The Weekend Read
The Poverty of Ideas

Our responses to the economic and political malaise that plagues us are mired in denial and debt. Our real problem is a failure to think.

Published on: August 17, 2014
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  • Sleight of hand, at least as presented here. A moralist presenting himsefl as a realist, with his ethical preferences framed as the only reality worth dealing with. If it does not matter whether we justify a prison because ‘it is a prison’, then the assumption is already that prison is essentially and always bad, so nothing to argue about. This sort of argument forecloses discussion and stiffles the very process of thinking that the text seems to promote.

    But yes, we should analytically (not moralistically) delve into what went wrong in the cognition of the mid-century, when capitalists and social-democrats of all sorts were allowed to present their differences as the only differences that count – thus nudging out of discussion the enormous, endless reaches of cognitive space. For decades we were debating welfare versus competitiveness. And one day we woke up with ISIS.

  • Boritz

    In the pages of The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society by Heather Mac Donald we are shown that Berkowitz is right that there is a poverty of thinking, but his title is misleading. &nbspWe have ideas aplenty.

  • El Gringo

    The single constant of the liberal democratic project is its ability to constantly reinvent itself and adapt. We, as thinking humans who exist and are alive at this particular moment, are conceited enough to believe that this particular challenge is the greatest ever faced. However, even a cursory study of modern history reveals that liberal democracy has faced – and overcome – far greater challenges.

    Indeed, there does appear to be a paucity of leadership and critical thinking at this juncture in time. But that is no reason to fear the impending demise of the liberal democratic order.

  • johngbarker

    “Our real problem is the failure to think” This is especially true in the writings of Roger Berkowitz.

    • Duperray

      stupid !

  • Gary Hemminger

    Interesting statement…”It is increasingly likely that the post-World War II marriage of rising equality and rising incomes was a bubble of sorts.” If you read Mr. Mead a bit more carefully, or you had studied history, you would see that what we are going through is not the norm. We are going through the same cycle that society went through when farmers were no longer needed in large numbers and when the industrial era ended. These caused massive pain for a long time. Eventually they work themselves out, but the gut wrenching pain is almost unbearable. These are dangerous times, as populists and big thinkers like Berkowitz tell us that all is forever lost and we are kidding ourselves and must think differently about everything. Hopefully the shift in our society will occur in a few decades and before the big thinkers get us to do too many stupid things.

  • Duperray

    I am a strong believer in free economy, but have to recognize it is not 100% perfect, although the less bad solution (any state driven enconomy, a la soviet or a la francaise, lead to underefficiency).
    With ref to:
    “…a massive shift in resources and economic power away from the majority of the population, a further concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few superlatively rich individuals and families, and a great increase in social inequality.”

    I am fully in agreement. When too much of global growth benefit falls into a too small number of pockets, these ultra-rich no longer need to invest into risking capital with 3% net annual profit on returns: Instead, they buy property in Bahamas, or Swiss Alps or else and no longer this cash is used to grow an economy able to feed many workers. Having the benefit of age, I have worked in the 70’s at a time revenue scale from top to bottom was still spread over decades but much less than now. Consider US families revenues since 2008: The mass earns about the same while rich have skyrocketing increases: How could “poors” be motivated?
    Liberalism is good and its built-in excesses shall be avoided, alike anti-trust laws. But modern computerized economy provides millions of ways to trick existing laws and generate local extreme revenues for no-added value to global economy, that’s the reason why so many discouraging excesses did occur.
    I have no solution against that and I don’t belive that more federal power would solve the problem: In many liberal systems a touch of governmental help yielded 9 times out of 10 dicovery of new “sheltered positins”, ie a man doing almost nothing and enjoying more nett revenues than those he could get by working: Parasits.
    And with present society laxism, more than 40% of young workers dream to get this kind of position !

    • louis_wheeler

      Where, exactly, has this free market been operating in the last century? At best, we have less fascistic market places in some locations. The more fascist economies, such as the EU and the US, are under stress. They should be allowed to fail.

      So long as the US Federal Reserve Bank and the G-7 nations control world interest rates, our market places will be distorted. We simply do not know what companies would exist in a free market. Most international companies are likely to be bankrupt without the FED. The US government would not be able to deficit finance 40% of its budget. It’s social welfare programs would be history.

  • Anthony

    Ideas, ideas, and talk thereof…. “What is happening as the average citizen looks in disbelief is that an outworn, patched politico-economic system is cracking, while no serious steps are taken to ascertain the causes and remedies. The causes of American insufficiency, at home and abroad, are political, not economics, or at least political before they are economic. Better put, they are cultural. Serious problems cannot be solved on the basis of a consensus of value-disoriented dolts.” (1968)

    On the whole, the poverty of ideas subsumes that no one is smart enough to figure out anything worthwhile from scratch (a premise of merit). That is, ideas germinate, disseminate, and change composition via forces of social arrangements (economic, political, cultural, etc.). In line with that, contraries “every philosopher is a child of his time and none can jump over his own shadow, and philosophy is not its time grasped in concept…but by its very nature out of synch with the present times” lend themselves to reflection on essay’s theme. Indeed, the forces of modernity (reason, science, technology, etc.) may compel such reflection since current societal dynamics require not only more critical thinking but a fecundity of ideas providing a kind of enriching direction; note: having ideas alone is no guarantee that they can be realized. Yet if understanding premise of essay, ideas and formulation thereof constitutes purpose – a power to mold. The democratic project continues.

  • FriendlyGoat

    What we need is a “major figure in the West to face up to this situation courageously” and inform the citizens we can no longer afford fans spending their time and money on the NFL. The nation is broke and these multi-million dollar coachs and players have gotta go. So also the TV coverage, the beer, the tailgating and those assemblages of 80,000 or so in 15 places on Sunday.

    We also cannot afford most of our airline travel, cruise ships, amusement parks, private yachts, RVs, casino gambling, the edifices of mega-churches and even the present high costs of many weddings.

    Crazy you say? Well is it crazy to say OF COURSE we can afford and keep all those things, but we can’t afford living-wage jobs for the lower classes or sensibly-delivered health care? That’s what conservatives and libertarians do every day while celebrating stupid and unnecessary articles like this one.

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