The New Clarion

The New Clarion header image 2

Pragmatism Now

December 17th, 2008 by Myrhaf · 14 Comments · Politics

I just read Tara Smith’s “The Menace of Pragmatism” in The Objective Standard. (If you don’t subscribe to TOS, you’re missing out.) With her explanation of pragmatism fresh on my mind, this statement by President Bush caught my eye:

“I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free market system.”

This might go down as one of the classic pragmatist utterances.

The statement is comparable to a doctor saying, “I’ve abandoned the principles of medicine to save the patient.” How is it possible to do this?

(At moments like this I must be careful. I want to call Bush names and swear a blue streak. Take a deep breath…)

President Bush has no idea what free-market principles are. He has been flouting them for eight years now with his compassionate conservatism and big government.

Moreover, he has not saved the free market system. At best he has put off a crisis for awhile, but there’s is some question as to whether he has done even that much. Instead, Bush has started a dangerous precedent of government intervening in Wall Street that will lead to all-out, explicit fascism. Bush’s intervention will hasten the destruction of the free elements left in our mixed economy and take America further down the road to serfdom.

For a closer look at the pragmatism in Paulson’s bailout plan, here is Rich Lowry.

A few weeks ago, Paulson insisted that troubled U.S. automakers “fall outside” the original purpose of the bailout program, which “was aimed at the financial system.” …

…Last week, the Bush administration all but committed bailout funds to the — in the great economist Joseph Schumpeter’s phrase — “hopelessly maladapted” auto companies….

When Lehman Brothers went down in September, the financial system faced a crisis. Paulson needed the flexibility to adjust to dire and unpredictable circumstances, but in retrospect his conduct verges on bad faith. His $700 billion program is called the Troubled Assets Relief Program for a reason: It was premised on relieving financial institutions of their troubled assets through government purchases of them.

Paulson ended up instead injecting capital directly into banks, an idea he had repeatedly opposed during his TARP testimony. He can certainly change his mind, but Congress deserved a clearer window into his thinking before it handed him hundreds of billions of dollars. Paulson told the Washington Post that his staff was working on an option to inject capital directly even as he was declaring to Congress he wouldn’t do it.

So, what Paulson originally said he would do with the money, he has not done; and what he said he would not do, he has done. At one point he was planning on doing something at the moment he was telling Congress he would not do it.

This utter incoherence is pragmatism in action. There are no principles, no facts of reality, just the words of the moment. If today’s words contradict yesterday’s words, well, today is a whole new circumstance.

Our leaders in Washington, D.C. have no clue what they are doing. Their pronouncements amount to magic words that they hope enough people will buy so that a consensus can build that magic has happened. Their wishful thinking and evasions do not make reality go away. Someday, someone will have to pay for all this money they are wasting. I guess they’re hoping that they can put that day off long enough to make it the next guy’s problem.

UPDATE: In “The Menace of Pragmatism,” Tara Smith writes,

Psychologically, I would speculate, the deeper effect of pragmatism is that it fosters an outlook of resignation, a disposition to settle for the “good enough,” an acceptance of the notion that muddling through is the best one can do. Pragmatism erodes aspirations and breeds cynicism — not bitter or hard-edged cynicism (since nothing has sharp edges, under pragmatism’s softening influence), but a hazy, overcast, unspoken hopelessness.

If you want to see an example of what that looks like, watch this short video of President Bush.

14 Comments so far ↓

  • Mike N

    So right Myrhaf. Today’s leaders are not thinkers but feelers. They let their feelings guide their action and use reason if at all, to justify their feelings. I don’t see Obama as any different than Bush regarding pragmatism.

  • Burgess Laughlin

    > “(At moments like [this] I must be careful. I want to call Bush names and swear a blue streak. [. . .])”

    Thank you. Foul language in print, written to a broad audience, and recorded for decades to come, is often either lazy writing, a confession of impotence in the face of theatening events, or (in the case of excretory obsessions) a sign of a possible psychological issue.

    _The New Clarion_ has much to offer, so it would be a shame for any of its writers to demean it with foul language.

    I hope your restraint will set a standard for _The New Clarion_.

  • Inspector

    “impotence in the face of threatening events”

    Is that not, however, precisely the situation we’re in? Yes, I know: speak out. But right now, they are forcing this on us and we cannot stop them from doing it.

    I’m not disputing the point of language – that phrase just struck me as fitting to our situation.

  • L-C

    Here in Europe, people are welcoming the bailouts. And where your leaders are pragmatists, ours are consistently statist.

    Not surprisingly, Europeanization will eventually turn you into Europe. We’ll all be dining on frog legs soon enough.

  • Myrhaf

    Mike N., since the pragmatists throw out reality as a standard, they don’t have much to go by but feelings, do they?

    Burgess, thanks. I try to rise above profanity, but I have failed in the past. I also try to avoid ad hominem mockery, but I’ve failed at that even more. The bigger the target is, the more likely I am to mock.

    Inspector, think long run. The present orgy of statism might afford opportunities when things go south. We can always say, “I told you so.”

    L-C, what country are you in?

  • L-C

    Sweden. 🙁

  • Myrhaf

    Sweden has long been the country that American statists are most likely to hold up as the ideal we should emulate. “Why can’t we be like Sweden?” they ask.

  • L-C

    “Don’t you dare” is my reply to them. I’m planning on getting away from this place someday, I’d rather not arrive to the US only to find it as deeply entrenched in Marxism as Sweden.

  • Myrhaf

    Inspector, please send me an email:

  • Bill Brown

    I think profanity is inconsistent with our mission. I don’t use it and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in either Myrhaf or Mike N’s blogging so it shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Elisheva Levin

    Hmmm. Bush sounds like the old Vietnam era statement that we’ll destroy a village to set it free.
    Haven’t learned much there in Washington, now have they?

  • Inspector

    “think long run”

    That is absolutely what we must do. It is the short run where we are stuck; it is the long run where we have a chance.

  • Bill Brown

    Read this interview with Bush and you’ll see the contradictions inherent in a pragmatist. He’s absolutely all over the map.

  • On Profanity — The New Clarion

    […] the comments to a recent post, there was some discussion of profanity. Is it necessarily bad? Not important? […]