Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Lou Dobbs is an Asshole

Alternative title: Why Nationalism is Always Bad (Part II).

CNN's commentator, Lou Dobbs has found his niche. He's the populist jingoist who's not on Fox. From a business point of view I'm sure the CNN big wigs tell themselves he's part of their strategy to compete with Fox's Bill O'Reilly et al. I'm already on record bashing Fox but I haven't blogged about Lou Dobbs.

Dobbs is an asshole because he appeals to base nationalism. He's against free trade, blaming it - incorrectly - for all our country's economic woes. He's against immigrants (he saves his most vitriolic comments for "illegals" but his sentiments are clear just below the surface) - the human face of free trade and globalization. He rails about the "war on the middle class." He accuses politicians of being traitors because they won't erect a bigger wall along the Mexican border or because they favor this or that trade agreement.

He's against the war in Iraq but not because of any sense of outrage about the war itself or even because he opposed it from the start. Rather he opposes it only because of how it has played out. He not against invading countries for no good reason. He's against not winning. He's completely ignorant about the constitution but rails about Americans' "rights" and how we deserve a "government that works." He constantly confuses the policies he likes with objectively perfect policies that only a cynical crook or a traitor would oppose.

The Lou Dobbs variety of nationalism is particularly dangerous. While he doesn't have the animated flags waving all over his TV studio, he's appealing to the same base prejudices and hatreds as the Fox News flag wavers. At the same time, he encourages the kind of bitter resignation and frustration often expressed by US West. By so convincing intelligent people to give up, he leaves the country in the hands of the true cynics.


The Law Talking Guy said...

My reaction after watching Lou Dobbs for two afternoons in the hospital was that he's just a dumb, old bigot whose interview style constists of horribly loaded questions and leaps to comfortable, prejudiced conclusions. Bottom line, Lou Dobbs is actually worse than the folks I've seen on Fox News who are at least decent propagandists.

History Buff said...

I find it interesting that you're bashing him for being against free trade, I thought from previous posts that you were against it too.

I personally believe in free trade, especially in our hemisphere. I think it's very disappointing that Congress let the free trade agreement with Columbia lapse, I think it was helping them turn things around.

I also think that our immigration policy needs to open a lot more spots for unskilled laborers (right now I think the number is around 2000 to 3000 which is paltry.) That way they can come here legally, and probably get better pay, which would be good for all workers. I go out to all of the housing developments in San Antonio every quarter and the vast majority of workers are immigrants and they are all working their butts off.

I think anyone that thinks that immigrants come here for a free ride have forgotten about the American Dream that all immigrants have--to get ahead and make a better life for their children.

But the reason why people like Lou Dobbs are popular is because people are anxious, everything is changing and most people can't handle change, especially people above the age of 30. Lou Dobbs is advocating going back to the old ways and shutting our doors. This type of thinking is permeating throughout US society. The best thing that people who are adaptable can do is not to become cynical, we are the country's best hope.

Raised By Republicans said...

History Buff,

You may be confusing me with LTG. He's not only deeply suspicious of international trade but of capitalism itself. I'm very pro-free trade and pro-capitalism and have posted numerous things on this blog to that effect.

I have posted a number of things criticising the Republican bastardization of capitalism that amounts to a kind of corpratist cleptocracy. While I think a sound regulatory state is neccessary for the smooth functioning of capitalism I still think we need capitalism as the foundation of our economy.

At the same time, I realize there are people who are hurt by trade. But they are always in the minority and the best way to help them is not to cut off trade but rather to use the increased prosperity the rest of us enjoy to compensate them.

I think Bill Clinton summed it up very well in his interview for the PBS Frontline series on the "Commanding Heights."

Bill Clinton: It may not solve all our problems but it is absolutely neccessary.
Interviewer: What is?
Clinton: TRADE! (emphasis in the original)

History Buff said...

Obama is in trouble right now for this:

At issue are comments he made privately at a fund raiser in San Francisco last Sunday. He was trying to explain his troubles winning over some working-class voters, saying they have become frustrated with economic conditions:

"It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

(from the AP)

I would have to say I agree with him, but the Clintons are using it against him to say he is elitist. Kind of Lou Dobbsesque don't you think.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yes, Obama was foolish to make that slip. He should have stopped with the word "bitter."

I also think he is right. He's pointing to the same phenomenon that Lou Dobbs feeds off of. And the Clintons are making hay out of it. Given the Clinton's equally disengenuous opposition to trade, it's a little hypocritical.

Keep in mind that both Obama and Clinton are generally pro-trade. And being anti-trade is unlikely to benefit a candidate of either party in the general election. Most people benefit from trade. However, there are locally concentrated pockets of people who are losing from trade and unfortunately for Democrats Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania's working class whites are examples.

USWest said...

None of the candidates from either party can come out as anti-trade because all of them have voting records in support of trade pacts. See On the Issues to see each candidates stance on Free Trade.

I don't watch Dobbs, but I would assume someone like him would look at a situation like the current FAA flap that has grounded over 500 aircraft due to faulty safety inspections and blame the South Korean maintenance teams. That would be a nationalist type argument.

The real problem is that all of our regulatory agencies have been gutted. Lou Dobbs would do better to point out how our own government has failed us rather than blame free trade or foreign nations.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Congress did not let the free trade agreement with Colombia lapse - it simply decided to postpone the vote to a more politically expedient time (probably because it will pass). The Bush administration tried to force a vote before the election for its own political reasons, not because it was the best for free trade.

Yes, I am suspicious of capitalism and free trade. I think that suspicion is an important counterweight to the free market theology that believes - without evidence, on theory alone - that government regulation is always bad and lower tarriffs are always good. Such arguments are employed by the wealthy and powerful to increase their wealth and power at the expense of the rest of us. I think that free market capitalism is a very powerful engine that produces lots of good things, but needs to be regulated and harnessed lest it run out of control.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Obama was trying to express compassion and his ability, as a black man, to understand poor white folks. He has to learn how to express this better. I think what he said, while politically incorrect, is pretty much accurate. This is a tempest in a teapot, since I think it's just a rorschach-type statement: people view it according to their preconceived notions, and votes won't be changed.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG is wrong to blame the principle of free markets for the Republican ideology of zero regulation.

For example, market economics cannot exist without regulations. Investors cannot know what they need to know without regulations requiring companies to honestly report their assets and losses.

What's more economists and accountants KNOW THIS and are usually quite open about it. That's why most of the really prominent economists are Democrats and the ones that are Republicans tend to be what we would now call "moderate" Republicans (though they were pretty far on the conservative scale 25 years ago).

LTG has always had this problem with his logic. He takes the Republican vision of economic policy and then equates it with the social science of economics then rages against economics. He would do better to realize that the kind of blanket opposition to regulations and things like minimum wages is more a trait of Republican ideology than it is a product of economics.

The principles are economics are natural forces. They are like water flowing down hill. We can interfer with them to our benefit but cannot stop them. Republicans would have us not interfer at all - the economic equivolent of a band of eco-terrorists who want to blow up a flood control dam.

The results of what the Republicans want to do would be disasterous (see US West post about the FAA). But blaming economics for the motives or the results would be like blaming hydrologists for a flood.

Dr. Strangelove said...

"The principles of economics are natural forces. They are like water flowing down hill."

When you stop to think about it, this is a fascinating contention about human behavior. Which principles are we talking about here, exactly? The basic laws of supply and demand inevitably result when individual needs confront scarce resources, and of course these cannot be helped.

But many arenas in which the basic economic battles are fought--for example the financial markets and often the modern workplace--are quite artificial in construction. (As RbR notes, these arenas require regulation in order to exist.) And one key reason why these arenas exist is that the basic principles of economics are not the only principles at play. There is also politics.

Many economic institutions are of course also political and social institutions. There is a lot going on here. The mistake that "free market theologians" make--the mistake LTG rails against--is not that they believe in economics but that this is all they seem to see. In the presence of powerful political and social institutions like international borders, the mathematical efficiency of free trade is simply not the whole story.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think that supply and demand type principles are "natural laws."

I think the effects of market competition are similarly sound.

We ignore them or deny their effects at our perril. Absent regulations supply and demand processes can produce monopolies and exploitation. Both of which are bad for competition which is the real foundation of a free market.

Just as there is a difference between anarchy and liberty, there is a difference between a free market and a totally deregulated one.

Both LTG and the Republicans are making the same error. Both see capitalism as being the same as the absence of (or minimization of) regulation. But the reality is far more complex. It is not a coincidence that the poorest countries are those with the least effective governments that are least capable of enforcing their own laws.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I do take the republican vision of laissez-faire and equate it with modern economics departments. The products of modern economics departments tend to spout these theological propositions about the economy and trade. RBR may not see it as I do, but I grow tired of talking with people who majored in economics and tell me that the Laffer curve is fact, or that self-regulation is always best. I grow tired of listening to people with economics PhDs tell me that segregation would have been ended by the free market naturally (despite 90 years of clear history to the contrary). I grow tired of reading the crap published in the antitrust regulatory field (I'm classified as an antitrust lawyer by my firm) that suggests that the market naturally tends to increased competition and undoes monopolies. In other words, I see "economics" used every day to justify a combination of Hayek, Rand, and laissez-faire economics.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, if you look at who has Nobel Prizes in Economics and what they say about these issues, I think you'll find them more reasonable.

As the son of a business school professor, I know A LOT of economists since child hood. Very very few of them think as you say most of them do.

Here at my current little ivory tower, I know a half a dozen professors in the business school (in Finance, Management, and Economics). Only one of them has the kind of over the top self-characature point of view that you describe.

That said, I do know a lot of people with BAs in economics who THINK they learned what you describe in their economics classes.

Of course there are probably some bone headed economists out there. But they are mistaken about their evaluation of the economics. And I doubt they are prominently employed as researchers.

The Law Talking Guy said...

"That said, I do know a lot of people with BAs in economics who THINK they learned what you describe in their economics classes. "

To my mind, this means we're in agreement. How exciting. As an academic, RBR, you encounter a better class of such economists than I do. I encounter more of those BAs. My lawyer-colleagues are generally people who got a BA in econ or poli sci, then went on to become lawyers and think their JD is more than just a vocational certificate.