Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Emptying my cup or, If you meet the Buddha, kill him

Absorb what is useful...
Despite the title of my blog, I don't think much of Bruce Lee's philosophy. He would probably approve. I appreciate some aspects of his thinking: the uncompromising pragmatism, the attitude that nothing is beyond question, change as a precondition.
Discard what is not...
But he manages to create a dogma of anti-dogmatism. To use Michael Oakeshott's terminology, Lee always struggled with the contradiction between the inherently technical nature of his Western philosophical training and the immutably practical nature of the martial arts and Eastern philosophy. The irreconcilability of the two replaced a hidebound classical mess with an inchoate postmodern one.
Add what is uniquely your own.
People learn via trial and error. For a given problem, greater competition generally produces a greater number of solutions, both successful and unsuccessful. Though the failures add to the sum total of knowledge, they also expose people to danger, put them out of work and pollute the environment. The left makes absolute its aversion to the failures of competition, holding out for the possibility that the optimal solution can be found without trial and error. The left may as well hold out for the possibility that a child learn to ride a bike without paying for his new skill in scratches and bruises. The right, for its part, makes absolute its preference for competitive solutions, either ignoring the insurmountability of some problems by competition or scorning any obstruction of competition as bad in itself. To stretch the metaphor, depriving that child of a helmet will give him greater incentive to learn more quickly and ride more safely. Where market competition can best solve problems, it should be allowed to do so, and where the market fails, then an enforceable, observable solution from outside the market, be it the state or, for example, an industry group, should be pursued.

None of this is terribly original. So what will you get here that you'll not likely find elsewhere? Not only do I criticize the failings of both left and right, but I also apply the lessons learned in one part of the world to others. For instance, Europe suffers from higher unemployment than the US due to the rigidity of the European labor market. However, the flexibility of the US labor market increases the need for unemployment insurance and universal healthcare, which Europe already enjoys. Both Europe and the US could learn a thing or two about race relations from the cant-free policies of Singapore and Malaysia. At the same time, we must recognize that applying the lessons of one country to another by following its policies or prescriptions like a how-to guide is not only unlikely to work, it's dangerous. Just as a developing country should not adopt the laissez-faire economic policies of the fully industrialized United States, nor should the 290,000,000 strong, highly diverse, federal United States adopt wholesale the welfare state that is the pride of 9,000,000 strong, relatively homogenous, centralized Sweden. But this doesn't mean that developing countries wouldn't benefit from reduced regulation, any less than universal healthcare would be unwelcome in the United States.

My goal is to approach politics pragmatically and non-ideologically, drawing sharp distinctions between nationalization and necessary government intervention, between untramelled laissez-faire and globalization, between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli policy, and between Islamophobia and a justified demand for the reform of Islam, among many other issues.