Free Markets, Free People
Perhaps it comes as a surprise to some of our readers, but we are not a Republican or Conservative blog. We are a libertarian, or more precisely a Neo-libertarian blog. As it happens, this puts us far closer to the conservative end of the spectrum than the liberal end in most things, so I can see, what with our constant nagging about President Obama’s policy foolishness over the last four years, why many readers would think of us as conservatives. But we aren’t really.
Maybe that’s why Bryan’s suggestions seemed so off-putting to the conservatives who regular read us here. Oh, and the fact that Bryan, while he’s had posting privileges here for, well, a long time, doesn’t post all that much anymore. I wish he posted more, but apparently, he has a life. But he’s still got his name on the masthead. See? It’s over there on the sidebar, on the left.
It’s gonna stay there.
The thing is, if you’re a conservative—especially a social conservative, you just need to accept that pretty much all of us support gay marriage, are at least squishy on abortion law, etc., etc., so you’re not going to find this a congenial place, for the most part, on social issues.
So much for old business.
Now onto the the posts Bryan contributed over the last few days. As It happens, I have some thoughts on his ideas myself.
Immigration is a sticky issue. I think that Milton Friedman was right in that you cannot have both unrestricted immigration and a welfare state. If you try to have both, you will inevitably bankrupt the system completely. Which, now that I think about it, is at least a self-solving problem.
But that solution itself would cause…difficulty, so it’s best to avoid it.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have a very expansive welfare state and what of we did have would be off-limits to immigrants. That isn’t the situation we have, however, which makes unrestricted immigration difficult to deal with.
It’s even more troubling when you realize that we have a set of challenges that make any immigration difficult to deal with at the present time.
There has been a distinct cultural shift in the way we deal with immigrants, in terms of our willingness to assimilate them into the American culture. For instance, when I was a child, immigrant children were expected to learn English, and conform to mainstream American culture. Essentially, immigrants were told—often in no uncertain terms—that we didn’t care how they did things in Kaplokistan, they were in America and they would do things our way. The message, from every level of society, was that if their original country was such a great place, they’d still be there. The result was that the children of immigrants were quite keen to assimilate, and mostly did so.
But we don’t do that any more. We’re now ever so sensitive to their cultural concerns, that we don’t try to assimilate them at all. We fear offending their delicate cultural sensitivities. As a result, the assimilation takes place at a much slower rate.
For example, here in southern California, we provide official voting ballots in somewhere around 100 different languages. Let me just state something that should be obvious: If you cannot vote in the English language, you shouldn’t be voting. Or, dare I say it, even be a citizen. If you can’t even be troubled to learn the dominant language of our popular culture, how in the world can you grasp the essentials of our political culture and principles?
This is compounded by the fact that today’s immigrants come from a vastly different political culture than those of a century ago. Today’s immigrants come from countries with an explicitly socialist political culture, which is decidedly not the case of immigrants who came to the US prior to the 1920s. Prior to that time, most immigrants came from monarchies with an intensely class-based structure, no middle class to speak of, and no possibility for social mobility. They come from countries where their social status was determined by the class they were born in, and they came here to escape both grinding poverty, and a class structure that made escaping that poverty extraordinarily difficult.
Today’s immigrants, thanks to the USSR’s pervasive influence in the 3rd world in the 50s-70s, have grown up with a socialist political world-view. They will naturally be prone to gravitate to the Democratic Party. Certainly, some portion will come here to escape socialism, but most probably don’t think too deeply about politics, and simply accept the socialist view of activist government they’ve been taught all their lives. When they get here, they find a political party that also accepts that political world-view, so naturally they gravitate towards it. Prior to the 1920′s, they would not have.
So I don’t think you can point to unrestricted immigration in the 19th century and draw too many parallels to how such a policy might work today. Both the original political culture of the immigrant, and the American political culture they find on arrival here, are completely different than they were a century ago.
And, of course, I also think about how California has fared with the massive immigration, a great portion of it illegal, of the last 30 years. The Central Valley has deteriorated almost to 3rd World status, with a permanent underclass of Mexican laborers who have essentially become modern-day helots, rampant property crime, deteriorating public services, and terrible poverty.
What lessons do we learn from all that?
I honestly don’t know how to approach entitlement reform. Maybe Bryan’s suggestion has merit, but I simply don’t know. We’ve told every person in the country that they have a defined-benefits pension, and, though people my age and younger don’t really believe Social Security will be there for us, We’ve spent all our working lives paying into it. We certainly feel we’re owed something for it. We had a Deal. You can’t just break the Deal.
And here is the real, non-obvious reason why you can’t break that Deal: We don’t have a stable currency. As a result, we simply cannot safely save for retirement.
Let me explain.
When the US was on the gold standard, you could simply stuff money into your mattress. In fact, a lot of people did. And the reason they could was that their money retained its purchasing power. Every dollar bill was a receipt for your real money. Every banknote said, "The US Treasury will pay the bearer X dollars." If you took a dollar bill into the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, slapped it on the counter, and said give me my money, a servitor would take your dollar, nip back to the vault, and return with a little bag containing 1/35oz of gold, or 1/16oz of silver. Today, your dollar bill is a receipt for nothing. It’s worth whatever the US government says it’s worth at any given time.
And, especially since 1973, it’s been worth less and less every year. Since 1970, the price of housing has risen 1050%. A savings account at a bank doesn’t pay an interest rate that keeps up with inflation. So, with a fiat currency that is constantly debased, that leaves very few savings options.
Essentially, to make a return greater than inflation, the county has been forced into the stock market for investment. But what happens if the market crashes? You lose a large portion of your saved investment. If you have several years to make it up, well, good. But what if it happens when you’re close to retirement? Well, you say, of course, you have to find safer investments like tax-free munies or something. And you should allocate your portfolio wisely, etc., etc.
But most people don’t want to do that. And they don’t want to learn all sorts of investment arcana. They want to save, do so safely, and not have inflation eat away all of their savings. Social Security does that, from their point of view, and it doesn’t make them live in fear that some unforeseen market event will eat up their hard-won savings.
That’s why so many people are opposed to Social Security privatization. They’re afraid of market investment, and are especially so seeing the roller-coaster rise the market’s been on since 2000.
But they have no safe option for saving that keeps pace with inflation.
Not having a stable currency forces people into riskier and harder-to-understand investments, and people don’t want to mortgage their future to investments that are risky and hard to understand.
Social Security was easy to understand, and it at least gave the illusion of security, no matter what the reality was.
A reliable, stable currency would make entitlement reform a lot easier, because it would vastly reduce the fear of inflation eating away at their retirement.
Social issues are the hot button with a significant portion of the GOP. I’m not entirely sure that if the GOP abandons social issues they’d be able to attract enough people from the Democrats to make up a viable political party, by which I mean one that has a shot at winning nationally. I don’t think that the Democrats have enough of a fiscally conservative, socially liberal electoral base to attract to the new, socially agnostic GOP.
The reality is, though, that when it comes to politics, the culture is determinative on the outcomes of social issues.
It doesn’t get much play, but, as it happens, according to polls—which as we know from the last election are pretty accurate—a slight majority of the electorate is actually pro-life. You wouldn’t know it from watching the news, but somehow, over the last decade, pro-choice has become the minority opinion in the country. Presumably, if that trend continues—and there’s no guarantee it will—Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Maybe. I mean, just because people are generally pro-life, it doesn’t mean that women don’t want to have abortion as an option. Just in case. Maybe it doesn’t get overturned at all, but abortion becomes culturally objectionable and we’ll get a lot less of it.
If Roe is overturned, then, abortion will become a state issue. Or, perhaps we’ll keep Roe, and just tighten down on abortions: limit them to the 1st trimester, and give exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, implement stricter parental controls, and that sort of thing. If it is overturned, states like California and New York will make it unambiguously legal. Some states will restrict it. Some will ban it completely.
Maybe that’s the answer for social issues. Leave them to the states, and people will gravitate to the states where the social milieu is more congenial to them. But that will be difficult to do now that we’ve cast all social issues in terms of rights.
I think that was a mistake, but here we are.
The gay marriage people say they have a right to marry. OK. Then why don’t polygamists have a right to do so as well? Once you’ve cast an argument in terms of rights, you’ve started wielding a hammer, not a scalpel, to solve your social problems. If gays have a right to marry, then why doesn’t another group of consenting adults have that right? How do you draw that line in terms of rights?
We forced the Mormon religion to de-legitimize polygamy in order for Utah to become a state. If adults have the right to order their relationships as they choose, then how was that legitimate? How is it legitimate, in terms of rights, to forbid close relatives to marry?
Rights are a pretty blunt instrument.
But how does letting gays get married somehow damage marriage as an institution? I guess I don’t understand that. I get that marriage is important, and I get why it’s important. But, it’s not so important, I guess, that we want to make divorce difficult. Which is, after all, why more than half of marriages end in it. Oh, and by the way, aren’t something like half of the kids born today, born out of wedlock?
Something’s going on with marriage today, and it’s mainly not good, but it doesn’t seem to have much to do with gay people.
Here’s a couple of realities to think about, though:
- We’re about 30 or 40 years behind Europe in turning into a post-Christian culture. You wanna know the culture your grandkids will grow up in? Look at the Netherlands or Britain.
- With Obama’s re-election, there’s an excellent chance that 1 or two conservative justices will be replaced by Obama. That means Roe v. Wade will probably be around for another 20 years, and who knows what the culture will think about it then?
Ultimately, the place to fight social issues doesn’t seem to be in politics, though. If you want to win on social issues, you have to to win the culture. If you can’t get a cultural consensus, you will never get a political one.
That seems to me to imply that conservatives should be battling not in Washington, DC, but in Hollywood, and in the Media, and in their local schools and colleges. The Left has made a largely successful march through the country’s cultural institutions, taken them over, and are shaping it to their liking. Conservatives have spent the last 4 decades unsuccessfully trying to take over the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Left has turned education into a 16-year commie indoctrination course, topped off by Continuing Education in socialism from TV, news media, and movies.
Maybe conservatives should be thinking about how to win the culture. If they do that, the politics will ineluctably follow. The reverse, however, is simply not true.
I already mentioned that marriage, kids, and a mortgage are very strong indicators of conservatism. Here’s a straightforward causal explanation: when you’re invested in something, you don’t want it to be taken from you, and you’re skeptical of starry-eyed meddlers doing anything that might threaten it. Probably the best thing done for the cause against gun control was teaching others how to use and maintain a firearm: once people own one, it sharpens the mind to cut through any argument for taking it away.
But a gun is a small investment compared to a committed and intimate relationship, custody of children, and homeownership. A dollar taxed is one that you can’t spend on your family when they want something, a dollar borrowed is one that your kids will pay back, and that meddler on TV is rolling the dice with a major part of your life.
In the case of immigration, Hispanics are already primed to be conservative because they’re already invested. With gay marriage, you have a group trying awfully hard to get more invested.
The conservative argument for embracing gay marriage is that marriage seems to be a fine institution that benefits even people who can’t have children together, and that it may strengthen the institution and the country to expand the institution so that a nontrivial minority of the population is on the inside trying to protect it rather than on the outside where their exclusion leads to thorny political issues of respect and tribalism.
Another conservative argument is that if gay marriage is politically inevitable, conservatives should proactively move through legislation to ensure that it goes smoothly without infringing on other freedoms (like those of association and contract), rather than allow this to play out entirely in the courts or in a referendum. If conservatives keep trying to board the windows, more stuff is going to end up broken than if they just opened the door.
As with immigration and Hispanics, marriage may not be gays’ top priority, but it matters, and the way Republicans approach and discuss the issue can signal that “you’re not one of us,” which is poison for coalition-building.
The flip side of that coin doesn’t have to be pandering; given the consciousness of gay communities about targeted violence and bullying, it’d be awesome if conservatives taught more gays how to use and maintain firearms.
Below the fold is a NSFW image. It is obscenely offensive. It was posted by The Onion in one of the most brilliant satirical statements about the cultural difference between the Muslim world and everyone else I’ve ever seen. As The Onion writes:
The image of the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fiving Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist, reportedly went online at 6:45 p.m. EDT, after which not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible, nor did the person who created the cartoon go home fearing for his life in any way. Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day.
The FBI will not launch an investigation to find out the identity of the artist involved. The offices of The Onion will not be besieged by angry Christians, demanding death to the editors. No heads will be cut off. No Internet-wide debate will be sparked on whether or not this image should be reproduced. No calls for the arrest and imprisonment of the author will be made.
But, if you were to add a bearded fellow with a turban into this depraved scene, we all know the response would be far different.
So, you can take your multicultural "no culture is better than any other" nonsense and stick it where the sun don’t shine.
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.
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.
The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:
June’s new home sales annual rate of 350,000 is 20,000 below expectations; however, May was revised upwards 13,000 to 382,000, the highest rate in two years. April was also revised up 15,000 to 358,000.
MBA Purchase Applications rose 0.9%, with purchase applications falling -3.0%, but refinancing applications rising 2.0%. Mortgage rates were unchanged, with conforming mortgages going at 3.74%.
It’s no secret that my optimism well has about run dry. Signs like this don’t make the level rise any. Read the whole thing. Go on. I’ll wait.
You see here’s the thing: I’ve been writing about how close we are to and economic and currency meltdown, but not a lot about societal meltdown. But troubling signs are there, too. There’s a fundamental and growing lack of respect for the government. Not because we’re bad people, but because we recognize the growing divergence between what the government does and what common sense tells us.
So, as the linked article points out, we engage in an endless list of violations. It’s estimated that in perhaps in the course of a day, and almost certainly in the course of a week, all of us commit some act that, statutorily, makes us criminals. The range of government powers, and the scope of activities they cover, make it almost possible to obey the law in it’s entirety. We know this, and we know, just as surely, that there is something wrong about it at a very basic level. And we respond to that knowledge.
It’s not civil disobedience that I’m talking about. It’s the opposite: Civil disobedience is meant to be noticed. It is a price paid in the hope of creating social change. What I’m talking about is not based on hope; in fact, it has given up much hope on social change. It thinks the government is a colossal amoeba twitching mindlessly in response to tiny pinpricks of pain from an endless army of micro-brained interest groups. The point is not to teach the amoeba nor to guide it, but simply to stay away from the lethal stupidity of its pseudopods.
The amoeba does not get smarter but it does get hungrier and bigger. On the other hand, we get smarter. More and more of our life takes place outside of the amoeba’s reach: in the privacy of our own homes, or in capital accounts in other nations, or in the fastest growing amoeba avoidance zone ever created, cyberspace. We revolt decision by decision, transaction by transaction, because we believe deep down that most of what government tells us to do is at bottom illegitimate.
In other words, in a thousand small ways, an increasing number of us are learning the power of "no". We just haven’t started acting on it seriously yet. And, of course, it’s not all of us. There are still a fair number of people whose faith in the government to be everyone’s mommy and daddy would be touching, if it weren’t so frightening. But a lot of people are waking up to the fact that the government, in matter both large and small, is increasingly incompetent.
Now we might never act on the increasing size and scope of government, if we felt we were getting some value out of it. If it could keep the trains running on time, we might think we’d gotten a fair trade-off, or, at least, enough of us would that society would keep humming along in a fairly stable trajectory. Sadly, it’s increasingly obvious that ever-larger government not only can’t keep the trains running on time, it actively prevents them from doing so.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the economy, and the government’s response to an increasingly irrational monetary and fiscal policy.
After World War II, the debt:GDP ratio stood at 128%, approximately 24% higher than it is now. How did we reduce that debt? First, the entirety of wartime regulation was eliminated practically overnight. Rationing, wage and price controls, industrial production controls, confiscatory business and personal taxes…all gone. And, in the three years after the war, government spending was cut by half.
That would be impossible today, of course. Social Security and Medicare alone make up more than half of government spending. Unless we gut entitlements—along with everything else—we will never have a balanced budget again. This is especially true when you consider that, though debt service is just under 6% of the Federal Budget today, that’s only true because we have artificially low interest rates. If interest rates return to the 1996 levels, then over 20% of the budget will have go to debt service payments alone…a percentage that will steadily increase as the amount of debt increases. That means 80%+ of the federal budget will be Social Security, Medicare, and interest payments on the debt.
Today, the Treasury announced that the June fiscal deficit was $904 Billion for the year so far. So, we’re going to have another $1 trillion deficit this year. Just like last year. Just like next year. And as far as the eye can see.
It doesn’t take any advanced math to see what’s going to happen. We’re going to default on our debt. Or, considering that, according to today’s announcement of the money supply, by next week, there’ll be $10 Trillion in M2 floating around out there, we’ll simply monetize it through inflation, which amounts to the same thing. But we’re clearly not going to restrain spending, which means we are years, if not months, from an economic and monetary collapse.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when it comes. Anyone who can do simple math has the capability to see it coming. Anyone with common sense can see what we have to do to avoid it. Everyone knows that maintaining a reasonable fiscal policy and sound currency are two of the government’s primary domestic responsibilities, and everyone know that they simply aren’t doing it, and, worse, seem incapable of ever doing it again.
The excuses for not cutting government are innumerable. We can’t eliminate the Department of Education, or our children will become stumbling morons. We can’t cut Social Security, or seniors will be eating Alpo. We can’t cut the Department of the Environment, or we’ll die choking in the stinking gasses of industrial effluvia. We can’t cut Defense, or foreigners will walk openly on the streets of Washington. We can’t cut the DEA, or we’ll all be jumping out of windows from some sort of of acid-fueled illusion that we can fly over the pretty colors we smell. We can’t, in short, cut anything, because every penny of it is vital and necessary, and without it, we’ll be reduced to just a lucky few who flee from the zombie hordes inhabiting the stark, post-apocalyptic landscape brought on by smaller government. Assuming, of course, that anyone can "flee" with the acute diabetes they’ve acquired by lugging along an extra couple of hundred pounds they’ve gained from unrestricted access to 64-ounce Big Gulps.
So, not only are we gonna ride this puppy down in flames, anyone with any sense already knows that we’re gonna do it, if we stay on the current path.
The thing is: it’s no longer just some whacko fringe or criminal class who are turning into everyday scofflaws, it’s the middle class. The very people we depend upon for stability in society are the people who are now realizing that "society" is increasingly turning into a confidence game played to promote the interests of the politically powerful and their clients at the expense of the middle class. The people who aren’t rich enough to insulate themselves from the vagaries of fortune, but who are rich enough to have something to lose are supposed to be the stolid citizens, the defenders of the status quo. Increasingly, they aren’t.
So, the interesting question then becomes, what response will we see to the sort of entirely foreseeable and preventable collapse that is coming from a middle class that increasingly knows the government is a huge pile of fail? And how will they respond to the bleats of the not inconsiderable portion of their fellow citizens who will blame it not on government, but on "rootless cosmopolitans", "the 1%", "banksters", et al., and demand an even more powerful government to "fix" the problem?
Here’s another interesting question. Social Security and Medicare are about the only benefits the middle class has left. It’s almost the last thing they can expect to get back from all the money they’ve poured into the system their whole lives. How will they respond when you tell them that we can’t afford those entitlements anymore, and the only way to fix the fiscal disaster we’re facing is to take away the only skin they’ve got left in the game? What do they do when the advantages they receive from government are outweighed by the burden government puts on them?
Those are questions that really bear thinking on. Because if you lose the middle class, then their response to a crisis may not be to repair and reform the existing edifice in an attempt to return to status quo ante. Instead, it may be to simply burn the whole thing down, and start rebuilding something else from scratch. After all, when you’ve got nothing left to lose…what’ve you got to lose? What happens if the middle class are turned into revolutionaries?
Somebody may want to start figuring that out.
How little interest has the media show in the actual facts of Barack Obama’s history?
The simple answer is “very little”. For instance I expect a minute and basically negative examination of the Mormon religion when Mitt Romney is officially nominated. That’s already being set up by numerous of those type articles already beginning to surface.
But Obama’s 20 years in a church with a reverend who basically preached anti-Americanism and black liberation theology? Meh.
A great example of what I’m talking about is covered by Jonathan Tobin in Commentary’s “Contentions” blog. It is about the story oft repeated by Obama. It is his version of his mother death of cancer because those nasty old insurance companies wouldn’t pay.
It’s a lie. Again, I use the word “lie” much less frequently than do many in the press or around the blogosphere. A lie is a knowing falsehood. I try to restrict my usage to that tight definition. As it turns out, the story Obama has told repeatedly as the truth about his mother’s death is, in fact, a lie. Oh, and the mainstream media knows it.
Proof? Well, they said so.
Never let it be said the New York Times is afraid to tackle an unflattering story about President Obama, even if it’s often a delayed reaction. The paper’s political blog The Caucus deigned to notice today that the new biography of the president by David Maraniss uncovered the fact that much of Dreams From My Father, the highly praised Barack Obama autobiography, is either fabricated or exaggerated. The Times’s Michael Shear opines that having its author now sitting in the White House has brought Dreams more scrutiny than its author could have envisioned when he wrote it in 1995. But the problem with contemporary analyses of the questionable personal history in the book is not so much the peril associated with being a famous political author but whether the book provides proof of a pattern of falsehoods and distortions about his past that has been one of the hallmarks of the president’s public career.
The answer to that question is contained near the bottom of the piece in which Shear lets drop that proof of such a pattern was already provided by his own newspaper last year. Though the Times buried the story when it broke and then never followed up or editorialized on the scandal, it was their own reporter Janny Scott whose research on the life of the president’s mother Ann Dunham revealed that the oft-told story of her dying because of the failure of her health insurance company to pay for her cancer treatment was a flat out lie. But while Shear is right that this year’s election will not turn on how Maraniss’s book is received, the unwillingness of the Times and other mainstream publications to call out Obama for writing fiction and calling it autobiography gives us a good indication of how much of an advantage having a quiescent media is for an incumbent president. [emphasis mine]
You know the standard line here: imagine them discovering something like this about someone on the right. Do you suppose it would not be followed up or be editorialized? Do you suppose they’d skip pointing out it seems to indicate a pattern?
As to that pattern and the specifics of his mother’s death:
The fables Obama seems to have told about his alienation, his girlfriends and the rest of his over-intellectualized voyage of self-discovery actually pale in comparison to the whopper he told when running for election in 2008 that his mother died because she had been denied coverage and treatment of her disease. Scott revealed that in fact the expenses relating to her cancer had been paid by her insurance. Though she had a separate and totally unrelated dispute relating to disability coverage, Scott’s research proved that Obama’s statement during the 2008 presidential debate was fiction:
“For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.”
It bears repeating that the president knew this account was false because he served as his mother’s attorney in all her dealings with the insurance company. [emphasis mine]
And where did the Times run this revelation? What was the White House reaction?
When the Times ran that story (on page 14 rather than on the front page), the White House chose not to deny the truth of Scott’s reporting. But that didn’t stop the Obama campaign from refloating the same falsehoods about Ms. Dunham having perished for lack of insurance coverage in an autobiographical campaign film narrated by Tom Hanks.
So the Times discovered what would be a bombshell revelation were it anyone else, they plop it out on page 14, the White House denies it and that ends it?
Now that’s journalism isn’t it? Duty fulfilled, even halfheartedly, and now safe to ignore. Meanwhile the lie lives on and no one even bothers to address the fact that’s what it is. It is pure political propaganda designed to demonize an industry in order to gain popular consent to all but wreck it and have government take its place.
Yet, it’s only worth page 14 in the “paper of record” and zero followup.
Not only has the president never apologized for lying to the American people about his mother’s plight, he rightly assumed that even though the truth was uncovered by the New York Times, neither that paper nor the rest of the mainstream media would follow up on it as they undoubtedly would had a Republican ever tried to sell the voters such a transparent whopper.
There’s the bottom line.
Another example of how poorly a biased media is serving the public. Yet they wonder why the public’s confidence in them continues to drop and newspapers all over the country are dying.
We have it so bad here. Income inequality, unfairness, the rich, the 1%. Occupy whatever, etc.
Reality again intrudes (from the Economist) to kick that meme right where it deserves to be kicked:
[T]he OECD … has created the "Better-Life" index. Now in its second year, the index uses 24 variables (which include both hard data and survey data) across 11 sectors to create a measure of welfare for 34 of its member countries, plus Brazil and Russia.
The Economist has grouped these 11 sectors into four broader categories. America excels most in money and jobs, Switzerland in health and education. This year the OECD has adjusted the index for equality to give an estimate for the top and bottom 20% of each country’s population. America scores particularly poorly on this account, with the bottom 20% having an index score some 25% below that of the top 20%.
And a handy chart to go with it:
Yup, life sucks in the US. We need more fairness. We’re just not keeping up. We’re the worst.
Well, except for all the others (save Australia).
I wonder about the validity of these sorts of numbers:
While rising 14 points since February, Romney still trails the president, who currently has a 56% favorable rating, with 42% saying they hold an unfavorable opinion of Obama. The president’s favorable and unfavorable ratings are unchanged from CNN polls in March and April.
“The biggest gap between Obama and Romney’s favorable ratings is among younger Americans. More than two-thirds of those under 30 have a favorable view of Obama, compared to only four-in-ten who feel that way about Romney. Romney is much stronger among senior citizens, but the gap is not nearly as big," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Romney may have a small advantage among independent voters, but that is offset by his lower favorable rating among Republicans than Obama has among Democrats."
A couple of things – how strong, really, is Obama’s favorable ratings among a demographic scared to death of being called a racist if they happen to have an unfavorable view of our first black president? That’s a legitimate question.
Old folks, for the most part, don’t give a damn about that and may more closely mirror the real feelings out in fly over land.
The reason I say that is Obama’s “favorable ratings” have continued to stay high while his job performance numbers have continued to fall. That seems somewhat unlikely. Usually the two show some movement in the same direction even if one is higher than the other.
Romney is going to grow on Republicans if he continues to attack (i.e. not be the designated place holder for the GOP and refuse to do what is necessary to win as did John McCain), keep the campaign focused on the real issues of the campaign (and Obama’s record) and not fall for the distractions that are sure to be tossed out to the media every week by the Obama campaign. Republicans are eager for someone, anyone, who will carry the political battle to the Democrats.
John Hayward talks about the Glenn Reynolds “preference cascade”, a phenomenon Reynolds notes while talking about the collapse of totalitarian regimes. Hayward describes it here:
A large population can be dominated by a small group only by persuading all dissenters that they stand alone. Most of their fellow citizens are portrayed as loyal to the regime, and everyone around the dissident is a potential informer. A huge dissident population can therefore be suppressed, by making them believe they’re all lonely voices in the wilderness… until the day they begin realizing they are not alone, and most people don’t support the regime. The process by which dissent becomes seen as commonplace, and eventually overwhelming, is the preference cascade.
This analysis doesn’t have to be confined to the study of repressive, dictatorial regimes, or even politics. Consider the phenomenon of celebrity without merit – that is, people who are famous for being famous. Their popularity tends to evaporate in a preference cascade eventually, as people in the audience begin wondering if anyone else is tired of hearing about the ersatz “celebrity,” and soon discover that everyone is.
He then applies it to the politics of this race:
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – that disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him, or at least a greedy tool of the Evil Rich, or a “Tea Party extremist.”
A negative mirror image of this narrative was installed around Mitt Romney, who is supposedly a fat-cat extremist (and, thanks to the insidious War On Mormons, a religious nut) who nobody likes… even though large numbers of people in many different states voted for him in the primaries. Of course he has his critics, and I’m not seeking to dismiss the intensity or sincerity of that criticism… but the idea was to make Romney supporters feel isolated going into the general election, particularly the people who don’t really get involved in primary elections.
Both of those convergent narratives began crumbling this week: Obama is deeply vulnerable, and his campaign has no real answer to criticism of his record – they’ve even tried floating an outright fraud, the now-infamous Rex Nutting charts that presented Obama as some kind of fiscal hawk. (Stop laughing – major media figures took this garbage seriously for a couple of days, and Team Obama did push it.) Major Democrats, beginning with Newark mayor Cory Booker, expressed criticism of the Obama campaign… and the Left reacted with shrieking hysteria and vows of personal destruction for the “traitors.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney effectively presented both substantive criticism of Obama, and a positive agenda. Attacks on his business record that were supposed to destroy him through class-warfare tactics failed to draw blood. The idea that he can win became widely accepted. That doesn’t mean he won the 2012 argument… but unlike Barack Obama, he is offering one.
What is beginning to lose its effectiveness, it’s cache, is, as Hayward notes, " … disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him …”.
But when polled, especially among younger voters, that presumption is still powerful enough I would guess, to see those voters lie to pollsters. It is a sort of social conditioning that has taught them to avoid such a label even at the cost of a lie (and even when speaking to a pollster).
So, and it is merely a guess, but based on a life long study of human nature, there is a distinct possibility that the “Tom Bradley” effect may be pumping up Obama’s popularity numbers.
And, as Hayward points out, as it becomes less and less effective or acceptable to accuse those who do not like Obama of being racists, the possibility of a preference cascade negative to Obama’s favorability is a distinct possibility.
No one who has watched the beginnings of this race can, with any credibility, claim the Obama campaign isn’t struggling. Donors are deserting him, his record is an albatross around his neck, there is strife between his administration and campaign and many of his political supporters seem luke warm at best with any number of Democrats running for reelection in Congress content not to be seen with the man. Too many indicators that point to the probability that the numbers CNN are pushing aren’t quite as solid as they may seem.
Hayward concludes with an important update:
I should add that the most powerful cascades occur when an artificially imposed sense of isolation crumbles. That’s very definitely what is happening here. Widespread popular discontent with the Obama presidency has been suppressed by making the unhappy campers feel marginalized. The failure of that strategy is akin to watching a dam burst under high pressure.
The race, once it gets into high gear, is what will cause the “dam burst” as more and more Americans discover they’re not alone in their feelings about the President and that they are not at all on the margins, but very mainstream.
Once that happens (and it will), when everyone finally realizes they’re not the only one who has noticed the emperor has no clothes, the chances of a one-term Obama presidency increase exponentially.