Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Top 20% Just Wants to be Free

Even as the mechanical vice of Obamacare slowly clamps itself on the American people, so that they are forced into a one-size-fits-all plan for healthcare, mandated by a committee of lifer bureaucrats at the IPAB, you still see stuff like this.

"Talent Just Wants to be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding."  That's a book by Orly Lobel, a law professor at the University of San Diego.  Talented people just don't want to be mewed up at some big institution.  They want, they need to be free to job-hop and re-skill, as the mood takes them.

Lobel critiques the dog-in-the-manger attitude of big institutions.
She identifies a “control mentality” in many companies that locks up employees and stifles creativity through the aggressive use of noncompete contracts and copyrights on inventions. She thinks bosses are too worried about “brain drain” to recognize the opportunities for “brain gain.”
 Today in my AT piece "The People of the Lie" I make a joke about the internal contradictions between the managerial liberalism of the Progressive Era and the community-organizer liberalism of today's "progressives."

But there's another contradiction in our ruling class that is just as glaring.  It is the contrast between the natural culture of the top 20% that lives by creative work and the rest of America.  Liberals (and conservatives) want to have exciting and creative careers and understand that excitement means risk.  But then the same liberals turn around and built mind-numbing one-size-fits-all government programs for health care and education and welfare.  They run around practicing a politics that demonizes corporate chieftains for not providing complete satisfaction and life-time tenure to their employees.

Meanwhile, as Charles Murray has shown in "Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010," the top 20% is doing fine, with good marriages, satisfying careers and incomes and wealth, while the bottom 30% is getting absolutely hammered, with the women opting out of marriage and the men opting out of work.

And in case you didn't know, the children of single women with live-in boyfriend are anything from six times to thirty times more likely to suffer child abuse than the children of married biological parents living together.

In the middle, ordinary Americans just want to keep a decent job, hope to buy a home one day, pay their bills, and get through this Obama economy.

One of my favorite websites is Penelope Trunk.  She combines career coaching with homeschooling and has just launched a company, Quistic, that provides online career coaching courses.

Absolutely fabulous, and no doubt a marker for where the world of the educated American is going.  No limits, no borders, no guard rails.  Just push out there for a creative, adventurous life.

Meanwhile ordinary people are getting hammered by the economy, by the lousy schools, by their health care premiums going into the stratosphere.

And young people!  Why the twentysomethings aren't in the streets yet is a mystery to me.  They have lousy schools, lousy job prospects, and they have been saddled with enormous student debt that operates like a permanent income tax on their income for the next 20 years.

Really, you expect this.  The ruling class takes care of its own.  If you are an educated person in America things are pretty good, and this is the era of the educated class.

But everyone else is just furniture to the educated class.  They are bitter clingers to sneer at, or they are traditionally marginalized to rile up with identity politics.  They are children to shuffle from school to school; they are welfare clients to shuffle from program to program.

That's why you get revolution.  The ruling class warbles on its way, as unconcerned as a seagull, congratulating itself on the wonders it performs for the lower orders.  And, like the landed magnates of old, it will tell you that its own local peasants are as happy as clams.

It's nothing but blue skies until all of a sudden a cloud forms on the horizon no bigger than a man's hand, and then pretty soon the whole nation is consumed in a perfect storm.

Because the peasants weren't happy; they just knew enough to keep their mouths shut.  The lower orders aren't grateful for the wonders performed.  All government is force, and force leads directly to injustice.

There's a piece in The New Republic by liberal guardian Franklin Foer.  He's worrying, as many liberals are worrying, that government is losing its reputation for competence.

But really, all talk of government competence is myth-making.  In reality, government screws everything up, because almost every government action amounts to an attempt to block and harass the normal operation of peaceful cooperation.

Sean Trende makes this point indirectly when he warns that Obamacare won't be the end of liberalism.  It will just end the current Obama era with the Democrats dominant.  Whenever a party has been counted out, it has always roared right back on the back on the current ruling party's staggering blunders.

That's the point.  Government, all government, is nothing but a parade of blunders, and the stupidity of supposedly intelligent elites is a constant in history.

Liberals have had a good run for about a century since folks like President Wilson started boosting the notion of competent, rational government, and Franklin Foer is right to worry.

Conservatives, of course, have developed a comprehensive critique of competent government stretching over the last century.  It's telling that in his article, Foer doesn't mention it: not a word, not a name, not a single idea.

First rule of war, Mr. Foer.  Always know what your opponent is thinking.

Meanwhile, it's time for thoughtful people to think about how we can help the ordinary people suffering under the injustice of the authoritarian welfare state instead of just thinking about our own needs for talent to be free.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Should Conservatives "Toughen Up" Our Children?

The NFL "toughening up" scandal involving offensive lineman Richie Incognito and rookie Jonathan Maartin raises an interesting question.

What about toughening up?  What about hazing?  Is it a bad thing or a good thing?

After all, all military training involves some kind of "boot camp" in which recruits are deliberately given a "hard time".  For what exactly?  Is it to make recruits into obedience machines?  Is it to prepare them for the rigors of the march and the battle?  Or is it merely an exercise of power, like the slavemaster and his cowskin whip?

Here's an example of "toughening up."  It's the contrast between the rich kids in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and the country cousins.

In Mansfield Park there are six rich kids.  Four of them are clearly vicious.  Only one of them is really virtuous, and he is weak.  There are two poor kids, William and Fanny Price; they are noble, virtuous, and exemplary. The story of Mansfield Park is really just the story of the "toughening up" that William and Fanny have to go through before they get their reward.

Fanny has to go through years of humiliation as the poor kid in the household of rich kids, not to mention suffer the bullying of her nasty aunt Norris and the awful presence of the forbidding uncle Sir Thomas Bertram.  But she remains true and virtuous through all her trials.

William goes off into the Royal Navy at age 11 or 12 as a midshipman.  Readers of Napoleonic naval novels will know what that life is like.  William returns to Mansfield Park at the age of 19.  He is an impressive figure and Sir Thomas encourages him to relate his experiences.
Young as he was, William had already seen a great deal. He had been in the Mediterranean; in the West Indies; in the Mediterranean again; had been often taken on shore by the favour of his captain, and in the course of seven years had known every variety of danger which sea and war together could offer.
Everyone listens to Midshipman Price's stories, even the indolent Lady Bertram, who is shocked by his stories of danger and privation.
To [rich kid] Henry Crawford they gave a different feeling. He longed to have been at sea, and seen and done and suffered as much. His heart was warmed, his fancy fired, and he felt the highest respect for a lad who, before he was twenty, had gone through such bodily hardships and given such proofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful contrast; and he wished he had been a William Price, distinguishing himself and working his way to fortune and consequence with so much self-respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!
We moderns cuddle and protect our teenagers in "habits of selfish indulgence."  We mew them up in child custodial facilities where the only adults they meet are bureaucratic lifers.  We send them on to college with luxurious dorms and exercise facilities where all they learn is how to get good grades out of the professors for the least work.  We neglect to challenge them with "hardships" and forget to encourage in them habits "of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance."

This was not always so.  In England children, boys and girls, have been sent away from home since the 13th century to work as apprentices and servants in their early teens.  In North America things were no different. Abraham Lincoln was sent away to work on another man's farm at age 14.  Jay Gould was self-employed as a surveyor at age 18.  John D. Rockefeller built a house for his mother at age 18 while working as a bookkeeper at a commission merchant.

We may perhaps determine that the "toughening up" of the Miami Dolphins' Jonathan Martin went too far.  But how tough do you need to be to make it in the NFL?  Rush Limbaugh worked as a grunt for the Kansas City Royals way back.  And the players were ruthless with him.  It got to the point that he was afraid to go to the locker room and ask them to autograph baseballs for the fans.

But you know why the players were hazing him?  They liked him.
But what I figured out was it all happened 'cause they liked me. It wasn't the other way, that I saw that they disrespect me, dislike me. I'll tell you, it got so bad at one point that I refused to go down. I went up and I said, "You know what? Send somebody else down to get those damn baseballs autographed and I'm gonna find another way to the field to do the first pitch 'cause I'm not going in there. I'm just not going down there."

About two weeks later, a contingent of players came up to my office and said, "Where have you been?" They're in uniform and they're coming up into my office. "Where have you been? Come on back." They dragged me back down there and everything was okay. I wouldn't trade those five years for anything. That's why I say I learned more in those five years, the first five years out of radio than I ever did in the whatever, 10 or 12 in it.
They say that the basis of male honor is that you never quit on your buddies on the battlefield.  It's not patriotism that keeps soldiers fighting, you see; it's the loyalty each soldier feels for his buddies.  But how do you foster that feeling of comradeship, that feeling of loyalty that demands that you lay down your life to save the life of your buddy?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure we need more of it here in 21st century America, and I don't think we can hope to teach virtue and courage by confining teenagers in schools under the authority of government bureaucrats.

Something else is needed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Understanding Individualism

The last century has seen a great ideological war about the foundation of the good society, and that war has really been about capitalism.  Is it a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

In about the middle of the 19th century, capitalism became, for a growing sector of western society, a scandal, and that sector is identified with the name of Karl Marx.

It seemed to young Germans like Marx, in the decade when the old peasant order in Germany was collapsing and the industrial system was taking off, that the new industrial order was a murrain on society.  Yes, it was ushering in prosperity, at least for some, but it was demolishing the old collective ways in which humans came together in society and substituted nothing but exploitation: in one word, "naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."

As the years passed and Marxism gained traction, a rather romantic notion of pre-capitalist society grew up.  People may have been poor in the old days, but at least they weren't thrown out into the world "on their own."  They had the comfort of a collective village or extended family.  Instead of going out into the world working for wages making things for strangers people lived and worked for each other.  This idea developed into the Marxian idea of "alienation."  The peasant worker worked in the village for family and neighbors "for use" but the factory worker worked for strangers "for exchange" in a barren world of ruthless market prices.

This all fed into a Three Ages model.  In the old days people were poor but they were happy, because they lived for each other.  Then came The Fall into market capitalism and individualism where people became separated from the collectivity into a cold hard world of the "cash nexus" and selfish life "on our own" where the weak went to the wall.  But soon will come the age of socialism when the collective spirit will be restored and come to its full flowering in a new heaven on earth.

One of the main props of this argument was the idea that Britain, the vanguard of the industrial age, had been a peasant society up until about 1660.  Over the next century, with the expulsions from common land by the Enclosure movement, a vast army of landless laborers was pitched out of its rural cottages into the industrial slums of Manchester and the coal mines of Newcastle.

But Alan Macfarlane in The Origins of English Individualism: The Family, Property, and Social Transition argues that England was already a capitalist, market driven society as early as 1250.  Already, at that time, people were buying and selling land, people could will real and movable property, women could own property and represent themselves in court, workers regularly worked for wages, and parents routinely sent their teenage children away from home to become apprentices and servants.

All this is significant because in the supposedly traditional peasant community that the medievalists have proposed, work and home were one, so children grew up to become workers for the family; homes featured an extended family of multiple generations; women were married off young in arranged marriages and were completely ruled by the patriarch of the household;  old people were cared for in the family home until they died.

So Macfarlane argues that England was clearly not a traditional peasant society, not as late as 1250.  That means that the industrial system was not a sudden plague visited upon a defenseless England in the 18th century.  People had lived as individuals for hundreds of years already.  In any household that had limited land the children were sent out to work and the farm work was done by hired laborers.  It is reckoned that about half the population of England was working as hired laborers or as servants.

Macfarlane also calls in the testimony of people that had seen and reported on both England and France or Germany in those centuries.  Their testimony is that England seemed to be a lot more prosperous than the continental nations.  Individualism and freedom and prosperity went together.

Now in our society "individualism" has a bad odor.  It is associated with Ayn Rand and ruthless business practices, and "higgling" in the marketplace and a lack of compassion for those less fortunate, and "the sneering question: 'will it pay?'"  But I have come to realize that this understanding of individualism is completely wrong.  Individualism is not a doctrine that makes a virtue of selfishness.  It is really the opposite: it commits the individual to individual responsibility for serving others and society in general.

Individualism starts with the Axial Age religions where people first start to experience themselves as personally responsible to God for their lives.  I suspect and assume that this started in the cities of the fertile crescent in the Middle East.  But it includes Confucianism in China, Hinduism in India, as well at Judaism and Christianity.  The result is what I call the People of the Responsible Self, people that believe themselves personally responsible for every facet of their lives.

You can see that traditional peasants are not People of the Responsible Self.  They are People of the Collective Self and also People of the Helpless Self, helpless before weather, before pestilence, before the power of the lord, and before war.

But you cannot live like a peasant in the city.  You cannot repose in your family and wait for the patriarch to order you around.  You must go out and get a job.  You must figure out where the employers are and you must search out the employer that might hire you and you must persuade him to hire you.  If you rise in the world like Abraham Lincoln, once a hired laborer and soon a hirer of others, then you must start to figure out not who has a job for you but what the consumers want from a person with your skills and your products.

Here is what I am arguing.  With the growth of cities and the market economy and the wage economy humans cannot thrive in a peasant-type society.  People must live as individuals; they must be responsible for themselves; they must reach out beyond their household to find out how they can serve their fellow humans.  That is the meaning of individualism; that is what People of the Responsible Self do.

So to ask whether capitalism is a good or a bad thing misses the point.  Capitalism is the way of the city.  The people of the city are the People of the Responsible Self.  People of the Responsible Self are individuals.  They live by the ways of individualism.

And the sooner we all understand that and recoil from the progressive dream of a heaven on earth, the better.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Liberals' Two Trick Pony

Obviously, with the rollout of Obamacare, liberals are in a tight spot.  And we know why.  It goes back to Hillarycare and the "Harry and Louise" TV commercials run by the insurance industry.

Harry and Louise liked their health insurance and they didn't think that a plan devised by a Hillarycare bureaucrat would be good for them.

That's why President Obama had to lie, again and again, and say that if you like your plan you can keep your plan.  Otherwise no Obamacare.

In the Weekly Standard the able Jay Cost has just analyzed the political situation Obamacare represents.  He says that it's like the First New Deal with its top-down corporatism, the Agricultural Adjustment Act -- which required farmers to plow in their wheat and kill little piglets -- and the National Industrial Recovery Act -- which set prices and wages throughout the economy according to NRA "codes."  The First New Deal was a political expression of the Progressive era's faith in "the management of the entire American economy by technocratic experts for the greater good."

Obviously there is a ton of this top-down technocracy in Obamacare.  That's the whole point behind setting minimum standards for health plans.  Foundation policy analysts and government technocrats know better than ordinary people.  Everyone from the president to his press secretary have recently told the American people that their old policies were no good.  They needed the new ones with better coverage.

But the New Dealers pivoted after a couple of disastrous years to the Second New Deal.
It was the failure of the First New Deal that brought about the rights-oriented Second New Deal, and with it Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act guaranteeing labor unions the right to organize, and eventually the Fair Labor Standards Act providing for a federal minimum wage. Liberalism shifted from attempting to manage the economy directly toward supplying the downtrodden with tools to fight their own battles.
Better hurry up repeal Obamacare, writes Cost, or the "rights" side of it, the subsidies, will win the day for the Democrats, and nobody will dare take those benefits away.

But I think that Cost misunderstands where we are politically.  He is assuming that the politics of Obamacare will play out merely as a ruling-class power play.  I don't agree.

I think that Obamacare will provoke a movement of rejection in the suburban middle class.

The Democrats have done a pretty good job since the demolition of George H. W. Bush in dividing the middle class.  They have done this by making the "economically conservative, socially liberal" middle class ashamed of the social conservatives.  The high point of this political thrust occurred when George W. Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative."  Didn't matter: the Democrats insisted all along that Bush was a religious bigot and social neanderthal.

As long as the economy was tricking along, the divisive strategy worked.  And let us not forget the moderate Democrats that were run in 2006 and the healing words of Candidate Obama to end the division of red states versus blue states.  A whole generation of young people were successfully raised in our government schools to believe in the liberal way.

But the reality of Obama provoked an immediate reaction.  We call it the Tea Party.  It rolled to an astonishing 63 seat pickup in the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms.  Then, as we know, the Lois Lerners got to work at the IRS and slowed the Tea Party momentum.  Also, Obamacare hadn't actually been implemented so as you would notice until last week.

Now the American people, non-political middle-class people, the Harrys and Louises, are finding out that they can't keep their health plans.

At this point there is no telling what will happen.

But I suspect that the politics of Obamacare can't be confined into a ruling-class inside-the-Beltway power play.  The Obamacare issue will spill out into the country and will energize people that never took any interest in politics.  It may even teach the mind-numbed Millennials a thing or two.

My line is that average middle-class Americans belong to the People of the Responsible Self.  They experience themselves as individuals responsible individually for the conduct of their lives.  When the ruling class enacts its big government programs it denies the average middle class the right and the opportunity to live a meaningful live as responsible and productive citizens.

There has to be a consequence for a ruling class that cruelly and unjustly denies its people the right to live as responsible, contributing citizens.