Thursday, September 18, 2008

On social liberalism

I mostly vote for the Social Democrats, occasionally also for the Greens - in the last election in Finland I seriously considered our (very) moderate Conservative Party (Kokoomus) and still remember fondly the Young Finns of the early and mid-nineties (as overly market enthusiastic as they were). But none of these parties correspond very exactly with my own social liberal preferences though you certainly can find bits and pieces in all of them. Social Democracy is of course the closest equivalent with its historical compromise with market economy and its very effective combination of social justice with dynamic economy (that is now under ever increasing threat). Still, the socialist ethos has never felt very close to me with those certain even quite crude anti-elitist tendencies and mindsets of the tradition (the Finnish term is much more descriptive – “herraviha”). Perhaps that also comes from my Southern Ostrobothnian background , the naturally egalitarian and self-confident Province certainly has never felt the need to envy anyone or to harbour bitter grudges over generations…

For me equality is essentially the equality of opportunity. And it doesn’t mean that if one poor child out of a thousand that combines talent with luck succeeds that we would have achieved the equality of opportunity. As we well know, both talent and luck are equally distributed among both poor and wealthy children, so what we need is a fair chance for all poor children. And this then really needs certain strong social democratic structures to be established in the society: significant income redistribution, mixed economy, strong safety nets, progressive taxation, open high quality education and health care systems and so on. But the goal cannot be the forced equality of outcome – we naturally do have different talents, different luck, even different natures and inclinations. A free and fair social competition will produce relative losers and winners – this is both inevitable and beneficial. We need to guard against the elites that will always have the human instinct for monopolies and shutting down of the competition but we also need to guard against too forceful and also in itself elitistic levelling of the society. So, liberty is the highest value for me, not equality (as crucial as it is), but a society cannot be free unless a great majority of its citizens have a level playing field and are free to pursuit success according to their own inclinations and capabilities.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Après moi - the government bailout

It has been once again proven in the cause of this present financial turmoil that the modern state cannot allow systemic economical failure. Moral hazard is a feature of the system, not an external bug. Profits will always be for privatization and losses, if big enough, will always be socialized. This empirically proven state of affairs will of course not prevent the adored corporate leaders to lecture about the negative effects of state intervention once the good times have returned. Business has very short and selective memory. So, in the last analysis our modern market economy is founded on the support of the modern social democratic state without which it could not thrive. It desperately needs strict regulation and oversight that guarantee a certain basic stability and predictability. It could not even be otherwise given our shortsighted and greedy human nature. Of course this also provides the assorted libertarians and other free market fundamentalists with a permanent escape clause: the free market will never be completely free, it simply cannot be so - there will never be uncontaminated laboratory conditions for capitalism, so the libertarians will always be able to say that without that contamination of public intervention, the system would have worked "perfectly". Oh dear, how much this intellectual nonsense reminds me of Marxism-Leninism - no falsifiability, pure intellectually immature circular logic supported by ideological fervour and nothing else.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sub specie aeternitatis

Modern Western philosophy has always been a problematic but fascinating subject for me - there has basically been a kind of love-hate relationship. On one hand it is hard to imagine more serious, more worthwhile inquiry but on the other hand you get such a sense of unreality to see these artificial systems of language perform docile logical tricks. That is very strongly put and my capabilities are not nearly enough to see how justified this attitude really is.

It just seems self-evident that we are not - literally - humanly able to ground ourselves universally and timelessly - and this is what the great, original synthesists have tried from Descartes via Leibnitz and Spinoza on towards Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, the usual army of the unalterable law with mad Friedrich jeering on the sidelines and the analytic Anglo-Saxons seeing no point to the enterprise in the first place (having their own impossible agenda). A strange hubristic tradition. Art on the other hand has always seemed more, not less, universal to me, starting from a more particular, more fundamental point, and being then more essentially grounded if less logical, less house trained. So, I would change Plato's order, and see art as essential and philosophy, at least potentially, as distracting us from our serious inquiry...