No on 1; Yes on 3

It's a Reckless Idea

“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”

–Oliver Wendell Holmes

Holmes’ view is not very popular today, but the reality is that a modern society cannot exist without a well-funded government. Nobody likes taxes, and we all believe we deserve the full fruits of our labor, but it is a common human foible to attribute all of the credit of our own labor to ourselves and not to the help of many others.

A business — big, small, or otherwise — could not possibly exist without the infrastructure of government — not merely the roads paved by our common funds, but the police who ensure public safety, the courts that ensure the enforcement of contracts, the regulations that instill public confidence in the business’s goods.

We are not a socialist collective, and we should not be. But Massachusetts is a Commonwealth, and I take that appellation seriously. As our on Constitution states in Article X:

Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary: but no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people.

Consent is, of course, key (we being of the tea-dumping crowd, after all), but the point here is that in pledging to support a Commonwealth, we accomplish what we cannot alone.

For those who live in Boston or Cambridge, walk over to the historic Longfellow Bridge sometime and take a good, hard look at the crumbling concrete and rusting steel. We have been starving our government for decades on the false belief that government is “wasteful” and that, magically, we can get MORE by giving LESS. This is the kind of wishful thinking that took us to to the very pinnacle of Wall Street illusion.

We’re all responsible to contribute to the costs of civilization. We’ll all pay the price if we don’t.

Yes on Three

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated

— Mahatma Gandhi

I leave it to my friend Matthew Pearl to express the importance of voting Yes on Three. You may notice a seemingly active debate in the comments that follow. If you look closely, though, you’ll find that there are only two handles, “SaveTheDogs” and “GreyhoundTrainer”, going at it. Follow their links and you’ll get a good, strong whiff of Astroturf. Like this fake blog with “BS” all over it.

The racetracks’ and casinos’ PR firms must be pretty worked up about this initiative to throw so many hooligans at the problem. Don’t believe a word.

Vote Yes on Three.

Trying to understand what is going on

Total economic meltdown sure is confusing, isn’t it?

So where to turn for helpful information? Well, the sense I’m getting is: while many experts know and agree on what’s happening (collapse of mortgages and mortgage-backed derivatives, collapse of other lines of credit, credit crunch across the board), we are in uncharted territory as far as what happens next and the consequences for our national and global economies. Here are some links to articles that might be helpful based on looking around quite a bit:

  • Post today by Dean Baker in TPM : “The main cause of the economy’s weakness is not insolvent banks and lack of credit; it’s the loss of $4 trillion to $5 trillion in housing equity as a result of the bubble’s partial deflation. Families used their equity to support their consumption in the years from 2002 to 2007, as the savings rate fell to almost zero. With much of this equity now eliminated by the collapse of the bubble, many families can no longer sustain their levels of consumption. The main reason that banks won’t lend to these families is that they no longer have home equity to serve as collateral. It wouldn’t matter how much money the banks had, they are not going to make mortgage loans to people who have no equity.”
  • Paul Krugman — particularly Crisis Endgame (“This flight to safety has cut off credit to many businesses, including major players in the financial industry — and that, in turn, is setting us up for more big failures and further panic. It’s also depressing business spending, a bad thing as signs gather that the economic slump is deepening.”).
  • Pretty serious macroeconomic analysis from Brad DeLong, concluding, “there is now no time for tolerance of the three objections to this analysis and this plan of action, roughly: (1) it’s immoral, (2) it’s unfair, and (3) it can’t work in the long run.”
  • RGE Monitor — Financial intelligence company with limited free membership during this crisis. My friend Jarrett highly recommends Nouriel Roubini’s Global EconoMonitor, e.g.

There’s much more out there, but my own conclusions, in trying to keep things simple in my own head, are that (a) we have been in a bubble since the close of the Clinton years; (b) Greenspan refused to pop the bubble, instead superinflating it; (c) exotic new financial products multiplied the force of the bubble many times greater than normal; (d) the final popping of the bubble will have real and psychological effects that will crash the economy to below where it “really” is right now.

There’s nothing that policy and leadership can do, now, about (a)-(c). We can only hope that wise leadership will steer us away from (d) if at all possible…

Renewal and rebirth

Cabbage, rebornWith warm weather teasing the Boston area, it’s a little surprising to find a reminder of spring in your fridge drawer. But a few days ago I’d discovered a head of cabbage that I’d almost fully shorn was bursting forth with new life.

I don’t know if this cabbage is alive by the biological definition of “life” (if I plant it, will it grow?) but it certainly reminds me of the tenacity of life. If the carrot you’re chewing on is still crisp, you can bet it’s because the millions of cells that constitute it are still, in their own way, still “breathing and kicking.” I suppose there is a morbid edge to this realization — not unlike hearing the lobster tapping the side of a boiling pot — but truthfully, the world around us is teeming with life, and with every breath and heartbeat we are killing thousands of organisms that would otherwise do us in.

If you meditate on this long enough you may come to the conclusion that there’s no good reason why any one of us is any more deserving of life than a whale, a tree, a paramecium, or a sad little cabbage at the bottom of the crisper drawer. And I suppose there are many ways you can respond to that conclusion, but the one that I’ve come to is a deep sense of gratitude for the inexplicable privilege of living.

Hope abides

Sometimes life feels like a continuous narrowing of possibilities: the babies who begin with infinite potential soon learn that fire burns, that relationships can end in heartbreak, that some cancers are inoperable. Caution becomes am amulet against a dangerous world.

The human race survived because our ancestors learned to fear tall cliffs and dangerous animals. In our own lives, we learn that aspiration leads to disappointment, that rejecting others protects our selves, to hit back.

It’s hard not to let prudence blossom into cynicism.

Against the weight of our life experiences, hope seems a fragile twig indeed. Yet while the fawn instictively flees from flame, human babies reach for it. Long ago one of our ancestors captured fire and tamed it. We find true love. We seek the end of disease.

Humanity survives because of fear; we thrive because of hope.

Hope is not an emotion but a discipline. It is easy to criticize, to doubt, to give up. But for hope to survive the calamaties of daily life requires singular focus and determination. Mere longing flares and dies. True hope abides in the deep stillness of faith.