I'm Dave Johnson. Along with Ian Welsh, I will be sitting in for Chris Bowers through the end of the month. Chris, Mike, Matt and company have built a great intellectual community here and I am proud to be able to be a part of it.
I like to work with ideas and see where they go, and along with other blogging I'll be trying to do some of that while I am here. I guess this is because I grew up during a time when people talked about "opening up your mind" and "thought experiments" and my high school even taught a class called "creative thinking." (These days it's probably been changed to "corporate thinking.") There were many evenings when we would entertain ourselves by throwing ever more outrageous ideas into the mix.
Sometimes by introducing an outrageous idea and working with it a workable idea can result. (But sometimes everyone just gets angry at you.) Sometimes just talking about ideas can help move or unfreeze people's thinking and open up new possibilities that would not otherwise have been considered. And sometimes everyone makes a face and agrees that the idea just stinks and should be tossed away. You're not playing the game right if you don't offer up a few of those. When I introduce an idea it doesn't mean I am advocating it, it just means let's talk about it and see where it leads. I am completely ready to accept or reject things based on the merits of the arguments and I hope you can be as well.
For example, what happens if we look at all sides of the question, "should we nationalize the oil companies?" Asking the question doesn't mean that I am advocating doing it. But just asking the question opens up a number of areas of discussion that we haven't been having in this country for some time. Discussing this makes us talk about what "nationalization" means which is certainly topical. Perhaps it leads us to talk about who "owns" and benefits from the earth's resources (see Capitalism 3.0 for a discussion of this idea), and what the concept of "ownership" itself means. These are examples of places that just introducing and discussing an idea can take us, and I think that especially today we need to be looking for new economic ideas, new directions, new possibilities for how we as a society are going to feed and house and provide health care and comfort and meaning to people i.e. each other.
At my own blog I often ask a very powerful question, "Who is our economy for, anyway?" Just asking the question takes people's thinking in new directions they might not have considered.
Outrageous questions can be used to shake up conventional wisdoms that have set in. Conservative think tanks understood this and developed concepts like the "Overton Window." By blasting "unthinkable" ideas into mainstream conversations they would shake up people's understanding of what society deems acceptable. Over time and with repetition they would lead people to think that ideas that had been considered extreme are OK to consider. I say good for them for that, but unfortunately the ideas they pushed almost destroyed civilized discourse, our civil institutions, our health, the economy and the planet. They may yet, if we don't start pushing back hard -- but that's a whole other post.
I believe that progressive blogs are like an open-source think tank. One blogger posts an idea, people respond in the comments, other bloggers link in, and the original blogger responds. Ideas are generated, discussed, refined and widely disseminated at a very rapid pace. I hope that we can do some of that while I am here. The more we can shake up some of the conventional wisdom that the conservatives and corporatists have been able to set in stone that is clogging up people's thinking, the better things can be for all of us.
So, to get things started, should we nationalize the oil companies? There is a lot of conventional wisdom clogging up people's thinking that might be shaken loose by just asking a question like this, at a time when the economy and the environment are in such distress. What would be the benefits and the harms, short-term and long-term? Do We, the People come out ahead or behind. Who is this "we?" What does "nationalize" even mean? Who, in a representative democracy, would even make a decision like this? And, finally, why are ideas like this so rarely discussed? Leave a comment.