Facebook Polemics

While running errands this week end I was able to catch “This American Life” on the radio.  The theme was “If you Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say; SAY IT IN ALL CAPS” The first story was about internet “Trolls”.  These are people who write mean and sometimes cruel things in the comment section at the end of articles.

The Internet is the one place where it’s safe to say whatever you want — nobody will know it’s you. But the same protections that make commenters invulnerable are what make the Internet scary — even downright dangerous — for the commented upon. In this week’s show: what happens when the Internet turns on you?  Writer Lindy West has been harassed by hundreds of trolls online. But only one ever apologized for his remarks. So Lindy interviews him and asks him to explain why trolls choose to be so cruel. (21 minutes)

This was timely.  Saturday morning I shared the picture above on facebook.  I saw it on my friend and political fellow traveler Julie Matuzak’s timeline.  It’s funny with a bit of a political bite. I clicked the “share” button and  added a one word comment “Amen”.  Over the next 48 hours a half dozen of my facebook friends launched a point-counter point war of comments regarding the virtues and vices of capitalism, socialism and libertarianism.  Some of the comments would make Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd blush.

When I finally joined the discussion Monday morning I simply said;

Michael Einheuser This is the first time something I posted on Facebook has provoked such debate. While I enjoy posting items with political content I don’t think Facebook is a useful forum for polemics. This afternoon I’ll give a serious response to the comments here which come form an interesting cross section of people in my life all of whom I deeply respect.

I do not consider any of my commentators “Trolls”.  The two conservative voices are classmates from Roman Catholic Seminary days.  It was a great “liberal education” (that is not a political reference) so strong views are not surprising.  As promised, here’s my two cents for what it’s worth.

I believe in market capitalism.  Adam Smith was essentially right when he observed that people act in their own self interest.  And that when they do society as a whole tends to benefit.  “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

I grew up in a family of eight.  When I was young we all lived on my father’s modest firefighter’s salary.  We didn’t have much but like so many at the time we didn’t know we didn’t have much.  There was no family money for college.  I paid every dime of my Wayne State University tuition from week end and summer jobs.  I’d be nice to pose for a holy picture here but what I did wasn’t very unusual.  At Wayne my situation was the norm not the exception.  Another nice thing about paying your own way is no one can criticize your choice of a Philosophy major.

After college I was lucky to get my first professional job working on public policy at New Detroit, Inc. the urban coalition organized after the 1967 riots.  My desire to go to law school was only going to happen if I paid for it myself and want to night school.  I don’t look back on those four year fondly.  I worked during the day, was in the classroom in the evening and studied most of the week end.  But you can probably tell I’m proud I did it.

I’ve spent most of my career in my own business.  First a small law firm and then a multi-disciplinary financial planning practice.  I’ve made a pretty good living offering professional services that the market was willing to pay for.

But there are flaws in the market.  A competitive market incentivise efficiencies.  It’s cheaper to make something if you don’t care about polluting the air or water.  That’s why we need clean air and clean water legislation and an Environmental Protection Agency to enforce it.  Your dryer stops when you open the door because of an interlock switch.  It would be cheaper to not to include that switch but we have a Consumer Product Safety Commission to set minimum safety standards.

And Elizabeth Warren is right.  I didn’t do it alone.  No one does.  My Wayne State education was highly subsidised by the government.  I depend on public school to educate my employees.  I enjoy the benefits of public highways.  When I travel I’m glad there is a Federal Aviation Administration that sets safety standards for airplanes and keeps the planes from crashing into each other.

I’m a believer in the social contract.  Government derives it’s power from the consent of the governed.  Uncle Ben was right when he told Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) “With great power, comes great responsibility” But Jesus and Voltaire said it first.  I don’t look forward to paying taxes but I don’t begrudge it either.

If you’ve got the time today spend a minute and fifty four seconds watching this video from Ira Glass or “This American Life”  He comments on the creative process and essentially says don’t be afraid to suck because you have to suck before you are good.  These are comments I’ll take to heart as I keep writing this blog.  I know sometimes it will suck.  But sometimes it will be good.