BOOK REVIEW: The Black Count by Tom Reiss

This is a fabulous  non-fiction narrative that rivals many of the best novels ever written.  Even the fact that it made the New York Times bestseller list and also won the Pulitzer Prize hardly does it justice.  Tom Reiss obviously spent many months, even years, doing very original research on at least two continents and as many languages.  But let’s begin at the beginning

If you have ever read the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and you liked it, or like me, loved it, Reiss’ book is a must-read for you.  Dumas also wrote The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask, as well as dozens of other fiction and non-fiction books and articles.  The Count of Monte Cristo is a story of revenge; the story of a man imprisoned for life on unknown charges as the result of a conspiracy of three enemies he didn’t know he had.  He is condemned to a medieval prison, whose castle walls are several feet thick.  He makes a daring and miraculous escape aided by another prisoner, an aging abbe, who reveals to him the location of great treasure.  The hero becomes fabulously wealthy and the rest of the book is about how he wreaks revenge on those who had condemned and then forgotten him.  The Hollywood movie version in my opinion ruined the story by changing the ending.

What I didn’t know is that the author of these sagas, Alexandre Dumas, was a mulatto, and his father, Alex Dumas was a very dark black man from the island of Haiti who intermarried with a white French woman.  Through the real story of this man, Reiss takes us on a global panoramic tour of the institution of slavery itself, with many surprises along the way.

Slavery of course, has been around since the beginning of man’s recorded history, and obviously predated that history.  All acquisition of property and power throughout the ages was through conquest, and the victor took all, including the vanquished as slaves.  Slavery was not racially tinged until the 18th century.  Before then, anyone anywhere was at risk of becoming a slave if a predator group won the battle.  For example, when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, he made slaves of the Egyptians, but he also imported lots of white slaves from what are now eastern European nations populated by ethnic Slavs, which is where we got the word slave.  Christians during this time period thought slavery was fine as long as the slaves weren’t other Christians.  So making slaves of non-Christians and especially the Moors, was acceptable.    In time these ethnic Slavs, who became known as Mamelukes,  revolted against their Egyptian masters, and the Egyptians became their slaves–until Napoleon came along and drove off the Mamelukes. Read more..

In the western hemisphere, there were large population centers located among the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas.  One of the Incan cities had a larger population at the time than the European city of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Each of these south and central American civilizations had slave populations themselves.   When the Spanish conquistadors invaded they absorbed the existing slave populations and also made slaves of the former masters.   Those  who didn’t die of the white man’s diseases were turned into slaves and were sent to die in brutal, murderous silver and gold mines.  None of this was race related.

When other imperial explorers reached the islands of the Caribbean, they didn’t find precious metals as they had hoped, but instead found sugar cane, which they learned how to refine into sugar.  The sugar capital of the world became the island of Haiti, then known as Saint Domingue.  Growing sugar cane was labor intensive, and unlike in central and south America, there were no large concentrations of population that could easily be enslaved.  The African slave trade in the 18th century was largely concentrated around the sugar plantations of Saint Domingue.  There were few African women imported to Saint Domingue, and the men were treated so brutally they died quickly of starvation and beatings.  This rapid turnover further exacerbated the labor shortage, requiring more and more slaves.

Reiss traces how the imperial expansion into the western hemisphere took place concurrent with the philosophical movement of The Enlightenment with its special emphasis on liberty and individual rights.  The French were the first to attempt to come to grips with the contradictions between slavery and liberty.  The French were intrigued by the American experiment and the principles embodied in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and of course our revolution only came to a successful conclusion due to the assistance of the French navy.  As a matter of fact, the French involvement in our revolution drove their nation into bankruptcy, and precipitated food riots and their own Revolution.  The French Revolution championed the rights of man at the same time that it engaged in a Reign of Terror against its own citizens, sending thousands of innocent people to the guillotine.

The French resolved the slavery/liberty debate at first by declaring that any black man who made it to the shores of France proper was a free man, and the French sort of washed their hands, Pontius Pilate-like,  of what happened in the slave-holding colonies such as Saint Domingue.  Activists pressed the issue however, and within a short time freedom was being promised to slaves in the colonial territories, which of course enraged the plantation owners, who withdrew their support from the French Revolution.   This facilitated Napoleon’s rise to power, culminating in his naming himself emperor of France and ending the centuries-old monarchy.

Alex Dumas, the father of Alexandre, came to France as a young man and entered the military, and quickly distinguished himself.  For a while he actually outranked Napoleon, but in time came to report to him.  He was captured in what is today Italy, and spent several short years in a medieval prison, held without charges.  His prison experience broke his spirit and his health.  Napoleon meanwhile, in an effort to placate the very wealthy plantation owners of the French Caribbean colonies, rescinded many of the freedoms that the Revolution had instituted for blacks.

After many years of valiant service to the Revolution in which he devoutly believed, Alex Dumas found himself without a pension, without a home, and with no means of support.    Napoleon, who knew him well and personally, ignored his requests and his lieutenants ignored the requests and pleas of his widow after Alex died, still fairly young and impoverished.

This is broad brushing this delightful narrative, which holds many insights you’re not going to find in a history book.  Reiss approaches his topic without bias or political correctness, and what I came away with was that the lot of the common man of any race, color, or origin from time immemorial has been to serve as the cannon fodder of the ruling class of every nation, and that the golden rule prevailed:  he who had the gold ruled.

Reiss is quick to point out many of history’s ironies:

Napoleon and Alex Dumas fought against the Spanish in southern Italy.  This is the same Spain that was colonizing the central and southern Americas.  And that is how the South American tomato made it’s way to southern Italy, which of course made it famous. or was it the tomato that made Italian cuisine famous?

The French continued to refer to black and mixed race people in France as “Americans”, in America members of its Congress would not permit blacks into their presence except to serve refreshments or sweep up. Says Reiss: “But having enjoyed prestige as “Americans” during the[French] Revolution, black and mixed-race soldiers now found themselves denigrated as “Africans.”

The French helped us achieve the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and were also the first to give blacks freedom, at a time when  General George Washington said he didn’t think Virginians were ready for that step yet.   French  General Lafayette of Yorktown fame had to flee for his  life from his own Revolution.  He was captured by the Prussians and spent the next five years in prison.  His friend George Washington was powerless to help him because Prussia [parts of what is now Germany] and Austria at the time refused to recognize the new United States.

Miscegenation , or racial intermarriage, was common until it too was outlawed.  Haiti, the sugar capital of the world and probably the richest island on the planet, experienced the first successful major slave rebellion. The slaves fought 80,000 of Napoleon’s troops to a standstill; the French left, the plantations closed, and today Haiti is quite possibly the poorest island on the planet.  Today Haiti has experienced something of a brain drain as their best and brightest have abandoned her to seek their fortunes in the United States and elsewhere.

New post-revolutionary France decided to deflect attention away from their internal problems by invading most of their neighbors, which is how Napoleon and Alex Dumas came to know each other and fight almost literally side by side.  As always, the government attempted to finance their wars with debt, in the form of bonds backed by property–that had been seized from the Church.  These bonds were on pieces of paper called assignats, which were used as money,  and of course they printed more assignats than there was real estate collateral, which resulted in devaluing the assignats and creating massive inflation.  Eventually the floor under the assignats gave out–literally.  At the Paris printing house someone piled up too much of the worthless paper in one place and the floor of the building collapsed under the weight.  Their real-estate secured bonds were worthless.  Nothing familiar here, is there?

Reiss peppers his story with personal vignettes such as this description of one French revolutionary:  “. . . his main character flaw was that of so many French revolutionaries: a zeal for human rights so self-righteous that it translated into intolerance for the actual human beings around him.”  I’ve often thought the same of the purported champions of the war on poverty; their concerns are usually self-serving and they wouldn’t want to get too up close and personal with real poverty.  They preach humanity but don’t like poor people moving into their neighborhood.

Reiss weaves a wonderful and complex tapestry of events that spans the globe and leads to even more questions.  Life is never quite what it appears to be, and the more it seems to change the more it stays the same.  If you have strong opinions about modern race relations in the U.S., read Reiss’ book for a more global perspective.  Without our Constitution and limited government, there is nothing left but the governments guns, the moneyed powers behind the throne, and the ragtag mob.  Without individual freedom that cannot be voted away by any block of voters of any color for any reason, there is no freedom except by permission, and that is not freedom at all.

For author Alexandre Dumas, his novel The Count of Monte Cristo was the fantasy version of his father’s life.  Indeed part of the story begins in an obscure little village in Haiti (Saint Domingue) near the border with the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo) called Monte Cristo.

Many parts of this biography of Alex Dumas, and his legendary fictional counterpart, the Count of Monte Cristo, read like a Kafkaesque novel.    Until we figure out a way to change human DNA, the possibility of a return to this world should never be dismissed lightly.  Liberty is and always will  be under siege.

10 Rules: How Closed Minds Become Closed Borders

It is my intention to provide my readers with a very valuable and unique service.  I am a voracious reader and it is my special talent to distill complex subjects down to their simplest parts and principles (if indeed such principles exist).  Much of what is written, past and present, is intentionally obfuscated for political purposes or dishonest gain, whether of the material, intellectual, or emotional varieties.  It is designed to misinform or mislead.  Even when the ideas are simply muddle-headed rather than intentionally disingenuous, there is rarely an understanding of where those ideas originated, or historical consequences of their application.   These observations are particularly applicable to political discussions, but are not uncommon in virtually any serious discourse.

I am driven to know what is.  I grew up in an intellectually closed society, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I left that religious organization in mid-life only to find a whole smorgasbord of other closed societies, whether religious, philosophical, political, or social.  There is a vehemence and even fierceness of advocacy that inhibits civil conversation and betrays intolerance of different life experiences and conclusions.  What is most remarkable about all of these is that either side in any of these debates would passionately agree with my observations herewith stated, but only find them applicable to the attitudes and behavior of those with an opposing viewpoint!

As the polemicists outshout each other in the vain belief that raising the volume of their cranky bombast is the key to recruiting you to the cause or the sale, regard for evidence, logic, scientific method, clarity, and other calm pursuits are left behind like abandoned children.   Defense of our own position usually trumps all other considerations without any awareness whatsoever of the road by which we arrived at our convictions.  My most important takeaway from my own life-altering experience  is that I am the bouncer and doorman to my own mind, and I have sole discretion over what is permitted to enter.  I am the final arbiter of what I accept, because I become what I ingest intellectually.   This is a personal responsibility that I cannot delegate to any other person, institution, or authority. In my opinion, every one of my readers shares this same responsibility for themselves, for the same reasons and with the same rewards. Bitterness and anger about years wasted in misguided belief and defiance of reality are efforts to transfer responsibility for our own past choices onto others, but in every case it was we who negligently invited strangers, in the form of ideas, into our mind unidentified and unchallenged.  Even when we absorb faulty premises in our age of innocence, responsibility to identify and correct these later in life cannot be avoided with impunity.

I frequently include book reviews on this blog, on a broad range of subjects.  All of these book reviews are at least somewhat positive in nature, because I do not waste my readers time on books that are in my opinion without at least some important redeeming values.  I am neither Democrat nor Republican, neither liberal nor conservative, and these days, once you get past the rhetoric, it can be said their distinctions are often without differences.  I have no ideology except the value of the individual human being. Each of us is a minority of one.  Regardless of the comfort we find in each other, there is no collective brain.  Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am.” What we think determines what we become.

I want to share some rules of the road from my personal experience.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to eat everything on my plate at meal times.  It was axiomatic that to waste food was wrong, even though our young minds rarely grasped the contradiction in the fact that we didn’t overload the plate with all that food, the grown-ups did.  How could we possibly know that for the rest of our lives other BIG PEOPLE would be filling up our intellectual plates with the impassioned ideas, ephemeral notions, and absolute certainties they insisted we must ingest because it is “good for us.”  As in childhood, we trust the source, the same one we associated with survival itself.

Rule #1 :   The purpose of all propaganda is to become your “trusted source.” Read more..

Everyone, it seems, has the strongest notions of what is best for us, beginning with our immediate families and extending to all the institutions of our culture.  What is accepted and practiced in one generation may be repudiated by future generations.  The philosophy that someone else knows what is best for us is nothing more than delegating to strangers what gets put on our plate.  It makes no difference whether this authority figure or expert comes in the guise of clergy, government, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, media talking heads or television and movie script writers; all of them provide us with generous helpings of their opinions and rules and they expect us to eat it, even if it gives us heartburn.  They do not like to be ignored, and most of them are happy, if given the opportunity, to harness the coercive power of the state to enforce what they know is, if not for our own good, at least for the good of the greatest number.  After all, Daddy knows best.

Everything is based on core premises, and unfortunately these are usually absorbed unconsciously from the Influential People of our childhood and adolescence, parents, teachers, news media, friends, and church.

Rule #2:  At a tender age we are neither equipped nor qualified to evaluate  conceptual content, and we know little or nothing about possible  alternatives. 

Content becomes indelibly associated with the persons and institutions of authority that deliver it.  Because of this early childhood association between content and source, we begin to develop class distinctions based on these associations.  We are more inclined to trust and believe those who dress like we do, worship as we do, get educated where we do, and who earn their living as we do.  At the most mundane level it is often said that the best place for a young man to pick up a date is at a church wedding, because he benefits by association with the joy of the occasion and the trust placed in that institution by its members. A “no” response in a different context might become a “yes” at the wedding.

Rule #3:  As children, content becomes truth when it is delivered by those on whom we depend to survive.

Once imbibed, these childhood-acquired core premises become unchallengeable, eternal truths, the template against which all new information is evaluated.  We quickly learn to block dissonance, any new information that makes us uncomfortable.  As we build the rest of our lives around these core premises, our emotional investment in them becomes such that a challenge to their veracity becomes a challenge to our identity.  There is a crushing need to shut down, shut out, and utterly annihilate such threats, and this need is all the more powerful and insidious because it is experienced subconsciously, as in dis-ease.  We experience anxiety without knowing the cause. 

When you experience something that disturbs you, it may or may not mean it is bad for you.  A bad taste in your mouth may mean a poison mushroom, or it may only mean conflict with the taste of the previous mouthful, in which case you need to cleanse your palate before proceeding.  A mouthful of lemon juice may cure you of scurvy, but it could be intensely unpleasant right after eating a sweet.  Likewise you may have been led to believe that very wise people are looking out for your welfare, and this goes down pleasantly, like a sugar cookie.  You might have had great faith in the honest intentions and competence of Bernie Madoff in handling your life savings, or you may currently be planning an extended retirement on Social Security and Medicare as they currently exist, and it tastes sweet.

Rule #4:  What feels safe and tastes good may be the prelude to the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma.

In every case, we always trusted the source.  The doorman to our mind was sound asleep.  There were red flags about what we believed, but we chose to ignore them.

That’s why I write about labels.  I sit down to lunch with people of all stripes and within minutes I can hear, and feel, the palpable hatred as my temporary companions launch into diatribes about those who think differently than they do.  The emotional intensity and intransigence derives from the speaker’s sense of certainty.  A mere label such as the name of a political party, or particular belief or non-belief excites the passions and invites the derision of the group at the table.  To belong is to share in the laughter.  The opposite is equally true and commonplace; the willingness to blithely accept nonsense if it comes from a trusted source.  We will defend what we have already emotionally invested in.

Rule #5:  It is possible to have a lifetime investment in something that is indefensible by any rational standard.  

How long have we known, and has our government refused to acknowledge, that our Social Security is history’s largest Ponzi scheme ever?

I used to finish reading any book I had started.  Like cleaning my plate at dinner, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.  I don’t always do this anymore.  Life is too short.  I always seek to identify as quickly as possible  authors’ basic premises, and even if I disagree with them, I may continue reading if only because I enjoy the writing style or because an author occasionally drops in a redeeming original thought or new twist on something.  I no longer waste my time filling my mind with garbage, but there is a balance between that and closing one’s mind.  Periodically I have to remind myself to re-evaluate my own core premises to see if they still withstand close scrutiny.  The final questions are always, Who says so? Why?  Based on what?  I am always on the alert for the hidden agenda, the sugar-coated dodge.

If some distinguished authority figure makes claims that appear improbable and  unsubstantiated by the facts as you know them, assuming they know more than you is one possibility.  Another possibility is that they have reasons to be less than truthful on this occasion.

If their explanations more accurately resemble circumlocutions, going round and round in circles and making no particular sense, you could assume that their explanation is too deep for your comprehension, given their special training, or you could also entertain the possibility that their non-answer is because they really don’t have an answer but won’t admit it publicly.

How do you spot obfuscations, disinformation, and hidden agendas?    For starters, unless you’ve taken a serious course in statistics, distrust all statistics.  Most are not scientifically sound and are intentionally manipulated for uninformed public consumption.  I could say there are a thousand ways to do this, but that would not be a scientifically sound statistic.  So we’ll move on.  In commercial matters, follow the money.  In political and institutional matters, follow the power.  Look past the easy answers.  Look past the obvious beneficiaries of a particular group action.  The secondary beneficiary is always the real beneficiary.  The primary beneficiaries receive very diffused benefits.  They are the poster children of the much ballyhooed political action; the orphans, the poor, the children, the unemployed, the elderly, the American middle class, the racial minorities.   The secondary beneficiary receives very consolidated power;  the power to bestow or withhold.   Daddy isn’t interested in your growing up.  Daddy needs you to need him.  Daddy needs to be in control of permissions, punishments and perks.

Rule #6:  If someone is selling invisible clothes, let them run around naked.  

It is better to be underwhelmed by the titles and decorations and positions of power of the so-called experts.  Who even remembers yesteryear’s Nobel prize winners and Treasury Secretaries or Fed Chairmen?  If anyone makes claims that to your mind seem like the Emperor’s invisible clothes, let them wear them.  Plan your personal life and make your financial choices around your own perceptions, not theirs.  They will usually have agendas you will never know about, and disincentives to provide full disclosure or tell the unvarnished truth.  Do they really know better than you how to direct your life?  Most American households’ finances are looking better than the governments, perhaps for no other reason than we can’t print money like the government  does.  We have been acting to correct our balance sheets, to start saving and stop borrowing.  Does that sound like what they have been doing?  Do they care about you, or are they far more concerned about polishing their credentials to the largest blocks of voters?  This goes for anyone who is offering you advice on any subject.  Would you look to the Dalai Lama for guidance on improving your sex life, knowing he is a celibate monk?

In the end it’s the same.  Money is power.  But government is money plus guns.  By guns I mean the police power of the state.  With guns you can seize other people’s money.  If you get enough people behind you, even in a democracy you can decide whose money you will take, and how much of it.  This is REAL power, and this is why groups will spend a billion dollars to secure a position of power that pays only half a million.  The most expensive seats are reserved for those who hold court, who trade in favors and gifts, and who choose the winners and the losers.  These people are not producers; they are looters who talk as if they understand production.

All ideas have a history, and if you follow the thread of an idea back far enough, there are always surprises.  Every opinion, belief, and conviction—indeed every certainty, was arrived at in a certain historical and social context, and made perfect sense to those persons in their place and time, and was almost invariably the partial result of emotional turmoil in the author’s personal life.  In other words, intellectuals, philosophers, clergymen, or brick layers, we are all made of the same dirt.  Ideas all began with real people and every single one of them had problems, issues, and emotional dilemmas.  Some of them were morons.

Rule #7:  Many of the world’s greatest thinkers would be in therapy today.

Ideological sparks at the intersection of the right time and the right population periodically ignited the imagination of masses.   New truths became eternal truths that have often reversed themselves, sometimes over and over again, everyone so preoccupied with the minutiae of their daily routines they fail to notice the intellectual roundabout on which they have traveled for decades or centuries.    The grand ideas  have all come and gone, or splintered and evolved in almost unrecognizable ways, becoming innumerable dogmas and orthodoxies,  and today they make compelling narrative for the history or philosophy buff.  Those who take the time to look more closely are sobered by the awareness that in every time period of history there were those who were willing and eager to kill or enslave those who disagreed with them.    Our current democratic society provides some cultural and legal protections against this, but a basic meanness still often lurks beneath the surface of many human believers.  I hear it in conversations at lunch.

Rule #8:  There’s a troll under many a believer’s bridge.

When belief devoid of thought is extolled as a virtue, doubt becomes suspect, opposing opinions are demonized, dissenters are criminalized, and definitions of the enemy are crystalized.  Hatred is born and mob action is galvanized.  Ascendant mobs become the state. Other groups see opportunities to advance their respective causes by hitchhiking on the coattails of the rising group, with the idea that they will address their important differences after they achieve a more favorable situation in the power structure.   The state attempts to co-opt and harness culturally powerful forces (the most powerful of which is religion) and then moves to consolidate its power by weakening, neutering,  and eliminating competing groups.  There are no enduring loyalties, just the shifting sands of temporarily overlapping interests.

This is why I champion individual rights in my writing.  The individual is the smallest group in the world.  Protect individual rights and you protect the world.  Democracies are the competition and conflict between groups, but history is replete with the horrors perpetrated by one group (even elected ones) on other groups.  Great evil has been done repeatedly in the name of God or in the name of Society.  Even in a so-called free society there is nothing more fear-inspiring than observing an impassioned closed mind reflected in the eyes of another human being, so certain of his ideas in fact, that he will gladly sacrifice your life to prove it.  On their own, they are dangerous and capable of atrocities; organized into groups with their hands on the levers of power (duly elected or not), no one is safe.  Not even the members of their group.  Every group has its purges.

There IS a problem with championing individual rights.  It puts responsibility on the individual.  There is uncertainty, and results are neither equal nor guaranteed.  What is guaranteed is that no group can by itself or backed by the power of the state, make you do or be what you do not believe in.  And you can’t do that to anyone else either.  Not everyone is comfortable with that.

Individual rights are inalienable, meaning you were born with them and do not acquire them by permission from others–no one and no group can morally take them from you, even when those others are infused with certainty about their better idea.   They may seize your property and take your life by force, but they can never do so morally.  Individual rights mean the right to pursue your own life and happiness as your highest values, and you are free to seek and perform work that sustains those values.  This includes buying and selling from whomever you choose, to your own benefit.  Individual rights means essentially the separation of church and state and the separation of economic activity and state.

Individual rights mean the government is there to protect  individual rights of all, and no one is there to serve the government.  Individual rights in practice, of necessity mean small government because there just isn’t that much the government needs to do.  No modern state, including western democracies, will ever pay more than lip service to government based on the sovereignty of the individual because all governments derive their power from the purse, which includes both confiscatory taxation and gross interference with free trade of its citizens.  The power of government is in granting permissions.  That’s where the money is.

Rule #9:  The government’s favorite childhood game is “Mother, May I?”

You can recognize individual rights in action when your government fears to transgress against its citizens.  

Group rights, on the other hand, are acquired by permission from a majority of others in society, and those permissions can be revoked.  The herd sometimes gives little or no notice of intent to stampede.  The primacy of group rights derives from the belief that your highest value as an individual  is not yourself but your contribution to society as a whole.  Individuals can  expect to be sacrificed to the group when the group calls for it. Every single favor demanded of  government by a group always implies a request for the police power of the state to be used against someone else  who doesn’t want to do the group’s  bidding.  Otherwise, if the group could achieve its ends on a voluntary basis, arrived at through negotiation, documented and signed by the parties, why would they need to involve the state?  Groups only need the state to club minority interests into submission.   I use the word minority here in the very literal sense of anyone who does not have sufficient votes to protect their interests. Group rights are the inevitable political legacy of those obsessed with the certainty of their beliefs, so much so that in their minds the ends justify their means.  Sooner or later the means include the confiscation of human life and property by the state–for the benefit of the greater good, of course.  Group rights degrade into group warfare and lead to an indefinitely expanding state, with eventually the state dwarfing all other groups.

Group rights lead to totalitarianism, which is sanctioned and even welcomed by the public in the name of efficiency.  When the cacophony of bitterly opposed groups gets too rancorous and the machinery of the state grinds down, someone with the necessary stage presence steps forward and suggests temporary consolidation of power to get through the political impasse.  We all know the rest of that story.

You can tell group rights in action when citizens fear their government.

So what is my point?  Am I advocating political activism in favor of limited government and individual rights?  Not really.  You can, of course, if you want to.  All I am encouraging is to become aware of what is happening around you, and to be aware of the ideas behind the events.  Keep your finger on the pulse of the politics in your community, your state, your nation.  Be more careful what you believe in, and scrutinize documentation with a critical eye.  In almost every location it is possible to exercise a great deal of personal freedom as long as you don’t make too much fanfare about it.  Love your life, keep your mind open and your passport current, and

Rule #10:   Know where the border is.

Closed minds eventually become closed borders.

 

Why Voltaire?

If you have been following this blogsite, you are aware that it is in a state of renovation under the theme of The New Voltaire.  The revised graphics and other technical goodies are coming.  But much more importantly, I would like to address the question, why Voltaire?

Growing up, Voltaire was one of my heroes.  He still is.  His real name was Francois Arouet.  Voltaire was his pen name.  He had a very strict religious upbringing.  So did I.  He eventually left the church, and became its outspoken critic.  So have I.  He was a writer, a dramatist, playwright; he wrote biographies, histories, books on science.  While my meager offerings pale in comparison with the productivity of this 18th century prodigy, I also am a writer, including non-fiction books, literary economic commentary, and on matters of financial, historical, social, and political interest for today’s non-aligned and non-ideological seekers.

Most of what Voltaire wrote was banned during his lifetime, and therefore he often wrote anonymously.  I also write some things anonymously, as a ghost writer for others whose names adorn my work as the “authors” of record.  In my case, I do this not as protection from a coercive State (at least not yet), but as an artist whose work is commissioned and paid for by my clients.  In other words, it’s called making a living.

Voltaire evidently did not subscribe to the Platonic split of humans into an upper and lower self, a spiritual and material self, and he saw no reason to eschew the material comforts in life.  He was neither stoic nor monastic in search of his higher self.  He held no highbrow distinctions between the sciences, the arts, and the world of business and trade, and he applied himself equally assiduously and successfully to all of them.  This aspect of his character resonates with me, because all my life I have been a writer, but for 35 of those adult years I was a businessman for the simple reason that it provided for my financial needs and aspirations less tentatively than a writing career might have.  Or so I thought. Read more..

Voltaire wrote 56 plays, as well as countless other stories, novels, epic poetry, and what we would today call scientific “white papers”, book reviews, and over 20,000 letters.   But that didn’t prevent him from becoming a successful investor, bond, commodity, and currency trader, and becoming a millionaire by the time he was 40.  With his books banned, he relied on his business income for his lifestyle.

He was a champion of individual freedom, was imprisoned twice in the infamous Paris prison, La Bastille, and both the government of France and the Church were the targets of his rapier wit and excoriation.  He was beaten in the streets by hired thugs while an aristocrat watched from his coach.  He knew the importance of having cash on hand and living close to the border in the event that a hasty exit became necessary.  Voltaire lived in a time and place where the rule of law was arbitrary and capricious and its implementation often viciously politically motivated by those whose primary preoccupation was with the extension of their privilege and power over the masses.  So many laws were being made that virtually anyone could be construed as guilty, and their property could be confiscated by the State, and their life made forfeit.  Interestingly, the finances of the State were in such chaos, that in 1764 a law was passed forbidding publication of any criticisms of the finances of the State.  My oh my, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Much of what Voltaire wrote was set in the context of countries other than his native France, making it somewhat more difficult for his censors to claim that he was criticizing his own government.  Most of what he wrote was published and distributed outside of France for the same reason.

Last but not least, I am forever impressed with Voltaire’s taste in women.  He met Emilie, the Marquise du Chatelet,  in 1733, and eventually moved into the Chateau de Cirey owned by the Marquise’s husband, the Marquis du Chatelet.  Emilie’s marriage to the Marquis was one of convenience, and husband and wife led separate lives and each took lovers.  The Marquis was a military man, and a hunter, whereas Emilie was a genius in her own right, an intellectual worthy of the term.  By the age of twelve she could read, write, and speak fluent German, Latin, and Greek (bear in mind that her mother tongue was French) and she continued on to take private lessons in geometry, algebra, calculus, and physics; she spent her fifteen years with Voltaire studying mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, and metaphysics.  Like Voltaire, she was no ascetic seeking absolution or approval by a life of self-denial; she loved her extensive wardrobe, shoes, and diamonds, sang opera and performed as an amateur actress.  With no taste for gossip and small talk, she had few female friends and intimidated most men.  She met her match in Voltaire, and they were together until she died.

Voltaire was one of the intellectual giants of history, one of the few who defied the orthodoxy of his time and moved the world forward.  Voltaire was a contributor to the Encyclopedie, one of the primary French philosophical contributions to the Enlightenment.  He stood head and shoulders with his contemporaries, John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton.  He was a major intellectual influence on the founding fathers of the great American political experiment, the creation of a republic, the first of its kind in the world,  that championed individual rights as inalienable, and therefore not granted by the State. 

Voltaire’s father disapproved of his son’s choice of vocation; he kept telling him he couldn’t earn a living as a writer.

In today’s world where the omnipotent State is on the march as never before and liberty is perpetually in retreat, the voice of Voltaire needs to be heard, revived, and amplified.  This call needs to be taken up by anyone with a voice, a keyboard, and most of all, a good mind and the courage to use it.  But like Voltaire, do not live just to save the world; learn to love your own life and live in this world.  Keep your sense of humor, keep some cash on hand and remember where the border is.

Labels and Group Warfare (Part 2)

Sometimes one group finds it useful to appropriate the label used by another group and adopt it as their own.  Those who called themselves liberals 200 years ago most likely would today identify with the label classical liberals or libertarian to better distinguish themselves from the progressives who arrogated the label of liberal to their cause.  Why is the label so important?  Because folks buy labels.  Once a brand is established and trusted, it becomes invaluable. 

Very broadly speaking, Democrats became known as the party of the poor and minorities.  Republicans became known as the party of the business-rich (not to be confused with Hollywood-rich) and the financially savvy.   For perhaps the majority of voters, once these identifications become fixed in their minds, little or no further research is necessary.  These instant mental associations do not need to be accurate to be effective precisely because they serve as a shortcut for thinking and make decision-making easier.  From the point of their acceptance  on, the only reinforcement that labels need is brief but frequently repeated sound bites in the media.  As with sports, the names may change and even the entire team can be transformed or relocated, but it is still our team.  We are loyal to our brands. Read more..

Because of the blurring of boundaries when using labels, we are often unsure who we should hate.  During periods of intense competition for control over resources, we find our leaders fanning the flames of our differences, because assimilation usually means loss, defeat.  Republicans don’t want their membership showing interest in or empathy for some of the Democratic Party’s platform. (And of course, vice versa.) There can be no weakness, because we have a winner-takes-all system.  The rank-and-file then behaves much like sports fans, learning to hate people they don’t know, people with families like themselves.  There is too much at stake, or so it seems at the moment.  Politics is group warfare, and the grandstanding of the candidates has little to do with the maneuvering for the levers of power in the back rooms of the State.  The power they seek is to control resources confiscated by taxation and regulation of the producers, to be redeployed to the fulfillment of the winners’ personal vision of a better world and rewarding the pillars of their personal power structure.

Racial Brands

When I was growing up, white people called black people colored.  It wasn’t terribly important because in my neighborhood we were friends and we were all just people.  Well, somewhere along the line colored people became blacks.  I never really understood this because a lot of my colored friends were not very black.  They were just not white.  It didn’t matter.  We were friends, we went to the same church, and I thought a couple of the girls were hot.  But our new abbreviated labels made it clear we had been de-peopled.  Dehumanized.  It became easier to know who to hate.  Black versus white.  Us versus them.

Then black people became persons of color.  As Americans we were in search of better, more politically correct labels.  In trying to mitigate prejudice, we became more focused than ever on differences.  Our labels reflected and exacerbated those differences.

At one time, people who came to this country wanted to become, and be called, Americans.  What was important was not where they came from, or where they had been, but what they had become.  This was the New World, and they were thrilled to begin a new life.  The world changed on us again, and today we are distancing ourselves from our homogeneity and resurrecting and re-emphasizing our cultural differences.  People of color have now become African-Americans.  Perhaps this is because some people came here to become free, and others came here to be slaves.   That would certainly have an impact on my attitude.

But the fact is, today none of us regardless of color are free.   There are growing limits on our autonomy and our lives become increasingly circumscribed by the intrusions of the State.  In New York City as of this date, it is illegal to donate food to homeless shelters because the government does not have the manpower to monitor the salt, fat, and nutrition content of the donated food.  Read about it here http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/03/19/bloomberg-strikes-again-nyc-bans-food-donations-to-the-homeless/.   Are there really people who  imagine such micromanagement as being part of the founding fathers’ vision for freedom? The sad truth is, yes there are—a lot of them.  And obviously they have the power to turn their opinions and whims  into law.  One has to wonder, are they really concerned about the nutrition of hungry people, or are they simply trying to starve undesirables out of their city?

Do we want to be perceived and judged as individuals or as members of our group?  Is being a hyphenated American a good thing, or simply one more sign of our fractured society?  If you haven’t traveled much, you may be unaware that prejudices of one group against another are everywhere.   There is no place on this planet that is prejudice-free.  This is just what groups do.  Us versus them.  So by hyphenating ourselves, emphasizing our group-ness, are we celebrating our differences or deepening the divide already between us?  Are our labels the herald of our rise or the stigmata of our fall?  As individuals we might like each other; in the aggregate we can demonize and hate each other.  Divided we fall, while the ascendant State continues to metastasize.

The American Brand

Americans are a group.  What does it mean to be an American today?  What do we stand for?  How would a European watching our elections answer that question?  I used to think being an American had something to do with our Constitution, but today that document seems to change in meaning daily, if not hourly when Congress is in session.  Is there any philosophical bedrock to this racial and ethnic medley called America?  Some few people came here because they were tired of groups, but most came here because they were tired of their group being told what to do by another group.  America meant freedom from harassment from other groups who didn’t approve of your group.  For me, the meaning of the Constitution was simple.  In the words of Erwin Griswold, one-time Dean of Harvard Law School in a speech to Northwestern University Law School in 1960:  “The right to be let alone is the underlying principle of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.”  America was an experiment in upholding the rights of the individual.  America was not about your freedom to conform, but your freedom not to conform.

Our politicians from both sides see that Constitution as a rubber document.  Yes, some of them pay lip service to a strict construction of the founders’ intent, but those philosophical pretensions evaporate as soon as they get their shot at winning a prize for their group.  The Constitution was formed to protect the smallest minority in the world—the minority of the individual.  If you protect the individual, including those individuals we don’t like and don’t agree with, then you have defanged the power of groups.  Individuals need protection from groups.  When we lose sight of that one fact, we have opened Pandora’s box to endless possibilities for injustice and evil.

 

Gender Identity as a Label (Part 4)

It is beyond me why gay marriage is the subject of serious national debate.  It is controversy over a group right.  There would be no reason for government to be involved in this debate if we understood individual rights.  Leave people alone and let them do what they want to do.  In the last twenty years there has been a 1000 percent growth in the number of cohabiting heterosexual couples who have chosen not to seek state recognition of their relationship.  They see no particular benefit to involving the government in their bedroom.  Of those others who did get married, almost half of them seek ways to get out of it.  Every benefit the state can provide by licensing marriage can also be achieved through contract.  I think the worst thing that can happen to the gay community is to get what they are pushing for—greater involvement of the state in their private affairs!  Sometimes group thinking leads us to places we regret when we get there.

 If the gays are looking for enhanced legitimacy through state recognition, the results will be threefold:  1) a group that approves of them, with or without the state; 2) a group that disapproves of them, with or without the state; and 3) those that have no opinion about other people’s sex lives because they are too busy living their own.  I don’t think you have to solve everyone else’s problem in order to solve your own.  But then I think slavery would have eventually disappeared without sacrificing 700,000 soldiers in the Civil War. Read more..

At one point in my life I had occasion to ask a therapist friend of mine if she had an opinion about what determines the sexual orientation of a male.  She told me all boys in a normal upbringing are in love with their mothers.  Unlike girls, however, boys have to separate from their mothers.  At about ten or twelve years of age boys begin to compete with their fathers for the affections of their mother.  This is a competition the boy needs to lose, because when he does, he will begin to imitate his father (or male figure in the household) and this is when he begins to develop his male gender behaviors.

I do not know if this is still considered clinically correct.  I gave it no further thought until my son got to that age, and his class at school began to discuss homosexuality.  Over the next few months my son peppered me with questions about how he could tell if he was gay or not, and I didn’t really know what to tell him.  I tried out several theories on him, but they didn’t satisfy him because he kept asking.  One day we were in a tearing hurry running through a major airport because we were late to meet someone at Baggage Claim, and my son asked me for the umpteenth time how he could tell if he was gay.  In total exasperation, I stopped dead in my tracks, looked at him, and said “Jonathan, I don’t know, okay?  Maybe if you see some guy and you get this overwhelming urge to f_ _ k him in the a _ _, you know you’re gay.”  No offense is intended to my gay readers, but that is what I said.  And for whatever reason, it was the answer that satisfied my son.  He busted out laughing (maybe at his dad rather than the answer) and that was the end of it.

During that period of time when the issue was not resolved, I spent some time pondering my son’s question.  I really didn’t know how to answer him.  And I probably still don’t.  But I do believe that gender identity is also on a continuum, and that everyone, both male and female, is somewhere on that continuum between very heterosexual and very homosexual at the extremes.  It’s not a black or white issue for many men and women.  My son’s question was an honest one, and he didn’t need to be bludgeoned with an answer.  With no preconceived notions about gender identity, his question was a totally innocent one, having no cause to find himself at either extreme end of a gender continuum of say, 1 to 10.  This particular journey of self-discovery was just beginning for him.  There was no need to urge him to engage in stereotypical macho behaviors to convince himself or some audience of his masculinity or to make him feel guilty about honest inquiry.   I saw my son as an individual, not a potential member of some class of society.

 

Would Everyone Please Stop Shouting?

“To believe is very dull.  To doubt is intensely engrossing.  To be on the alert is to live; to be lulled into security is to die.”

This quote by Oscar Wilde is the purpose of this newsletter:  an honest inquiry into the nature of what is, a rigorous intellectual effort to sift through the barrage of information, disinformation, and misinformation available; to distinguish the credible from the propaganda, the reality from the rant.  Am I the only one who has noticed that anyone with the temerity to ask any question of political, economic, or financial significance in polite society these days risks being immediately overwhelmed with passionate polemics about Read more..

 this ideology or that political dogma?  Names and labels are immediately brought up which were not mentioned in the question, and the entire conversation is promptly hijacked and redirected to the vilification of opposing beliefs, groups, and parties.

It is the view of this writer that the intense human need for belief, for certainty, and for ultimate truth is probably the original sin, for once armed with such belief, we close the door of our minds to new and possibly contradictory information.  For intellectually honest persons to admit to contradictions would require a re-examination of cherished premises, and an admission that their current perception of reality may be incomplete or (gasp) misguided.  Therefore this newsletter is not an advocate of any group; not the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the Occupy Wall St. party, or any other party.  Nor am I an anarchist, survivalist, or conspiracy theorist.  I have no “position” to defend other than the inviolability of individual human rights.  As stated in the American Declaration of Independence, these rights are inalienable, meaning that they can only be taken from us by force, whether that is at the point of a gun, or voted away by some group with the backing of the State, which enjoys the monopoly on the use of the guns.  The individual is the smallest minority in the world, and rarely does anyone rise up in his/her defense.  It seems the individual is only valued as one member of the herd.  It is the herd, the collective, the group which is championed, and it seems the only rights that matter much anymore are group rights, and civil discourse has deteriorated into group warfare.

We are human animals, and we have survived by herding together into packs either defined by ethnic origin or religious and ideological associations.  As adults we are no different than we were as small children, determined not to commit ourselves to an answer without surveying the level of support we will enjoy if we expose our opinion.  Political correctness is socially enforced conformity.  We see this conformity everywhere, from our college classrooms to our churches to our political parties, and even, or especially, among our media.  The newsroom has ceased to be about news, but only a coveted tool with which to bombard the public with sound bytes of advocacy.  And our politicians have no beliefs until a survey or their financial sponsors tell them what their followers want them to believe.  Actually, what the politicians believe in private isn’t all that relevant, as long as they publicly espouse whatever will gain them access to the levers of power.  Facts and accurate information are rarely sought after in honest inquiry or the pursuit of truth.  These are only the masks we wear to disguise confirmation bias, status and power seeking.

Several years ago I was invited to a friend’s house for a party, and in due course became involved in a conversation with another guest who shared that he was a stockbroker by profession.  Being a financial writer, I welcomed this opportunity to get his learned feedback on some recent financial events.  I asked a question, and for the next ten or fifteen minutes listened to his erudite discourse.  It was only later that I realized that I did not understand one single thing he said.  It dawned on me that this person’s response was not intended to educate, but to impress, motivated by vanity or an ingrained professional habit of selling by intimidation.  (He knows so much more than we do, things that we could not possibly understand, that the best we could do is put our financial future in his competent hands.)  Nothing is more indicative of such motivations than the intentional abuse of statistics and graphs to achieve desired ends.  We are all presumably sophisticated enough by now to approach all such “evidence” with caution.

I became interested in financial literacy when I realized that few were really interested in informing or educating the public, but only leading them to certain conclusions and actions that empowered those controlling the flow of information.  In reading the financial papers and magazines, I realized that society was divided between those few who “know” and the vast majority who will be told “what they need to know” by the talking faces.  I read the Economist for years before I admitted to myself how much of their financial language I still didn’t understand.  When I asked friends and colleagues questions, many of them with advanced degrees, much to my surprise I learned they didn’t know the answers either.  It made me wonder how much of such “communication” is to convey understanding and how much is the use of specialized jargon to impress, confuse, or worse, to obfuscate or conceal real intentions.  Knowledge, after all, is power.  And power is the name of the game.  The world has changed.  Human nature has not.

To my layman’s eye, much of economics has about as much validity as Tarot Card reading.  I went to such a fortune teller once, and I noticed the questions she asked me during our “interview” and how cleverly she fed my own information back to me.  She confirmed my original bias.  I thought she was brilliant.  One of these days I expect the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to show up with a red bandanna around his head, and a gold hoop in one ear.  Is he not doing the same thing, feeding back to us (and his bosses) what we all want to hear, that we can have what we want without the money to pay for it?  We can masturbate our minds as long as we want in this hall of mirrors, but reality still awaits us on the other side of the Exit sign.  It’s not a good sign when our leaders insist on staying inside the Fun House, explaining their actions with impressive circumlocutions.  Which means we haven’t got a clue what they just said.

The desired goal of much communication is not fostering independence of spirit and action, but obedience and conformity.  It is easier to control and move the herd than it is to control independent and well informed minds.  If the explanations given to us by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the bankers and investment counselors seem vague, complicated, dubious, or contradictory, how and when do we know if this is intentional or not?  Since they are the experts, who are we to challenge them?  (It is precisely when we feel this way that we should challenge established wisdom.)

To understand how the world really works requires knowledge of history.  There are two things a person needs to know about history.  1) History is never boring.  There are only boring history teachers.  2) History is written by the victors, because real history is the natural enemy of the State.  The State benefits from the shortage of accurate information, and the State always seeks to control the flow of information.  Much of what children are taught in every nation is heavily influenced by what the State apparatus wants them to learn.  We frequently call this public, or State-sponsored education.  History is where we have been, which means history is how we got to where we are.  History holds many secrets, which is why most interested parties are obsessed with requiring more acceptable versions of it.

The internet of course is changing everything.  Access to information, so far, has been harder to control.  The internet does not have the appointed gatekeepers to information as do the mainstream media outlets.  The internet is changing the face of education, and the sacrosanctness of our universities where we fashion the thinking of our thinkers is being eroded by non-traditional sources of learning. Students have increased exposure not merely to what a tenured faculty member would have them believe, but to more unfiltered global perspectives and experiences.  The income gap in the future is going to be between those few with independent minds and the ability to think critically, and those who choose to follow.  With massive grade inflation in the public school system, a four-year college degree today is often the equivalent of a high school diploma only a few years ago.  In the better schools, very little is being taught to actually help the graduates survive in an economic sense, and perhaps the best assets the students have purchased with their parents’ money are the social connections they develop with their classmates.  Some of those classmates will end up in positions of power, and proximity to power often translates into wealth and privilege.

Government is changing because of the internet.  The bargain between any government and its citizens is changing, as it becomes more difficult or even impossible to identify one’s enemies, or to stop them at the borders.  Economics and world trade are changing, and money circulates the globe at the touch of a button, and corporations become bigger and more powerful than nation states.  Financial instruments of trade are created faster than regulatory environments can identify them, and systemic complications threaten to bring the whole system down.

When the body politic is fragmenting and pulling in different directions, when each group is trying to outshout every other group, when everything is for sale, and the wealth of the nation and the future of its taxpayers are up for sale to the highest bidder, who do you want to believe?  And if you wish to cling to a group for security, which group do you want to trust your financial future with?  What happens to your future when your group is outspent by a better funded one?  Which dogma feels safest to you right now?  What does it tell you when a politician raises almost a billion dollars to buy an office that pays $400,000 per year?

There are those who fail at communication because they have a poorly developed ability to put their thoughts in order, to define what they believe, or enunciate the supporting arguments of what they believe.  These are the folks who have not arrived at their beliefs through rigorous and honest evaluation of facts and evidence, but who most likely absorbed their beliefs from their culture at large, meaning the media, family, church, schooling, college professors, friends, work associates, and other influential people.  Any critical analysis they do is mostly criticism of opposing viewpoints, and their analysis is nothing more than a search for information that confirms their existing prejudices.  In today’s information society, to even have a position is to imply that the end of all progress has been attained.

Take for example, the most amazing bias in favor of government intervention in the economic affairs of consumers.  Usually this is framed in David-and-Goliath terms, i.e. that we as individual (David) consumers are not capable of managing our transactions without the government to protect us from the Goliath of global enterprise.  The bias I refer to here, and take exception to, is the belief that government workers are somehow immune to the same selfish striving, the same or similar ulterior motives as anyone, anywhere else in society.  Somehow, by labeling commerce as profit-motivated (admittedly self-motivated), we are granting government an enormous benefit of the doubt.  For more information on this, go to http://www.financialliteracysource.com/money/why-the-federal-reserve-exists/#more-231.

Now if government is populated by the same Homo sapiens as free markets, how is it that only government workers are sin- and greed- free?  Again, history comes to our rescue.  Throughout the millennia of human existence, it has always been government, with its attendant monopoly on the use of force that has enslaved humanity.  The primary concern of the intellectual founders of this country was to protect the future generations from the grasping, insatiable, and inevitably expanding reach of their own government.  The limitation of powers enshrined in the Constitution was to protect us from voting ourselves into slavery.  Democracy by itself provides no such protection.  Nine foxes and a hen voting on what to have for dinner doesn’t bode well for the hen.

We live in a brand new, technology-driven world, a world the founding fathers could not even conceive.  They lived in an agrarian society, which evolved into an industrial society, and we are now in a post-industrial, information society.  Governments can no longer protect their citizens with any degree of certainty, neither economically or militarily.  The enemy is no longer other nation states, but ideologies that motivate and empower fanatics of every stripe to attain their goals with weapons of mass destruction. MAD, or mutually assured destruction policies have been rendered obsolete.  Likewise, financial and political decisions from Wall St. to Greece to Southeast Asia threaten to derail the financial stability of the rest of the world.  The inability of our existing government structures to provide the basic security that is implicit to the bargain with their citizens can in time undermine their legitimacy, a weakness that will be exploited whenever possible by their enemies, both within and without.

The world has never been a more dangerous place; and our future as a species is by no means assured.  This is not fear-mongering or apocalyptic scare tactics:  I have no doubt the people at the hubs of power who know far more than you or I about what goes on behind the closed doors of government and foreign policy would not disagree.

Now more than ever, Oscar Wilde’s probably offhand remark applies in a very literal sense: “To be on the alert is to live; to be lulled into security is to die.”

I am not pretending to be an expert here.  I am 62 years old at this writing, and I have lived a very varied, but always “examined” life.  I welcome your comments and open debate, and so would my other readers.  This re-launch of this website is intended to be your forum, not my pulpit.  Tell us what you have heard, know, researched, read, or wondered about–in the Comments section below.

To assure you stay in the loop, please subscribe by entering your email address at the top right side of the Home Page.  There is no fee or obligation of any kind.  You can expect to hear from my corner twice a month.  Tell me what you want to know more about.  We’ll find someone with some intelligent, understandable answers.

 

The Gods Among Us

In the beginning there was Money.  Well, not exactly.  There was barter.  There was a high degree of vertical integration, which is a fancy way of saying if you wanted something back then, it was pretty much up to you to grow it or make it yourself.  What trade existed was largely between members of the tribe or village or group.  If some guy made a pretty cool hunting knife, and his wife was nagging him for a deer to butcher and eat, a trade of the knife for the deer (or parts of it) might take place.  Trading was simple, uncomplicated, and very very slow.  Life was brutal and short.  At the end of the day, when you had run out of you, you had also run out of future.  You aged quickly and died young.  When groups of nomads found a place to their liking, they sometimes stayed, settled in, and became agrarian.  Society became more complex, and slightly greater specialization of labor became possible.  One family could grow things from the soil; another could domesticate animals as a source of meat.  There was still no Money.

Trading in this primitive context was still taking place among the so-called Indians on this North American continent when the first Europeans arrived.  The native Americans were fascinated with some of the baubles brought over by the Europeans and willingly traded furs for them.  Eventually some commodities became so commonplace and essential to daily life in primitive societies that they took on new importance as a means of facilitating trade.  Salt, because it was needed by everyone for daily purposes, came to assume more importance as a form of “money” than it formerly had as just salt.  Since everyone had salt, and used salt, goods and services were traded using salt as the store of value and medium of exchange between trading partners.  The same was true of other things of universal value, including furs.  Because of their prized ornamental value and scarcity, gold and silver  became universally accepted as Money. 

The term store of value is very important.  Without some universally accepted warehouse of value that had been produced, all exchange was limited to what could be immediately produced and immediately consumed.  No long term planning was possible, and without long term planning, the Industrial Revolution with its complex machines and processes was impossible.  Modern society was impossible.  The invention of Money was a prerequisite to all the amenities of life as we know it.  Without the invention of Money, we would all still be primitives.  In spite of Rousseau’s idealization of the Noble Savage, the Garden of Eden it was not.  Man was the victim of ignorance, superstition, disease, and unmitigated natural disaster the likes of which are only occasionally experienced today in the poorest parts of the world.

In primitive society, wealth was limited to whatever a person could produce in a day, or a month, or a year of his own individual effort.  All other wealth was acquired by confiscating the values produced by others at the point of a spear, or in time, at the end of a gun.  All great monuments of history were made possible by the confiscation, not only of others wealth, including their grain, their herds, their tools, but also the confiscation of the people themselves, physically.  People became property, to be used and exploited by their conquerors.  When Rome was starving because of crop failure, their solution was to conquer Egypt with their legions, make that part of North Africa a vassal state and require them to ship their grain to Rome at prices Rome dictated.  You might say that Rome “nationalized” Egypt;  Cleopatra, in name at least, still “owned” the means of production, but the prices were dictated by Rome, her Master.  For a while, she was able to continue her pretense of being in charge of her country, of being Queen.  Then one day Caesar extended an invitation she could not refuse:  to come to Rome to visit, as his “guest”.  The dress code for the event was a little intimidating–naked, in shackles, to be paraded as the spoils of war through the crowds of Roman rabble and oglers, the nobility and the great unwashed.  Cleopatra committed suicide.

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Rome, of course, did not invent slavery.  Man was a part of Nature, and you took what you wanted, if you could.  You formed groups and tribes for this purpose, for there was greater safety and strength in those groups and tribes.  There was no concept of the individual or individual rights; you were a member of your group, and your survival depended on that group.  If your group won, you confiscated the property of your rivals, including his children and women.  Anyone you had no use for, such as the old or the sick or the dangerous, you killed.  And of course, if your enemies prevailed, you shared the same fate. 

If you were successively victorious, you celebrated by building temples to the gods who had blessed you, or you worshipped the gods among you  Of course you also built monuments and palaces to your leaders and warriors, as totems to their greatness.  And if your civilization succumbed to a rival some time later, your enemy sat on your thrones and lived in your palaces that they acquired the same way you did–by force.  You supplicated your gods and you placated your gods, and you worshipped and obeyed your kings and princes as gods themselves, or the sons of the gods, or the direct representatives of the gods.  And sometimes the Great Leaders and Warriors had to share the power in an uneasy alliance with the Priests and Shamans who controlled and manipulated the fears and superstitions of the human herd, who provided opaque and inscrutable explanations for why things sometimes went wrong, who demanded sacrifices for the gods of both this world and the next.  It reminds us somewhat of the chief economists and central bankers  ‘divining  the liver’ of the economy, reading the stars, making their prognostications and gobbledygook commentary about what it all means, and who also require sacrifices so that the gods may be propitiated.

There were two ways to acquire wealth; the tedious, slow way of trading successfully with others, or the riskier but faster way–to seize what others already had.  You could do this as a petty murderer; or as a tribal leader, a mass murderer if the occasion demanded it.  You could enslave others, or you could be enslaved by others.  The spoils went to the winner.  For those who chose the route of peaceful and voluntary trade with others, the advent of Money was an organic process that developed naturally as a more efficient way to trade.  It expanded the possibilities of what could be traded, as Money was a way to store value.  Money was a symbol of value that had been created and was warehoused somewhere else.  If on the other hand, you were a Ruler, Money facilitated the confiscation of the wealth of your subjects.  As a Ruler, you saw Money as nothing more than an extension of your right to plunder your subjects; if you insisted that your subjects pay their taxes to you in salt, or grain, or gold, you didn’t care what medium of exchange they used among themselves, as long as you controlled the form in which they paid you.  This became your Treasury.

As the Ruler, what did you need a Treasury for?  Well, your subjects didn’t always have the products or skills to do what you wanted.  So you had to bring people and products in from other places, and to do this you had to trade with them.  You could force your own subjects to engage in slave labor, but you could not do so with others outside your domain, for most likely they belonged to another Ruler, another Tyrant.  They were his property, not yours.  If the other people were accustomed to gold as a means of exchange, as you were, trading was simple.  If they did not use gold, trade quickly got more complicated.  Now there were two forms of money, your gold and whatever they were using.  A rate of exchange had to be negotiated.  If they were using salt, then you had to establish how much salt was equal to an ounce of gold.  Your joint answer to this question would become your exchange rate between two kinds of money.

You also need a Treasury to finance your wars.  You may have had your own troops, but many, if not most wars were fought with soldiers-for-hire, mercenaries.  Either way, they had to be paid.  If soldiers didn’t get paid, they and their families didn’t eat, and when people don’t eat, they get deeply unhappy.  Unpaid soldiers have a nasty habit of slipping away in the night and disappearing.  So they had to be paid, with Money that would be recognized and accepted by others with whom the soldiers would want to trade.  In ancient societies, soldiers were paid in coin.  When the Treasury of the Ruler was low, he would order his minions to shave slivers of metal off the coins, then melt the shavings down to forge new coins.  The coins of the realm tended to get smaller and smaller and people would notice and feel they were being defrauded.  And of course, they were.  By the Ruler, who was trying to expand his Money supply the only way he knew how.  When Rulers figured out alloys, they would instruct their keepers of the Treasury to mix base metals with the precious metal, again in an effort to take the existing amount of gold or silver and make it go farther by cheapening it.  When people felt they were being cheated, they demanded additional coins in payment to make up for the parts shaved off, or the new alloy coins.  They started making etched ridges along the circumference of the coins, so that if any shaving of the edges was attempted, they would know it because the ridges would be missing.  All through history people everywhere showed a basic desire to keep what was theirs, and all through history they tended to distrust their Rulers intentions with their money.  And with good reason.  The Rulers treatment of their Money was the equivalent of a cheating pair of scales.

Over the millenia, nothing has really changed very much.  With the advent of the printing press, it became a lot easier to steal from one’s subjects.  Until shortly after World War I, the currencies of the world’s governments continued to be pegged to gold as a means to facilitate trade between nations on an objective standard.  Because the rest of the modern world had been decimated by the ravages of what had come to be known as The Great War, the American dollar had become the currency of the world; in other words everyone was willing to be paid in American greenbacks because it was agreed that those dollars could be redeemed in gold on request from the American Federal Reserve, our central bank.  Because there was a steady loss of gold over the years from the American Treasury, President Nixon unilaterally decided to take the American dollar off the gold standard in 1971.  Confidence in the American dollar was waning, and foreigners wanted the gold instead.  Well, no more.  The Law of Unintended Consequences prevailed, as always.  In today’s world, when foreign governments acquire larger quantities of another nation’s currency than they are comfortable with, they sell the undesired currency on world markets.  You see, paper money, like gold, oil, cotton, grain, or cattle, can be sold in markets created specially for the purpose.  Currency is bought and sold on what is called a Foreign Exchange market, or FOREX for short.  Well, after Nixon took us off the gold standard, foreign governments rushed to get rid of their dollars by dumping them on the world market, exchanging dollars for other currencies then considered more valuable.  When there are more sellers than there are buyers, the price of a commodity goes down.  The dollar is a commodity, and the price of the dollar went down.  Now let’s make this next connection in a flying intuitive leap:  A paper dollar unattached to an objective gold standard has no value in and of itself.  It represents only the faith of the people who use it.  When it is obvious that governments are trying to unload a lot of dollars, it quickly erodes people’s confidence in that dollar.  When the confidence in the value of the dollar goes down, what the dollar is able to purchase goes down also.  When it takes more dollars to purchase the same item than it used to, you have inflation.  The same thing has happened as when an ancient Ruler mixed other metals with gold in order to create more of it.  The purchasing power of the unit of currency goes down when people don’t trust it; so they want more of it in payment than they used to.  Prices go up.  If you have the same quantity of a currency as you had before, but the purchasing power of that currency has done down, you have just become poorer, as surely as if someone had robbed you during the night.

When Rulers, or governments, for whatever reason, add to their Money supply, you have more money chasing the same goods, which means the purchasing power of the unit of currency goes down, which is just another way of saying the price went up.  The price is nothing more than how many units of currency are required to purchase an item, any item.

The American consumer nation became an empire of debt in order to pay for all the goodies it imported from foreign nations.  America paid those nations in dollars, and by 2001 almost 80% of all dollars in existence were held by foreigners according to Bonner and Wiggin in Financial Reckoning Day Fallout.  Under normal circumstances foreigners can get rid of dollars by buying American goods in return, and this keeps foreign currencies in balance.  That didn’t work because we were importing way more than we were exporting, so the imbalance grew.  Foreigners could have once again dumped their excess dollars on the foreign exchange market, which would have driven the value of the dollar down, which would have made foreign goods more expensive, and our exports cheaper.  That would have reduced demand for foreign goods, and reduced their sales to us.  They wanted to keep their factories going at full production, and that meant continuing to sell to America at maximum levels.  So instead, what did the foreigners holding excess dollars decide to do?  They decided to get rid of those dollars by buying up American assets, including businesses, real estate, and financial investments.

But the plot thickens.  At about the turn of the millenium, America was in the throes of a recession.  The Federal Reserve, determined to make this go away, decided to make credit cheaper by lowering interest rates to unheard of levels.  They wanted Americans to buy, and they figured the best way to do this was to make money cheap.  Cheap credit, combined with government incentives to lenders to make residential mortgages available to people unlikely to pay those mortgages, resulted in a lot of toxic mortgages out there.  Because money was cheap and easy, demand for residential real estate went through the roof, and that of course, caused the prices for that real estate to go through the roof as well.  So prices of real estate are spiraling up, money continues to be cheap and easy, there are a flood of unworthy mortgages.  Now for the rest of the story.  The flip side of cheap money is that lenders, who make their profits off of interest they charge, now have sharply reduced profit margins because their product, money, is too cheap!  They are practically giving it away!  What to do?  Simple:  slice and dice these toxic mortgages that everyone knows are going to result in default by the borrowers, repackage them, take them off the lenders hands, and sell them to ????  Why the foreigners who are holding more dollars than they know what to do with, and let them buy them at outrageous premiums!  And why would they do so?  Why, because the prices of real estate have been spiraling upward like the forced steam of a 19th century locomotive.

Now to put this in perspective, if you got a twenty-dollar bill from an ATM machine, and then went to the grocery store to make a purchase only to find your twenty-dollar bill is counterfeit, what would or could you do?  The bank won’t take it back, and the grocery store won’t accept it as payment.  The one last holding the counterfeit bill takes the hit.  That would be you.  You are out $20.  Unless of course you go up the street to McDonalds or Starbucks and use the same bill to make a purchase, and get change in non-counterfeit denominations.  You have successfully handed off your risk of loss to someone else.  This is what the lenders and Wall Street did with the toxic mortgages.  They pawned them off, at exorbitant profit to the first suckers they could find–the foreigners looking for a place to put their excess holdings of American dollars.  Foreigners such as foreign central banks, for example.

The rest, as they say, is history.  The bubble price level of real estate popped, the mortgages were much higher than the value of the properties that collateralized them, the foreign holders of these toxic repackages had a fit, American lenders who didn’t leave the party early enough got stuck with a lot of non-performing loans, which meant that they no longer had sufficient reserves on hand to cover their exposure to those bad loans (which meant they were insolvent and a prime target for a run on them by their depositors.)  Then there were the insurors of these toxic assets who were extremely overleveraged and ready to go under, starting with AIG.  The American government came to the rescue, and bailed out the banks, the insurors, the foreign central banks.  How did they pay for all this?  At the heart of it all is a defective product–the toxic mortgages and the packages they became a part of.  There is no market for mortgages worth 30% less than the homes that are the collateral.  And to make matters worse, the prices continue to drop, and no one really knows how to determine what these properties are worth, other than to put them out to sale in a market where no one is buying.  So the Federal Reserve decides to buy the toxic financial instruments at prices that are made up, pure fiction.  And the Fed buys these mortgages with more fiction, pretend money.  Money created by making  book entries in digital ledgers.  The banks receive the digital money, their reserves are stabilized, and they are removed from the Endangered Species list.

There is only one problem.  The Fed, when they came to save the day, expanded the money supply of the world’s largest debtor nation to a degree unprecedented in history.  The whole world’s financial system continues on life support, and the machine is making disturbing noises.  You see, there is one minor detail everyone seems to be forgetting.  There are only two ways to acquire wealth:  produce value, or steal the value produced by someone else.  This nation’s value comes from its manufacturing plants, research and development departments, its science labs and production facilities.  There are no current economic indicators that reliably tell us these numbers are improving.  So can we print our way to recovery and prosperity?  Ben Bernanke says we can.  Tim Geithner says we can.  The President says we can.  In time, all that wildly inflated Money supply is going to work its way out into the economy, which means the purchasing power of the dollar is going to drop.  When ordinary people sense in their gut that the value of their dollar is dropping, they will rush to get rid of their dollars, just like foreign governments did in the last ten years.  But who will take them?  As the floor drops out of the dollar, we will rush to spend them in the morning, because they will be worth less by the evening.

Will the government’s debts be honored?  Of course.  Everyone who is owed will be paid.  With currency devalued to a fraction of its face value when it was borrowed.  But who can argue?  Everyone can see the numbers printed on the paper.  We will all be poorer, except those favored few who are in on the insider trading, who get rid of their money first. 

The remainder of the burden will be borne by the taxpayer.  Isn’t it amazing how much better we can feel, knowing we are taxpayers and not slaves?  Would we ever agree to becoming slaves?  Of course not.  At exactly what point does a taxpayer subjected to Washington’s gang warfare become a servant of the State? 10%?  25%?  50%? 75%?  Are we perhaps like Cleopatra, passively accepting our vassal state, as long as we are allowed to pretend we are still a free people?  Do you think Cleopatra felt better knowing that her country’s production of grain was being confiscated for the “good of society”, society as defined by her captors?  Roman society?  Like every other tyrant cum Benefactor in history, Cleopatra eventually got what she deserved, for she also was one of them.  She too had been one of the Gods. 

The claim of governments to control over money has no basis in nature or any rule of law recognizing individual rights and private property.  Statists all believe in the moral superiority of the collective; for them the sovereignty of the State trumps the sovereignty of the individual the State supposedly serves.  It is not hard to figure out which philosophy prevails in our culture.  The well funded collectives who contributed heavily to the campaigns of our politicians have been generously rewarded.   And what of the well-heeled financiers, bankers, stockholders and managers of the insurance companies, the foreign central bankers, and our own professional bureaucrats who created this problem?  They are the very ones selected to be bailed out or worse, chosen to correct it!

We, the individuals, the smallest and most unprotected “group” in the nation, will foot the bill.  Between inflation and taxation, dear Reader, it is our wealth that will be confiscated or destroyed.

Perhaps, like Cleopatra, we too have been given an invitation we cannot refuse.

The gods are still among us.

Why the Federal Reserve Exists

Here we go with the vocabulary thing again.  I promise to make this easier than your last root canal.  The Federal Reserve Bank is a central bank.  Central banks are created to control and manipulate the money supply.  The money supply is the aggregate total of all the money in circulation in an economy.  It is often referred to in the media and the industry as M.  Controlling the money supply frees governments from the responsibility of living within their means.  It makes it possible for them to counterfeit money.  All governments have laws making counterfeiting their currency illegal.  That is because all governments have a monopoly on counterfeiting and do not tolerate competition in the business.

Governments counterfeit money in the exact same way all counterfeiters do; they print it, and slip it into circulation into the economy.  They spend it.  They spend more money than the economy produces because they do not want to live within their means.  They do not want to live within their means because they use money to buy votes.  They give out goodies in return for favors; favors in the form of legislation that promotes the welfare of one group over another group; favors that line their individual pockets, reward their friends, punish their enemies, and above all, favors that get them re-elected.

Other reasons are given, of course, for the existence of the Fed.  But it is axiomatic that all governments seek continual expansion of their powers, and control of the public purse and the power to tax is the Holy Grail for power seekers.  The founding fathers of this country feared government more than anything, and the Constitution they framed was to protect us, not from foreigners, and not from each other, so much as from our elected government itself.  The debates about economic policies are a sideshow and a distraction; the main event is the relentless expansion of executive power and the quiet transfer, not only of wealth, but of personal liberties as well.  Without economic freedom based on individual rights, private property, and the right to keep and dispose of our earnings as we choose, there is no freedom at all. Read more..

Governments, all governments, do not really favor free markets, because in a free market you decide the winners and losers in trade, and the winners are those who produce what you want to buy at prices you are willing to pay.  You vote constantly with your wallet.  Losers go to government and ask them for favors, such as passing trade restrictions on those competitors who are better or smarter or faster than they are at producing what you want.  When legislators grant those favors, they expect favors in return.  This is called cronyism.  Cronyism is a form of corruption. Corruption on a massive scale, such as we see now, is the first sign of internal decay and the beginning of the end of empire.  America is an empire in late stages of such decay.  When trade is made possible primarily by permission, or political pull, resources cease to be allocated efficiently.  Those with get-up-and-go get up and go.  Bottom line:  trade and wealth goes to wherever it finds the most freedom to seek its own advantage.

Governments all prefer a command-and-control economy rather than a market economy.  In a market economy, the decisions are made at the bottom, by the millions of consumers.  The consumer is sovereign.  The consumer is boss.  In a command-and-control economy, the decisions are made at the top.    Who do you think does the commanding and controlling?  You are so very, very smart.  Yes, the politicians do, and the bureaucrats and regulators they appoint.  In a command-and-control economy, the government is sovereign.  Usually the ultimate goal of a command-and-control economy is, well, you guessed it—control.  Of you, the consumer.  To what end?  The accumulation of power and privilege.  To line pockets, enrich the ruling class, and permit the ideologically driven to save the world.  To save you.  Even from yourself.  They know best.

Command-and-control economies prefer big. Big what?  Big Corporations, Big Unions, Big Institutions, Big Media.  Why?  Big is easier to control.  You call in all the bosses of Big and you tell them what to do.  You threaten them with a Big stick.  And you promise them carrots if they deliver.  Then the government lets Big do their job for them.  Big collects the taxes for government, and performs countless other administrative duties free of charge for the government.

If Big Corporations do their bidding, laws are passed, manipulated, or enforced selectively to help Big Corporations succeed over their more able competitors.  When Corporations fail and would otherwise go out of business, government bails them out with taxpayer money.  This rewards Big Corporations for their generous campaign support, and it also rewards Big Unions by keeping their overpriced labor untouched.  In other words, government makes sure that no real solutions are put in place, that nothing substantive is changed, but that the inefficient and ineffective and incompetent are allowed to continue on as before, sustained by the public purse where the public has already rejected them at the cash register. Government grants monopolies to some winners, and it throws up bureaucratic hurdles to newcomers as protection bought by Big Corporations.  It investigates some Big Corporations in order to benefit other Big Corporations.  It extorts money from all business, large and small.  It decides winners and losers. This is called corruption.

All Big Corporations began as small business that began with drive and new ideas.  They flourished and grew and became Big.  Then they seek to keep other small businesses from competing with them.  They do this by going to government for protection.  The free market cannot be trusted.  Consumers might decide to buy the newer, better idea.  So government doesn’t want to kill small business, but it would prefer to decide which small businesses get to join the Big country club.

Big Unions are expected to tell their memberships how to vote, and to turn out massive campaign support when it is needed. In return, Big Unions get legislation passed that makes it easier for them to organize people into unions who don’t really want to be in a union.  Big Unions get favorable treatment by government agencies that control labor and management disputes.  Big Unions in turn can control or influence which Big Corporations get Government contracts. This is called corruption.

Big Media is rewarded with inside information, direct access to important people, scoops that improve ratings, and higher ratings bring in higher advertising revenues. Big Media can also be rewarded by legislation that tends to bring the Internet, or the power of millions, under closer government control.  Big Media is the propaganda arm of government, and the primary purveyor and amplifier of bad philosophy from the Humanities departments of our mainstream universities. 

Hiding in those hallowed halls are generations of resentful and envious intellectuals who yearn for a return to the Old European model of society where the bespectacled and leather-elbowed writers and philosophers garner the same reverence as the greedy money grubbers, the shop keepers, the retailers, the industrialists.  These intellectuals resent having only the same vote as the ordinary, unscrubbed mechanic or factory worker who could not possibly recognize or appreciate the superior intrinsic value of the intellectual author whose books gather dust in the publishers’ warehouses while trashy romance novels make their authors wealthy. They pride themselves on their spiritual elitism.  According to them, the only useful social purpose for the materialistic captains of industry is to create wealth that can be transferred (plundered) by those who court government’s favor.  The universities (Big Institutions) have cranked out generations of teachers, artists, writers, philosophers, and intellectuals wholly indoctrinated in a bias of anti-capitalism, which is nothing more than our unfettered freedom to trade as we please, with whom we please, each of us seeking our own interests.  As George Orwell said once, some ideas are so preposterous only an intellectual could believe them.

Part of Big Media’s role in assisting government is to confuse language, to expropriate legitimate terms and concepts and then skillfully change their usage to mean the exact opposite of the original definition.  Through the skillful use of propaganda, society has been revolutionized without firing a shot.  The Revolution is over, and we didn’t even notice there was one.  For the record, we lost.  Sometime during the night our servants became our Masters.  Free enterprise has become a euphemism for trade by permission.

Big Institutions obtain subsidies and grants that keep them in existence, even when no one really knows anymore why they should exist.  Because if they were truly necessary, surely the free market consisting of the rest of us, would support them as being in our own best interests.  Government subsidizes and controls what we would not pay for, precisely because we would not pay for it.  The government doesn’t think we know enough, that we are not sophisticated enough, to make those choices.  Government will spend our money for us.  And many times government doesn’t really care about whether something is a good choice or not; they simply have friends to reward and favors to repay.  This is called corruption.

Public education is a gigantic institution, funded by tax dollars, and mandatory.  Even if you have no children, you are going to pay taxes to support it.  Government controls the unions that control the teachers; therefore government controls the indoctrination and world view of our children.  It is also by means of this monopoly on education that toxic ideas are spread throughout the culture.  Government controls, and everything, every meaningful transaction, is subjected to influence and infinite subtle forms of bribery. This is called corruption.

When poor decisions happen, Big has a meeting:  Big Government, Big Corporations, Big Media, Big Institutions, Big Unions, and they decide who will be blamed, and who the winners and who the losers will be.  All solutions will of course include a further expansion of government influence, power, and intrusion into the marketplace.  The marketplace, folks, is a euphemism for us.

How does government do all this; how does government get all this past us, the voters?  The first rule of thumb is the artful use of propaganda.  Regardless of the controversy, it is better to unify everything into one common enemy, one Devil.  For Hitler, it was the Jews.  In our nation, it is business, always portrayed as greed personified.  Except in certain useful instances, it is not necessary to get too specific.  It is not necessary to label any business in particular, but rather to attack an amorphous, gray, ambiguous entity such as greed and business in general.  You see, government has a love/hate relationship with business.  The government wants control of business, but it doesn’t want business to go out of business, at least not most of them.  If business goes away, there is nothing to plunder, nothing to expropriate, to tax or seize.  Occasionally some Big Corporation, very often in bed with government, is caught in some behavior so outrageous that it causes a public outcry, and then of course there needs to be a “public hanging” to satisfy the mob.  And those members of government that were involved backpeddle as quickly as possible so as not to be fatally associated with the errant business entity.  If you think I am exaggerating the extent to which the elites of our culture endorse an anti-business animus, ask yourself, when a businessman plays a significant character in the movies, how does Hollywood typically cast his character?  And when events conspire to reveal corporate excesses, such as in our present time when so many on Wall St. were taking hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses even as they squandered other people’s fortunes, how much exposure is given by Big Media and Big Institutions to the complicity of government in such shenanigans?  Barely a word.  Were it not for the Internet, how many of us would know the rest of the story??

Then there is divide and conquer. Encourage group thinking, and then pit one group against another group, and let human nature take over.  This is where the R word has been so effective:  disagree with proposed legislation and you are labeled as racist.  Government-sponsored racism is everywhere, and for a very good reason.  Divide and conquer.  Pit every man against every other man.  And then play the paternal role of Benevolent Referee.  The government is here to help!

Maximize the formula of concentrated benefits, dispersed cost. Those voters who stand to gain the most will work hardest to get a law passed; and the cost will be dispersed over a much larger group.  If a given piece of legislation will provide a benefit of $10 to Group A, but will cost everyone else only 1/100 of a cent, no one blinks and lets it pass. Government promotes  democracy, which is nothing grander than gang warfare, and weakens the Constitution which champions individual rights (the smallest group, and obviously the only group without a lobbyist to buy protection for it), the only real rights that cannot morally be voted away by any majority. 

And finally, the ultimate government weapon:  culturally imposed altruism.  By “culturally imposed” I mean simply the prevailing philosophy in the culture.  Frame all legislation in terms of the right and moral thing to do for Group A, and call anyone who disagrees selfish.  In a culture that has been brainwashed for over a hundred years that our only purpose in living is to live for others, and not for ourselves, bring up the S word and all opposition runs for cover! 

Government utilizes the Big Media and Big Institutions (major universities very beholden to government for subsidy) to promote the idea that government has access to a very special kind of human being:  this phenomenon is smarter, better educated, and more intellectually agile than the people and businesses and institutions s/he controls and regulates.  This special form of human being is likewise wiser, more prescient, more inclined to take a long term view, and look out for your welfare better than anyone else.    And most important of all, this special human being is not selfish!  This special person is a paragon of virtue, incorruptible, devoid of ambition, immune to lust for power, sex, or money.  This special form of human being is here for you, and will always treat you like a customer, with respect, deference, and competence, because they know you have choices.  You could go elsewhere.  Who is this special form of human being?  Why, your government worker, your government bureaucrat, your friendly regulator.  And who do these enlightened human beings report to?  Why your elected officials, of course.  Thanks to bad philosophy in our universities and culture, government is granted a pervasive and benevolent benefit of a doubt; it is here to protect us, to look out for us.  Protect us from whom, from what?  From those avaricious, for-profit people.  Because they are selfish. 

Government is altruism at its finest.  Are they not committed to taking from those who produce, to distribute to those who do not?  How very Robin Hood-ish.  How very unselfish.  So now we have millions lined up outside Sherwood Forest, waiting for Robin Hood to show up.  No one wants to work in the fields any more; Robin Hood is taking from that wicked Sheriff of Nottingham, and is going to redistribute it to the rest of us.  All we have to do is wait in line.  Of course, in the fable, the Sheriff got rich by taking loot from others too, just like Robin Hood does.  What no one told us is that in Part II of the fable, Robin Hood becomes the next Sheriff of Nottingham.  He got to liking being in control of the transfer of wealth.

In our world of free trade, the rich are despoiled because they created wealth, not stole it.  We punish some for their virtues of innovation, industry, and thrift, and we reward others for their indolence and sloth.  Everyone except the producers gets something for nothing.  It is their right!  This is the Age of Entitlement.  Our Founding Fathers began this nation with a legacy from the Age of Enlightenment.  This is ideological corruption.

Now your elected officials at the federal level pass about 600-700 laws each session of Congress.  Do you really think your lawmakers read all that stuff?  If they did, they’d have no time to prepare for their next election campaign, which begins approximately 60 days after their last election.  There are hands to shake, babies to kiss, speeches to give, fundraisers to attend.  The business of democracy must go on!

So who do you think tells your lawmakers how to vote on all this legislation?  Their support staff and bureaucrats, that’s who.  And of course the phone calls from vested interests calling in their chips.  It’s payday, boys.  Here’s a little verbiage we want you to sneak into that Bill; here’s how we want you to vote.

Because government operates under the mantra of altruism, or unselfishness, and government officials pride themselves on the fact that they are not tainted by the dirty profit word, doublespeak and obfuscation become a professional responsibility.  Unions can never be painted as a business within a business with profit incentives, with its own leadership and management infrastructure, with their own “corporate” ambitions and perks;  unions can never be painted as what they frequently are, as paid thugs and shake-down artists that will rely on misrepresentation and lying; a protection racket that uses physical violence and intimidation when necessary to increase the all-important paying membership.  No, unions need to be portrayed as the unselfish champion of the common man, Joe SixPack, who is powerless to fight for his rights against the Leviathan of Big Business.  Little does Joe SixPack know that Big Union and Big Corporation have already cut a deal in the back room.

Teacher’s unions need to be portrayed as protecting the rights of the most underpaid professional class in America.  But who is going to champion the rights of the ones really without representation, the kids of our country who are graduating without a basic mastery of reading, writing, and the English language?  Ah, but take a stand against the all-powerful teachers unions, and you will be accused of throwing our education system to the wolves.  Our children are the real customers here, but let us not forget that when it comes to education, this is not market driven.  God forbid, put our children’s education in the hands of profit-seekers??!!  Why, some parents would selfishly want to put their children in the schools where they would get the best academic education (like our unselfish politicians??), instead of our centrally controlled and socially approved model of distribution!

Laws are enforced against businesses in order to protect the consumer from decisions he has already made!  He is not purchasing the higher priced union-manufactured product, and instead selfishly went for a cheaper, better quality product!  He doesn’t trust a certain bank because of foolish investment decisions it made, and therefore withdrew his money from that bank, causing it to become illiquid, but that bank needs to be saved where the market would have let it die twisting in the wind.  The bank will be propped up, and the government will protect it with guarantees, and it will protect the consumer from any of the banks future bad judgments by guaranteeing their deposits. So bankers can continue to take huge risks and consumers can be careless who they bank with.

The government is also busy looking out for the interests of all the displaced workers who are laid off, victims of downsizing by the brutal free market.  It therefore incurs a moral hazard in the form of those who are in no hurry to find replacement work, or get retrained in different vocations that are more in demand.  Since they cannot collect unemployment and work at smaller jobs in the meantime, the government creates a black market of under-the-table workers who pay no taxes.  My God, self-interest seems to be everywhere!  But please don’t think that self-interest has anything to do with politicians being concerned about the unemployed vote.  Our politicians are above self-interest.  They are here to serve their fellow man.  They are altruists.

Now assume for a moment, for the sake of argument, that our fearless leaders are far, far less than what they pretend to be; assume for the moment that their primary concern is not our welfare, but the perpetuation of the jobs and privilege paid by us, and assume for the moment that our servants have become our Masters.  And assume (correctly) that they print money when they want to spend more.  And assume that they use the vehicle of the Federal Reserve to make all this possible.  So what?  Didn’t we all enjoy our stimulus payments?  Did any one write their Congressman objecting and returning the check?  So what’s the problem?

Here’s the problem:  Our currency is the dollar.  The dollar works for us as currency only because we all accept it and are willing to use it.  No kidding.  It isn’t backed by anything.  Nothing.  Except your willingness to use it.  Savor that thought for a moment.

There is this thing called Supply and Demand.  When these two forces are more or less equal, prices are stable.  Every commodity in the world is subject to supply and demand.  This includes money, which is a commodity.   Anything bought and sold is subject to the Law of Supply and Demand.  If Supply of anything remains the same, but demand for it grows, the price goes up.  And vice versa.  The price is a symbol of the value of the item in demand.  When the price goes up, it means your unit of one dollar can buy less of the item.  Now get this:  we usually think of price as being attached to the item bought and sold, but the price is really a statement about your dollar:  a low “price” means your dollar buys more; a high “price” means your dollar buys less.  Makes sense so far, right?  Now suppose you have two widgets for sale in a room, and there is $10 available for those two widgets.  Your price per widget is going to be $5 each.  Now suppose we introduce another $30 into the room, for a total of $40 available for those two widgets.  The price is going to rise now to $20 per widget.  Did we get more value for our money?  No, we still only have two widgets.  So what changed?  The purchasing power of the dollar as the unit of exchange.  This is what happens when you print money.  It doesn’t matter who is doing the printing:  the Treasury or illegal counterfeiters.  When you introduce more money into the room (the economy) the purchasing power of your dollar goes down.  In the example above, your cost per widget went from $5 to $20, or an increase of 400%.  That’s called inflation. Were more widgets manufactured?  No.  The supply remained the same.  The purchasing power of your dollar went down.  You are now poorer.  It takes more dollars to buy the same thing. 

Not everyone gets hurt the same.  It takes a while for the new counterfeit money to work it’s way around the room, and it takes a while before the Seller of the widget realizes there’s more demand (in the form of more dollars) for his widgets.  It takes a while for the price of his widgets to move up.  The first people to use the new counterfeit money feel little impact; the purchasing power of the dollar hasn’t changed yet.  The ones who get hurt the most are those who saved a lot of dollars under their mattress, in their 401k, or anyone on a fixed income.  When they finally get around to spending their dollars, they are going to discover that the price of a widget went from $5 to $20.  Their dollars don’t go nearly as far as they used to.  This is how governments print money to steal from their savers.  It is a sneaky way of impoverishing your citizens, stealing their wealth and savings, and for the government at least, the best part is no one notices for a long time, no one understands that the government was the root cause, and therefore it doesn’t get voters riled up the way, say, higher taxes would.

Now let me emphasize one more time:  were more widgets manufactured in this example?  No.  Was the room (the economy) producing more?  No!  All that changed was that more money was introduced into the room.  Could you say that this economy was growing?  No!!  When you brought more money (counterfeit) into the room, did everyone feel richer? Yes, for a very short while.  But the new money was an illusion, and as soon as it worked its way into full circulation, everyone got poorer, because there was more money chasing the same two widgets for sale.  It just took more dollars to buy the same stuff.  This is like a great, global shell game.  Someone got cheated.  Can you figure out who?

The trickster, the one who controls the shell game, is the Federal Reserve.  And it serves its political Masters, for their political ends. 

Now, my fellow neophyte economists, can you guess what’s coming?  It’s a Category V tropical storm way out in the Atlantic, thousands of miles away.  It is ugly, ominous, foreboding, and its immediate direction is undetermined.  Once it moves there will be little time to prepare, and it will be vicious and destructive.  It’s target??  The dollar.  Trillions of fiat (counterfeit) dollars are being printed and introduced into the economy.  We are in uncharted financial territory.  What will happen when the impact of that new money is finally felt in the system?  Have you figured out what will have to happen to the dollar?  Production is stagnant and the money supply has been wildly inflated with printed money.  Can you connect those dots now?

Have you noticed the experts puzzled because after pumping this vast sum of newly printed money into our economy, everyone should feel better off, but doesn’t?  Have you noticed that the economy is supposedly improving, but production is not?  Do you remember what happened when you still only had two widgets in the room, but a lot more dollars introduced into the room to chase those two widgets?

The world has never seen a storm like this one.  It could bring a decaying empire to its knees; it could drastically lower the standard of living of the world’s greatest consumer nation; it could destabilize our social institutions; it could foster riots in the streets; it could induce our terrified citizens to quickly grant emergency powers to our government to restore order.  Would we ever find our way back to what we were?  Highly unlikely.  The problem is not the Chinese.  The problem is the weakness within; a viral infection of bad philosophy and bad ideas, ideas with consequences, ideas intended to dumb us down, curb our individualism, and foster the creation of an all-powerful nanny State that directs and controls all of our economic activity.  Who could possibly prefer such a government?  Some who feel safer in the middle of the herd; even if the herd is running over the edge of a cliff, they don’t seem to mind too much, as long as they’re in lots of company.  And the others, the really dangerous ones, are the ones who seek the power over the herd.   Greed and moral decay  turned us from a nation of Yankee ingenuity into a zombie State of  Welfare entitlements and Hollywood circuses.  And like the Roman Empire, our military legions are scattered worldwide trying to keep the barbarians from the gate.

It has been said that a people get the government they deserve.  It is easy for us to point the finger at some greedy business leaders,  incompetent bureaucrats, or power hungry politicians.  But weren’t we all glad to get something for nothing?  Weren’t we glad to be able to buy houses we couldn’t afford, with mortgages we never intended to pay (because we thought we knew we could sell the house quickly at an even more inflated price and walk away with quick money)?  And when the government promises free health care, or improved benefits, doesn’t that tickle our ears?  Who pays for this?  We benefit, someone else pays.  That works for us, right?  And when our government tells us they have figured out a way to pay for all this without going into even more debt, even though that same government already has about $67 trillion in existing unfunded liabilities and a 100% failure rate at living within its means we still believe them, right?  Why?  Because we want to believe them.  Because what’s wrong with a little something for nothing?  Do you hear anyone challenging universal health care on moral grounds?  Yes, I do know of such people.  For a powerful expose of the moral issues involved, go to  David Kelley‘s article Is There a Right to Healthcare? at http://www.atlassociety.org/showcontent.aspx?ct=14&h=53  For a courageous response to the question of why is healthcare different from other commodities essential to survival, such as, say, food, go to Bradley Doucet’s article here http://www.atlassociety.org/cth-43-2212-WOE-HealthFreedom.aspx.  Should the government take over the bakeries, and the distribution of bread, produce, and other food items essential to survival?  And finally, for an in-depth evaluation of both moral and practical issues, read an article by Clifford Asness, Health Care Mythology, at his website http://www.stumblingontruth.com/

We can debate practical aspects of any given issue till the cows come home, but in doing so we are missing the point.  Any time something is offered for nothing by a government, someone is being enslaved.  As novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand said once, free milk makes a slave of the milk man.  Any time something is offered for nothing by a government, the reach and power of that government is being expanded.  We are all so accustomed to our entitlements that we have forgotten to ask the really important questions.  Has it occurred to us that the redistribution of wealth and resources is only one part of the issue, the least important one, and that it masks a concerted and determined effort by some to totally change our form of government and increase and extend executive power and privilege into every nook and cranny of our lives?  We are a nation and a people that has lost its way because we have unwittingly bought into bad ideas and bad philosophy smuggled into our culture without our awareness.  The smugglers knew exactly what they were doing; we did not.  It’s time to wake up.  Not to change the world, but to change our individual lives.  If you are one of the ardent souls who has read this blog this far, then you will also want to read a truly excellent article documenting what I have written in this paragraph.  The article is called The Revolution Was, by Garet Garrett, written in 1938.  You can read it at http://www.rooseveltmyth.com/docs/The_Revolution_Was.html

All governments have an insatiable desire for more power.  That power is only possible by seizing control of economic activity within the country or empire.  Such governments achieve their control of the purse strings, and proceed to further enrich themselves by plundering their own citizens, and when there is nothing left to expropriate, they ration whatever is left of the nation’s wealth.  Governments do not produce wealth; they only plunder and ration.  Governments choose the winners and the losers.  Central banks, of which the Federal Reserve is the foremost example, are the tool governments use to manipulate the supply of money in the economy, increasing governments wealth by devaluing their own currencies.  Continued unabated, it spells the end of the middle class, the end of empire.  The only wealthy left standing are those handpicked by government.  After 300 years of capitalism, we are back full circle to Kings and serfs.  The barbarians weren’t the problem after all.  We did it to ourselves.

 

Financial Literacy: Measuring the Mood of the Mob by the Price of Gold

At various times throughout history money, or currency, has been based on metals, usually silver or gold.  This created an objective value to the currency of the period.  A dollar, for example, was worth an ounce of gold, or 1/10 of an ounce of gold, or 1/20 of an ounce of gold.  Governments and rulers, who always want to spend more money than they take in, either for their own enrichment or in order to bribe voters, usually try to debase their currency.  Kings about once a generation used to re-mint their coins (paper currency wasn’t invented yet), using the need to have their own image on the coin as the excuse, and they would dilute the gold content by mixing other metals with the gold, or slightly downsize the coin itself, but calling it by the same name as its predecessor.  When governments became well established, they usually did a ‘bait and switch’ routine and substituted printed money for metal coin, and again called it by the same name attached to a unit of its metal predecessor.  So a gold dollar was now called a paper dollar, as if their value were the same!

Once governments discovered the delights of the printing press, they would print as much money as they felt they could slip past their gullible and unaware subjects.  Acceptance by the herd was essential, and when the debased currency was widely rejected, it was not uncommon for a ruler to create stiff penalties, including the death penalty, for not accepting the paper currency as legal tender.  The reason governments prefer to print money is first of all so they are not bound by the usual principles of fiscal discipline (Don’t spend more than you make) but also every time they print money, they are actually lowering the unit value of that currency, reducing its purchasing power.  They are actually picking the pockets of their citizens, especially the most conservative ones who save.  The money these citizens save will not buy as much when it is finally spent as it would have immediately upon their having received it.

When citizens get nervous about the stability of the banking system, their political system, or their own personal safety, they are inclined to buy gold.  Gold does not pay interest, and it is still only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it, but because there is a fixed quantity of it at any given point in time, its value tends to be very stable.  This is why nervous people buy gold as a hedge against inflation.  Gold is not without risk, however.  At times when the madding crowd is enamored of another of its periodic manias, interest in gold will wane as the herd stampedes in a new direction.  When demand falls off, the price of gold drops, like anything else.  Even in times of rising price of gold, there is always the possibility of the government confiscating it (that has been done by OUR government, as well as many others.)  Ultimately the government has the guns, and whatever we have is pretty much by permission.  A democracy, as I have written many times, is no guarantee of anything more than mob rule.  All people, in any period of history, need protected most from those they elect over themselves.  Inevitably their public servants become their masters.  Even here, the freest nation on earth, the Constitution guaranteeing both individual rights and the limitation of government’s powers, has been under steady attack for well over a hundred years by many activists who resent its restrictions.  They want to harness the coercive power of government to an endless list of programs to protect us from ourselves, and of course, with them at the levers of distribution and power.

For a short video on how the price of gold is a measure of the mood of the mob, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuDZQFPgXCw

Why Democracy Isn’t Enough

Human beings are a tribal species, and like most of the lower species on this planet, they prefer to travel in herds.  Truly free thinkers have always been a desperate minority, and it has been the unfortunate destiny of such individuals to periodically carry the world forward on their backs, often having to apologize for their discoveries, recant their theories under torture, or have their earnings plundered by their inferiors.  In a world culture based on the nonsensical concept that all men are created equal, these individuals have broken from the herd in their thinking, transcended commonly accepted “truths” and challenged the orthodoxy of the day.  Their discoveries and powers of production have done exponentially more to raise the standard of living  the world  over than the efforts of all the hand-wringing social planners of the planet combined.  The politicians of the world would have nothing to redistribute were it not for the outstanding minds and abilities of these scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.  To say that these persons are only the equals of the hordes who benefit from their exceptional minds can only be called the triumph of ideology over reality. Read more..

The breeding ground of all innovation is freedom; the freedom to challenge the unassailable, to think the unthinkable, to doubt the cherished myths of the culture, and should one be successful, the freedom to keep as one’s own property the product of one’s efforts.  One of the greatest myths of all time is that the purpose of our life is to live for others, a belief that runs counter to both rationality and reality.  A basic axiom of all conscious existence is that we must work to assure our own survival, and that in the case of man, survival is obtained by the use of our mind.  When the existence of lower species is threatened by some force of Nature, instinct requires fight or flight, and many or most die in the process.  Man, on the other hand uses his mind to understand and harness the forces of Nature, to bend those forces to his will.  In the process he has gone from being one of the weakest and most vulnerable of species to exercising a fundamental control of all of Nature, with the possible exception of viruses.  Like most other species, humans are hardwired to compete with each other for dominance, to seek power within the herd just for the sake of that power, and also to compete sexually.  It stil matters who obtains the favors of the female and succeeds reproductively.  Again, like other species, the male of the human species will strut “his stuff” to show his desireability.  One of the most seductive blandishments of a human male is the demonstration of power over others in the herd.  As Henry Kissinger is famously known to have said, there is no greater aphrodisiac than power.  This explains a great many phenomena such as why guys with expensive cars get laid more often; men with power or wealth, or even the mere appearance of such  attract females much younger than themselves; why even physically homely rock stars attract hordes of beautiful, adoring women.  It also explains a great deal of consumerism, or the need to constantly acquire new toys; the appearance of wealth and power is usually just as effective a means of displaying one’s standing in the herd as the reality of them.  Much of Nature is based on camouflage and deception in order to succeed at reproduction. 

There are essentially two ways to compete in the acquisition of power and assets:  one is to create value through innovation and production, and the other is to plunder the values created by others.  The more free a society is, meaning the more likely an individual is free to think for himself, without coercion, and the more free s/he is to keep the product of his efforts, the greater the aggregate innovation and productivity of that society, or herd, as a whole.  In other words, more freedom and less plunder equals prosperity.  One has only to look at third world petty dictatorships to see the net result of a herd dominated by plunder by their own petty chieftains; anyone with ‘Get-Up-and-Go’ in their tribe has gotten up and gone.  Your best minds will go where they are more likely to be able to keep the fruits of their labor.  Incredibly, your greatest minds are “selfish”.  They want to keep what they have earned, and they want control over its disposition.  If they are charitably inclined, they want to decide on the worthiness of potential recipients of their largesse, and they resent expropriation of their earnings by any gang of power lusters who seek control of the producers in their society.  They see no need to apologize for their success, nor do they feel morally obligated to expiate unearned guilt by giving away their wealth.  If they are as accomplished at the art of philosophical introspection as they are at physical creation of value, they understand that theirs is the only moral form of economic activity and for which no apology is required.

As far as the plunderers are concerned, there are only two basic types, and both types rely exclusively on one source of power:  the power of a gun.  The first type are the dictators of the world, who make no pretense at their goals and their methods.  They exterminate anything and anyone in their path.  They often make feeble efforts at philosophical or theological justifications for their power lust, but they generally achieve their rise to power due to physical intimidation and violence, and the general vapidity of humans in a herd.  Inexplicably, humans in the face of mortal threats to their freedom and very existence, often react like a doe in the headlights of an approaching vehicle.  They freeze up and in many cases pay the price of their own destruction.  Just as often, a herd population will endorse a potential dictator because they support the use of his strongarm methods to achieve goals of their own.  This is why in modern societies, the rise to power of some autocrat or other is frequently and enthusiastically applauded by intellectuals and journalists who see themselves as part of the power structure of the new regime, or they see this regime change as an opportunity to impose on the general population ideologically-based imperatives that would otherwise be rejected in a free society.  It rarely occurs to these people that the tyrants they put in power have no regard for life or property of anyone, including their own supporters.  Without a rule of law, everyone is at risk, and the new tyrants are quick to turn against their own supporters as potential threats to their power.

The second type of plunder is through democracy.  The real challenge of political philosophy is not to make the world safe for democracy, but to make the world safe from democracy.  Democracy is nothing more than a euphemism for mob rule or gang warfare.  The majority rules.  Period.  As NY Times columnist Russell Baker once said, ‘I despise the implied assumption of all minorities that if the tables were turned, they would be different.’  If you didn’t get that statement, read it again and think about it for a moment.  All minorities, meaning any group of any description whatsoever, chafes at the restrictions and limitations imposed on them by their majority rulers.  Their only recourse is to work at undermining the power structure of the powers that be in order to supplant the dominant party by their own.  One group, or gang, is pitted against the others.  Whenever a minority achieves its objective and comes into power, they immediately seek to use the levers of government power at their disposal to reverse their fortunes, and now impose their cherished values on the new dissenters.  Even in a democracy, the ultimate power is the power of a gun.  Each faction seeks control over the legislative process, first to perpetuate their own power base and maintain  control of the public purse, and the penalty for noncompliance with new laws is inevitably fines, imprisonment, or worse.  In the United States, our system  and our prisons are overflowing with the abuse of elected power.

In a democratic society, as in all of Nature, camouflage and deception are the norm.  One’s real goals can never be stated.  All controversial legislation is ALWAYS framed in humanitarian terms, in order to cast the opposition as selfish, ruthless, egotistical, or worse.  Moral high ground is always sought as the ultimate mask in any ideological struggle, ending with each side out-shouting  the other in their professions of love, compassion, and self-sacrifice.  Not the self-sacrifice of the power-lusters, but your self-sacrifice.  Power mongers are notorious for creating exceptions for themselves in the sacrifice business.  Almost all populism falls into this category; it panders to the greed and ignorance of the masses.  Not understanding the creation of wealth, and envious of those who have more than they, however earned, the masses enthusiastically support any legislation to “soak the rich”.  In their eagerness to pick the pockets of those above them on the socio-economic ladder, they forget there are many below them just as eager to pick their pockets.  So a fundamental question is, Who gets to pick the pockets of others?  And who gets to be the victims?  The mob will rule.  So a few years ago, in an effort to expropriate more of the wealth of the producers, legislation was passed at the federal level called Alternative Minimum Tax, which was designed to make the wealthy pay more taxes regardless of their legitimate deductions.  In other words, individuals above a certain income level were to be denied tax deductions that were legal for everyone else, in order to make them pay more taxes.  That was an example of populist legislation, since there are a lot less rich voters than those not rich.  The legislation appealed to the greed of the masses.  The middle and lower classes were more than happy to pick the pockets of the higher-ups in order to pay for their pet entitlement programs.  Why not?  But the legislation backfired because in the next few years the incomes of large numbers of the middle class grew so much, by inflation or otherwise, and threw them into the ranks of the “rich”.  Hey, they had never approved the picking of their own pockets; AMT was designed to pick the pockets of others!  The politicians hastily threw together new legislation revising the AMT to relieve these screaming voters.

Free societies regularly and incrementally vote themselves into slavery.  In the beginning they always believe they are merely imposing their own “appropriate” and “moral” and “unimpeachable” objectives on an unenlightened society; the giving away of freedom is always preceded by an arrrogance and elitism of the few who feel compelled to fix the world and tell everyone else how to live their life, and to overrule any disagreement with the power of the government’s gun.  No one is safe in any so-called free, democratic society, unless there is a firm rule of law, beginning with a Constitution limiting the power of the government and its voters.  It means there are some rights, individual rights, that can never be voted away by any majority, no matter how wildly popular with the masses.  The masses of voters are a herd, and they are educated by popular television, and can easily be induced to run off a cliff to their own destruction.  The media are largely indoctrinated by the universities, which are heavily influenced by an intelligentsia that favors collectivism, altruism, and government control of the masses.  Markets are also subject to herd mentality, and when they run off a cliff, the government usually steps in and says Step aside, we can do this better.  They then create the virus of the next financial pandemic, and in the process accrue and consolidate power over more and more of the subject population  and its economic activities.  Rarely is freedom lost all at once.  That’s all for today.  John Bechtel, Greenville, SC

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