As previously discussed, German jobs are dependent on exports to the rest of he euro member nations.

This means down deep Germany has a large vested political interest in keeping them funded, real terms of trade be darned.

It’s the old:

‘It’s my brother, he thinks he’s a chicken’

‘Have you taken him to a doctor?’

‘No’

‘Why not?’

‘We need the eggs.’

So odds are still that the euro zone keeps muddling through, funding itself ultimately through the ECB as needed, while they all continue on center stage acting like adolescents with their silly games that continue to disrupt both their region and the rest of the world.

German Exports Declined in October as Euro-Area Demand Eased

Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) — German exports unexpectedly dropped in October as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and a cooling global economy curbed demand.

Sales abroad, adjusted for working days and seasonal changes, fell 1.1 percent from September, when they rose 3 percent, the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden said today.

Economists had forecast stagnation in October, according to the median of 14 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Imports rose 0.3 percent.

Austerity measures across the euro region are eroding demand for German goods in the country’s biggest export market.

Factory orders from within the single-currency area dropped for a second month in October, the Economy Ministry said yesterday.

Still, unemployment at an 18-year low is boosting consumption at home, putting the recovery in Europe’s largest economy on a firmer footing.

“Exports will slow considerably just as domestic demand picks up,” said Costa Brunner, an economist at Natixis in Frankfurt. “Rising employment is boosting private consumption and wage deals suggest disposable incomes will rise.”

Exports increased 19.8 percent in October from a year earlier, today’s report showed. Sales to countries within the 16-member euro area rose 12.7 percent in the year, while shipments to countries outside the European Union gained 28.4 percent.

47 Responses

  1. this is deeply fascinating, in a macabre way

    if people are going to be clueless, you’d prefer the clueless ones didn’t concentrate in the highest levels of government

    this picture seems very unstable; politicians clearly have near zero operational knowledge (about most anything; even less than the avg PoWM – Person of WalMart)

    (but they do think we need the dregs; so this raises a fundamental question: how DO we keep more politicians out of public service?
    that’s becoming an operational imperative for electorates; how to set rational entry standards
    We wouldn’t let an untrained person try to fly a jet off an aircraft carrier – the potential costs of throwing such machines into the ocean are enormous. So why would we ever let untrained amateurs try to pilot our economic output off the deck of Aircraft USA – or Aircraft EMU? It’s even more expensive to see that output thrown into the ocean, as an output gap. So far, neither politicians or electorates even notice the cause, only the effect.)

    Professional Licensing for poltical offices?

    1. A breakdown in democracy such as Plato warned of? The “licensing” now seems to be a combination of celebrity and backroom financing.

    2. A comment I made earlier this year along those lines:

      Mathematics appears to be a tool unique to homo sapiens.
      Perhaps a requirement that all candidates for elective Federal public service have spreadsheet proficiency and understand financial balance sheet accounting would keep the baboons out of Washington DC? We obviously ARE capable of evolving since we now let women and other slaves vote!

      Using aggregate analysis (pesky mathematics) tells us that increased government spending is equal to a tax cut of the same amount, and decreased government spending is equal to a tax increase of the same amount in terms of financial assets held by the non-government sector.

      Failing their Constitutional duty to create an adequate money supply to lubricate the economy, the Congresspersons who want a balanced budget apparently prefer we become further enslaved to their puppet masters in order to obtain it.

      1. “Failing their Constitutional duty to create an adequate money supply to lubricate the economy, the Congresspersons who want a balanced budget apparently prefer we become further enslaved to their puppet masters in order to obtain it.”

        This is the hidden agenda. The reason to get the government out of the way is to increase the rake off. Read Michael Hudson for how debt slavery works. “It’s the economic rent, stupid.”

  2. Professional Licensing for poltical offices?

    (the only discipline not yet subject to operational metrics)

    1) Thou shalt not pilot economic output without reading an operational manual

    2) Thou shalt not enact laws without an Economic Impact Statement acknowledging the entire, known, spectrum of Situational Analysis

    3) Thou shalt not leave any process to the presumed-clueless, presumed process owners (It takes continuous feedback from an entire electorate to keep a public servant from rapidly becoming situationally clueless?)

    4) Thou shalt not regulate and/or de-regulate aggregate output channels without guidance from real-time decision-support charts. (tune only the whole, damn system, not just random parts!)

    5) Thou shalt always adequately sample full-spectrum input to the goal of “making a more perfect union”. (to statistical relevance, not just relevance to your golfing buddies)

    1. We could just invite people walking past on the pavement into office.

      Any random pick of the population would produce better outcomes.

  3. RE: “…So odds are still that the euro zone keeps muddling through, funding itself ultimately through the ECB as needed, while they all continue on center stage acting like adolescents with their silly games that continue to disrupt both their region and the rest of the world…”

    Warren, in my opinion this comment, while expressive of your frustration, minimizes the forces at work here. Perhaps many in America viewed the rise of the puerile and hyper-adolescent Nazi Party in Germany in the post-Weimar era as “silly”, but the results of the HERDING that followed them to power was anything but.

    The growing RAGE that can be seen EVERYDAY in the USA—and growing more mainstream everyday—should not be discounted. In my opinion, the rage felt vis-a-vis the fraud committed by the financial sector and by their proxies in Washington is a righteous rage. BUT, rage without direction and left to simmer in unreality becomes irrational and violent quite quickly.

    People believe that the FEDERAL RESERVE’S loose monetary policies benefit the wealthy few whilst leaving the middle class behind. Regardless of operational realities, beliefs such as these are manifest in positive feedback loops that eventually precipitate quite frightening policy decisions.

    DW

    1. Dan, I follow trends broadly, and my impression that is that things have been spinning out of control for some time now. It is completely irrational and based on ignorance on the part of the herd, but ignorance and self-interest on the part of the ruling elite is creating conditions that are fueling the herd’s irrationality. It is a very threatening combo and could lead to a singularly bad place if no one gets a grip.

      The guy that absolutely has to have a grip in times like these is POTUS as “the leader of the free world,” the world’s sole superpower, and the world’s largest economy, but Obama is AWOL.

      And the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming freight train with a long train of loaded cars, like globalization, sectarian violence, climate change, transition out of the oil age, digital revolution, robotics, etc. and the obsolescence they bring, and so on.

      As Roger has been pointing out, the social, political and economic control is breaking down for a variety of reasons, ignorance looming large. But also the size and complexity of society is fast outgrowing present control methodology. The pedal seems to be stuck to the floor, and there are no brakes or an ignition key that can be turned off to slow this thing down.

      The EZ is a graphic illustration of the problem. They created a monetary union without a clear fiscal authority that could act swiftly in case problems developed. That is, they choose to postpone the solution until the problem manifested. Now that the problem has manifested, it’s very man for himself, so cooperation and coordination are becoming increasingly difficult, especially as financial problems spill into real problems, complicating national politics.

      Something akin has developed in the US and is apparently on the rise in China. With the people in charge out to lunch, things are not looking so good. BTW, did anyone see the report that the control panel on the oil rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico was firing off warning signals, but the operator was off on a smoke break and missed it?

      1. Agreed. If one could do a time lapse study of aggregate brain activity and its expression in words and actions, my assumption is that one would find us—the world—reaching a tipping point viz rage and the sundry expressions thereof.

      2. Im feeling the rage guys ….But there is so much deceptive information, avg PoWM will shoot himself in the foot. The elites will come out smiling as usual.

    1. China is an export-driven economy with a small consumer base (estimated at 36% of GDP). If exports decrease materially with China so heavily invested in the export market, an output gap would open rather quickly, and this would be deflationary, perhaps leading to debt deflation in areas of malinvestment. There are indications that China is way over-invested relative to incomes and consumption.

  4. I think I’ve got a solution for a lot of the problems.I would guess Obama’s economic education was a Gold-standard Classical..If Warren,Micheal Hudson, and the rest of the folks over at UM/kc,Roger Michell,or better,Bill Michell all got together,and got a meeting with Oprah or Obama or better both,and explained MMT to them,pointing out what they could do with that power,Build a Rapid-transit style,Rail/mono-rail/High speed train down the Interstate,connecting most major cities by rail,having electric rentals available in the city.This would create thousands of jobs,and be a major asset to US. Build desalination plant on gulf coast,or in New Mexico/Arizona,dependind on better site/ease of pumping salt/fresh water,and make the desert bloom.Rebuild inner-cities with laid off construction workers,rebuild water systems and sewage systems.As long as we have laid off workers and can buy materials the only thing stopping us is money..we’d have the biggest boom time in history..Oprah and Obama have the countries ear and she could do a show,or a week of shows having the team I mentioned earlier explain MMT to the Whole country at once. Maybe Obama could call a session of Congress to have you explain it to them. With that many people knowing what MMT can do,instead of SS raiseing its elegability age they can lower it to 55 or even 50.When you’ve lost your job a that age,it’s hard to find a new one. Getting the older workers out of the way means better jobs for GenX and Y. Remember the Echo-boomers are coming of age,and will need jobs…Maybe have a bunch of MMT people run for Every open seat in 2012,to give Obama a solid backing in congress,and they can refresh the minds of the rest of congress as to how the system should work. If there’s any trouble over rights to print money,Coin up a new dollar,5 dollar and 20 dollar coins,and then the public can have there choice,paper,or metal.And Congress DOES have the power to Coin money,and set the value of it.As long as the Coins are the legal money,and the paper just serves as a light weight substitute,no problem..WELL,what do you think ??

    1. Good idea, but won’t happen because the way US politics is configured. Warren ran for Chris Dodd’s seat in CT and was just a blip on the screen. To mount a national campaign, get media attention, or access to power requires a lot more than folks backing MMT can mount at this point, it seems, unless some superstar like Oprah could be enlisted to throw money and celebrity behind it.

      The primary political force operative at the moment is conservatism, and the duel is between supply-side deficit-be-damned tax cutters and fiscal conservatives. Moreover, no one has an ear for policies that are at all wonky. Explaining MMT requires first that people pay attention and secondly that they are intelligent enough to understand the issues and solutions proposed. The country is a long way from there at this point.

      My take is that the Reagan/Thatcher/Hayek/Laffer Zeigeist has a way to run yet before it hits the wall and self-destructs. My view is bolstered by the work of economic historian Ravi Batra — The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism (1978) and The Next Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos (2007) — and historians William Strauss and Neil Howe — The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with History (1997). The only thing that will dislodge the powers that be is a deeper crisis that discredits their rule.

      I suspect that if MMT is to gain ground it will happen through adoption by an emerging country that uses it to great advantage, forcing the developed world to sit up and take notice. If already powerful liberals like Paul Krugman, who has the NYT bully pulpit, cannot dent the lock neoliberalism has on the global economy through national and international politics when Democrats have been in power, then I see little possibility for MMT to make a dent when the GOP star is rising again. It’s likely to take an external force, unless things blow up internally and the game changes entirely, so that all bets are off. But what is the likelihood of MMT holding sway in that case, since it is relatively unknown even among professional economists.

      I’m afraid we are going to have to ride this one out, and I think it will be quite a ride. In the meantime, we should be doing all we can to make sure that MMT is an available solution, and if anyone can get it to Oprah, that would indeed be great. Obama, not so much. He’s finished.

      1. Toms Hickey

        It has been GOP rise to power (sort of) that has created most MMT-esque stimulus to date. we finally got payroll tax holiday!!

        Not that those bozos have any clue what they are doing

      2. Right. Both parties stumbled into the right solution, complaining all the way and holding their noses to vote for it. But at least they did it.

      3. Tom,
        Somehow I knew you had read Neil Howe’s Fourth Turning. I read this some years ago and I find it extremely interesting and have been analyzing things within his paradigm for some time. I think his observations are very credible. If I read you correctly I would think you look at it as though we are in the beginning stages of transitioning from Howe’s “Unraveling” to that of the “Crisis”. This is where I think we are…

        (btw I’m a ‘GenX’ and generally find myself often getting very angry with the way things are going these days, my ire mostly directed at ‘Boomers’, spending time often trying to educate fellow GenX and ‘Millenials’ as to the economic realities (MMT) and pointing out to them current economic injustices that need to be overthrown)

        The authors have a blog that I read. Here’s a link to audio of a recent interview with Howe by Puplava, (btw both of them waaaay out of paradigm but you cant have everything)….
        http://www.lifecourse.com/media/articles/lib/2010/11292010.html

        And here’s a blog by Howe that examines the Glen Beck phenom:
        http://blog.lifecourse.com/2010/09/glenn-beck-polarizer/

        Glad to see you are on to this.
        Resp,

    2. general concept ok, many of your details problematic.

      desal is a major energy consumer, for example.

      and with taxes at the right level for a given size govt, there are plenty of job opening for people of all ages.

      the human condition is that of a labor shortage. there is always a lot more to be done than people to do it

  5. Oh yeah,What do you guys think of the AMERICAN MONEY ACT ??

    And that would make a good name for the new party, The American Money party..a good slogan would be A new direction,and a solid plan to get there.

  6. That’s why I said send a team of MMT experts to see Oprah or Obama. Obama is obviously smart enough to grasp the concept and so is Oprah. And selling one of them is all you need,as Obama has the bully-pulpit of the POTUS and Oprah’s ear, and Oprah is one of his biggest supporters and has her show and millions of fans.

    Their problem is Oprah probably thinks like most Americans that the government is like states or households and must balance the budget,and Obama thinks Larry Summers and Co. know what their talking about. I’m sure Roger Mitchell,Warren,and L. Randell Wray could point out where their wrong..
    And Warren’s status alone should get 15 minutes of their time,ad in the others and it’s a cinch.And if you can’t sell MMT[which needs a name change to get rid of the Theory part. Maybe sub in mechanics,and make it 3M] to two bright people like Oprah and Obama,Well…

    Explain where Classic Economics,and Austrian school is wrong since we no longer are on a Gold-standard.Once you have Oprah you have her show which gives admission to millions of fans.Obama needs support in Congress to get anything done.Which is why I suggested an MMM{MMT} team run for ALL open seats in 2012. You could run one simple program[campaign] for All candidates..Dennis Kusinich is a fan of the American Money Act which seems to be a lot like MMT/MMM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8OjgN-3ZDA&feature=player_embedded
    Maybe you could get support there.

    1. This has come up here before, so I will summarize what I recall.

      1. Many here agree that the treasury and cb functions should be consolidated formally. Some argue that operationally they already are, so no big deal to do it formally. The federal government is already the monopoly issuer of its currency. Bond issuance is operationally unnecessary and could be eliminated. Some (like me) hold that since bond issuance is operationally unnecessary, interest payments constitute a subsidy and should be eliminated.

      2. There has been a lot of discussion of private banking on the MMT blogs. I would like to see retail banking made entirely public. Some, like Warren, point out, that banks are public/private partnerships and should be regulated as such, that is, much more closely tied to serving public purpose. Others have concerns of giving too much financial power to government, fearing it would lead to worse abuses even than private sector banking. However, most financial operations now take place in the shadow banking system rather than commercial banking.

      3. How public funds get allocated is a political question under representative democracy. Government monetary monopoly doesn’t address this directly. Unless and until money is excluded from politics and the revolving door closed, the wealthy and influential will dominate the political process, which based on interest groups. MMT’ers have put forward various reform proposals. See the menu bar “Proposals” for some examples.

      In addition, MMT’ers have discussed inflation in detail here and on other blogs. I don’t think that any of them think that ending private banking is the way to control inflation, however, or that ending private banking would necessarily control inflation, since most contemporary inflation is supply-driven, e.g., petroleum. There are factors to consider in addition to credit created by commercial banking.

      1. Oops, sorry. My reply is out of place. I was responding to your post at #7 and link in #8, above. You referred to the AMI explanation. I went through the three points mentioned and the position on inflation.

      2. Your last post answered #7&8,what about # 9 which was a response to your reply to #6, and is no one else interest in this question ??

    2. The problem is that politicians are like the rest of us, they live our lives in world of Microeconomic. In their family budgets and in their careers, whether in private business or in state or local government. When times are hard, you tighten your belt. When they get to Washington to serve in Congress or the Administration, they have a lifetime of prudent (one hopes) financial experience to fall back on, which is quite inapplicable to the world of Keynesian Macroeconomics that the US Government operates in.

      If both parties were equally ignorant of the realities of our modern monetary system, I suppose it would be a fair fight with sometimes the Democrats advancing their agenda and sometimes the Republican advancing theirs. Both parties, when out of power, use deficit hysteria as a rhetorical tool to block the party in power from advancing its fiscal agenda. Sadly only one of the parties is actually sincere about it.

      What tilts the game is that Republicans (or enough of them to make a difference) understand that the deficit is no constraint, while Democrats do not. How much political capital did Clinton burn raising taxes or has Obama burned focusing on the deficit instead of the output gap? Frankly, the Democratic party consistently does more to get Republicans elected than anything the GOP does for itself.

      I suppose the first step is convincing at least some of the congressional Democrats (the Congressional Black Caucus or the House Progressive Caucus would be the obvious choice) that they are letting themselves be played by the GOP. On the Republican side, they’d get a lot farther politically by defusing income inequality with a negative income tax or some other redistribution of income downwards without need of big government programs (I like economist Ed Glaeser’s phrase, “small government egalitarianism”).
      http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/the-case-for-small-government-egalitarianism/

      Of course the Republicans aren’t just going to drop their winning strategy, they’re getting pretty far just capitalizing on Democratic incompetence. Until the Democrats wake up and see that output gap is first, last and always their biggest challenge, they’ll keep letting the Republicans buffalo them into focusing on the deficit to their doom.

      1. The fundamental problem is treating macro as scaled up micro, and micro being dominated by self-regulating markets based on the invisible hand of pursuit of self-interest. In addition to its dubious assumption of self-interest as an automatic control device, this approach result in a proliferation of the fallacy of composition. This is epitomized in the false analogy comparing government finance to household finance.

        There are several major obstacles to overcome in setting the record straight on this score. First, informal fallacies like that of composition rest on assumed intuitive self-evidence of common sense, whereas it is merely conventional wisdom that happens to be wrong. Few can detect this deficiency owing to cognitive-emotional, cultural (conventional), and institutional biases. Secondly, there is an enormous body of expert literature and testimony that supports this error, reinforcing the bais. Thirdly, the ignorant, lazy, and often invested media promulgates and perpetuates the error and deepen the bias. Fourthly, there is huge and well-funded propaganda effort advancing the error and encouraging the bias since this benefits well-heeled interests groups.

        The challenge is to adjust perception to fit reality. This is a cognitive-emotional, cultural/conventional, and institutional undertaking rather than a purely intellectual one. Rational argument alone is not going to reverse this trend or right this bias on the scale that is required to correct the problems it leads to. Moreover, it is related to other biases and feeds into other problems. As a result it is not only an economic issue but also a social and political one, and this is where things get really messy.

      2. Right, that’s one political advantage of replicating the state-owned Bank of North Dakota in every state. When banking is a state function, the state politicians who move up to Washington will likely to have a more sophisticated understanding of how the monetary system works. Indeed, North Dakota’s new US Senator John Hoeven clearly knows more about banking than your average bear. During his decade as governor he served as a BND board member and before going into politics, he was a BND manager.

        Beyond that, show people how to make money using MMT and that would make people believers. So an MMT investment book wouldn’t be a bad idea. :o)

      3. The fundamental problem is treating macro as scaled up micro, and micro being dominated by self-regulating markets based on the invisible hand of pursuit of self-interest.

        The problem is a societal contract that preaches that the pursuit of individual interest will inevitably result in prosperity for all. Lots of rising boats will cause a tide. Putting aside the definitions of ‘prosperity’ and ‘all’ for the moment, I think this is more typical of American and other Anglo-Saxon discourses than of others. Within Europe, the dilemma is more one of a lack of common identity and culture among its nation states and a resulting unwillingness to extend communality beyond national borders. And lets face it, the result is crap on both sides of the atlantic.

        What is often lost in these debates, I find, is that the fallacy of composition doesn’t distinguish between individuals, nations or other entities. Of course a monetarily sovereign region is an important aggregate with the potential to act for the benefit of ‘the public’, but it isn’t an ultimate entity in any way. There can be (and are) many fallacies of composition governing foreign policy for example, which, to be resolved, would entail the imposition of measures that contradict ‘public purpose’ as defined for subordinate entities. The question is, to what extent are people prepared to look (and vote and act) beyond the rim of their own teacups, if given the choice? I’d say that culture, poverty and most importantly biology have set limits to our capacity for transcendence. It’s been a losing battle from the start, so we shouldn’t be surprised if people tend to very narrow, short-sighted and personal interests even if they contradict the realities governing whatever aggregates academics choose to focus on.

      4. I agree, Warren, but the mainstream macro gurus are stuck in barter-thinking. They really don’t get money, finance, or credit. It doesn’t fit in their models.

        Money as a public monopoly is really beyond them. If they think of money at all, it’s gold-standard terms. They are all in denial.

  7. As someone who has just discovered this school of thought, I can tell you that for many people the problem is simply that MMT thinking is just not believable. No one believes that congressman and senators can be totally ignorant of such elementary facts as those stated by MMT. No one believes that Ben Bernanke could know what MMT says they know and still act so as to assure non-prosperity. They cannot believe the degree of criminal complicity between the Federal Reserve and the private banks like G-Sachs and JP Morgan. Listen to the Jon Stewart Show making fun of Ben Bernanke. Note the finely spun mixture of truth and error, of comprehension and incomprehension. Go to a libertarian blog like Lew Rockwell, or read someone like Karl Denninger or listen to Max Keiser. It is simply amazing how otherwise seemingly intelligent people simply cannot–or will not–understand even the most elementary facts and their most immediate consequences; or can accept only partially and inconclusively. I think the “will not” is far more important an element than the “cannot.” If your perspective is funded, you cannot change it; if your reputation depends on an audience of “believers” who buy your advice and newsletters, you cannot change. Intellectual integrity and love of truth are as rare as moral probity and courage.

  8. Re: A breakdown in democracy such as Plato warned of? The “licensing” now seems to be a combination of celebrity and backroom financing.

    Well, he clearly said that democracy comes just before tyranny. It’s inevitable.

    1. I am a great fan of Plato and regard him as the premier philosopher of the West in that no one has matched the breadth and depth of his achievement, especially considering that it was he that first broached the principle issues that we are still grappling with, as well as providing remarkably enduring answers from the idealistic vantage. As Whitehead observed, Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato.

      On the other hand, Plato lived over two millennia ago and the context in which his thought emerged was based on an environment and circumstances far different from ours, so transposing his ideas to present challenges involves a large leap. Plato’s Athens was far different from Washington, DC and the US, and Athenian democracy was very different from American democracy. The US was built on the ideas of the Enlightenment, which owed a debt to Greek thought, but was distinctly modern European, reacting to European history. The American colonists were radicals that had abandoned their homelands in search of a new way of life, but they were still distinctly Europeans and British subjects before declaring independence and winning it.

      Historically, I think that there has been a trend toward greater liberalization that underlies present challenges. Now the principal issue is between those who believe that the principles of economic liberalism are the same as political liberalism, and in fact underlie political liberalism, “free market” capitalism being the sine qua non no of liberal democracy, and those that do not hold this, but rather than politics is concerned with ordering society and political economy is subservient to this aim of creating an ordered society based chiefly on public purpose rather than private purpose exclusively. The slogan of those championing private purpose has been “free,” and that of those championing public purpose has been “fair.”

      When Thomas Jefferson composed the Declaration, he first wrote, the inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and property,” instead of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Indeed, introductory economics text begin with the notion of happiness a material satisfaction. The right has consistently make property rights paramount, often to the degree of asserting that the sole purpose of government is to protect the right to personal security, liberty, and property.

      Opposed to this narrow and essentially materialistic view characteristic of the right is the view of the left that the purpose of government is to promote public purpose and, in the US, this is stated in the Preamble:

      We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

      The left observes that promoting the “general welfare” is one of the aims of government stated in the Preamble. The left interpretes promoting the general welfare quite broadly to include shared prosperity and distributive justice at the expense of unfettered liberty and property, emphasizing that responsibility is not only personal but also social.

      The basic philosophical disagreement is over what constitutes society. The right holds that society is an aggregate of individuals rather than a collective, whereas the left holds that society is a system whose elements and and subsystems stand in interdependent relationships, with government providing the ordering principle through a democratic process in which all citizens are equal participants.

      Owing to recent history, the right is concerned about the possibility of the tyranny of a socialist state emerging along the lines of Soviet communism, while the left is concerned about the rise of a corporate state along the lines of Mussolini’s fascism.

      The current dialectic is between those holding these opposing views. Within each camp there are also differences of opinion about the degree of narrowness and broadness, so the political spectrum extends from reactionary to radical with a lot of positions between the extremes of anarchy and collectivity. Moreover, the spectrum is not linear, since there are those that are what George Lakoff has called “bi-conceptual, holding some values that are socially liberal, characteristic of the left, and economically conservative, characteristic of the right, and vice versa. This group makes up the political center.

      1. I think it is useful to add another dimension to the Left/Right debate – the Authoritarian/Libertarian dimension (as you see on the Political Compass site).

        Once you look at views in two dimensions rather than one the differences become a lot clearer.

      2. Good point, Neil. The Political Compass uses a matrix of left-right on the horizontal axis, and authoritarian-libertarian on the vertical axis. It’s got a test you can take (free) to see where you stand in the matrix. I’m a libertarian of the left according to their scoring.

        In a liberal democracy using free market capitalism, these issues involve the liberal paradox proposed by Amartya Sen.

      3. Agreed. Pirsig’s work is a fun way to get involved in the quality debate. I used his first book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which delves into Classical and Romantic conceptions of quality, in a philosophy class quite successfully. In Lila, Pirsig juxtaposes static and dynamic quality. But his basic question is, What is Quality?, which is where he says he started his quest in the first place.

        Pirsig takes a position similar to Plato, Eastern and other idealistic philosophy, which view quality as an indefinable attribute of being, which is known directly and immediately in the unity of cognition with its object. As Phenomenologists would say, every object is an object of consciousness and exists in consciousness, for consciousness. Consciousness is inseparable from objects and objects from it. Quality is not definable in terms of something other. It is foundational, because it is given directly.

        Yet, quality is perceived and experienced differently. How can this be if it is given?

        What Plato and other idealistic philosophers observe is that knowledge is different in different kinds of consciousness; therefore, reality appears differently in different forms of consciousness, since quality is a given. Since quality is an attribute of being, quality is apprehended differently in different types of consciousness along with the existence of objects.

        These philosophers further asserted that there are different levels of consciousness. While there may be different types of consciousness at a single level, there are also different levels. This is the point of Plato’s famous allegory of the cave in The Republic, for instance. Eastern philosophy posits seven planes of consciousness, of which gross consciousness is the lowest.

        Most people are in gross consciousness and their experience is dualistic (subject and object are apparently separate) and material (people identify with the body and perceive the world as separate from the body). In subtler states of consciousness, the distinction between subject and object narrows and is finally overcome completely in the state of unity, in which being is realized as eternal, unchanging, one and indivisible, all apparent difference being phenomenal rather than noumenal.

        Quality plays a key role in the transformation (evolution) of consciousness. Therefore, quality is “dynamic” in this sense. For example, in Plato’s metaphysics of quality, the Good, which is static (eternal and unchanging) draws all toward itself, and by being drawn in this direction, one’s comprehension of good is transformed and approximates it object more closely. This is the message of Diotima to Socrates in the famous “ladder of love” passage in The Symposium.

        This teaching, which developed into Neoplatonism and Hemeticism in the West, is reflected in many so-called primitive ways of thought, as well as the mystical traditions associated with the great religions. The essence of this teaching is that pursuit of quality results in the acquisition of virtue, both personal and social. culminating in enlightened individuals living in ideal society. The teaching is further that nothing is added in this process, only ignorance is subtracted.

        This ignorance is not informational ignorance as much as ignorance of quality, the basis of which is love. Love is attraction for the one, true, good and beautiful as the attributes of being. The goal of becoming (evolution of consciousness) is realization of being, which is eternal, unchanging and unitary (non-dual).

        The door to quality and therefore transformation is the heart. The human challenge is achieving balance of head (cognition) and heart (affect).

      4. I haven’t read Lila, yet, but at your instigation, I will have to. In fact, I’ve already ordered in a copy.

        I am quite familiar with Pirsig’s philosophical articles, e.g., MOQ.org, however, and I think I understand his position and where he is coming from. Here are a few thoughts about it.

        The questions Pirisg is dealing with are central to Eastern and Western philosophy dating from the oldest extant works. From what I can tell about what he says about MOQ (metaphysics of quality) in his articles, he is proposing another way of expressing what major philosophers have been grappling with for millennia. This is best articulated in the mystics, although symbolically for the most part, and most people are either unaware of this body of literature or are baffled by it.

        The problem really is one of language. Philosophy according to Socrates is a reflection on experience, That reflection is through thinking and thought uses language as its medium. Moreover, thought is communicated through language as a medium of expression.

        In “Subjects, Objects, Data and Values,” Pirsig quotes Neils Bohr approvingly, when Bohr says that we are suspended in language, and he notes that the “problem” of interpreting quantum mechanics is stating technical (operational, formal, mathematical) in ordinary language. (Unfortunately, I cannot provide a link to the reference owing to a quirk in the way moq.org is set up. The paper can be found by navigating from the home page though “Forums” on the navigation bar at the top of the page. This leads to the Forum page. Click on “List of Essays,” and this leads to Pirsig’s online articles.)

        Post Wittgenstein, contemporary Anglo-American philosophers look at philosophical problems as essentially language problems. Philosophy is not “scientific” in the contemporary sense, because it in not predictive of checkable facts. However, it does seem to be explanatory.

        The questions then become what criteria constitute explanation and what are the criteria that distinguish evaluating explanation. That is to say, how is a philosophical statement to be tested (evaluated) and a philosophical theory to be corroborated, and how can various philosophies be ranked relative to each other.

        Pirsig deals with some these issues in “A brief summary of the
        Metaphysics of Quality
        at his own site (robertpirsig.org) He says:

        The Metaphysics of Quality, or MOQ, is simply a philosophic answer to the question of what is Quality, or worth, or merit, or value, or betterness or any of the other synonyms for good. There are many possible answers but the one the MOQ gives is that you can understand Quality best if you don’t subordinate it to anything else but instead subordinate everything else to it.

        This is original. I don’t know of any other thinker that has taken “Quality” specifically as the starting point of enquiry and posited Quality as first principle, although it can be argued that this is the first principle of Socratic philosophy, in which the first principle is the good (agathon) or the beautiful (kallos), and excellence or “virtue” is knowledge of the hierarchy of “forms” (ideas) under the first principle. In this view form is “real” because it is unchanging, and mater is “unreal” or illusory because it comes to be and passes away.

        Plato identified the real with being (on as in ontological). Pirsig takes the opposite approach:

        The “Quality” of the Metaphysics of Quality is not a basic substance, or anything like it. The Buddhists call it “nothingness” precisely to avoid that kind of intellectual characterization. Once you start to define Quality as a basic substance you are off on a completely different path from the MOQ.
         
        I’m not original on this point, except to identify Quality with the Tao and with Buddha-nature (hence the title of ZMM). The amount of material on these two would overflow most library rooms, but it is essential to both that the basic constituent of the universe is nothingness, and by this is meant not empty space but “no-thingness.” It is somewhat incorrect to call “no-thingness” a basic constituent since it is not really even that, (it is not even an it) but in an everyday philosophic “finger-pointing-toward-the-moon” discourse that’s about as good as you can get. It is very incorrect to call it a substance in the way that substance is usually meant today.

        However, what both Buddha and Buddhists, and Lao Tzu and Taoists hold is that the first principle is ineffable and cannot be captured in language. Their “philosophies” are negative in that they prescribe the via negativa of how to remove ignorance in order to reveal ultimate wisdom. (I use quotations to indicate that their method is negative, to show that nothing meaningful can be said about that which is mystical, an observation that Wittgenstein reiterated in Tractatus, 4.1212, and which he elaborates in 6-7.)

        Prisig acknowledges this (Ibid.):

        The Metaphysics of Quality itself is static and should be separated from the Dynamic Quality it talks about. Like the rest of the printed philosophic tradition it doesn’t change from day to day, although the world it talks about does. To use an Oriental metaphor, it is just another finger pointing toward the moon.

        Where I think that Pirsig veers off track a bit is when he say this:

        If, as has been noted by R.C. Zaehner, once the Oxford University Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, I am saying the same thing as Aristotle; and if, as has been noted in the Harvard Educational Review, I am saying the same thing as William James; and if as has been noted now that I may be saying the same thing as Spinoza: then why has no one ever noticed that Aristotle and Spinoza and William James are all saying the same thing?

        Actually, quite a few people have noticed this. (This happens to be my field of specialization. I call it “core spirituality.”)

        It has many names, philosophia perennis in the West, sanatana dharma in the Vedic tradition, and “the way” in Taoism (tao means “way”) and Sufism (tariqat), for example. Someone asked Buddha if his teaching (dharma) was original. He reportedly replied that if his teaching were original, he would not be Buddha (the awakened one).

        Moreover, Pirsig notes:

        During the writing of the MOQ a long search was made through an encyclopedia of philosophy to see if the MOQ was repeating what someone else had said. And this was so stated in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. None of the traditional European philosophers seemed to match in any close way. The closest finds were Plotinus, Lao Tsu, and Professor F.S.C. Northrop of Yale University.  These similarities have been acknowledged many times.

        Plotinus, a Neoplatonist, was following in path that Plato had established in promulgating the teaching of his master, Socrates, who had written nothing. F. S. C. Northrup was philosophical contribution was integrating the Eastern “aesthetic” approach grounded in “intuition” with the Western scientific approach based on “postulation.” He was one of the many that anticipated the fusion of East and West through globalization. But contemporary Western thinkers like Bergson and Whitehead, also apparently discovered this on their own, perhaps because it was “in the air.”

        This notion has snowballed it is the predominant thrust of contemporary avant-garde thinking. So I would put Pirsig among these, and I find his idea of a transcendental aesthetic as the ground of experience valuable. While his expression of it is original and contributory, the idea is ancient (as he admits).

        The task of the person trying to articulate this is to express what one wishes clearly and comprehensively. Just about everyone that tries is successful to some degree and unsuccessful in another, because most people that bother are pretty intelligent and intuitive, so they have something useful to say. But even those who know do not say (Tao Teh Ching, 56.1) meaning cannot entirely capture its referent through language use. Wisdom is not gained through reading or thinking, but rather through a process of “self-actualization” and “realization.”

        The task for each person is to find his or her way. Eventually, one has to realize that the way lies not through adding anything essential but subtracting the unessential. What all mystics and mystical philosophers have said is that the way is driven by value in the sense that action (thought, word and deed) is driven by lack. The supreme value lies in complete satisfaction in which there is no lack and can be no lack, that is, in perfect and abiding fulfillment.

        All qualities and their opposites are shadows of this, and sentient being pursue different types of value, homing in on more and more abiding types of value until they realize that value which is sufficient unto itself because it is absolute and non-dual, transcending subjective and objective, mind and world. Mystics and masters have given this many names, but they all agree that realization is not communicated by language. If properly appreciated, their use of language is a finger indicating the direction.

    1. In fact, I’d say this is one of the most comprehensive and intelligent opinions on current affairs and global economics I’ve come across in a while. This guy’s got it nailed imo.

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