So I just had lunch with Howard Dean. Ok, maybe it’s not that exciting for most people, even people reading this blog. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Carson, in his glorious Vermont heritage, was Dean’s godson or something like that. Anyways, it was quite an event, especially in a town where nothing much really happens of this magnitude.

There wasn’t too much of a formal Q&A, but I was able to ask the ex-Governor a question along the lines of “What are your thoughts on how Obama has handled the economy, specifically the auto bailouts and the appointments of Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers?” His response was somewhat predictable but also much less politician-y than I’ve heard figures in similar positions answer with. He said that he believed the auto bailouts were a necessary evil. Fine. Whatever. The auto bailouts to me are one of the ore reprehensible acts economically the American government has taken part in in the last few decades. He said the bank bailouts were also a necessary evil, and that unemployment would be three times higher today if they had not occurred. Fine. Probably true. Maybe the bank bailouts weren’t that bad (from only a consequentialist perspective).

Where I felt he was straightforward and honest was his analysis of Obama’s general choices for his economic team. Obama, Dean observed, campaigned hard on having fresh outsiders in his cabinet and change (remember that word?) -ing the political landscape for the better. Well, Larry Summers was a lot more of the same. His credentials aren’t to be questioned, in terms of political track record or as an academic economist. But he spent years on the inside of Washington and is a relative moderate compared to economists like Krugman or Stiglitz.

Other observations:

  • Just like when I met Dave Gilmour, I was shocked by how short famous people can be.
  • I regret not asking him his favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor.
  • He joins the ranks of Democrats who believe Obamacare was too tame.
  • He thinks the Tea Party is not the “beginning” of a new movement but the last spark of a branch of the right wing that prides itself on motivating a base that cares almost entirely about knee-jerk issues and idiocy populism.
  • Similar to that point, he said that my generation is actually more fiscally conservative than his and that Republicans actually have a great chance (that they probably won’t take) to embrace socially moderate views with fiscal conservatism. Pretty much a statement of optimism for libertarians.
  • His niece goes to University of St Andrews (probably the only reason he considered coming).
  • Grilled chicken breast wrapped in bacon is surprisingly good but a little heavy in retrospect.
  • I admire his expression of discontent with Obama in regards to social issues; Dean was a leader on the national stage for gay rights, getting civil unions in Vermont when he was Governor.
  • He is good friends with Nick Clegg, apparently.
  • He supports net neutrality.
  • My name tag said “Will Compernelle.”
  • He sees his generation as one of conflict but ours as one of people trying to compromise and work together. This was interesting, as I had never thought about it before. Still, I’m not sure what to make of it.

 

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I can’t believe I overlooked this news for almost a month, but the cute countryside Scottish town that I have called home for the last two years will be hosting the next G-20 summit! The last summit was in Pittsburgh, where financial ministers from 20 countries around the world discussed the global economic downturn. Naturally, St Andrews – being at the crux of international business – is hosting the next meeting. They won’t disclose where they are meeting, but maybe I’ll see Timothy Geithner at the pub at night.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Robert Samuelson’s The Good Life and its Discontents. The basic idea of the book was that despite the enormous gains in material wealth for every economic class in America over the past few decades, people are increasingly dissatisfied with their lot in life and expect more and more entitlements. Even though I have a working refrigerator that is relatively energy efficient with more than enough space, I am disenchanted because my neighbor has two refrigerators that are huge. This makes me upset.

His whole point is the increasing sense of “entitlement” in American society. Things that weren’t dreamt of generations ago – like world class healthcare, college education, immunity from any sort of financial hardship – are now being considered “rights”. The book was mostly good.

I thought of Samuelson’s book in my recent flight from America to the United Kingdom. As I do twice a year, I was flying from Chicago to Edinburgh, with my initial starting point my house in a northern Chicago suburb and my final destination St Andrews, a town 50 or so miles away from Edinburgh. The whole journey takes about 13 hours door-to-door.

As I was nearing the end of my journey, I was realizing how amazing what I just did was. I was flown in a metal tube across an ocean in less than seven hours that also happens to be statistically the safest mode of transportation. Only decades ago, the Chicago to Edinburgh flight would have taken longer, cost three times as much, and been less safe. A hundred years ago, it would have taken days or even weeks to make the trip by boat.

I’ll be honest, the flight makes me nauseous and I get pretty badly jet lagged. But think of how much people complain about delayed flights, lost luggage, or pricey tickets. Instead of marveling at the amazingness of innovation, business, and entrepreneurship that created the system of transportation we have now, many people define air travel by its imperfections and see airlines as an unethical business.

I relate this ungratefulness and sense of entitlement to a lot of other areas. Example: The profit-driven American pharmaceutical industry creates about 99% of drugs in the world. They need to make money back for their billions spent on research, so the pills have high prices. Lots of old people take tens of pills a day to extend their lives to historical lengths. Instead of recognizing the brilliance that these drug companies are keeping them alive, drug companies – “Big Pharma” – are seen as evil and price-gouging in America. This relates to my previous post about people not appreciating the wonder of businessmen.