Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by stupidity

A clever but mildly alarming cartoon movie is making it’s viral rounds on the interwebs.  I think it’s a Tea Party hit piece.   My son asked my to watch and comment.   As usual, you get more than you asked for when you ask me to do that.   Like Mike Moore movies it’s a garden path of some honest and good points mixed in with exaggerations and half-truths, leading to unsupported and questionable conclusions.

The most alarming is how the film advocates violence against public servants.  This is intolerable, and the makers of this kind of film should be ashamed that they abuse their right to free speech to incite people to violent acts against people they have unfairly villified.

The “film”

No.  No Conspiracy. But the misleading notions are buried in several good points and a clever simplification of the systems that drive our remarkable, successful economy. Have you noticed your lifestyle lately? Where do you *actually see* evidence of the claimed “jackboot” of evil corrupt bankers? This is, FYI, a tea party hit piece and I think it’s support of violence against people is very alarming.

Interestingly many right and left wing folks will probably like this piece even though they hold opposite views of how the economy should and does work. Both think the sinister, poorly defined super rich “bad guys” are screwing it up for all us regular folks when in fact, like it or not, “we’re all in this together”.

Good points: Debt is very dangerous and it’s getting passed to your generation at an alarming rate. But not by bankers, it’s by … umm… your parents aka “me and mom” and their accomplices, namely your friend’s parents and everybody else including you. This is in the form of massive government borrowing to sustain massive Government spending, mostly on only TWO things. Military (US spend is half the global total) and “entitlements” like social security and govt health care programs. Another growing expense and implied (good) point in the film is that we pay huge and growing *interest* on this massive debt.

However lost in the cartoon’s simplicity is the complexity of money printing, inflation, and how the Federal Reserve, under Bernanke’s brilliant guidance, appears to have prevented a global economic meltdown. It’s odd to me they are raising alarms about things that worked, like the coordination of the global banking systems to prevent catastrophe. A global depression would have crushed the hopes and dreams of *billions of people* and this has not happened. Rather we’ve had some troubles but nothing catastrophic. Many believe this is because both Bush and Obama’s monetary policies under Paulson, Bernanke, and Geithner have been excellent, even brilliant, and effective in creating a “soft landing” for a troubled, overheated global economy. You can’t focus on the economic slowdown without also noting the huge surge in productivity and goods and wealth that led up to the trouble. Many of us were … in short … living too large and unsustainably. That led to trouble and the national and global economies are still fragile and debt is a huge concern. On that the film is correct in my view.

The real “Federal Banking System” story:

The real “Red Shield” story:

How much debt? YIKES!

Point ONE: Note how there are many countries without the strong banking and taxation systems this piece says are destroying our country. Examples abound, some are: Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan. I’d prefer living here… wouldn’t you? Both right and left wing propaganda folks don’t like real world examples of the things they advocate because the complexities often get in the way of what seem like nice clean relationships.

Point TWO: Why do so many powerful-but-not-rich-non-bankers work so hard to keep the system working? e.g. Bernanke, Obama, Gheitner are the *architects* of the systema and the policies the film hates. All these guys could make 10x current salaries outside of Government. They are super smart and competent and they believe the system serves the public good. In general, it does. Bill Gates is a beneficiary of the system as well as an architect of the new economy.
He’s wealthier than most *groups* of “Red Shield” folks, but runs a massive charity for extremely poor. They fight hard to bring our system to others, not to kill the goose that keeps laying the golden eggs. Or let’s take a look at a real live “rich banking” guy. Wells Fargo’s biggest owner Warren Buffett. Richest human in 2008, second in 2009, third now. What’s he doing with all that money he took from “Pile” in the film? Giving over 95% of his wealth it to the world’s poorest people and another few percent to other charities. Pretty greedy, eh?

Point THREE: What exactly is the film advocating as a solution? Correct to challenge us to spend less, but where is the call to massively cut defense, effectively required to balance the US budget? Tea Party is very much hypocritical on this point, thinking that govt waste does not extend to military, and also that you can cut significantly by cutting things like welfare. Both these ideas are simply foolish and naive. Defense is huge and therefore must be cut to cut the deficit and welfare is too small to matter much, cut or not.

Summary (the film would actually agree with much of this I think, but does not support the good news about USA in the film – they are fearmongering to try to get Tea Party people elected): There are problems but the US economic experiment remains the most successful in history and remains a powerful example of how to bring prosperity to hundreds of millions mostly within a framework of freedom and fairness. For every legitimate criticism (and there are many), there are many positive aspects to the entrepreneurial innovation and personal responsibility model. Let’s keep it.

The Duck Doctrine … !

My friend Rob and my online pal Ellen asked me to clarify some of my earlier ideas about spending items and cultural sophistication vs weaponry.   Ellen called it the “Duck Doctrine”  (ha!).

Can anybody seriously believe we need to spend trillions to keep the US safe?  Of course we do not!

By cultural sophistication I mean that defense dep’t needs to know other nations much better, especially before and after we make them our enemy or start wars. In Iraq I understand there were a remarkably low number of arabic speaking analysts involved, and even if there had been Cheney and Bush would have proceeded to implement the Perl / Wolfowitz PNAC world view I agree with some of the PNAC stuff but also feel traditional conservatives naively think that people left to their own devices will choose freedom and democracy over fighting. I don’t agree and think we are very much the products of evolutionary pressures that favored short term, fairly narrow thinking.

Lest I be confused with a Tea Party guy I thought I better respond fast.   I’m a real conservative thank you, not those fake ones who overspend on military and advocate for American theocracy.   I want the founders back in charge and that means  a Govt that governs best governs least, small military, entrepreneurial capitalism, and big personal freedom.   Neither Republicans nor Democrats advocate that approach and that failure continues to our great peril.

We foolishly squander defense spending building weapons and paying for too many soldiers when we should be approaching things more cleverly and strategically, cutting big weapons systems in favor of clever infrastructure campaigns (building schools and clinics) that are followed with marketing to show how nice we are.    Our military campaigns are generally “self fulfilling militarily” in that our approach is so aggressive and lacking in cultural know-how that the locals don’t have time to see we are the good guys. (and our guys are almost always the good guys even though many on the left don’t get that obvious point).     Our intentions are good, our execution is bad, our military expense account is WAY too large.

It’s $12,000 to build a school in Pakistan where it’s $ 20,000 for one JDAM “smart bomb”. … and by bomb standards JDAMS are incredibly cheap – the military has non-nukes that cost over 400,000 per bomb.     The point is that we should be much more proactive about building infrastructure and good will.    There’s a big perceived difference between building and bombing.    If the Taliban destroys the school the next month we’ve won a moral victory, but if we bomb and kill 10 bad guys and 1 good guy we’ve often lost moral ground in these regions.   This simple, negative equation is going on all the time and it’s why the USA has so much trouble extricating ourselves from international conflicts.

Is Defense waste the only spending issue?   Of course not.    We are a land of reckless entitlements.   Most getting social security do NOT need the money and did not contribute to the extent they are getting paid.    Politically it’s very hard to reign in spending – we foolishly reward our politicians for their spending sprees, forgetting that overspending in “our” state or district is magnified a hundredfold all over the nation.     Balanced budget is a no-brainer.   In fact it should be a declining budget.     Ben Franklin suggested that revolution might be called for if taxes went above 10%.     Franklin frugality is the kind of fiscal responsibility we need, and note that Franklin was a super progressive guy back in the day!

More about defense spending: