April 19th, 2017 // 8:05 am @ Ian Cox
by Ian A Cox
The Biggest Question
Wow! That’s deep.
The thought kept recurring as I read. The article, written by an innovator, filled me with numerous ideas—old and new—about Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. The author showed how this classic work, and others like it, are relevant to national events right now, including the famous–not to mention great–maxim: “That government is best which governs least.”
The author showed how this applies to our current national challenges. The biggest question that came to me as I read was something we all need to consider:
“How can we increase our influence in a world that seems to be heading in the wrong direction?”
This isn’t just a rhetorical question. We have more power than we might realize. The struggle for freedom resets with every new generation.
We are always one generation away from potentially losing our liberty. Education is key, and understanding freedom is a must for those who hope to protect and spread freedom.
Moreover, the battle for freedom resets in certain predictable ways. In his book We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident, Oliver DeMille gives some perspective on this fateful struggle for freedom in the United States after we gained our independence.
Here’s a summary:
- The House of Representatives was the first to vie for power, as early as the 1790’s. But the executive branch flexed its muscles as well and managed to stop the over-reaching House.
- In the early 19th Century the Marshall Court pushed for widespread control, but the Presidents during the time were able to largely obstruct court expansion (checks and balances = obstruct).
- Next, the mid-19th Century saw a resurgence of local governments as prejudices ran rampant and public servants and jurors turned a blind eye to injustice. This was eventually curbed by the exodus of many oppressed groups and minorities to the west, which created new regions and states, increasing the federalizing power (the Electoral College).
- The States then pushed for dominance of power in the mid-to-late part of the 19th Century, but were beaten by the combined federal powers of the three branches of government.
- An Aristocratic Senate was the leading power center of the early 20th Century, but it only gained influence where the Court allowed.
- The Executive branch stole the baton from the Senate in the settling dust of the Second World War, and this continues today. In fact, its aggressive competitor for power is the Supreme Court—both take turns usurping influence.
A great strength of the United States Constitution is the multi-layered governmental system it created, including a network of intricate checks and balances, as outlined above. The price of human nature and usurping freedoms from others is that power doesn’t decrease; it only transfers to other branches that tend to increase their power in order to bring back a proper balance. In each of these eras a complete takeover was thwarted, but power was centralized and freedoms gradually slipped away.
Deciding Our Fate
This power pendulum persistently swings back and forth, from one group to another, until more individuals take up their true duties as citizens (real influence).
This can occur 1) peacefully, 2) when a violent reset happens (like the Civil War), or 3) when our society collapses and something new is established out of the ashes.
The peaceful option is clearly preferable.
These issues and problems are not merely something we need to think about for today and tomorrow. We must embrace these things with a generational perspective. Because they exist on a grander scale, we have to ask the important questions. Are we solving the problem, or are we stopping one problem by creating a new one?
For example, the Civil War was practically written into the original Constitution; it was a paradox in the fabric of the whole system. Either the joint founding ideals of “all men are created equal” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” had to be done away with, or slavery had to go. Both could not ultimately flourish together.
Likewise, the Mexican-American War (against Spain) was guaranteed as soon as the Monroe Doctrine was adopted. And, once we decided that extensive international relations via broad treaties were in our best interest, we accepted the wars of Europe as our own.
Phillip Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles shows how we inadvertently embed the battles that future generations must fight into the chinks and weaknesses of the systems and programs we create today. The establishment of organizations like the Federal Reserve, Internal Revenue Service, and International Monetary Fund created the inevitable outcome of hyper-inflation, boom-bust cycles, and fiat currency, to name a few.
To a great extent, we are always creating our future crises.
Is this the society and government we want to fund with our taxes? Is this the group we want to endorse with our good name? To stand with confidence, with a clean conscience, and to fulfill each of our moral obligations, we must ask ourselves the hard questions. Here I reiterate the innovator’s call to action; we must not be the ostrich with our heads buried in the sand–but we also must avoid falling victim to a conquering Caesar (or a Byzantine bureaucracy).
There are a few options that have historically worked in changing a society’s fate. Some of these alternatives are still very possible today, while others are becoming less and less available to most people. Here’s a breakdown of the top three from history:
You pack up and leave, in hopes of finding a better place to restart. This has happened successfully many times in many cultures, but it is risky. Today there are very limited options for this choice. We have different forms and styles of government to pick from, but there isn’t untamed land that can be cultivated and founded from the ground up.
This is probably the most common form of rebellion. A group raises up arms and fights, in hope of overthrowing or removing tyrants. This method usually fails—not that it doesn’t remove the tyrants from power, but it typically breeds revolution after revolution and more often than not, ends with some new tyrant. In most cases, little actually gets fixed.
3) Civil Influence
In the modern world, civil influence has become the regular, expected, and non-violent form of change. This was brought about in large part by the spread of more democratic forms in societies and governments. As the people’s standard of living, education, and access to information worldwide increases, so does their ability to get involved and flex their muscles as the first and foremost branch of any governmental form. This is the at times slowest method of change, but often the most successful in the long-term.
Where civil influence was once answered with the death sentence (if you weren’t in the ruling class), it is now a real and viable option for any member of society to initiate the spark of change. This requires us, as John Locke argued, to be tolerant. Like the original thirteen colonies, we have now reached a point where the regular people need each other in order to get the right things done. This means we need to work with people who don’t always perfectly agree with us in every detail—or even in many details.
Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t stand for what is right or shirk our moral duties, but rather that we pick our battles. If we are constantly coming out against everything that peeves us, nobody will listen when it really matters (e.g. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”). Some things will absolutely happen in society that we dislike. But we can’t let disagreement make us disagreeable. It’s actually good that there are differing views on important issues. In fact, we should have a Hamilton and a Jefferson at each other’s throats in cabinet meetings, Congressional floor debates, and Supreme Court decisions–because it leads to more considered and effective solutions in the end.
More importantly, to really have influence, it is helpful not to be the guy who people hate at parties, always harping about the latest issue. Build friends, foster relationships, and focus your political influence when the time and topic are right. That said, be ready and watchful. The right time and topic will come.
Hope for a Better Future
A government by the people will largely be a reflection of the people. It could be a great government if a Moses, Marcus Aurelius, George Washington, Confucius, Muhammad, Cincinnatus, etc. is at its head; but as history has shown, it wouldn’t last. Maintaining a long-lived and successfully free society demands that a lot more citizens think and understand the principles of freedom (at the same level as, or better still, higher level than, our political leaders).
If you and I do this and we invite our communities to do the same, if “we the people” take on the responsibility to govern ourselves, we can and will have the best type of government—one that need only govern least. We must stop passing the buck on the hard things, or someone else will gladly take them up and decide for us. We the people, the first and original branch of government, have always had the most power to check and balance our government, and that hasn’t changed in today’s world.
An elite class can only rule when most of the citizens don’t have the same level of learning.
With persistence, civil influence really can provide proper checks and balances against the potential threats to freedom that naturally exist wherever power resides. In truth, it’s ultimately the only thing that does. It can be difficult. It takes patience, vigilance, study, understanding, and sacrifice.
But it does work.
 See, for example, the struggles of ancient Greece to unite city-states (unity vs. sovereignty), and the same issues in the nations of Europe and later the American colonies.
 A much more likely outcome in our situation.
 Consider the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, etc.
 From the American Revolution to Brexit.
About the Author
Ian A Cox is an entrepreneur and consultant who mentors leadership and the Liberal Arts for students and business men and women of all ages and levels. Ian is a popular keynote speaker at educational and business events. He loves reading, basketball, and discussing deep ideas on history and political science. Ian and his wife Emma have two sons.
March 23rd, 2017 // 11:35 am @ Oliver DeMille
Why Did the American People Give Donald Trump the Presidency?
(If you haven’t read Part One of this article, do so here. This installment is a continuation of that article.)
The Big Question
Now that you’ve read Part One of this article, let’s dig deeper into why the American people elected Donald Trump, and what they expect of him in office. Michael Polanyi brings us to bedrock with another key question: What is freedom for? In other words, what is the true purpose of freedom? We can only understand the differences between the masses and elites (or translate between them) if we know how the two groups answer this profound query.
Is freedom for prosperity of the masses? Or the wealth of a few? Is the purpose of freedom to give power to the few? Or power to the masses? Is freedom for the protection of the people from every challenge or difficulty that might arise? Or for protecting the inalienable rights of all? What is freedom for?
Is its purpose the improvement of the world? Answer: Yes. But how?
This is a deep question. One of our most pressing modern challenges is that elites and the masses answer it very differently. In other words, they see the purpose of freedom very differently. The American founding fathers knew this, and they gave the masses the voting power specifically to ensure that the masses won this conflict. They believed—based on history—that if elites ever won the tug-of-war between the elites and masses, freedom would drastically decline.
Elites naturally view the world in one of two ways:
(1) the superiority of the upper classes; or
(2) the superiority of the upper classes combined with the concept of noblesse oblige.
In the first of these, elites see themselves as better than the masses—in other words, they believe that as the more educated, wealthy, and sophisticated group, they know what is best for the rest of the nation. Some elites add to this the view of noblesse oblige, meaning that they feel they have a responsibility to take care of, protect, guide, and help provide for the rest of the people—those they consider their inferiors in this world.
Thus Elite Group 1 believes that the purpose of freedom is to allow the fittest to thrive, the richest to get richer, the more powerful to exert their will on the world. In contrast, Elite Group 2 sees the purpose of freedom as the powerful and wealthy taking care of the rest of us, making sure we treat each other well, ensuring that the poor are financially supported by the middle class. Group 1 could hardly care less what the masses do, they are instead focused on getting more power and wealth for themselves. Group 2 are the opposite: like helicopter parents, they want to exert power in every aspect of our lives, using the authority of government to ensure that they are taking good care of us in ways they “know” we need—ways they believe we are too ignorant or confused to take care of ourselves.
The masses are also split into two major groups: (A) the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wing of the masses, who are against Elite Group 1 but seek the support and leadership of Elite Group 2. (B) The other wing of the masses, most of whom supported Donald Trump in the last election, are adamantly against both Elite Groups.
This is the biggest divide in modern American politics and society. Note that the mainstream media is overwhelmingly in support of Elite Group 2. They sincerely believe they know what is best for the masses, and they consider any other view unenlightened, lacking, even dangerous.
The irony purported by such elites is palpable. For example, as recently pointed out by various commentators, on the one hand they decry a wall on the southern border as “racist,” “non-inclusive,” and “uncaring”, while on the other hand many of these same people live in restricted, elite, gated communities. They aren’t against walls per se. Indeed they surround themselves with walls—to keep out the unwanted from their homes and yards.
Likewise, many of those who adamantly call for increased gun control and restrictions on firearms are personally surrounded by well-armed bodyguards, and their estates and homes have the latest security measures and teams of gun-wielding security teams.
Another example: some rail on anyone who supports school choice or wants regular people to be able to send their kids to private schools, as if public school is the only good choice, and then they send their own children to prestigious private schools or hire expensive personal tutors. Apparently private school is great for them, but not for regular Americans. There are many other examples of such hypocrisy in Elite Group 2.
Keys and Locks
In all this, many elites seem to sincerely believe that while they, with all their “superiority” and “entitlement”, deserve such protection (walls, private school, and guns galore), the regular people are racist and intolerant to seek the same thing. Do they actually believe that because of their wealth and status they deserve the special tax breaks and tax shelters they use each year, while the regular people are required to just ante up and pay their full share? Really? This is precisely the attitude and aristocratic smugness the framers wanted to avoid when they refused to let elites choose our elected officials.
Again, the specific reason the American Framers gave the voting power to the masses is to give them power over the elites. This is exactly what elites find most objectionable about the Constitution, the main reason they want to use Supreme Court decisions and treaties (both of which thrive on the kind of fine print that most of the masses never read) and any other means they can discover to change and circumvent the Constitution.
Note also that in modern times large majority of experts—in various fields—have joined the elite classes, both in term of attitudes and values. More national mainstream media experts have become elites than perhaps any other field.
What They Want
But back to the key question: What is freedom for? To elites, the purpose of freedom is almost universally to increase their station. For the masses, in contrast, it is to pursue their happiness—in whatever ways they choose. Once again, these two groups are opposed. To increase their station, elites need the masses to remain below them on the socio-economic scale. To pursue happiness, the masses need the freedom to reach whatever status they seek. Some care about status, others don’t, but the freedom to pursue it, and whatever else they want (as long as they don’t violate the inalienable rights of others) is closely governed by elites in our world. To this end elites have erected numerous systems (including the rules of education, career, promotion, investing, starting businesses, the courts, etc.) that make it easier for their own offspring to attain status, and more difficult for the masses and their children to do the same.
All of this has a direct influence on what the American people now expect of President Trump. The elite classes want him to tack back to the center, meaning they want him to moderate his attacks on things the elites cherish (such as the mainstream media, bigger and bigger government, and national reliance on experts in every walk of life), to talk and act more like elites (they call this “appropriate”, “decorum”, or “presidential”). They want him to get little done in actual policy, to blame Congress or K Street for not really accomplishing what he promised during the election. To be clear, the more the Trump Administration delivers what it promised, the more the power of elites is dismantled. Whether you personally like or dislike president Trump, know this: Elites don’t want to be diminished, so they’ll fight Trump at every turn—and in whatever ways they think might work.
Those who elected Trump—not just his adamant supporters but many others who voted for him, or anyone else besides Hillary Clinton, because they saw a Hillary presidency as true disaster—want him to take on our biggest current national problem: too much elite influence in our society. Elites now control most media, most of academia, most of our leading cultural institutions (e.g. Hollywood, television, pop music, etc.), most government agencies, and a lot of finance and business. The power of elites in the federal government has become stifling, and threatens our Constitutional way of life. Moreover, as we’ve already discussed, they use their power to rig the systems of education, career, investment, etc. in ways that benefit their own children and increase the difficulties of the masses and their children trying to live the American Dream. More and more people now realize, or at least suspect, that the system is rigged against them.
The voters want Trump to reduce elite power over government and give it back to the people. Or, failing this, to at the very least reduce elite power over government. To do something that effectively gets rid of the rigged system. If he does this, the elite media will become even more extreme and increasingly vicious in its attempts to stop him.
Note that the elite classes argue for something similar. They want to use American institutions to equalize the American masses with regular people all around the world. This would leave them—the elites—in charge, but put all the masses of the globe on the same footing.
Few Americans who understand this situation support this elite agenda. Trump at least says that he’s trying to put regular Americans on the same footing as elites, not put them on the same footing as the masses around the world—with the elites in charge of us all. This is the great battle.
The media, or course, as a key arm of elites, doesn’t clearly tell the American people that this is occurring. But it is, and it presents a clear and present danger to our society.
The elite classes, including mainstream media, operate using what Polanyi called “the chisel of skepticism driven by the hammer of social passion.” This is a powerful way to see elite and media actions for what they really are. The social passion they cherish is that elites must take care of the rest of us, that they know better than the rest of us, that they—as our superiors—have the training, wisdom, status and wealth to do what we really need, and as their inferiors we should be happy to follow their lead and grateful that they care for us and are guiding us along.
Anyone who sees this kind of smug arrogance for what it really is (…smug arrogance…) is immediately branded “angry” and “ignorant”. Those who persist on this path can expect to be called bigoted, racist, narrow-minded, and eventually evil. This is the social passion of today’s elites, including much of the elite media.
But note: The way elites implement this is to use as much skepticism as possible. Skepticism is often confused with objectivity or journalistic fairness, so even a mainstream media that has long since lost much of its objectivity is able to appear removed and analytical simply by remaining deeply skeptical. This is, in fact, how many in the media are trained. They ask tough questions, but with a skeptical tone, and respond to the answers with even more skepticism. To their audience, this frequently appears to be good journalism.
But those reporting the news get to choose what questions to ask anyone they interview, and as long as they retain a skeptical tone, many listeners don’t realize that people who agree with the reporters are asked easier questions while those with a differing view are asked questions designed to entrap or frustrate. A nod or frown allows media members to sway the audience, yet media skepticism convinces many listeners that the media is treating everyone the same. The same skeptical tone frequently masks the art of spin, even deception. Note also that even media anger sells well as long as it comes in the tone of skepticism.
Skeptical tone allows the mainstream media to continually claim that their focus is truth and justice. Fairness and objectivity, they claim, are their driving purpose. But their definitions of fairness, objectivity, and justice are skewed. The old American Founding view of freedom (to do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t take away the inalienable rights of anyone else) is minimized by the ploy of skepticism. The new definition is to just quit thinking and instead follow the lead of our “betters”—the elite and their paid staffers (most of the experts).
Plans and Purposes
Despite all this, in the last election a majority of people in a majority of states saw through media spin and supported the candidate they considered most likely to oppose and decrease elite power—either Bernie or Trump. And here is the deep reality: if the Trump era boasts a major economic upturn, bringing more financial power to the masses, he will likely maintain such support. If not, it will dwindle or crash. The American masses want reduced power of elites, but they measure this largely in terms of increased economic power in their own personal lives.
These two things, above all, are what his supporters expect from a Trump presidency—or anyone they lift to office: (1) a reduction of elite power, and (2) increased economic well-being for the masses.
There is a third desire, and a fourth. As Polanyi put it: “The ideal of a free society is in the first place to be a good society.” Once again, elites and the masses define this very differently. Elites see good society as one that follows their ideas of what is good, including letting them (as superiors) rule, and letting them redistribute wealth as they see fit (meaning from the middle class to the lower classes, but leaving elite wealth largely—and conveniently—in the hands of themselves).
The masses, in contrast, see good society as one where they (the masses) rule, so they can keep elites from dominating, a society that benefits everyone and maintains freedom and true opportunity for all. Indeed, throughout history elites have used their rule to keep the masses from wealth and power. The masses see good society as one where people, communities, and groups voluntarily (not by forced government) take care of others and help those in need. The masses also believe that a good society gives them the opportunity to pursue improvement—personal or economic—as they will, as long they don’t violate the rights of others.
When the masses rule, through election that puts in leaders who do what they promised, and the people take care of others and love others voluntarily, and each individual has the freedom to pursue his or her goals without government or class hurdles, the masses see this as freedom. They also see it as good society.
If elites have too much power, the government intervenes in too many things, or the government or elites block our moral pursuit of improvement and advancement (using regulations and requirements, all of which are designed to benefit the elite classes), the masses see this as a loss of freedom and less-than-good society. This, by the way, is where the majority of people in the majority of states see our nation today.
Finally, the masses want safety. They want national security to be effective and consistent. They don’t want to wonder about who our allies and enemies are, or feel confused about the gap between the White House’s words and its actions regarding national security.
Answers Through Asking
Note that on this topic, the flyover states (and back-road locales that have more electoral college votes than liberals want them to) have also provided more than their share of the military personnel for the nation. When soldiers serve and pay the ultimate price for our freedoms, these flyover parts of the nation and their families provide much of the giving and suffering.
Such people are willing to die, or let family members die, to keep our nation free. Again, the framers knew what they were doing when they established the electoral college—keeping these people relevant in electing the commander in chief.
Contrast this to what the elites seek: to maintain and increase elite power and wealth, and to patronizingly take care of the rest of us. The framers got it right. They gave the masses—not in sheer numbers, but a majority of people in the majority of states through the electoral college—the final election power. They did this on purpose. They did it to keep elites—any group of elites—from getting too much power. This is what elections are for! This is precisely what “democracy” requires. Any arrangement that doesn’t put the regular people in charge of elections is some brand of aristocracy or other elite rule.
The Real Question
What then, can be done between elections to give more power to the masses, less to elites? The answer to this question brings up difficult and disturbing realities. Let’s put this in very simple terms:
- Are our most important institutions in society supporting the increase of elite power or the increase of power to the people?
- Specifically: Are we teaching (schools), raising (families), inspiring (parents, churches, entertainment, media), and training the next generation to be independent and wise thinkers (power to the people), or rather to focus on the twin goals of (1) fitting into the system, and (2) getting ahead in the system (more power to elites)?
- Are we teaching, raising, inspiring, and training them to question and improve the world (more power to the people), or simply to accept the world as it is and try to rise in status and promotion within it (more power to elites)?
- Do we mostly pass on the values elites want the masses to hold: seeking status and prestige (as doled out by elites), the government as the answer to most problems, the main life goal of being an employee, risk avoidance, trying to impress our “superiors”, and “this is just the way the world is”?
- Or do we effectively pass on the values of the American framers and modern freedom: service, independent thinking, moral purpose, “your mission in life is the key to your career”, entrepreneurialism, acquisitiveness, innovation, ingenuity, tenacity, and personal sacrifice for God, family and country?
- Do we most vigorously promote institutions (power to the elites), or principles of truth (power to the people)?
- Do we believe mostly in experts (power to elites) or the common sense of the people (power to the people)?
- Do we trust the mainstream media (power to elites), or do we generally distrust the media—just like the American founders did (power to the people)?
This entire question can be summed up by how we educate:
- Do we educate our young surrounded by the system established by elites for the education of the masses, focused on textbooks, reliance on experts, grades (designed to sort the masses based on their potential usefulness to elites), lectures, grade levels, pressure to fit in and conform both socially and intellectually, and controlled by bureaucracies?Is our educational emphasis mainly what Toffler called the real curriculum of most modern schools: rote memorization, training rather than education, obedience to superiors, and being on time to work?
Let’s be clear. This is a system designed to increase the power of elites. (However, ironically, almost none of the elite class educate their own children this way.)
- Or do we choose the kind of education that has always created nations and generations of leaders, using great books, great ideas, original sources, focus on principles, individual mentors, personalized learning, and lots of discussion and depth? Is our goal to educate young adults who are deep thinking, independent minded, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, and effective leaders in their chosen work and lives? This is what brings power to the people—those who get such an education.
Indeed, this is the very type of education the elite classes provide for their own children.
What do we want for our future?
On the one hand:
Rote education for the masses, and at the same time quality Leadership education for the children of elites?
Or, on the other hand:
Leadership education for all?
This is the true dividing point.
This is our fork in the road for America today.
Which path will we choose? This choice is the deeper reality than what goes on in elections, or in Washington.
This is also the pivotal question of our individual power—are we using it to build the rule of elites, or the rule of the people? The reason elites have repeatedly won this battle throughout most of history is simple: they convinced many of the masses to join them, to focus not on making a better system for all, but rather to focus on trying to seek promotion and status in the education-career-governmental system set up of elites, by elites, and for elites.
Which side are you building and strengthening each day?
Regardless of how you feel about the last presidential election or the current administration, this is the great question of our time. It is vitally important right now, today, because how we answer this question will determine the future for our families and our nation.
March 14th, 2017 // 4:52 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Why Did the American People Give Donald Trump the Presidency?
The 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.
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.
February 16th, 2017 // 12:51 pm @ Oliver DeMille
We are on the verge of a new media era in America. The first occurred during the American Founding, and was characterized mostly by articles and pamphlets—short, direct commentaries by numerous citizens on whatever topics they considered important. The second era was dominated by full-time commentators and publications—the Newspaper Age—where nearly everything that got published had to go through editors and editorial boards.
A third phase of American media centered around professional journalists—newspaper, magazines, radio, television, and cable—who saw themselves as intermediaries between those with financial/political power and the rest of the populace. At its best, such journalists bravely stood up to power and told the populace the kind of truth that only insiders can know. At its worst, mainstream media became a tool of spin for the elite Establishment.
Today a fourth, different type of media is taking over; and while some of its members naturally attempt to look as much as possible like the journalists of the Professional Era, many others couldn’t care less about what is increasingly considered old-style “credibility”. In this new stage of American media, we are in many ways witnessing a return to the kind of media that dominated the American Founding.
Consider the parallels, noticeable in the following quotes about American media between 1760 and 1790:
- “The newspapers, of which by 1775 there were thirty-eight in the mainland colonies, were crowded with columns of arguments and counter arguments appearing as letters, official documents, extracts of speeches, and sermons.”[i] Some of these were closely screened by editors, but the majority were not. Newspapers during this time period were a gathering place, where practically anyone could share an opinion or argue with the views of someone else. Unlike modern newspapers—where even op-eds and letters to the editor are carefully vetted, partitioned, and “blue-lined”—this was a grassroots free-for-all, much like today’s blogs, memes, vines, posts, tweets, etc. Regular people (not editors, boards, or committees) wrote them.
- “Broadsides—single sheets on which were often printed not only large letter notices but [short] essays…appeared everywhere; they could be found posted or passing from hand to hand in the towns of every colony.”[ii] This is in many ways a similar kind of media as modern blogs, tweets, RSS feeds, and social media posts—specifically, news and thoughts on the issues go directly from the individual to others. Some ideas catch on and spread, others don’t. But professional editors and committees are entirely left out of the process. It’s person-to-person media, like that experienced during the American founding.
- “Above all, there were pamphlets: booklets consisting of a few printer’s sheets…. Then, as now, it was seen that the pamphlet allowed one to do things that were not possible in any other form.”[iii] This is like the modern blog or online article—from 1 page in length to 8 or even 10. It addresses a topic, without editorial oversight, and is shared with anyone who shows interest. Many of today’s pamphlet-equivalents are also found in online tutorials, YouTube videos, TED talks, etc. In the same way that reality television is often more popular than shows that are scripted, edited, and re-edited, person-to-person media is the new reality. The professional mainstream media—big business—doesn’t like this shift, of course. But that hasn’t stopped it from spreading.
Apply what George Orwell said about person-to-person news in his day: “The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression…more…than is ever possible in a newspaper, or in most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book…. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. All that is required is that it be topical, polemical, and short.”[iv]
The word polemical certainly describes a lot of modern online posts—clearly expressing opinions, and frequently against something. When people see a concern or a need, the Internet allows them to research, learn about it, and share their opinions widely.
As noted, this is a significant return to media between people, rather than media controlled by experts and handlers. No wonder the modern media is apoplectic about this development in the Age of the Internet. They’re losing both their jobs and their status; even media professionals who keep their jobs are watching their prestige and credibility decline.
In much of society the media is now less popular than Congress—a dismal position in the past few decades. The reasons are instructive: (1) Increasing numbers of people simply don’t believe what the media says. (2) A lot of people, maybe a majority of people, think the media has deeply abused its power by trying to sway the populace on numerous occasions—and that perhaps it always did, even before most people realized what was happening.
The Need to Question
During the American Founding era, all “great public events”[v] were “surrounded”[vi] by numerous individually-produced media responses from various citizens on all sides of the issues. This had huge influence on the nation. While some people argue that professional media is better at emphasizing the facts than person-to-person media, a growing number of people simply don’t trust the mainstream media to remain objective. The history of media in just the past twenty years proves that media outlets have almost consistently exhibited a clear and obvious bias.[vii] To trust them now without skepticism and deeper personal research would be entirely unreasonable.[viii]
Moreover, more people are asking themselves: If individuals must research things on their own to find the truth, why should we give any real credence to the words of “expert” media figures? A lot of Americans don’t. Since most of the professional media is clearly biased, even partial, why give it our carte blanche trust? The truth is, all media has some spin.[ix] Let’s just admit this reality, and let citizens read what they want and draw their own conclusions.
The myth of a truly objective and accurate professional media system is just that: a myth. Certainly there are still good journalists,[x] but trust in our media Establishment is largely fractured. Citizens must take what the news tells them with a grain of salt—or continue allowing themselves to be expertly “shepherded” by the mainstream media.[xi]
A look back at history is instructive: The American Founders deeply believed in the people. They didn’t consider the masses perfect, or infallible. But they realized something today’s elites seem not to understand: that experts and political leaders have the same flaws, faults and weaknesses as the regular citizenry. Trusting either group is potentially dangerous, but trusting elites to take care of the masses will always fail, while trusting the people to take care of their own interests will, over time, lead to better results than giving such power to any small group of influencers or rulers.[xii]
The differences between experts/elites and the people are important. While the modern media tends to operate on a “chisel of skepticism driven by the hammer of social passion,” as Michael Polanyi put it,[xiii] the people have long been too trusting of, and too dependent on, the press. The masses needed a bit more skepticism, and it has come in spades in recent years—spurred more than anything by the triangular relationship of the people, the media, and the president, from Bill Clinton and George Bush to Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Freedom vs. Followers
We live in an era of Reality News, not just Reality Television. The people of the nation are less and less interested in news filtered by experts. They want things straight up, raw, and direct. Media consumers now prefer the smartphone camera version of the news, captured by whoever happens to be passing by, rather than the slick, doctored news filmed and edited by professional camera crews and producers (although we usually need to take such reporting with a grain of salt as well).
The worst “problem” with the new era of person-to-person media is that people will have to think deeply, think independently, avoid being swayed by whatever they read or watch or hear, do some further personal study on news stories that interest or effect them, and ponder the issues on their own.[xiv] Which, we should all note, is precisely what every citizen should have been doing all along with any news reported by the mainstream media.
This is necessary for freedom to flourish. The new era of widespread person-to-person media is more conducive to real freedom than any media system since the American Founding. It also has real dangers—if people don’t actually study and think.[xv] But at least with person-to-person media, we know this is the reality: it is up to the people to vet the news.
The truth is that a media revolution has already occurred: anyone still largely trusting the mainstream media and accepting its words at face value is stuck in fantasy.[xvi] Nobody reads multiple Facebook posts and just believes everything. But that’s largely how many Americans absorbed ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN news for decades.
It is time for a different kind of citizen. The era of implicit trust in a professional media is over. What remains to be seen is if we as citizens will do any better.
[i] Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, ch. 1: “The Literature of the Revolution”.
December 27th, 2016 // 7:50 am @ Oliver DeMille
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)
LET’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.
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.)