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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: The Next Civil War?

May 13th, 2018 // 4:25 pm @

True or False…or False?

It’s getting worse. Just watch the news. This phrase, the “Next Civil War”, was recently used by economic forecaster Harry Dent to describe the growing divide between Red and Blue state cultures. These two sides now disagree with each other to the point that in many cases people experience real hatred for those on “the other side”.

Former president Barack Obama noted that people who largely get their news from the mainstream media and those who get their news mostly from Fox are basically living “on different planets.” They not only disagree on principles and solutions, he pointed out, but they fundamentally disagree on “facts”. What the Blue culture sees as incontrovertible truths, the Red culture frequently sees as lies. Fake. False. And the opposite is just as true: what the Red culture sees as fact is often considered false by Blue culture.

No wonder the two sides are so angry at each other. When you disagree on what the facts are, the solutions promoted by the other side frequently appear ludicrous. Even dangerous. Both sides, each rooted in its own understanding of reality, watch the other side say and do things that are clearly and painfully hurtful—according to the set of obvious but differing “facts” they each believe.

Roadblocks

This divide is widening. We’ve reached the point that one of the worst things parents can learn about their child’s “significant other” or new fiancé is that he/she is a Republican, or Democrat—depending on the family. Religion, career, ethnicity, education, financial status, and even a criminal history, are largely negotiable in most modern families. But the other political party? Many parents turn Tevye: “If I try and bend this far, I’ll break.”

Lynn Vavreck wrote in The New York Times (January 31, 2017): “In 1958, 33 percent of Democrats wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat, and 25 percent of Republicans wanted their daughters to marry a Republican. But by 2016, 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans felt that way.” And for many, the feelings run very deep. While in 1994 21 percent of Republicans viewed Democrats in the “Very Unfavorable” category, by 2016 the number was 58 percent. (Pew Research Center) In 1994 17 percent of Democrats saw Republicans as “Very Unfavorable”, but the number in 2016 had skyrocketed to 55 percent. (Ibid.)

Aaron Blake summarized this concern in The Washington Post: “If 58 percent of Republicans hate Democrats and 55 percent of Democrats hate Republicans, that would mean about 35 percent of registered voters hate the opposite political party.” (June 19, 2017) “But that’s not quite hate…. 45% of Republicans see the Democratic Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being…. [and] 41% of Democrats see the Republican Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being”. (Ibid.) When you add independents, the “hate” one of the parties (those who see the other party as a threat to the nation) makes up 39 percent of registered voters or “About 1 in 4” Americans. (Ibid.)

There are a lot of others who see the other side in an unfavorable light, around 33 percent of additional Republicans (for a total of 91% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable”) and 30 percent of additional Democrats (86% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views). (Ibid.) Note that all of this occurred before the Trump presidency. Again, this divide is real, and deep. In the Trump era the intensity has only increased.

But does any of this justify the phrase “Next Civil War”? Not yet. Not unless we’re going to surrender to hyperbole. Yet this conflict is escalating in many sectors—it’s moved beyond the traditional battlegrounds of politics and news media to additional culture and power centers including education, television, movies, entertainment awards shows, daily and nightly talk shows (both radio and television), sports, and multiple venues on social media. Even social media and Internet platforms are getting involved by adjusting algorithms to promote certain political leanings—or dampen the voice of those they dislike—often without informing their customers.

Platforms and Soapboxes

For many Americans, the sight of some NFL players purposely kneeling during the National Anthem is the ultimate symbol of this divide. One side sees young role models and leaders using their public platform to bravely protest government abuse—especially what they consider racially charged police violence. The other side feels hurt and confused by millionaire beneficiaries of the American Dream figuratively spitting on the American Flag and the sacrifice of dead and maimed military heroes.

It’s difficult to even discuss this situation rationally in many venues due to the raw and heartfelt emotions of people on both sides of the Red-Blue cultural divide.

Sadly, many schools have also become places of great conflict. For example, a national uproar occurred when a middle school teacher assigned her students to write letters to political officials urging them to pass stronger gun control laws. Should teachers tell middle school children what sides to take on political issues? And assign them to engage in activism for one specific side? At what point does teaching become brainwashing? A father of one of the students, a policeman, refused to allow his child to do the assignment. The father deeply disagreed with the politics of the teacher, and many of the other parents disagreed with the politicization of middle school in general. In response to backlash, the teacher allowed students to skip the assignment without penalty, but didn’t suggest writing against stronger gun control if this more accurately aligned with the student’s views. The same week, an elementary student was expelled from school for drawing himself hunting during a “free art” assignment, and a high school teacher was fired for a lengthy history-class soliloquy describing current members of the military as “the lowest of the low” in our society. Red and Blue cultures passionately disagreed on how these events should be handled. Both sides largely see the other’s view as ridiculous and extreme.

Another moment that epitomizes this division occurred on Broadway when the cast of Hamilton stopped the musical midstream to lecture the new Vice President elect, Mike Pence. Hamilton itself is an artistic icon—an American Les Miserables that underscores how the struggles of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and their families and peers unleashed freedom in a way that has now spread to people of all backgrounds. The lecture itself was seen by one side as a welcome comeuppance to a dangerous new administration, and by the other as yet another gauche elitist attack against the will of the voters and the American system.

Networks, Numbers, and New Divides

Thankfully this war is largely cultural—it has not devolved into massive physical violence between the two sides of a nation (like the French Revolution, U.S. Civil War, or Russian Revolution, etc.). Hopefully it will always remain peaceful. But in the fight for hearts, there is no doubt that a major civil war for the future of our republic is already under way.

Worse, it is doubtful that any real solution is imminent. When one part of the nation generally believes most of what airs on CNN, ABC, NBC and MSNBC, while another part tends to place more trust in Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or Trump tweets, the two aren’t going see eye-to-eye on much of anything. And when these two groups are the largest political blocs in our republic, we’re going to have genuine and repeated disagreements.

Perhaps the epicenter of this battle for “the hearts and minds of the people” is found in the media. And this poses a major challenge. Why? Because most of modern media—from both the Left and Right—has three serious problems:

1-It is largely agenda driven (“Forget the facts, full speed ahead!”)

2-It is shallow.

3-It is electronic.

Most people realize the problems with item #1. As a result, they stop listening to media outlets that are clearly against their views—and seem hostile to anyone with a different perspective. This has created another significant problem with modern media:

4-It is isolated. The Right listens to the Right, while the Left listens to the Left. Few listen to both. Few listen to the other side. Over time, media outlets increasingly cater to their narrow audiences, so the extremism increases.

Result: the divisions in our nation are getting wider, deeper, and more susceptible to anger and, too often, extremism and unhealthy thinking and actions.

The Missing Depth

The  2nd and 3rd problems listed just above are equally dangerous. Many people are very busy—work, family, more work, community, more family. Little time is left over for meaningful civic involvement, much less for taking the time to really dig into each day’s news, truly understand what is happening, and go way beyond the 30 second sound bites or even 3 minute segments on any given story. An hour of the news is more than most can spare—and most hour newscasts only provide a very shallow overview of a few of the day’s news topics. In short, shallow. No time for depth.

The result is that nearly all shows repeat a few top stories, with only a bit of detail. Even if a person watched television all day, he or she would usually only hear about the same top stories, addressed shallowly over and over—with different opinions but nothing really weighty or reflective. Depth is almost unheard of in most of today’s media.

This is especially true of the electronic media. Besides, television, radio, and online media typically interact with human brains more like entertainment than like something really, truly important. When we watch or listen or surf our news, in most cases, we are in the mode of moving quickly from one thought to the next. Even if we try to focus, ads, pop-ups and crawlers invade our screen with multiple headlines and distractions all at once. Our devices were purposely designed this way, in fact.

Reading the news, in contrast, naturally moves the focus into our intellect. A good start. “But nobody wants to read anything longer than a page…” today’s editors assure everyone. Many editors put the limit at “two paragraphs.” If we don’t read more deeply, we’ll truly and literally become a nation of sheep. Deep thinking is needed to deal with the reality of today’s complex and globally-interconnected world—for any citizen. And deep thinking about the news is basically impossible unless we’re reading (or listening/watching to a source that takes) much more than 5 minutes to really address an issue in some depth.

The Jefferson-Madison Debates

The term “fake news” means the following to most people: news that pushes a false agenda, distracts from truth, lies. But “shallow news” is just as bad for the nation. Even “accurate news” that is shallow is a major blow to our society. And this accounts for most of what media consumers experience. When it is both fake and shallow, we’re in real trouble.

The Left and Right argue about which news reports are “fake,” but few even claim to offer real depth in their news. And even fewer consumers seem to be actively searching for and embracing deeper news.

To reiterate: the Red-Blue divisions are growing, and intensifying, and this means that major problems are ahead unless we do something about it. My plan is to write a weekly (or, sometimes, every two week) article that treats real topics in enough depth to help readers take a step back from the constant screaming of electronic news, and really understand a topic (one at a time) enough to see behind the scenes of modern media spin and fake/shallow posturing.

More will, of course, be needed to stop our seeming national sprint toward more civil conflict. But I know this weekly column will make a difference—for those who read it.

It was the reading and thinking about articles and pamphlets during the American Founding generation that helped America gain freedom, and deep thinking is vitally needed today. I’m calling this new series of weekly articles The Jefferson-Madison Debates, and I hope you’ll join us.

It’s going to be fun.

— Oliver DeMille

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How to Get the Real News

April 27th, 2017 // 8:39 am @

“Wait!” she said. “Where did you hear that? That’s the opposite of what the news is telling people.”

“Of course it is. I didn’t get this from the news. Or social media.”

Long pause…

“Where did you get it?”

Part I: Conclusion

For many years I’ve recommended that people get their news in a special way: read 2-3 liberal publications, and also 2-3 conservative ones. Pay close attention, and note how both sides spin things. Watch for their assumptions and media agendas. Think about what you read, and draw your own conclusions.

But in the Trump era, it’s no longer this simple. The media has become so biased, so angrily bent on waging war against the current Administration, that even the conservative press frequently joins the mainstream media in its attacks—or in fighting them.

Objectivity in media reports is almost extinct. Manipulative spin is now the one constant in our national–and much of the local–media.

So, where should today’s concerned citizen get the news? The answer to this question is enlightening. In the new era of media—what could arguably be called the post-journalistic era—it’s not just about where you get the news. It’s more about how you read the news. Those who read it the right way will learn what’s really going on. Those who don’t, won’t….

Part II: Example

I open the magazine and read the first article. It’s a liberal magazine, and, like always, I’m enjoying it. Reading what people who disagree with me have to say about the current state of the world is invigorating.

When I was younger, it sometimes made me angry. A decade later it made me want to argue. Nowadays, I find myself laughing a lot. Or, once in a while, surprised by a new idea that deserves serious consideration.

For example, the first magazine I read begins with a long editorial about how the economy is “on the rise.” Markets are getting more good news than they have since 2008, and not the “media-spin economic upturn news” that Washington loved during the Obama years, but that always turned out to be false. This time it’s about a real upturn it seems.

Still, the editorial warns, the danger is that people are going to think that things like Brexit and actions of the Trump Administration are responsible for the good economic news. These are all coincidences, apparently, according to the article. Any intelligent person, the magazine seems to be communicating, will clearly realize that there is little or no correlation between Obama/European Union policies and the economic malaise that accompanied them, and the a significant economic upsurge following Brexit/Trump.

My grin turns to laughter. Are they serious? No correlation? Funny. Ironic, but humorous. The same magazine issue has the following question on the front cover: “Is the pope Catholic?” Note that the word “pope” isn’t capitalized. The article takes this question seriously—analyzing the ways the current Pope is rehashing many ideas long considered sacrosanct at the Vatican. This part isn’t funny. Interesting, and important. But I’m pondering, not laughing.

Another article proclaims: “From deprivation to daffodils… All around the world, the economy is picking up.” The cause of this, we are assured once again, has nothing to do with Brexit or conservative policies. In fact, we’re told, these things caused “jitters” and kept the economy from improving sooner.

In the same magazine, we are warned about populist uprisings from the Netherlands, Mexico, and Scotland—all part of a “dangerous” trend. (In fairness, if you favor the elite classes and a system that benefits elites above all others, it actually is a dangerous trend.)

I finish this magazine and pick up the next one. Its purpose, apparently, is to find clever and original ways to criticize Donald Trump and anyone who didn’t happily vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. A very popular hobby these days.

But this publication does it in such cerebral language that it’s really fun to read—as if reading it, just soaking it all in, must mean you are one of the smart people, the enlightened, the few, the wise. I do enjoy the creative, engaging writing, even as I find myself disagreeing with much of the content.

I start laughing again. After all, the articles work so hard to sound impartial, journalistic, even erudite. But their frustration and anger with the last election, and the current Administration, shows through on nearly every page.

For example, I read paragraph after paragraph of seemingly objective, unbiased prose (“Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts…”), then I run into words like “vengeful,” “binge,” “vindictive.” The reader is being swayed by largely journalistic writing peppered with emotional triggers. I like it. I mean, it’s interesting, and funny. Besides, the American people are smart enough to see right through this kind of bias, whatever elites think of them. Still, this kind of spin is an art, and the articles I’m reading are skillfully crafted to sway their reader—just like most of the television media.

Pundits on the Right try to do this as well as those on the Left, but the Left has more true artists—masters of this process. Good for them.  Seriously. I’m genuinely impressed. Conservatives really do need more effective artists, and more appreciation for well-crafted symbolism.

The End of the Expert

On the less artistic, more direct side of things, one article calls President Trump: “an untruthful, vain, vindictive, alarmingly erratic President.” My first thought is that this is mean-spirited. But wait. I re-read the list of criticisms more carefully. Actually, I tell myself, most of this is fairly accurate, with one exception: What liberals call “untruthful” in Trump is often more a case of inarticulate.

President Trump frequently uses imprecise language, to the point of confusing. It’s a wonderful blessing for his opponents. But I don’t think he knowingly lies as much as the media claims (not in the way career politicians so frequently lie: “If you like your health care provider, you can keep your health care provider” or “insurance premiums will go down,” or “the Benghazi attack was caused by a video made in California,” or “I did not have sex with that woman.”)

But the other things on the list are fair game. Vain. Vindictive. Erratic. The President has exhibited all of these traits at times. I’m laughing again as I ponder this twist—because the real joke is on elites. Seriously: Why did the American people elect someone who is so openly vain and vindictive at times?

This is pretty funny, when you think about it. Liberals want these things to convince Americans that he shouldn’t be president. But those who elected him don’t really care about these things.

In short, liberals seem to want a president they can look up to, hold up as a role model, even canonize (e.g. FDR, Obama). Like medieval courtiers at the palace, they want to put their king on a pedestal. “He’s such a good and great man. She’s such a good and great woman.” They want Josiah Bartlett back in the White House. Or at least Michael Douglass. Or, better still, Kevin Klein’s “Dave”.

Conservatives aren’t thinking of anything so lofty. They don’t need a prophet or a saint in the Oval Office. They just want a president who will reboot the economy and make us safer in the world. Even if he acts like a jerk sometimes.

Liberals don’t seem to get the joke. It’s funny. Think about it: the voters in a majority of states preferred someone who is sometimes vain and vindictive over the elite’s favorite choice—a lifetime politician who checked off all the boxes and did everything the Establishment considers necessary to be in the Oval Office. The voters wanted the exact opposite. The irony is rich.

I finish the second magazine and take a long, deep breath before picking up the next one. But something I just saw keeps nagging me, so I go back to the magazine and look for a certain ad.

Ah…there it is. A promotion for online courses from Julliard. Open to all. “Learn from the Julliard faculty,” the ad proclaims, “classes include…Music Theory 101, Sharpen Your Piano Artistry…. No audition required.” I can hardly believe it. Doesn’t this fly in the face of the elite prime directive: “Rule By Experts—In All Things”? Do we really live in an age where MIT, Harvard and Julliard offer open enrollment classes to everyone? What happened to rule “of the experts, by the experts, and for the experts”? Elites are using technology to promote the appearance of democracy while still focusing on elite rule in every sector.

I open the third periodical in the pile. The lead article picks up right where the other magazine left off: “How Americans Turned Against Experts.” I study this article closely, taking notes in the margins, and then I read a half-dozen others. Apparently, the people just aren’t all that impressed with rule by the experts anymore. (“What have all those experts done for us?” millions are asking. “And why can’t they fix our national problems? What’s taking so long? In fact, why do things keep getting worse in so many ways? If these Ivy-trained experts with all their lofty titles and salaries are so good for America, why don’t they fix things?”)

Cause and Effect?

Finally, I pick up the last magazine in today’s stack. Several of the articles are intriguing. For example, I read: “Poverty has profound effects on the size, shape and functioning of a young child’s brain. Would a cash payment to parents prevent harm from the experience of being poor?” At first blush, it is sad that economic struggles have negative effects on early childhood. It is also not surprising that progressives think passing out money would fix this problem—easily and effectively.

But there’s more to this than initially meets the eye. I’m reminded of the economic idea of “helicoptering”: if the economy is struggling, dump cash from helicopters to poor families. They’ll spend it, and this will provide increased demand, supply, more jobs, and an improved economy. Of course, economists don’t suggest literally throwing cash out of helicopters (like turkeys on WKRP in Cincinnati), but rather depositing money directly into the accounts of people below a certain income level.

Conservatives tend to reflexively balk at such proposals, because they believe in the law of unintended consequences. In other words, paying people without asking them to work for it makes more people want to do nothing, and more citizens become increasingly dependent on government handouts—leaving the productive people to fund it all. Not good for society.

On the flip side, I like to point out to conservative friends that one of the early proponents of such financial “helicoptering” was Milton Friedman. Why? In truth, the direct cost of giving money to poor parents is far less than the amount currently spent by governments to provide all the services they and their children receive.

If we’re going to offer a lot of socialist programs, let’s at least be efficient.

The real answer is to get rid of socialism altogether. Besides, in the long term, there’s a deeper problem. The idea of giving cash to poor parents in order to help their kids either assumes that the parents will spend it in ways that actually address the problem, or assumes that the government will monitor such spending and force parents to use it “effectively” (an escalation from helicopter parenting to “helicopter government”).

Reading the article even more closely, it becomes clear that there “are dramatic differences from person to person.” Meaning: Some people raised in poverty have normal or even above-average brains, but on average they are smaller, less developed. I’m not laughing anymore. This is deep, and important. The biggest challenge seems to occur where single parents are forced to work so much to pay the bills that there is little time for interaction with young children. The negative consequences last for generations.

Surely our society can find ways to deal with this. Sadly, in our modern world, any talk of real problems seems to turn into demands for more government programs–as if government is the only way to fix anything.

We’re all at fault here: liberals tend to want government to solve everything, and conservatives often fail to provide non-governmental solutions to real challenges that should be addressed by the private sector. Both sides just end up pointing fingers and criticizing, while the problems remain (or grow).

The article provides a lot of interesting details and proposals. I don’t agree with everything I read, but it makes me think outside the box. I finish the magazine and lean back in my chair.

The New News

We have a major problem today with media, but it’s not what most people think. The biggest issue is the fact that few of us are reading enough news. Forget the electronic news. And forget newspapers. Both are too trapped in today’s 24-hour news cycle—and the race for ratings. We need to read bigger ideas, and from a variety of sources.

Readers of quality news magazines and journals are less easily manipulated than those who get their news from TV or social media. Such readers can more adroitly identify spin or media agendas and see right through them—then grin, or laugh, or decide to study more about a certain topic.

If you’re getting most of your news from TV, newspapers, online headlines, or social media—consider moving on. Start reading longer articles, in publications or posts that treat things more deeply, like Foreign Affairs, The Economist, The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vital Speeches of the Day, and issue-oriented online sites and articles.

Read things that make you think, really ponder and analyze. And read a mix of conservative, independent, and mainstream sources.

If you do decide that you prefer to get your news from TV or online news sites, go to the business news. Where the regular news tends to focus on network political agendas, thereby frequently skewing the day’s news stories, the business news will tell you how the economy is actually doing and how today’s events impact it; this is nearly always a more accurate indication of whether to be worried or optimistic about the news of the day. The business news usually tells the story more directly, with less partisan slant.

Whatever your political views, knowing how to get the real news, to see through the media and understand what’s really happening in world events, is part of being an informed and good citizen. All of us benefit from people who do media right.

These two simple changes (1-Reading deeper issue-oriented articles rather than watching or reading the daily event-focused articles, and 2-Going to the business media rather than the political media for a clearer understanding of the news) will drastically increase how well each person understands the news and knows what’s actually happening in the world.

If you stick with the daily TV news or newspaper (or online equivalents), you are always in danger of being another one of those people who actually believe what they hear on the nightly news. In other words…grossly misinformed.

*****

(For further helps on where and how to get the real news, check out my Current Events Course at The Leadership Education Store.  This will help you significantly upgrade your ability to see through media spin and know what’s really happening in the world.)

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Understanding Trump’s Election

March 14th, 2017 // 4:52 pm @

Why Did the American People Give Donald Trump the Presidency?

Lasting Confusion

Donald_Trump_by_Gage SkidmoreThe mainstream media doesn’t get it. Why did the majority of people in the majority of states—enough to win the Electoral College—vote for Donald Trump in the last national election? For much of the elite class, not just in national newspaper offices and television network suites, but also in Hollywood circles and the halls of academia, the election of Trump makes no sense. They blame flaws in Hillary’s campaign, or Jared Kushner’s algorithms, or even Putin’s hackers.

The underlying belief among much of the elite is, “Someone smarter than the masses must have made this happen; the people certainly didn’t do this all on their own.” For elites, the explanation is still as shocking and elusive as it was on election night. The impossible happened, in their view. Therefore something must be amiss.

The truth is much more simple. The American people chose Donald Trump, for better or for worse, because they saw something the media and other elites never grasped—and still don’t. Love Trump or hate him, or anything in between, but it’s important to understand what happened, to know why voters put him in the Oval Office. We need to understand what they wanted, and what they’re still expecting from him today and in the years ahead.

Powers Big and Small

To get to the bottom of this blue-state mystery, we first need to reject the typical media attempts to explain something they don’t really understand. Simplistic rationalizations such as “white backlash” or “the rise of the angry-uneducated-poor” lack comprehension. These types of analysis show just how deeply most elites misunderstand the situation. Their shocked faces on election night demonstrated the level to which they lack clarity on what occurred—and is still occurring.

The problem is a huge gap of understanding between elites and the masses. The rift between these two groups is extreme—and widening. Today there is a great need to translate the view of the masses on freedom and progress to the elite classes (who are deeply dipped in the sauce of university-ism, careerism, and professionalism, all of which color their attempts to understand).

To begin with, the great challenge of freedom is that it is vulnerable, as Michael Polanyi assured us in his 1951 classic The Logic of Liberty. If freedom isn’t protected by the vigilance, sacrifice, and wisdom of the masses, it is even weak. Note that it is the vigilance and sacrifice of the masses that matters, not the training or sophistication of the upper class. Indeed, freedom is vulnerable and even weak precisely because the elite classes exist—and are always trying to take over. When elites of any sort rule, freedom declines for the large majority of people.

Thus the American framers gave the voting power–ultimate sovereignty and control over the government–to the masses. Not to the popular vote, but rather to the majority of people in the majority of states (through the electoral college). They did this so that a few of the most populous states couldn’t combine as a kind of elite ruling group. The framers not only wanted the people to rule, but for all people, even in little towns and on the back roads, to have a real say in government.

Why? History is clear on this: whatever group is in charge treats itself better than other groups. Always. Thus the solution to dominating rule is to have the masses govern. But even this would lead to some corruption, so the framers had the masses rule certain things (locales, states, the House, the purse strings) while elites in each state were allowed to rule other things (the Senate, foreign relations, protection of the states). National elites were given no direct power under the Constitution because the framers considered them too dangerous.

Checks in Action

Freedom is vulnerable, even weak, unless the people keep elites in check–but how? Answer: Elections. The framers knew that the masses understood something the various elite groups would never quite grasp: what the people really want. Of course, elites always think they know what is best for the masses, believing that somehow their “superior” education, training, views or wealth make them better able to tell their “inferiors” what is needed. This was arguably the framers’ biggest worry, that such elites would rule (e.g. Federalist 1,10,14,17-20,51).

Elections were designed precisely to put down such elite power.

The elite classes certainly dislike this arrangement. Who wouldn’t? But it is the very arrangement the framers gave us, and for this precise reason: to keep elites in their place. That the elite establishment is still shocked when it happens is ironic. No matter how often they think they’ve finally circumvented the Constitution and replaced chaotic Jeffersonian-society with clean, ordered aristocracy (though they never openly use this term), elections somehow keep coming along and disrupting their plans. Madison must be grinning from beyond the grave.

In the 2016 presidential election, the framers’ system once more stood up and rocked the institutions of the elite. That they’ll fight back is clear. But what will they fight against? It isn’t Trump that did this. Madison did. Hamilton gave it eloquence, Franklin added gravity, and Washington provided clout. And here’s the rub: few elites even understand why it happened. They fight it in a rage, but what, exactly are they fighting against? Most aren’t sure…

In contrast, most of the masses do understand. It was time to reduce elite power.

There is a reason most elites struggle to cut through the clutter and understand what happened. Their language isn’t designed to explain this. Their training never included it. They grasp at straws, like sophomore students of Mandarin, content to memorize vocabulary but only vaguely aware that the tone of each word drastically alters its meaning. For elites, today’s political tone from middle America is distant, unclear, alien. Most aren’t even sure it is real.

They prefer to explain away the masses as “angry.” But ask them what causes the anger, or why so many people thought Trump was the solution. The elites don’t know how to explain this to their children, much less articulate it fluently to themselves. It is a mystery… something most modern elites deeply resent and consider inferior. Not quite tangible.

Class Languages

With all their training, status, and cosmopolitanism, why are many elites so clueless about the masses? Because most non-elites communicate their political views in a different language, something elites find strange and unexpected. Also, partly, because most elites have spent a lot of personal and institutional effort trying to climb the status ladder away from the masses. To “rise above” their roots. To leave the crowd, which they largely, as mentioned, consider inferior.

Once they’ve “arrived” and become part of the professional and elite classes, the thought of going back, or, even worse, of realizing that the masses have something elite culture doesn’t—or, horror of horrors, that it might even be better in some ways—is largely unacceptable to them. The socialization of professional and elite culture makes people almost purposely unable to understand what is going on among the masses.

In other words, modern professional/elite education and training customizes people with a certain way of seeing the world. As a result, they frequently believe nobody has more wisdom than they do—certainly not people who weren’t trained to see things in the same way. But people who don’t bother or don’t know how to analyze certain things in the accepted academic way aren’t less intelligent, they just aren’t trained to respond to things in the prescribed academic format.

Instead, they use their intelligence in other ways—analyzing, considering, noticing, and responding to myriad additional clues in their search for understanding. As such, they naturally come up with different conclusions than the proscribed expert/professional method.

Who is to say their way is inferior? The truth is, the framers believed that the masses should be given more power than elites in electing our political leaders. The framers knew that the American masses would be best at knowing what is best for the American masses.

It’s really very simple. The masses vote for what they want, and elites sometimes don’t understand it because the elites want something very different. Specifically, the 2016 election meant the following to the masses:

  • America was on the verge of turning its entire government and culture over to elite domination, and we have been heading in that direction ever since the end of Ronald Reagan’s tenure.
  • It was time to reverse this trend, to reduce the power of elites and give more power back to the people.

Like the shocking upheavals that lifted a Jefferson, Jackson, or Reagan to the presidency (tearing down the growing power of elite groups, even wreaking havoc and division, but the very kind of chaos and division that drastically reduces elite power) the majority of people in a majority of states turned to Trump. Indeed, if the masses in the Democratic Party would have had their way (without the elite-class power of super-delegates), Bernie Sanders, another anti-elitist, might well be the president right now.

Two Different Elections

To the professional/elite classes this all made little sense. Accustomed by educational training and long years of seeking status in the world, the elite classes computed the election using the accepted tools of academia, career, and government. The masses had no such blockage. While the establishment shook its head in dismay, saying “he’ll bring chaos,” “he’s a blowhard,” “he’s so offensive,” “he’s spreading hatred,” and so on, many of the masses said, “He’s not one of them. He doesn’t talk like them. He doesn’t think like them. We need to stop them.”

The elite class voted based largely on the issues. They emphasized facts, figures, policies, and specifics. That’s what all politicians do—at least those who appeal to the elite classes (including most of the mainstream media).

In contrast, the masses voted to reduce the increasing power of elites.

Read that last sentence again. That’s what happened in the 2016 election. The masses wanted someone to fight against elites. They chose a Jackson. Hated by the establishment. Hated even, perhaps, by a majority of the masses. But seen as one who hopefully might be able to stand for the majority of people in the majority of states—against any more power to the elite class.

Elite culture wanted someone who appealed to them, their standards, their values, their tone, their club—a Gore, a Bush even, a McCain, Romney, Biden, Kerry, Rubio, or Clinton. Someone who played the establishment game—universityism, careerism, professionalism. Put very simply: They wanted someone who believed in and trusted experts.

According to all their metrics, Trump wasn’t even qualified to run for president. But to the winning voters, only one qualification mattered: Can he stop or slow the increasing power of elites? Not all voters articulated their feelings this way, but it was the pivot-point of the election.

First, however, such voters wanted to be sure he wasn’t actually one of them, one of the elites. He was a billionaire, after all. How could they be sure he wasn’t just pretending to be against elite rule? They found their answer in his speeches, in his language. Where the elite classes hated Trump’s imprecise language (his penchant for ignoring the facts and even stating wrong facts as long as they supported his narrative), this very approach convinced the masses that he isn’t one of the elites. Not for more elite rule. Rich, yes. But not one of them.

The more the media railed against him for his imprecise language, “tenuous connection to the facts”, and “outlandish claims and attacks”, the more secure the masses became. “He’s not one of them, he’s on our side,” they said. This continues long after the election, and most of the elite media still seem to have no idea it is happening.

The People’s Goals

A lot of voters hoped Trump could stop the power of elites, including many who disliked his personality or disagreed with him on the issues, or worried that he might turn authoritarian. Truly effective CEOs, Peter Drucker taught, are selected not on the basis of their overall strengths (the “impressive” candidate) or for their lack of weaknesses or personal flaws (the “affable” candidate), but because they are the most likely to accomplish the one biggest thing the organization most desperately needs.

Many American voters saw Trump in this light: Stop or slow the spread of elite power.

This changed the whole equation—but in ways the professional/elite/expert-loving class couldn’t even fathom. It was so far outside of their training that they laughed when Trump’s name came up, from the beginning of his campaign right up until late evening on election night. Even then, they refused to believe what they were witnessing.

Once he won, their laughter turned to anger. But they still didn’t understand. The American people elected Trump precisely because these laughing elites and professionals wouldn’t like it. He was elected to reduce their power and influence, to keep them from becoming any more powerful. To block them, thwart them, weaken them. To give the economy and our national destiny back to the masses, not leave it to the whims of the few in elite conclaves of power and influence.

The masses want change. They want to remake the economy into a nation for all, not just a nation for elites or those who play the education/career game outlined by elites (mainly for the benefit of elites).

As the establishment slowly figures this out, the more enraged and extreme their reaction becomes. The election was a referendum on them! Thus their angry opposition in the media will continue.

“Did the masses even understand candidate Trump’s position on the issues?” elites ask. Answer: Yes. They understood that his take on the issues was mostly the opposite of what the elites stand for. That was enough.

Questions and Answers

But there is more. What exactly is it that the masses understand in their non-establishment-style assessments of the election? What wisdom do they have that the elites simply can’t grasp—and that isn’t being reported in the media? What are those who put Trump into office actually seeking? On the one hand, it’s simple: reduce the power of elites. On the other hand, now that the election is over, what the masses want from Trump is deeper than the elite classes realize. What is it?

The answer to this question will be discussed in Part II of this Article, out next week.

For now, the glaring reality of the election stands, and there are those who know what it is, and those who don’t. To repeat: Voters elected Trump to reduce the power of elites.

Those who understand this, understand the election. They also understand why the media is so extreme and angry right now, and why this extremism will continue. Those who don’t understand this don’t understand the election—or current politics in Washington and around the nation.

Those who understand this also know that the elite media will do everything in its ability to get back its power. Everything. We no longer have anything resembling an objective mainstream media—it is now the leading arm of elites on the warpath. We need to see everything coming from the elite media in this light.

 

(For more on this great current battle for freedom, and how to help the right side win, see The Coming Aristocracy by Oliver DeMille. You can purchase it HERE>>)

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The Era of Extreme Media by Oliver DeMille

January 26th, 2017 // 7:59 am @

(How Bias in Media is Getting Even Worse, and What To Do About It)

Part I

division-copyThe U.S. media hasn’t been so blatantly biased since the days of the muckrakers. For decades many Americans have known that the mainstream media has a liberal lean. It treated Bush I, Bush II, McCain and Romney differently (worse) than progressives like Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Hillary, and Obama. But in the Trump era the media has gone all in: it has largely lost its sense of objectivism or balance.

This isn’t limited to a few channels or outlets. Nearly every news organization that once claimed journalistic objectivism is clearly one-sided. Journalism is dead, for all practical purposes, as some political watchers have suggested.

Consider TIME magazine’s handling of its famous Person of the Year. In 2015 it refused to put Trump on the cover, even though by the end of that year he had clearly turned American politics on its head (for good or ill, depending on your viewpoint). When the magazine did choose Trump as the 2016 person of the year—even TIME couldn’t deny the surprising revolution he presided over—it did so in backhanded fashion. The cover announced: 2016 Person of the Year, Donald Trump, President of the Divided States of America.

Note the word “divided” in the last sentence.

This kind of bias is now the norm. Not that our nation isn’t divided. It clearly is, and no doubt Trump would gladly own responsibility for that in 2017. But it was deeply divided in the Obama era as well. Why would objective media attribute such divisions to Trump but not Obama? Indeed, this level of divisiveness is perhaps the major lasting feature of President Obama’s legacy. Much of the media simply ignored how many people were deeply alienated by Obama’s politics. Top media outlets literally fawned over Obama, and his heir-apparent, Hillary Clinton, during the past several years. It lauded them, praised them, discounted and downplayed failures—as if such things didn’t matter in the presence of such glowing leaders.

A commentary in The Atlantic noted that Trump voters tended to take his words seriously but not literally, while Hillary supporters took Trump’s words literally but not seriously. But progressives applied the same standard to Obama: they took him seriously but not literally, quickly dismissing broken promises about Syria, Guantanamo, keeping one’s healthcare provider, the cost of insurance going down, etc. They excoriate Trump on the details of his promises, while giving Obama a pass on a long string of failed promises.

Extremism in media is now the fashion. Extreme flattery of Obama and Clinton coupled with extreme vilification of Trump and anyone who voted for him. Even if you dislike Trump’s approach or politics, this development in our national media is alarming.

Moreover, we seem to be entering a new era of media behavior. During the Bush years the mainstream media was clearly liberal, but conservatives, centrists and even progressives could find some balance in media coverage by reading and watching both sides of the media: The New York Times and also The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and also Fox, The Atlantic and also The Weekly Standard, The Huffington Post and also National Review.

For every mainstream liberal media outlet there were comparable conservative publications and networks.  This is no longer the case. Conservative news is still available, but much of Fox is anti-Trump, and many traditionally conservative media outlets publish articles that read like The NY Times or Huffington Post in their attacks on Trump and his embryonic administration.

The reason for this is obvious. Many on the Right distrust Trump, considering him an authoritarian at best (which may or may not turn out to be true), and the old balance of Right versus Left is almost entirely gone in the media landscape. Where are the publications or channels that support the administration’s platform, viewpoint and interests? They are practically nonexistent.

Regardless of how you feel about Trump as president, this is a dangerous development. Americans have long decried Soviet-style media in nations where the government controlled journalistic outlets and the people only got one side of the story—the official line as approved by the dominating state. In the United States we are witnessing the rise of the opposite extreme: a one-sided media that only tells the American people one story: zealous anti-Trump rhetoric. The media that blasts Trump for his bombast also frequently surpasses him in pomposity (toward Obama and Clinton) and arrogant anger (toward Trump and Trump voters). They spin and inflate (and quite simply misreport) policies, utterances and choices he makes, without clarification or retraction.

Again, this is alarming, even if you dislike Trump. A one-sided media simply cannot be objective, and to aggressively set out shape public opinion in such a fashion is a reprehensible tact for a sector of society that has traditionally been a watchdog of democracy. If this continues, we won’t be getting the full story, or the real story, in the years ahead. And we won’t be able to balance mainstream views with strong media reporting from the other side—because pretty much no media anywhere cares about truthfully communicating both sides. Nearly the entire industry is committed to either passionately attacking the new administration, or misrepresenting its loyal opposition.

Part II

On a deeper societal level, part of this growing media problem is couched in the national antipathy toward the so-called experts. Our economy has become so specialized in many sectors that people are increasingly expected to rely on experts for major decisions in their lives (educational, financial, parental, healthcare, etc.), often without even seriously questioning the “accepted expert wisdom” or making their own choices. For the Establishment, Trump voters represent the opposite of this trend.

For example, a political cartoon from The New Yorker showed a middle-aged man, balding and portly, standing up in the aisle of an airplane and announcing to the passengers: “These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

At first blush, few of us want some regular guy from our next flight to use democracy to take over the cockpit. But the cartoon hits an even deeper chord. While it is apparently meant to criticize many American voters, it actually does a lot to point out flaws in the expert-dependent Establishment.

First, nearly all passengers shown in the cartoon are raising their hands. Democracy is strongly against the expert-dependent Establishment right now. Most people are skeptical of experts, seeking a second or even third opinion even in arenas where expertise is most sacred.

Second, the word “smug” in the cartoon is poignant. Only smug experts would believe such a political cartoon would make their point; the truth is that most voters, unlike most airline passengers, aren’t seeking a political expert in the White House. They specifically prefer a non-expert, a non-politician. The Establishment can’t quite grasp why anyone would hold this view. They really are out of touch.

These people want a wise and effective leader, not a bureaucratic manager. They want a visionary and strong commander-in-chief, not another smug political specialist. (There is an excellent commentary on the same cartoon in USA Today, January 6, 2017.) Voters want an outsider. They want someone who doesn’t actually like the bureaucracy and the lobbyists. Most of the media realizes this on a logical level, but just can’t bring themselves to believe it in their gut. Mainstream media wants government by experts. A lot of voters don’t.

Of course there is an important place for expertise in society. But clearly elections should be up to the people, all the people across the U.S. – not just the population-dense regions on the right and left coasts. Our era of over-reliance on professional political experts and bureaucratic dominance has caused a lot of problems. Concerning journalism, we want experts in telling us the truth and letting us make our own decisions, not experts of spin who sway the populace to a certain political view—whatever it is. Unfortunately, for decades many in the media have been telling us that their opinion is the truth—to trust them—to follow them—because they know what is best for us. The people are calling their bluff.

At the highest level, the Establishment acts on the assumption that experts determine elections. For example, most elites are convinced that expert choices, not voters, really swayed the latest election, and other elections as well. This is broadcast in various ways, including the following Establishment beliefs:

  • Obama’s social media gurus and ground game won 2008 and 2012, while Jared Krushner’s Silicon Valley-style analytics and online campaign won 2016 for Trump.
  • Russian hackers were responsible for election outcomes, since clearly the American people wouldn’t have voted this way without some kind of sinister expert intervention.
  • Media sway makes the biggest difference in presidential elections, and the mainstream media was clearly anti-Trump; therefore, Fox and talk radio are responsible for the “skewed” results on election night.

In reality, voters gather information in many ways, consider their options, and then select whom they want to lead (or vote against the candidate they least want to be in charge). It is ironic that the Establishment lauds democracy at every turn, but doesn’t actually believe in it. The Establishment believes, rather, that experts ultimately determine votes, one way or the other. And that they should.

Again, this arrogance is only expanding in the current media environment. I expect it to widen and deepen in the months and years ahead.

Part III

In all this, what are freedom-loving citizens to do? What about those who sincerely want to get both sides of the news and really compare what the White House is doing and thinking to what the mainstream media is reporting? Answer: such citizens are largely out of luck. They aren’t getting much help from institutional media.

They can try reading The Economist, which is certainly not a pro-Trump or even remotely conservative publication but is at least European and not quite so caught up in the anti-Trump venom of the American national media. This is a good option for some readers. Or they can read the business news, like Fortune and Forbes, for example, which focuses on commerce and addresses the news only tangentially—and with less extremism. Again, some readers can use this kind of sidebar-journalism to get a more objective read on the new.

But it’s hardly a solution. The real answer is for the media to self-regulate and deliver objective, quality journalism. Until this happens—if it ever does—citizens who want to know what is really happening are going to need to find quality sources of knowledge. Most sources of this kind will come not from big media outlets, but rather from deep thinkers who share important views online.

Find writers and thinkers—instead of relying on publications or channels—that spark your thinking and help you see things differently than the major media retailers and showrooms. Since the big media isn’t doing its job anymore, it’s up to us as individuals to more actively seek out ideas and knowledge.

The silver lining in this new era of media is real. In the current news environment, it is up to each of us to dig deeper and think more independently if we want to see through media spin and really keep an eye on the news. The mainstream media is taking much of the nation on a pied-piper-style spin, and only the vigilant will actually know what’s really going on in current events.

 

(Consider taking our Current Events Course, which helps participants learn to more effectively see through the media, whatever its agenda, and know what’s really happening. Once you’ve completed this course, try getting your news by reading a major publication from both sides of the aisle, such as The Atlantic and also The Wall Street Journal, and then adding one or more of the sources listed above to get a more objective view of things. We all need to read more closely in this new era of media, and keep our thinking caps on no matter what we’re reading.)

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PART TWO: Free Enterprise is Better than Capitalism

December 27th, 2016 // 7:50 am @

Part II: The Central Issue of the Trump Era*

“The median [U.S.] family debt went from an average
of $25,000 per family in 1989 to over $70,000 in 2010.
It’s getting harder to make ends meet,
and harder to stay financially afloat.”
—The 5 S’s of Money (citing the Center for American Progress)

A missing piece of entrepreneurship-Free enterprise rewardsLET’S get straight to the point. The biggest battle in the Trump Era probably won’t be capitalism versus socialism. It will be free enterprise versus crony capitalism. For America’s future, free enterprise simply must win.

But crony capitalism is far ahead in this battle right now.

To understand this, we need to define some terms. There are two major types of economies: market economies and command economies. The first is based on freedom, the second on force.

Within these two branches there are a number of subtypes, including various kinds of command economies such as socialism, communism, fascism, collectivism and different applications of economic authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

The divisions of market-style economies are sometimes more confusing to people from free societies, because most of us have been trained to evaluate political and economic issues in binary mode where we narrow any debate down to only two sides—such as liberal vs. conservative, socialist vs. capitalist, democratic vs. totalitarian, good or evil, Allies or Axis, believers and atheists, idealists and realists, free or not free, and so on.

That said, we live in an era where the various types of market economics are now in conflict. During the Cold War the world was divided between two great camps, with market economies of all types firmly allied against the command economies–the NATO nations of the West versus the Soviet Bloc and world communism.

But after the Cold War (and especially in the post-9/11 world), this has dramatically changed. There are forces supporting each of the various types of market economies, and these are often pitted against each other in ways unthinkable before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Capitalism Deconstructed

Differentiating between these sub-types is important for anyone who wants to accurately understand what is happening in today’s world. When people use the term “capitalism,” they may be referring to any of the following five types of market economies. And the truth is that each of these models has drastically different goals and processes:

  • Mercantilism: A system where the law allows market forces but gives preference and special benefits to the sector of the economy owned (or directly controlled) by the government. Also known as “state capitalism.” This system was historically used by the British Empire. As Parag Khanna put it in 2016: “…all countries practice some form of ‘state capitalism’ today, whether subsidizing strategic industries, restricting investments in key sectors, or mandating financial institutions to invest more at home.” (Khanna, 2016, Connectography, 33)
  • Corporatism: A system where the law encourages market forces and also gives preference and special benefits to the sector of the economy owned by big corporations within the nation, sometimes referred to often as “Big Business,” “The Military-Industrial Complex,” or simply “The Establishment.”
  • Keynesianism: A system where the law allows market forces but gives preference and special benefits to companies and institutions that are so big that they tend to care more about their public image for societal responsibility and promoting social justice than about profit(s), market share or stock value. According to Keynes himself, Keynesianism seeks the goals of socialism through market means.
  • Capitalism (crony capitalism): A system where the law encourages market forces and also gives preference and special benefits to the sector of the economy owned by big capital—including big corporations like in Corporatism, but also wealthy foreign and multinational corporations, and highly influential non-corporate institutions such as rich foundations, moneyed trusts, political parties, well-funded lobbies and special interest groups, affluent non-profit entities, wealthy families, moneyed foreign investors, and others with large amounts of capital. Under this system, the rich rule society, and they naturally influence government to maintain policies that benefit the rich more than others.
  • Free Enterprise: A system where the law encourages market forces and gives no special preferences; it protects equal rights for all individuals and entities and leaves initiative and enterprise to private individuals, groups, businesses and organizations that are all treated equally and with minimal legislation by the legal code.

All five of these sub-types are market-based, and sometimes called “free market” or simply “market economy” systems. But please carefully re-read the differences between these five economic models, because, again – while they are all market systems, they differ drastically in theory and practice.

For the last three generations, these five types of market economics have frequently been lumped together under the label of “capitalism.” While this is technically inaccurate—because capitalism is a sub-type rather than the whole of market economics—this is the way the word “capitalism” has been used and understood by most people.

Under this popular definition, capitalism is synonymous with “market economics” and is a label for the entire free-market model. But even when people use this broader definition, it is important to distinguish which of the five types is being discussed—because the future of freedom under capitalism, corporatism or mercantilism will be a very different reality than it would be under true free enterprise.

So, to summarize, we have five definitions of “capitalism” in the current usage, and another definition which uses “capitalism” to refer to all the five types together. Naturally, these definitions are frequently confused in our contemporary language. Note that even the broader definition of “capitalism” includes every market approach from corporatism and Keynesianism to mercantilism and crony capitalism. In all of this, free enterprise is often forgotten.

Even worse, in the realm of modern politics all five of these systems are frequently lumped together and referred to as “democracy” or simply “freedom.” While this is a partially accurate definition, it confuses the fact that these five kinds of systems behave very differently and offer different results to society.

Madison Weighs In

Understanding the details and nuances of how these words are used is extremely important to maintain freedom. The American founders dealt with several similar language challenges, such as when Madison felt the need to write Federalist Papers 10 and 14 explaining the important differences between democracies and republics.

He also used papers 18, 19 and 20 to clarify the differences between federations and confederations, as well as national and federal governments. Without such clarity, the Constitution would have been confusing to many Americans who were deciding whether or not to ratify it. The fact that today most Americans don’t understand these differences illustrates how far we have devolved from the level of education exemplified by the founding generation.

There are numerous similar examples, and part of being a free people is taking the time to understand the nuances of economic and political freedom and the language of liberty. No nation in history has long maintained freedom at a level deeper than that understood by the regular citizens in the society. And note that few things are more essential for free people than clearly understanding what type of economic system they want.

Based on the definitions above, consider the following three observations:

  1. All five types of market economies are better (meaning they have more freedom, opportunity and prosperity for more people) than all types of command economies.

Even the market approaches with the least freedom (Keynesianism and mercantilism) are significantly better than the command systems with the most freedom (collectivism and socialism).

  1. Still, when comparing the five subtypes of market economies, free enterprise is significantly better (with more freedom, opportunity and prosperity for more people) than mercantilism, corporatism, crony capitalism, and/or Keynesianism.
  1. The United States, Canada, Britain, France, Switzerland, Japan and other leading free nations of the world today have far too much mercantilism, corporatism, crony capitalism, and Keynesianism—and not enough free enterprise.

This is surprising to most citizens of America and the free world. For example, many conservatives in the United States argue that we are a “capitalist” nation or vote for the “capitalist” candidate and conclude that all is well, when in fact free enterprise is under attack from socialism but also just as strongly from mercantilists, corporatists, Keynesians and crony capitalists.

Voters and citizens must know what to look for when a policy or candidate claims to promote “capitalism.”

Real Life Differences

Some might argue that most of this is mere theory, and that the United States today is a free enterprise society rather than a crony capitalist system as outlined here. Such an assumption is incorrect. The U.S. commercial code has numerous laws which are written specifically to treat people differently based on their wealth—and extending special benefits to those with more capital.

For example, it is illegal for those with less than a certain amount of wealth to be offered many of the best investment opportunities. Only those with a high net worth (the amount is set by law) are able to invest in such offerings. This is capitalism, not free enterprise. Under free enterprise, the law would be the same for all people.

Also, in many cities employees of the wealthy are allowed special legal benefits—such as carrying firearms (personally or through body guards), operating under false names, or traveling with different security measures—that are withheld from the regular citizens. However a person feels about gun laws or financial policies, such laws specifically treat the rich and powerful differently than the rest. Crony capitalism gives them special benefits.

This bears repeating: The laws of the United States stipulate that if you have more money you can invest in business opportunities that people with less money cannot (to study this in more depth, see the terms “sophisticated investor,” “accredited investor,” and SEC regulations on private investment offerings). The specific amounts and details are changed by law over time, but we are absolutely a crony capitalist nation where the laws give higher benefits to the rich.

In fact, many of these laws, including all the examples above, specifically benefit the wealthy to the detriment of wage earners. Regular working people are excluded by law from the best investments and various other perks and benefits. This system is called capitalism, and it is a bad system—better than socialism or communism, to be sure, but not nearly as good as free enterprise.

With all this said, the amazing thing is that this reality is basically ignored by almost everyone, mainly because those who point out the flaws of capitalism tend to be promoting socialistic solutions rather than free enterprise.

As a result, people are accustomed to attacks on the rich by those who want bigger government. But almost nobody has experienced those who want more free enterprise and much smaller government pointing out that the rich have terribly unfair legal advantages in our society—and that this is a bad system.

In fact, this is so deeply ingrained in most people that when they hear anyone criticizing the unfair benefits enjoyed by the rich, they seldom believe that the speaker is making a case for smaller, limited government and less socialism. We are so conditioned, that this possibility just does not compute.

Some may say that I am overstating this point. “Of course the rich and powerful are treated differently than the rest. After all, they are rich and powerful!” While this may be true, such a view is itself a symptom of aristocratic society with preferential class divisions. And in nations where the laws and government treat the rich and powerful differently, freedom is always in decline.

In free enterprise systems, the law allows all people to take part in any investments. If there are laws about bodyguards, firearms, using false names, or anything else, they are the same for every single citizen in the nation. This is what free enterprise means, because such a system gives everyone truly equal opportunities. In a system where Congress creates one set of laws for some, and different laws for those with wealth, status, or position, free enterprise isn’t allowed to give people the full benefit it should.

Indeed, in our system, Congress goes so far as to exempt its own members from certain laws and guidelines; this is especially harmful when members of Congress are allowed special financial opportunities that other people are not. Thus it isn’t surprising to see people elected to Congress and within a few terms become extremely wealthy, even though their actual salary could never generate such prosperity. They are allowed (by their own votes in Congress) to make deals that are illegal for regular people. This is crony capitalism, not free enterprise.

The Local Test

Another way to test the level of free enterprise in your society it to start a business in your local area. In fact, start two. Let the local zoning commissions, city council and other regulating agencies know that you are starting a business, that it will employ you and two additional employees, and then keep track of what fees you must pay and how many hoops you must jump through to gain the needed approvals.

At the same time, have your agent announce to the same government officials that a separate company, a big corporation, is bringing in a large enterprise that will employ 4,000 people—all of whom will pay taxes to the local area and bring growth and prestige. (Don’t really announce this—because if it’s untrue you might be breaking the law, unlike big corporations that are allowed to routinely float such trial balloons.)

Then simply sit back and watch how the two businesses are treated. In most towns, counties and cities in the United States, the small business will face an amazing amount of red tape, meetings, filings and obstacles—the big business will likely be courted and given waivers, benefits and government-funded publicity.

Add up the cost to government of both of your proposed businesses, and two things will likely surprise you: 1) how much you will have to do to set up a small business, and 2) how much the government will be willing to spend to recruit the large business.

This is the natural model in a crony capitalist system. Capital gets special benefits and a different level of treatment by the government. The result in such a system is that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, entrepreneurialism is discouraged, and many jobs, innovation, investments and growth move to other nations.

In contrast, under free enterprise, everyone is treated the same by the law. Free enterprise is a better system than capitalism—it provides more freedom, opportunity and prosperity to many more people.

Bait and Switch

All of this is more than a mere philosophical or semantic argument about which word we should use. The truth is that many people, probably most people, who feel positively about capitalism actually mean free enterprise when they say “capitalism.” The things they admire about “capitalism” aren’t special benefits to the rich and different laws for the rich versus the poor or middle class, but rather a true free market where everyone is treated equally by the law and where each person has true and equal freedom of opportunity.

The problem is that this definition of capitalism seldom makes its way into official government policies or the law. People support free enterprise, which they call “capitalism,” and the government implements public policy that is certainly capitalism (because it favors those with more capital) but violates the principles of free enterprise. This “bait and switch” is one of the main problems with using the term capitalism.

If by capitalism we mean true economic freedom and laws that treat everyone the same, regardless of their level of wealth, and if this thing we call capitalism made it into our laws and became our operational policies, I would ardently support it. In fact, I would support such a system whether we called it free enterprise, capitalism, or even zebra- or giraffe-ism. The system, not the label, is the important thing.

The problem occurs when people support a thing called “capitalism” because they believe it is free economics for all, and then those in power take this popular support and use it to enforce something very different. This is the current reality, and it is hurting the middle and lower classes by decreasing their opportunities and abilities to prosper. Again, most people don’t even realize this is happening to them.

Freedom for All

In short, call it what you will, but we need a system of truly free economics with laws that treat everyone the same. Words mean things, and the word “capitalism” emphasizes special benefits to the wealthy with capital just as naturally as the phrase free enterprise promotes freedom and enterprise for all. Still, it is the actual system that matters, and all of us would do well to carefully observe political and economic details and nuances—regardless of how things are labeled.

When the laws are altered at all levels so that government entities treat all businesses and individuals the same, regardless of how much capital they have (or don’t have) in the bank or as assets, the natural result is the spread of more business, innovation, entrepreneurialism, jobs and economic growth. Free enterprise, not government favoritism of any sort, is the most effective economic model.

If we want to call the future of our society by the name capitalism, fine. But we must find ways to effectively change the current model to a system where the law treats everyone the same by maintaining true freedom and opportunity for everyone—without special government benefits for a few elites.

It is important to recognize that this is about more than quibbling over what word to use. As long as our society gives special legal and financial benefits to elites, while withholding them from the rest of the people, freedom will continue to decrease and the gap between the 1 percent, and even the .01 percent, and the rest will keep expanding. For the typical family, this means they will have to work longer and harder in increasingly scarce jobs in order to earn less and less. This is a bad economic model—bad economically, and bad for freedom and society.

Today’s Major Challenge

To put this all in perspective, the Trump Era is on target to emphasize mercantilism, corporatism, Keynesianism, and especially crony capitalism.

This needs to change. We need to focus on free enterprise.

But first, people need to realize that this is even an issue. The truth is, the battle between free enterprise and other types of capitalism isn’t just an issue right now—it is the central issue of the Trump Era.

We need to start acting like it.

*(Note to Reader: This post is part of an upcoming new book by Oliver DeMille, entitled Free Enterprise versus Capitalism: Battle for the Future of Freedom.)

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