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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: To Pay, or Not to Pay…

June 12th, 2018 // 10:12 am @

Tackling a Universal Basic Income

(Book Reviews: Annie Lowrey, 2018, Give People Money;
Richard Weaver, 1948, Ideas Have Consequences [2013 reprint])

“Neither parents nor children have any other prospects than what are founded upon industry, economy, and virtue…. Hence arises a spirit of universal activity, and enterprise in business…. No difficulty or hardship seems to discourage them.”

—Samuel Williams, History of Vermont, 1794

“Buy that latte and a child dies.”
—Esquire, The Money Issue, April 2016

Up or Down

I recently saw a cartoon that made me smile. If I remember correctly, it portrayed a Raptor on the left, an ostrich-like creature in the middle, and a chicken [Editor: Kiwi, actually?] on the right. The caption read:

EVOLUTION

MISTAKES WERE MADE

I laughed pretty hard. If evolution really did go from raptors to chickens, Darwin’s survival of the fittest and natural selection leave a lot of questions. Funny.

A similar energy frequently invades modern public policy. Far too many government programs seem to accept that if we have the right goals in mind, if our heart is in the right place and we’re really trying to fix things, it doesn’t matter much if we legislate in a way that will actually solve the problems. Just trying is, apparently, enough.

For example, we want better education for our youth, but if throwing more money at public schools would really fix the problem, we’d be ahead of Japan, the United Kingdom and Switzerland in language, math, and science. In fact, the U.S. ranks 17th overall among industrialized nations (Source: Ranking America), and while we rank first in expenditures per student (over $12,000 per year for each high school student), American 15-year-olds score 31st in math literacy and 23rd in science (Source: CBSnews.com). Clearly something more than additional funding is needed—like a re-emphasis on real teaching, which means mentored personalization for each student. Instead, government programs keep throwing more money at schools in ways that don’t help, as if trying harder is somehow good policy.

Likewise, if passing tougher gun laws would seriously solve or even significantly reduce violent crime, they might make sense. But since the statistics clearly show that such laws don’t fix the problem (criminals don’t really follow them, after all), why are we still even debating the topic? Why it’s a good idea to have the law-abiding citizens unarmed and the criminals armed to the teeth—as a direct result of government policy—is pretty much mindboggling. But at least somebody is trying, right?

Better than Bad

One more example: if we really could significantly reduce the cost of health care for everyone, and at the same time insure everyone, keep the same doctor, and keep the same healthcare provider, who wouldn’t want that? But Obamacare was promoted and passed even though many of the experts warned of exactly what happened—premiums skyrocketed, many people had to change their healthcare providers, a lot of companies and states pulled out, and a lot of people couldn’t keep their doctor. “We had to try, though, didn’t we?” Some Americans apparently still think this is a sound basis for government policy. We subscribe to the kindergarten mentality of “‘A’ for effort,” or “‘A’ for intention” –regardless of principles or outcomes.

In short, when we don’t understand human nature, we make mistakes. Numerous governmental attempts to solve our problems could be labeled:

GOVERNMENT PROGRAM

MISTAKES WERE MADE

This time nobody’s laughing though, maybe because we realize that we are the chickens in the cartoon. And if you’ll forgive a mixed metaphor, now: Not a lot of people like being guinea pigs. We need a better standard for government policy than “But we have to try! It’s such a big problem, so even bad policy is better than no policy.”

And yet: Not so. Government policies sometimes make things worse, not better.


Part II

“Do you see the necessity of accepting duties
before you begin to talk of freedoms?

These things will be very hard,
they will call for deep reformation.”
—Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 1948

“You need $1,000 today. How to get it.”
—Headline in Esquire, The Money Issue, April 2016

Open Account, Open Mind

Which brings us to a very important topic: A Universal Basic Income (UBI). The UBI has been recommended in one form or another by Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Ray Kurzweil, Bernie Sanders and others, and now Annie Lowrey’s new book Give People Money makes an energetic case for it. Lowrey’s subtitle outlines the major perceived benefits of the program: “How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World”.

“Imagine if every month the government deposited $1,000 into your checking account,” suggests the ad copy for Give People Money, “with nothing expected in return.” Interesting. Nothing expected in return? What about the taxes needed to fund the $1K per person across the nation, or the globe? That’s actually quite a significant expectation.

But I digress. Let’s keep an open mind and listen to Lowrey’s proposal. After all, even arch-conservative/libertarian thinkers Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek made a case for a Universal Basic Income, or something like it.

Hayek said:

“The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be a wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the great society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born.”

Friedman suggested that in times of economic stagnancy, when consumers aren’t spending and producers aren’t creating, it might be prudent to jumpstart the economy by “helicoptering.” This consists of dumping large amounts of cash from helicopters, allowing people to pick up the money and spend it—thus rebooting business. Of course, the actual idea behind “helicoptering” was to deposit a predetermined amount of money into the bank accounts of large numbers of people, those making less than a certain amount of money, not actually throwing cash from helicopters. While this plan focused on a one-time event, not a monthly deposit like most Universal Basic Income proposals, the principles are reminiscent.

Ends and Beginnings

To many conservatives, it makes sense that liberals, progressives, and socialists would endorse the idea of a Universal Income. But the same basic support from both Hayek and Milton Friedman is a head-scratcher.

In context, Hayek seems to have made this proposal as an alternative to entrenched socialism: a system where most or all of the jobs are controlled and distributed by government. In such an environment, a Universal Income would actually provide the opportunity for a budding free market, a chance for entrepreneurship, or “to relocate” to another nation with more freedom. (See Matt Zwolinski, “Why Did Hayek Support a Basic Income?” Libertariansim.org).

Lowrey’s proposal, in contrast to Hayek, is set in our current world. Or, more precisely, in a better world built on this one. The benefits of the program would be, mainly:

*End systemic poverty. By “hacking poverty”, we could eliminate much of the suffering and dead-end misery in the world (or nation). (Give People Money) Those who want more than the $1,000 per month, or whatever the UBI is, could work more or build a business, etc.—just like many people do now. But those who choose otherwise would at least have a basic living.

*Emphasize individual purpose. People could focus on doing work they love, rather than being tossed about by the cold demands of market forces. Individuals could emphasize their life purpose, and spend their days doing things they really care about. No more “crummy jobs.” (Ibid.) This might even help create a “groovy, Trekkie post-capitalist world without work”. (Ibid.)

*Improve social justice. It might even help nudge the world towards truly solving the problems of social injustice. “A UBI” Lowrey says, “would undercut the basis of such judgments [including racial, class, and gender discriminations] and be a powerful force for human dignity.” (Ibid.) It would also acknowledge “that our market economy leaves people out and behind, creating poverty and punishing individuals who cannot or are not working for an employer…. It would acknowledge our interdependence as well as our independence.” (Ibid.)

*Increase and spread freedom. Lowrey: “A universal, unrestricted cash benefit—just giving people money—would promote the ‘true individual freedom’ that comes from ‘economic security and independence’ as Roosevelt argued seventy years ago.” (Ibid.)

Into Reality

Most people—whatever their political leanings—can agree with the goals of ending poverty, emphasizing individual purpose in life, improving social justice for everyone, and increasing/spreading freedom. Personally, I don’t know anyone who is against these 4 things. The devil, the cliché promises, is in the details. The disagreement turns on how to accomplish such ideals. Conservatives, libertarians, liberals and progressives, not to mention socialists, anarchists, communists, mercantilists, humanists, distributists, originalists and Keynesians have long pointed out the flaws in each others’ proposals. How indeed can such goals be realized? Or, as Nietszche often quipped: “How now?”

It’s one thing to have a dream; quite another to implement it effectively—in a way that both works and lasts.  Lowrey, fortunately, gives us specifics: She wrote: “Providing a $1,000-a-month UBI to every American citizen would mean spending something like an additional $3.9 trillion a year. This is equivalent to a fifth of the American economy—and equal to every penny the federal government currently spends, on everything from building bridges to fighting wars to caring for the elderly to prosecuting crimes to protecting wetlands.” (Ibid.)

The obvious first question is: Who’s going to pay for this? Lowry: “The top 1 percent of earners pay about 40 percent of all income taxes, which comes to about $600 billion a year. You could tax away every penny they earned, and it would still not come close to paying for a full-fat UBI in other words.” (Ibid.)

Not a good start. But, Lowrey points out: “Eliminating or trimming back other programs would help defray the expense. Right now, the government spends roughly $2.7 trillion on its social-insurance programs…. Still, a $1,000-a-month benefit, or a smaller one, would require new spending and likely new sources of revenue, regardless of how deep other budgets were cut…. Giving the same thing to everyone means spreading the butter a lot thinner, meaning that we need more butter.” (Ibid.)

She identifies some of the major criticisms of a UBI, but suggests that “the knee-jerk opposition to some form of a UBI—crying that it is too expensive or unrealistic—feels over-wrought. Raising enough revenue for a $1,000-a-month UBI is more a matter of will than of mathematics, and would bring the United States’ tax burden in line with that of the European social democracies…. Creating a top tax bracket at 55 percent, instituting a modest wealth tax, ending the mortgage interest deduction, implementing a value-added tax—proposals like those would get us there.” (Ibid.) She further argues that since the U.S. government prints its own money, “dollars are not something the United States government can run out of.” (Ibid.)  [Editor coughs and sputters…]

Lowrey is quick to add that the government shouldn’t print so much money as to cause rampant inflation, but still, she maintains, government debts, deficits, and a bit of inflation aren’t the worst things in the world. A UBI is worth it, she seems to suggest. But her easy approach to the math is…well…you decide: “A financial transactions tax would raise an estimated $100 billion to $400 billion a year. A value-added tax could easily raise a trillion dollars. A well-designed carbon tax would raise about a $100 billion a year. Moreover, a wealth tax, such as a hefty levy on estates over $3 million, could raise hundreds of billions.” (Ibid.) Taxes on robots are also a possibility, Lowrey suggests, as are Negative Income Taxes where the IRS sends monthly checks to everyone below the poverty level. (Ibid.)

Where? How?

On a personal level, I was very excited to read the section on “how” to fund a UBI. After reading over three-fourths of the book and its very interesting examples and ideas about UBI economics, I was thrilled to finally get to the nitty-gritty of the plan. The finances. But…it never came. The paragraph above was as close as it got. Granted, these are interesting ideas about funding a UBI, but there is no actual detailed proposal in this book. Disappointing, to say the least.

In fairness, perhaps a specific plan for a UBI wasn’t Lowrey’s point—such a plan might detract from her real goal, which was to promote the idea of implementing a UBI. The plan can come later. Or, possibly, she has such a plan but felt that this book should emphasize the benefits of the idea, not get people caught up in the details of just one way to do this. Wise choice, perhaps.

Still, without a specific plan, without real numbers, how can we assess the efficacy of pursuing a UBI? “We have to try” simply isn’t good enough. Especially when the numbers are so fuzzy. For example, a carbon tax might “raise about a $100 billion a year”, but how would the same tax reduce revenues from other segments of the economy—with profits impacted by energy prices? Increased fuel prices causes by such a tax would impact almost every sector of the economy. And, yes, a “value-added tax” might “easily raise a trillion dollars”, but this is a gross total, not net. The impact would be huge, and not all for good.

Likewise, even if everything Lowrey says about increased taxes is true, what is the net impact of “[c]reating a top tax bracket at 55 percent, instituting a modest wealth tax, ending the mortgage interest deduction,” etc.? What, precisely, is a “modest wealth tax”? Modest by what standard? And how does such a tax impact charities, philanthropies, and those who receive inheritances? True, Lowrey’s point is that there are ways to increase taxes—and thereby pay for a UBI—but she says little about how such increases will redirect and redistribute money. Or even if any (or all) of these increases will boost or weaken the overall economy. If GDP actually declines, the source of UBI funding will dry up, or at least diminish—while the amount required to send out $1,000-per-month naturally goes up with population.

For the Future

I actually really like Give People Money—it is well-written, enjoyable to read, full of interesting stories – sometimes fascinating, always thought-provoking. The research and quotes are excellent. Any book that features George Jetson in the same sentence as Marie Curie has my attention. By the way, I spent three very enjoyable hours just reading the endnotes and looking up articles and sources that sparked my interest. Fascinating! I’m a Lowrey fan.

In short, I recommend the book. It’s a great read, a fun trip into economic comparisons—from Keynes to Hunger Games to Maslow’s hierarchy to Ford trucks, AI and Silicon Valley. But I didn’t come away from it with any sense that a UBI is realistic. Intriguing, yes. Thought-provoking, yes. Realistic, no. Fundable, possibly—in the short term; but what about the lasting impact?

There is another proposal of this type that is worth considering. Charles Murray has suggested that every adult receive $10,000 per year and that all other welfare-state programs be discontinued. (See In Our Hands; see also “A Guaranteed Income for Every American,” Wall Street Journal) This would cost taxpayers less than the current safety net, some argue, and it would put decisions in the hands of the actual people. Clearly a lot of government waste and misuse of funds would also be eliminated.

The key to this proposal is that it would end all other government social-insurance programs, departments, polices and expenses. Interestingly, most of the criticism against Murray’s plan, nearly all from liberals and the Left, emphasizes that it is financially infeasible. According to Murray’s own numbers, there is a $355 billion shortfall the first year. (Ibid.)

Murray suggests that the gap would be closed, eventually, as the population rises with upcoming generations. Still, the transition costs of, at least for a time, funding both the Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid model and also $10K a year to adults make the program unrealistic—as Murray himself says. But if we continue with our current system, he argues, it’s going to financially collapse anyway—better to get the ball rolling on a system that eventually will work.


Part III

“Arrival of the Fittest”
—Chevrolet/Corvette ad

“How to lead experiments that actually work”.
—Harvard Business Review

From the Starting Point

But here’s the real challenge—for all UBI-style proposals, from Lowrey to Hayek to Murray. Would a Universal Basic Income even be good for people? Is it compatible with human society and culture, human needs, human potential?

This is a big question. The most important question. At first blush, most people would like a check for $1,000 a month. Why not? A number of people could desperately use it. But what is not seen in this arrangement? Such a challenging question demands that we address what Aristotle called first things, or primary goods. First principles. The most basic foundations of human understanding are indeed vitally important, and take us back to the poignant question asked by philosophers, prophets, economists and political sages:

To be human is to ______________. ???

The word we use to fill in the blank tells us a great deal about how we view the world. The original liberal answer, articulated most clearly by thinkers like Hobbes and Rousseau, was: To be human is to suffer. In contrast, the conservative answer, from Aristotle to Adam Smith, was: To be human is to struggle.

There are, of course, other views. Shakespeare suggested that To be human is to err, The Romantics answered that To be human is to love, and the German Trifecta of Hegel, Marx and Nietszche argued that To be human is to fight and win—emphasis on win. But the initial debate between suffer and struggle remains at the center of today’s great conversation.

See Both Sides

The first approach makes the following case:

  • human life is suffering
  • it is up to all of us to lessen suffering as much as possible
  • to do this, we need a great deal of power
  • government is the entity most likely to obtain and use power in a way that greatly lessens human suffering in the world
  • we should actively help grow the power and reach of government everywhere

In short: Liberalism.

The second view takes a different tack:

  • the purpose of life is to struggle against all odds for goodness, righteousness, and progress
  • this is best done by individuals alone and individuals voluntarily working in groups
  • institutions that help individuals in this process are useful, but institutions must be carefully watched and limited because they frequently become distractions or even roadblocks to real progress
  • ultimately the great, noble struggle of humans on this earth is threefold—to serve and help others in this life, to improve oneself in ways that make the world better, and in doing these first two things to prepare for better things in the life to come

To wit: Conservatism.

Richard Weaver argued that while the Progressive path tries to make life easier for everyone and institutionalize it for all, Conservatism programs attempts to help everyone more bravely and effectively embrace the path of hard things. (See Ideas Have Consequences). He taught that programs designed mainly to spread ease, especially forced attempts by government, were beneath the dignity and potential of mankind.

Today’s Goal

Weaver wrote of modern efforts to make everything easier for everyone, calling out people for promoting a life based on “Loving comfort, risking little, terrified by the thought of change…” He called this the “spoiled child psychology”, exhibited by too many adults in the modern world. The best, and worst, example of this, he said, is the widespread sense of entitlement among so many modern citizens.

He spoke most forcefully against those who discourage lives of strenuous work, facing and overcoming challenges, struggling-failing-and-continuing-to-struggle. Such work, hard and continuous, is what life is about, Weaver taught. It is why we were born. To do things. Hard things. Alone. Together. Because work matters. And because lives of work and struggle are dignified, meaningful, and very often happy lives. We were not, he assures us, born to bask in lives of ease provided by bureaucrats or aristocrats or anyone else. Such a path he considered worthless.

These are, ironically, hard words—especially to modern ears. “Like Macbeth,” Weaver wrote, “Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said…was that man could realize himself more fully if he would abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals.” (Ibid.) The witches’ solution: Stop seeing life as the battle to seek heaven, and start fixing this earth, through manmade institutions and government power. (Ibid.)

The result of this shift, from “embracing a life of struggle” to “a life of suffering and trying to institutionally force the end of suffering”, began our journey to what Weaver terms “modern decadence”. (Ibid.) In the drive to avoid and forcefully eliminate all suffering, to find the easy way and help our children seek even easier ways, most people turned to materialism. Away from service, and more to amassing money and things—as hedges against potential suffering. As Weaver put it: “Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and-consuming animal.” (Ibid.)

It turns out that while a belief in struggle led many people to work and serve humanity, a greater faith in suffering drives most toward materialism. Ironic. An even deeper irony followed: the philosophy of suffering as the great evil spawned a culture of seeking ease through material success, and this in turn created a focus on ease itself. The work motivated by materialism gave way to the work of finding ways to avoid work. Profound. In Weaver’s words: “a carnival of specialism, professionalism, and vocationalism…fostered and protected…strange bureaucratic devices.” (Ibid.) The new mantra: government must make things easier for everyone.

Shifting

Is it any surprise that today’s generation of youth—considered by many an embodiment of a sixth human sense of entitlement—are often referred to as Snowflakes? “We should be taken care of by the government” is a popular view. “Or if not by government, then by somebody. Anybody…”

“Otherwise, how will our lives be easy?”

In reality, this view extends far beyond any one generation. Weaver said modern society is replacing homo sapiens with homo faber—meaning from “wise humans” to “humans engineered by architects, by experts”. (Ibid.) From freemen to slaves. Weaver’s connection of “the easy life” to “slavery” is interesting. Certainly a life in slavery is not easy, but only those who engage the true struggle of life can remain truly free. And the struggle is hard, not easy. Period. Those who seek lives of ease unwittingly take the path toward slavery.

As conservatives know: “If it is easy, beware…” In most cases, Easy Education, Easy Citizenship, Easy Career = Mediocre Education, Government by Elites, Middling Income. What, then, would Weaver say of a Universal Basic Income?

He wrote:

“The egotism of work increasingly poses the problem of what source will procure sufficient discipline to hold men to production. When each becomes his own taskmaster and regards work as a curse which he endures only to gain means of subsistence, will he not constantly seek to avoid it?” (Ibid.)

And what will such a man or woman do when money arrives each month and no work is required?

A few people, when work is no longer asked of them, will turn their efforts to service, art, or other areas of interest. Some will follow a great passion or goal they’ve long wanted to pursue. But what actually happens is well documented. The majority of people, when suddenly retired, laid off, recipients of the lottery, or otherwise released from daily work, struggle to fill their time with things that bring happiness. Note that this is the wrong kind of struggle.

Many such people soon find their newfound free time “accompanied by intensive explorations of the individual consciousness, with self-laceration and self-pity.” (Ibid.) They frequently turn “inward and there discover…an appalling well of melancholy and unhappiness…” (Ibid.) Weaver used these words to describe certain writers who embodied this view; but if Weaver’s words are a bit too flowery, they aren’t inaccurate. Many people find retirement, unemployment, or just lots of free time unsatisfactory and frustrating.

Reaching for Greatness

A 2015 report in The Atlantic noted: “The jobless don’t spend their time socializing or taking up new hobbies. Instead, they watch TV or sleep…. Two of the most common side effects of unemployment are loneliness, on the individual level, and the hollowing-out of community pride.” (Derek Thompson, “A World Without Work”)

For many people, it turns out that “easy” is unfulfilling, in the same way that achieving something hard is one of the most rewarding things human beings ever experience. Words such as victory, accomplishment, triumph, success, progress, improvement, and even happiness, defy definition and mean very little unless they are preceded by difficulty and hard work. The greater the struggle, in fact, the greater the victory. Thomas Paine made this a central theme in his writings.

The truth is that the reality flies in the face of modern thinking. Specifically, most people want hard, even if they don’t realize it. Without hard, most people simply aren’t happy. It turns out that hard isn’t always equal to suffering, but it is in fact a vital component of happy. “Easy” is nice as a vacation, but it isn’t the basis of a good life. “Hard” can be such a basis, as long it is accompanied by freedom—or at least the opportunity to gain freedom.

As for a Universal Basic Income, the jury is still out. If people don’t have to work for their basic living, some will argue, they’ll work for other things—better things. This is certainly true of some people, and it may be true for many more. That said: It is definitely not true of everyone. Whether it is true for enough people to make it worth adopting as public policy will likely be debated for many years to come. But the promise of a UBI, that it will significantly reduce human suffering, naturally sounds good to many moderns but sparks immediate skepticism in those who embrace the historical reality of human nature. Humanity has proven, many times, that hard challenges, within reason, are nearly always better for people than lasting times of ease.

I have my doubts that a UBI will do much to fix the actual problem. It could easily do the opposite: when a lot more people aren’t working, some of them might use their time in ways that hurt others and increase suffering. This is certainly a possibility.

Pushing Riding Forward

Modern man, Weaver pointed out, has: “been given the notion that progress is automatic” that he/she has not just a right to pursue happiness but “a right to have happiness”, regardless of what he does, or doesn’t do. (Ideas Have Consequences) He has been told that someone else is responsible for his happiness, and that if he is sad, or unfulfilled, someone else is to blame. (Ibid.) He has been informed that if he feels frustration, some superior “in the hierarchy” has “practiced an imposition upon him”. (Ibid.)

“The truth is,” Weaver said, “that he has never been brought to see what it is to be a man…. [T]hat he really owes thanks for the pulling and tugging that allow him to grow…. This citizen is now the child of indulgent parents who pamper his appetites and inflate his egotism until he is unfitted for struggle of any kind.” (Ibid.) And the following zinger:

“The spoiling of man seems always to begin when urban living predominates over rural.” (Ibid.)

Is it lost on anyone that this is directly related to Blue State/Red State culture?

“In effect,” Weaver continues, “what modern man is being told is that the world owes him a living. He assents the more readily for being told in a roundabout way, which is that science owes him a living.” (Ibid.) “An artificial environment causes him to lose sight of the great system not subject to man’s control.” (Ibid.) Indeed, his moral and ethical senses are shaped by newspapers more than prayers, to paraphrase Nietszche.

What does that “great system” say about work? Easy versus hard? Individual responsibility versus institutions? If we push aside the culture of newspapers and instant mobile news updates for a moment, and instead ask the kind of questions obvious in a culture based on the idea that “humans thrive in the hard struggle,” we find ourselves dealing with bigger issues:

  • Is pay without work good for the soul?
  • Is it good for family life, or is it more likely to hurt families?
  • Will it naturally render adults more child-like, dependent?
  • And, since the pay actually comes from the work of someone else, are we simply taking from their work and accepting it without recompense?
  • What does the fact that they are forced to pay this money say about those who accept it?
  • Can a people remain free under such an arrangement?

Building or Breaking

These are big questions. Unlike most modern policy debates, these big questions ignore the small talk and get to the real point. For some, this is distracting. “That’s not how it’s done,” scolds many a modern expert. But the truth is still relevant, right? Big realities do matter.

The view of human life as a great struggle for goodness puts each citizen forward as a potential hero. But the hero’s currency, Weaver notes, is “exertion, self-denial, endurance”, while “the spoiled child” wants everyone to be protected from hard things—especially making a living. (Ibid.) Preferably, in this latter view, such protection will come from government—the regime as supreme being, the end-all of suffering, the all-powerful state.

To be clear, a society of people who seek $1,000 (or other) payments from the government, not for work but just because they need or want it, is not on a path to freedom—or even to maintaining the freedoms they already enjoy. Speaking of payments from the government, the following story is related by Weaver in Ideas Have Consequences:

“During the early part of the second World War there came to light the story of a farmer from the back country of Oklahoma—one of the yet unspoiled—who, upon hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor, departed with his wife to the West Coast to work in the shipyards…. [T]he new worker did not understand the meaning of the little slip of paper handed him once a week. It was not until he had accumulated over a thousand dollars in checks that he found out that he was being paid to save his country. He had assumed that when the country is in danger, everyone helps out, and helping out means giving.”

The Spiral

Also from Weaver:

“The past shows unvaryingly that when a people’s freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for…. If freedom is not found accompanied by a willingness to resist, and to reject favors [from the government], it will not long be found at all.”

Easy kills.

Hard is the future.

But those on the side of freedom embrace the struggle.

This is hard doctrine, no doubt. But it is the doctrine of a free people, and those who would remain free. Those seeking the way of ease will not, by definition, choose freedom—or fight for it when needed. Freedom is hard. Those searching for ever-easier paths will vote for more government, and when unearned $1,000 checks arrive each month to reward their search, a majority will do what makes the most sense in such a situation: vote for candidates who promise to increase the checks to $1,200 then $1,500 then $2,100…and more. Government will increasingly apply more force to the productive individuals and organizations in society, and everyone else as well.

No free society can weather—financially, politically, or morally—such an electorate.

Ever.

“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”
—Ronald Reagan

Suggested Readings

  1. An important article that addresses the future of work, a basic universal income, and recent trends in technology and employment—Derek Thompson, “A World Without Work,” The Atlantic, July/August 2015
  2. Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind
  3. Joshua Cooper Ramo, Seventh Sense
  4. Virgil, Georgics
  5. Victor Davis Hansen, The Other Greeks

Category : Blog &Book Reviews &Citizenship &Community &Constitution &Culture &Current Events &Economics &Generations &Government &History &Information Age &Leadership &Liberty &Politics &Service &Statesmanship

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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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: Are Today’s Education and Politics Entering the Age of Star Trek?

May 12th, 2018 // 9:02 am @

“A shoe, too, is no longer a finished product, but an endless process of reimagining our extended feet, perhaps with disposable covers, sandals that morph as you walk, treads that shift, or floors that act as shoes.” —Kevin Kelly 

“We have long argued that as the Web extends in usage…increased access to factual information would improve the quality of public discourse. However, the opposite seems to be occurring.” —Don and Alex Tapscott

Given how much technology has changed the world in the past twenty years, and how differently we now live, it’s easy to assume that the Internet Revolution has brought the big change—and this era of massive shifts will slowly relax back into some kind of normality. But the truth is that we are just at the very beginning stages of the Information Age. The changes have just begun.

Following are a few of the major developments still ahead, as described by the experts on current technologies. As you think about each of these, consider the ramifications of these trends as they relate to the future of education, career, the economy, and the type of education needed for the emerging economy:

1. Autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars are a reality.[i] How long they will co-exist with human drivers before the laws require all cars to be driven electronically remains to be seen.[ii] Self-driving planes, boats, and trucks will also change our lives drastically. Flying vehicles are next. As drone technology improves, taking people as passengers may not be too far away.

2. 3D Printing (additive manufacturing).[iii] This will revolutionize transportation, shipping, and manufacturing. Things that can be printed out in our own homes don’t need to be built in factories, or shipped by truck, airplane, or even drone. 3D printing will also have significant impact in medicine by printing certain medical implants.[iv] In fact, 3D printers now print food, including candy—and some people think it even tastes good.[v] One taste tester wrote: “It tastes like an after-dinner mint mixed with a sugar cube.”[vi]

3. 4D Printing. The printers will print smartobjects that are self-learning, and self-altering in response to their environment.[vii]

4. New Smart Materials. As Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, put it: Some are “self-healing, self-cleaning, metals with memory that revert to their original shapes, chemicals and crystals that turn pressure into energy, and so on…. Take advanced nanomaterials [nano means smaller than the human eye can see] such as graphene, which is about 200-times stronger than steel, a million times thinner than a human hair, and an efficient conductor of heat and electricity. When graphene becomes price competitive…it could significantly disrupt the manufacturing and infrastructure industries.”[viii]

5. iMoneyCenter. As Forbes put it: “Your cellphone will become a global bank. Mobile money accounts already outnumber traditional bank accounts in parts of the developing world, and new technology will turbocharge that trend, allowing payments to anyone, anywhere, in local currencies.”[ix]

6. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). Tiny tags can be put on pretty much anything, or anyone, and track where it is at any time, all over the world.[x] This technology is cheap and easy to use. The tags can even contain sensors that keep track of how well the item is doing, and what it is doing.[xi]

New Normal

Kevin Kelly said of the various kinds of small digital devices that are being created: “A few are shrinking to the size of the period following this sentence. These macroscopic measurers can be inserted into watches, clothes, spectacles, or phones, or inexpensively dispersed in rooms, cars, offices, and public spaces.[xii] Sensors can be built to watch and listen. He also wrote: “Massive tracking and total surveillance are here to stay.”[xiii]

The machines are becoming ubiquitous.[xiv] Moreover, a lot of people like it this way. One report summarized the trend as “Our Love-Hate Affair With AI.”[xv]

The ramifications of the new era of machines for freedom and relationships of all kinds are immense.[xvi]

7. Gene Mapping and Synthetic Biology. This is popularly called the creation of “Designer Babies.” “It will provide us with the ability to customize organisms by writing DNA.”[xvii] “Today, a genome can be sequenced in a few hours for less than a thousand dollars.”[xviii] And at some point scientists foresee artificial memory implanting into peoples’ brains.[xix] Just download what you want to know—facts, dates, formulas, etc. Gene Mapping will impact agriculture and the energy sector (by producing biofuels) as well as medicine and education.[xx]

8. Personalized Medications. Medicine, from those used to treat advanced diseases to simple aspirin, will be personalized for each individual—“tailored to your DNA.”[xxi] These will likely be very expensive at first, further widening the gap between the upper and other classes.

9. Non-Communicative Relationships. A number of popular magazines each month present articles that tell men and women they need to turn off their electronic gadgets and talk to their spouse or significant other. The articles are detailed and specific, with advice like “look your spouse in the eye while you talk to her,” and “actually listen to the words he says and try to connect with his logic and feelings,” etc.

The volume of such articles suggests that this is a serious problem. Relationships are often victims of addiction to electronic devices, texts, messages, and other incoming communication that is more highly valued than interaction with the live person in the same room.

Relationships and Roboticships

Moreover, emerging technology will very likely throw a serious monkey-wrench into many relationships. VR (Virtual Reality[xxii]) is incredibly advanced now, and will soon be on the market in extensive ways. A person can slip on a VR helmet or glasses and be transported mentally to a whole new world. Some VR research and development is focused on porn, although the tech world prefers the term “alternative relationships.” How will this impact marriage, family, education, and stable relationships?

Robotics have reached the point that lifelike “partner dolls,” sometimes called “sex dolls”, that talk and interact are already available.[xxiii] Soon, experts say, they’ll be easily accessible online and sold in our corner neighborhood stores.[xxiv] It’s a potential revolution in lifestyles, and the impact on relationships will certainly be real.[xxv] It is unclear how this will influence marriage and family, but the prospects seem quite negative.

A number of apps try to fulfill the same need—for relationships in an electronic format.[xxvi] If we find it difficult now to put down our phones or take off our headphones to engage in meaningful conversation and relationships, imagine how difficult it will be to turn off the robots, apps, and VR glasses.[xxvii] VR, and lifelike personal relationship robots, can be programmed (or told by the user) to never argue, nag, disagree, shout, or storm away.[xxviii] Again, such devices won’t take the place of quality, mature relationships, but they could very well hurt or make such relationships more difficult.[xxix]

10. The Rise of the Algorithms. Online technology now employs numerous advanced algorithms and AI technologies that are learning to do everything from sensing where our eyes are gazing (in order to know our interests and sell to us)[xxx] to what our politics are (as mentioned above, this could be to allow providers like Facebook and Google, or others, to determine what news feeds to send us—to promote their own political goals), to how empty the milk carton in our fridge is (in order to order a fresh one).

Schwab said: “Amazon and Netflix already possess algorithms that predict which films and books we may wish to watch and read. Dating and job placement sites suggest partners and jobs—in our neighborhood or anywhere in the world—that their systems [algorithms] figure might suit us best.

The Man AI in Charge

“What do we do? Trust the advice provided by an algorithm or that offered by family, friends, or colleagues? Would we consult an AI-driven robot doctor with a near perfect diagnosis success rate—or stick with the human physician with the assuring bedside manner we have known for years?”[xxxi]

AI is tasked with watching us and learning from us, and as AIs become smarter, some of them will be incredibly effective forecasters. Companies may even be valued based on their AI. For example, Kelly wrote: “Amazon’s greatest asset is not its Prime delivery service but the many millions of reader reviews it has accumulated over the decades.”[xxxii] These reviews, and the AI that runs them, learns from them, and uses them to help predict what books each user is likely to enjoy, is a huge asset.

The concept of establishing corporate boards of directors made up entirely of Artificial Intelligence is discussed openly and seriously.[xxxiii] Do we want algorithms in charge of everything?

In education, the possibilities are seemingly endless—and just as alarming. Kelly wrote: “The tiny camera eyes that now stare back at us from any screen can be trained with additional skills…researchers at MIT have taught the eyes in our machines to detect human emotions. As we watch the screen, the screen is watching us, where we look, and how we react.

“Since this perception is in real time, the smart software [algorithms] can adapt it what I’m viewing. Say I am reading a book and my frown shows I’ve stumbled on a certain word; the text could expand a definition.”[xxxiv]

This means that the text of the book is changing before you read it, based on what you have read so far and how you reacted. In other words, the computer is in effect censoring what you read before you even read it.

What about the author’s intent? Well, that depends. The AI, or the people who commission and oversee the AI, may decide to carefully protect the original text, or they may not. They may edit, censor, distract, etc.—whatever they think best achieves their goals.

Remember that thing called Thinking?

They may even have different ways of dealing with different people—like Google gaming the search system so that people who look up a certain Republican candidate get the most negative articles about him on the first page, while those who search for his Democratic opponent get the most flattering articles (or vice versa).

Or they might simply guide your searches to the companies who paid them the most to do so. If these guides are personalized and targeted to each individual user (like in the movie Minority Report), different readers will literally be getting a very different education. One student will read very different things than a second student, while the third reads yet another thing—all determined by AI and/or those who program and control the AI.

Kelly continued: “Or, if it realizes I am reading the same passage, it could supply an annotation for that passage. Similarly, if it knows I am bored by a scene in a video, it could jump ahead or speed up the action.”[xxxv] If we choose such functions on a menu, that’s one thing. But what happens if the big businesses or the cyber-governmental-industrial-complex just decides that this kind of censorship is best for the people? Or for a certain group or type of people, such as those from a certain religion or political party?

On purely educational grounds, having the computer supply definitions, commentaries and links is bad for thinking. It teaches rote dependence on experts, even if the expert is an AI. If we don’t have to question, ponder, or debate the books we read, we’ll be thinking a lot less. The words censorship and brainwashing aren’t farfetched in this context.

What about politics? The media and party-media machines already spread a lot of false information. What will happen when algorithms take over the media spin? It will personalized to each reader, each person using the Internet (or whatever kind of Supernet or Skynet takes its place). As such, the AI will learn how to confuse each person the most effectively. Again, this isn’t far from the personalized billboards and ads in the movie Minority Report.

(Un)Locked Doors

On an even larger scale, if an algorithm claims to predict which of various candidates would make the best president, prime minister, judge or senator, do we just give up voting altogether? After all, the voters seldom put in leaders who truly deliver what they promised. Or will the experts try to convince us that an algorithm-based AI should be our president and Congress and Court and make our top government decisions—getting rid of human error altogether?

And in all this, let’s not forget that someone can access the algorithms. All computers can be hacked—so far. As author Marc Goodman put it: “There’s never been a computer system that’s proven unhackable.”[xxxvi] Bigger technologies mean bigger hacks, with more drastic impact on people.

And won’t the growth of the Internets just funnel more and more power to a few elites who control the algorithms? The answer is “Yes. Emphatically yes!”

In fact, is there any way to stop this from happening?

11. “Reshoring.” This means that when high tech processes like 3D printing, gene mapping, and RFID tagging become mainstream around the world, many industrial jobs will be lost—but a lot of high-tech jobs will move back to the most advanced nations in search of highly-trained workers with expertise in areas conducive to high tech.[xxxvii] Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen. It may not happen at all. “…many workers [may]…end up permanently unemployed, like horses unable to adjust to the invention of the tractors.”[xxxviii]

12. Portfolio Careers. These occur where a person’s career includes doing several different jobs for different employers in the same day.[xxxix] For example, one person might be a teacher during the school day, a restaurant manager during the evenings, and an eBay seller in his spare time—all to make ends meet. Portfolio careers may become very widespread in the new economy. A lot of people probably won’t like such a development, leading to increased class divisions and conflicts.[xl]

13. Even Greater Class Divide. As Schwab wrote: “…half of all assets around the world are now controlled by the richest 1% of the global population, while the lower half” of the population control less than 1% of world assets.[xli] Or as the Tapscotts put it: “…the global 1 percent owns half of the world’s wealth while 3.5 billion people earn fewer than 2 dollars a day.”[xlii]

To be continued next week …

NOTES

[i] Schwab, 15, 147-148; see also Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable, 2016, 50-51; Brynjolfsson, 14-20; See Sam Smith, “The Truth About the Future of Cars,” Esquire, April 2016, 69-74; Erin Griffith, “Disconnected,” Fortune, August 1, 2016, 44.

[ii] See Smith, 69-74.

[iii] Scwhab, 15; see also Brynjolfsson, 36-37; Kelly, 53.

[iv] Schwab, 15, 22, 161-167.

[v] Andrea Smith, “Print Your Candy and Eat it Too,” Popular Science, January 2015, 24.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Schwab, 16.

[viii] Ibid., 17.

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“The Coming Tide”

July 25th, 2017 // 7:22 am @

A Prediction

For decades the Democrats proudly saw themselves as the party of the little guy and the working poor. Republicans were considered the party of Wall Street, white collar professionals, and big business. But these alignments have changed during the opening years of the 21st Century. The Democrats are now, as The Atlantic put it, “a coalition of Millennials, minorities, and white professionals.” The Republicans consist of whatever is left over, which amounts to a majority of people in the large majority of states.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this new political arrangement is that so many white-collar professionals are now Democrats. Moreover, a large number of them are genuinely liberal, even progressive. This is a major departure from historical trends.

The most obvious reason for this shift is something members of the professional class have in common: years of participation in and graduation from the modern American university system. To find success in today’s campus environment often corresponds with embracing academe’s general values, processes, and views. When such views emphasize diversity of thought and vigorous debate of different ideas, the result is a certain kind of learning—and a certain kind of graduate. This approach helped make American universities the best in the world.

But when such views and values include rejection of diverse ideas, religious values, and pressure to adopt one overarching political and cultural perspective (pervasively advanced by the Left), a different result is natural. A different kind of typical graduate is also inevitable. This is where we find ourselves today. As the American campus has moved increasingly Left, the culture experienced and accepted by a large number of its participants has followed suit.

College Flight

This leaves many conservative or religious families, and others who aren’t particularly conservative or religious but don’t want their college youth to be ridiculed for their views or indoctrinated with blatant liberalism, with a difficult choice. College, long considered a required rite of passage into adulthood by many families, is becoming less attractive to a lot of people. The rebuttal is that the financial rewards of a college degree make it unavoidable. This boils down to two widely accepted but currently weakening views:

  1. College leads to financial success
  2. Financial success requires college

Perception is never quite as accurate as reality. Belief #1 (college leads to financial success) is a partial truth. It turns out to be true for some people, not true for others. In the 2010s, it is false for more than half of college graduates. Belief #2 (financial success requires college), on the other hand, is patently false. There are many people with financial success and means who dropped out of college or never enrolled at all. Indeed, many business owners who never finished college find their company bombarded with resumes and applications of those who did.

Certainly college is an effective path to career for many people. However, a downside for parents who aren’t committed liberal ideologues is the worry that many of today’s universities will turn their children into exactly that. And the biggest losers in the current system—even in the few schools where religious or conservative values are acceptable—are students whose focus on career prep distracts them from getting a truly great education. Sadly, this describes a significant majority.

II.

To be clear, all of this is part of a much larger national context. The bigger trend is that Americans are increasingly rejecting the 1960s promise of a society of experts who wisely and efficiently fix everything. The golden era of the American university was an outgrowth of this post-World War II zeitgeist: that everyone could participate in a society of experts, and that expertise and institutions held the solutions to all our national, world, community, material, and even personal problems.

Increased medical expertise and technology would make us truly healthy; better law schools and lawyers would ensure true justice to everyone; advanced technology and training in journalism would bring a golden age of media full of light and truth; business advances and expertise would eradicate poverty and bring prosperity to all. And so on….

The promise of what experts would bring the world was exciting, even intoxicating. True political experts, we were assured, would bring lasting peace, end conflicts, and spread happiness to every city and town. The Fed would ensure a stable and growing economy at all times, using modern expertise and financial algorithms to save us from major financial challenges. The promises were endless.

Over fifty years later, none of these expectations have been realized. Not even one of them. The entire “experts will fix everything” project is a bust. Just look at the current state of our politics, from the Clinton era to the Bush years, from Obama to Trump. Problems are far from solved. Many of our great national institutions, both public and private, have declined or lost their way. The citizenry’s trust of our government, and of experts in general, is lower and lower each decade.

In truth, the era of the expert is insolvent. It’s well past bankrupt, to be precise. We’re still training more experts, but they still haven’t solved the problems that caused us to want more of them in the first place. A lot of things have gotten worse. In short, something else is needed…

And soon.

What’s Next?

While national debts continue to skyrocket (more than doubling in the past 8 years), markets show increased volatility, and governmental credit ratings are downgraded, many of the experts assure us that things are getting better. But all they’ve shown is that they don’t really know what they’re doing. They know how to keep themselves well paid and in power, but beyond that, they haven’t fulfilled their purpose.

For example, imagine what would happen if we faced an economic depression like those the U.S. suffered in the 1930s, 1860s, or 1780s. When the Great Depression came, most Americans trusted the government, our leaders, and our national institutions. Today most citizens have very little trust in any of these; indeed, over sixty percent of Americas don’t trust the government to do the right thing most of the time. If crisis comes in this atmosphere of mistrust, few solutions from Washington will find enough traction to be successful.

This is a dominant characteristic of our times: We can’t seem to solve our national problems, big or small. We are mired in political squabbles, both between parties and within parties, and Washington accomplishes very little that actually helps the American people. It often causes harm, in fact.

As a people, we have largely lost trust not only in governmental officials and institutions but also in the media, Wall Street, Hollywood, the schools, big business…the list is long. Whom do we really trust as a people? Whom can we turn to in crisis—with real confidence they’ll fix things? In short, which experts do we really believe have our backs anymore?

If the promise of “experts will save us, and all our youth should become experts” doesn’t ring true anymore, what does? What is the answer? From the founding era through westward migration and the Industrial Revolution, the overarching goal of most Americans was to build a business and raise a family. This was our drive, our agenda. It was our national project, carried out by myriad individuals and families.

Then after World War II we turned our gaze in another direction: the career, a profession, education as job training, and daily life spent meeting the needs of the corporation or whatever organization employed us. In short, experts ruled and most people wanted to be experts. If they couldn’t swing it themselves, they at least tried to make it a reality for their children. Even family goals were expected to bend or give way to the interests of employers. Schools, likewise, were reorganized to separate, grade, sort, and point young people in the direction most likely to meet corporate needs. Experts oversaw the entire process, literally from cradle to grave and almost everything in between.

As the evidence of expert limitations grows, and as our national faith in the power of experts to solve our problems erodes and crumbles, what is left? Where will we turn? A whole generation of Millennials grapple with this situation in their work life, and more decide to opt out of the system than join it. Where are we headed?

III.

So far, nobody can definitively answer these questions. Time will tell, but in the meantime we must do our best to understand and prepare for the economy and world that is emerging in the post-faith-in-experts era. My opinion is that the most likely path forward is to reconnect with our American roots and turn our sights once again toward entrepreneurship. Business ownership is, in fact, the historical American pastime. The fact that many people abandoned it for half a century only worked because a few business owners did things on a big enough scale to employ the many.

But eventually, like any system where the many depend on the few for survival and progress, the few began taking more and more of the profits and power for themselves. In history this was called aristocracy, in more recent times it has been called socialism, and in our day it often gets away with calling itself capitalism. But whatever we call it, such a model is a far cry from the free enterprise system that turned America into a world leader—based firmly on freedom and the goal of most people to be independent owners and build their own businesses.

If and when this goal once again permeates our national mindset and our people’s choices, we’ll see the rise of a nation of problem-solvers. At that point, we won’t be dependent on politicians to fix things, and as a result, things will actually get fixed. In the process, we’ll naturally see a decreasing attachment to political parties and the rise of a non-political majority of business owners and family raisers.

There was once a name for just such goals: “The American Dream.” It’s time to bring it back.

To put it succinctly: Experts won’t save us. Politicians won’t fix what ails our nation. The solution will come, if at all, from a cultural change that marks the resurgence of a certain kind of person. At one point in history, people around the world had a word for such independent-thinking mavericks who took risks and then worked incredibly hard to make their businesses flourish and grow. They called them “Americans.” What qualified one for such a title? A burning drive to build and lead one’s own business, and to raise a family and community of young people with the same goal.

I think we’ll witness the rebirth of this same “tide in human affairs” very soon. In fact, I believe it’s already begun. But it faces strong headwinds blowing in the other direction, so we need to do better if we want the American Dream to succeed again. This is our key to the kind of future we want to pass down to our children and grandchildren.

Families, schools, communities and parents can either raise a nation of “independents” or a society of “dependents.” One will bring freedom and opportunity, the other won’t.

It’s our choice, and the decision won’t be made in Washington — or even at the ballot box.

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Chaos in Current Events!

June 21st, 2017 // 8:50 am @

History is Repeating Itself, But Do We Know Its Lesson?

Cycling Back Around

This is a chaotic time. Political scandals, media lies, shootings and violence based on political disagreements, terrorist attacks in formerly safe places. For the American people, it’s both frustrating and scary.

It helps to step back and take a deep breath, then turn to history for answers. Since patterns frequently repeat, they can tell us a lot about what’s actually happening—beyond the anger and intensity of nightly news reports. They can also tell us what’s coming.

Here’s how things work. Since the beginning of written history society has been split between three groups: 1) those in power, 2) those who have some power but are seeking more of it in order to be at the top of the power pyramid, and 3) other people who just want to live their lives. The good news is that in the United States today, a higher number of people are free to enjoy life and seek to live their dreams than perhaps any other society in known history. That’s worth smiling about, no matter what the news tells us.

On the other hand, a lot of people today have a sense that things are heading in the wrong direction. We have a lot of problems, both here and abroad, and it often feels as if some spark will soon set off some kind of powder keg that leads to real crisis. It’s a feeling like many Americans experienced in the late 1930s and early 1940s, or in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The American founding generation felt it at the beginning of the 1770s. In each of these cases, that sense of unease and anxiety was eventually followed by drastic challenges—Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War.

Indeed, according to the cycles of history, we’re in that same turn of the pattern right now. It’s unclear exactly what will happen to bring bigger national crisis, but a lot of people feel a foreboding sense that something momentous is about to come.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

To put this in clear perspective, the news right now is a tale of four nations.

One: the business news reports almost daily signs of an economic upturn, more financial opportunity, and budding growth in a rebooting economy.

Two: international news reports increasing terror attacks, alarming danger signs in North Korea, Iran and from ISIS, and a looming energy building for more conflicts ahead with Russia and China.

Three: the mainstream media portrays the Trump White House and the Republican Congress as ineffective, and throws out daily allegations of Administration corruptions, lies, conspiracies and hidden agendas to hurt the nation.

Four: conservative media debunks these mainstream reports and points instead to the kind of alleged corruption on the Left: Loretta Lynch, James Comey, the Clinton Foundation, illegal leaks, violent “Resisters”, DNC collusion with the mainstream media, Hillary Clinton’s emails, etc.

It is amazing how often these competing sources of media tell exactly the opposite story about a given event from the day’s news. Most people listening to all the reports are left deeply confused, or cynical. And those who only listen to one news source are frequently surprised by what friends tell them about the news. “But I listened to the total opposite on the morning news! You must be remembering that wrong.”

To make sense of all this, let’s put aside the noise and distraction. Let’s be as blunt and direct as possible: We are living in one of those historical periods where we face an existence-level conflict. We are literally in the midst of an existential war. Such wars are both cold and hot, violent and emotional. They are deeply rooted in the conflict between major ideas—with two cultures battling to survive, to win, and to thrive. But each side feels that it must fully defeat an opposing culture in order to survive.

Such intellectual wars have always existed, but they only reach a crisis-point like the one we are now experiencing when certain factors align. First, instead of a general conflict among ideas, the populace finds itself facing off in a dramatic disagreement between two major viewpoints, two overall paradigms that cannot peacefully coexist. Second, the stakes are high enough that almost everyone in the society firmly picks one of the two sides. Even people who are usually moderate, or generally centrist in their views, feel strongly enough about the current situation to put aside their typical willingness to see both good and bad on both sides. They now clearly see one side as right and the other as wrong. Many people go further—they see their side as Good, and the other as Evil.

Third, and this is where—according to historical patterns—the real danger sets in, more and more people find their emotions leading them, and they stop really thinking about current events. Symbols, which are always important in society, become the main thing in such eras. Symbols take over. For example, we now live in a nation where millions of people don’t even consider a certain policy if it is supported by the Trump Administration. They immediately think they “know” it is bad, wrong, hurtful—as soon as the name Trump is attached. In contrast, millions of other people have the exact same emotional reaction to anything attached to the name Obama, or Hillary Clinton. Rationality, consideration, and even empathy, are largely ignored. Millions basically turn off their brains and simply react to symbols—and their reactions are emotional, charged, and frequently downright angry. This turns violent more often than in less extreme eras of history.

Diverging Paths

In the current environment, winning has become the only goal for many in leadership, and for a majority of the population. And winning itself is defined as having certain people in power and in office, and/or other specific people out of power and out of office. Nothing but winning is acceptable to far too many in positions of influence and power—both public and in the private sector.

But there is an even worse situation, and it is the one we are now living. This occurs when one side believes that winning is the only important thing, and is willing to go to any length, any extreme, to win, while the other side still believes that some things are more important than winning.

When this happens, the side that only cares about winning becomes truly extreme, loses its moral sense and ethical compass, and goes entirely on the attack, using any means and justification it can muster. The other side, still convinced that morality is more important than winning, holds back, tries to show restraint, and attempts to use reason and appeals to decency to make its case. The result, in history, is mixed:

  • If an election is near, the anger gets channeled to the voting booth and a winning number of voters weigh in and throw their support behind the side arguing for decency, goodness, and wisdom.
  • If no election is imminent, the anger grows and is expressed mostly by the political class: those on the full attack win, while the side seeking reason and decency loses.

We are now witnessing the latter scenario. And history is clear on this point: Nations are drastically hurt by this approach. It tore the United States apart in the 1960s, where we witnessed the assassination of a President and two other major national leaders, along with massive violence, cultural civil war, and the destruction of national trust and cooperation. Similar events tore nations apart during the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and Bismarck’s Wars. The French and Indian War, the War of the Roses, the 30 Years War, and a number of others followed the same pattern. World War I took Europe for a similar ride—or, more precisely, a similar culture war culminated in the muddy trenches full of blood and machine-gun casings that webbed the continent in World War I.

In each case, it came down to two great, competing ideas or cultures, large or powerful groups supporting each side, and, eventually, the rise of symbol to extreme levels that incited violence, irrationality, and all-out culture war. We are now witnessing the same stew. Any who aren’t alarmed, or at least deeply concerned, don’t understand the ebbs and flows of history.

The solution, as history teaches, is to clearly identify which idea is right—and reject the other. This finally ended the great conflicts listed above, whether the conflicting ideas were communism vs. democratic free enterprise, a divine right of kings vs. the inalienable rights of all, Nazism vs. parliamentary democracy, imperialism vs. self-determination, slavery vs. individual rights, etc.

Follow or Lead?

To make matters even more challenging, today we are engaged in two such wars at the same time. First, there is the battle of radical Islamic terrorism vs. democratic inalienable rights. The clear winner will be democratic inalienable rights, which is more popular than terrorism among Muslims and pretty much everyone else around the world. Only the terrorists themselves, a very small minority of the world’s population, think theirs is the right idea.

The second great war being fought right now for control of our future is more complex. More difficult. Indeed, it threatens to tear our modern societies apart. It consists of, to put it as directly as possible, the competing ideas of democracy vs. aristocracy.

Elites choose the latter. They think society should be run by a few, and that the rest of us should accept the rule of our “betters.” And be grateful.

This is the underlying battle of our times. It is the war being fought in Washington D.C. between the Establishment and the American voters, and in most of our schools (where young people are largely convinced that success consists of getting a job working for elites, showing gratitude to elites, and kowtowing to elites in return for the promised salaries, promotions, and employee benefits). It is the war being fought on our campuses, and in most of the television programs and movies we consume.

Sometimes the message from schools, campuses, and the entertainment media is blatant, while other times it is subtle. But the message is nearly always the same: “the values of elites are best”, and “the rule of elites in all walks of life is just the way things are—and the way things should be”. This viewpoint is repeated over and over: “The best we can do is fall in line and get the kind of education and careers elites want for us.” Few people are able to spend many years in this system without succumbing to its promises and threats.

Perhaps the very center of this war is the media. Nearly every mainstream media report today communicates the same message: elites are the answer, we all need to adopt and celebrate elite values, all other values are obsolete or inferior, the voters get it wrong when they don’t follow elite media guidance, and the best path for our children is to embrace elite values and get the kind of good jobs that are mostly available working for elites and furthering elite agendas. The message is clear, and it is repeated from many of our most venerated institutions: “Everyone who isn’t an elite, or working for elites, is a loser, an outsider, an inferior.”

The Choice Right Now

This is not an exaggeration. Step back, look at our society today, the culture wars that are brewing, the leaders and their battles, and the news media. We are the world described just above—run “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites.” The United States is a society at war, and the war is democracy vs. aristocracy. Note that aristocracy is promoted by nearly all of our major societal institutions. We are a world where all men and women are created equal, to paraphrase Orwell, but some, the elites (and those who adopt elite values and work for their goals), are to be treated more equal than others.

When the voters put in presidents and other leaders approved by elites they are applauded by the same elites. Media, academia, television, movies and experts of all stripes laud such officials and those who voted for them. When voters elect anyone who threatens or challenges elite values or goals, these same institutions turn to full attack mode. It’s like a pack of jackals going after their worst enemy. It’s Lord of the Flies. The courts are brought to bear, the media is weaponized, schools and universities become arms of elite propaganda, and the bulk of professionals and experts turn their attention to reversing or amending electoral “mistakes.” The voters must be kept in their place. Their superiors must rule.

Again, to history—it has always been thus. In fact, this is what Burke and Santayana were talking about when they warned that those who don’t learn from the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them. Specifically: The aristocrats have always known how to respond when a bit of democracy raises its head in challenge. They lie, they attack, they use innuendo, they mischaracterize, they publish false reports—followed by more false reports. When they do tell the truth, they spin it to promote their narrative. Where possible, they employ character assassination. If these fail, they look for another way. Any way to bring back elite rule and control.

This can go two ways, history shows us. If the people are swayed by such elite manipulations and tactics, the elites quickly regain their power. If not, if the people hold strong against elitist lies, agendas, and domination, democracy spreads and free enterprise flourishes.

Make no mistake. No matter how it looks (and remember that elites almost single-handedly control how it looks), the battles we witness on the nightly news are not personality vs. personality or even political party vs. political party. Something deeper is afoot. Aristocracy and Democracy are at war. Rule by elites vs. rule by the regular people. This is a true fork in the road. We will either remain a democratic, free enterprise nation, or we will become a fully functioning aristocracy.

This is our choice. Right now. And it boils down to whether we let the media sway our views, or not.

Category : Aristocracy &Blog &Citizenship &Community &Constitution &Culture &Current Events &Economics &Education &Generations &Government &History &Independents &Information Age &Leadership &Liberty &Mission &Politics &Producers &Prosperity &Statesmanship

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