Sunday, May 12, 2019

Changing American Auto Name-Plates a Barometer of the Bifurcation of America

For the last century, the automobile has been a hallmark of the American way of life. I remember seeing side-by-side photos of a street in New York City in 1905 and then in 1913. In 1905 it was almost all horses and wagons. In 1913 there was hardly a horse in site as the roads were clogged with cars and trucks. In the century since, our cars just kept getting better and better, and in reach of the middle-class. Like cell phones and personal computers today, what started as a luxury became a necessity for many as our economy changed and became geared around mobility.

Henry Ford transformed the automobile from a luxury of the wealthy to something any American with a good salary could afford. The Ford brand still markets to that type of customer. Not poor people, because poor people can't afford new cars, but that middle-class person who wants a nice vehicle but doesn't necessarily have the money for a luxury vehicle. Call them the aspiring middle-class.

Of course the Ford Motor Company didn't write off the upper end of the market. They formed the Lincoln brand to provide luxury cars to their more upscale customers. And slotted between those to was the Mercury name-plate. It was for the more prosperous members of the middle-class who were not among the rich but still could afford more than the basic transportation sold under the Ford name plate.

General Motors pursued the same strategy. Chevrolet was their entry-level brand. It was their version of the Ford nameplate, though both companies put a somewhat higher-end sports car in their lines (Corvette and Mustang). At the top end of course was Cadillac. Reflecting the size of the market in-between those two, GM had several brands including Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. Though Pontiac went sportier near the end, for much of the last century these three shared the same economic market- people who were not wealthy but could afford more than basic transportation.

Chrysler was smaller and a little different than the other two. It was always meant to be a high-end brand. They brought in the Plymouth name-plate to market their no-frills products. Dodge was more of a truck and large-car maker at first. Over time it sort of eased into Plymouth's role for cars, insuring the death of that brand. So Chrysler has a more mixed history. Neglecting all the AMC and Jeep ventures, it basically had a high end and a low end. Changes in this company are therefore not able to reflect my main point, which I am finally about to get to.

The changes in American name-plates reflects the economic changes in America. Not for the poor, because the poor were never able to afford new cars, but I mean changes in the middle class. There is less and less room for a continuum from the no-frills basic transportation of the low end brands to the opulent luxury of the high-end brands. You either are on top, or on bottom. All three companies look more like the Dodge-Chrysler model. They have the luxury end and the no-frills end, with less and less in-between.

Mercury is gone. So Ford sells Fords to the "aspiring middle class" and Lincolns to the wealthy, or the indebted pretentious who want to act like they are for as long as it lasts.  GM has its own name-plate as sort of a catch-all, but Oldsmobile is gone and so is Pontiac. Buick is all that is left in the middle, and I read not too long ago that the average Buick driver was sixty-four. I am sure they are trying to change that, but the point is that we went from three brands marketed to the middle of the middle class and now we are down to one and it may be dying.

In addition to the loss of name-plates, what those plates mean is changing. Oh, the electronics are getting better. There is no doubt about that. But that makes up only a fraction of the cost of a vehicle. Years ago I had a 2008 Ford Escape. It was built on a shortened truck-chassis. It was rough-riding but rugged. It had large, fat tires and I felt completely comfortable taking it out on the mud-choked temporary access roads on a pipeline construction project where I was working. I sold it to a family member and it is still going strong today.

Recently we bought another vehicle, a 2016 "Ford Escape". Same make and model of car, but that's in name only. It is not built on a truck chassis. It is built on a Ford Focus chassis! It is basically a Ford Focus chassis with a lengthened and raised passenger compartment. It has smallish tires and I would never consider taking it on the construction roads where I unhesitatingly went in my "old" Ford Escape. Despite its superior electronics, mechanically the 2016 incarnation of that model is no match for its predecessor. They are changing what it means to be a "Ford Escape SUV" into something much more flimsy and bare-bones than it was even eight years before-hand.

The American Middle Class is bifurcating. There are those who are accelerating up and joining the "barely rich" and a much larger group which is slipping towards working-class status or worse. The changes in American name-plates autos reflects this truth, and by that barometer the gap is widening and the deterioration accelerating. I've written in this blog and in my books about the root causes, and what solutions are real and which ones are fake, but knowing the solutions is not the same as being in a position to implement them. All I can do is mourn the loss while I document the inevitable decline of the greatest middle class in human history.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Bigger Corpro-Governmental Complex Means Bigger Lies

I was having a dialogue (OK debate) with a former student of mine. I was taking a position which was contradicted by what he had been told many many times by his government, by the legacy media, and by the majority of the scientific community. It was perfectly understandable why he was reluctant to believe that the repeated message he had been hearing from all of those sources was wrong and his old science teacher and current friend was right.

To counter this idea, I suggested that his generation had been lied to by the ruling class to an exceptional degree, in an especially loathsome way. He countered with a statement whose truth I cannot deny:
 The Establishment has lied to every generation since the beginning of time.
He was right of course. This world works in such a way that the ones on top tend to be the ones who will do and say anything to get and stay on top. This has been so since the first large cities rose up on the plains of Mesopotamia. This is a large part of the reason that Localism is the best worst option for human government. Centralized power heaped up in one place attracts the worst sort of human personality. Even for us "normals", whatever flaw in character we might have will be tested by power, and given enough power over enough time all of us will fail that test. That's why the Founding Fathers sought to create a system of Checks and Balances. These have since been, in practical terms, cast aside via means devious and cunning by persons of the same sort which I have described above.

Over one hundred years ago the Iron Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck said “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” History has judged him as a ruthless and cynical man, and he was. He is a good example of the sort who rise to the top by cunning and ruthlessness. But compared to the neocons who have seized control of U.S. foreign policy he was practically a pacifist! He was certainly more honest. So my young friend was quite correct in his main point.

Even so, at the risk of saying one of those things that smart people are not supposed to say, "this time it's different." Yes grasping and ruthless personalities have forced their way to the top since time immemorial. That hasn't changed. But some things have changed, and changed in a way which makes the size and power of the establishment's lie-telling machine exponentially more powerful.

There was no mass media on the plains of Mesopotamia. Nor was there any besides print newspapers in Bismarck's day. The King of Babylon might have had a town-crier, but the ratio of information and attention from centralized sources vs. individual people just talking to one another was very low. The establishment just didn't have the resources to capture a large slice of people's total attention. Now a huge proportion of every word we hear and read comes directly or indirectly from establishment sources. I guess you have all seen the video of one "local" news anchor after another parroting the exact same words. I have often said that any society with banks which are "too big to fail" will also have an establishment media which is "too connected to the system to tell you the truth". The Establishment Media does not exist to inform the public. It exists to protect the establishment.

One may argue that the same technology which has brought us mass media has now given us social media where we can talk to one another more, thus restoring balance. This is true, if it is left alone. But we see slowly and by degrees, things are not being left alone. Disfavored opinions are increasingly being stifled on the biggest social media platforms. They are not showing up in the top search results of the most popular search engines. A vast swarm of fake accounts can be conjured up to manufacture support for an opinion which wasn't popular at the start. Global corporations are working together with government to determine which opinions should be amplified, and which should be suppressed. People are free to express system-approved opinions which are either no consequence to or echo the establishment line. This preserves the illusion of a free market of ideas, but not the substance. I think if they had not found ways to control and shape large social media platforms, they would have pulled the plug on them.

There is also the circumstance of the size of government. In days of Yore, a King may hand out goodies to his favored courtiers, but the idea of an expansive state involved in every detail of one's life was an alien concept. A million-dollar government only has the resources to tell you a million dollars worth of lies. A trillion-dollar government like the one we have now has the resources to tell you a trillion dollars worth of lies. A government meddling in ten aspects of your existence is in position to tell you lies about ten aspects of your existence. A government involved in every aspect of your life is in position to put you in a sort of "matrix".

It is true that in days of Yore the state would co-opt religion and this is not explicitly done in the west anymore. That may be one reason why the state puts such effort into marginalizing religion- except for that which is most compliant to its ends. The new authority figures now do not wear the smock of a Priest but the lab coat of a scientist. Notice that most research today is also funded by the state. Thus our new icons of truth, though they may seem separate from the government when they echo messages convenient to the state, are largely just another arm of government. Scientists are in danger of becoming the new high priests of the state. At least prophets often challenged its excesses.

The conclusion for me is that, yes this time it is different. It is different in both the quality and quantity of information coming from (directly or indirectly) official sources verses our power as individuals to counter official sources with our various independently-derived narratives. Those who claw their way into power might not be any more terrible than they have always been, but the tools they have at their disposal are. People are increasingly accepting official narratives as their own without even realizing that their views were not closely examined or truly arrived at via independent thought. They were absorbed through mental osmosis from a system which can saturate mis-information into the population at a scale never before possible. In such a system, dissent will be increasingly marginalized, even though it is the root of all human progress.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Left, the Right, and Authority

My wife and I have been discussing the nature of authoritarians. She has been reading some research which concludes that "authority" is primarily something which conservatives value rather than liberals. "Authority" according to these researchers, is a conservative value. When I objected that Hillary Clinton seems at least as authoritarian as, for example, Ronald Reagan, she noted that by the researcher's definition of "conservative" Hillary Clinton would be "conservative". Red lights started going off in my head all around. The academics who are studying this issue may be adding more confusion than illumination with the way they are using their terms. 

For one thing, I distinguish between classical liberalism and modern leftism. They are very different animals. One is Thomas Jefferson or Ron Paul. The other is Leon Trotsky or Bernie Sanders. Classical liberalism has a healthy skepticism toward government action and the idea that government could run our lives so much better than we could ourselves if only it was able to extract from us vast proportions of the wealth we produce and the autonomy we possess. Modern leftism accepts the premise completely. 

So then classical liberalism is less authoritarian than most true conservatism. But that's not who the left is anymore. Therefore, saying "liberals" value authority less than "conservatives" does cloud the issue unless one is careful to note that few people are classically liberal anymore. Most of those who use the word are actually leftist. In the American context classical "conservatives" love some of the same values that classical liberals do, just for different reasons. The difficulty is that American politics have devolved to the point where most who call themselves liberals are more accurately described as socialists and many of those who call themselves conservative are actually closer to neo-fascism. Socialism posing as liberalism is what made "liberal" a dirty word in America and fascism posing as conservatism will do the same to "conservative".

The sad truth is that the socialist-left and the neo-fascist right are both authoritarian, they simply have differing sources of authority. Neither places much value in checks and balances, restraints, boundaries, and limits on government power. Neither cares much for what I call "the integrity of the process". When they are running things process-restraints are bad and when the other side is running things they are "good". This means that each side seeks to erode process restraints on government power when they are running things- making it that much easier for the other side to dispense with them when power shifts back.

I believe that these issues could be better sorted if we added a few more terms to the discussion. People who value "authority" are not necessarily "conservative". Many leftists are just as authoritarian. So then "authoritarian" should be its own category or spectrum just as "left-right" is. There should be an "up-down" spectrum too. Do you think people should be more free to run their own lives or should power be moved away from the individual and toward a central state? Ignoring the "up-down" spectrum is forcing the researchers to over-generalize, based on what I have heard. I might add that "establishment-anti-establishment" could be yet a third spectrum. Classical liberals would tend to be anti-establishment, but the modern left which is heavily entrenched in many institutions in this nation is itself the establishment. As it regards universities in America for example, conservatives are "anti-establishment" and leftists are the establishment.

The biggest difference between today's left and right is not whether they value authority but rather from where they draw their source of authority. For the right it comes from their religious traditions, or their national or cultural traditions. That is, the way we have done things in the past is the way they should be done going forward. When this involves who is running things, I suppose you could say it is "conservative" to say that "who ever has been running things should keep running them", but I regard that as an "establishment" position which is to be distinguished from a "conservative" one. Establishment people are more correlated to valuing authority than conservative people are, IMHO.

The left can value authority just as much, but they do not reach into the past to find their authorities, but the present. Barack Obama was hailed as almost a political Messiah promising "hope and change". Leftists trusted him as a source of authority more than the founding fathers for example. Yes, much of the right is elevating Donald Trump to the role of a political Messiah to an equally unhealthy level, but what he promised to do was "Make America Great Again." Do you see what the difference is? It isn't that one side values authority and the other does not. It is that one side looks to the past for authority and the other side the present. To Obama supporters, the past was something that needed to be changed into something else. To Trump supporters, the good things about the past needed to be restored.

"Science" is another source of authority for the left. And of course when government funds most science then this is simply an indirect way of valuing the powers-that-be in government as a source of authority. I have seen on numerous occasions leftists try to seal themselves off from debate by citing leftist academic "authorities" and saying that the only qualified voice has spoken and that therefore they don't need to address any arguments which say otherwise, no matter how well-reasoned. 

For a more in-depth look at the problem see my article on "Mis-education and Mental Illness". But as regards our discussion here the bottom line is that, yes, leftists are often highly authoritarian. They simply put their faith in the government, or in "science" or "education". The latter of which too often means "indoctrination" with ideas they cannot defend using fact, logic or reason. But then they don't feel a need to do that. They trust what their chosen authorities tell them, just as the right does. I see the coming "authority" of the left as the collective itself. That is, they will claim that the mass of humanity says that "X" is true and the way things should be and therefore it is. The elevating of the present and devaluing the past is leading to self-referential, self-justifying "truth"- and no contrary logic, reasoning, dissent, or challenge need be tolerated. Ironically, though they call themselves "progressives" their tendency to view dissent as some sort of societal disease to be stamped out will be the end of human progress, for dissent is the beginning of all human progress

Now this article has been mostly about how things have been seen incorrectly. I do wish to point out to you that I have authored two books on political theory, (click on the pics below for more detail) which go beyond defining the problem and spell out what ought to be done instead. The red one is available for no charge for those of you with Kindle Unlimited. 


Monday, November 26, 2018

Ending the Federal Inducements for States to Spend Money

The Arkansas Capitol Building 

Government at all levels will either quit spending money at a higher rate than economic growth or such spending will destroy the Republic. The choice is that stark, and I believe this choice will soon be apparent to many, all who dare see it, rather than just the few foresighted individuals who now perceive it. If too few dare to come to grips with fiscal reality, the Republic will end in a super-nova of debt and corruption. Presently, that last appears to be the most likely outcome as too many influential players have positioned themselves to benefit from the generational looting.

Nevertheless, whether we are able to preserve whatever is left of the Republic by radically altering our current fiscal course or whether we must needs rebuild from the ashes, it is necessary to understand how it is that government spending has spiraled out of control and what we might do to stop it.

One method by which the central government encourages out-of-control spending is by offering to pay a share of the cost if a smaller unit of government increases spending. The most extreme example of this in recent times is Obamacare, whereby the Federal Government paid 100% of the cost of insurance for those under 100% of the federal poverty level for three years, if only the states would agree to expand Medicaid to cover them. And Washington committed to pay 90% of the costs thereafter. Few politicians, pushed by the interests which would benefit, could resist the "free" money that was being offered by Washington. Never mind that in the long term the money necessary to sustain this new program does not exist. It is unsustainable, and therefore will not be sustained.

The problem with such policies is that economic costs and benefits are warped. If Arkansas does not expand Medicaid, then Arkansas will lose out on the "free" money while Arkansans will continue to pay whatever federal taxes are used to pay the bills for states which did take the "free" money. Thus Arkansas politicians vote to take the money, even if their population was initially against the idea (until the "free" money corrupts enough of them). The choice for the state was to spend and get in on the loot from the new program or don't spend and still be taxed for the spending of others.

Supreme court precedent has consistently ruled that the federal government could not simply seize the governing machinery of a state government and force them to implement a federal program, even if Washington was paying for it (using tax dollars harvested from the same population which makes up the states of course). But there is no need to force states to comply if the federal government can simply force state taxpayers to fund federal-state "partnership" programs that their states do not participate in. This is true whether the spending is financed through present taxation or cowardly generational looting (the use of debt). 

So long as the citizens of the state are on the hook for federal debt incurred funding "partnership" programs between state and federal governments then the states will be induced to join the program whether the people want it or not. The politician wants "free" money from the feds to hand out, and even if most people understand we can't afford it, there will be special interests clamoring for the spending. If the cost of the spending is not felt, then the money will be spent. Government "welfare" does not just corrupt poor uneducated people in the ghettos. It ultimately corrupts everyone it touches, including the politicians who buy votes with it. This is the road to fiscal ruin and we are well along it and our destination is in sight.

How might we prevent this perversion of cost benefit analysis? It is necessary to reverse the shifting and concealing of costs which occurs whenever a state which refuses to participate in an economic activity is irregardless forced to share in the costs of those which do. This principle can be taken too far and lead to the malady of anarchy, but we are a long way from this being our present malady. Rather we are at the opposite extreme where unaffordable spending which does not even have widespread and clear majority consent is nevertheless occurring because of warped incentives. We are at the one extreme of central statism, which is opposed by the other extreme of anarchy. Localism advocates for the balanced and moderate middle position. States which refuse to participate in federal attempts to use them to administer programs should not have to share the costs of those which do.

If the United States fails to control spending on its own and there is a fiscal collapse of the federal government, which appears to be the most likely possibility at this point, then Washington will not have the decency or courage to put any of the suggestions below into practice. In which case, whatever sort of nations arise from the ashes of the former United States should put them into practice. Of course the Localist Ideal is that the Central government would have no power to initiate such programs in the first place. Programs like Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, HUD, and even most defense spending, would be state programs, if the citizens of each state desired them as I assume most if not all would. The Federal government would not even have control of a printing press which it could use to strategically grow itself and bribe its way to assume powers not originally granted to it -as the present federal government has done. 

The stakes are huge and there is no way to resolve many of these problems without confrontation of some kind. It can either be an orderly and rational process hopefully leaning on the courts at a time of our choosing, or it can be a bloody and chaotic process when we are least prepared for it due to our ignoring the problem until it precipitates systemic collapse. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Global Trade's Hidden Costs

I noticed an article today which had a bombshell about the Chinese government sneaking a stealth microchip into the servers and other hardware it was selling around the world. Organizations infiltrated include Amazon, Apple, and even the CIA. The chip would give them the power to remotely hack the operating system of a myriad of devices.

I do not call trade with China "Free" trade because it is not possible to have free trade with unfree people. China is the world's largest labor camp and most of its inmates are not free to leave and seek opportunity elsewhere (only those connected to the elite are). Thus it has a captive labor force. It also lacks a free media by which workers could learn about dangerous working conditions and make informed choices about where to work. So its global trade, not free trade. And global trade has hidden costs. The above link is an example of a huge one, but there are many others. The importation of dangerous pests for example.

Globalism is pushed by our media, which is itself owned by global corporate entities, and except for the anomaly of Donald Trump, both establishment political parties which are also owned by global corporate entities. But global trade has hidden costs, in particular when dealing with unfree societies. Barriers to trade with such nations are like a "firewall" in ones computer system. They may slow things down a bit but it is a form of insurance. We can't have enough redundancy in a global supply chain where each critical part is made by a single entity. Such a supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. China will suffer great turmoil someday, because its system is corrupt and unjust. If we are inextricably linked to them, we will suffer with them.

Global trade has hidden costs and those costs must be born by someone. The global corporations who have pushed to lower all protections and redundancies in favor of a global trade model have harvested the profits from their scheme. But when its time to pay the costs, you can be sure they will try to socialize those onto the general public.

The precepts of Localism provide the most sensible protections for our country, or any country, against the abuse of corporate power, including the abuse described here.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Bizarre Second Amendment Ruling Points to Need for Return to Original Intent

A federal judge in Maryland, speaking for the appeals court in a ruling on the Second Amendment, said something so spectacularly ignorant that I actually had to check that the report was really from NBC news and not some satire site posing as NBC news.

In a 10-4 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the guns banned under a recent Maryland law (such as AR-15s) aren't protected by the Second Amendment.

Now are you sitting down? Here is the statement...."Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war," Judge Robert King wrote for the court.

"Weapons of war" is precisely what the second amendment was specifically written to protect. That is why it starts off by saying "A well-regulated militia......". Numerous well-known quotes from the founders indicate they thought that the populace should be sufficiently well-armed to discourage any government from using its own army to oppress them. And the second amendment was written just a decade after the successful secession from the British Empire known as the American Revolution occurred. This revolution was started by private citizens using their private arms as "weapons of war" against the British army.

The statement by Judge King sounds like something from a person who could not pass a high-school civics class, not a sitting federal appeals-court judge writing for the court. It is utterly unconnected to the history of our nation or even the text of the amendment itself. We need federal courts with credibility in the eyes of the people. Sometimes they are our best protection against Executive and Legislative over-reach. But decisions like this one, especially backed up by asinine statements like that one, squander the public credibility of our federal courts. It is a statement taken out of context.....from reality.

Now people are upset about the recent school shootings, and we should be. But the problem is the school shootings, not our emotional distress about the school shootings. If all we are trying to do is reduce our emotional distress about the shootings and not the shootings themselves, this is the sort of delusion people will resort to. If we are trying to reduce innocent people being killed by guns, we will take a more careful approach which appreciates what has historically happened to the populations which have been disarmed by their governments over time and what has really changed since the character of mass-shootings has changed. But all that is too thoughtful for the person who is only trying to relieve their emotional distress over the shootings by demanding that the government "do something".

And of course, what is necessary for Chicago may be unnecessary and even oppressive for rural Arkansas. Yet when all decisions are made at the federal level, there will be pressure to interpret law so as to allow government to act in the worst case scenario. If some population somewhere has lost the virtue to carry powerful guns then the feds will feel pressure to let all governments everywhere restrict access to them. If some family somewhere has abused the freedom to homeschool then the feds, if they are the ones deciding, will feel pressure to let all governments everywhere intervene.                   
Here is where localism- decentralization of political power- ties into all this: It is not that government at any level should be powerless to restrict guns. I don't even say for sure that Maryland had no legal grounds to pass the law that they did. I only say that the original intent of the second amendment, indeed the entire Bill of Rights, was to limit the federal government only, not the state governments. The Federal Government should have no power to ban the possession of any personal weapon, even if they are identical to the weapons carried by their own soldiers. If state governments want to do so the second amendment is not applicable to them- but the amendments in their own state constitutions are.

Most states, including mine, have something similar to the second amendment in their state constitutions and that is what should be applied to the states. The feds should stay out of it. This is the original intent for the whole Bill of Rights, but as all power was directed toward the central government the truth of this knowledge was lost over time. The blue book below starts off by showing how this was the original intent of the Bill of Rights. From there it shows the ways in which control of our lives was lost over time to a vast and growing central state. It also shows what kind of policies we should be pushing for instead.