Friday, November 29, 2013

Progressively Tilting at Windmills

As I put this post together, it became apparent that the word "progressive" really didn't have any second meaning, for progressives and conservatives alike are not immune to tilting at windmills. Rather, some problems which we rant about are more "fixable" than  others. Even so, they continue to get lumped together with economic issues which require more consideration on everyone's part, to address.

This is also what has happened to the potential for nominal targeting, as it remains on the back burner of central banks which continue to dither over structural gridlock. However, the longer that nominal targeting remains on the back burner, other circumstance only become more convoluted than ever. And that makes it more difficult for some, to see why a return to total spending capacity was so needed in the first place.

No one is immune to the impulse to react, rather than seek real solutions. What's more, the ones who are ready to move forward in any given circumstance, are stopped time and again in their tracks, by those who are not. Some things that society needs, just don't have calendar dates which say, this in fact has become! And the calendar dates of politicians tend to be concerned with other things. Meanwhile, as economic circumstance worsen, more people start to feel victimized by everyone else.

By no means are progressives the only ones who react as though victimized by any number of circumstance. Anyone who knows someone who's been "victimized" by governments, capitalists or even overly activist neighborhoods, just raise your hand...However I don't begrudge anyone who needs to vent anger or frustration - there's plenty to be had all around. Without a doubt, it's not always clear what the actual problem is or how, exactly, it began. So the real issue: is the present source of frustration yet another straw man, or something that really calls for the transformative action borne of initial anger? Do people just resort to the straw man, because it's the easy way out and the only apparent thing to do?

For instance, increasing incredulity regarding what the U.S. prison system has become, is starting to cross political lines. This is no longer about just prisons, it's about ruined lives throughout the social strata of both city and rural life. In retrospect, it is clear that the drug war never should have been started. But among all the countless problems the drug war has initiated, who would have ever expected a growing prison population to even connect with the problem of "livable" wages?

Apparently, some businesses in the U.S. are starting to quietly hire "next to nothing" cost prison labor. Mmm, not quite the "made in the U.S.A." result which people were expecting. Let alone the fact that everyone needs access to work...but is this form of labor actually a source of self respect for the inmates which perform it? This set of circumstance was borne of earlier convoluted circumstance, and it is no longer easy to face the problem of growing prison populations head on. Just the same, there are ways to focus on improving economic circumstance in other areas which - over time - would also reduce the present day problem of prisons in the U.S.

Likewise, the growing problem of antibiotic resistance cuts across multiple areas of life, and will ultimately affect healthcare outcomes in ways which go well beyond careful planning or focused efforts. Some of these effects will be anything but positive. And yet, perhaps in the long run it will allow approaches to healthcare which were long discarded, before they were even adequately understood or openly expressed in scientific frameworks. For instance many scientific studies do exist for alternative forms of healthcare, but they mostly remain limited to higher income populations instead of lower income populations which lost these options more than a generation earlier.

With examples and outcomes such as this, where does one begin focused efforts, towards a realistic and positive future? When is it possible to take action before things get out of hand? The second linked example was perhaps beyond anything that could have been done differently. Thankfully, there are still natural antibiotic elements in nature that can assist relatively simple circumstance. But they likely will not be a substitute for the kinds of surgeries which became taken for granted in the 20th century, with the advent of strong antibiotics.

These two sets of circumstance also serve to remind us that nothing is as certain about the 21st century as we would like to believe it is. It might be more beneficial to plan domestic summits, than to simply start preparing for a growing lack of participation in meaningful economic existence. As Shane Parrish says in this blog post, we fail for many reasons. What is "forgivable", and what is not so easy to forgive? According to Atul Gawande:
Failures of ignorance we can forgive. If the knowledge of the best thing to do in a given situation does not exist, we are happy to have people simply make their best effort. But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.
There it is: not only is a relatively simple nominal targeting rule possible right here and now, it would affect numerous other areas in positive ways. Why should nations remain stuck with inflation targeting and zero bounds if it is not necessary? After all, this is important knowledge which already exists, yet is not being utilized. Unlike some decision making processes, a nominal targeting rule does not involve a tremendous societal response or even high level of understanding to implement in the here and now. And in the time it takes for all to understand how spending capacity is being faithfully followed, a considerable level of economic balance could be achieved.

Perhaps when people start to complain, we could ask, is this a windmill or straw man, or is this something that can be tended to before the fire (will to succeed) is put out, yet again? For instance I know there are times I appear to be tilting at windmills, but I admittedly try to tackle things in a long term perspective. What's important is that the short term and long term need to coexist in rational and connect-the-dot-terms. Because some chose to tilt at windmills instead of facing real problems head on, economic bedlam ensues. Let's connect more dots, so that more progress can be made.

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