Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Descent into Feudalism

We moderns are all for freedom, right? And our lefty friends are all for liberation from oppression and marginalization, right?

So how come we are taxed on every hour of work? How come we stand in lines at the airport, like peasants? How come the government sequesters our savings for us in government "trust funds" and in special government-regulated IRA and 401k accounts?

The answer is that the final centuries of the last millennium were an outlier. The old feudal system of warrior lords lording it over the peasants had broken down. The ordinary people were "on their own" and they were busting out of the cages that had confined them for millennia as the subordinate creatures of their noble lords.

And the new feudalism was still in its conceptual stages. Feudal Concept One was the Marxist idea that a revolutionary cadre would fight for and protect the workers against the capitalists. Feudal Concept Two was the Progressive/Fabian idea that wise, educated experts would manage the world on behalf of the workers.

How's that new feudal system doing, boys and girls?

Now in my reductive Three Peoples theory I assume that the world is always composed of three kinds of people. One of them are the People of the Subordinate Self. In my idea, people graduate from the world of the subordinate self to become People of the Responsible Self. And I assume that people are eager to graduate from subordinate slavery to responsible freedom.

But what if I am wrong? What if many People of the Subordinate Self are perfectly happy living as subordinate drones of the ruling class? What if they naturally live as grumpy peasants, forever complaining about "them" but not actually doing anything about it?

If you look around you, it seems to me to be inescapable that many people are perfectly content to live as subordinate peasants, or as we say now, victims.

It is pretty obvious that the whole program of the Democratic Party is a program of feudalism. Democratic voters look to their leaders to provide them with benefits without which they would be helpless.

But the rise of Donald Trump shows that the same applies now to the Republican Party. Mr. Trump is running on a platform to Make America Great Again, and he will create the jobs and punish the Chinese in order to do this. He is appealing, we are told, to the white working class that has spent the last half century dying of despair after the Democrats abandoned them when the Dems decided to be the noble lords of women and minorities rather than the noble lords of the working class.

Here is what I have to say about this.

I don't like it. The whole point of the modern Great Enrichment is that we come out of our cages, we break out of the lord's manor, and we take responsibility for our lives. We do not rely of a powerful patron to provide us with the necessaries of life; we go out into the world and find something useful to do, something that other people are willing to pay money for.

On my view, if we return to feudalism we will return to stasis. There will be no more Great Enrichment, but only obedience.

And the problem with feudalism is what I call the little darlings problem. If you are the little darling of the ruling class, whether peasant or worker or woman or minority, you are facing a big risk. What if the ruling class finds that you are no longer useful in their power project?

It happened to the peasants during the agricultural revolution and the growth of the nation state. The absolute monarchs disarmed the nobles and the nobles decided their didn't need no stinkin' peasants eating their heads off on the odd chance that the nobles would need them in their baronial armies. The liberal ruling class decided that they didn't need no stinkin' white working class once they decided that leading women and minorities was much more fun.

As that black state senator from Louisiana said a while back. The politicians don't care about you; they only care about your vote.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How Bad is Western Decline?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Joel Kotkin writes of two dystopian novels, one about the Islamification of France and one about the Latinization of the US.

But the problem in both novels is not the Muslims and the Hispanics, but the failure of the French and the US to uphold and live their values and their culture.

Controversialist Vox Day, quoting my man Alexander Hamilton, blames the Irish and the Jews for wrecking America. Hey, why not blame the Germans? They invented everything, good and bad, since David Hume.

It is true that all the immigrants have rather mucked up the good old ideas of 18th century political science, including the separation of powers and the limitation of democracy. But the immigrants also represent an infusion of energy. The fact is that the WASPs that dominated the US northeast have ebbed noticeably since the Irish showed up in 1850 and the Jews turned up in 1900. The residual legatees of the WASP inheritance don't seem that eager to promote and spread WASPiness any more.

So, while it is true to say that the Irish and the Jews didn't really understand the virtues of the American Founding, we could also say that the descendants of the Founders don't really seem to be up to the mark set by the Founders.

The truth is that we can't keep the past, either by faithfully repeating the holy words of the Founders, or by preserving the old ways, or by keeping out newcomers. Or even by relentlessly indoctrinating the newcomers with the right thoughts and habits.

Here's my take. Given the non-stop follies and mistakes of humans, particularly humans with power, it is astonishing that the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years has been as successful as it turned out.

Don't forget: nobody really understood what was happening when the modern prosperity started. And nobody really understands what is going on today. There are fools hawking nonsense all over the place, from George Soros pushing his pro-globalist anti-nationalism, from the PC left pushing their poisonous identity politics, from the educated class pushing its climate change hysteria. Then you have the Muslims tumbling out of their disaster of the Middle East.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we are not just being influenced by the Irish immigrants of 1850 and the Jewish immigrants of 1900. Or the Hispanic immigrants of 1985. What about the East Asians that are already becoming the richest group in America and taking over 40 percent of the student body at CalTech? What about the South Asians also filling up the tech slots?

I don't think this "diverse" group is going to surrender the world to Muslim fanatics. I suggest that most of these groups take the western cultural, economic, and political heritage very seriously. There's my evergreen quote from David Aikman's Jesus in Beijing. He quotes a Chinese Christian, talking about the pre-eminence of the West.
At first, we thought it was because you have more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the last 20 years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.
Imagine what it takes for a son of Confucius to say that.

In all the chaos of politics and terror and economic dislocation, it is well to remember that many people from outside the northwest European culture are very interested in understanding just what it was that made the West into the world-dominating cultural, economic, and political hegemon. They don't want to tear it down. They want to understand it, they want to inhabit it, and they want to make it work for them.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Is it 1787 Yet?

If you were living in France in 1787 you probably thought that things were peachy keen. Talleyrand evokes this with his comment:
He who has not lived in the eighteenth century before the Revolution does not know the sweetness of life and can not imagine that there can be happiness in life.
And so on.

But, as Fred Reed writes, all was not well. The natives were restless. Maybe it was exactly because life was so sweet, what with "Love, Poetry, Music, Theatre, Painting, Architecture, Court, Salons, Parks and Gardens, Gastronomy, Letters, Arts, Science," that people started getting all riled up. Anyway, the government was running out of money and had to go to the States General to ask for more. And that got the revolution train into high gear.

And, according to Tocqueville in The Old Regime and the Revolution the problem with the ancién régime was that it had become a dry-as-dust administrative system to which everyone was subordinate without participation and without responsibility.

Hello? Anyone see a similarity to the Obama régime?

But the truth is that nobody knows nothing. Just like Hollywood. The current regime might last 1000 years. Or it might end tomorrow. There are always malcontents, always people suffering under injustice, because government is injustice, and you never know when the pot will boil over.

All I can do is listen to my liberal friends and think about to what extent they are living in fantasy land. Obviously they believe a pack of lies. But then so do conservatives like me. And so do the Trumpkins, and so do the Black Lives Matters.

What I do believe is the one thing that we all shy away from. Eventually we and our kind are on the losing end of history. Once upon a time imperial Rome was a big city of about one million, according to La Wik. Then it contracted to a nothing. What happened to all those people? Better not to ask.

Native pre-Columbian Americans were almost completely wiped out by European diseases, principally smallpox. Their culture would have completely disappeared and been forgotten but for the faux-compassion of Indian Reservations and liberal anti-colonial politics.

What about the white working class in the US, allegedly dying of despair? What about the children of liberal academics that seem, from my personal observation, to be remarkably childless? What about the bloodletting in the Middle East? Is that a people rising to dominance, or the last flailing of a defeated culture? Fred Reed:
In the United States of today, clouds gather as the royalty toast each other with expensive wines. In numbers that a half century ago would have seemed impossible, the American young live with their parents, being unable to find jobs to support themselves. Waitressing in a good bar pays better in tips than a woman with a college degree can otherwise earn, assuming that she can earn anything at all. Employers having learned to hire them as individual contractors, they move into their thirties with no hope of a pension for their old age.
Well, is this the worst of times or the best of times? Will Uber and robots make everyone of average or less intelligence superfluous? Who knows? The story of the last 200 years has seen constant innovations that have surplussed numerous worthy occupations. The left calls it "de-skilling." And yet the world goes on.

All I can say is that if you look at the pictures of the floods in Louisiana, you see people helping each other, without regard to class, race, gender, or any other means by which politicians and activists divide people into us and them.

Good for them. Maybe there is hope after all.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Obamacare Death Spiral: Incompetence or Cunning?

This week Aetna announced that it was going to reduce its exposure to Obamacare, offering less policies on Obamacare exchanges.

So the Obamacare death spiral continues.

The question is: was this the plan all along? To crash the health care system and then announce that the only solution was to go to "single-payer." According to La Wik:
Single-payer healthcare is a system in which the state, rather than private insurers, pays for all healthcare costs.
So was this the plan all along? I must say that I doubt it. That's because I think that political people are not long-term thinkers. They are just thinking about how to do the next thing.

I'd say that the Obamacare designers probably wanted to do single-payer, but knew that they couldn't pass it in 2009. So they designed a program, according to the model of Jonathan Gruber, that kept the elephant in the room, corporate employee health plans, while laying waste to the individual health insurance market to prop up the Obamacare subsidized population. Then, I expect they said, we'll revisit it in ten years.

You can see the attraction of single-payer to the ruling class. When the government "pays for all healthcare costs" it means that the taxpayers pay for all healthcare costs. When the government pays for all healthcare costs it removes the embarrassments of co-operatives going out of business and Aetna retreating from Obamacare.

Also, of course, it means that people don't have to get good jobs with good benefits to get good healthcare. Everyone gets care according to need and pays according to means. What is not to like?

The problem is, of course, that healthcare become a similar game to education. In education the customers are not the students but the teachers and administrators and vendors. So the outcomes for students are not that important compared to the outcomes for teachers, administrators, and vendors organized to get results from politicians. The middle class get half-decent service and the poor go to the wall. Also, because the government is in charge it doesn't get the blame the way that insurance companies get the blame for health care costs today.

Of course, the trend in all government programs is to centralize and standardize and increase government control. But when control is central and administrative you get a system that is very bad at responding to peoples' needs, and very bad at adapting to changing needs and conditions.

The problem is, of course, that the government system will be designed to offer free stuff up front, and hide its costs behind a curtain. Innovation is stifled and existing powerful interests are protected.

It is telling that Obamacare was passed by filling the insurance companies' mouths with gold and risk corridors. These were the same organizations that every Democratic partisan had been excoriating for years as profit-seeking wasters. Yet the Obama administration got Obamacare passed by stitching up a deal to get insurance company buy in.

Of course it did. Yet most people drink the KoolAid that government is there to help.

No it isn't. Government is in the business of rewarding its supporters and buying the support of opponents when necessary.

What should Republicans and conservatives do about this? I suppose the answer is to provide an Amazon or Uber alternative. Something that can sidestep the existing special interests and deliver services in a new way while the special interests aren't looking. How should/could this be done? I don't have a clue, but I sure would love to see some scrappy newcomer figure out a way to do it.

Meanwhile, if I were a Democratic politician I would blame the whole Obamacare mess on the insurance companies and their obsession with profits.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Politicians Will Always Mobilize People Against Danger

If you are totally frustrated by the Obama era and just can't take it any more, I have bad news for you.

Politics is never going to get any better. That's because, on my theory, politics and government are always and everywhere engaged in one thing and one thing only.

Politics and government are in the business of rallying people against an existential danger, and then leading them to make war on it and defeat it.

It's pretty obvious how this works with respect to so-called primitive tribes. They occupy land with access to food supplies and their lives depend on defending that territory against other tribes that might also want to occupy that territory and feed off its benison.

The agricultural age was no different. Each feudal lord was the master of some food-growing territory. As Hegel points out, this Master didn't actually grow any food. He was the Master that put the food-growing Slaves to work. He dominated the Slaves and took a big cut of the food in return for living under his protection. The Master was the Protector in a cold hard world.

But things changed with the growth to dominance of the exchange economy. In the old days exchange only happened with high-value objects. Basic commodities were produced, typically, by the same people that consumed them. Now that has changed. Nearly everyone now sells their labor on the labor market for money to purchase the basic commodities instead of make them at home or on the farm.

Now my idea is that a wise and compassionate elite, brimming with education and knowledge about the new exchange economy, would have helped the workers and peasants used to truckling to a lord and experiencing the market at arms length. They would have taught them how to thrive in the labor market, how to switch from a subordinate cultural role as a peasant to a responsible role as a responsible individual that goes out into the world looking for a way to contribute rather than fortifying his patch of ground against marauders.

But in fact our elite, educated as it is, has not followed that path. Starting with the Class of 1848 it has encouraged first the rising working class and then women, blacks, gays and more in the culture of victimhood, to stay as People of the Subordinate Self. It has done this by convincing all these groups that they face existential peril unless they enlist in the liberal political army.

So everything has changed with the new exchange economy and yet nothing has change, because politics is still about mobilizing against the existential foe.

All politics reflects this dynamic and always will. There is no warrant for political power and the mobilization of private resources into the service of the state unless there is an existential peril. So modern ruling classes have copied the methods of the old regime. They terrify their people with the dangers awaiting them, and they offer themselves as the only means to fight the danger.

So modern politics oscillates between fighting the dangers from external enemies -- Kaisers, Führers, Commies, Maos, and now Musliams -- and fighting the dangers from internal enemies -- capitalists, CEOs, racists, sexists, homophobes, polluters, and climate deniers.

Frankly, I'm in the camp for fighting the external enemies. Most of them really are an existential threat, although not perhaps as bad as the war party has advertised.

My problem is with the fight against capitalists, CEOs, and the rest. Sorry Charlie, but I just don't think that they are real threats to civilization as we know it. Capitalists and CEOs, properly restrained from crony deals with politicians, have raised us from $3 per day to $100 per day. Racists, sexists, and homophobes are just an excuse for the ruling class to keep their supporters anxious and frightened.

Then, of course, there is the whole menu of free stuff, from pensions to health care to education. The idea is that the average person cannot provide for themselves; only government has the resources to provide pension, health care, and education. Sorry Charlie, but I think that having the government run that stuff is the dumbest idea since bloodletting. I believe that the royal road to human dignity points towards ordinary people doing their own thing with regard to child education and old age. But what do I know?

I do think that the politics and the government of the present ruling class will go down in history as the Great Injustice, the most heartless and cruel manipulation of ordinary people of the last millennium.

That's because I think the political philosophy of our ruling class denies the ordinary person the dignity to order their lives on their own without a power-crazed activist from the Circumlocution Office breathing down their neck to teach them How Not to Do It.

The whole point of social animals is to do as much as possible without force and domination. And humans are the most social of animals. Just ask the Cajun Navy presently self-organizing to rescue people in the Louisiana floods. I wonder what Walmart is doing to help.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dear African Americans: Politics is Not the Answer to Your Problems

You can talk all you like about the failings of Donald Trump, but the riots in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, subsequent to the killing of a black suspect by a black police officer seem to speak more clearly about the state of America today.

Years ago, I read a guy that said simply that politics and laws can do something about egregious injustice and discrimination. But politics should get its nose out of moderate and light injustice and discrimination.

In other words, politics is a very blunt instrument and can't do much more than keep the peace, and then not even that all the time.

So people that put their faith in politics keep getting disappointed.

Thus, in the 1960s the race riots in major American cities began after the passage of the landmark civil rights laws.

Thus, in the 2010s the race riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Milwaukee began after the election of America's First Black President.

Why? Because politics and civil rights laws cannot make African Americans whole. It can make slavery and Jim Crow illegal but it cannot vault African Americans into the middle class.

You get into the middle class by changing your culture from the subordinate, resentful culture of the worker or the peasant to the responsible culture of the middle class. Not by Affirmative Action and diversity programs.

By the way, the chap killed by a cop in Milwaukee, 23-year-old Sylville Smith beat a shooting rap.
He beat a shooting rap at a jury trial in 2015 when a witness recanted, allegedly after Smith intimidated him. 
This is what Jill Leovy recounts in Ghettoside. Cops can't get a conviction on murders, because of witness intimidation. So they arrest the bad guys, that everybody knows who done it, for minor violations where they can be convicted on the testimony of a police officer.

I was on a jury years ago where a black suspect was tried for some minor offence purely on the testimony of two police officers. During jury deliberations the five white jurors were all quiet until the sole black woman on the 6-person jury announced for conviction. Then we followed her lead and voted for conviction.

If you want to step out into the modern world of global exchange and of trusting anyone who demonstrates trustworthiness then you must step out of your tribal enclave. You cannot sit there ready to strike out at the tribe over the hill or in the next urban gang territory. You have to declare for peace and base your public life on the principle of serving others before you serve yourself. And the first thing you do is stop listening to the politicians and activists that tell you that the answer to your problems is force: against the police, against the bosses, against the 1%.

Maybe, after the disappointment of the civil rights revolution, and after the disappointment of the First Black President, and after inner-city African Americans have burned down their cities again, our African American friends will give up on the false promise of politics and just pitch in and become Americans who happen to be black.

But that is the way of humans, and of the United States. We only do the right thing after trying all the alternatives.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Republican Rebirth: Is It That Simple?

Jon Gabriel is the guy with the evergreen tweet: "My favorite part about the Obama era is all the racial healing." He's head of Ricochet.

Now he has written that the Republican base has burned the party down and given it to a guy that isn't a conservative, let alone a Republican.

OK, pal, but what do you propose?
It will take an army of forward-thinking leaders to build a party that welcomes conservatives — an army motivated by clear ideas and concrete action. Unlike the recommendations of the 2012 autopsy, what’s needed is not a Beltway-centric push for round 932 of comprehensive immigration reform, but a full-spectrum return to the small-R republican ideals this nation was founded upon.
Now, I would say that the problem Republicans and conservatives have faced over the 25 years since the end of Reagan is that there just aren't enough people in America that believe in the small-R republican ideals this country was founded upon.

I'd say that the Republican debacle occurred because party leaders understood that small-government politics only gets you so far. Until you start talking about reforming Social Security around people that have been paying payroll taxes for the past 30 years. Until you start talking to sixtyish women with end-of-life mothers. Until you start talking to parents getting "free" education for their children. Then you are out to lunch because people are not ready to give up on Social Security, Medicare, and government education.

People will not give up on their Precious. Not yet.

On the other hand far too many people think about politics as a rational discussion of the issues. It is not. Modern politics is about the anger of the dispossessed against the power of the ruling class.

When the dispossessed get angry about the injustice they experience (real or imagined, it doesn't matter) they act on their anger. So the white working class is burning down the Republican Party. Just as Black Lives Matter is burning down the cities. Both groups are mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more.

Now you can say to the white working class: Sorry chum, but the good old days of good jobs at good wages are over. Today you have to hustle for a buck. It's a global world and you have to figure out how to thrive in it. On. Your. Own. Your problem ain't gonna be solved by some chap promising to bring jobs to you, or to punish the Chinese or evil corporations outsourcing. But a politician cannot get votes by telling people the facts of life. He gets votes by telling people what they want to hear.

Now you can say to African Americans: sorry homeys, but the First Black President ain't gonna solve your problems. In fact all the civil rights and diversity in the world is not going to do it for you, not after the blatant Jim Crow laws have been washed away. It's a cold hard whiteboy world out there, whether the white boys are actual white racist cops killing homeboys or South Asians pouring into Amazon or East Asians taking all the places at Caltech. But a politician cannot get votes by telling people the facts of life. He gets votes by telling people what they want to know.

And so on.

That is why the world doesn't go from sensible reform to sensible reform, but lurches instead from revolution to conquest to disaster. People get angry and decide to burn the place down rather than compose their differences.

But usually burning the place down doesn't help, except by hastening the end. So the Ghost Shirt movement in the western plains didn't save the Plains Indians. So the Boxers didn't save China from the western imperialists. So the Bolsheviks didn't make a better Russia.

The Maoists burned down China, just to make it fair. But now China is exploding with economic growth, now that the Commies are permitting consensual capitalist acts between adults. Hmm, what a concept.

I don't like this. I don't think it ought to be that the way to solve the problems of a nation is to burn the old ways to the ground and then start to build, and finally succeed after a couple of failed tries.

Nobody wants to hear that, least of all voters at election time.

So, assuming that Donald Trump goes down to defeat, as "everyone" expects, we won't rebuild the party with a bunch of "forward-looking thinkers." It ain't gonna be that easy.

Before a new party can be built on the ruins of the old many conceits and hopes will have to be ground into dust. Only when people give up keeping their Precious will we be ready for a rebirth of freedom.

And frankly I don't have a clue what the new Republican Party will look like.