January 26, 2009

The rectification of names

Master Kung. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Last week, I was asked to give a talk to a graduate class on the failure of conservative economic policy. I was up for the occasion, but it seems to me that recent years haven't been very kind to the word "conservative."

When the ancient Chinese sage Confucius (aka Kǒng Fūzǐ or K'ung-fu-tzu) was asked what he would do first on acquiring a position of political influence, he said he would begin with "the rectification of names."

Then as now, public life had a shortage of honest speech and a surplus of BS. He believed that a great deal of harm was done when things weren't called by their true names.

I think George Orwell was thinking along the same lines in his great essay "Politics and the English Language."

If any word needs some serious rectification, it is "conservatism," which these days has come to mean some combination of the support of plutocratic policies and the politics of cultural jihad.

That's too bad, because conservatism in the best sense of the word implies a dislike of waste, a respect for the past, a cautious approach to change and and a rejection of Utopian schemes--none of which has a whole lot to do with the recent fare.

PUBLIC INVESTMENTS are more effective ways of stimulating the economy than another round of tax cuts, argues Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute.

MORE ON THAT TRACK. Paul Krugman takes on tax cutters and obstructionists that are aiming to sabotage the recovery package here.

A STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL of capitalism is the subject of this item by Benjamin Barber. El Cabrero isn't sure it has one.

RESISTANCE TO FORECLOSURES, a staple of the 1930s, may be growing again.

CLIMATE CHANGE is killing American trees.


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