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Populism from middle America

by techno Mon Feb 12th, 2007 at 03:26:43 AM EST

Populism is a term that doesn't travel well.  Last summer in a conversation, a visiting university professor from Scandinavia called an anti-immigrant French politician who may replace Chirac a "populist."  I objected, claiming that a Frenchman who took such political positions probably misunderstood a political philosophy invented by immigrants on the American frontier.  I said, "Start a trend--even if this definition of "populism" has become standard usage in the EU, you should try not to use it as a catch-all description of political backwardness out a sense of historical accuracy."

It would be unfair to pick on a Finn describing French politics in English because there IS a certain element in USA that uses the term "populism" in exactly the same way.  Joe Klein of Time magazine summed up the elite Washington view in a Slate essay when he described populism as a "witlessly reactionary bundle of prejudices: nativist, protectionist, isolationist, and paranoid."

Anyone who took political science from any self-respecting liberal arts college in USA probably learned to spout the same reactionary nonsense.  But in the land where Populism was invented, such academic indoctrination often fails its accomplished task.  The late writer Molly Ivins, a hero of American progressives, proudly called herself a Populist and proved her credentials on a regular basis.  The cultural Texas Populism of her youth proved more durable than her fancy Ivy League education.

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Energy Efficiency: What every Progressive MUST know

by techno Sun Feb 4th, 2007 at 09:32:57 AM EST

Energy efficiency is the goal of every sane person on earth.  What's not to like?  If energy is used more efficiently it solves pollution problems, foreign policy dilemmas, balance of trade issues, etc.

So why aren't energy efficiency problems being meaningfully addressed?  It is tempting to looks around for bad guys--oil industry executives, automobile manufacturers and their unions, spineless legislators, the advertising business, insane tax policy, etc.

Folks who wish to blame the "bad guys" have a small point.  But when it comes to actually making a society more energy efficient, beating up on the "bad guys" is not very productive.  Because the real reason a more energy efficient society never gets built is MUCH more simple and frightening: Energy efficiency is a LOT harder than it looks!!!

From the diaries - afew

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Economics: Root Causes

by techno Sat Jan 20th, 2007 at 10:23:47 AM EST

When I took economics at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970s, one of my professors was Walter Heller. Heller was President Kennedy's Council of Economic Advisors chairman and would claim, quite seriously, that he taught Kennedy Keynesianism.

In those days, the Keynesians were utterly dominant in academe and government.  There were so many of them, they had subdivided into various schools.  It could be argued that Heller represented the right wing of the Keynesian school.  His economics department used the Neoclassical Samuelson text and his primary accomplishment in the Kennedy administration was his tax cut suggestion.

But even from the right wing of the Keynesian impulse, Heller was quite clear that he thought folks like Milton Friedman were at best mistaken and quite possibly insane.  Yet by the time I graduated, the acolytes of Friedman were running the economy of Chile with their sights set MUCH higher.  And yes, they would set the economic operating assumptions for planet earth for a generation.

From the diaries -- whataboutbob

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Populism and technological literacy

by techno Wed Oct 25th, 2006 at 10:52:58 AM EST

In my last diary I mentioned technological literacy without providing much definition or context to the concept.  This caused quite a bit of misunderstanding and confusion. And so I find it necessary to explain what technological literacy is, and why it is important to have the technologically literate in any successful society.

The ability to operate tools is the main difference between humans and the other intelligent forms of life.  Civilizations are the product of tool users.  About the only thing humans can actually build by hand is a clay pinch pot--everything else requires tools.

Because everything we use requires tools to make, tool creation represents the most sophisticated form of manufacture.  It is difficult to make DRAM chips: it is much MORE difficult to make the tools that can make the DRAM chips.  And of course, it is insanely difficult to make the tools that can produce those DRAM making tools, etc.

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