Friday, March 27, 2015

Anita Sarkeesian: The Road from Individual to Victim

Canadian critic and social justice warrior Anita Sarkeesian is the young lady that stirred up #gamergate. So far so good. But I recently got to view remarks she made at All About Women 2015 at the Sydney Opera House (H/T Susan L. M. Goldberg). In her prepared remarks Sarkeesian described her journey from neo-liberal individualist to feminist victim.

This is fascinating to me because of my three-stage theory of social membership. Simply put, my theory imagines three types of people. There are the People of the Subordinate Self: think workers, peasants, serfs, slaves, bondsmen, underclass. Their creed is collectivism; their place is the village. Then there are People of the Responsible Self: think Jews, Christians, careers, bourgeoisie, markets, business. Their creed is responsible individualism; their place is the city. Finally there are the People of the Creative Self: think artists, writers, revolutionaries, activists. Their creed is expressive individualism; their place is the artist's colony.

Now, it is my notion that you need a religion when you move from one selfhood to another. The Axial Age religions, including Judaism and Christianity, are vehicles that help people on the road from the world of the Subordinate Self to the world of the Responsible Self. Romanticism is the vehicle if you want to graduate from the creed of responsible individualism to the belief system of expressive individualism.

What I had never thought about is what religion you need if you want to go in the opposite direction! Suppose that you were born into a family in the middle class but you don't feel like a responsible individual at all? Suppose you find that you are really a victim, a member of the tribe of the exploited and the oppressed? Perfectly simple. For you there is leftism. Here is Anita Sarkeesian describing her journey.
Like most people who grew up immersed in the neoliberal ideology of the West, I saw the world largely as a series of individuals making their own personal individual choices. And here I was, a young woman making my own personal choices about what to wear, what to buy, what to study and what I wanted to do every day. Within that narrow individualist framework feminism seemed like a relic of the distant past.
 But then she had her Road to Damascus experience.
With the help of some amazing mentors and by reading a lot of feminist writing, especially the words of women of color and queer women from around the world, I learned to see through a sociological lens and understand the world as it really exists, as a series of intersecting social systems. Once you have a systemic and institutional framework, you see how oppression manifests in many subtle ways under the systems of what bell hooks calls “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”.
Well, of course! It all dovetails! But there is a problem.
 Unfortunately many contemporary discourses in and around feminism tend to emphasize a form of hyper individualism (informed by the neoliberal worldview). More and more, I hear variations on this idea that anything that any woman personally chooses to do is a feminist act, this attitude is often referred to as “choice feminism”. Choice feminism posits that each individual woman determines what is empowering for herself, which might sound good on the surface but this concept risks obscuring the bigger picture and larger, fundamental goals of the movement by focusing on individual women and a very narrow, individual notion of “empowerment”. It erases the reality that some choices that women make have an enormous negative impact on other women’s lives.
So, you see, unless you go with Sarkeesian's approved feminism you are helping the patriarchy, and you will be shunned. You see, "Even if an individual woman can make patriarchy work for her, it’s still a losing game for the rest of the women on this planet." And that is bad.
And because of how systems of oppression intersect and compound one another, it’s women of color, indigenous women, women living in the global south, women with disabilities, queer women, and transwomen who bare the brunt of those ramifications.
 The bottom line is this:
In order to be a feminist we have a responsibility beyond ourselves, we have a responsibility to each other, and we have a responsibility to work for the collective liberation of all women.
So it's a fantasy to think of yourself as a responsible self and an individualist. Because, really, we aren't individuals at all, but victims, and what we need to do is to "work for the collective liberation of all women."

Now actually I agree with Anita Sarkeesian. We really are victims. Ever since the first families in Mesopotamia got sucked into alluvial agriculture five thousand years ago humans have found themselves "caged" by the new ways. That's the word that Michael Mann uses in The Sources of Social PowerIn other words, once you've abandoned the nomadic ways of the hunter-gatherer and joined a fixed settlement that works the land you are trapped in the new way. For one thing, agriculture supports a lot more people per square mile than nomadism. If you break up agriculture, a ton of people are going to die until the population reduces to a level that can survive on nomadism.

Another thing is that people become less war-like in settled agricultural communities. In nomadic groups all the men are enrolled to fight the border wars against the neighboring groups. In the larger agricultural societies only the warrior class does the fighting, and the borders are much further away. So the death by violence comes down from 500 per 100,000 per year to 50 per 100,000 per year, according the Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

In the transition from agricultural to industrial society you get another step in pacification. The nation state is bigger than the feudal barony, and the army of the feudal host is replaced by a professional bureaucratic army. Violent death rate drops from 50 per 100,000 per year to five or even one per 100,000 per year.

Don't mind me, Anita Sarkeesian, but I'd make a wild guess and say that the level of patriarchal oppression comes down with the transition from nomad to agricultural settlement, and again with the transition from agriculture to industry. These days we aren't governed by a landed warrior class, but by an educated elite class -- people like you, Anita Sarkeesian.

If you want to experience vicariously the good old patriarchy in action, read the Iliad. Those Argives and Danaans thought nothing of sacking cities, killing the men, and taking the women as concubines. Raping and pillage where what men did in those days.

But in America, in 1896, a young Norwegian immigrant woman, Helga Estby, walked across the continent to try to win a $10,000 prize. Was she raped and pillaged on the way? Wikipedia doesn't say. But I'd guess that she wasn't.

The truth is that responsible individualism is not liberation; it is a heavy yoke of responsibility: the responsibility to find work, the responsibility to make your own choices, the responsibility to find your own mate, all within the demanding environment of the market economy. It's not surprising that immediately after the rise of capitalism a succession of social and political movements started to yearn for the lost Eden of collectivism, and the liberation from the heavy burdens of life and work under capitalism from which there is no escape.

It is telling that in the university in 2015 women are demanding "safe spaces" from people and ideas that they don't want to face. If you ask me, that's a return to the patriarchy, because people in "safe places" need society to protect them from danger. And who do you think are going to be the protectors?

If life as a responsible individual is tough, the truth is that expressive individualism, the life of the artist and the creator, is even harder. All of us can find a place in the world if we give up our lives to a collective. Most of us can find a place in the world as responsible individuals. But only a few can make it as creators of original work.

So it's not surprising that there are many people like Anita Sarkeesian that long for a simpler, less creative, less responsible life. The trouble is that this liberation in collectivism is not liberating at all. Ask anyone that lived in Soviet Russia or Maoist China.

And Anita Sarkeesian is not really a victim. She is an activist, rough and tough and devilish sly, a leader and an influencer. In fact she is a member of the creative class, having hacked out a place for herself in the sun by developing a significant talent for creative publicity.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What Would an Islam Reformation Mean?

I love Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Somali Muslim turned western atheist. Her books Nomad and Infidel are breathtaking views into the crisis in Islam. Now she's just out with Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now and proposed to reform Islam, and I'll be out there buying myself a copy. Meanwhile we have the reviewers. Writes Brian Stewart:
The argument in Heretic, Hirsi Ali’s fourth book, is straightforward: Islam is in need of a radical transformation. Islam itself, that is — mainstream Islam, not “radical” Islam. This is a thorny proposition: How to reform a religion whose adherents believe its central text was dictated by Allah Himself? But when the behavior of millions is guided by a religion whose sacred texts frequently justify intolerance and cruelty, something must be done.
But what is to be done?
Hirsi Ali proposes five amendments to Islamic doctrine: dethroning Mohammad as an infallible prophet, and scrapping a literalist reading of the Quran; elevating the rewards of human life over those of eternal life (with the ancillary purpose of delegitimizing martyrdom); replacing the most barbarous parts of Sharia with practical man-made legislation; promoting concerted action to stigmatize those tempted to take religious law into their own hands; and, last, repudiating the theological warrant for jihad.
Yes, but how? Hirsi Ali wants us westerners to ally with so-called "Mecca" Muslims, "pious believers who are not inclined to practice violence but remain at odds with the modern world in crucial ways."

But, of course, what we in the west think and do is rather beside the point. The question is rather, how do Muslims deal with the fact of the modern world? And how do they deal with the fact that their heartlands are racked with war and violence?

The fundamental problem in all "reformations" and "enlightenments" and "revolutions" is that religion and politics are human attempts to stabilize a radically unstable world. They attempt to provide a safe place where humans can live out their lives with some pretense of a "normal life."

But what happens when the objective conditions of life change? What happens is that religious leaders and political leaders push back. The religious leaders mobilize against "heresy" and the political leaders mobilize against "rebels." Very often the heretics are idiots and the rebels are pirates; but not always.

The Reformation in Europe was not merely an argument over religion, it was also an argument over politics and the economy, part of the capitalist and individualist revolution, and it was an internal European thing. The rising bourgeoisie of merchants and manufacturers started creating remarkable amounts of wealth and their wealth and their culture started to influence the old feudal order in Europe, leading to centuries of religious and dynastic wars, astonishing increases in prosperity and transformation of the way of life of everyone from kings to paupers.

As the European transformation proceeded, it expanded out across the world, creating an enormous challenge to the two great populations and cultures of the world in India and China. For India and China, the challenge was not just an argument within the culture as in Europe, but a dreadful attack from without. India ended up under British rule for a couple of centuries, and China experienced dreadful convulsions for the long century between 1850 and 1980. After emerging from under the western knout they thought to set up the new India and the new China by embracing socialism, obviously the latest and greatest from the west, but found to their cost that socialism was, in fact, a dreadful reaction, an attempt to return to an economic and social Eden that never was. So now they are going capitalist.

But what about Islam in its heartlands from North Africa to the Hindu Kush? Let's be honest. If it weren't for oil, nobody would give a damn. But because of oil we in the west keep meddling in the Middle East to keep the oil flowing cheap and regular. And the wealth from oil has allowed the Middle Eastern religious and political authorities to resist the existential challenges that the rise of the west has posed to Islam.

What should be done, and how? I turn for inspiration to Marxism, which reckons that the productive forces are the foundation and that culture and politics are the superstructure. On this view, like it or not, global individualist capitalism is the productive force on which the whole world is based. Whatever your religion, whatever your politics, you must figure how to connect it with the reality of the modern Great Enrichment, in which peoples that practice capitalism have increased their income by nearly two orders of magnitude in 200-300 years.

When we look at Muslims in their heartland, or Muslims in their great diaspora to Europe and North America, that is the issue. How do these peoples, tossed into the 21st century, create a new superstructure for their culture that will make it possible for them to live a "normal life" again?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ted Cruz, Railsplitter

The biggest applause line for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speech on March 23, 2015 at Liberty University was his actual announcement that he would run for President of the United States. The second biggest applause line was this:
Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.
Yep, those conservative Christian students at Liberty University stand with Israel.

And the speech also hit the other standard conservative applause lines: to "stand up and defeat radical Islamic terrorism," to repeal "every word of Obamacare," to repeal "every word of Common Core." And the flat tax, and abolish the IRS.

But the speech was really about introducing Ted Cruz as an American everyman, with both parents from humble origins, with a mother the first in her Irish Catholic family to go to college and become a computer programmer in the 1950s, with an alcoholic father that nearly abandoned his family but for Jesus, with Ted going to college and working two jobs when his father's business cratered into bankruptcy during the 1980s oil price crash. And then there's his wife Heidi starting a business "in grade school" baking bread for folks working in the apple orchards. Can you say "not Bush" and "not Clinton?"

The conservative response to Ted Cruz's speech have seemed a little jaded, and the liberals, of course, want to define him already as the Second Coming of Joe McCarthy. But my take was that this was a carefully constructed strategic speech, your basic born-in-a-log-cabin, man-of-the-people, hope-and-change speech. Of course it was.

Cruz openly appealed to conservative Christians.
Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.
And of course he appealed to the rest of the conservative coalition with applause lines on liberty, the Second Amendment, abortion, and a message of hope for middle-class strivers with small businesses growing and prospering and "young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers."

Obviously the speech was pitched at the conservative base, but Cruz left a wide opening to move to the center.

And one other thing. The left likes to paint Ted Cruz as a mad bomber. Hey, the GOP establishment likes to do the same. But Cruz is cool, medium cool. The problem with advertising him as a mad bomber is that, when voters get to see him on TV, they will experience a disconnect. They will wonder what's so bad about such a mild-mannered candidate.

There was nothing wild or extreme in Ted Cruz's announcement speech. Just standard conservative boilerplate that puts him in the mainstream of conservative politics. The only people likely to be annoyed would be liberals.

One other thing: Ted's elder daughter Caroline. She high-fived some of the audience as the Cruz family moved around the stage after the speech. Can anyone spell P-O-L-I-T-I-C-I-A-N?

Ted Cruz did say a lot of things that liberals think nobody should be allowed to say in America.  But apart from gentry liberals, who would have a problem with that?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If Feminism is all about vicitmization, then who will save the victims?

We all know that the patriarchy is the source of all our problems on the racism, sexism, and homophobia front. But suppose it isn't?

Yes, I know. If there is one thing we all agree on it is the evil of the patriarchy that kept women barefoot and pregnant since the dawn of time. But wait a minute! Chaps like Nicholas Wade in Before the Dawn and The Faith Instinct suggest that the invention of religion helped free humans from the rule of the alpha male and created the egalitarianism of the hunter-gatherers.

OK, let's just say that the evil of patriarchy kept women barefoot and pregnant since the dawn of capitalism when a ruthless individualism was born out of the comfortable village communism that obtained somehow under the boot of the feudal system. But wait! Chaps like Alan MacFarlane in The Origins of English Individualism say that the birth of individualism in England in the mid 12th century meant that women were owning property as individuals and could sue in the manorial courts. In the much-loved extended family women were always under the control of some patriarchal male.

Well, anyway, everybody knows that women were beside themselves with boredom in the heyday of 1950s suburbia. Or at least Betty Friedan was, in The Feminine Mystique. Except of course that it is women that like nice leafy nests in which to raise their children in suburbia away from the testosterone of the big city. It is men that like standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by.

Here is what I really think. I think that some sort of patriarchal society, where women are expected to value family before career, is essential to the survival of the species. Sorry about that, girls.

Exhibit A is the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference. Robert Stacy McCain writes about it in "Warriors Against Human Nature." He tells us about the emergence of queer feminism, as against the old traditional "binary" feminism.

On McCain's testimony, queer feminism is the invention of Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, now required coursework at hundreds of US colleges. Here's how it works.
Professor Butler declares that the division of humanity into male and female is an artificial illusion, the gender binary produced by the heterosexual matrix. Therefore, those characteristics we think of as naturally male (masculine) and female (feminine) are not natural at all, according to Queer Theory. Instead these categories are imposed on us by the oppressive demands of the male-supremacist system of patriarchy.
Er, which US political party is supposed to be anti-science?

But suppose that all that the feminist cultural Marxist rubbish were true. Then how do you account for this piece on privilege? Here are Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven writing about "Why Won't Liberals talk about the Most Important Kind of 'Privilege' in America?" It's marriage privilege. You see, they write, studies show that the children of married parents do much better in life by any measure you like. Oh, there is one other little matter. Studies show that children of married parents do better if there aren't too many children of single parents in the area.

Yes, liberals and queer feminists. Marriage: It's for the children.

Want more? Here's a young academic that doesn't dare assign any reading or do or say anything that might set off the liberal students in his class.
All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.
Or the special snowflake liberal students might get you fired.

It's easy to laugh at all this. After all, medieval scholastics (they say) used to argue about the number of angels that you could fit on a pinhead. Nothing new here.

It would all be great fun if lives weren't being ruined. I am talking about the millions of children of single parents, who are predominantly from the low income 30 percent, because liberals condone single parenthood. I am talking about the millions of women that listen to their liberal instructors and direct their life trajectory away from marriage and children and then wake up at 50 empty and alone, wondering who will take care of them in their old age.

You see liberals: the problem isn't economic inequality. It's "spiritual inequality," as Robert William Fogel says. The problem isn't money; the problem is that the modern administrative welfare state incarcerates the poor in cultural ghettos. What's your four-point program for that?

My take on feminism and abortion and childlessness and twentysomethings in the city is that it is a self-indulgence of the rich and the well-born. The fact is that marriage and children is a life of work and effort, for both sexes. A certain amount of money allows you to choose a life of personal growth and creativity, become an artist or a writer, instead of a wage slave and a parent. Really, who wouldn't choose hanging out in the city with witty, intelligent friends against a life of diapers and bosses and meltdowns?

Who wouldn't? Anyone with half a brain. The fact is that feminism and gentry liberalism are merely the modern instantiation of age-old upper-class self-indulgence. What we call the "patriarchy" is merely the call of the genes. They demand to be reproduced and they demand to flourish. Or else.

The funny thing about queer feminism is that it demands victimization. McCain quotes feminist professor Sandra Bartky:
Feminist consciousness is consciousness of victimization... to see oneself as a victim.
Of course, it's not funny at all. It's an argument for force. If someone is a victim, because of social injustice, then it stands to reason that government must act to end the injustice. That is the common thread that runs down left-wing thought from the French Revolution  down to the present. If there is something wrong in society then it can only be solved by political action, which means force.

If you have a taste for power then you have a taste for politics. And politics executes its program in government. So anyone with a taste for power will naturally find their thoughts turning to some great injustice that can only be resolved by government action. If that person with a taste for power cannot find a real injustice to fight they will find some minor injustice and inflate it into a great political cause.

The genius of Marx was to find in the working class such a victim -- even though the working class in the 19th century was improving its lot beyond anything ever known in history.

The genius of the cultural Marxists was to generalize the victimization-of-the-working-class meme into a general concept of victimization that could be applied in behalf of anyone and everyone against a target oppressor class, the capitalists, the patriarchy, whoever.

But if women can only be safe when protected by powerful feminist activist custodians that means that women just aren't strong enough to live as the "independent woman" of Simone de Beauvoir of The Second Sex. And if women need protection from powerful patrons or matrons, what then is the difference between a patriarchy and a liberal femiarchy? Power is power; all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Anyway, what matriarch could really be free enough of victimization to be able to protect the poor little queer feminist victims?

If women are victims then they cannot be allowed out alone at night. They must be guarded and supervised. And obviously the guarding cannot be done by women, who are victims. Only men can do it. So we are back to the patriarchy.

Michael Barone has a piece out today on Raul Emanuel's campaign for re-election as mayor of Chicago. He writes about the rise of "gentry liberals" as a political force with the election of John Lindsay as mayor of New York City in the 1960s. Typically, gentry liberals have acquired power in coalition with African Americans while antagonizing the old white ethnics that used to supply the Democratic votes in the big cities.
Lindsay constructed a new coalition of gentry liberals and blacks, setting up a police civilian review board and claiming credit for preventing a riot in Harlem. He showed disdain for ethnic and middle-class whites, a “new snobbery” as I called it at the time.

Lindsay’s policies played a major part in a negative national trend, as crime and welfare dependency roughly tripled in the 1965–75 decade, and New York City teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Other cities with fewer strengths went into death spirals, like my native Detroit.
Gentry liberalism has tended to be really bad for big American cities, from New York to Detroit, and particularly bad for the minorities that vote with the gentry liberals.

I'd say that goes for any victim group. By allying themselves with gentry liberals the victims are just setting themselves up for more failure and heartache. Because in the end, the allies of the gentry liberals are just votes, to be discarded when no longer useful for the liberal project of power.

There is, in other words, no substitute for getting out of the victim syndrome, getting away from the mechanical model of political system, and becoming a responsible individual. "In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista," as Burke wrote two centuries ago, "you see nothing but the gallows."

And nothing has changed on the left-wing front since then.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What Does President Obama Think He's Doing on Iran/Israel?

We conservatives look at President Obama's Iran policy and we shake our heads. We ask ourselves: what is the point of a nuclear deal with Iran? Why does the president send a friendly message to the Iranian people for Nowruz? What is the point?

Then we look at the president's rocky relationship with Israel and with Benjamin Netanyahu in particular and we wonder: what's the problem? Why are we still pressuring Israel into making concessions and reviving a peace process with the Palestinians when it is clear that the Palestinians don't want peace with Israel?

We know that President Obama has no thought of a "peace process" with Republicans. His approach to Republicans is Reaganesque: "we win and they lose." With Republicans President Obama is not interested in a treaty, in negotiations to compromise the liberal vision of a more equal America with the conservative vision of a more free America. For him, the two visions are incompatible. More freedom means less equality.

Nor do liberal social activists think about a peace process with the racists, sexists and homophobes they they have sworn to destroy. Why would they? Their righteous vision is to eliminate the evils of racism, sexism and homophobia from the face of the earth. What is there to compromise on that?

I got a clue about President Obama and the liberals from a review of the recent Israeli election by a liberal Israeli writer, Ari Shavit: "Is Israel losing its soul?" Liberal Israelis were stunned by Netanyahu's win. A university student texted: "This country has no future... If I want to lead a normal life, I have to leave."

Er, yes. If you live in Israel you had better understand and deal with the fact that Israel is surrounded by enemies. There is no such thing as a normal life with its normal lefty cravings for "social justice and affordable housing and cheaper consumer goods." But the Israeli left doesn't want to believe that. Even though Shavit writes that he gets the history of the last decades: the failed peace process and the collapse into chaos in the Arab world,
The aggregate result of these traumas is an understandable but dangerous shift to the right. Because the old peace-idea was not replaced by a new peace-idea, many Israelis fear for their future and are no longer willing to embrace American and European peace initiatives, which seem to them completely divorced from reality. At the same time, some Israelis have developed xenophobic tendencies that do not stem from inherent racism, but from a deep fear that the center-left in Israel and the international community cannot assuage.
Oh, I see. The problem is that "the old peace-idea was not replaced by a new peace-idea."

So I suppose that in November 2016 when a Republican is decisively elected president our liberal friends will be texting to each other in shock and trying to imagine how President Obama, ably assisted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, failed to inspire Americans with his peace process with Iran/Russia/China. Etc.

What is it about the "peace-idea," and its kissing cousin, the "peace process?"

I think it is a way of avoiding the fact of a conflict, a way to dodge uncomfortable truths. The Appeasement of Hitler defined the 1930s as the leaders of France and Britain didn't want to face the fact that Hitler was preparing for war. If they negotiated with Hitler then they could think about negotiation and put off thinking about the state of their armed forces and their alliances and the need to formulate and act on a strategy to neutralize him.

That's what liberals used to do during the Cold War. They talked about a peace process and about arms control and about "moral equivalence." They did not want to think about how to roll back the Soviet Union and its proxies.

Today it's déjà vu all over again. Liberals don't want to think about the meaning of the immigration of Muslims into Europe. They don't want to think about the Islamic muddle in the Middle East.

And really who can blame President Obama and the liberals? They live and die with their race and class and gender politics here at home. They don't have time to think about pointless conflicts in far-away lands that nobody really cares about.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Paul Krugman and the "Austerity" Con

Way back when, in 2011, the Congress and the president cooked up a deal we call "sequestration" in the big debt ceiling crisis. The result was that real, biting spending cuts and tax increases were scheduled to go into effect in 2013.

In April 2013, according to Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review, Paul Krugman argued that this "austerity" would hurt the economy. It turns out he was wrong. During the "sequester" US economic growth has been higher than before the sequester.

What does this all mean? It means that Keyneianism is faux science.

When Lord Keynes proposed his Keynesianism in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, he advanced the idea of the "multiplier." Additional government spending during an economic downturn, he argued, would stimulate spending in the private sector and thus one dollar of spending would create additional economic spending and thus pull the economy out of recession. Ever since, Keynesians and liberals have repeated "multiplier, multiplier, multiplier" like a mantra. They believe in it, they really do. The government should borrow more and spend more. Because multiplier.

But you and I are entitled to step back and wonder what really is going on here.

Let us first pull out the pony that really is in there at the bottom of the manure pile.

During a financial panic like the Crash of 2008 there is a danger that the credit system will collapse. The reason is quite simple. The credit system runs on two principles, one, that people can make their payments, and two, that the collateral offered against a loan is sufficient to pay off the loan if the borrower stops making payments.

In the Crash of 2008 both principles failed: one, people got laid off and couldn't make their mortgage payments and two, the collateral on their low or no down-payment loans could not liquidate the loan.

Ever since the 19th century this problem has been solved by a central bank acting as the "lender of last resort" acting on the Eisenhower principle that if you can't solve a problem, you make it bigger.

In a crisis, the government "saves" the financial system by bailing out the failing banks and GSEs and hedge funds by lending them money to tide them over and effectively pledging the entire productive capacity of the nation as collateral.

This "lender of last resort" thing works pretty well unless you are Greece or Argentina. In those cases the entire productive capacity of the nation isn't enough to serve as collateral for the bailout loans.

Once the financial system is saved, other factors come into play, among them "austerity." The obvious thing to do after a crash is for everyone to clean up their balance sheets. Corporations cancel projects that now appear to be malinvestments; governments cancel wasteful spending. The new lean corporations and governments will waste less and the economy then rebounds smartly. This much is obvious. A losing product is a weight on the corporation's profitability, and all government spending is a weight on the economy.

But spending does not appear "wasteful" to the politician. A politician is a man or woman that wins election and reelection by promising loot to his or her supporters. Cut Social Security? But granny will starve! Cut Medicare? But granny will die! Cut unemployment benefits? But workers will starve! Cut green energy subsidies? But the earth will fry! You can see why it makes complete sense for the bribed apologists of the ruling class to come up with the word "austerity" to cover all these horrific outcomes.

Anyway, we just had a real test of the "austerity" thesis, because eevil Republicans tricked the president and the Democrats into modest spending cuts during the "sequester." And the economy didn't tank.

This happens all the time, only the mainstream media doesn't like to talk about it. At the end of 2013 the eevil Republicans ended extended unemployment benefits. Result? About half of the gain in employment has been from people coming off extended unemployment benefits.

In 1996 eevil Republicans forced a welfare reform bill on President Clinton and the Democrats. Activists said that children would starve. Instead mothers got jobs. In the 1981 recession President Reagan cut domestic spending. Result? The biggest, fastest recovery ever.

This all makes sense if you accept my weight theory of government spending. If you remove the glacial ice sheet of government spending from the land then not only does the land bloom, but the very ground itself rises! Because science.

So we can see what the "austerity" game is all about. It is a cunning ploy by the ruling class to avoid the obvious truth. All government spending is a waste. It is a waste because it takes money out of the private sector and spends it on the little darlings of the politicians. And the little darlings respond to the benefits they get from the government by reducing their work effort. Talk about a multiplier!

The mantra of conservatives and conservative politicians ought to be "weight, weight, weight." If we want to increase growth, if we want to decrease inequality, if we want to live simply so that others may simply live then we must lift the weight of government off the brow of labor.

Every day in every way we should think: how could we reduce the weight of government on the people? Because granny. Because women. Because the poor. Because marginalized minorities. Because all government is a weight, all of it.

But don't tell Paul Krugman and the Democrats.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How Would Corporations Become the Employers of the Poor?

It's all very well to say that corporations should act like the noble lords of the year 1000 and take the heads of the poor in their hands and make them into their bondsmen. And then train them in the culture of work and service.

But how? In the first place we don't give corporations the right to compel people the way that governments do. That's part of the modern Greater Separation of Powers of which we've heard tell. These days we try to separate the political and its force from the economic and its prices from the cultural and its social and moral pressure.

So it was easy for the lord of the year 1000 to combine all three and take the responsibility of feeding the poor by taking them into bondage, where they got fed in return for that bill-hook and whatever work the lord's overseer could extract from his new bondsman. But today it isn't so simple.

Using Eric Hoffer's analysis of work, we would also say that work in the year 1000 was regarded as a curse, a mark of bondage. The submission of the hungry man to the dominion of his lord obviously fits comfortably into that culture.

In that old system, says Hoffer, the lord told you what to do and when to do it. But now things are different. Now "the chief problem is not to induce people to work but how to find enough jobs for people who want to work." Now work is not a mark of bondage but "a mark of uprightness and manly worth." We talk about people that go to work, obey the law, follow the rules as the very salt of the earth.  This situation, writes Hoffer, "is not only unparalleled in history but remains more or less incomprehensible to many people outside the Occident."

Well, that was back in the Sixties. Now China and India have abandoned the failed idea of the totalitarian state and the collapse of the three sectors, political, economic, and cultural into the single all-powerful party government. And the Soviet Union is no more. Now everyone is getting the work bug, now every peasant is turning up in the city and learning to deal with the modern paradigm. It's not the lord's job to put you to work. It's your problem.

Suppose we collapse the current welfare system, as an evil and corrupt system that effectively enlists the poor as a kind of state militia, housing in their public housing barracks, paying them as though they were soldiers, and leaving them to fester in their barracks as soldiers in the standing armies of the absolute monarchs first used to do five hundred years ago.

How would we get there from here? There is the whole paraphernalia of labor market regulations that create the modern underclass. It starts with the prohibition on child labor, the collapse of apprenticeship, the swingeing taxation on labor through "social insurance" programs that rack the cost of labor into the stratosphere. And then there is the minimum wage, which keeps young and inexperienced workers out of the labor force where they might compete with older workers.

For me, this whole superstructure of the left's political faith is a massive human disaster. It chops up the high road to prosperity with monstrous barriers and tolls and opportunities for the dominion of political power over the radical equality of the market and the constant urge of its price system.

In my ideal society, with limited government and radically reduced taxes, people would naturally seek employment, and the least skilled and least desirable bringing up the rear.

Why would corporations employ the scum of the employment market? Why would they pay enough for a "living wage?" Why would they bother to provide a genuine path upwards for the least among us?

Suppose we give corporations subsidies to employ the poor? Yes, but then we are opening the doors to crony capitalism and political chicanery. We would encourage fly-by-night operations taking the subsidies and delivering nothing in return. And of course the left would pounce on every minor problem and glitch and use it to smear the entire private sector and the whole idea of a market economy just as they do today.

Suppose we order the corporations to employ the poor? Yes, but then they are going to demand quid-pro-quos, and then we are back into the whole lobbyist special interest game that ends up benefiting the powerful and hurting the people.

The point is pretty simple for me. Ever since the "useless" feudal retainers were first "hurled" upon the labor market five hundred years ago, government has tried various forms of force and compulsion to deal with the poverty problem. Government has tried compulsion every which way from Sunday, from incarceration to housing to money to food.

But there is another idea, that hasn't been tried in over a century. It's the system that was used by charities towards the end of the 19th century and described by Marvin Olasky in The Tragedy of American Compassion. It's as simple as A-B-C-D-E-F-G. It starts with A for Affiliation. Who is affiliated with this person down on their luck and could be persuaded to step up and help? It goes on to D for Discrimination. That's about separating the sheep from the goats. You want to help people who really need help and would benefit from help and are not just working the system like that fine old proletarian Alfred P. Doolittle. The process culminates ends with Employment, Freedom, God.

Employment is where the corporations come in. But would they step up to the plate?  I think they would.

The point is that corporations follow the zeitgeist. They do what is expected of them. And we need to change the culture from the current Poor Law mentality in which we don't expect anything from the poor except to have the government give them money, courtesy of the parish beadle or the government social worker, and hope they don't cause any trouble. We don't expect anything of ourselves except to pay our taxes.

We need to change the culture.  We need to make the poor everybody's business, from the householder to the small retailer to the construction company to the big corporation. So everybody pitches in to help, not because they must, because they are compelled, but because the culture tells them what to do and they do it.

But can we change the culture?

Our liberal friends have done a bang-up job pushing their cultural agenda, from environmentalism to the sexual revolution to gay marriage. That's what it would take to change the culture on welfare. The problem is not the corporations. They will do the right thing, because corporations always need the good opinion of the public. The solution doesn't belong to corporations. It belongs to us: imagining the possibilities and then making the possibilities happen.

So if we want the corporations to give work to the poor, we have the change the culture so that it is the most natural thing in the world for a corporation to hire, train, and bring the poor into the modern work culture, where the poor get to believe like the rest of us that work is "a mark of uprightness and manly worth."