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Wallowing in Osawatomie

Some thoughtful exchanges the other day at the Hudson Institute on Theodore Roosevelt's Osawatomie speech, Obama's deliberate follow-up, and the meaning and future of Progressivism.  Sid Milkis, Jim Ceaser, Matt Spalding, John Halpin, and E.J; Dionne. To get video/audio you need to click on the "View all events" tab off the home page.. Milkis noted that Obama never mentions his health care reform in his speech--it is focused on class.

If you can bear Dionne's self-promotion (does E.J. stand for Egregious Jerk?), you will hear some thoughtful remarks by the various panelists, introduced by Bill Schambra.  And you even get to hear a question from the floor by her royal highness Elizabeth Drew.

Here's a brief historical overview of what is at stake in these speeches.

Categories > Progressivism

Discussions - 5 Comments

I had wondered what the E.J. stood for and while I cannot imagine his parents named him Egregious Jerk, it is the name he has matured into.

I grew up loving TR. One grandfather was a big fan. Yet I cannot imagine him agreeing with parts of this speech like, "The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted." In what universe is or was that true?

The problem with reading history is that it gives so much cause for being upset. What people say today is so often upsetting; being upset by what was said one hundred years ago that set the stage for what upsets today means perpetual exasperation.

I purpose to ignore this stuff for a couple of days.

Merry Christmas to all here!

Merry Christmas Kate!
but just to disagree a bit... I would answer: In this universe.

"The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted." Seems rather true and not objectionable, except in less comprehensive libertarian political economy.

In general legally(providing one can speak of legality generally) "The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted." seems about right.

For example the libertarian is completely free to contract, and in some ways the classical libertarian high water mark was pre-Lochner.

But even today generally speaking if you are Libertarian (or restrained by your own moral compass alone) you are free to contract as you see fit. Outside of certain ethicaly structured versions of libertarianism, you can more or less enter into a contract for sex, or say for killing someone....

But society is going to say, you may use money to buy sex or the death of your enemies, but this is not a contract in law the breach of which the law will provide a remedy. You can do it...but you may not do it.

More ethically contentious Libertarians would also like to be able to contract for organs. The law on the other hand does not recognize such a contract as ethical, valid or enforceable.

So the regulations on freedom of contract are essentially admissions that : "the right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted."

In fact pre-Lochner this was a fundamental right...but as the society or the states interests in/right to regulate gradually took on the aspect of rational basis review...the right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest became and was universally admitted.

So you can't buy alcohol if you are under 21, this is a regulation upon the use of wealth in the public interest...

If you are a lawyer you are subject to certain advertizing restrictions, and your freedom to contract is subject to an even more complex conflict of interest analysis. In fact a lawyer's duty is to his client, not necessarily to the one paying the bill (the parent, or the state).

So the number of ways in which there is a recognized state interest in regulating the use which may be made of wealth, while easily enumerated, could comprise many volumes without being exaustive.

So anything that you can do with money, that you "may not" do is essentially a recognition that there is a right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest.

It is the bundle of sticks in property, or the limits and parameters of enforceable contracts, or the regulations that structure the use of wealth in the public interests that make the markets in the first place.

Thus the market for college football coaches was partially structured by NCAA regulations which prohibited the alienation of property...i.e. you can't sell your awards like Pryor did, and you can't cover it up like Tressel did. If a college team hires Tressel for a 5 year period they will not be bowl eligible, which is prohibition upon say...the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, from contracting with a prospective university with a marketable football program, a pretty serious disincentive.

No markets are pre-political, or unaffected by laws, and a good chunk of the law relates to the structuring of property and contracts (or the sphere of the consentable and the alienable.)

John Lewis, Happy Boxing Day to you.

I know that I took that line out its context, but you really should go read it in its context to see why it bothered me. TR was not talking about making contracts. Those are arrangements mutually agreed upon; the agreement is enforced by law, but the terms of the agreement are up to the agreeing parties. A contract does not have to be about money and government only gets involved if there is a breach of contract. If I contracted with you, saying I would pay you $100 to write 500 words in every comment response and did not specify that you stay on topic, then I would have no recourse under that contract if you changed the subject. However, if I had you sign a contract to write 500 words and stick to the topic at hand, and then I might bring an action against you over your comment response in this case.

What TR is saying in that speech is that it is universally admitted that it is in the public interest to regulate the wealth of the wealthy. The speech is a welter of confusion with occasional statements like that which are stunningly clear and the clarity is not what stunning, the sentiments are. He makes little jokes about the communistic nature of what he is saying and denies communism in the next sentence. He would certainly never like to be regulated in the way he proposes regulating, but feels free to point to a class of wealthy individuals who should be regulated. What is appalling about the context of the wealth of those he would regulate is how many of them made their fortunes through government interventions in the marketplace through legislators: railroads, oil, steel. Nothing has changed but the industries protected today. The topic of contracts is tangential. Read the speech.

Boxing day is more or less white elephant gift giving day.... or perhaps it has disapeared in an age of easier commercial transactions/returns. A lot of folks do seem to think that "progressivism" is like a white elephant, excepting the times when they find a sucker to take morgage backed securities off the books.

I confess to absolutely loving that speech by TR. Also if it is universally admitted that it is in the public interest to regulate wealth, then it is universally admitted that it is in the public interest to regulate the wealth of the wealthy.

The ironic truth is that it is much easier to regulate the wealthy via wealth.

Tort law and contract law more efficiently regulates the upper middle class than criminal law regulates the indigent.

It is actually the indigent, who have lost hope who cannot be restrained, except by whatever moral code they can afford.

Doctors can be regulated via torts, i.e. malpractice insurance...they buy the insurance, and then the insurance company regulates them in exchange for lower premiums. The doctors adopt "best practices"(if you are generous) or "defensive medicine" (which essentially means it is cheaper when insurance company incentives are tossed into the mix).

So there are all sorts of ways the rich and the corporations regulate the rich and the corporations, but all of these feed back unto the law, so tort reform, is a political issue, and chiefly it is a political issue that could fairly be characterized as touching and concerning the regulation of the wealth of the wealthy (in this case doctors).

The richer you are, the more liabilities you have, in part because no one has yet figured out a way to get blood from a turnip.

It must be said that it is quite a bit easier to regulate the wealthy. This for example is why the newest regulations of intellectual property seek to target ISP's, or big players like Google.

In terms of capacity for enforcement alone, and the ability to affix liability, it is universally recognized that it is in the public interest to regulate the wealth of the wealthy.

In fact if you are not regulating the wealthy, then you are regulating someone who lacks the capacity to act with agency and bind the organization. Or else you are winning a great judgement against someone who is judgement proof.

On boxing day you don't go to the bad neighboorhoods and ask for the regifted canned goods and $10 gift cards you gave to support underpriveledged children...not that anyone observes boxing day...but if they did folks would go to Romney's.

Speaking of Romney, the idea of forceing everyone to buy health insurance, is an attempt to bring them within the fold of economic judgement, not unlike car insurance. If you cause dammages or require services can you pay for them?

Lets see if I can make this a bit more clear.

The United States today exists as a partial accomplishment of the aims of TR, the problem is actually that this progressive mission tends to make the rich...good people.

While legal troubles did catch up to Joe Paterno, for a good chunk of time virtu and virtue were alligned and he was respected.

Likewise Steve Jobs was respected and venerated.

Thus to a large extent today our rich are people who are both rich and good.

By contrast a good chunk of the poor are criminal, and to a large extent beyond the improving effects of regulation.

You arrest one for domestic violence, and neither the cop nor the victim show up...the criminal justice system is a revolving door of failure and despair. Half the time arrests are made when the same folks show up to file complaints.

Truth be told I have much more confidence in the efficacy of regulations upon the rich, middle class and upper middle class than I do where the poor are concerned.

I am absolutely certain that incentives work differently in different socio-economic environments/habits.

It is easier by financial nudges to move the wealthy to "best practices" or good habits, than it is to move the poor.

You show a farmer how to prevent erosion, + get higher yields, and insulate him somewhat from insufficient demand/overproduction, and you really have a farming industry that is in many ways best in the history of the world.

Farmers in general are hard working, relatively rich(when considering the amount of capital they must employ) and contribute to the good of society.

The regulations envisioned and developed by the proggressives have worked well enough to more or less show a huge disparity in outcomes between the regulated rich and the unregulated poor.

"Nobody grudged promotion to Grant, or Sherman, or Thomas, or Sheridan, because they earned it. The only complaint was when a man got promotion which he did not earn."

The problem in joining the virtu of the rich with the virtue of the law/progressives, is that it does create with some imperfections promotions which cannot be grudged to folks like Grant, Sherman and Sheridan.

How do you know that you are not at the end of history, where the class of folks most regulated by contract law and tort law, instead of the criminal law, are not deemed to be both productive and good? Bourgeois and generally virtuous?

It is the poor who are no good, in part because the law or process became good enough to essentially make this prejudice paramount:

"When I say I want a square deal for the poor man, I do not mean that I want a square deal for the man who remains poor because he has not got the energy to work for himself. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit."

So progressivism in some sense cured the injustices of the system via process, and left the poor man behind with fewer sympathetic examples of the virtuous sort.

But the law that chiefly regulates the poor man is the criminal law, and as regulations in other areas have been imposed to ensure the rich are more virtuous, and corporations relatively mindful of the public good.

So provided we start with the idea of a regulatory apparatus and the ability to sue for negligence, I think americans are more NIMBY about poor people/projects/convicts, than they are about a nuclear power plant. The difference is a neighboor who will provide a good(electricity), provide jobs, and possibly clean up a river (say the Maume, Davis Bessie) you can sue for any harm done vs. someone who is judgement proof and likely to commit a crime and reduce your property values.

So arguably at least it is the efficacy and assurance from progressivism's regulation of nuclear power and corporations, i.e. Ohio Edison that accounts for the property valuations in Oak Harbor vs. the property valuations in East Toledo.

If you buy a house in fee simple absolute in Oak Harbor Davis Besse doesn't get an easement for nuclear waste or radiation. But if you buy a house in East Toledo, it might as well be subject to an easement for a couple of drunks, some crack heads and a prostitute, you can call the cops if you want to risk retaliation for what in all likelyhood is no real change in circumstances.

So the only thing the genuis progressives have really discovered is that if you have rich people or people with power/agency that you can hold accountable, you can get paid for nuissances and externalities.

This is really why some of the conservative progressives like Romney like the idea of insurance. If poor people are forced to buy insurance, there is someone to hold accountable when they get sick.

In addition some version of conservative progressives might wish to declare the victory of progressivism and rebuild the criminal justice system along Romneycare like criminal insurance. What result if you had to insure against your own criminal activity?

I am just asking because I am not sure which way this history breaks or has broken. I tend to think that under the progressive legal structure of capitalism the rich have become richer and more virtuous, and that the poor have become more wretched and hopeless, in part because most of its best have been able to escape the condition, which in turn has diminished the natural sympathy for the poor.

But lets suppose that the rich have mainly been regulated via property, via contracts, via torts, and via the web of malpractice insurance and varying but relatively high standards for negligence. i.e. the rich have became good via higher standards/accountability never imposed on the poor, who are only if ever held accountable by the criminal justice system.

"He would certainly never like to be regulated in the way he proposes regulating, but feels free to point to a class of wealthy individuals who should be regulated."

I also don't think this is true. I am almost certain that TR was open to being regulated in the way he proposed regulating. In fact it was TR's desire to be rich and good, and to be seen as rich and good, and to order society such that the two were for all intensive purposes identical. Wealthy individuals should be regulated in part because only these can be regulated as a practical matter, see getting blood from a turnip, or criminal law in Lucas County Ohio.

For TR you wanted to be Grant or Sherman, or at least you wanted to be seen as someone who had the rank and had "earned" the rank. So regulation is all about standards of excellence. You want the regulation, because you want the excellence. All Captains got the salute, because you respected the rank, but truth be told almost all of them deserved it as well. regulation is also about duty, responsibility and from a legal perspective also explains why only the rich can be regulated, most notably liability for malpractice or breach of duties.

In other words TR was saying hold my ass accountable! To quote literally: "words count for nothing except in so far as they represent act. This is true everywhere; but, O my friends, it should be truest of all in political life. A broken promise is bad enough in private life. It is worse in the field of politics. No man is worth his salt in public life who makes on the stump a pledge which he does not keep after election; and, if he makes such a pledge and does not keep it, hunt him out of public life."

Sadly enough TR regulated business so well, that the Wal-mart clerk doesn't even bother me when I try to return an item that fell short of its intended purpose. Now that is a warranty, money back guarantee. Why do you trust a business? Because it gives a warranty it can actually back and delivers customer service!

TR is articulating amazingly simple american concepts here, the biggest question is the degree to which we can apply them to the poor. Is there a way to hold the citizens of east toledo in Lucas county to the standards we hold Davis Bessie and Ohio Edison to?

Can you rediscover manliness?

But barring a nuclear disaster which would be an epic failure of regulators, there is no doubt in my mind which men stand tall with pride in being americans, and which with only partial justification see racism and police incompetence everywhere.

So for me at least the question isn't the right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest, but rather the ability to regulate any action by an entity or person without wealth in the public interest. So the comparative ease of regulating tobacco companies vis a vis the difficulty of regulating drug dealers is associated to the larger question.

The extent of the stake in the game seems to be the extent to which one follows the rules, thus the rich or those with agency authority over the assets of the rich can be regulated with ease, 9/10ths of society by and large plays by a colorable version of the "rules", but the drug dealer of necessity opperates outside the market, sometimes he even lives in a community outside the market (or effective jurisdiction of the rules).

There are a lot of theories about why places like east toledo are the way they are, but one possibility is the type of law that can be practiced in the area (almost exclusively criminal law, and almost always representing indigents) vs. say Ottawa Hills where prenuptial agreements outnumber criminal defense work 10-1. It is only a slight stretch from here to saying that in essence the people who live in both respective parts of toledo live a daily existance regulated by a different set of laws. The rich in many ways highly regulated, and potentially liable for much, the poor unregulated and held to the lowest expectations and regard. In Ottawa Hills most folks are doctors, lawyers, VP's, professors small business owners and generally the most sophisticated and heavily regulated human beings in Toledo.

AD is probably right that the law is Bourgeois, it might also be a correct observation to say that the law is progressive manliness, a reconciliation of the rich and the good in keeping with the dream of TR, and that only the bourgeois are fully regulated.

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