Exploration of the Political Thinker: Interview #2 - Mr. Newman (Swagnarok)

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  • RationalMadman
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    Welcome one and all to EPT! In this edition we have one of those who seek no labels, yet he applied for this show so clearly he has something to say!

    I quote him in saying the following:
     I've had a persisting gut affiliation with Trump and the GOP almost like a baseball fan does for his home team but they honestly don't seem to hold the answers we need.
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    --> @Swagnarok
    Would you consider yourself a Right-Wing individual? Do the Wings exist or are they assumed?
  • Swagnarok
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    Hi RationalMadman, first of all thank you for agreeing to host this interview with me. I hope to express some concepts most people haven't really heard before, either from mainstream political discourse or from my own usual incoherent rambling.

    First of all, it almost goes without saying that the wings and the left-right spectrum haven't had a persistent, concise meaning over time. Left used to mean republicanism/democracy over traditional monarchism but that paradigm's obsolete in most places. Then it meant communism vs. fascism. Today the American left and right are at each other's throats but they're not the same as the left and right in Europe, where even the latter is more similar to the Democratic Party than to the GOP in many respects. In China, the communist party has begun to present itself as upholding "traditional values" compared to a (supposedly) decadent West, and the media has argued there are parallels between the CPC's response to Hong Kong and Trump's calls to restore "law and order" through shooting rioters. Horseshoe theory is beginning to come full circle and old definitions are less useful nowadays.

    The contemporary GOP either has inferior ideas or in the age of Fox News has grossly lagged in its perceived need for good optics and for presenting its ideas well. Until they get their act together and clarify their ideological intents to the general public I can't agree with them. But I can't side with the Democratic Party for the simple reason that I don't trust them either. On top of that, rabid "cancel culture" is arguably a personal threat to my own life prospects and every blow to its viability is probably a step in the direction of my own self-preservation.
    Neither party truly believes in free speech anymore, which especially for the Democratic Party is a betrayal of core liberal values for which they used to stand in defense of. They openly support internet censorship (AKA deplatforming, which whether it constitutes de jure censorship or not it has that same effect) for wrongspeak and that's unforgivable. I would probably rather be ruled by a dictator who protected the right of every citizen to speak his mind without fear of life-shattering repercussions than by an elected oligarchy that trampled on this liberty.
  • Swagnarok
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    --> @RationalMadman
    (cont.) As it stands right now, both parties answer to demographics as much as they're driven by ideological impetus. If you've read George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, you'll recall that he described the 2020s decade as one where elderly voters dominated fiscal and monetary policy, a reality which ends up having disastrous outcomes for the nation.

    But my theory is that this has been true for a long time now. You see, the Democratic Party has always supported a retirement pension program known in the US as Social Security. It's an enormously expensive program but the GOP even in its more libertarian days was too afraid to touch it.
    Republicans, meanwhile, are also giving freebies to middle aged and older people in the form of major corporate tax cuts. The windfalls from these are spent on repaying stock market investors, which keeps 401K accounts (retirement funds tied to the stock market) afloat.

    What you have is high government spending on the elderly, combined with tax cuts for the sake of the elderly, and what you get as a result is crushing debt. Indeed, the federal government hasn't run a surplus since the Clinton era. There are no plans at this time to begin paying back that debt, but of course they have to keep the existing debt manageable by keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio from spiraling out of control. To accomplish this, they inflate the economy.

    Inflation hurts people who are neither middle class middle-aged workers/managers nor retirees.  In other words, young people who start out with nothing. Take for example the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage. It was last raised more than 10 years ago, when inflation would've been less. I'm sure it was incredibly hard to live on that c. 2009 but today it's flat out impossible. Today, even if you worked 50 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that'd amount to less than 20K a year.
    Inflation is one of two major factors putting economic stresses on the younger generation of Americans. I'll talk about the other some in a later post if prompted. But it's important to acknowledge the disruptive impact of these stresses. While us millennials (1996 so technically I'm a millennial too) are more freespirited in our outlook, for better and for worse, and reluctant to settle down and take on grown-up responsibilities, even many of those who would like to start a family just can't afford it. Home ownership's also a pipe dream for far too many. Conservatives have underestimated the role economic hardship plays in undermining traditional social values, which is but one sign of how utterly lost the modern GOP is.
  • RationalMadman
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    --> @Swagnarok
    So, to be clear do you or do you not support social security?

    Why is tradition important to you?
  • Swagnarok
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    So, to be clear do you or do you not support social security?

    Well, to start it seems increasingly likely that Social Security will be bankrupt by the time my generation comes of age to retire. It's easy to see it as an entitlement until you realize it's only an entitlement to people who were born well before you. If you yourself would be thrown to the wolves once you become too old to work, is it so unthinkable that the older generation who's already there should suffer the same fate? For them to live off the public teat while you have no future, doesn't that amount to the most vile form of generational discrimination? (Keep in mind I'm speaking from an American perspective; perhaps the state of public pensions in the UK is better off, or maybe not. I don't know.)

    That being said, I don't think retirement and budget constraints have to be mutually exclusive. Especially in the Third World the elderly congregate in dirt cheap public housing that basically supplies what they need to live. If we put our industrial might to it I think America could do it on a large scale for cheap and yet make it livable for the people who have to spend their final days there. We could also focus on cost-effective ways of increasing happiness for residents, like a walking trail with a zen rock garden (low cost maintenance) or yoga classes and literary clubs. The key to retiring well is to have some kind of goal you're still working toward, though obviously it doesn't have to be work-related. Retirement can be a good time to work on improving yourself in various areas where you just didn't have the time before. I believe a well-designed but fairly cheap facility can in some cases do better than a high-end one where patients just sit around and do nothing.

    Social Security is just one piece of the puzzle. Massive structural reforms are needed to every level of government. It should serve primarily the interests of those who carry on in the world of the living, not of those who have one foot in the grave. "Disenfranchisement" is a dirty word and for obvious reasons but meaningful reform will be impossible so long as these people's names are still on the voting rolls. They cannot be allowed to use the government to enrich themselves if it means making life harder for young people and in doing so anyway they forfeit their right to participate in government.
  • RationalMadman
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    --> @Swagnarok
    Thank you for your answer.

    Why is tradition important to you?
  • Swagnarok
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    Well, I suppose tradition is part of a civilization's culture. Old customs and through it history are preserved/passed on and each generation has a sense of historical perspective that would've otherwise been less present. Maybe it's a reminder that things weren't always the way they are now, for better or for worse. And collective participation in traditions can foster a sense of commonality and unity and strengthen social cohesion.

    I'm not a staunch traditionalist for the simple reason that I myself am not a traditional person. But committing to things beyond yourself gives discipline and structure, and believe me, life without any discipline or structure is just a giant mess.

    (Not sure if that really answered the question but yeah.)
  • RationalMadman
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    --> @Swagnarok
    A mess that has happier citizens is superior to a neat and tidy clinical hell, would you not agree?

    I am asking you as an open-ended question hoping you will elaborate on how important structure is for your society.
  • Swagnarok
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    Structure is important. The option of noncomformity is important as well. Arabs in Muhammad's day were happy that God had sent a messenger to show them the true path and proper way to live but your typical 22 year old Saudi college student today just wishes he could watch his butt porn in peace without having to fear the government knocking on his front door. The exact same thing made one party better off but not the other.

    Even for people who don't like structure, it can sometimes spare them a greater amount of pain and disappointment in the long run. Everyone should be taught structure as children, so that when they're older they won't simply be too weak to put up with a lifestyle that'd be better for them if that's what they would like to choose. Some people thrive in a cutthroat, ultra-competitive corporate rat race and the rewards for their diligence are huge. Other people just don't have what it takes. You should be able to get by with comparably less work but if you're simply incapable of exercising the self-discipline needed to make something of yourself then you have no real options. You didn't choose the easier but less rewarding path so much as the other way wasn't a credible option. In other words, you're stuck in one place with no way out even if you're not happy.

    But if you've received discipline as a child and don't want structure as an adult, you should be able to walk away and do your own thing. This means feelings of hypocrisy will always be a part of the coming-of-age experience but that's a small price to pay.

    If it were up to me, there'd be another option: adults incapable of exercising more discipline could go spend 3-9 months in boot camp and become existentially tougher people. who'll achieve better outcomes in all areas of life. Putting the impetus solely on them to fix themselves means they might never change so why not give them someone else to help them change? So far the military has been the only large-scale institution out there people can turn to in order to pull this off so to do away with it without some kind of replacement for that function will have negative consequences.

    That's one piece of the puzzle. Opportunity is another. As the job market contracts over time, opportunity is also shrinking. Most people aren't bold entrepreneurs but instead seek career paths in companies/organizations founded and run by other people. So if they lack job opportunities they'll go their whole lives feeling like they're missing something. Obviously there are exceptions, such as people who could find something to devote themselves to while unemployed and be sustainably happy. But most can't function that way. So people need both structure and opportunity but neither resource is as plentiful as it used to be. This causes quarter-life and perhaps mid-life crises of identity, to say nothing of the implications for one's household earnings.

  • Swagnarok
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    To me, the perfect utopia would be a place that provided structure to anyone who wanted it and opportunity to everyone. All that I know is, that's not here and now.
  • Swagnarok
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    Americans used to have a lot of opportunity because we were in a position of strength compared to the rest of the world. Of all the western countries we got scathed the least from WWII, the Soviets had a closed economy, and the 3rd world was too backward to seriously rival us. Boomers in their heyday enjoyed a minimum wage that adjusted for inflation was equivalent to like $12 an hour today and they got away with it. Work was plentiful and most people knew nothing of student debt. You could randomly walk into a factory and say "Well heya Mr. Schmidt I saw you had a job listing and I was wondering if I could fit the part" and walk out with job security to raise a wife and two kids and pay off the mortgage in 30 years.

    Young people deserve to have it like that. They're not "entitled snowflakes" for asking for what their parents/grandparents took for granted. They shouldn't be afraid to demand what rightfully belongs to them, or to simply take it if words get them nowhere.

    But unfortunately they lack the bargaining power their parents/grandparents had. America faces competition from the entire world. We import commodities and services from all over the place and struggle to produce goods that will sell on the global markets. For that, companies demand specialists with impossibly high levels of experience who can do hyperefficient work. The gap between entry-level and salaryman jobs has grown unbearably wide. Compared to the overall population size aren't many openings for these few positions so companies are very picky and resort to a variety of underhanded d!ck moves to filter out most ordinary applicants. They're not willing to give seemingly unqualified people a chance or believe in their potential to learn.
    If wages were raised across the board to any significant degree, it would exacerbate offshoring and capital flight. To my knowledge the government isn't well suited to combat these phenomena. The status quo is an abysmal failure for tens if not hundreds of millions of U.S. citizens.
  • Swagnarok
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    Finally, a proposal to change everything.

    First of all, the USFG must take a count of every dollar in circulation and keep count of every dollar printed afterward. At the push of a button the government should be able to invalidate any bill. All dollars leaving port must be required to pass through customs/documentation and the state should be able to demand audits at any time to track the whereabouts of dollars suspected to be missing from the country.
    If cash is gone because those treacherous demon-possessed bastards fled the country with it, we could push the button and make their stolen loot worth nothing. That dollar could be re-printed immediately and re-enter circulation here at the government's discretion. Obviously there would be enough rule of law that it couldn't just randomly happen to any citizen but only as a consequence of criminal forfeiture. Fear of exchanging a valuable foreign currency or asset for possibly worthless money would force external parties doing business with these corporate thieves ponder long and hard before making a deal and consult USFG resources to make sure it was legal.
    Obviously this would make it a lot more difficult for America to do business with the world. But that's actually the point.

    Second, radically revise the tax code so the USFG can tax nonliquid assets that have traditionally been very hard to tax. Nobody evades our tax regime. The state and the citizenry it represents will take its fair share of the sovereign wealth no matter what.

    Third, we should begin to shrink the national debt, even if it means several years of austerity. Once it's down to 80% GDP, we can safely proceed with:

    Fourth (optional), block most imports. Require most items that Americans consume to be made in America. We'd become a closed economy and aim for self-sufficiency.

    Fifth (optional), because this would make life drastically harder, a hundred other reforms in other areas would be needed. The entire available workforce would have to be mobilized like nothing seen since the end of WWII. We'd build our own solar panels, recycle our huge (currently unwanted) reserve of wasted plastic to produce carbon fuels to sustain powered industry, extract uranium from the oceans, and find ways to conserve electric power at all times. America, unlike most countries, is geographically massive, blessed with an abundance of diverse natural resources, has a varied climate ranging from northernmost Alaska to the tip of Florida, a well-educated workforce and a large industrial/infrastructure base to start with. The UK or Japan certainly couldn't pull this off but maybe we could. America's has always been in a unique and enviable position when it comes to this.
    Affordable housing and manufacturing jobs would be plentiful. One's private speech, beliefs, religion race or sexual orientation/gender identity would have no bearing on one's ability to find or keep work as long as one's conduct on the job was respectable. Measures of economy would have to be restructured but after adjusting for inflation each person would be paid as handsome a wage as could be sustained. Jobs would be plentiful and management positions would be too. Home design would be optimized for cost and ergonomics.
    In the new economy employers would seek out workers and not always the other way around. They'd come to you and offer you intensive training to perform whatever task they needed performed. Approaches to technical instruction would be reformed; as the sum of knowledge continues to grow while human brain capacity remains the same, it's not sustainable to teach people more and more each generation. Instead, they'd be taught to effectively wield the evolving tools of their trade, each having been built upon prior industry knowledge that the wielder doesn't need to know much about. If one person with this level of knowledge wasn't enough, others could be taught to specialize, which would create more jobs.

    Sixth, put limits on automation. Machines must always remain tools, not workers themselves. This cap will have awkward implications at times but if we're not competing with the world then we can afford inefficiencies.

    Seventh, acknowledge that the US will suddenly become very weak compared to the rest of the world. With the rise of China and India we were never going to remain #1 and so long as we maintain a credible WMD deterrent, along with the political/moral will to use it, we needn't fear that outcome. As long as the average citizen has a better deal and a brighter future (even with some sacrifices), maybe it'll be worth it.