Is The Left Right?

 

This may be one of the more shocking columns I’ve read. It’s shocking not so much because of its argument but its provenance. The author is Charles Moore, biographer of Margaret Thatcher and former editor of the Telegraph:

It has taken me more than 30 years as a journalist to ask myself this question, but this week I find that I must: is the Left right after all? You see, one of the great arguments of the Left is that what the Right calls “the free market” is actually a set-up.

I wrote several paragraphs in response to this and then lost them. It’s for the best. They were overwrought. 

Of course the Left isn’t right. But anyone on the Right who is honest has got to be asking the question: What went wrong? Because yes, what we’re seeing does conform to the theoretical models offered by the Left.

We’re looking at a state of affairs in the West that should not have happened, according to the center-right, given initial conditions of basically free elections, basically free economies and a basically free press. I do not mean the “theoretical right,” I mean the real politicians of the right. (The theorists of the right, including me, are either now feeling mighty uncomfortable thinking about Marxist theorists who still believe that communism’s a terrific idea that was never properly applied or they’re dangerously incapable of self-doubt.)

If your response is, “Yes, but these institutions became invisibly unfree while we were sleeping,” you need to ask why it was invisible to so many–to the point that by the time it became visible, it was too late. That is not, you must admit, a system that works. That’s not one you can defend with a straight face to the developing world as “the best the human race has ever come up with”–at least, no more enthusiastically than you can defend the idea that heroin is the best high we’ve ever come up with, so be a lamb and show us your veins, we’ve got the needle right here for you. There was insufficient self-correction at every juncture to prevent catastrophe–about which we’re all now very realistically worried. Why?

Why is it is assumed–part of our collective common knowledge, now–that our politicians are not able to cooperate or subordinate their own short-term political interests to our long-term interests? How did this level of cynicism take hold in the West? Weren’t the structures and institutions of democracy supposed to militate against this?

I don’t agree with Moore that Murdoch is a key symptom. But I am certainly asking myself how it came to be that in a society with so many guarantees of press freedom, our key press organs now churn out coverage of the news to which I react much as Soviet citizens did to Pravda–by laughing darkly, endeavoring to read between the lines, and then trying to figure out what’s really happening by word-of-mouth.

Who predicted that? Chomsky. Uncomfortable, but there we are. What kind of world does Chomsky suggest instead? A proven hell. So where does that leave us? 

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @flownover

    Maybe the left is just exhausted trying to defend the details of their plans, which have unraveled in all earlier exhibits.

    By falling back to high concepts of moral righteousness, they can take comfort in the thoughts they have. Obama is the ultimate icon of vagueness. There’s no there there.

    Moore’s refugee status as former right is a good decision in the coming purge of journalism in the UK. Look at how it’s helped Ebert’s resurrection as “feel-good, thumbs always up shill” to newly crowned political sage. You could probably list all of the turncoats on the stage, from the children of politicians we respect to the memories of those we miss and their legacies are being perverted where possible.

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    @Doc

    I am not educated enough to tackle this problem in its entirety, but part of the problem is the voters. How does a corrupt politician like Charlie Rengel continually get reelected? What about the congressman from Oregon, David Wu? He was reelected while he was in the midst of serious mental breakdown. The list goes on. In Northern Virginia, my back yard, Congressman Jim Moran is constantly reelected despite a laundry list of scandals, gaffes, and destructive votes. We allow corrupt politicians and officials to remain in office indefinitely. The ruling class rarely has to answer to the voters because we do not demand it.

    I’m not sure how we let the media get so corrupt. But I do see signs of hope. The internet offers so many alternative sources of information that the lies of the MSM are easily exposed by anyone who takes the small amount of time to look. I also believe the Tea Party is what has forced the Republicans to remain steadfast in the debt limit fight. It takes voter involvement rather than apathy, and the Obama administration might just have been horrible enough to create a whole lot of passion among voters.

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    @rayconandlindacon

    We in the West were bequeathed a proven heaven, right here on earth. Christians and Jews together turned their otherwise corrupt hearts towards the benevolent Creator and were granted the self control required to overcome the original sin that corrupted man’s heart.

    We agreed, as a people to set aside our theological faith and believe directly in the Creator without letting smart folks with their theories of who that Creator is get in the way. When we abandoned our faith in that Creator, we also lost the self control that overcomes our sinful nature.

    All the checks and balances of a constitutional republican democracy (democracy alone has none) are meaningless in a people who have lost the blessings of overcoming our sinful nature through our faith in a common Creator.

    Sorry Claire, we’ve lost it. The old bumper sticker, “I’ve Found It” applies to individuals. Unless our culture returns to our Creator, we have lost it forever in America.

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    @katievs

    “We’re looking at a state of affairs in the West that should not have happened, according to the center-right, given initial conditions of basically free elections, basically free economies and a basically free press.”

    What rightist have ever believed that things can’t go wrong? Haven’t they, on the contrary, been warning all along that unless we exercise our freedoms under a grave sense of responsibility and commitment to the common good, we will lose them?

    I’m thinking, off the top of my head, of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ronald Reagan.

    Free market capitalism and a system of checks and balances were offered as the “best hope”, not as the guarantee of utopia. Only the left imagines there is such a thing on earth.

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    @TennesseePatriot

    Didn’t our founders understand that democracy would trend towards statism? Restricting the right to vote to male property owners was a check against democratic tyranny. (Neil Boortz often speaks of restricting the vote to those who actually pay taxes). If only taxpayers voted and we did away with tax withholding- so we would have to, painfully, directly write checks to the government- the excesses of democracy would be more reliably restrained. As long as people can vote themselves money and benefits from the government with money forcibly taken from others we will continue on the tyrannical path. The fact that maternal government is a religion will make these changes difficult.

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    @SouthernPessimist

    Claire, I don’t find his arguments to be persuasive. It seems to me that much of what he decries is not the failure of free markets and a free press but crony capitalism that has insinuated itself into the politics of both the left and right. The left offers no viable option for the economic ruin we face. If I weren’t such a pessimist I would say that free markets will rise like a Phoenix from the coming destruction, but I become more pessimistic every day.

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    @EJHill

    Claire, the “free market” does not exist and hasn’t for years. But it was the left that made the market captive to government in the name of “fairness.” It’s the regulatory state that’s screwed everything up since the 1930’s. Had Hoover, Roosevelt and the rest of the worlds socialists kept their fingers to themselves the market would have corrected itself, probably by 1931.

    I suspect Moore is just depressed.

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    @TeeJaw

    Human beings being flawed creatures things can go awry. A free market allows people to be as vile, greedy, and stupid as they will be and still have a system that more of less works. It works best when the people are moral and live under a rule of law that is administered by politicians, judges, and bureaucrats who are willing, more or less, to act wisely and responsibly.

    While a free market has self-correcting mechanisms that punish wrongful conduct, or at least defuse the worst of human behavior, socialism and communism accentuate and intensify all human flaws and their consequences.

    We are now suffering through a time when the public stage features some of the worst human behavior of political leaders in decades. The question is not why does it seem that the free market isn’t working; the question should be why is it still working at all?

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    @TheMugwump

    Claire, the answer to your question deserves a lengthy response, but I will attempt to be pithy. The problem as I see it is that sometimes capitalism is too good at what it does. Free markets can generate massive amounts of wealth, but that very same wealth tends to fall into the hands of a relative few. The situation is not a threat to the nation-state if we’re talking about an economic system based on simple commodities like grain, furs, or sugar. But when production is ramped up and starts including areas like industry (think rail barons) and media (Murdoch) then the vast amount of wealth causes economic stratification. Basically, you create a system of all-powerful oligarchs who manipulate both the economy and the government vs. the rest of us. The best answer (in theory) to avoid economic stratification is to impose a progressive tax on the very wealthy. The problem seems to be that eventually the wealthy become powerful enough to manipulate the tax code to their advantage. The IRS code today is a massive set of regulations mainly because each provision was passed to benefit a very specific “special interest.” My take, anyway.

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    @AaronMiller

    There is no perfect system. All systems are subject to human nature, which is deeply flawed. Multiply those flaws by many millions and what do you get? Some systems are better than others, but all are flawed and ultimately doomed to collapse under the weight of human corruption.

    Capitalism, constitutional law, common law, a democratic republic — they are just tools. When they break down, as our Founders knew they would eventually, we will start over.

    Some constants of human nature which will always corrupt government:

    • Tribalism: Individuals always care about some people more than others.
    • Limited knowledge and wisdom: Honest, kind people make terrible mistakes.
    • Perspective: We will fail to understand each other; sometimes grossly. The more people and farther apart, the more common and significant our misunderstandings.
    • Selfishness: No one entirely outgrows the “Mine!” and “Finders, keepers!” thinking that comes so naturally to toddlers.

    And on and on.

    In addtion, evil always has the advantage in this world. Power and virtue diverge. Look at how much Democrats have been able to accomplish by ignoring the Constitution. Accruing debt is easier than paying it off. Coercion is easier than honoring free will.

    But I see your concern. (continued…)

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    @UndergroundConservative

    Well, if Marx was right after all, that we drift toward socialism after capitalism, then I anxiously await his final step, the withering away of the state. One could only hope!

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    @HVTs

    The market-based system Lady Thatcher promoted has not failed. It’s a political class—an Incumbency Party in the US context—that has failed us (albeit we should have been more attentive and militant in protecting against Liberal Fascism.) All should (re)read Jonah Goldberg’s magnum opus, especially chap 8 “Liberal Fascist Economics.” From page 303 to end of Chapter will do. It starts: “Today we still live under the fundamentally fascistic economic system established by Wilson and FDR.” (Note: You first have to get past the meaning of “fascistic” we grew up thinking was correct . . . let Brother Jonah lead the way. [:-)

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    @TomJedrz
    Southern Pessimist: Claire, I don’t find his arguments to be persuasive. It seems to me that much of what he decries is not the failure of free markets and a free press but crony capitalism that has insinuated itself into the politics of both the left and right. … · Jul 24 at 9:28am

    The point is that this situation, crony capitalism, was predicted as a logical outcome of the free market capitalist system. In essence the argument is that power works with power to take from those without power. In this case, government and business work together to take from the rest of us. The prediction seems accurate at this point.

    However, the phenomenon has nothing to do with free market capitalism, and I don’t see it as an indictment of free market capitalism. Powerful taking from powerless is ubiquitous, and has been a human phenomenon in every political and economic system. Our poor and powerless are far better off than the poor and powerless ever have been, so pragmatically this system works better than others before it.

    Still, something needs to be done. The question is what.

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    @AaronMiller

    If all systems are doomed from the get-go, then why is one better than the other?

    Because some systems honor the gift of humanity while others treat us as mere animals. Communism and fascism seek to manage every aspect of our lives like a farmer managing the lives of his cows and chickens. A participatory, limited government such as ours was founded to be recognizes us as individual persons and wondrous beings created in the likeness of God. Our system honors the free will of individuals and recognizes all citizens as equals. Our system sacrifices security for freedom.

    We should not try to convince others that ours is the better system. We should simply live as examples of freedom. That example will always be rejected by many. But people flock to America from every corner of the world. We’re doing something right, even today.

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    @

    Don’t these crises in capitalism come and go? Short cycles, long cycles. But capitalism rights itself over time unless the left-wing government party is voted into office and starts shaking sand into the economic engine. Tinkerers like Frank and Dodd insist that lenders loan money to people who want home ownership but can’t afford it. To do otherwise is “racist.” A compassionate conservative devoted to what he calls an ownership society can’t bring himself to veto Freddie-Fannie even though in his dim way he senses danger. Wall Street greed plays its customary role and traders make huge profits selling worthless mortgages. The political class becomes corrupted because there is less turnover than in the old Soviet presidium. The media, hopelessly left wing and mistrusted, is part of the cancer. Fox’s success is because smart people knew they were getting news with a spin. What seems to the left like Fox’s spin is the news the left leaves out. You can’t build a paradise on earth. Don’t place your trust in princes. Something always goes wrong: Murphy’s Law. The Peter Principle: Barack Obama.

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    @MelFoil

    The Left is correct, that the Free Market is no longer open or transparent enough to work properly, but most of the damage done to the Market was done by them, with inconsistent tax policies, or other capricious and unpredictable regulation. Like most things, the Left “fixes” markets right into the toilet.

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    @liberaljim

    When you say, “Politicians on the right” I assume you do not have people like Ron Paul in mind, but people more like Bush, Boehner, Ryan. I consider the latter as center left who think of themselves and are regarded as center right. Their actions indicate they do not believe government power should be constrained, but only that it be reasonably demonstrated government action would produce a good result more effectively than the market could/or would produce the same result. Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal argues for introducing competition into a leftist idea. It would undoubtedly make Medicare work more effectively, but would not make it a center right idea. To My knowledge he nowhere indicates that it is only a transitional step to a non-government solution. Government being involved in the medical care of people over 65 is a socialist idea which he seems to accept.

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    @BruceHendricksen

    We’ve arrived at this point because the Left has tirelessly pursued their agenda since the New Deal, incrementally. They have methodically built a coalition of rent seeking special interest groups. Many of their “reforms” were instituted during so-called national emergencies, enabling enactment of policies that otherwise would not have been accepted. I’m not sure these changes were invisible to the electorate, but were actually welcomed by many, including the media. The Constitution is a wonderful set of rules, but the ruling class has decided that it is no longer relevant, and ignores it. It’s taken many years to get to this point. I’m heartened to see the push back from groups like the Tea Party, but I’m not particularly optimistic for the future. Still, I believe our nation as originally constituted, is the best form of government yet conceived. Perhaps the internet will serve to educate our citizens. I hope it’s not too late.

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    @KCMulville

    Well, if the premise is that capitalism and democracy will produce prosperity all by themselves, automatically, the argument is flawed from the start. It requires work. It requires effort. The form of government is not enough. The economic system in’t enough. It takes work. And so look around. Now is the time to get to work!

    Look, my fellow conservatives, forgive me for saying the obvious … times are tough, so get up off your butt and get in the game.

    You can have a level playing field and still lose the game. But that doesn’t mean that the answer is to tilt the playing field. Capitalism is only an opportunity. No one said it was a guarantee.

    The debt ceiling fight, in my opinion, was a poorly planned battle. But so what? Mistakes happen. We deal with them. We overcome.

    It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the debt ceiling fight was the ballgame. But seeing how the circumstances shaped up, it soon became clear that the ballgame is 2012. The debt ceiling is a battle we need to survive, but we don’t need to win here. We need to beat Obama.

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    @Sisyphus
    liberal jim: When you say, “Politicians on the right” I assume you do not have people like Ron Paul in mind, but people more like Bush, Boehner, Ryan. I consider the latter as center left who think of themselves and are regarded as center right. Their actions indicate they do not believe government power should be constrained, but only that it be reasonably demonstrated government action would produce a good result more effectively than the market could/or would produce the same result. Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal argues for introducing competition into a leftist idea. It would undoubtedly make Medicare work more effectively, but would not make it a center right idea. To My knowledge he nowhere indicates that it is only a transitional step to a non-government solution. Government being involved in the medical care of people over 65 is a socialist idea which he seems to accept.

    I am going to quibble on the knock against Ryan, in that we don’t know what plan he would have put forward without the constraints of “pragmatism”. Even the Founders conceded to the forces of political inertia on slavery. The hard work is building the consensus.

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    @Claire

    I broadly agree with everyone who is saying “the problem is not capitalism, but crony capitalism.”

    My first question is whether the devolution into crony capitalism is ever preventable, or whether it really is inbuilt into systems we thought relatively well-proofed against it by a system of checks and balances, among them safeguards on speech.

    My second question: Suppose these safeguards do work, albeit slowly and painfully. Will they work fast enough this time to forestall a real age of darkness? Because while the West is “slowly correcting itself,” the rest of the world is on a very different schedule.

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    @liberaljim
    ~Paules: Claire, the answer to your question deserves a lengthy response, but I will attempt to be pithy. The problem as I see it is that sometimes capitalism is too good at what it does. Free markets can generate massive amounts of wealth, but that very same wealth tends to fall into the hands of a relative few.

    I think that is the argument the left makes for not allowing the free market to remain free. The statement is accurate, but what is not considered is the “relative few”, top 10% lets say is not a static group. People are constantly moving in and out of this group. People become rich in a free market society and they also lose their money. That is a good thing. Note your solution is to expand government power not constrain it. If you think a powerful government will favor the little guy, who cannot buy influence, over the rich a powerful who can you are truly a man of the left.

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    @StarvetheBeast

    “… We’re looking at a state of affairs in the West that should not have happened, according to the center-right…”

    Like a lot of people on this thread, I’m confused by this part of the article. I’ve never heard any proponent of the free market suggest that it couldn’t be corrupted. And in retrospect, it’s not hard to see how the forces of the global left, combined with inattention from the electorate, has sickened the free markets in the West.

    But just because the left has been so successful at corrupting and marginalizing the free market does not in itself argue against the free market. It’s a little like the death penalty; for years, the left set up every roadblock to the death penalty they could think of, making it more and more expensive and time-consuming to execute people. Lately, their primary argument against the death penalty is that it’s so expensive and time-consuming.

    Does the free market work after it’s been completely corrupted by the left? Well… no, it doesn’t, but that’s a pretty thin argument for the left to use against free-market capitalism.

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    @Aodhan

    Capitalism gives consumers what they want. But it does not ensure that what they want is good, or that what they want is what they need.

    Socialism gives consumers what other people think they need. But it does not ensure that they need it, or that they want it, or that it is good.

    The question is not which system is perfect, but which is less flawed than the other.

    On balance, capitalism is much better. Both logic and experience prove this. Even bastardized versions of capitalism work better than pure-bred versions of socialism.

    Capitalism beats socialism because it is the only scheme that, bending with human nature, incentivizes everyone to work on behalf of everyone else, thereby making everyone wealthy.

    But both capitalism and socialism get corrupted by the state. Instead of voluntary trade and private charity, one instead gets coercive monopoly and public redistribution: corporatism or communism, both wasting wealth, both disadvantaging the consumer.

    The evils of both capitalism and socialism are best alleviated by minimizing the state. Democracy will only ever be as good as the state whose politicians use it to bribe beneificaries to re-elect them. The smaller the state, the better the outcome.

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    @DaveCarter
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: … Why is it is assumed–part of our collective common knowledge, now–that our politicians are not able to cooperate or subordinate their own short-term political interests to our long-term interests? How did this level of cynicism take hold in the West? …

    This cynicism goes at least as far back as Madison’s observation that if governments were composed of angels, they wouldn’t need a constitution to rein them in. The rate of our decline is commensurate with the rate of our abandonment of the Constitution itself.

    To blame the founding principles of individual liberty and limited government for the current government-induced chaos is on the order of blaming the Ten Commandments for the prevalence of venereal disease. If you ignore the first, you are more likely to end up with the second.

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    @SouthernPessimist
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I broadly agree with everyone who is saying “the problem is not capitalism, but crony capitalism.”

    My first question is whether the devolution into crony capitalism is ever preventable, or whether it really is inbuilt into systems we thought relatively well-proofed against it by a system of checks and balances, among them safeguards on speech.

    My second question: Suppose these safeguards do work, albeit slowly and painfully. Will they work fast enough this time to forestall a real age of darkness? Because while the West is “slowly correcting itself,” the rest of the world is on a very different schedule. · Jul 24 at 10:17am

    To the first question; I would say Yes, the common good is difficult to define but not impossible. To the second question; I fear it is indeed too late.

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    @CaseyWay
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    We’re looking at a state of affairs in the West that should not have happened, according to the center-right, given initial conditions of basically free elections, basically free economies and a basically free press.

    The qualifier basically means that there are aspects of each of these that are not free. And as in most cases where an inch is given, a mile is taken. The function of each of these is dependent on engaged and informed participants be they journalists, entrepreneurs, or voters. It would seem the real shortfalls are in education and accountability. Just think about the fact that almost every college graduate is subsidized by the state. If the goal is >50% population with college degree, you have your state dependent voting majority before they are tested by reality or gain experience. The efficiency free markets stems from the fact that there are winners and losers and the losers are a good thing because limited resources are diverted to more productive ends and inefficiencies are eradicated by competition. When we are taught everyone are winners or equal in their own way, you have a generation that cannot confront the contrary, divergent reality.

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    @Hegesias

    “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest…”

    The thief has come. And as katievs and others have pointed out, our founders knew well he would. Leftist philosophies believe in the inevitable unfolding of History, the progress of the Concept through time, etc. One could say the right agrees. But for the left it is a metaphysical thesis; for the right, it is the common sense expressed in the Proverb above. Human nature is as Aaron Miller has discussed, and worse. Thieves will take advantage of idleness. The difference for the right is that redemption is always available; we recognize the ability people have to wake up and chase the thief off.

    I believe it was Jefferson who, when asked pointedly what he’d given us, quipped “A republic, if you can keep it.” He didn’t attribute the preservation to any check built into the system, but to the individual farm woman (if I remember the story correctly).

    Will we correct in time? We’ll see soon enough. I, like many others, am given hope by the Tea Party.

    But the hour does seem awfully late.

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    @Pseudodionysius

    The Founding Fathers knew that what they constructed was a divided government designed to prevent many of the evils to which the West has succumbed. But they also knew that the Republic’s long term success depended upon a virtuous and educated citizenry.

    When the state took control of universal K-12 and co-opted teachers through the teacher’s unions with ginned up defined benefit pension plans, the fix was in. Its been a slow burning fuse, but its burnt down awfully close to ignition. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind documented that Germany had lost World War II, but German philosophy was the undisputed victor on campuses in the UK and the United States.

    The Master Slave dialectic is alive and well and operating exactly as its supposed to. And, yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition.

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    @Claire
    Southern Pessimist To the first question; I would say Yes, the common good is difficult to define but not impossible. To the second question; I fear it is indeed too late. · Jul 24 at 10:41am

    Well, I guess we’ll see.

    If it doesn’t work before it’s too late, it doesn’t work in the most important sense. A plane that can take off is an amazing proof of many theories in physics, but if it can’t land without crashing, it’s not a great argument for air travel.

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