Monday, April 28, 2008

Engineering a better world.

What is the core difference between the two parties? Here’s an attempt from Daniel Patrick Moynihan to break down the liberal-conservative difference:

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

The "cultural wars" fought since the 1960s mean America today has shreds of our Judeo-Christian culture existing uneasily with an American popular culture driven by sex, violence, rock and roll, drugs, junk food, and whatever else Madison Avenue finds will sell goods and services. Both liberals and conservatives like and hate parts of the all-American mix, meaning liberals too have stuff they fight to hang onto. Their power position within the political equation, for example.

Why has the media become such a fiercely partisan (Democratic) force, attempting to guide our political destiny when a generation ago reporters strived for objectivity? The answer may be they are losing power, and will play rough to hang on to what they have. Real insight into this condition comes from John Podhoretz, writing in Commentary.

Podhoretz calls the “Newseum” [picture] just opened opposite Washington’s National Gallery a “news mausoleum,” because the newspaper industry is in its death throws. While the downward spiral began with television, television only extinguished weaker papers, leaving behind large, successful, profit-making news organizations in each metropolitan area that benefited greatly from their monopoly domination of the local market. The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, etc. These papers’ major profit center was classified advertising, each little line sold at full price. Now Craigslist performs the same service for free, and newspapers are going under. Says Podhoretz:

"When a monopoly begins to lose market share by as much as 10% per year, withering and fading on its own and not on account of specific competitive pressure, it is a sure sign that the structural integrity of an entire industry has been compromised. Implosion is sure to follow—and is indeed taking place in every city in every region of the country. For anyone who depends on newspapering for his livelihood, there is simply no mistaking the death rattle."

So newspapers are desperately fighting to remain relevant. According to Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein at the University of Chicago, we fight harder to hold what we have than we do to get something new:

"[Any] crisis is compounded by what psychologists call 'loss aversion.' Numerous studies have shown that humans hate losses much more than they like gains. This means that losing $1,000 hurts you about twice as much as winning $1,000 makes you feel good."

So how would Thaler and Sunstein improve matters for losers? Discussing the housing crisis, they proclaim:

"Government regulators can't change human psychology, and they shouldn't try. But they can . . . craft regulations to protect us from the people who can be our own worst enemy: ourselves."

Government helps us combat “our own worst enemy: ourselves”? Isn't this the essence of liberalism, government fixing “us” in ways we can’t fix “ourselves”? Save us from government. Save us from newspapers.

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