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I got the meaning of "Schindler's List" completely wrong!

In the course of my life, I have read dozens of books and watched dozens of movies concerning the Holocaust. This kind of literature and storytelling is important, because it lets us put ourselves in our imaginations in situations where we haven't been before. It lets us put ourselves in others' places, at least to a first approximation, and think about how we would feel in that place. And so, after reading and watching books and movies like Schindler's List, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Pianist, The Diary of Anne Frank, Jakob the Liar, Maus, Night, even The Boys from Brazil, and taking a college course on the Holocaust . . . I thought I had gotten the message pretty clearly, and it was this:

It is wrong to treat people, especially a group of people, in this way.

And that applied to Jewish people, homosexuals, the Romani people, religious minorities, people with physical and mental handicaps - to all people.

I thought.

To now see the state of Israel, born out of the suffering of the Holocaust, demonize, round up, ghettoize, and systematically kill a weaker group of people is so galactically ironic that it blows up everything I thought I knew. It turns out that the message of those movies and books wasn't "it is wrong to treat people this way". It was instead a case of special pleading -

It was wrong for other people to treat US this way.

I'm blown away by how wrong I was.

/sarcasm, I hope, sadly.

Just for fun . . an exchange with a Foxbot on Facebook

The names have been changed to protect the guilty. A = the original poster. B = Foxbot. C = third person. Me = Me.

A: Posts picture of snowplows clearing a road, with caption: Evil Socialism at Work

B: I suppose the real example would be to compare a private, toll road and a state-owned road come snow fall. I am willing to bet the private owned road would be maintained quicker and better than the latter. Also, lol @ Socialism.

A: So we should have to pay tolls to drive anywhere?

B: Socialism only works in theory. That's about it. Wasn't Detroit the picture of Socialism? How is that working for them? Municipal services are vastly overworked or pretty much non-existent. Socialism doesn't work and it never will.

Me: socialism rocks. Libraries, parks, fire departments, the armed forces . . . all great socialistic institutions.

C: European socialism works in practice. It's a balance.

B: Europe is in trouble as well. I just can't get on board the "More Gov is better" train. What is the Government doing that the private sector can't do cheaper and more efficiently?

Me: B, I got busy and didn't get a chance yet to write back about this, but I'll try to give some examples.
Providing and maintaining a federal currency.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines
Conducting international diplomacy. The National Parks system
Police departments. Fire departments. Funding scientific and academic research.
Providing direct health care for veterans. Providing health coverage for older Americans.
Maintaining a nationwide patent library and a system of courts where contracts are protected.
The CDC - tracking outbreaks of disease, monitoring private products for infectious agents.
The FAA, making sure airlines and airplanes are safe
The FDA, to make sure people aren't selling worthless snake oil as medicine, and that your hamburger isn't 100% E coli
Public libraries.
The Post Office. Ever try to send something to Bumblef*ck, Alaska with Fedex? The PO will do it for pennies.
Keeping people alive is a province that the government does quite well, and the private sector does hardly at all - FEMA, food stamps, hot lunch programs, heating programs, welfare, widows and orphan benefits through social security
Space exploration.
Emergency services. 911.
Interstate highways.
The FDIC, to protect your deposits against fraudulent bankers/banking practices.
the SEC, to make sure that the stock market isn't _totally_ controlled and run as a huge fraud.
Wetlands conservation. Public education.
Electrical grids in rural areas. Left to the private sector, much of America would still not have electricity.
Government research gave us both the internet and the global positioning system.
Sewers and waste treatment.
Anyway, that is just to name a few. Did i mention a court system that allows people standing with the most powerful forces in society?

The myth of private sector efficiency is one I don't understand, either. Anyone who has worked in the private sector has seen a never-ending list of foolish, costly, inefficient, stupid, redundant decisions that are every bit as inefficient and self-defeating as anything the government does. Just watching the pharma industry over the last 20 years - the lack of investment in basic research, the mergers and acquisitions, the opening and closing of sites, the waste - has broken that lie into a million pieces.

Even in sectors where the government and the private sector compete in doing the same task, like primary education or providing health coverage, the government version often beats the pants off of the private sector. For example, medicare administration only loses about 4 cents for every dollar in administrative costs. Compare that to 15-30 percent for private coverage. (And that is with government-imposed caps on what insurance companies are allowed to "lose" in administrative overhead). The government is clearly running that more efficiently (because no profit motive). And I see no proof that private schools are run more efficiently/cheaply than public schools, especially where the differences in their clientele are taken into account.

B: Currency - The Government stole from the people when they removed the silver content of U.S. coins decades ago. They did it again now that the dollar isn't backed by gold. New money being printed like Monopoly money means our dollars are worth less and less.
Armed forces - who are companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy? Why is the private military contractor industry now a $100 billion a year industry?
Intl diplomacy - like running military weaponry and money to countries that hate us and groups that have known ties to Al-Qaeda?
Police/Fire - likewise, private security is booming in Detroit. Police can't or won't respond. Fire and rescue has ridiculous response times and the Gov has no money to hire more resources.
Research - do you really think the Gov is possible of more efficient research and innovation than the private sector? 3D printing technology has astounding potential. Almost immediately, the Gov rushed to create legislation to ban/regulate the budding industry.
Veterans medical care - have you talked to people that have to deal with the VA?
Postal service - how much money does the USPS lose every year? If the USPS is so great, why has UPS/Fedex/DHL grown like they have?
FEMA - remember the Superdome after Katrina? No thanks.
Food stamps - yeah, I am thrilled people can buy Redbull and Monster Energy on the taxpayer's dime. Because even when you need Gov assistance to put food on the table, sometimes you just need an energy boost.
Social Security - a good example of something else that the Gov has pillaged and destroyed. I do not plan on SS being around when I am able to retire in 20 years.

Me: that's a lot of Fox nonsense.
Your complaint about currency is nonsensical and has nothing to do with private/public sector inefficiency. most of the world's economists agree that decoupling currency from metals is an incredibly smart thing to do.
Blackwater and companies like it will feed on the government teat happily, but I've yet to see any analysis that shows that they provide more efficient (more service per dollar spent) service than the regular army. That's because in addition to having to do the services they are contracted for, they also have to provide a return to their owners, which makes them more costly than the regular army.

International diplomacy means talking to other governments.

when public services are starved of funding, as in Detroit, they fail. Big surprise. Fire departments and police departments work very well in 99.9% of American cities, and I'm guessing that includes yours.

Yes, I do think that government funds very efficient and excellent research. I have sat on NIH funding panels and read proposals and seen how that sausage is made. Not only do they fund excellent, important research, it is often research that won't necessarily turn a buck instantly, and so no private sector funding will touch it. Your very life probably depends upon research that has been supported by government spending.

B: I'll save you a lot of typing, PP. Let's agree to disagree and move on. Best wishes, man.

Me: Yes, I have talked to people who have used the VA, and also people who have worked within the VA. Like most other government services that actually help people, it is being systematically defunded by conservatives, and is unfortunately not as good today as it used to be. However, name me the private service which is providing better, more efficient healthcare to veterans than the VA. You cannot.

Ok, happy ignorance B

The Post Office is self-sufficient, and has only suffered a deficit in recent years because of Republican legislation that has required it to fund its pension for 75 years into the future. 75 years! Apart from this accounting trick, the Post Office is doing quite well for itself. Again, when I can send something to the other side of the country via Fedex for 60 cents, we can talk.

Yes, FEMA run by people who don't believe that government can or should help people (Bush and his cronies) did a terrible job in Katrina. I await your tales of all of the private sector businesses who rushed into New Orleans and did a great job with it. On the other hand, FEMA did an excellent job with hurricane Irene and many other instances.

Again, which private sector entities are keeping people alive by providing them food, and which are doing it more efficiently than that foodstamp program (which is one of the best ways that government spending stimulates the economy, by the way)

Social Security. I could go on and on about what a great (and very stable, and well-funded) program Social Security is, despite all of the ignorant propaganda around it. Rest assured that the rest of us won't let the plutocrats kill this program before you get to benefit from it. With the 401K disaster looming, SS is going to become more important than ever before. Another example of the public sector doing something important successfully with far less fraud, waste, and failure than the private sector.

Posted by ProfessorPlum | Thu Jun 26, 2014, 09:19 PM (31 replies)

A really good explanation for this kind of mimicry is found in "Climbing Mount Improbable"

by Richard Dawkins.

I'll try to do justice to it here. There are lots of caterpillars in a particular species, and they all look quite similar to each other, but each slightly little different. Some of them look a little tiny bit like snakes, if you see them in the dim light of dawn or dusk, or deep forest, or just catch a glimpse of them as you pass. That small difference in look makes predators pause, or pass them by, or back away at a just slightly higher rate than their brethren. They tend to live just a little bit longer, and mate and have more offspring. And so the population of caterpillars that look just a little bit like snakes grows larger. Their children all look just a little bit like snakes, but some of them are a little more green, or just slightly more bulgy, or happen to have a slight dark patch on their haunch. This, for some of them, makes the illusion just a little bit more convincing, giving them just a tiny edge against predators in low light, in marginal situations - but it is just enough or the effect to continue, over millions of generations, to create and select for mimicry that eventually is good enough to be very convincing indeed, in full light.

Evolution is so beautiful, and powerful, and amazing.
Posted by ProfessorPlum | Wed May 28, 2014, 02:12 PM (1 replies)

The Dirty Secret of a Great Economy

Small Economies

In a society money moves around, changes hands, is used for goods and services, and for our purposes, let’s call that its economy. Imagine an economy where very little money changes hands, and in which few people are involved. This “small” economy occurs when there are just a few very wealthy people and the vast majority of people are poor. Very little money flows in this kind of small economy because 1) the majority of people don’t have money to spend on their demands and 2) the rich, who have money, have relatively few demands. Their demands have already been met, and their wealth represents excess buying power which they aren’t using.

Small economies, because of the way their wealth is distributed, are unhappy places in which to live. For the vast majority, there is no way to meet their demands for housing, clothes, food, medical care, education, transportation, and entertainment. Even the rich, with all of their wealth, have to protect themselves and jealously guard their situation, and they have to live in a world where most of their cohorts are poor, badly clothed, unhoused, uneducated, sick, and unsatisfied. Injustice, corruption, and exploitation flow from small economies.

Large Economies

In contrast, consider a large economy in which lots of money changes hands, and in which lots of people are involved. There are still rich people with excess wealth in this large economy, and poor people who take in and spend very little money, but in general the poor take in enough money to meet their demands. They can afford to feed, house, transport, heal, and educate themselves.

Life in a large economy is a much happier place. Everyone can meet their needs, rich and poor. Because even the poor have income, a portion of the economy orients itself to meet their demands. The rich, whose demands are always met, get to live in a society where their fellow humans are much more secure.


There are many examples of large and small economies in the world today, but consider just two examples from the history of America in the last century. The problem with The Great Depression is that America’s economy suddenly got very small, in contrast to the large American economy in the decades after World War II.

Moving from a Large Economy to a Small Economy

How does a large economy become a small economy? Unfortunately, that change is a natural tendency in a capitalist system. It is captured in the folk wisdom of sayings like “The rich get richer” and “It takes money to make money”. Rich people can turn their wealth into mechanisms for making more money. This is capital. Poor people generally only have their time and effort to exchange for money. This is labor. In capitalism, money gravitates naturally to the already rich, making the economy smaller and smaller and life worse and worse. With no intervention, the money that is flowing around in a large economy gets vacuumed up by the rich.

Moving from a Small Economy to a Large Economy

Because a large economy is both desirable and short-lived in a capitalist system, another mechanism is required to maintain or grow an economy. This is where the government comes in. The way the government creates larger economies is by taking rich people’s money, and giving it to poor people. Government has a number of ways to do this. It can take rich people’s money directly and redistribute it to the poor as foodstamps, healthcare, subsidized housing, public transit, public education, etc. It can also, by supporting organized labor and legislating minimum wages, facilitate larger transfers of wealth from rich to poor in exchange for labor.

The Dirty Secret of a Good Economy is that Rich People have to give Poor People Money

Wealth redistribution, taking money from the rich and giving to the poor to spend, is the way that economies grow, become responsive to all the members of society, and create a better society. And putting money into the hands of the poor creates new opportunities for the rich to try to get that money back. Getting the money back also makes the economy bigger. There is no way to do this through capitalism, it is almost purely a governmental function. It is why government putting money into the hands of the poor, through foodstamps or welfare or any other way, has a huge “multiplier” effect on the economy, whereas giving the rich tax breaks to keep even more of their money out of circulation has relatively small beneficial effect.

Voodoo Economics

The relatively healthy American economy in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, has been shrinking over the last 35 years starting with the Reagan tax cuts. By drastically slowing the taking of money from the rich, Reagan began the process of shrinking the economy. This is why George H. W. Bush called Reagan’s tax plans “voodoo economics” in the Republican nomination race of 1980. Bush knew that cutting taxes on the rich would take money out of circulation and shrink the economy. The shrinking of the economy has been masked somewhat by allowing the working class to borrow large amounts of money and spend that to cover their needs, but this just pushes the problem of the shrinking economy into the near future. Changes in the law have allowed the rich more and more power to change the rules (and the goals) of government, to the point where government’s function has been perverted to give money to the already rich, which will shrink the economy further.

The Golden Goose

By weakening the government’s redistributive power, the already rich have made themselves vastly richer, shrinking the economy, and making America an increasingly unpleasant place to live. Instead of enjoying the fruits of a large economy, they are sitting on top of a horde of wealth in a smaller and smaller economy, while the needs of their fellow Americans go more and more unmet. There are only three ways out of this trend. The first is revolution, a dangerous, deadly, and uncontrollable force. The second is stagnation in a very small, feudal economy, rife with injustice and unmet needs. The thirds are FDR-like reforms, where the government begins to redistribute wealth and make the economy larger. By leveraging more and more power and wealth to themselves, the already very rich shrink our economy, and kill the golden goose of a large American economy.
Posted by ProfessorPlum | Fri May 16, 2014, 09:59 AM (11 replies)
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