Was the Noble Savage noble? Or savage?

There has been a debate in the press recently about whether the state (nation) is fundamentally a source of exploitation and war, or whether it’s a civilizing influence on humans’ natural brutal nature. The debate has echoes of Jean-Jacque Rousseau versus Thomas Hobbes, as well as echos of FDR versus the Koch brothers.

In short, was the Noble Savage noble or savage?

Anarchist and Yale political scientist James Scott has written a series of books critical of the state and nostalgic for the supposed peaceful and cooperative hunter-gatherer past. In a piece published in The Nation, political scientist and legal scholar Samuel Moyn reviews Scott’s work and concludes that Scott both ignores the brutality of pre-state humans and understates the benefits of states and civilization. The very qualities of equality and freedom that Scott bestows are a product of states.

Some other references suggesting that hunter-gatherers were relatively peaceful and egalitarian include:

Human Nature May Not Be So Warlike After All

Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers: study

“Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers, and killings among nomadic groups were often due to competition for women or interpersonal disputes, researchers in Finland said Thursday.” (Is it really war or just an interpersonal feud? Several researchers point out that organized war, with masses of troops probably required states, but feuds and minor killings sill occurred in hunter-gatherer society.)

But there are many scholars who think hunter-gatherers were war-like and treated woman poorly.

Hunter-gatherers were brutal and we have the state to thank for a decrease in violence and an increase in equality

Review of the book Violence and Warfare among Hunter-Gatherers, Journal of Anthropological Research. “LeBlanc develops a set of features common to hunter-gatherer warfare cross-culturally and argues that overwhelming ethnographic evidence shows intergroup violence was frequently dangerous but likely tied to resource stress between human populations.” “The reader finishes the book with an understanding that interpersonal violence and warfare occurred at all levels of sociopolitical complexity, predated colonization, and were widely variable in intensity and frequency.”

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a 2011 book by Steven Pinker.

[Pinker] argues that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short run and suggests explanations as to why this has occurred.The book contains a wealth of data simply documenting violence across time and geography. This paints a picture of massive declines in violence of all forms, from war, to improved treatment of children. He highlights the role of nation-state monopolies on force, of commerce (making “other people become more valuable alive than dead”), of increased literacy and communication (promoting empathy), as well as a rise in a rational problem-solving orientation as possible causes of this decline in violence. He notes that, paradoxically, our impression of violence has not tracked this decline, perhaps because of increased communication,[2] and that further decline is not inevitable, but is contingent on forces harnessing our better motivations such as empathy and increases in reason. (Source)

No, hunter gatherers were not peaceful paragons of gender equality Lots of graphs. Violence is decreasing over time.

10,000-year-old massacre suggests hunter-gatherers went to war

Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers

Finding a hunter-gatherer massacre scene that may change history of human warfare “We have discovered the oldest known case of violence between two groups of hunter gatherers took place there, with ten excavated skeletons showing evidence of having been killed with both sharp and blunt weapons.” “[M]any scholars have argued that warfare must have emerged after farming and more complex political systems arose.” But these findings challenge that view.

Noble or Savage? “The era of the hunter-gatherer was not the social and environmental Eden that some suggest.”
 

My concern with this is that many anarchists and bottom-up proponents on the Left are (perhaps unwittingly) aiding libertarians who want to destroy the New Deal and regulatory state crafted by progressive politics of the last 100 years. Yes, the state is often corrupted and used to harm people. Our task is to fix it so that it serves the many.

Burbank: Our successes were built on contributions of others

We are approaching the Fourth of July, when we celebrate American independence and the success of the colonists’ desire to be self-ruling. The United States was the first of England’s many colonies to gain its independence, something that would not be repeated until Canada broke away nearly a century later. It’s a testament to Americans’ individualistic, rugged, bold ways.

But we didn’t do it alone. We couldn’t do it alone. Despite George Washington’s exceptional instincts, the Continental Army simply didn’t have the money, men, training or ships needed to defeat the British. So they were lucky to have the French, who were fuming after losing almost all their territory to the British in the French and Indian War. The French pummeled the British at sea, gave the Americans weapons, and sent soldiers to fight on American soil. It’s no coincidence the treaty ending that war was signed in Paris.

These facts are often lost in the myth of America’s origin. We like to talk of “self-made” individualists who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. We’re told it’s a place where anyone can be president, and we can achieve anything if we work hard enough. It’s something like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average. But of course, the truth is a little different.

All wealthy Americans achieved their status with the help of other people. It may have been parents who paid for their education, allowing them to start out without student loans. Or a grandmother who offers free childcare during work hours. Or a credit union that offered a favorable first business loan. Or taxpayers who help fund the transportation networks that allow them to get to work and ship products. At the root, it’s the productivity of thousands of workers who generate wealth and ultimately make possible a person’s “individual” advancement.

Last year, Forbes listed Bill Gates as the top self-made billionaire. That’s partially true in that he’s the wealthiest, by far. But he’s not entirely self-made. His father was able to become a lawyer through the federal (taxpayer-funded) GI Bill, which helped make it possible for Bill to attend an expensive private school. Bill Gates and Paul Allen first explored computing through the (also taxpayer-financed) University of Washington’s computer lab. His wife, Melinda, stayed home to take care of their children while Microsoft was a young company. Taxpayer-funded research created the internet and built phone lines and other infrastructure, laying the groundwork for the personal computer revolution that made Microsoft huge.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying Bill Gates isn’t a genius, or that he didn’t work hard for this success. But put a genius in the desert, alone, and what do you have? Society helped make Bill Gates rich. He and other wealthy individuals are the product of intergenerational and societal investments designed to build the common good.

That’s why it’s extremely dangerous when these societal investments are cut back and withdrawn. We can see it now with the prolonged debate over just how much the government is going to gut Medicaid and Medicare, or the long-overdue upgrades needed to our transportation networks; or the state Legislature’s unwillingness to fully-fund K-12 schools per the state Supreme Court’s order. We’re cutting up the social contract that creates an America where anyone can succeed.

You can’t get rich if you’re in bankruptcy from cancer treatments. You can’t succeed in business if your employees and customers can’t reach you. You can’t be a great employee — or come up with the next big business idea — if you don’t get a shot at a great education.

If we’re serious about keeping the promise of America, where upward mobility is available to everyone, we have to provide for education, transportation, health care, utilities and a myriad of other public good projects for the economy to thrive. And yes, that means paying taxes to fund those investments through our democratic institutions. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how good the cause is, it will fail without a support system.

So this Fourth of July, as you celebrate our Independence Day, take a moment to recognize and remember that our community is what gives us the tools to succeed. Every day is Interdependence Day.

Originally posted at Herald.net

Bloomberg: Sweden's economic miracle based on high taxes

Sweden’s economy has outperformed its OECD peers over the past two decades

High taxes, strong unions and an equal distribution of wealth.

That’s the recipe for success in a globalized world, according to Magdalena Andersson, the Social Democratic economist who’s also Sweden’s finance minister.

The 50-year-old has been raising taxes and spending more on welfare since winning power in 2014. She’s also overseen an economic boom, with Swedish growth rates topping 4 percent early last year, that has turned budget deficits into surpluses.

….

The numbers are compelling. Sweden has one of the world’s highest tax burdens, with tax revenue about 43 percent of GDP, according to OECD data. The equivalent figure for the U.S. is about 26 percent. Sweden’s economy has grown almost twice as fast as America’s, expanding 3.1 percent last year, compared with 1.6 percent in the U.S.

Sweden has the highest labor force participation in the European Union. Andersson attributes this to tax-funded parental leave and affordable daycare, which make it easier for both parents to work.

In contrast to most of its European peers, Sweden has budget surpluses. The EU average will be a shortfall of 1.6 percent in 2018, while the estimated deficit in the U.S. of 5.7 percent of GDP, EU Commission data published in February show.

A Reverse-Trump Tax Plan Delivers an Economic Miracle in Sweden

It takes a web of public support to keep ourselves healthy

Mention “the web” and many people will think you’re talking about the Internet. But when you’re having a serious medical problem, you see an entirely different network in action.

Two weeks ago, as my body tried — at first, in vain — to fight off a serious infection, my family and friends were the first set of those connections. They took me to the doctor and dentist, made sure I took antibiotics, talked to me, and comforted me. I’m grateful. I certainly was not in any condition to do that on my own. But I’m also grateful for the many other connections that supported them and made my care possible. Family and friends can only do so much.

Consider the doctors, l technicians, nurses, medical assistants and dentists who help us. We have this professional workforce thanks to public investments in the University of Washington’s medical school and nursing school, numerous community colleges and other universities and colleges across the state and nation. Not only was their cost of education subsidized by the state, but all the capital investments in building and technology for medical education came from the state’s taxpayers.

Consider the growing list of MRIs, CT scans, biologic drugs and cancer treatments now available. These advances are possible because of government investments in health research and development, through the National Institutes of Health. Anti-cancer drugs like Taxol, that have saved my sister’s life and thousands of others, were initially developed by the federally funded National Cancer Institute.

These are public triumphs for everyone’s health. But even those require a network to succeed. The priorities we set as a society, and enact through our democracy, are the foundation for everyone’s protection, health and quality of life.

Consider the roads leading to and from our homes and nearby medical facilities. No single person builds and maintains them. We chose to pool our resources via collective taxation to shape our transportation network.

Consider that half of all people in Washington have health insurance through government financing, whether via Apple Care, Medicare, Obamacare the State Health Benefit Exchange, or as public employees of school districts, fire districts, the state, counties and cities. My wife, sister and brother-in-law are part of this network. So is anyone over 65, all kids under 18, and many retired fans of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This woven web of coverage isn’t perfect, but it beats handing your fate over to a private market interested more in profits than patients.

Consider that now in Seattle and Tacoma and Spokane, you can take a work day to care for yourself or sick family member without fear of losing your wages or your job. That’s only possible because the Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane city councils passed ordinances to make it so. Initiative 1433, the statewide ballot measure now gathering signatures, would extend this network of law to all workers in the state.

When you are sick, you gain a new perspective on life. It tends to diminish one’s own sense of self-importance. That humbling is a good thing. We all need some perspective about ourselves away from the noise and ego of everyday life. It shatters the self-made, up-by-my-bootstraps, don’t-need-any-help edifice that too often masquerades as some kind of American ethos.

A person is only able to lead a healthy life because of the entire web around them: of society, government, health professionals, friends and family. Keep that in mind as certain presidential candidates invoke the founders of our country or other contemporary leaders as paragons of self-sufficiency. None of us are or were — not the founders (whose quality of life was enabled through the slave labor), not Donald Trump (whose wealth is protected by bankruptcy courts and civil law), and not Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (who, like many of us, benefit from publicly provided health coverage).

We are all in this together, no matter what the color of our skin or the accents and language of our voices. It’s time to bury the hubris and take a large dosage of humility — maybe like some of our great-grandparents took a spoonful of cod liver oil each morning. Then we need to figure out how to advance as a nation of interconnected and interdependent individuals striving for lives of purpose, hope, happiness and solidarity.

Originally published at the Everett Herald

The Republican scam, and the Democrats' unwillingness to oppose it

Last night I was listening to AM talk radio, and a Republican candidate was promoting the following conservative narrative: “Yes, there is terrible wealth inequality, and it’s due to government waste, corruption and regulations. We need to slash taxes and get rid of regulations so that the middle class can have jobs and thrive.  Government is a taker. We need more freedom.”  The candidate also talked about the preciousness of life.

Likewise, at a political event in Nevada recently, Marc Rubio told the audience that the notion that “big government is good for the people who are trying to make it” is a “lie.” He said, “When the government dominates the economy, the people that can afford to influence the government — they win. And everybody else is stuck.” (source: November 30, 2015 edition of the New Yorker)

There is some truth to Rubio’s statements, and the conservative narrative is plausible enough to dupe lots of people.

Yet it’s a big scam.

The scam goes like this. Conservatives corrupt and starve government so it performs poorly. They make sure it serves the 1%. They wage almost constant war. They allow corporations to ship profits and jobs overseas. They oppose regulations that might rein in Wall Street, even as they decry Wall Street greed and the bailouts. They under-fund the IRS and regulatory agencies. They promote regressive taxation which unfairly burdens the middle class.  Then they argue that taxes are too high and government is wasteful and corrupt. They use the failures of government to justify cutting taxes and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich. When progressives try to fix the system, they accuse progressives of wanting to raise peoples’ taxes.

The scam works — it’s rather brilliant — and our task is to expose it and promote an alternative vision in which government serves everyone, not just the 1%.

Scam Alert!

The solution to the corruption of government isn’t to throw in the towel and give up on government. The solution is to fix the system so it’s not rigged.

But we have a tiny voice, and the corporate-backed Republicans have most of the money and an effective noise machine.  There aren’t enough progressive rich people willing to fund an alternative, lefty media empire. And most Democratic politicians choose to ignore the problems of fair taxation and government corruption. They allow Republicans to frame the issues.

At a recent King County Dems Legislative Action Committee meeting I asked state House majority leader Pat Sullivan what he’d do to educate the voters so that they stop voting for Tim Eyman’s anti-tax initiatives and for Republican candidates.   I want Sullivan and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership — including Governor Inslee and ex-Governors Gregoire, Locke, and Lowery — to boldly take the lead in educating the public about taxes and government.

But Sullivan said that it’s not his job to educate the public.  The voters won’t listen to him.

I think the politicians run away from the issue because they think (know?) that they’ll get slaughtered at the polls if they talk about taxes.

Moreover, there are enough corporate, triangulating politicians within the Democratic Party to muddy the waters and make it unclear which party can be trusted. Bill Clinton dismantled Glass-Steagall, supported NAFTA and said “The era of big government is over.” President Obama surrounded himself with Wall Street cronies and promoted a health care plan designed by the Heritage Foundation to enrich insurance companies. Governor Inslee gave an $8.7 billion tax break to Boeing. Democrat Ross Hunter took the lead in arranging tax breaks for Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Republicans control the U.S. House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, and they’ve taken over a large majority of state legislatures. In Washington State Republicans control the state Senate and are two seats away from controlling the state House.

Who will step up and promote the pro-government, fair taxation message people need to hear? How can we strengthen the hand of progressives in the Democratic Party?

Clearly, Bernie Sanders has been effective at getting parts of this message out to the public. Perhaps the movement he inspires will succeed at starting to fix the corruption. My only fear is that his calling himself a socialist might limit his effectiveness. The ironic thing is: he’s probably not even a socialist! He’s a social democrat. See Bernie Sanders is a social democrat, not a socialist. Dwight Eisenhower was more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is a Social Democrat, not a Democratic Socialist

[Note: this article’s former title was: “The conservative scam: a plausible narrative that enriches the 1%”.]

Deceptive anti-government article in the Seattle P-I

The Seattle P-I often publishes click-bait photo essays, which ask the user to click through a series of Getty images to read short summaries.  The photo essays hardly count as “articles”. The first page is a rewording of some source article. The reader spends most of her time clicking through the pretty photos. I suppose the Seattle P-I likes the cheap (free?) content and needs the ad revenue.

A recent photo essay is particularly low quality.

Called “The worst-ever wastes of US public money”, the photo essay is deceptive for several reasons.

First, the article omits some boondoggles that are far more costly than the ones it included.

The disastrous, ill-conceived war in Iraq has already cost $2 trillion; estimated eventual cost is as high as $6 trillion (source).

And what about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program? Each plane costs $400 million, twice the original estimate. The entire program’s estimated cost? $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion.  The program has been plagued with technical difficulties, and numerous critics claim the plane’s design is inferior.  For example, Pentagon’s big budget F-35 fighter ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’;   F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a Lemon (“Military expert Pierre Sprey, the founder and designer of the F-16 & A-10 Warthog airplanes, explains why the F-35 will not cut it on the modern battlefield”).

The list of boondoggles they do include — copied from GoBankingRate.com’s 20 Biggest Boondoggles in the U.S. — ranges from #20 “Missouri’s Pruitt-Igoe Housing Projects: $36 Million” to #1 “California’s High-Speed Rail: $68 Billion”.

Not all of the projects are primarily wastes of government. #12 is “New Jersey’s Revel Casino: $2.4 Billion”. That failure was mostly a failure of corporations, not government.  Morgan Stanley took a $900 million loss on the casino.   Republican Governor Chris Christie signed onto the project, guaranteeing $216 million in tax incentives.

In fact, progressives aren’t in favor of all government programs.

Ten of the projects (#19, #18, #16, #15, #14, #10, #9, #7, #6, and #4) involve road and bridge construction. I can agree that the projects are largely wasteful. But progressives, such as me, generally oppose government spending on roads, which has the effect of subsidizing auto use and sprawl.

#10 is “Washington’s Big Bertha $3.1 Billion.”  Most Seattle progressives (environmentalists in particular) opposed spending on the tunnel and wanted public transportation instead.

Often government programs are corrupt or benefit the wrong people. But the solution isn’t to get rid of government. The solution is to fix the corruption and mismanagement.  But a tried and true GOP strategy is to make sure government works only for the 1%. Under-fund and corrupt the programs that do help the middle class.   Oppose regulations that might prevent abuses. Then blame government for the failures.

#1 in the list of boondoggles is California’s high speed rail. But construction began in January, 2015.  It’s too early to call the project a boondoggle. It’s a worthy goal: build high-speed rail from LA to San Francisco.

#17 is about Maryland’s sewer system. $1.1 billion is the estimated total cost.  The original projected cost was $700 million.  The scheduled completion date is in 2018. That doesn’t strike me as a terrible cost-overrun.

#5 on the the list is “Texas’ Superconducting Super Collider: $11 Billion”. But, in fact, $11 billion was the revised estimated cost; “only” about $2.4 billion of that projected cost was actually spent (according to this article and this article).

Let’s not forget, too, the billions of dollars wasted by corporations. Most businesses fail. Microsoft recently wasted $7.6 billion on its acquisition of Nokia and another $6.2 billion on aQuantive.

For the record, here are images of the headlines, followed by the text of the original article appearing in Seattle P-I.

Seattle P-I headline 1

Seattle P-I headline 1

Seattle P-I headline 1

Sometimes, the government uses the money its taxpayers send each April 15 wisely, like building schools or paying benefits to veterans.

Other times, the government could save itself and taxpayers a lot of hassle just by throwing our money in a big trash can and setting it on fire.

Recently, the consumer finance site GoBankingRates collected the 20 biggest boondoggles in America, and perhaps not surprisingly, almost all of them can be put on the tab of either a state government of the feds.

 If you thought the $435 hammer at the Pentagon or the Navy’s $640 toilet seat sounded like ridiculous wastes of money (they’re actually more like “creative accounting”), you’re not going to be happy with the $1.3 billion the government spent on an interstate that doesn’t actually connect any states.

Or the $2 billion on a dam that failed the first time they tried to fill it (killing several people in the process).

Check out the photos above to see the 20 biggest wastes of money in America, according to GoBankingRates, along with why they are and will continue to be such gigantic money pits.

As I mentioned above, the P-I got the content from GoBankingRates.com. In the original article, there’s a link “View All.”  If you click on it, you get to see the list of projects, and their corresponding images, on a single page.  The Seattle P-I makes readers click through the images to see the list. Annoying!