Pick Ourselves Up, Dust Ourselves Off . . .

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.

When my daughter falls down, I usually say, “pick yourself up and brush yourself off.”

Not surprisingly, Barack Obama’s speech today was long on ambitions and short on specifics, as is customary for the occasion. We’ve been writing at length about the economic challenges that the Obama administration faces and some of its policy options, so there’s no need to rehash that in detail today. Suffice it to say that deep crisis creates a rare opportunity, and Obama has the opportunity to leave a greater mark on the economy than any president since Reagan or perhaps FDR.

On another note: Although this blog is generally about economics, I am particularly curious to hear what the new president will say about torture. I drafted a speech that I would like to hear him give over on Talking Points Memo Cafe.

5 responses to “Pick Ourselves Up, Dust Ourselves Off . . .

  1. Mark A. Sadowski

    On this day, we declared our independence from defunct ideologies. Hopefully there will be more declarations of independence in the future.

    The only way we shall declare our complete independence is to tell those who want to business in our country is we are entitled to 100% of your profits. If we let you keep some of it it is our priviledge, and, we might do it because of good econometrics. God Bless America!

  2. Phil McClelland

    James,

    Re: Torture

    I read through your TPMCafe post and agreed with it wholeheartedly. One other thing I wish Obama would acknowledge is the disturbing trend towards ‘outsourcing’ torture to places like Egypt and Jordan. That’s simply got to stop.

    BTW, if you’ve not already seen them, I highly recommend the following documentaries:

    Taxi to the Dark Side:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0854678/

    Gitmo:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0481348/

  3. Being “long on ambitions and short on specifics” in his rhetoric was customary for Candidate Obama. Those strpes won’t change. And, of course, those issues of which he did speak with specificity, have been somewhat “modified” or dropped since they were first proclaimed. (Examples too numerous to mention! But Liberal intellectuals out there like Phil can certainly opine.)

    My comment relative to “Pick Yourself Up…” is simply this: Its fallen on mostly deaf ears. The crowd at yesterday’s Presidential love fest is more interested in seeing to it that the “Prosperous” continue to have their pockets picked. However, they are in for a very rude awakening over the next several years as the “Prosperous”, having suffered a $10T meltdown, decide to stop being taken for a ride on the Obama train. Atlas Shrugged anyone?

    Thad

  4. Thank you James for your words on Torture. I think President Obama addressed this when he said, “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals”. His speech did not need specifics because it was a small masterpiece of reframing (see http://www.yalaworld.blogspot.com).

    One must be at ease with the unfamiliar and the con¬tradictory to navi¬gate change and create newness. Change agents must learn to live with the unknown, untamed, for a while. Those mentally accustomed to vagueness, com¬plexity and ambi¬guity are better prepared to produce original ideas and cope with newness. Familiarity with paradox is necessary to survive the never-ending surprises of our rapidly changing world.

    There are many ways to cope with paradox. You can accept the conclu¬sion but explain why it is unacceptable, re¬ject the reasoning as faulty, reject one or several premises explaining why they seem acceptable, misunder¬stand or deliberately refuse to consider the paradox altogether, live humbly or peacefully with the paradox unresolved, or transcend the frame of reference that is making the situation impossible.

    Zen masters employ paradox in the last of these ways. Zen teachers formulate “koans”, questions that are designed to be impossible to answer, because they want their students to learn to reject the question. The koan is intended to annoy the learner so much that in a sudden moment of illumination, of “satori”, they come to see that all rules can be broken, all boundaries transgressed.

    This lesson is vital… for we may damn ourselves eternally if we fail to reject certain questions. This is the terrible message of the book and film “Sophie’s Choice”.

    Waiting in line at Auschwitz, Sophie is told, “You may keep one of your children, the other must go.”
    “Don’t make me choose, I can’t,” she begs.
    “I’ll send them both. Make a choice,” the soldier replies.
    “Take my little girl,” Sophie cries. “Take my baby.”
    And thereafter she is inconsolable; even the son she kept with her dies in the camp.

    In particular, beware oversimplification. Simplification is deceptively appealing in its apparent lack of ambiguity.

    In those few words – “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” – President Obama denounced the double-bind into which the devious framing of the issue of Homeland Security had placed Americans.

  5. Sir

    I think your article a quite simplistic. To put it bluntly, if it is true that torture is clearly horrible, I think that, if it helped to avoid even more horrible things to happen, such as a nuclear terrorist attack, well I’ll go for it.

    If you let me be a little judgemental, your article appears very easy to write and defend: you don’t take any risk nor responsibilities when saying that torture is bad whatever the reason. It is quite impossible to be more mainstream when you write such a thing and it enables you to play to good guy at cheap costs. Where is your added value?

    I have heard this petty talk anywhere in streets, bars, even in high schools… “Torture is bad, you know , it is a shame”…

    I am sorry to tell you that, but the issue has been discussed a long time ago, and better than I would ever be able to do, and the lastest with McCain’s bill. As often, when things seem nice, the reality might be more complicated. Having a second thought is always useful.

    I know I should have a more balanced opinion as you are right on the principle.

    But again, as often, principles should include exceptions as they can be too broad for all the variety of cases that might happen. Flexibility should be my main counter arguement. As far as torture is concerned, forbidding it totally and showing to terrorists that you are weak – yes terrorist don’t think as you do – can end into disasters.

    In other words, if I think this speech is well written it is nothing more than a mere application of a doctrinal thesis.

    And well, I give it to you; it is true that it really sounds like Obama.
    By the way, haven’t you remarked that, suddenly, as he is now in charge, he appears to be really more moderate than he used to be as a candidate? He even endorsed Bush’s Secretary of Defence, which can imply that there is a huge gap between his speeches and the real policies that are going to be taken. But well, that’s only a guess…

    As I don’t believe that you agree with the idea that a President should cynically lie to his people by making them expect the best while knowning he will be unable to fulfil his generous promises, I conclude that you really believe torture should be forbidden for any reason.

    In fact, in both cases, I disagree. When a danger appears all the means should be taken in order to deal with it. In the case of the current financial crisis that can mean a nationalization of banks, I know the horrible “N” word, and in a case of dangerous terrorist attacks – still to be defined (read further) – it can mean badly torturing those guys.

    The real issue is how to define these exceptions. As you are now a Lawyer, you know how difficult the issue will be. I know it too. But eventually I think this difficult issue – where to draw the line – is less radical, more realistic, and in the end more serious than your easy stand.

    Of course I am not helpful when, just after telling you you are wrong, I tell you I do not know on what grounds, on what specific cases and with which specific procedures these exceptionnel exemptions shold be taken. The only thing I know is that we should better have a blind eye when some people are tortured in some very limited cases… And my guess is that, well, it is a clear political move to suspect the Republicans to have been inhuman just after 9/11…

    So to sum up: I believe the issue is far more complicated than you present it and sorry to tell you but your article doesn’t add anything as it is the kind of things I used to write 10 years ago when I was in high school. When I believe I could save the world and that human being were bunnies.

    More generally, I believe your article gives an insight on how you see the world, and thus how you judge the current economic policies.

    Your world seems very moralistic. The differences between Law, Justice and Fairness in a peace time and during war are not done in your article, and that make me think that it is on purpose as you have been working on this nicely written speech for some time. By avoiding the issue that when facts are different, reactions shall be different, and by concluding by the easy argument of the “rule of law”, you have an easy rhetorical stance as you make purposely the link with one of the most basic human rights, the Habeas Corpus implying that when people are suspected of terrorism they should be treated as any civilian…

    Unfortunately, if it is the case, I repeat that I think you are partially wrong, even if it was a nice try.

    As I see things, humanity is neither good nor bad and, if it ever evolves, it does so very slowly.

    Trying to control all human risks (either concerning the economy or concerning war threats) through Law has good chance to end into failure especially when these laws are just made to make you feel better with yourself or with your country. In some cases law is unnecessary – I would even add ill-fated and harmful to basic liberty (any law implies the possibility of a judge and any judge does control your liberty).

    Sometimes I think we have to admit that there are cases where bad things have to be done in an attempt to avoid the worse and that good intentions can unfortunately end into disaster. Government action is too often perceived as beneficial, just and noble, when in fact it can also –I would even say often – hurt those it is purportedly trying to help. The main reason for this “discrepancy” is that the purpose of the lawmakers is often driven by grandiose, generous and well, unrealistic ideas upon which common people agree and dream of because it makes them think that life will be less hard than it is.

    Haven’t we seen this with this crisis? I believe you agree with me even – if it is true that you do not really take sides with what is happening now days.

    As far as I know you used to be an economist, or at least you have some experience of the Private sector as you happened to work for a strategic consulting firm.

    Well, people face tradeoffs don’t you think?

    So why don’t you apply this wise principle to any political issue before writing too easy articles, even when it includes the subject of torture?

    Often an Empirical way of thinking is more efficient than the Cartesian: taking facts and trying to see if one case can be added to another in order to find a general rule is better than having a glance at the obvious and then directly taking your conclusions that will fit with you “vision” of the world.

    In your article you happened to think in the Cartesian way. As you know, Descartes was a very intelligent person but he happened to have his physics all wrong. Newton, on the other hand, happened to be right thanks to a simple apple from which he drove a general rule – a general rule that could always be proven wrong, at least partially as Einstein did.

    Your article doesn’t give space to contradiction and seem to follow a Descartes rather than Newton. Cleary it is always gratifying to have his own prejudices confirmed by nice theoretical and doctrinal stances. I know that gratifying ideas are convenient but I think you are, at least partially, deadly wrong.

    I hope I made my point. Please note that, as many, I am very often as guilty as you as I always think first as Descartes. Fortunately I know this flaw and, thanks to discussion, I try to tackle some of my prejudices that are not the dearest to me by taking into accounts other arguments and facts.

    I also know that there are numerous issues that are too emotionally driven for me to discuss: in these cases I just use the discussion as a argument to prove me right, or, even better, when faced with acute and sharp arguments against which I find no counter arguments, I then pretend I am right anyway as my point was more complex than those you opposed my original idea understood… We all know, we are cleverer than the other mean… In the end the goal is not to think otherwise because I can not admit it.

    But when I able to be rational I had the surprise to find that I was wrong (of course these cases were rare) and that made me changed my mind, at least partially. As you guessed well one of these cases was torture.
    I hope it will be the same for you.

    Regards.