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.

 

Labels and Ultimate Truth (Part 3)

Our country was founded more than anything else on the premise of basic individual freedoms, including freedom  of religion, which also had to include freedom from religion, for those so inclined.  Most of those who came to this country were fleeing religious persecution; they were refugees from the moral certainty of their persecutors.  As American educator and historian Arthur Schlesinger stated:  “Those who are convinced they have a monopoly on The Truth  always feel that they are only saving the world when they slaughter the heretics.”  Read more..

Believer is a label.  So is the word heretic.  One indicates belonging and conformity.  The other describes a non-conformist, a deviant from some orthodoxy.  The word heretic has persisted in infamy throughout history, the cause of some of the worst crimes of man against his fellow man.  Groups get very upset when someone deviates from ultimate truth.  In every instance throughout history, the oppressors believed that in their case circumstances justified their behavior.

Among our early forebears, it took almost no time at all for the oppressed to become the oppressors.  Let’s revisit a bit of Americana we may have forgotten.  The Massachusetts Bay Colony was formed by a business that was strongly influenced by Puritan theologians.  About 20,000 folks from England emigrated to this central part of what we now call New England.  In short order the Puritans came to blows with the local Indians because they did not understand their culture.  The leaders of the colony had to pass an examination about their religious beliefs before they could take office.  (Anything sound remotely familiar here, folks?)

One member of their community, a guy named Roger Williams, was banished (excommunicated) on the grounds of sedition and heresy (non-conformity), and the religion-dominated General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony accused Roger of “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.”  In the dead of winter, the sheriff came to pick up Roger (the Church using the police powers of the State).  Roger escaped by hiking through a blizzard 105 miles to an Indian tribe where he was given refuge.  Imagine!  A Christian given refuge by the heathens from his fellow Christians.  Roger and a few of his buddies obtained land from the Indians and called their tiny settlement Providence.  The very next year they decided that in their settlement, government would be restricted to “civil things.”  Unknown to them, they had established the first settlement in modern history with religious liberty and separation of church and state.

But wait.  The story gets even better (and worse).  About four years later the first law was passed to make slavery legal in the English colonies.  And no, it wasn’t in the South.  It was the very same religion-dominated Massachusetts Bay Colony that had made Roger Williams run for his life.  Eleven years after their infamous law was passed, Roger Williams and a colleague spearheaded the passing of a law banning slavery in their new province of Rhode Island.  The pernicious influence of the Massachusetts Bay colony prevailed however, and Roger Williams’s law was ignored and became a dead document.  Seventeen years after his death Newport, Rhode Island entered the African slave trade and remained the leading slave trading center all the way up to the American Revolution.

In one case, persecution was theology motivated, in the other case it was economically motivated.  It never really matters.  When a group wants  something, they will always find the means to justify it.  When a group succeeds in uniting with the police power of the State, minorities will suffer.  Labels are a big part of the propaganda campaigns in advance of misdeeds by isolating the target, portraying them as a threat to the greater community, an instrument of Satan or a danger to society.

Labels become a higher priority in an adversarial or judgmental context.  We know someone or something should be condemned, if only we can get the label right.  What exactly is an atheist?  Indeed, what is a believer?  In what kind of god or God?  Do you believe in an anthropomorphic God, one with human-like characteristics?  Is your God male or female?  Or do you believe in a more ancient model, a pantheistic god, a god who cannot be separated from the universe, that God and the Universe are one and the same?  Or do you subscribe to an Eastern model of God, an infinite force that is everywhere at once?  Or do you simply not know, but in talking about “God” infer something beyond human reference?  There is a continuum between your literalist, fundamentalist believer at one extreme who believes in a personal God who hears and answers every prayer and another believer at the opposite extreme who believes in God as some manifestation of quantum  physics, some indefinable energy field or force stripped of human characteristics–or believers not at all, at least not in any traditional sense.  All of the world’s belief systems fit on that continuum somewhere.  And the vast majority of them have mystical components to their spiritual lives that include good and bad spirits and ultimate rewards.  Even many atheists have churches and services, rituals, liturgies and prayers.

How complicated life can be, when all we want is your basic “us versus them” so it can be clear who has truth and who is sadly in error.  Continuums of any kind have no place in our group orthodoxy, because they introduce uncertainty and ambiguity.  It is the insistence on certainty and final truth that makes any group dangerous to their fellow travelers, whether they are believers of the religious or secular stripe.  Let any group of such believers get their hands on unchallenged power of the State, and we can be sure that whatever is left of the Constitution would be eviscerated overnight.  The primary differences in our political parties today is only which parts of our lives they most want to control.  They have no interest in the individual.  Control of groups is the source of their power.  The laws that are passed and enforced by the State’s monopoly on power are nothing more than the codification of the cultural beliefs of the majority.  As always, behavior considered deviant by that group will be punished.  You are either in or in trouble.

When we feel compelled to impose our sense of superiority or moral rightness on those around us, it is humbling to reflect that it was the Christian world that plunged us into warfare that eliminated 100 million of us during the 20th century.  America is the most religious Christian nation on earth, and we have soldiers in over 170 countries, doing what exactly, other than maintaining our military-industrial complex and doing what empires do?

Bertrand Russell once said:   “Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing.  What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or of ignorance.”  Every group believes their group will be different.  As a matter of fact, they’re certain of it!

The only sure  protection in any society is to enshrine and protect the rights of the individual. Otherwise life is like entering a prison where the only safety lies in quickly being accepted and protected by members of one group from the predations of opposing groups.  The government, as the warden of our society, has little interest in the individual, because what can one person offer the warden that he cannot get in greater abundance from the group?  Is it any wonder then that our Constitution has been under assault almost from the day it was written?

 

Beware the State (Part 5)

Groups are a mask  for power seeking.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and a group can know no rest until a leader vanquishes all other comers.  Then groups compete with other groups, and groups align themselves in larger and larger packs, until finally nation states emerge.  At every level there is a struggle for power and dominance.  It becomes even harder to maintain power than it is to achieve it.  The vanquished go underground to live and fight another day.   I am forever reminded of the comment of Russell Baker, NY Times columnist, who wrote:  “What I despise the most about all minorities is their implied assumption that if the tables were turned, they would be different.”   Or as Eric Hoffer put it, “It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom.  They fight for pride and for power.—power to oppress others.  The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

The strong will prey on the weak.  Government is given a monopoly on the use of force to protect us from those who would harm.  Unfortunately government has always done more harm to its citizens than those others who supposedly threatened.  With a monopoly on guns, government has always found irresistible the temptation to use that power to solidify their position by eliminating their competition.  Read more..

The question has always been how to govern without letting the beast of power out of its cage?  Democracy is not enough, because any majority can and usually will turn on the minority for all the usual reasons.  Majority rule only makes sense if legal restraints are placed on the majority; that some things cannot be decided by majority rule, because some rights are inalienable and not subject to a vote.  The Constitution was the founding fathers best effort to limit the ability of our government to harm us.  Let’s be clear:  what is a government?  A group, that is all, some group of people like you and me with very bright ideas about how to make the world better for you and me, better than we can do on our own.  Of this they are quite certain.  So certain, in fact that they find it necessary to make their notions into laws as acts of coercion.  Every road to tyranny has been built with intentions for the greater good.  Every tyrant has demanded sacrifice for better tomorrows.

Today our national government passes 600-700 new laws every year to define and better refine the wonderful world they are making for us, or the better to protect us from our own foolish longings.  Every citizen in this country breaks laws every day, and should the government so choose, every single one of us could spend time in what is already the world’s largest prison system.  This is the price we pay for a century or more of steadily chipping away at the Constitution’s protections of individual rights.  Why have we done this?  Because over and over again, individual rights got in the way of something a group wanted, and each small victory for a group imposed a burden on others, who sought protection in groups of their own.

Since the State is nothing more than the conflict of groups, do you want to limit the power of those groups to interfere with your life, or would you give those groups free rein?  My experience is that those who are in favor of ever-expanding power of government are the same ones who are confident of final victory for their vision, with themselves experiencing the satisfaction of imposing the vision of their group  on those less enlightened.  There is a word for that:  tyranny.  No tyrant stands alone.  He has the support of groups, each of whom plays the odds as they jockey for advantage in competition with all other groups.  At best, the individual is only a footnote in the annals of history.

Emotional Response to Labels

Look at this list of labels.  What are your associations with each?  What emotions do you experience as you look at each item?  You are experiencing the power of labels, the power of branding, both positive and negative.

 

Drug addict                 Sex molester              Alcoholic

Ex-convict                   Mentally ill                 Tea Party member

Prostitute                     Atheist                         Occupy Wall Street

Televangelist               Lawyer                        Factory worker

Jew                                  Catholic                       Jehovah’s Witness

Social worker              Teacher                       Union organizer

Rich-celebrity            Rich-business           Rich-doctor

Liberal                          Conservative              Socialist

Gay                                 Straight                         Bi-sexual

 

Each label above brings a vivid emotional message to someone’s mind, and that message doesn’t have to have any basis in fact or reality.  Most likely it has to do with identification with one group or another and hostility to the perceived opposite.  Social media is powerful because we find strength in groups.  It is a rare person who is willing and able to think alone and stand alone for any length of time.

Groups use labels to narrow the field of who we are willing to learn from.  Judgment becomes pre-judgment.  Pre-judgment becomes prejudice.  Thinking is no longer required.  We know who the enemy is.  We know who to hate or fear.  The door to civil discourse and scientific inquiry quietly closes.  The individual is helpless.  Power to the people!

Which people?

The group with the control of the most resources; the group with the most access to the coercive machinery of the government; the group with access and control of propaganda, including media and state-sponsored education.  Power is ephemeral.  No group provides eternal safe harbor.  The only enduring legacy of groups is endless struggle for power.  What an irony that America became a magnet for freedom lovers from all over the world because of its Constitutional protection of individual rights, and then became an empire corrupted and mired in group warfare.

 

 

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 We Believe: The Power of Utopia! Part I

About ten years ago I was asked to give a speech about the power of cults, largely because I had been raised almost from infancy as a Jehovah’s Witness, a religious organization often associated in the public’s mind with cultism.  Some of the hallmarks of cultism are a need for certainty, a conviction that you have absolute truth and are the final authority on that truth, and repression of dissent.  Some cults exercise a physical control of their members, but most of them exert a psychological control.  A true believer is someone who no longer needs coercion or physical restraint, but who now acts as if those restraints are still in place.  I can best compare it to training a guard dog; you use a choke collar with such consistency that eventually you remove the choke collar from the neck of the dog and he is so conditioned that he continues to act as if the choke collar is still there.  When, in my thirties I left this organization, I was eager to embrace a society of intellectually free people, and I was excited about the prospect of associating with others with open, inquiring minds.  I was astonished to find so much more of what I had just abandoned, only worse:  People who were born into freedom, and yet who both abused and despised it.  Read more..

Cults are all about utopias.  Everyone on this planet is unhappy about something.  Everyone has a problem that they would like to go away, everyone knows someone else who has what they want, or more of it.  Everyone believes their life could be much better, if only . . . You fill in the blank.  Cults gain adherents by claiming to have found the ultimate truth, the only solution, the compelling argument, The Way.  Sacrifices will have to be made, but that is a small price to pay, isn’t it, if you look at it unselfishly?  Quite usefully, cults  provide a devil, or scapegoat, on which to project blame for whatever our particular grievances are (Management, Jews, Foreigners, The Other Religion, The Rich, The Other Political Party)  We have enshrined in our Declaration of Independence our right to the pursuit of happiness; utopians promise the reality of happiness and fulfillment, not the illusion of its pursuit.  Whatever freedoms you may enjoy at the moment, you can be sure that utopians will require that you sacrifice some of them in exchange for their promise of better tomorrows.  Why do people believe them, often in the face of considerable evidence that their claims are a fraud and have repeatedly failed before?

Charismatic leaders cash in on the conditioning you have already experienced; you have absorbed a basic philosophical premise, from your schools, your church, your family, your books, media, movies, songs, everything that comes at you during all your conscious hours, that the only acceptable, moral purpose of your life is–others.  Not you, but others.  Your ultimate value in life is not your life, but everyone’s life except yours.  This is the moral ideal of most cultures on this planet.  The appropriate expression of this ideal is submissionEvery other life form on this planet seeks, by instinct, its own survival.  But our culture teaches us that, as humans,  our moral ideal is to promote the survival of others over our own.  Since this is an unnatural standard, and one that runs counter to our own nature as man, it becomes a standard we cannot live up to, and therefore a standard that induces guilt.  Whoever controls and manipulates our guilt load controls us.  They can now remove the choke collar from our neck, and we will faithfully follow them as surely as if there is a gun at our back.  We will go even further; we will give them what Ayn Rand called ‘the sanction of the victim.’  We have anointed our new Masters.    Once they have obtained our tacit acceptance of the premise that our life is not our highest value, and that our highest purpose is to serve others, it only remains for someone else to decide what the exact form our sacrifice, or service, should take.  When our sacrifice is in the name of God, our payoff is in the Hereafter; when our sacrifice is to Society, our payoff will be just around the next corner, after we have eliminated poverty, restored the ozone layer, reversed global warming, stabilized international trade, protected jobs, revived failed businesses, won the war on drugs, and soaked the rich.  But there is one thing about all sacrifice–it is always later.  So the first prerequisite for a succesful cult mentality is a pervasive culture of self-sacrifice.  This sets the stage for the first charismatic politician, dictator, ayatollah, or  power luster that fortune favors.

The second pre-requisite for loss of freedom to a cult is a CRISIS of sufficient magnitude to scare us out of our wits, and that wrongly leads us to believe restoring stability would be worth a “temporary” loss of some freedoms. Once these freedoms are gone, it is almost impossible to get them all back.  Why is this?  When it comes to freedom, history is not on our side.  As a matter of fact, freedom as an individual right is a very recent development.

During all of the ages of man, there have been two classes of people:  the producers and the expropriators.  Whether the producers were serfs tilling the soil, or forgers of iron or bronze, or men toiling on the pyramids, they were slaves who worked to eke out an existence, to survive, and for the benefit of their Masters, who controlled them with the sword, torture, and death.  Sometimes it was a hostile relationship, and sometimes a symbiotic relationship.  Empires rose and fell by the use of force, and the major difference between the rulers of men was the degree of autonomy they permitted their subjects.  Some of the vanquished were slaughtered, others were placed in chains, some became vassals and achieved a state of semi-freedom in exchange for paying tribute, or a tax on their “freedom”.  Man’s natural state was that of a slave, and only might made right.  Some form of slavery was characteristic of almost all civilizations throughout history.  Until, that is, the philosophical period that came to be known as The Enlightenment. 

For the first time a case was made that the natural state of a man was that of freedom, and that this freedom was his by right, not by permission.  Yes, he could still be enslaved by force, but his jailers were violating his moral rights in doing so.  Man’s highest value was his life, and it was proper and moral for him to seek his survival and his happiness.  The lower animals survived by instinct, but man survived by the use of his mind, and the use of that mind came to be his work and his means of survival.  Therefore, to rob a man of his product, to rob him of the fruits of his use of his mind, was in fact to rob him of his right to life.  Therefore, property, obtained as the product of his mind, was also his right, as a corollary to his right to life itself.  Thus, the right to independent thought (intellectual freedom) and property rights (economic freedom) came to be associated together for the first time in history.  How interesting that these two freedoms tend to disappear together as well when people are enslaved.  Since man survives by the use of his rational mind, it is not possible to separate the two freedoms; it is not possible to have one without the other.  There is no freedom without economic freedom. 

So when Thomas Jefferson wrote that man had the ‘inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’, he was not writing the obvious; he was making a radical departure from the orthodoxy of all of human political history.  He was stating that man did not obtain life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by permission, but by inalienable right!  This was not a group right, because a group right would have implied that his life or freedom could have been denied him by the group; no, an inalienable right was an individual right.  In this way Jefferson was championing the rights of the smallest minority in the world–and the most maligned–the individual human being.  No other person, clique, group, political party, thug, ruffian, dictator, junta, or voting bloc, could morally deprive him of his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Jefferson and the other founding fathers had another daunting task on their hands:  If wealth is to be created by innovation, invention, and production, and the values so produced freely traded, and not expropriated by military conquest, then what is the proper moral role of government in the lives of men?  Since property  derives from the application of our minds to natural resources, the only other way to acquire property is to plunder it from those who produced it.  If plunder is easier than work, men will resort to plunder, according to Frederic Bastiat, the author of the delightful treatise La Loi.  To prevent them from doing this, we give government a monopoly on the use of force.  Government is there to protect our property from plunder by foreigners and also from plunder by domestic thieves and ruffians.  But who is to protect us from our own government, if they get it into their head to plunder us? Our only protection could be Rule by Law, so that even our enemies have to abide by this law. 

Our Constitution was specifically designed to protect us from our own government, because from time immemorial the law itself has been used as the tool with which to plunder, or expropriate property from the masses.  When the law is politicized, bent to the will of the group in power, and when that group is replaced by another group, the new group simply uses the power of legislation to turn the tables on their former tormentors.  Under a rule of law, it should make no difference what the political opinions are of a potential jurist; he would have no means to bend or change the law to his ideals.  When the rule of law deteriorates into the rule by people, a civilization has attained the first step on the road to tyranny.  There is nothing to stop anyone who wants what you have.  It is theirs for the taking, because they use the law to seize it!  This degradation of the rule of law is well advanced in our society.  As we gradually migrate from a rule by law to a rule by people,  a higher premium is placed on the political opinions of candidate jurists, because the limitations and restraints placed on legislators by the Constitution are under attack by judicial activists, who believe that any small loss of freedom is more than compensated for by the compelling social benefits of their proposed new legislation.   What happens when the seemingly good intentions of the legislators turns out to be not quite so well-intentioned after all?  Even granting these lawmakers the benefit of a benevolent doubt, do they understand that in weakening the Constitution, they have weakened the Rule of Law and moved an entire nation closer to Rule by People, where any and all of us are sitting ducks for the first gang with the opportunity to capitalize on it?  The problem with all utopians is that in their vision of the world, they themselves will be pulling the levers of power.  It never occurs to them that someone else might be the beneficiary of the damage they did to our system, and that they might end up being among the victims.

We have experienced a prolonged erosion of respect for the rule of law, and a concomitant politicization of the legal process in America.  Add to that a culture that incessantly promotes the spirit of altruism, i.e. that only a life lived in the service of others is moral and worth living.  We are in the middle of the greatest global financial meltdown in history.  We have created a culture of entitlement, which means the right to confiscate and enjoy the product of other men’s labor, without compensation.  A government produces nothing; it can only seize and redistribute.  When it provides anything, any service, for nothing, it has made a slave of someone else.  That someone else is the producer.  When politicians extol the benefits they are giving us in exchange for keeping them in power, they are trading in stolen goods.  For anyone else, that is a felony.  For government it is a privilege.  If the victims of this expropriation have the temerity to complain, they are selfish and anti-social.  This is the corrupted morality of our mixed economy, and it is this anti-life morality that has rendered conservatism helpless.  Unable or unwilling to defend capitalism on moral grounds; which is nothing more than economic freedom, freedom to produce, trade, and keep the product of your trade; the conservatives hope to compete with the neo-socialists by trying to out-do them in the expropriation department by advocating “compassionate capitalism”.  What does that mean, that we’ll say “Thank you” when we expropriate the product of your mind and work??  By what definition is it compassion to expropriate, by force, the product of one man’s effort in order to distribute it to another?  And what makes government a better judge of the worthiness of the recipient’s need than the producer of the values being expropriated?  The implied answer:  The government will be “unselfish” distributing the producers goods, whereas the producer will likely be more “selfish” and may want to keep his earnings.  By what morality does a man need to feel guilty about wanting to keep what he has earned? Is this the thought pattern of a free society, or the thought pattern inherited from the endless ages of the producer as the slave so that the privileged classes can seize the product of his labor?  And yet this is what a philosophy of altruism has produced:  submission, bowed heads, and mindless obedience.  We are just as conditioned as the dog after the choke collar has been removed.  We know our place, we go along in order to get along.  Once we have experienced the power of a choke collar, we don’t actually have to be threatened with it anymore to secure our compliance.

Our free system has been weakened by the relentless assault of bad philosophy.  Freedom is lost when public attitudes change, when people cry Foul when someone picks their pocket, but think nothing of picking the next man’s.  The stage is set.  Now enter any gang of politicians with initiatives,  the worth of which they are absolutely convinced (remember–cults are identified by a need for certainty with the cult leader as the final authority), and their attempted expropriations are framed in the context of service to humanity, but which regrettably involves the confiscation of property.  Their presentations are  couched in terms of the highest moral ideals, so much so that any opponents should feel compelled to apologize for their lack of compassion and crass selfishness, and be shamed into silence!  “Big government is here to help!” It is in this incremental manner that liberty is lost.  As philosopher David Hume once said:  “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.”  When the public arbiters of what private property we are allowed to keep are done with their economic coercion, the loss of intellectual liberty is not far behind.  In no time at all our attitudes, opinions, and values are monitored, and a system of rewards and punishments tells us what is acceptable and what isn’t.  This process is also at an advanced stage in this country, but that is the subject of another article.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his book Democracy in America comments on ‘the new servitude’:  ” . . . It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd.  The will of man is not shattered but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting.  Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd.”

There are soft cults, such as the situation described by de Tocqueville above, and there are hard cults, such as Stalin’s attempt at utopia, or Hitler’s brand of national socialism.  The difference between soft and hard cults is often one of incrementalism, of time and opportunity; there is always someone whose view of the world is so compelling, so incisive, and well, so right, to them at least, that it justifies the use of force against others, until of course, those others come to their senses.  And if they don’t? . . . . well, sacrifices have to be made.  Nine foxes and one chicken just voted on what to have for dinner.  The chicken lost.  It lacked vision. The funny thing is, when the foxes came for it, the chicken didn’t run, it didn’t resist.  It knew its glory was in serving the needs of the others.

Thanks for listening.  Leave a comment.  John Bechtel, Greenville, SC

Did Capitalism Fail?

The global economic crisis now in play is being universally touted as the failure and collapse of capitalism.  The cover of the February 16, 2009 edition of Newsweek ecstatically proclaimed “WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW”.  The documented collapse of Wall St. institutions and international banking is being gleefully interpreted as the failure of capitalism itself.  In the furious debate that has ensued, the arguments for and against capitalism have focused entirely on the causes of various recent economic phenomena, such as Wall St. greed, the failure of regulators, the incompetence of one or another administration, and the complexity of derivatives that were both unheard of and technically impossible only twenty years ago.  All of them have totally missed the point.  Capitalism has not failed, because capitalism was not practiced to begin with.  Pure capitalism has never been practiced because it is philosophically unacceptable in our culture.  What is called capitalism today is a hybrid political philosophy so filled with contradictions, it is unable to defend itself.  To answer the question in the title of this article, we have to begin at the beginning. Read more..

Capitalism is a form of political philosophy.   The philosophy taught and accepted as orthodoxy in our Humanities departments of our universities was largely imported from Europe during the nineteenth century.  Europe’s ancient economic model and paradigm was that of feudalism, a system where the act of production was performed by serfs.  In the minds of medieval Europeans, manual labor was split from intellectual life and All property belonged to their kings(the head of their tribe) and this property was bestowed by the King’s permission to noblemen, usually as a reward for military service to the King.  Property could, and often was, reclaimed by the King at his whim.  This system lasted well into the nineteenth century, when it was replaced by what came to be called capitalism.  What really happened during this century is that ownership of property and production changed from the head of the tribe (the King) to the people of the tribe (the State).  The tribal attitude remained unchanged.  This is very important.  The concept of individual rights of a sovereign man was virtually unknown in Europe. considered inferior to it.  The role of nobility was to own and control such production.  Any act of material production was considered lowly and demeaning, and certainly not an appropriate pursuit of the upper classes.  Europe was (and is) very tribal, and everyone’s role was to serve the tribe.   About this same time the science of political economy came into being, but was again based on the tribe as the smallest unit, not the individual.  Political economy was the study of the most efficient utilization of economic resources, but those resources belonged to the community, and the individual was the smallest cell of that community.  A serf was still a serf, and the only known paradigm was ruling the producers of material goods with physical force, and this use of coercion was the privilege of the noble classes of society.  The American concept of individual rights of man was drastically and radically new.  In feudal Europe, there was no dignity or value to the creation of wealth, the honor and glory  was in the confiscation of it.  The American system was based on the principle that wealth was to be owned by its creators.  We became a great nation and economic powerhouse because people here could become wealthy beginning with nothing, because they were entitled, by law, not permission, to keep what they earned.  We understood early on that without economic rights, without the right to private property, there were no rights, for property rights are nothing more than the right to keep the results of our effort.

European political economy however clung to the preeminence of the tribe rather than the individual, and the products of ones efforts belonged to the community, and any profit or surplus was to be disposed of by the ruling class for the benefit of the tribe.  In America we saw a human being as an end in himself; in Europe they saw man as a member of the tribe.  Europeans were collectivist in their mindset; we were individualist here in America.  This has a lot to do with the fact that we have been a wellspring of innovation and entrepreneurial activity that has been the envy of the world.  Anywhere in the world, a young person with get-up-and-go wanted to go to America.  Europeans tended to be more rule -bound and clung to corporate models that emphasized security over risk taking; more safety and less reward.  Their society provided extensive social safety nets for the less productive and more regulatory restraints on the more productive.  In Europe individual rights were largely subordinated to group rights.  In the event of a conflict between the two, the greater good of the greater number prevailed.  That of course begs the question, The greater good as determined by whom?  The answer of course is by whomever is in power at the moment.

The American experiment was enshrined in our Constitution and in our Declaration of Independence, two remarkable documents designed to separate us from any other democracy; these statements of intent declared that even in a democracy there were some things that could NOT be voted on, and that would NOT be subjected to the will of the majority:  anything that was a violation of individual rights could not be voted away by some majority in power.  These documents were to protect us from our own government; that the goals, visions, and wishes of  any groups or gangs that might get voted into office were limited by the sanctity of individual rights.  Those rights began with the right to hold property by law and not by permission.  In America our problems began with a philosophical conflict between capitalism, or each individual seeking their own personal happiness and life values, and the ideal of altruism, i.e. that man’s highest and greatest value should be in the service to others.  In time it became culturally unacceptable to openly declare so-called selfish motives, such as profit, and all such self-seeking behavior had to be camoflaged as job creation, charitable donations, community involvement.  A man’s profits could only be justified by how much of it he gave away (to charity) for the public good.  In a capitalistic society, values are established by objective criteria; the worth of a man’s product is determined by what another man is willing to trade for it (markets); whereas in a collectivist system, values are assigned according to either subjective (what I think) criteria, or intrinsic (what the value should be) criteria.  We saw this manifested most recently by the current administration assigning salary caps to any organization which receives a government bailout.  Who decides what such caps should be, and by what criteria?  Rather than capitalism, we have what is commonly known as a mixed economy, which is a hybrid of capitalism (private ownership of the means of production), socialism (mostly private ownership of the means of production, but State regulation of it) and communism (all State ownership of the means of production).  A mixed economy resembles feudalism to the extent that you “own” property until the King (the modern State) says you don’t.  In a mixed economy, the State regularly interferes with free market processes, usually in the pursuit of political power thinly disguised as altruistic purposes.  A mixed economy lurches schizophrenically back and forth from free market initiatives to social planning according to which philosophy is currently enthroned by the electorate.  In a mixed economy, political decisions are frequently imposed by force on “free” markets for political or ideological reasons.  Any time such decisions are imposed, they are never market choices or there would have been no need to impose anything by force, edict, or law.  One of the many problems with social engineering is the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Such was the case in 1999 when the Clinton Administration leaned heavily on  Fannie Mae to ease the credit requirements on loans to subprime borrowers.  Home ownership was declared a “right” without regard to financial qualifications.  The banks were eager to make such loans because they got to bundle them and sell them in “securitized” packages at huge mark-ups to investors, primarily foreign governments.  Easing of credit created a gigantic bubble in the real estate asset class, all of which has created our current global crisis.  In a truly free market, without government guarantees, lenders would have been far more circumspect about credit worthiness; and without government interference with credit markets, we would not have had too much cash (and credit) chasing too few goods (real estate), resulting in runaway inflation of home prices.  When the credit bubble collapsed, the promised collateral rapidly deflated in value, causing the banks to stop lending in an effort to improve their reserves, and no one, not the banks, not the government, and not the politicians, wanted to fix a real, current market value to the collateral for loans in default.  To do so would have required a massive mark-down of the banks assets and a considerable number of them would have been insolvent.

The above referenced Newsweek article positively gushes about our rush to European-style socialism, engaging in circular prose and unanswered questions; the questions without acceptable answers.  I give you:  “Whether we want to admit it or not . . . the America of 2009 is moving toward a modern European state.”  And, “As entitlement spending rises over the next decade, we will become even more French.”  Or how about this one:  “Polls show that Americans don’t trust government and still don’t want big government.  They do however, want what government delivers, like . . . protections from banking and housing failure.”  “The Obama administration is caught in a paradox.  It must borrow and spend to fix a crisis created by too much borrowing and spending.” (emphasis mine)  Crisis created by what policies?  No answer.  Then in direct contradiction to what it said before about a decade of increasing entitlement spending by government, this author continues:  “Having pumped the economy up with a stimulus, the president will have to cut the growth of entitlement spending . . . ).  The next article in that issue of Newsweek says approvingly:  “One of the more lasting effects will be a steady drift toward what could be called a European model of governance, regulation, and paternalism. . . the U.S. government will be forced to fill the gap, firmly directing  businesses in all sorts of ways—regulating some industries (particularly banking and the automotive sector) with big brother vigilance, favoring others like clean energy with grants and loans, and turning still others—health care and pensions—into virtual wards of the state.”  Now folks, before we lose our perspective, this loving, paternalistic, omniscient government is the same one that spent Social Security trust funds (the largest Ponzi scheme in history), that lists an enemy nation-state, China, as its largest creditor, that has a national debt equal to $186,717 for every man, woman, and child in America, that is on target to incur $7 trillion in new deficits over the next 10 years, and that has already this year of 2009 incurred a deficit equal to 4 x the total deficit for 2008, which up till then was the record highest!  Folks, this has nothing to do with capitalism.  This is vintage social planning.  The Newsweek article continues:  “So aside from expanding the social safety net, the government will have to take a greater role in guiding business toward ends the state deems healthy for the overall economy.” (Emphasis mine)  This is not the creation of wealth, it is confiscation and redistribution of that wealth to fit social and ideological visions of the planners with the guns.  This is the practical application of altruism in the field of economics, and the only real question is, how do we seize property without losing our producers?  “Publicly funded” means property expropriated from those who produced it.  As Newsweek notes almost as an afterthought:  “Slow growth could kill rugged American individualism, too.”

All of this is possible only because no one has the courage to challenge the socialists on moral grounds; that altruism is theft, not service; and that the great flaw of socialism is not its very unpleasant side effects, but the fact that it separates the producer from the product of his efforts and denies his right to keep it.  It forcibly redistributes that wealth in ways that foster dependence (aka paternalism) and the greed of the needy.  It is a philosophy that is anti-life, as we acknowledge in the Declaration of Independence, wherein we acknowledge the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Since property in a free society comes by the production of objective values that sustain life, expropriating those products is separating a man from his means to his life.

Did capitalism fail?  It never had a chance.

Thanks for visiting.  Leave a comment.  John Bechtel, Greenville, SC