history, humor, politics, STEM

Make America AMERICAN again

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Wish I knew how.  Some of the ways being tried look promising to me; some look counterproductive.  In roughly descending order of promise, I will list 10 of them and add sad emojis for the 3 counterproductive items that end the list.  Pressed for time?  Read #1 and #2 (the most promising items); then skip ahead to #9 and #10 (the most counterproductive items).

First, let me say where I am coming from.  In ancient times (before the phrase liberal Republican became an oxymoron), progressives could be Republicans.  Tho imperfect, that option made sense for pragmatic progressives who disliked deficits, knew how the road to Hell is paved, and would not kowtow to “conservative Democrats” (white racists in what was then the “Solid South”) for the sake of party unity.  In ancient times, I was a Republican.  Now I am a Sanders/Warren Democrat who also donates to the Working Families Party.  That imperfect option is the best available for me today.

America has changed a lot more than I have.  Many changes for the better are in imminent danger of being undone.  Many changes for the worse accelerated when George W Bush became POTUS, were slowed but not stopped under Obama, and have accelerated drastically under Donald Trump.  Paranoia is not one of my faults; I hope I am mistaken in seeing a clear and present danger to liberal democracy itself (on top of 4+ years of monumentally bad governance) in the Age of Trumpery.

  1. Tea Party Tactics
    The all-too successful efforts of the Tea Party to obstruct Obama’s agenda included many tactics that could also be used by honorable people to obstruct Trump’s.  Some progressive former Congressional staffers have compiled the Indivisible Guide for badgering legislators.  In addition to many helpful refinements of what I already vaguely knew, the guide has an insight so jolting that I will discuss it separately, after this list.

  2. Voting Rights
    There are many ways to prevent elections from throwing the bums out.  Savvy modern tyrants need not be so crude as to refuse to hold elections or refuse to let any serious opponents campaign.  Republican state legislators have raised gerrymandering to a high art, passed voter ID laws carefully tailored to depress voting by “conservatives” much less than voting by other groups, and so on.  Election administrators can open fewer polling places in areas where the “wrong” kind of voters are common.

    One of the many ways that the ACLU defends civil liberties is by filing lawsuits against such shenanigans.  Please support the ACLU and anybody else who defends voting rights.  For more on subtle ways that voting rights can be hollowed out behind a facade of democracy, see While Democrats Chase Russians, Republicans Keep Rigging Elections by Richard Eskow.

  3. State & Local Elections
    Far too many progressives act as if voting for POTUS once every 4 years would suffice to make good things happen.  Government in the USA is not that simple. Pseudoconservatives also pay attention down-ballot and in off years.  It shows.  Our fragmented system makes it extremely difficult for POTUS alone to get much done that is worth doing.  Down-ballot results in one election can also have nasty consequences up-ballot in the next one.

  4. Boycotting Trump-branded Stuff
    Tho Trump’s claim to be a “successful businessman” is a wild exaggeration, he does care about money.  The website #GRABYOURWALLET lists many casinos, hotels, products, and retailers.  With careful reading of the website’s spreadsheet, U can separate the retailers who actively push Trump-branded products (or otherwise support Trump) from those who just sell them along with various competitive products.  Boycotting the retailers who just sell them is counterproductive.

  5. Protest Marches
    They seem to have mobilized and heartened opposition, but I cannot help wondering how many of those who march and shout now were perfectionists then, when many progressive purists refused to hold their noses and support the only alternative to Trump who could have won on 2016-11-08.  I hope nobody thinks that denouncing Trump in a raucous crowd is as good as thwarting him.

    My big worry is that protest marches will become old news and that some protestors will try to freshen them up by marching w/o permits, snarling traffic, provoking cops to overreact, and so on.  The resulting legal battles will divert resources from the defense of voting rights.

  6. Ridiculing Trump
    Intense and well-deserved ridicule did not keep Trump out of the White House.  It is hard to ridicule Trump w/o also ridiculing his supporters.  I must confess to having sometimes yielded to temptation on this point.  But anything that is perceived as ridicule will only delay the awakening of those Trump voters who are not bigots or plutocrats but who had good cause to feel abandoned by smug neoliberals and turned to Trump in desperation.

    On the other hand, years of relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton eventually built up an exaggerated and indelible image of dishonesty.  (Tho far from being a paragon of integrity, HRC is relatively honest, as pols go.  The last paragon at the presidential level was Abraham Lincoln, whose honesty did not preclude being calculating and shrewd.)  Maybe years of apt and varied ridicule can accomplish something beyond catharsis for snipers like me.

  7. Fact Checking
    Copious documentation of staggering mendacity did not keep Trump out of the White House.  That those who ridicule Trump are more likely to amuse each other than erode his support is sad but not shocking.  That much of the electorate does not give a rat’s ass for truth is another story.  As with ridicule, I see some small hope that years of hammering away may eventually break thru.

  8. Calls for Impeachment 😦
    The question is not whether Trump deserves to be impeached and convicted.  He does. So what?  Impeachment and conviction cannot happen unless both the House and the Senate are flipped.  Suppose that unlikely event happens in 2018.  Trump’s term would be served out by Mike Pence, whose agenda is just as vile.  By being less abrasive than Trump, Pence might be even more effective in pushing for bad laws and lulling people into accepting thinly veiled fascism.

  9. Centrism 😦 😦
    Obviously, the Democratic Party must somehow reach out to the Reagan Democrats who came back for Obama but did not stay back for Clinton.  How to do that is controversial.  Despite my own broadly centrist inclinations, I believe it would be a huge mistake now to take any more advice from Third Way or anybody else who thinks Dems can win by sounding at all like decaffeinated Republicans.  Dems need a coherent progressive alternative that seriously addresses Rust Belt concerns, not an echo of Republican quackery pasted onto support for LGBTQ/reproductive rights and sanity about guns.  While I do support those rights and that sanity, I am starting to understand why they have so little traction.

  10. Normalizing Trump 😦 😦 😦
    Exhortations to come together after a bitterly contested election are a venerable American tradition, dating back to Jefferson’s inaugural address in 1801.  Still in shock on 2016-11-09, I reblogged an eloquent one.  At the same time, I reblogged a very different reaction that was also eloquent.  It was a struggle to work out my own subtler response with a look back to 1814.

    Looking back not quite so far as 1814, I recall that paranoid slave owners violently rejected the results of the 1860 election.  That did not end well.  Looking just a little ways back, I recall my own anger at McConnell’s nauseating pledge to subordinate governing to making Obama a 1-term POTUS, after Obama won in 2008 w/o any help from vote suppression or Russian meddling.

    Putting this item last in the list was painful, but not as painful as seeing Trump confirm a truckload of grim expectations (bigotry; chaos; corruption; …) within a month of inauguration. A wait-and-see attitude did make sense on 2016-11-09.  It does not make sense today.  Will the sane and decent people in the USA wait until it is too late to avoid covert fascism behind a facade of democracy?

What is the jolting insight mentioned in list item #1?  When opposing a nasty Trump initiative that advances a subversive hidden agenda, do not (repeat—not!) try be constructive by offering a better way to deal with whatever problem the Trump initiative purports to address.  Keep the opposition to Trump broadly based and unified, focused on the vileness of the snake oil and not distracted by internal debates about what should be done instead of swallowing snake oil.

I come from the very collegial culture of STEM and can remember when American politics was less adversarial and more collegial than it is now, tho never as collegial as STEM.  (Yes, there are rivalries in STEM and maybe still a few chances to do some good by reaching across the aisle in politics.)  Tho jolting and saddening, the advice to oppose w/o trying to be constructive is wise.

Does my claim in list item #9 that “Dems need a coherent progressive alternative that seriously addresses Rust Belt concerns” contradict that advice?  No.  Context is crucial. Trying to prevent a particular criminal folly by those currently in office is one context.  Trying to elect officials who are much less likely to engage in criminal folly is another context.

Image published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US

In some ways, the American Experiment is back in 1778: hanging by a thread (in what Thomas Paine rightly said were “times that try men’s souls”).  Many images of Valley Forge would be appropriate; I especially like the well-known painting by Edwin Austin Abbey of Baron von Steuben instructing George Washington’s pickup army in carefully selected European tactics/techniques that would help it win.

Washington’s eye for talent looked beyond billionaires who had donated lavishly.  Washington did not tweet jabs at “Krauts” while assuming that anybody who sounded like a Hessian was on the other side.  Washington saw that an immigrant from Prussia could kick ass for the cause.  The rest is history.

haiku, history

Winter Waiting

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A Google image search led to the images in this post; clicking on them will jump to the source credits at the end.  The haiku in this post is my response to

with special thanks to one of Jane’s haiku about winter:

© Jane Reichold

gathering clouds
heavy and dark with holding
unfallen flakes

beaver-outside-harlan_778x519

Quiet Endurance

Cold.  Pond iced over.
Silent snow on tomb-like mound.
Beavers wait it out.

beaver-inside_778x404

However bleak and dark it may be, winter is unlike the bleak dark periods of history.  Winter’s onset and duration are roughly predictable.  Like beavers, those who prepare can often endure.  Too bad history is not like that.

Sources

I wrote the haiku while commenting on a wintry post by Poet Rummager that I liked.  The post did not mention snow or beavers, but inspiration is quirky.  Tho I liked my haiku enough to post it all by itself, I decided to wait until I had found images that would clarify it for readers unfamiliar with the way beavers wait out winter in their lodges.  Those who would like to see more detail can find it on a very readable webpage that was created for course requirements at Hamilton College.

The photo of the outside of a lodge in winter is from a well-illustrated post by Harlan Schwartz on the Canadian Canoe Routes website.  The photo was shared on PhotoBucket and downloaded from there.

The drawing of the inside of a lodge in winter is from the book Why the Adirondacks Look the Way They Do by Mike Storey (Nature Knows Best Books, 2006).  The drawing was reproduced in a very positive online review by Paul Grondahl and downloaded from there.

history, humor, politics

After 202+4 Years

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In 1814,

the British Royal Navy bombards the fort guarding Baltimore’s harbor with state-of-the-art artillery.  The attack inspires a mediocre poem that is just barely singable (if U pretend that “yeh-et” is a word) to the tune of a British drinking song.  The Brits eventually get a consolation prize for the failure of the seige of Baltimore, when their song becomes our national anthem (but with lyrics from the poem, not the pubs).

On the morning of Election Day in 2016,

pink-rebel-386x342

I find that the Pink Rebel (a Xmas cactus that blooms when it damn well pleases, and never at Xmas) has a nice blossom.  I take that to be a good omen. Good omens have been in short supply recently, as the pseudoconservative coalition of bigots and plutocrats bombards a wobbly electoral process with state-of-the-art ratcrap, propelled by dark money and deep resentments.  The pseudoconservatives hope for veto-proof majorities in Congress as a consolation prize, if they cannot install a protofascist buffoon as President.

My local polling place is crowded.  The people who run it have finally found an efficient way to arrange all the stuff that must be crammed into a tiny room in the firehouse: a sign-in table, little booths for marking the ballots, and a machine to scan the ballots and keep them secure in case a recount is needed.  I have finally remembered to remove my ballot from the privacy sleeve before feeding it to the scanner.  (It is only in theory that the scanner can grab the ballot by an edge protruding from the sleave.)  The scanner accepts the naked ballot w/o fuss.  Walking back to my car after an unexpectedly smooth and quick process, I tear up a little.

I have just now experienced an America that is calm and polite and competent.  For how long?

On the morning after Election Day in 2016,

sad-flag-386x527
I rise with the dawn’s early light and go online to see the results for races that were not foregone conclusions.  Mostly vomit-worthy, with a few consolations in the Senate.  The Dems will keep the NV seat that Reid is leaving.  The new Dem for IL is a combat veteran who knows the difference between patriotism and posturing; a seat for NH also flipped.  Maybe filibusters can keep the pseudoconservatives from passing the very worst things on their wishlist.

For at least the next 4 years, I expect that American politics will not be calm and polite and competent.  I hope I am wrong in this prediction, and not wrong merely because of surrender by those who oppose the pseudoconservative agenda.

Remember Mitch McConnell’s declaration (soon after the 2008 election) that preventing a 2nd term for Obama would have his top priority?  I was angered by that commitment to reflexive opposition (regardless of the cost to the nation) to whatever Obama might propose.  So I will try to keep an open mind.  It is conceivable that Trump will surprise everybody (even himself) by growing quickly and well into his awesome new responsibilities.  But not at all likely.

What is likely?  Zombie economics and accelerating climate change will lead to global suffering comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930-s.  Less likely (but still far from being alarmist hype) is the possibility of descent into thinly veiled fascism.

Yes, our traditions of liberal democracy are stronger than those of the Weimar Republic in 1932 and 1933.  The question is not whether our traditions are stronger than Weimar’s but whether they are still strong enough to withstand escalating bombardment from pseudoconservatives who have honed expertise at selective vote suppression.  The land of the free has its share of people with authoritarian personalities and deep resentments, often legitimate but exagerrated or misdirected.  As did Germany in the 1930-s.

The Royal Navy bombardment in 1814 was 202 years ago.  After the imminent 4 years of intensified pseudoconservative bombardment, will our flag be still there?

s-s-b-386x342.jpg
Star-Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian Institution

happy-flag-386x349

(reblog), history, humor, politics

Tough Lessons

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Learning from history is tough, even for those who remember it.   Parallels are never exact.  The importance of each difference between then and now is a judgement call.   Consider a darkly hilarious cartoon by Jen Sorensen:

Mandatory Birthing Center

Yes, the resemblance of the armed guard to a Nazi storm trooper is as subtle as a sledge hammer.   Fine by me.   Maybe it will overcome the American propensity for historical amnesia and wishful thinking.

Much to my dismay, Hillary Clinton is the only Trump opponent who might conceivably be elected.   The progressive purists who disdain supporting Clinton are confident that something like what happened in Germany in 1932 and 1933 could not happen here and now, with a Trump victory.   Yes, our traditions of liberal democracy are stronger than those of the Weimar Republic.   The pertinent question is not whether our traditions are stronger but whether they are still strong enough, after years of relentless assault from the pseudoconservative coalition of bigots and plutocrats that controls staggering amounts of dark money and has already taken over the GOP.   Dammit, the answer is not obvious.

(reblog), history, politics

Loyalty

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The failure of Congress to renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program endangers people who served as translators for US troops in Afghanistan.   Enduring the same dangers and hardships as the troops, the translators sometimes fought alongside them.   Links to details will follow shortly.

This is not about whether the war in Afghanistan (or any war) was justified.   This is about doing right by good people who put their lives on the line but are being abandoned by lazy pols.

As a thoughtful video (under 3 minutes) produced by No One Left Behind points out, this is one of those extremely rare situations where it would be fairly easy to act both honorably and in our own self-interest, if only Congress would listen to a few combat veterans in its own ranks.

The rest of this post is excerpted from e-mail about the visa crisis that I received 2016-09-19 from No One Left Behind.   There are plenty of links to details in the excerpt.

˙ ˙ ˙

Congress left Washington, DC at the end of last week having failed to hold a vote on the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program.   As a result of their unconscionable inaction, the State Department will run out of visas on 1 October 2016 (the start of the new fiscal year).   The current backlog of visas is roughly 10,000 applicants (when one includes family, we estimate the true number of applicants is 35,000+).  Thanks to Congress, our country will now break its promise to our Afghan translators and other wartime allies – who will continue to wait in limbo, in hiding, afraid that any moment might be the one where the Taliban or ISIS’s death squads finally find them.  How many will die before Congress does their job (votes to renew the program and authorize and issue more visas to the State Department) and honors our nation’s promise?

To help highlight the national security implications of this issue and the importance of protecting the honor of the American military, veterans, and credibility, we organized a Letter to Congress, which we delivered on 6 September 2016.   Hundreds of thousands of veterans, representing every branch of service in every American conflict dating back to World War II joined Medal of Honor recipients from Vietnam to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, former Chairmen and members of the Joint Chiefs, numerous wartime commanders, and other general and flag officers in adding their signatures to the letter.

˙ ˙ ˙ This past weekend, the [Wall Street] Journal joined the New York Times and the Washington Post in urging the Congress to renew and properly fund the program – the nation’s three leading newspapers are rarely this unified on matters of policy.

This is the 11th hour.  The State Department will run out of visas in 11 days.  Unless we build a movement and demand Congress renew the program immediately, it will likely die an unceremonious death, lost as an obscure program that got drowned out by the intense rhetoric of the 2016 election.

Help us prevent this tragedy by doing two things:

˙ ˙ ˙
© No One Left Behind
P.O. Box 3641, Merrifield, VA 22116
Tax ID: 47-125-1659http://nooneleft.org/  |  info@nooneleft.org

Update [2016-09-20]

If U have not already done so, please contact your Senators and Representatives.

I dislike phones and try to be much less scathing when communicating to pols rather than about them, so I used the e-mail links on my legislators’ web pages to send the following message.

General topic:  Immigration | National Security

Specific topic:  Afghan Special Immigrant Visas

Message text:

The failure of Congress to renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program endangers people who served as translators for US troops in Afghanistan.   Enduring the same dangers and hardships as the troops, the translators sometimes fought alongside them.  This is one of those extremely rare situations where it would be fairly easy to act both honorably and in our own self-interest, if only Congress would listen to a few combat veterans in its own ranks and do right by good people who put their lives on the line but are being abandoned.

history, humor, oversimplify, politics

Who Wrote That?

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The following 3 quotes all come from the same person.  Can U guess who? 

  1. The citizens … must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they themselves have called into being.
  2. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced.   Corporate expenditures for political purposes … have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.
  3. Those who oppose all reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism.

The choices listed in the following poll have varying plausibility; they do include the actual author.   Please have a go before scrolling down to see the answer and why it matters.

 
Scroll down for the answer …

we-the-people-with-stars-stripes

The image of the US Constitution’s famous oversimplification “We the People” was downloaded and resized from http://mtviewmirror.com/wp-content/uploads/we-the-people-9.jpg.

All of the quotes are from a speech on The New Nationalism delivered 1910-08-31 by Theodore Roosevelt.  More than a century later, the work has still not been done.  More than a century later, pseudoconservatives still dump truckloads of ratcrap on anybody who opposes running the USA for the benefit of the biggest corporations and richest billionaires.

What to do in 2016?  Yes, I feel the pull toward a protest vote like writing in Bernie Sanders (or Theodore Roosevelt).  In what is not so obviously a mere gesture of protest, I could vote Green or Libertarian.  But I will not.  Unless U live in a cobalt blue or screaming red state, voting Green or Libertarian in 2016 is voting for Trump.  In the real world, all options suck.  Some suck worse than others.  Much worse.

Yes, one can hope that the combination of Trump in the White House with McConnell and Ryan dominating Congress will be so blatantly toxic that “the people” finally wake up, rise up, and wrest control from the plutocrats.  Alas, the 99% of us who are getting shafted includes bigots and nitwits.  It includes those who bought the Fox News claim to be fair and balanced.  It includes heavily armed crazies like Omar Mateen and Dylan Roof.

Popular uprisings do succeed now and then, as when the government of East Germany collapsed in 1989.  Hey, the good people on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall suffered only 44 years (*) of communist oppression before that.  More often, uprisings are either crushed (as in Hungary 1956) or seem successful for a while but descend into chaotic violence that spawns yet another tyranny (French Revolution; Russian Revolution; Arab Spring; …).

So I will trudge to the polls, hold my nose, and vote for Hillary.  I will also remember a more familiar quotation from TR, excerpted below with a few letters added in italics:

It is not the critic who counts; … The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; … ; who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; …

 
While Hillary is deeply flawed, she is not one of those “timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” detested by TR.  For that matter, neither is Trump.  He has other issues.  While TR was far from being a pacifist, he could see the downside of putting an impulsive jerk in a position to start a war.  That jerk also thinks appeasing the NRA is more important than making it harder for crazies like Adam Lanza to murder school children and their teachers.

(*) The physical wall stood for less than 44 years, but the whole point of erecting it was to stop desperate dashes thru the political wall erected in 1945.
economics, history, humor, oversimplify, politics

Twelah of Stonina

No, the title is not the name of a character in a dreary fantasy epic. It links 2 examples of something that can happen to oversimplifications as circumstances change: what is initially harmless (and perhaps mildly beneficial) can become pernicious. As in my earlier post arguing that oversimplification is unavoidable but can be done honestly, a whimsical example that is easily understood breaks trail for a serious example that is not.

1. Puzzles

Instructions for puzzles usually explain what the solution should look like, w/o constraining how to get there. The Jumble series of puzzles has been around for decades, originally just on printed pages but now online also. I sometimes solve the puzzle as printed in my daily newspaper. (Yes, I am that old.) Taken literally, the instructions for a Jumble do constrain the how, but in a way that strikes me as a harmless oversimplification in explaining the what. More precisely, it was harmless until the series went online.

The weird words in the title of this post are scrambled versions of the ordinary words wealth and nations. A typical Jumble puzzle invites the reader to unscramble several such scrambled words and then use the letters at some specified positions in the ordinary words to complete the caption of a cartoon. Printed and online versions of the puzzle for 2016-06-10 are displayed below. Both the layout and the use of “Now” in the printed instructions indicate that unscrambling comes before completing. Similarly for the online instructions revealed by the [HELP] button.

2016-06-10_E23_Jumble

While I sometimes proceed in the instructions’ order, I more often guess the completion before unscrambling all (or even any) of the words. So what? I can put my pen anywhere on the page at any time. The sequencing in the instructions is just a convenient way to explain what would be a solution to a Jumble puzzle. One could rewrite and reformat the instructions so as to explain that w/o extraneous sequencing (as in the instructions for Sudoku), but it is not obvious how to write sequence-free instructions for Jumble that are as clear as the oversimplified instructions with extraneous sequencing. Why bother?

Here’s why. Look at the online version. That bright green square is a place for typing, if U so choose. The interface does a good job of allowing U to drag letters rather than type. After unscrambling all the scrambled words, U will see the available letters appear above the caption and can type or drag to complete the caption, just as U typed or dragged when unscrambling.  While the interface displays several signs of  good software engineering, it takes the informal specs too literally and mandates the heuristic of unscrambling all the words before doing anything to complete the caption.  (Being a nerd myself, I can sympathize.)  What began as a harmless oversimplification became a killjoy.

As it happens, I started by guessing the caption for the 2016-06-10 Jumble, then verified that my unscramblings of 3 words were consistent with my guess, and then used the resulting tentative knowledge about letters to be contributed by the word still scrambled as a hint about how to unscramble it. (A tiny example of how science works.) No can do in the online version. There is a [HINT] button that doles out a single letter in a single word. My preference for making my own hint is not just a consequence of my being compulsively self-reliant. My own hint is discovered and might be misleading because I might have guessed wrong at the start. The online hint is an infallible gift from on high. No fun in that.

If U want to work on the online version of this particular Jumble, U can click on its image to visit a page with today’s puzzle and then use the page’s calendar widget to go back to 2016-06-10.

Now it is time for the serious example, which starts in the same century as the scene depicted in this example, but on the other side of The Pond.

2. Free Markets

The other momentous document published in 1776 was Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, with a then-harmless oversimplification that has become a now-pernicious dogma.

Smith’s readers were familiar with intrusive governments and quasigovernmental organizations like craft guilds. Mercantilist governments restricted who could sell what to whom. Guilds set the prices of what their members made. That was normal, as was censorship, state-sponsored religion, and commercial privileges granted by royal whim. Smith was aware that his readers might find his free-market ideas disturbingly anarchic, and he tried to reassure them with his famous fantasy about an invisible hand. He succeeded too well.

Smith remarked that, while he advocated much less intrusive government than his readers considered normal, there were still important government functions needed to make his free markets work. He mentioned some explicitly. Unsurprisingly, he did not mention those that would not be on anybody’s radar for over a century. Markets cannot work properly w/o transparency: potential buyers need to know what they would be getting and how much they would be paying. Apart from providing a trustworthy money supply, there was no obvious need for laws and regulations to make markets transparent. They seemed obviously transparent; nobody wearing a 3-cornered hat noticed that transparency was being assumed and might someday need to be enforced.

With the passage of time, Smith’s ideas took hold, the economies of his nation and ours grew richer and more complex, and economists eventually realized that markets cannot be perfectly transparent. What happens when they are seriously opaque? When getting pertinent info is costly? When some of the info floating around is false? When insiders have pertinent info that they act upon but keep to themselves? Long technical answers won Nobel Prizes for Kenneth Arrow and Joseph Stiglitz. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 and its precursors illustrate a somewhat oversimplified short answer that suffices for present purposes:

The shit hits the fan.

By the time the importance of transparency and the need for laws and regulations that enforce it had become common knowledge among thoughtful advocates of free markets, the invisible-hand fantasy had morphed into market fundamentalism. That dogma is a godsend for anybody who wants to act like a psychopath but suffers from the inconvenience of having a conscience. It is OK if I scramble to enrich myself and U scramble to enrich yourself, no matter how much we harm each other or anybody else.  If the stupid gummint stays away and just lets The Market work its magic, everything will come out as well as possible in the real world, where resources are scarce and buying anything precludes buying something else with the same money.

Like religious fundamentalism, market fundamentalism is rigid, simplistic, and oblivious to the suffering it causes. The real world is indeed harsh. It is also vastly more complex than fundamentalists concede, perhaps more complex than they can imagine. Enforcing fairness and transparency w/o stifling useful innovation is not easy. More generally, finding a good balance between public and private economic activity is not so easy as it seems to market fundamentalists (or to socialists, at the other extreme).

A much longer (but still readable) discussion of opacity and other market failures can be found in the book The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz. Perverse incentives lead to perverse behavior. Is that really surprising?