an ugly disaster; it is not a final catastrophe. Whatever men may have said in their haste and terror, let us get that fact firmly into our heads. There are no final catastrophes. Like every other historical event, war is not an end, but a beginning.

Nobody can wish to minimize the evil wrought by war; it stares us in the face; but we must not so exaggerate the power of evil as to fall into lethargy and despair. This is not to give the devil his due, but to hand over the whole business to him, lock, stock, and barrel. . .While time lasts there will always be a future, and that future will hold both good and evil, since the world is made to that mingled pattern. . . (3)

. . .It is important, I think, to realize that the future does not exist "in the future", vaguely and far off, but here and now. Second by second it is upon us. . .When things look dark and difficult, there is a very natural tendency to procrastinate - to push the future away into the future. . .That will not do. . .(4)

Great literature calls upon us to remember what we are. . .sentimental literature invites us to forget what we are. . .(10-11)

. . .Nothing is more cruel to the young than to tell them that the world is made for youth. It is a lie that we do not believe; or why do we lament so bitterly for those whom war or accident has cut off in the flower of their manhood? That kind of talk is the "escape mechanism" of the lazy minded, who want to shuffle off their responsibilities upon the shoulders of the young. . .what encouragement do we offer to the young if we tell them - for that is what it amounts to - that all life has to offer them is the alternative of an early death or a stuffy, dreary and disappointed middle age? I want to say, here and now, to those of my own age: That is a lie; do not utter it; and to the young: It is a lie; do not listen to it.

. . .All this is but another aspect of the statement with which we set out. We must not keep pushing the future into the future. It is we, and not the next generation, who must deal with national and international reconstruction. It is now that we must start to work for it, and not "after the war". . .(18-19)

. . .The [medieval] Church had fallen into the same lazy habit which we discussed in the first chapter. She had allowed the professionals to do most of her thinking for her. And the professionals had become old-fashioned in their method of thinking. . .(37)

. . .At any rate, the New Learning was an adventure of the spirit, and the professional Church was not ready for adventure. She thrust the Reformers out. . .(39)

. . .Scientists, however, do not confine themselves to the acquisition of merely "useful" knowledge, much as our timid minds would like them to do so, and strongly as we urge them in that direction by pecuniary inducements. They have an uncompromising reverence for all kinds of facts, and cannot be persuaded to suppress them, however startling, humiliating, or inconvenient they may be. . . .

[talking about models of the universe as mechanism, organism & dream]
. . .Throughout this development of scientific thought, one result has remained constant. In no field of experiment has science been able to reveal any purpose in the universe. Always, men have hoped that by investigating the mechanism, the organism and the dream, science would discover the use of the mechanism, the goal of the evolving organism, the interpretation of the dream. . .always the priests and philosophers. . .have tried to retire into the area in which science was not yet at work, saying: "The purpose is not in matter, it is in life; the purpose is not in life, it is in the soul." But there is no room now for further retreat; science has penetrated the last defenses, and once again it has brought back no news of a purpose, but only a system of working. And men are asking in desperation: is existence, then, without meaning or purpose? . . .indeed the despair is unfounded and the whole quarrel between science and philosophy a quarrel about nothing. The silence of science about purpose is certainly not a coincidence, but neither is it a proof that purpose does not exist. . .(47-48)

. . .Puritanism was imbued with the idea (borrowed from the Gnostics) that there was something intrinsically evil about the flesh, and imagined that the Fall of Man was a fall into sexuality, which makes nonsense of the whole story. That Fall was a fall into a particular kind of knowledge - the knowledge of good and evil which is called self-consciousness and is peculiar to man among all the animals on earth; and its first result was to make him ashamed of his animal passions. The psychological conflict in man is not a plain fight between good and evil; it is a disharmony between two kinds of good - the simple animal innocence, which he hankers after but can never enjoy again, and the more complex and victorious good which comes of using self-conscious knowledge to build up a richer and fuller experience than the other animals can attain. . .

. . .The violent assertions of man's right to his animal nature which we find in many modern writers, and in the theories of those educationalists who demand complete self-expression (even as it manifests itself in kicking one's pastors and masters or taking off all one's clothes in public), are a revolt against past systems of thought which repressed Biological Man. Like most revolts, they tend to go too far in the other direction and create an "absolutism" of their own. . .

It is impossible for us to abolish self-consciousness by pretending that it does not exist . .Having once begun to think consciously about sex, we can never again treat it with the unashamed innocence of the ape; we can only exalt it into romantic love, in the Western-Mediterranean-Christian way, or debase it into bestiality, which is something that no beast knows. "Bestiality" is the name we give to behaving like a beast deliberately and with the conscious mind of a man. No man can be merely pitiless, like a cat playing with a mouse; he can only be pitiful, or else wantonly cruel. . .Even those who repudiate the virtues of meekness and mercy and obey Nietzsche's command, "Be hard," have to learn cruelty like a lesson and practice it in full knowledge of what they are doing. It is true that the lesson easily learnt; but that it is a thing learnt and a thing unnatural to humanity is seen by the general deterioration brought about in the character of a man by habitual indulgence in cruelty. . .the cruel man degenerates in all his human attributes, and so does the habitually sensual man. The same is true of all animal appetites in man; for good or evil, they have become self-conscious, and must remain so. We cannot achieve complete innocence even in the enjoyment of food and drink; we have learnt to become gluttons and drunkards, and, on the other hand, we have learnt how to dine. . .Every manifestation of the beast in man is complicated by his peculiar awareness of his own beasthood. Yet the beast is with us and must remain with us. It is as fatal to ignore him as to ignore our conscious humanity. . .Here again, we must take pains to preserve the balance. It is amusing and instructive to see how each successive reassertion of the human animal's claims is accompanied by an emphasized cult of the body. . .

. . .deep down in our natures, we honor reason, and protest against the irrationality of the world as it presents itself to us today. We are lost and unhappy in a universe that seems to make no sense, and cling to science and machines and detective fiction, just because within their limited fields, the problems do work out, and the end corresponds to the intention. . .

All questions of fact and all judgements calling for specialized experience must be referred to the people who have that special knowledge and experience. But when we have heard what they have to say, we must use our individual judgment as to the action to be taken. . .we must also remember that an expert in one department is only an amateur in another. . .

. . .peace is an active and not a passive condition. . .I believe that peace is one of those things, like happiness, which we are sure to miss if if we aim at it directly. . ."Sleep after toil, port after stormy seas, ease after war, death after life, does greatly please." Spenser, with the poet's unerring intuition, put those lulling words into the mouth of Despair. . .

. . .You did not imagine any death for your son. you did not think of death at all; you thought about life.. .for life can be good, but it is not and cannot be an absolute, any more than anything else in this world. To make life into an absolute is to exchange it for death in life, because, like every other temporal absolute, life takes revenge on those who make it a god. . .

. ..increasingly violent conflict as every new Temporal Absolute sent the balance reeling from one disastrous excess to another. The task is urgent; we must not push it into the future; we must not leave it to others; we must do it ourselves, and we must begin now and here. (156)

Dorothy L Sayers - The Mind of the Maker (1941)

I am informed by philologists that the "rise to power" of these two words, "problem" and "solution" as the dominating terms of public debate, is an affair of the last two centuries, and especially of the nineteenth, having synchronised, so they say, with a parallel "rise to power" of the word "happiness" for reasons which doubtless exist and would be interesting to discover. Like "happiness", our two terms "problem" and "solution" are not to be found in the Bible-a point which gives to that wonderful literature a singular charm and cogency. . . . On the whole, the influence of these words is malign, and becomes increasingly so. They have deluded poor men with Messianic expectations .. . which are fatal to steadfast persistence in good workmanship and to well-doing in general. . . . Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has no "solution of the social problem" to offer to his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude and his probity. For the matter in question is not, primarily, a "problem", nor the answer to it a "solution".-L. P. JACKS: Stevenson Lectures, 1926-7. . .

. . .he does not subscribe to the heresy that confounds his Energy with his Idea. . .

Not sure the extent to which I agree with this. Some things, important things, are technical problems amenable to technical solutions. Technical skill is not everything, but it's too easy to underrate its importance.

Paying Attention To The Sky - My Notes On Dante

"To appreciate Dante it is not, of course, necessary to believe what he believed, but it is, I think, necessary to understand what he believed, and to realize that it is a belief which a mature mind can take seriously. The widespread disinclination today to take Hell and Heaven seriously results, very largely, from a refusal to take this world seriously. If we are materialists, we look upon man’s life as an event so trifling compared to the cosmic process that our acts and decisions have no importance beyond the little space-time frame in which we find ourselves. If we take what is often vaguely called `a more spiritual attitude to life,' we find that we are postulating some large and lazy cosmic benevolence which ensures that, no matter how we behave, it will all somehow or other come out right in the long run. But here Christianity says `No. What you do and what you are matters, and matters intensely. It matters now and it matters eternally; it matters to you and it matters so much to God that it was for Him literally a matter of life and death.'"
Dorothy L Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante

It's funny how mathematicians (Godel & Martin Gardner were the 2 I was thinking of) are often more religious than scientists.

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