Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Individual Responsibility: What about the Ancient Nomads?

One of my thoughtful emailers sent me a question about my post on SJW Anita Sarkeesian. He notes my three-stage system of People of the Subordinate Self, People of the Responsible Self, and People of the Creative Self, and writes:
You mention that responsible individualism is "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".  Aren't these the responsibilities of all humans, always?  Surely man has dreamed of universal leisure for his fellow man since time immemorial, and only recently has such fantasy become the basis of entire ideologies.  How then do our modern age responsibilities differ than that of an ancient nomad when boiled down to the basics of the quote above?  
The straight answer to that is: yes, of course, and not just of humans but of every living thing. Of course every human has the responsibility to get on their bike and earn a living. But there's a problem with all social animals, the problem of freeloading. The basic deal in social cooperation is that we all get to eat at the communal table; we all make our contribution, and we all get to enjoy the fruits of our cooperation. The reason that social cooperation works is that the division of labor works: when animals specialize, the individuals benefit and the community benefits.

But what about the slacker? There are several ways to deal with this menace. The first is shaming and possible expulsion. Other people in the community judge your behavior and take action. Then there is hierarchy. The boss tells you what to do, and punishes you if you don't do it. Then there is divine justice. God punishes you for your sins. Finally, there is exchange, which the anthropologists tell us is unique to modern humans, although it didn't really go viral until the rise of the bourgeoisie. People find a way to contribute to society and then get rewarded by the exchange system for their contribution.

On my system, the hunter-gatherers are pre-subordinate selves. They cooperate in a face-to-face society and the slacker gets named and shamed into compliance. We see this today in the ubiquitous community of women at work or in a neighborhood that have no power over each other except the judgements of other women's gossip.

When we get to the agricultural age we get a visibly hierarchical society where people must do their part and where agricultural workers are typically subordinated to a landed warrior class. Once you get this subordination you get the freeloader that does the absolute minimum of work that will avoid sanction. We see this survive today in any corporate or government bureaucracy where you can probably enjoy lifetime tenure and a pension if you keep your nose clean and don't antagonize the bosses. The problem is that it is staggeringly inefficient to have everyone sitting around waiting for the boss to tell them what to do.

The boss system works, after a fashion, in the agricultural age because life on the farm is pretty simple. But in the industrial age, where almost nobody grows their own food or builds their own cottage, the boss system has broken down. Today we all live in the exchange system where each one of us must find out how to contribute to society, and we learn what others value through the exchange system and its prices for ideas, for goods and for labor.

In this modern age, where the yoke of work and of finding work falls directly upon the shoulders of the individual worker, it is not surprising, as my emailer suggests, that people dream of "universal leisure for his fellow man" and conjure up whole ideologies to that dream. It is telling, of course, that all attempts to realize dreams of universal leisure have turned into nightmares. They have all regressed to the old boss system and have simply been unable to deliver even a smidgen of leisure. Instead they have required the most cruel compulsion to deliver even the simplest necessities of modern life.

And so today we get Anita Sarkeesian, once a nice middle-class college girl, who gets seduced by the victim ideology of feminism and the all-explaining power of the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Sarkeesian and her fellow religionists demand "safe spaces," freedom from "microagressions" and the power to defenestrate anyone that challenges their dogmas.

For decades liberals have been lecturing us about the horror of that delicate flower, the Victorian wife, that had to be protected from the big bad world of sex and sleaze, and was told to "lie back and think of England." The solution to this patriarchal nightmare, wrote Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, was the "independent woman," unafraid of sex, unafraid of the public square and men and career.

What is going on here? It's politics. The whole point of politics is power, and the needs of power change from decade to decade. In the mid 20th century the cry was for the independent woman. Now the cry is for "safe spaces." But it's all politics and political power.

Yes, it's true that every individual has the responsibility to provide for himself and his family. But nomads are socialized into cooperation in a different way than modern city folk. The question is: how do you deal with the freeloader? In nomad society the freeloader got a frown from the other women; the agricultural bondman got a frown from his lord (and from the village women). Today it is a frown from the exchange system (and from the boss at work and the neighborhood women).

The way to stay clear of the modern freeloader police is to be a responsible individual. Then you'll have nothing to fear from the gossiping women, nothing to fear from the boss at work, and nothing to fear from the market system.

But you still have to watch out for the diversity police. There is no escape from them!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Robert Kuttner: On Another Planet

Sometimes it really pays to read the guys on the other side and try to understand how they look at the world. Here's Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect wondering “Why the 99 Percent Keeps Losing.”

You and I understand this perfectly. The 99 percent is losing because liberals. But Kuttner, against all the evidence, thinks Republicans are to blame. And he still can't understand it.
The vast majority of Americans keep falling behind economically because of changes in society's ground rules, while the rich get even richer -- yet this situation doesn't translate into a winning politics.
If anything, the right keeps gaining and the wealthy keep pulling away. How can this possibly be?
Well, he's got seven reasons. And the first one is that Republicans are to blame for the gridlock in Washington, and the experts agree.

Actually, I agree with Kuttner and the experts on this one. We Republicans and conservatives are fundamentally opposed to the continued expansion of the welfare state. We think that it is unjust and wicked. So of course we try to stop the Democrats expanding its injustice any way we can. Wouldn't Democrats do the same?

But the Democrats are hardly blameless, writes Kuttner.
Instead of seizing on the collapse of 2008 as a disgrace for laissez-faire economics, deregulation, Wall Street and the Republican Party, Barack Obama tried to make nice with the GOP, refrained from cleaning out the big banks that caused the mess, and drank the Kool-Aid of budget balance.
Actually, my impression is that the Democrats have been blaming the crash on “laissez-faire economics, deregulation, Wall Street,” not to mention greedy bankers. And as for Obama trying to “make nice with the GOP:” come on, pal. Obama doesn't even know how to make nice with Democrats.

Then Kuttner's all upset about the US Supreme Court and Citizens United. The court majority “has become an opportunistic subsidiary of the Republican Party.” If only! And what about Chief Justice Roberts waving through Obamacare, old chum?

Then there's economic inequality. In the years after World War II,
Shared prosperity was built on government activism promoting opportunity, strong unions providing decent wages even for the less educated, enforcement of other labor laws, debt-free public higher education, well-regulated financial institutions, a genuinely progressive income tax, and a trading system that did not promote outsourcing.
This is a standard Democratic talking point. Back in the Fifties America had good jobs at good wages, and then Ronald Reagan ruined it.

Yes but what about the changes to the economy and “how jobs are structured?” What about education and technology? That's “malarkey,” according to Kuttner. With the right politics, we'd whack corporate executives, grow unions, and windfall profits would be shared.

Yet with all this mess, Millennials aren't in the streets protesting. Maybe we could wake them up with “a one-time write off of all past student debt.” And hey, how about a “genuine mass movement?”
You mean like the Tea Party?

It's easy to dismiss all Kuttner's arguments as self-deceiving claptrap. But let us try to understand the point of view of the “other.”

There is an argument that politics could successfully strong-arm a one-time redistribution of income through labor and social insurance legislation half a century ago.  You could argue that it worked back then because the US bestrode the world economy like a colossus. Government could successfully force the economic system to funnel money to Democratic supporters.

Could it be that the decade of the Glorious Fifties was a special situation, never to be repeated?

Could it be that there is a limit to what politics and organizing and movements and taxes and regulation can accomplish in this world?

Could it be that progressives like Robert Kuttner are just plain wrong about what will help the 99 percent start winning?

On the conservative view you'd expect that when the Fed is printing money and keeping interest rates low, you'd have a stock market boom that would benefit the rich. When the government legislates a complex entitlement like Obamacare that puts huge new burdens on individuals and employers, you'd expect the economy to stumble and wages to crumble. When government mandates minimum wages and lays swingeing taxes on labor, you'd expect employers to be stingy with jobs and you'd expect a flourishing underground economy.

And you'd expect the 99 percent to go right on losing.

Liberals like Robert Kuttner like to sneer at fundamentalists that don't believe in evolution.

But what really matters is the science of whether minimum wages hurt the very people they are supposed to help, whether unions end up destroying the businesses they organize, whether government health care can ever be more than a hole to pour money through.

I just wish that the world would start sneering at liberal fundamentalism on economics.

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."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A New Kind of Corporate Welfare

The best way to get into the middle class is on my Road to the Middle Class featuring a self-directed program of religion, education, mutual-aid association, and living under law.

But it's not for everyone. That's obvious, or we wouldn't have our burgeoning underclass wherever welfare states are found. The foundation of human society is voluntary cooperation; but there's always a temptation to ease off in the harness and hope the other horses take up the slack.

That's why God invented divine justice: to take care of the slackers.

But why wait for God to take care of things? Almost everyone can contribute their little bit, and it's a shame to segregate the unskilled, the unlucky, and the un-motivated off in a welfare concentration camp in the inner city to be used as cannon fodder in the activism wars of the Reverends, marchin' and protestin' and stuff.

My plan is that we ramp down the welfare programs and send the welfare folk to place their heads in the hands of the corporate CEOs. It's similar to the old way of the year 1000 when a starving man would place himself into servitude as a bondsman by placing his head in his lord's hands: a head for food.

I say this because it is obvious that the old plan, of giving people money for nothing, has clearly failed. That's what the conservative Charles Murray has found in his Coming Apart and that is what the liberal Robert D. Putnam has found in his Our Kids. Middle-class, educated, career-oriented people of all races, including African Americans, are pulling away and the lower 30 percent, black and white, is descending into cultural chaos. The men don't work and the women don't marry.

Marx well said that the agricultural revolution "hurled" the rural poor, the band of "useless" feudal retainers, onto the labour market. There, of course, they lingered for a century or two as miserable proletarians until sucked up into the mines and factories of the industrial revolution where they were treated as little better than slaves.

But in time the capitalists realized that treating people like slaves wasn't good for profits. In the first place the workers formed labor unions to oppose the bosses and time has shown that labor unions are poison for a corporation, the best way to kill it off. The whole point of a corporation is a team, with everyone working towards the corporate goal of great products, good jobs, and fat profits. It doesn't help to have a head of rebellion right on the factory floor.

It was a German general that articulated in 1921 the new corporate attitude, General Hans von Seeckt said he wanted
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier.

He was talking about the need for a new kind of soldier, but you can see that the corporation needs the same kind of employee. Both organizations need swift, efficient team members, but more than that they need responsible team members, not mere underground drones marching around in their platoons in the movie Metropolis.

You can see how this works in a news article from the Wall Street Journal. Audi is building a green field auto plant next to the village of San Jose Chiapa where they will build the Audi Q5 SUV for export all over the world. Of course, as part of the deal, they are setting up extensive training in Mexico for the new workers.

But they are also sending the top technical workers, the quality-control analysts and the like, to Ingolstadt in Germany for two years of training in the Audi systems and the Audi way.
Each Mexican worker is paired with a German "buddy" who acts as a mentor, showing the ropes.
We know what this is all about. It is "boot camp" in corporate culture. It is indoctrinating new workers into the corporate culture and system at Audi so that they can return to Mexico to make cars that meet the amazing modern standards that gives us amazing cars that work for 100,000 miles trouble-free. And also become committed members of the Audi team.

Of course people coming off welfare aren't going to go to Germany for training. But they can be handed over to buddies in factories and big-box stores rather than to Reverends in the protest line. They can be immersed in a corporate culture where going with the flow means doing a good job and being polite to the customers rather than making protest signs and yelling catchwords at a TV camera.

In addition these former welfare recipients will enjoy a predictable and secure world, with benefits and a reasonable expectation of stable employment and chances for advancement.

But best of all they will be living in a life that benefits them and benefits us all. As welfare recipients they are useful only for their votes to support the politicians that promise to defend old benefits and offer new benefits. As corporate workers they will be contributing to the economy and providing, in a modest way, products and services for others.

OK. Nothing new here. You can see bright young minorities in every bank branch and less educated ones at the local big box store.  And they are clearly being trained and indoctrinated in the corporate culture, to become "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated," and hey, maybe even "joyful in taking responsibility" as a woman and a Target associate.

(See where that "associate" comes from? One guess: "In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.")

For over half a millennium, with Poor Laws and welfares, respectable society has punted on what to do with people "hurled" on the labor market by economic revolutions. The ruling class just handed out a pittance to the people left behind by progress. And really, in the Obama years we are seeing the final collapse of this cruel and inhuman cop-out in the absurd gussied-up protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere (which were, Messrs. Obama, Holder, and Soros will doubtless agree at the Last Judgment, pure astroturf).

Now is the time to put an end to this injustice, and use the most obvious resource invented to make lost souls into productive contributors. And really how come it's taken this long? Yes, corporations use systems, and systems are domination. But the fact is that corporations have taken the demoralized proletarians of Marx and Shaw and made them into nauseating middle-class bitter clingers, the despair of good progressives everywhere.

Wouldn't it be too harsh to render up the underclass to the corporations? Maybe. But we humans know that if you can't manage to socialize people with kindness then you have to "put a bit of stick about" as the chief whip Francis Urquhart says in the Brit version of House of Cards.

As God does with his divine justice.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Brief History of Welfare

I had a minor epiphany over the weekend. Checking back to The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, I recalled important information about welfare in the year 1000 in England.

The deal was that if you were starving you went to your lord and placed your head in his hands. He would then hand you a bill-hook, as a symbol of your servitude as his bondsman. It was called "head for food." You gave up your freedom for food and work.

So let's take a look at welfare down the ages, and let's start with the Roman Empire. In The Sources of Social Power, Michael Mann talks about the gradual decline of the peasants. The deal was that everyone was supposed to serve in the legions, but the problem was that as the demand for military service increased the peasant couldn't work his own land and serve in the military and provide his own weapons at the same time. So gradually the Romans started paying their soldiers for long service and supplying arms and armor.

Later on, the lower orders got hit by the slaves. The abundance of slaves meant that free men couldn't get work at decent wages. Also there was the little cultural problem common to both Greeks and Romans that free men didn't work for free men. No free man would work for another.

So that's why the Romans went for bread and circuses and the "anona" welfare system. The sturdy peasants were being slowly squeezed out of their landholdings and became concentrated into the cities where they were kept quiet with food and entertainment. Sound familiar?

Notice the difference with the feudal welfare system, where the lord accepted the risk proposition for the lives of his bondsmen. He took their work and fed them. Whether he made a profit on the deal was something else.

That something else was the agricultural revolution, which extended over several centuries in the middle of the last millennium. The agricultural revolution changed everything on the land. It resulted in Marx's famous declaration:
A mass of free proletarians was hurled on the labour market by the breaking-up of the bands of feudal retainers, who, as Sir James Steuart well says, “everywhere uselessly filled house and castle.” ...
The process of forcible expropriation of the people received in the 16th century a new and frightful impulse from the Reformation, and from the consequent colossal spoliation of the church property. The Catholic church was, at the time of the Reformation, feudal proprietor of a great part of the English land. The suppression of the monasteries, &c., hurled their inmates into the proletariat. The estates of the church were to a large extent given away to rapacious royal favourites, or sold at a nominal price to speculating farmers and citizens, who drove out, en masse, the hereditary sub-tenants and threw their holdings into one. The legally guaranteed property of the poorer folk in a part of the church’s tithes was tacitly confiscated.
 So we can see that the unfortunates "hurled" on the labor market were either useless "feudal retainers," the bondsmen and others that had placed their heads in the lands of the lords, or they were succored by the Church and its monasteries. The formal and informal arrangements that integrated the poor into feudal society were broken up. The agricultural revolution did for the retainers and Henry VIII did for the rest.

By the end of the 16th century things were getting pretty grim out in the countryside, so the politicians decided to "do something." What they "did" was the Elizabethan Poor Law. The Poor Law was cunning. It put the responsibility for relieving the poor on each parish. But since each parish was stuck with the bill, you can imagine that each parish was eager to move its poor on to the next parish.

Later, as Foucault relates in Madness and Civilization, we get the great confinement: in hospitals, schools, prisons, etc. And of course in the British workhouse. The point, I suspect, is that the wealth unleashed by the agricultural revolution provided the means to confine people that society didn't know what to do with: the poor and sick, the criminal, the young. And really, what is easier? Just lock 'em up if you can't figure out what else to do with them.

Ever since, welfare has shuttled between "outdoor relief," which is money for nothing, and "indoor relief" which means incarceration in the French hôpital, the British workhouse, the government child custodial facility, the prison, or penitentiary or reformatory or custodial facility. In all cases society is paying the poor and the feckless to go away and not bother us.

Now in the years of the Poor Law before the industrial revolution the poor were kept away from the cities and on the land. This was enforced by things like the guild system which prevented the poor from finding employment in the city. And it kept the poor out in the country where they could never achieve strategic concentration. So the ruling class and its supporters were on one side, and the poor on the other.

The industrial revolution changed this situation, because the industrial revolution brought the poor into the cities where they achieved strategic concentration. And the politics changed too. Instead of the poor being outside the system, a mere expense to the ruling class, they entered the political system and became a power player, or at least a source of votes for ambitious politicians. This meant that welfare was not longer an annoying expense for the ruling class; now welfare payments became a reward to the poor for supporting the ruling class.

My little epiphany last weekend was to realize the profound difference between welfare in the feudal age and welfare today. Then as now the ruling class obtained the loyalty of the poor by giving them food and free stuff. But in those days the ruling political class was also the ruling economic class. They gave food to the poor out of their own pockets, but they also got the poor to work -- although Marx's comment about "useless" retainers suggests that they weren't doing much useful work.

Our age is different. In our age the political class buys the support of the poor with an abundance of "free stuff." But the poor don't have to work for their relief. As Charles Murray shows in Coming Apart the bottom 30 percent of white adult males aren't too interested in work. About 30 percent of them are effectively out of the labor force. The difference between now and then is that now, the political class takes the money for the support of the poor by force from the economic sector. And it doesn't extract anything from the poor except their votes at election time.

Various reporters have noted that lack of employment is a killer in our society. It may be because humans need to be challenged by work in the world. It may also be that, as Eric Hoffer writes, our age is an age of work. It used to be that work was "viewed as a curse, a mark of bondage." But today work is the sign of worth and responsibility. No wonder that the unemployed are demoralized.

So maybe we have a possible solution to the 500 year Poor Law problem.

It is notable that in our society the people with limited appetite for risk find employment is large hierarchical bureaucratic institutions. In return for loyalty and a modicum of work, these big-company, big-government employees get security and pensions.

Why do we not apply the same logic to the poor? Put them to work in big corporations, with modest wages and modest work requirements. And the security that they crave.

And let's take the relief of the poor out of the political sector where the poor just become the pawns of the politicians as the politicians use them in their contemptible power games.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Obama Implosion Alert.

We knew that liberal government was going to fail about 40 years ago. That's when, as Charles Murray wrote in Losing Ground, the results came in on the social science that instrumented the War on Poverty. Liberals read the results and did nothing.

The War on Poverty conducted in the 1960s included a raft of programs recommended by liberal social scientists, from welfare to job training and community activism. Result, according to the social science instrumentation? No difference. Of course many things got worse, such as out-of-wedlock births and a move away from work.

Yeah. It's 40 years later and liberals are still saying "more of the same."

Fast forward to today. In Charles Murray's 2012 book, Coming Apart we see that for the top 20 percent of whites, about 5 percent of the adult men aged 30-49 in the top 20 percent aren't making a living, and 30 percent of adult men aged 30-49 in the bottom 30 percent aren't making a living. You can calk about "income inequality" till the cows come home, but the problem here is cultural inequality. Rich people work hard, and poor people don't. That's the opposite of 100 years ago when poor people worked hard, and so did their children.

Now my feeling is that we are approaching a tipping point. I think that the full-on liberal activist program of President Obama is going to force the American people to demand a change.

Joseph Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy argued that the voters can't really tell the politicians what they want. The only thing they can do is use their votes to elect the politicians that will rule over them. Voters can only call for Four More Years or say that it is Time for a Change.

Most of the time politicians present the voters with muddy compromise. They shift a little to the left while trying to assure the right that nothing has changed. And vice versa. But President Obama has rejected that model of government. He is committed to getting as much of the progressive agenda enacted, by any means possible, while he is in office. Presumably he feels that by throwing everything against the wall, some of it will stick.

The other possibility, of course, for Obama's legacy is the experience of the German Army in 1942. The southern army group headed for the Caucasus while the Sixth Army was assigned to take Stalingrad. The southern army group covered a lot of ground, but because Stalingrad on its left wing did not fall, all that territory was gained for nothing, and when the Red Army attacked and encircled the Sixth Army the entire southern army group had to retreat. It was, of course, the turning point in the whole war on the Eastern Front.

I think — OK I hope — that President Obama and the Democrats are in the overstretch situation that the Germans experienced in 1942. They've pushed their wave way up the beach and the tide is about to turn. Think of Obamacare as the Democrats' version of Stalingrad. If they can't get Obamacare to work, they are screwed.

In military affairs, the danger of an over-extension is that you are really vulnerable to something going wrong.  If the tide of fortune changes, it's likely to bury you in the undertow.

If you are a liberal, you think of everything that the president has done as sensible moderate stuff, long overdue and held up for years, decades, by racist, sexist, homophobic Republicans and conservatives, people that have opposed and stymied the progressive agenda at every turn. As conservatives and Republicans gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt for most of the Iraq War, so do liberals give President Obama the benefit of the doubt for all of his initiatives.

And just as liberals pretty quickly decided that President Bush and all his works were wrong and ought to be opposed, so do conservatives (and quite a lot of moderates, I'd say) think that President Obama and all his policies are wrong.

We think that the Keynesian stimulus was wrong, particularly as its main effort was to funnel money to state and local governments; we think that Keynesian economics has been proved wrong both by theory and by experience. We think that Obamacare was wrong; we think that government is completely the wrong institution to deliver any kind of service because government is uniquely incapable of fixing problems, because just doesn't have the bandwidth to fix things. We think that the liberal green energy program is utterly foolish, not just because the idea that CO2 is going to fry the world is unproven and because green energy has turned out to be a cesspool of crony capitalism that pays billions to crony capitalists and stick the middle class and the poor with the bill, but because wind and solar represent a step backwards, for a simple reason. Wind and solar are less concentrated than fossil fuels and nuclear. We think that the president's policy to regulate the internet as a monopoly telephone utility is utter folly. We think the president's policy to hammer out a nuclear deal with Iran is utter folly. We don't have a clue what he thinks he's doing.

Then there's the big stuff, the cultural collapse at the bottom of society, described by Charles Murray and now by Robert D. Putnam in Our Kids, that demonstrates that, after all the liberal welfare state programs, from health care to welfare to education to activism, the poorer people in our society are getting absolutely screwed. Liberals say it's all because of "economic inequality." Really? After fifty years of the Great Society? After a century of middle-class entitlements and labor laws? Things still aren't copacetic? No, liberals. The problem is cultural inequality.

Could it be, liberals that the problem is not "economic inequality" but your programs? Could it be that just shoveling out benefits to people tears society apart, and denies low-income people the chance to contribute to society?

Could it be that it is the liberal programs themselves that are causing the problem? Could it be that "fighting inequality" with government programs is precisely the wrong thing to do?

Like I say. At some point mainstream elected Democrats are going to look at the polls and say to themselves: "If we don't separate ourselves from President Obama yesterday we are all going to lose our elective offices." And then you'll see a stampede among the lemmings that you never saw in your lifetime.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Liberal Robert Punam Still Doesn't Get It

So now the other penny has dropped. Back in 2012 Charles Murray reported in Coming Apart that everything was copacetic in the upper 20 percent of America. But things were not so good in the middle, and in the low-income sector the men didn't work and the women didn't marry. This was not so good for kids.

Now liberal Robert D. Putnam, author of the bestseller Bowling Alone is out with Our Kids. Putnam says that rich kids are doing fine but poor kids are not. Writes W. Bradford Wilcox in The Wall Street Journal:
[Putnam] argues that children's acccess to the core institutions that foster their development — strong families, strong schools, strong communities — is increasingly separate and unequal.
Murray's book was just about white America, because he did not want to get into trouble for raaacism as he did with The Bell Curve. But Putnam is a liberal, so he's allowed to talk about black folks. He gets to write about black "Desmond, son of affluent married parents, and Elijah, whose working-class parents, in his own words, 'couldn't live together for nothing.'"

Bully for Putnam. But what does he suggest? You guessed it: more of the same.
Mr. Putnam concludes "Our Kids" by calling for a raft of civic initiatives and public policies, many of which seek to add to services for poor and working-class children and their parents.
Oh great: more free stuff. Like that's going to make a difference.

It's comical. Over a decade ago, Robert D. Putnam wrote a book where he observed that Americans aren't as civic minded as they used to be, and don't join civic organizations like they used to. But he fails to make the obvious point that maybe, maybe, Americans don't join because government has taken away the public square with government's stupid programs that encourage and reward people for being helpless freeloaders.

Now Putnam writes about how, oh wow, rich kids with married parents are doing better than poor kids with single parents. And what does he propose? More government programs to encourage freeloading. And the current liberal ignis fatuus, more preschool.

Now I've developed the notion in my American Manifesto that government is always and everywhere an armed minority occupying some territory, taxing the inhabitants thereof, and keeping itself in power by rewarding its supporters with free stuff. Thus the liberal welfare state stays in power by offering free stuff to its supporters: minorities, women, government employees and gentry liberals.

There's only one little problem with this: freeloading on free stuff is anti-social. You just have to ask Kant's question whether this would work if everyone did it. No, it wouldn't! If everyone is competing for free stuff, and politicians are competing to offer free stuff, then you don't have a society any more. You just have piracy and plunder.

The dirty little truth about liberals is that, for all their preening and self-congratulation, their liberal welfare state is nothing more than a robber state. Liberals tax productive citizens, anyone that has to work to put food on the table, and they give the tax monies to their supporters, the freeloaders. Everything else is just window dressing and distractions from cute little fluffy puppy dogs.

What your liberal neighbor and Robert D. Putnam can't see is that this current springtime for freeloaders can't go on like this. It is hammering the poor, and it is making life pretty miserable for the ordinary middle class.

Eventually the American people will get this and throw the liberals out. The tragedy is that they will probably "get it" far too late.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

ISIS is Just a Normal Religious Frenzy

After reading the already classic Atlantic piece on “What ISIS Really Wants” by Graeme Wood, you can understand why the liberal response to Islamic terrorism has been so inadequate. The problem is that liberals completely misunderstand the nature of the last two centuries. Take this mind-blowing statement of ignorance and misunderstanding.
Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes.
Oh dear, liberals. Where to begin? First of all, it may be convenient for liberals to write off the Protestant Reformation and the little matter of the French Huguenots and the Thirty Years War as "wars of religion," but the notion rather elides what was going on.

Centuries ago there was a fundamental transformation in the culture and economics and power in Northwest Europe. Not surprisingly there was a mighty clash between the various actors at all levels of social interaction, political, religious, economic, military. Marxists might even call it a "class struggle."

Now what on earth do you call the convulsions of the 20th century and its two world wars? I'd call it a monster religious war of the ages between at least three secular religions: communism, fascism, and democracy. Each of these secular religions has a different idea of the meaning of the modern age and the way to organize human society and to live in community.

Of course the worst convulsions occurred in countries like Russia, China, and Germany where the people experienced military defeats and a collapse of the old order. What on earth would you expect in the wake of collapse and ruin? I tell you what I'd expect. I'd expect a profound turn to religion. Only, of course, in the modern age, I would expect secular religions to burst forth.

Now, according to sociologist of religion Rodney Stark in books like The Future of Religion, when people get the religious bug they go in one of two directions. They either attempt go back to the tried and true, as in going back to basics, or as in recovering the true meaning of the gospels. Stark calls this kind of approach a "sect," meaning a religious group that breaks away from a mainstream church looking for the original meaning of the religion.

The other approach is religious innovation, forming a group that looks forward to the truth rather than backward. Stark calls this kind of group a "cult." In practice, many groups combine a backward and a forward look. Nazism combined nationalism and socialism, which we will stipulate as forward-looking, with a return back to blood and soil. Communism imagined a glorious future of perfect community that seemed oldly nostalgic to a mythical past of "primitive communism."

Now let us turn to the Middle East. Just like China and Russia in the 19th century, the Middle East is in crisis. Nothing works, and the people are desperate. Not surprisingly many Muslims have turned to Islam and tried to discover where things went wrong. ISIS, on the report of Graeme Wood, is an attempt to recover the original truth of Islam from its founding texts. According to Islamic expert Bernard Haykel, ISIS "is trying to re-crate the earliest days of Islam and is faithfully reproducing its norms of war" and the caliphate and slavery and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

On the view of Rodney Stark this is completely understandable and normal. Let's look at another authority, William G. McLoughlin, who has studied religion and politics in the US in Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform. He argues that the US has responded to perceptions of social crisis with repeated Great Awakenings in religious enthusiasm followed by political reform. The First Great Awakening in the mid 18th century was followed by American Revolution. The Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century was followed by the Civil War to end slavery.

Of course, we Americans look at our history and nod in appreciation at the successful upheavals where we went from a bad place to a better. But the opposite can happen. We conservatives would argue that the rise of communism as a solution to political crises in Russia and China and elsewhere have yielded nothing but disaster. At any rate, Russia and China aren't going the communist route right now.

So the question is whether ISIS and the Iranian Revolution are going to usher in a political and economic and cultural revival in the Middle East or whether they will bury their peoples in a maelstrom like the maelstroms of Soviet Russia and Maoist China. For us in the West the answer is obvious. ISIS and Iran are leading the people of the Middle East off the cliff.

But the ISIS enthusiasts don't agree, and chaps like Rodney Stark would say that they are doing what the West did five hundred years ago when in the Protestant Reformation it attempted to distill the original true essence of Christianity with the benefits of the printing revolution that let any middle-class person conduct their own independent study of the Christian scriptures.

A chap like Ken Wilber has a slightly different take. His "integral psychology" is based on a number of stage models in developmental psychology: stuff like Piaget, Maslow, and Kohlberg. On Wilber's view, when a people experience a disaster, like the Germans in World War I, they respond by stepping down a level in development; they go back to the developmental stage that worked in the past. Thus the most advanced country in the world, the nation that came up with German philosophy, relativity, and quantum mechanics, predictably returned to the idea of race and land, and invaded the empty wastes of Russia to acquire more "living room."

So what will happen with ISIS and Iran? We cannot know, of course. But I think that my view, distilled from thinkers like Stark, McLoughlin, and Wilber, are a much better way of understanding the Islamic threat than tired liberal talk about "wars of religion."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What End-of-Dynasty Looks Like

If you are a conservatives like me you look at the news every day for portents. You hope to see signs in the sky that the Liberal Dynasty is coming to an end, and that the way is clearing for the Glorious Conservative Future.

I know. Life isn't really that simple, not even close. But still, it's obvious that the liberal regime is tired and uncertain. Liberals know something is wrong, even if the New York Times and NPR insist on assuring everyone that everything is copacetic.

If the Liberal Dynasty is really ageing, then it ought to look a bit like China in the second half of the 19th century. I've been reading Jung Chang's Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, and I have to report, liberals or no liberals, it's pretty harrowing, as you read about the Manchu ruling class stumbling from one disaster to another. It's sobering to realize that when Cixi died, in 1908, the horrors hadn't really begun.

Jung Chang (author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China and Mao: The Unknown Story) is writing a revisionist history. In her story Cixi is a frustrated reformer instead of the Dragon Lady of previous histories that held China back and frustrated all the reformers.

In any case, the situation in China, from the start of the Opium Wars in 1839, was extremely challenging. The imperial system, that had existed for a thousand years, was suddenly confronted by western commercial powers that wanted to open up China to trade. That's what commercial nation states do. Their merchants want to trade, and they pressure and fund their governments to protect their trade from pirates and plunder.

China's response to this challenge was, to radically simplify, twofold. On the one side were the conservatives who wanted to continue the Confucian system as written, and on the other side reformers that in varying degrees liked the western system and/or realized that China better get with the program or else. Complicating the whole thing was Japan, that woke up from its ancient slumber and decided it wanted to dominate east Asia, including China.

Understand that emperors (and the rest of the Manchu ruling class) were educated solely in the Confucian classics. So when the west came in wanting to set up trading ports and institute western commercial law, and build railways and so on, what on earth would Confucius say? No much. But obviously the western ways would completely transform China. Everyone understood that.

In the event, of course, China under various incompetent emperors and advisers and the remarkable Cixi stumbled from one cock-up to another, during which the education system was completely revised, Beijing University was founded, a modern navy was built and destroyed by the Japanese, and the western armies visited Beijing in 1860 and 1900.

Indeed, China came into the modern world just in time for nationalism and socialism and all the horrors of the 20th century that we, in the Anglo-Saxon west, have mostly dodged.

Back to the Liberal Dynasty. Are we looking at some sort of Mandarin end times with the manifold failures of the Obama regime? We have the president invoking various readings from the liberal scriptures as in Crusaders and colonialism and endless racism while he mindlessly sets liberal activists loose to tangle the nation up in stupid Obamacare and stupid race wars and mindless green politics. Is that a repeat of the Chinese stumblings in 1840-1900?

The answer is that we don't know. Obviously liberalism and big government social democracy is in trouble. Any fool can see that. But politics and reform isn't a simple matter of issues and policy proposals and reform. Politics is about power, and liberals still have lots of power, and they still have lots of faith in their project. And they have the 47%, the folks getting some sort of free stuff from the government.

It's obvious though that liberals are nowhere where they'd thought they were after the glories of 2008 and America's First Black President. It was obvious back then that liberals thought they were going to own the future: a quick stimulus to set the economy to rights, a health reform to finally set health care on the right path, and green energy to save the planet from global warming. Grateful minorities, women and educated youth would then vote them in for a generation.

In fact, the opposite has happened. The economy has sputtered, Obamacare is a metastasizing disaster, green energy is a bird-slaughtering boondoggle, and Congress is solidly Republican. How could it have happened?

That's exactly what the conservatives asked in China in the second half of the 19th century. They were trying to do everything by the book but things were collapsing all around them.

Who knows how things will end up in America in the first half of the 21st century?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When Minorities Fight Over Dem Spoils

Here's a charming prospect. African Americans are pissed off at Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) for endorsing Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) for the Senate seat of young Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) who is retiring in 2016. Steve Phillips says that Reid is racist for endorsing a white Democrat for the job.

And in California, the Dem establishment is running Kamala Harris (D), the state Attorney General. She's apparently part African American and part Asian, although from her photo on Wikipedia you'd be forgiven for thinking that she's just a well-born liberal with all the advantages that gets you. But the Hispanics want to run former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. They reckon it's their turn.

It makes you wonder how long our ruling-class white liberals are going to continue to rule the Democratic Party. It all dovetails, as they say. For half a century white liberals have been telling us that racism is pervasive and so we need quotas, or affirmative action, or diversity, disparate impact, or something in order to correct racism or institutional racism or glass ceilings, or microaggression, or something, and that means that moderate or conservative Americans, black or white, need not apply.

But now the liberals' top students are applying the logic of liberal race politics to upper-class liberals themselves. And really, what took so long? Liberal race politics is just a high-falutin' form of good old machine politics, of the kind that the Democratic Party has successfully run ever since the first Irish fire captain rose to political power in the mid 19th century.  First the Irish did it, then the Jews did it, then the Italians did it. And now the blacks and the Latinos are doing it. You have to be carefully taught, as they sang in South Pacific. Only in those days high-born songsters like Oscar Hammerstein II were hymning against bigotry and hate, as they thought.

Although I've always thought that the idea that you have to be "carefully taught" to hate is the most amazing nonsense ever. Taught to hate? Come on liberals. You have to be carefully taught not to hate!

When the Latinos and the African Americans have elbowed the white liberals out of the Party of Race, what then? Will liberals start watching Fox News? Will they start to read The Wall Street Journal? Will they start to listen to Rush Limbaugh?  Will they start to swear by Austrian economics?  Will they suddenly discover the virtues of limited government? Will they suddenly turn against the idea of a "living" constitution?

And will they even start to vote Republican? Well, maybe. But I for one think that actually coming out of the closet and admitting to voting Republican is beyond the compass of today's liberal ruling class. It's a class thing, you know. No liberal can imagine herself voting with the party of the bitter clingers. And racists, sexists, and homophobes -- and cis-gendered micro-aggressors.

I mean, darling. Have you seen what those people wear?