Free Markets, Free People
Yesterday, I kind of became a drag about the tough spot our financial system is in, and how close it is to collapse. We could fix it, of course…but we probably wont.
The thing is, I’m increasingly getting the feeling that it’s not just our economy that’s teetering, it’s our very civilization. I’m reminded of this by today’s events in Egypt, where an Islamist mob stormed the US Embassy in Cairo, tore down the American flag, and raised an al-Qaida-associated flag, while yelling, "We are all Osama." Apparently, there’s a film of sort—that I’ve never heard of—being produced by some Coptic Christians here in the US that’s insufficiently servile in its treatment of Mohammed. The Egyptian Islamists who attacked the embassy today were upset about it.
The response of the the US Embassy in Cairo was to go on Twitter to assure everyone that they condemned those who "abuse the universal human right of free speech", presumably a reference to the filmmakers—if they actually exist outside the fevered minds of the Islamists who apparently have a better inside scoop on the American film industry than I do. Thus began as embarrassing a failure of public diplomacy as I’ve every seen in my lifetime. (Some background here and here.)
The response of the US Embassy to this assault was to condemn the "abuse" of free speech. Just think about that for a minute.
Civilization is a lot like the skin of an apple. It can be brilliantly colored, flawlessly smooth, and brightly polished. But it’s very, very thin. It’s fragile. So, it has to be protected.
Barbarism, on the other hand hand, is tough. It doesn’t have to be nurtured. It is, in fact, the natural state of man. It grows spontaneously, and so, like weeds in a beautiful lawn, it must be ruthlessly stamped out. And the only thing that’s ever been effective in stamping it out is a robust and vigilant civilization; one that is not afraid to do the dirty work of crushing the barbarians mercilessly.
When the British Empire decided to end the African slave trade, they did not bring the issue up at a transnational diplomatic council, and request a commission of enquiry and hope that a Security Council resolution would support them—and not run into a Russian or Chinese veto. No, they simply sent the Royal navy to patrol the coast of West Africa, boarded and searched slave vessels, and hung their crews. I’m also reminded of General Sir Charles Napier in India, who, when told by the Indians that the custom of suttee, where the surviving wife was burned with her dead husband, had to be honored replied,
Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.
When it comes to barbarians, we’re not big on gibbets these days. No, our Embassy condemns an exercise of freedom that upsets the poor dears.
Since the 1960s, we in the West have more or less had a hands-off attitude towards the world’s barbarians. Huge swathes of Africa have descended into nightmare lands of atrocity at the hands of child soldiers. The entire Middle East has devolved from colonialism, to secular socialist and military dictatorship, and now into 12th-century Islamism.
A full 1/3 of the world have become modern day Goths. And not the good kind, with extravagant vampire makeup, listening to sad Cure songs on their iPods, but the bad kind with the light of fanaticism in their eyes, and knives always keen for a beheading of their enemies.
We think it’s because we haven’t tried hard enough to understand their unique cultural point of view. And woe to any president who tries to do otherwise, because he’s in for a constant parade of criticism and demonstrations against "blood for oil" or some other nonsense.
And, of course, even then, such a president feels obligated to follow the "you broke it, you bought it rule" and embark on a decade-long project to rebuild the enemy’s country and create a stable, functioning democracy in Kaplokistan.
Because a simple punitive expedition would just be…wrong.
Our civilization, by which I mean modern, technological civilization, is more fragile than we can even understand. Our entire way of life is predicated on the constant, uninterrupted flow of electricity, and the sophisticated electronic devices that store our records, run our stoplights, enable us to communicate, and even fix our cars.
There is an entire substrate of technology beneath the surface of what we see, but it is no less important for being almost completely hidden. But think about just two things: You bring up Amazon in your web browser right now, find an item you like, buy it with a simple button click, and a nice man will deliver to your door tomorrow. You can go to a supermarket in January and buy fresh strawberries from Chile.
Imagine the technological complexity that has to exist for either of those two things to happen. We are truly living in a Golden Age.
And yet, we are, at all times, less than 20 years from its complete collapse. Why?
Because each generation of children is a vertical invasion of barbarians. They will only know about our civilization, how to run it, and how to defend it, if we invest 12 or 16 years in training them to do so. Indoctrinating them in the benefits of civilization.
And have no doubt that it is a necessary indoctrination, because for young men especially, it will always be more fun to run around in the hills with rifles and shoot people you don’t like than it will to get up every morning at 6am, and fight traffic to get get to a relatively boring job that you really don’t want to do.
But, in my lifetime, we’ve done a progressively worse job at conducting that indoctrination.
From the beginning of public education until sometime in the late 1970s, the mission of the public schools was to raise children who were properly educated and civilized, especially children whose culture at home was sub-standard. Somehow, in the last 40 years, that has completely reversed itself. Now the education establishment says that a poor culture at home makes the schools powerless to teach. So, increasingly, they don’t.
Schools used to have as one of their primary missions the assimilation and Americanization of immigrant children. Now, of course, no culture is superior to any other, and as far as assimilation goes…well, it’s just easier to teach the immigrant kids in, say, Spanish, rather than force them into English immersion. And why should we teach the culture bequeathed to us from a bunch of dead slave-owners anyway? They were just hypocrites whose high-sounding phrases about freedom and equality just glossed over a squalid reality of racism and sexism.
So, about half of high school graduates now can’t even read at an adult level. Fully a quarter are functionally illiterate.
But, somehow, 20 years from now, when they’re running things, they’ll still be able to get a new thumb drive to your door within 24 hours after you click "Buy Now With 1-Click" button on Amazon.
Right. Good luck with that.
We seem to have forgotten that, just because we’re the richest country on earth, that is not an ordained end. It won’t remain so unless we continue to do the things that made us such a wealthy civilization in the first place. There’s no magical goose that lays golden eggs. It’s the result of hard work, saving, investment, innovation, and a culture that celebrates individual liberty and rewards individual success.
But we’re turning—if we haven’t already—into a culture that thinks wealth is the by-product of some sort of chance or luck, and that the reward of success should be to share it with everyone else. Nearly half of the country hears about those who "profited unfairly in the 80s" as Bill Clinton once put it, and thinks, "they need to share the wealth." A significant number of people in this country today hear "You didn’t build that", and thinks, "Yes. That’s right. You owe society for giving you the means to be successful."
We’ve lost the meaning of what free markets mean. We’ve replaced it by a cronyism so deep that, no matter if the Republicans or Democrats win the presidency, there’ll be representatives of Goldman-Sachs running the Treasury Department. We’ve imposed so many layers of regulation that small business is constantly squeezed, while large corporations can cover the costs. We’re creating a corporatist, cronyist economic system that’s increasingly impoverishing the middle class bit by bit.
As a libertarian, I distrust all groupings of power, whether the group is the government, or large corporations, yet I’ve watched as both Democratic and Republican administrations have made both government and corporations—and unions—more powerful, and individuals less so. And, as far as I can tell, half the population is perfectly happy with that—as long as their party is in charge of the cronyism, of course.
In 1972, the mildly Leftist George McGovern was beaten like an egg-sucking dog by Dick Nixon, but today, the much more leftist Barack Obama may actually be re-elected. Which, I suppose, would really worry me about the future, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re due for the Mayan Apocalypse on December 21st, anyway.
So, I guess it doesn’t matter.
If you were a betting man, what odds would you give for the future of a civilization that won’t kill the barbarians in the hinterlands, or civilize the barbarians they breed internally? What odds would you give for a civilization that doesn’t even seem to know—or want to know—that it’s teetering on the abyss of an existential crisis?
Tom Kratman, in his book H-Hour: Countdown, wrote, “’Should’ and ‘ought’ are mere meaningless fantasies. ‘Is’ and ‘real’ and ‘works’ are what matter." Sadly, we’ve increasingly become a society of "should" and "ought". A robust civilization would call that "decadence".
The barbarians call it "an opportunity".
Decadent civilizations don’t collapse overnight, usually. It took more than a century for Rome to fall. But it was an increasingly hard century, and when Rome fell, after the Vandals danced through the streets of the sacked city, it was followed by hundreds of years of barbarism. Much of the technical and engineering knowledge that Rome brought to the world disappeared, and had to be relearned over a millennium.
But Rome didn’t face the utter collapse of their monetary and financial system overnight. I fear that the fall of our civilization could be much faster, and, therefore, much more traumatic. Happily, I don’t expect the following centuries of barbarism to be more brutal than that which followed the fall of Rome.
But, of course, that’s only because it really couldn’t be.
The following US economic statistics were announced today (or in the case of Consumer Credit, late yesterday):
Total US credit outstanding fell $3.3 billion in July. Revolving credit fell $4.8 billion, the second drop in a row.
The U.S. international trade gap in July grew slightly, as the trade deficit increased to $42 billion from $41.9 billion in June. Exports declined -1.0%, following a 1.2% rise in June. Imports shrank -0.8% after a -1.5% decrease in June.
The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose 1.7 points in August to 92.9 in improved sales expectations and in employment plans.
In retail sales, Redbook reported a 2.7% year-on-year sales increase, the best since early June. ICSC-Goldman Store Sales is also showing strength, as sales rose 1.0% for the week, and 3.4% year-over-year.
As you weigh the results of various polls in the coming couple of months, this might be a handy tool to use when considering their credibility (via Vox Populi). The following list of polls, from a Fordham University study, is in order based on their accuracy last election (2008). Rasmussen and Pew were the only one’s that were spot on. The rest, to varying degree, missed it, either by an inch or a mile (at least in terms of polling):
1T. Rasmussen (11/1-3)**
1T. Pew (10/29-11/1)**
3. YouGov/Polimetrix (10/18-11/1)
4. Harris Interactive (10/20-27)
5. GWU (Lake/Tarrance) (11/2-3)*
6T. Diageo/Hotline (10/31-11/2)*
6T. ARG (10/25-27)*
8T. CNN (10/30-11/1)
8T. Ipsos/McClatchy (10/30-11/1)
10. DailyKos.com (D)/Research 2000 (11/1-3)
11. AP/Yahoo/KN (10/17-27)
12. Democracy Corps (D) (10/30-11/2)
13. FOX (11/1-2)
14. Economist/YouGov (10/25-27)
15. IBD/TIPP (11/1-3)
16. NBC/WSJ (11/1-2)
17. ABC/Post (10/30-11/2)
18. Marist College (11/3)
19. CBS (10/31-11/2)
20. Gallup (10/31-11/2)
21. Reuters/ C-SPAN/ Zogby (10/31-11/3)
22. CBS/Times (10/25-29)
23. Newsweek (10/22-23)
Frankly, if they’re not in the top 5, I’d take them with a grain of salt. Why? Because of things like this:
The latest CNN/ORC poll released today shows a wider lead for President Obama than the previous CNN/ORC poll but it is doubly skewed. It massively under-samples independents while it also over-samples Democratic voters. The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll official reports Obama at 52 to percent and Mitt Romney at 46 percent. Unskewed, the data reveals a 53 percent to 45 percent lead for Romney.
This new CNN/ORC survey, unlike many other analyzed, not only over-samples Democratic voters, but also massively under-samples independent voters, to produce a result more favorable to Barack Obama. This survey’s sample includes 397 registered Republicans and 441 registered Democrats. But the survey included a total of 822 registered voters, leaving only 37 independent voters at most. The survey clearly under-sampled independent and Republican voters.
Note that CNN’s history has it tied for 8th place for accuracy last time around. So, what should those numbers likely be? Well let’s hear from the polling group that came in tied for first (and this is probably the reason why):
Rasmussen Reports recent reporting of partisan trends among voters, based on tens of thousands of voters surveyed, showed the voting electorate made up of 35.4 percent Republicans, 34.0 percent Democrats and 30.5 percent “Unaffiliated” or independent voters. Clearly 6.5 percent of a sample as independents is a large under-sampling of those voters compared to 30.5 percent.
However, what CNN used was this:
The sample for the CNN/ORC poll includes 50.4 percent Democrats and 45.4 percent Republicans and appears to have only 4.2 percent independents. This means independents are under-sampled 25 percent while Democrats are over-sampled 12.1 percent. Both of those are larger variations in sampling than seen in most polls that are likewise skewed by such sampling variations.
And as it stands now, independents lean toward Romney. So unskewed, or perhaps “properly skewed”, the results would be quite different. In fact they would give Romney a 53 to 45 percent lead over Obama.
That sort of sloppiness is an indicator of why CNN was in 8th place before in a race in which there were actually a large population of self-identified Democrat voters, a population that likely doesn’t exist in this election, or at least not to the extent it did in 2008. And if they’re in 8th, you can imagine how sloppy those below them on the list are.
Look at Gallup for heaven sake. 20th? Of course, the right should also note Fox and IBD/TIPP in 13th and 15th positions when they get excited about results there.
This is not just a phenomenon in national polling. It is also happening in swing state polls as well. For example PPP’s recent Ohio poll.
Finally, remember this when considering the RCP poll average. Many of the polls making up the RCP average are found way down on this list.
Just a word to the wise as you watch everything unfold. There are polls and then there are, well, “polls”.
Make sure you know which one’s to watch.
It is America – not 100 different little ethnic and racial groups, all of which must be catered too. And this is another branch of the “fairness” argument that is just as bankrupt as the rest:
Verenice Gutierrez picks up on the subtle language of racism every day.
Take the peanut butter sandwich, a seemingly innocent example a teacher used in a lesson last school year.
“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” says Gutierrez, principal at Harvey Scott K-8 School, a diverse school of 500 students in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood.
“Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”
Guitierrez, along with all of Portland Public Schools’ principals, will start the new school year off this week by drilling in on the language of “Courageous Conversations,” the district-wide equity training being implemented in every building in phases during the past few years.
Through intensive staff trainings, frequent staff meetings, classroom observations and other initiatives, the premise is that if educators can understand their own “white privilege,” then they can change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance.
Last Wednesday, the first day of the school year for staff, for example, the first item of business for teachers at Scott School was to have a Courageous Conversation — to examine a news article and discuss the “white privilege” it conveys.
PB&J is about unthinking “white privilege”? Really? And because some Somali kid or Hispanic student, who chose to come here, may have never had one, others should think of what they’re eating in racial terms?
And then, let’s make them as separate from the rest of us as we can by highlighting the fact that they may never have seen such a thing (when in fact, if they’ve been going to school for more than a day, they’ve likely had PB&J in the school lunch room).
If America is a melting pot, not a salad bowl, then why should there be any problem discussing something that is fairly basic to American culture? Did the Somali kid come here to be a Somali or an American?
And what has a PB&J sandwich to do with “white privilege”? Do American’s of Hispanic decent not eat them? African-Amerians? Asian-Americans? Of course they do.
What has it to do with just “whites?”
This is the sort of nonsense that divides people into little insular groups that identify with their ethnicity or race before they identify more broadly as Americans. It is precisely the opposite of the idea of cultural assimilation that has made this country one of the strongest and most diverse in the world. It is a step backward, in fact multiple steps backwards.
People like Guitierrez should be ignored. They are the ones who continue to make race and ethnicity, i.e. “multiculturalism”, into the culturally divisive mess it has become. Here’s a fact that folks like Guitierrez won’t like: All cultures aren’t equal. And if one chooses to come here, then it is the American culture that they should learn. Not become some outpost of a culture they willingly fled.
America isn’t about how you did it in the old country. In fact, if it is anything it is about not doing it how you did it in the old country. We had a whole revolution based on that. You may have heard of it.
You’re not in the old country anymore. It is about this new country. And the way you learn about a new country is through cultural immersion. And that includes PB&J sandwiches without explanation or guilt.