Friday, January 20, 2017

Guaranteed Basic Income vs. Guaranteed Basic Capital

Throughout human history people have earned income in two ways. One way was selling their labor. The other way was working, or hiring someone else to work, their capital.

In past ages capital was scarce. It was also more dependent on labor as a co-factor necessary to make it productive. You might have shovels, but without men to dig more than one was not of much use to you. Then came tractors. One operator and one mechanic could dig more than one hundred men with shovels.  So what happened there was that once the capital equipment was built the owner of the capital could substitute capital for labor. They no longer needed one-hundred men with shovels, they only needed an operator and a mechanic. The catch was that a tractor with back-hoe was more capital intensive than buying 100 shovels. Two skilled workers and an increase in capital replaced 100 less skilled workers.

For the last two-hundred years or so that did not matter because our capital increases increased overall wealth so much and there were plenty of other things that those freed-up hands could do. Instead of digging that ditch to bring water to the crops, two guys on a tractor could do it while the other ninety-eight worked on an assembly line making products that either never existed before or were very difficult to make in prior generations. In other words, society as a whole got richer by the increasing capital component of production. Those who survived by selling their labor did pretty well in the advanced economies. There was still a need for labor to work capital and the resulting boom of production from labor + capital working together was so enriching to the culture that everything became less expensive (measured in constant dollars) due to productivity gains.

Despite some complaints from those at the bottom, overall if you were a hard worker and a responsible person, you could do OK for yourself, maybe even well. Sure, those who started out with a big pile of capital did even better, but there was opportunity out there for those willing to take advantage of it. Then things started changing.

The number one thing that changed was the monetary system. After 1913, and in particular once those at the top of our financial system freed themselves of the gold standard, we had a financial system divided into two classes- the connected few who had access to vast amounts of money at very little or no cost and the unconnected many who had extremely limited access to capital for which they had to pay a lot in interest.It is easy to see that when you have that division in your economy, over time those with access to vast amounts of cheap money will wind up owning everything and those without it will wind up owning nothing.

We see how this played out in the bank bailouts of 2008. If some generation of your family messes up, they lose the family land forever. If one of these multi-generational global banks messes up, the system does whatever it has to so that they keep their stuff. Those on top use the system to stay on top. Again, it is easy to see what is going to happen over time. Eventually, someone in your family line will blow it and lose your family's accumulated capital. No bail outs for people like us. When Goldman Sacs blows it, the rules get changed so that they get to keep theirs. Again, the result of this system must be that over time the big corporations and governments own everything and the rest of us own nothing.

So one thing that happened was that capital was concentrated not by production, but by being connected to the system. The result has been that instead of most people owning substantial capital, only a few did and everyone else had to exist by selling labor into a market which is increasingly shifting away from labor and into capital.

The second thing that happened was the increasing globalization of labor, not just for blue collar jobs but also white collar jobs like construction drawings. In the recent past, bids for labor were more localized so that pockets of labor could still command high prices even if the overall price for labor was low. Now the labor pool is much more globalized. Capital can go to wherever labor is priced lowest. One may view this as a good thing or a bad thing (as I do in the case where the lowest price labor is slave labor from a nation with a captive labor force), but the overall effect of freedom of movement for capital is to put more downward pressure on labor prices.

Now technology is reaching the point where it is filling in so many jobs that there is an excess supply of labor overall. It is not just a question of the labor having the wrong skills, there is less and less place for any labor to go. It is easy to see the day coming when the "Family Doctor", a skilled position, is replaced by a hologram connected to an app which asks you certain questions and gives a diagnosis based on your answers and test results. The same thing is happening on the low end for the few jobs that can't be outsourced, like a cashier at a fast-food restaurant. An attempt to demand higher wages results in being replaced by an automated system. I can see the day coming when workers will be faux-AI robots made by other robots!

Those at the top of the economic heap make their money by working their capital, so they are all for
this change.  Robots complain less than people anyway. For the rest of us, we are being turned into what the harsher and more Social Darwinist members of the ruling class would call "useless eaters". Even if we are healthy people willing to work at a traditional job, there may be few to none to be had at a wage that would make it worthwhile to work. Going forward, we won't just be competing with Chinese neo-slaves, we will be competing with robots.

The shooting-for-pseudo-godhood members of the ruling class have a bit less harsh plan for the rest of us once technology produces a world where mankind has accumulated so much capital that none of us will ever have to work by selling our labor again. We can all live off of worked capital. What is this plan you say? Is it dividing up the massive accumulated capital to each individual so we can all just make a living managing capital rather than selling our labor? Uhhh. No. They and their controlled institutions like the state will hold onto all the capital. After all, how can they be our new gods if the basis of their godhood is diluted by other people having it too? No, their plan is called a "Guaranteed Basic Income" or "Living Wage."

Under this plan, every person would get a fixed income from the government. If they wanted to work in order to supplement this income, and were able to find work, then that would be OK (so long as they paid taxes) but the amount of the Guaranteed Income would be enough to support a person at a low level even if they never worked. Obviously government welfare would be universalized so that welfare programs per se could be abolished.

That sounds very tempting to a lot of people living on the edge in low-paying jobs that they hate (and even those are going away). Get paid by the government for doing nothing, and there is not even any stigma because everyone is getting a check, what is not to love? Everything. It is tempting, as sin often is, but its not the answer. For one thing, it would make us into utterly dependent slaves of the state. They would control whether your family eats or not, even as they want to control your healthcare now. What chance would a population have of resisting such rulers? It would not be "money for nothing". Supplicants would be beholden to the system. And more so each generation as more and more people lost the means and drive to take care of themselves and their own affairs. Ask yourself what its done for third generation welfare families if you think its such a good idea for everyone.

But the imbalance between the value of capital vs. the value of human labor is bound to continue. Its a real issue that ought to be addressed. The localist solution, indeed the solution of any person who wants to remain free rather than be worse than a slave because at least slaves had value to their masters and were therefore not easily expendable, is to guarantee basic capital rather than basic income. After all, the reason for the imbalance in the first place is that those who live by working capital have an increasing advantage over those who live by selling their labor. So its not income that needs to be guaranteed, but capital. Instead of all capital being owned by a few giant global corporations and governments and individuals being left with next to nothing, capital should be re-distributed. Not in ways which would use government force to take from one private person and give to another, but redistributed nevertheless.

For example, the United States government owns a significant amount of land, including vast portions of western states, and buildings and real estate all over the nation. States own mineral rights on public lands, and take property for back taxes that is now being scooped up by those few with access to our financial system's magic money machine for the connected. In other cases, favored corporations get special deals, such as tax credits or relief from certain taxes to operate from a given location. Why not have every citizen partake in the access to state-affected capital which is now available only to the few? Rights to property and rights to freedom from taxes for certain capital or businesses operated from a given location can become a family inheritance. In addition, as with the Basic Income Plan, money now spent on welfare can be re-directed. It can purchase capital assets for the program. Ultimately, when capital is built up enough, that money would not be necessary.

In the Old Testament, there was such land that could be rented out but not be sold. In the fiftieth year it would revert back to the heirs of the original family. Thus one bad generation could not lose the family heritage for all time, only for their own time. All debts were also cancelled. It was called the "Jubilee". Such a system assured that capital would always stay somewhat distributed and it would be impossible for the financial sector to dominate the whole economy. In other words, it would avoid the mess we find ourselves in today.

But it would also have another advantage- even if robots replaced workers no one would have to be destitute. Every family would have capital to work. They could all make some kind of living working their capital instead of just selling their labor. And in this system people would not be beholden to the government for that monthly check. Some would work their capital themselves and become wealthy, others might lease their capital out to someone else to work and go play video games and smoke pot. They would be relatively poor. But in each case, it would be their own choice, but a generationally revocable one.

"Basic Income" is like giving a man a fish. In a world where teaching them to fish is pointless because robots can fish more tirelessly and all the fishing holes are owned by the government and global corporations. It will be a tempting option. But its soul-destroying. Its the opposite of empowerment, it will give the government total control of the citizens. A better answer is for every family to have their own fishing hole. If all else fails, they can rent the rights to fish it to someone who has a robot.

I call for a society in which some capital assets are the irrevocable possessions of families. It should not be a federal program but the unnecessary assets of the Federal Government should be transferred over time to states and counties and from there to individual families which are "family corporations" with their own procedures and rules separate from standard incorporation. These assets should be kept on a perpetual trust basis so long as a family has heirs remaining. Should a line die without issue then the assets could only be purchased by other family trusts, or awarded to new trusts on the basis of another family becoming new citizens in good standing. The rules of society should be reversed from their present biases in which the property of real persons and families is subtly stripped away over time and transferred to artificial persons known as "corporations" and government entities. Instead, the rules should be reversed so that property and capital accrues to individuals and families.

The problem of shifting value between selling labor and working capital is not going to go away. Central statists have their "solution"- a guaranteed minimum income which would leave the masses wholly at the mercy of a merciless state. They will be in a worse position than slaves while those at the top will imagine themselves gods. The localist answer makes every man a lord.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Ideas Versus The Man

Some ideas are good in themselves, and others are bad in themselves. Most ideas though are neither good nor bad in themselves, but rather a means to an end. The end can be either good or bad. This class of ideas are rather like tools. Tools are morally neutral. They may be wielded for good purposes or for evil ones. In either case the outcome is not due to the tool, but rather to the person who uses the tool. The tool is not responsible for how it is used, but rather the man should be responsible for how he uses it.

Donald Trump is now the President-elect of the United States. I will pray for him, as I prayed for Barack Obama, though I voted for neither man (why do Americans continue to vote for candidates from the two DC-run, globally funded parties which have done so much to bankrupt the nation both morally and fiscally?).

Though he changes his story so often that it is hard to say exactly what his real policies will actually be, during the campaign he suggested many ideas which a localist should support. He expressed a desire to leave or re-negotiate trade deals which undermined our national sovereignty. He supported de-escalation of tensions with Russia which have come about by the actions of prior administrations acting as self-appointed "world police." He wants secure national borders. He has suggested that tariffs are a viable option for cheating trade "partners". He expressed support for the idea that even our political elites should be prosecuted if they have committed crimes- instead of our current situation where we have a ruling class which is effectively above the law. He said he was opposed to Common Core. He grumbled (vaguely) about the Federal Reserve system. He has declared that many controversial issues should be left to the states.

It really is an agenda that a localist could get behind even though the media has not called it by that name. They are stuck on calling him a "nationalist" even though some of his positions- like leaving many issues to the states and fuming about the federal reserve, actually indicate a man who wants much of government pushed below the national level. A nationalist is the second worst type of political outlook to have - next to a globalist. But Trump is not even pure nationalist. There is some bit of decentralization in his campaign rhetoric. Nationalism is better than globalism. True federalism is better than nationalism, and localism is best of all. At least this side of heaven where government is necessary.

In spite of this I did not support him. This is because I looked beyond the tools the man was proposing to use and firstly considered the character of the man who would be using them. Donald Trump is not a just man. He has never made justice a goal of his walk in life and it is highly unlikely that he will start now. Because the man is not virtuous, his use of the tools that I agree should be used will not be virtuous either. If he follows through on his campaign promises at all, which is very much an open question with him, I fear he will put the proper tools to an improper use. I fear he will give the tools themselves a bad name by his poor use of them. If so, for decades hence the thoughtless masses will not give a fair hearing to the idea that those tools should be used, but used properly. Instead of a real argument, the detractors will say "that sounds like Trump" and sound proposals will be unsoundly dismissed.

For example, tariffs are properly used as a firewall between an unjust economy and your own. It is just and like paying insurance premiums to protect your own economy from going down when the unjust one inevitably collapses. If an economy has a captive labor force for example, a tariff could  make the cost of doing business with them more like a true free market transaction if they actually had a free economy. That is a proper use of tariffs. Another just use of tariffs is when substituted for an even worse tax- like individual income taxes. This is with the understanding that government has to be funded somehow and tariffs are bad but not so bad as what they would replace.

I don't think that is how President Trump would use tariffs. I think he would protect specific industries, not specific just values. I think whoever was good to him would get a break and whoever was not would not. Tariffs are a policy tool, There is just and an unjust way to use them. He is not the man to lean on for a just use of tariffs, or anything else. His complaints about the federal reserve for example, could be turned into a demand for more reckless spending without financial consequences (until the imbalances caused by that become so great that even the fed loses control and the dollar crashes). Every idea he has that I like can be used in a way that I don't like.

I want the tools which he was proposing in his campaign. I probably favor them more than he does. We will see how many of them he was just saying to get elected (which shows how popular these anti-globalist tools are) and how many he is really committed to. But because I do favor these tools, I don't want to see their use discredited. The tools are not to blame for the use which they are put to by the unjust. Rather, the workman who used them poorly is to blame- him and the ones who handed him those tools to being with.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tech Guru Discovers Appeal of Localism in Wake of Trump Victory

The Wall Street Journal had a piece up recently entitled "New Populism and Silicon Valley on Collision Course." Basically, left-leaning globally orientated techies are in shock that the nationalist Trump won the election. When Barack Obama was holding the gun, they didn't seem to mind so much. After all, they largely agreed with him. Since it was pointed at those loathsome heartland rednecks it was perfectly understandable that there should be only one set of rules for the whole nation- and that the central government should enforce those rules on the backwards hinterland whether the inhabitants liked it or not.

But it turns out there was a whole lot more folks in those backwoods than the tech gurus thought. Now Donald J. Trump is about to hold the gun, make the court appointments, and what have you. Suddenly, centralization doesn't seem so attractive. Now it occurs to them that maybe the entire continent wide nation of 320 million people should not be forced to adhere to the same rules about everything under the sun.

Silicon Valley tech guru (and CEO of Century 21 Bitcoin) Balaji Srinivasan had this to say:
“My Stanford network connects to Harvard and Beijing more than [California’s] Central Valley,” says Mr. Srinivasan. Eventually, he argues, “there will be a recognition that if we don’t have control of the nation state, we should reduce the nation state’s power over us.”
Silicon Valley gurus are talking about how they do not want to live under rules made by people they have nothing in common with. That is exactly the point that the heartland has made about the two coasts for some time. Both are right. Localism provides a framework by which we might all get along. 

If government is necessary, then we can either have a decentralized government or a centralized one. Right now we increasingly have a centralized one. Decisions for the whole nation are increasingly being made by the residents of one city. The nation itself is divided and every four years one side of the divide must live in terror because the other side wrests control of the gun away. Rather than endure this struggle which guarantees that half of our society will always be unhappy, why not let localities make the rules as they see fit, and make it a lot less important who the President is? 

Localism is for people who can sleep well at night even though people they don't know in a city they have never been to are doing things that they don't approve of. In other words, it is for mentally healthy people who are not controlled by the unattainable fantasy that someday the government in Washington is going to force everyone to live just the way they think people ought to live. Sadly, our society has been conditioned to make snap judgments based on emotional outrage on situations from afar where we hear only one side from a news report. Its not healthy, either for the individual or for the society since it produces an environment were demagogic strongmen can thrive for a while.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The New Silk Road Shows Loss of National Sovereignty Not Necessary for Trade

One of the tenants of localism is that nations should never enter into trade agreements in which compliance is adjudicated by some trans-national body. Lateral trade agreements, preferably bi-lateral, are the only type of agreement a national government should be constitutionally permitted to enter into in a localist society. That is to say, only agreements where each participant is a partner who determines for themselves when to enter or leave, and how to administer, said agreements.

The ruling class in the west have been pushing the idea that the inevitable way forward economically is to create supra-national trade zones which give binding authority to some sort of commission to adjudicate disputes as to when one nation or the other is abiding by its terms. This turns self-government into a farce, since any laws your legislature makes which run afoul of this un-elected commission of foreigners can be ruled null and void. This is not a condition which can honestly be called freedom.

There is a competing model though. It is one which is compatible with the ideas of localism, and thus true-self government and freedom. It has taken shape in the new Silk Road. It came together as a network, not a hierarchy. Every nations is participating in a voluntary manner to do something which benefits all of them- without the need for an extra-national body to enforce corporate rule. This Forbes article described it like this....
"There was no clear power structure, no defining architecture, no overarching legal regime. It wasn’t a trade pact, it wasn’t a treaty organization, and it wasn’t a customs zone. It was basically a loosely adjoined, multifaceted array of bilateral and multilateral partnerships interlinking the EU, the Eurasian Economic Union, Eastern Europe, the lower Caucasus states, Iran, and ASEAN with China that would be held together by a newly enhanced transportation and energy grid. It was just a network...." 
It is just a network. But a network is all you need if it is truly in the best interests of each participant in the network. The compulsory aspects of what is often today dishonestly called a "free trade zone" are only needed if pushback from the population of one or more participant nations can be expected. The way the west is conducting international trade is creeping toward global corporations hijacking national governments and using treaties as an end-run around self-government.

Don't let them tell you that such agreements are "necessary" or "inevitable". Another model has spontaneously emerged in the New Silk Road. Its not a new model either. It is simply the way trade has always happened until corporations got so big that they realized they could capture entire governments and pushed a contrived model of trade as part of that plan.

If you are opposed to corporate governance, then you should support the ideas in localism that would prevent it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

God Save Us from the Virtues of the New Civil Religion

"The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered…it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful."- G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy” (1908)

Chesterton was a giant, Even more so in insight than in stature. Though he wrote those words over a century ago, and we have largely transitioned from a modern to a post-modern world, they are still profoundly true today. Humanity does not just need to be saved from our sins, we need to be saved from our virtues. It is our out-of-balance virtues which allow us to self-justify the sins which spring from what our run-away virtues improperly de-emphasize. 

Some examples of these imbalanced virtues: It is good to follow scientific truth as such, but Social Darwinism gives a scientific veneer of truth for the idea that our upper class should forsake charity to our lower class. It is good to be a conscientious steward of the environment. But it becomes a flaw when the young can disregard the often difficult requirement to love their actual and flawed parents so long as they "love the planet." Regard for the feelings of someone whose sexuality is deviant is not wrong, its good. But not at the expense of truth. It becomes a snare if it prompts one to lash out in anger and hatred at people who speak the truth in love about what should be repented of rather than celebrated. 

Today's godless post-modern society is not immoral or without virtue. Rather, it is self-constructing its own false morality and its own contrived lists of sins and virtues to go along with it. The State, in partnership with big business and big religion, is building up a new civil religion which has its own code. This is why those of us who hold to the original Christian morality upon which Western Civilization was built don't understand the self-righteous certainty with which adherents of the new religion revile us. What we see as sin, they see as virtue. It is not that they are lacking virtue, it is that they have redefined virtue un-moored to underlying truth. In their view of things, traditionalists are the sinners. 

Men have gorged themselves with forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sustained by that fruit they have become "like God", determining for themselves what is good and what is evil. We can not settle the question of which of us is sinning until we answer the question of which of us is operating from a foundation of truth. The question is whether there is a God-ordained moral order to the universe which applies regardless of human desires or whether we can construct our own morality which is as valid as any can be. A morality built on the foundation of the feelings of collective humanity.

The church today cannot speak repentance to the youth because the youth are offended at the idea that they have done anything for which repentance needed. The state controlled media is providing them with a new works-based system of "righteousness". All they have to do is hold the correct viewpoints on whatever issues the popular culture is pushing at the moment and radiate indignation toward those who don't hold them. In the new civil religion that counts for "righteousness." Backed by mass media reassurances, so certain are they of the rightness of their cause that dialogue is weakness. Dissent is disease. Neither is something they are the least bit interested in, other than in shouting them down as a moral good.

But support for their view is not just a PR campaign. They can point to evidence that some things really are getting better. Violent crime is down. Robbery is down. Rape is down. Education is up. Life span is up. People with some kind of health care coverage is up. There is a lot of evidence they can point to which indicates that things are getting better. The new civil religion is, in their view, working. It is building a tomorrow which is better than the past build on the old morality. The new civil religion is "saving" collective mankind.

This is where I must go back to Chesterton. He said that vices are indeed let loose, and they cause damage. But the virtues wrongly applied can cause more damage. It may be that we are less rowdy than we once were, but more venal. Sin has not been eliminated, but rather society has become better at covering up the costs and harm of sin. Has prostitution and rape gone down? Yes, but its not because there is less sexual sin and aggression. We just have access to torrents of pornography now. Objectification of women in our lives may be less because we now have much more access to digital women objectifying themselves. So there is not less sin, but the costs of sin are deflected into areas where the harm is for a time less visible. This will continue to appear to work, until it doesn't.

In the same way, even while we have rejected a view of the poor as created in God's image we have created new ways to care for the poor which masks our growing lack of compassion. We have EBT cards now, so no one has to see soup lines as they did in the Great Depression, We have programs to deal with "those people" now. Just support the programs, and you can consider yourself "moral" even if you have no real affection for any of the real people "served" by them.

Those programs are not even being paid for by ourselves. Instead, we create debt which we pass to the next generation to fund these programs. So we feel no pain in giving. The cost of our "giving" is not felt by us. So things seem to get better, for a time. Someday though, our ability to fund welfare through government debt will vanish. Then we will see how compassionate people are when they actually have to pay for it rather than simply radiate self-righteous indignation at those who challenge the costs and the methods of these programs. Yet as with the other, it will continue to appear to work. Until it doesn't.

Once the professional thief had to go out and take risks to steal. He had to see that he was taking real stuff from real people who were hurt by the loss. The social welfare thief today is not forced to confront any of those risks, and the immorality of his actions is lost in abstraction. He is getting his check from "the government" and they seem to always have money. Or at worst, from "the rich" whom he never has to see as real individual people. Indeed, even if he were to meet a wealthy person in his community which he liked personally, he would not ever have to make the connection that this is who he is stealing from. Voting for the government to rob your neighbor "legally" is a lot less risky, and easier on the decayed conscience, than the old style of theft. It is no wonder the officially measured rates of "theft" have gone down. But this is not because greed, envy, or covetousness has decreased in the least amount. Those things may be worse than ever. But the form of modern society has covered and concealed those sins by interjecting itself between the sinful heart and those hurt by it.

Notice how in all of the examples above the actual condition of the human heart can grow worse while the outward behavior of the human has a less noticeable social impact. It does so because these "solutions" actually weaken our ties to each other and increases our connections to some abstract intermediary such as the state. So we bother each other less because we have less connection to each other, not because our hearts have been made better. Everything in the drive to separate sexuality from commitment and family to separating the generosity of the giver and the gratitude of the receiver does this. And this is not limited to those examples. I sense a repeating pattern in this regard. The new civil religion consistently isolates us from one another so that traditional sin is more effectively covered up rather than repudiated.

For a while, it is going to seem like they have succeeded. Succeeded in building a morality and religion without God. One that reduces outward misconduct compared to the past and produces wealth. But it is all being done on false accounting, even as the pillars of this faith are themselves built on falsehood. Rapidly advancing technology should make life better and produce economic gains. Those advantages are not the results of this new religion, but rather the new religion is garnering credit for momentum built up before it was ascendant.

In the same way the illusion of prosperity is maintained by writing a trillion dollars worth of hot checks on the accounts of the next generation- something past ages of people were less willing to do to the innocent. The present Masters of the World have not invented a system so perfect that no one needs to be good anymore. All they have done is found a way to hide for a time the outward costs of human evil. But the truth will out, and time will tell, what happens to souls and to societies, which are built on the shifting sand of collective consensus rather than the solid rock of transcendent moral truth.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

O Brother Where Art Thou?

The Steeple of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and the Gold Dome at the University of Notre Dame

I am a localist who is far from his locality. The hills of Arkansas with the Greater Appalachian culture of its people is home for this heart. Honest, direct, peaceful. And just as essential, beautiful on its own. Beautiful in a way which man can only accentuate. It is not a blank slate on which he is free to impose a beauty of his own making.

It is a great place to live, but it has not always been a great place to make a living. So I find myself  and my family spending most of our time these days on a medium-term project in the Toledo area. It has its own pluses, but they are polar opposite to the ones which I identify with. The whole area was built up on a miasmatic swamp. There is beauty and order here, but its human component is much greater. This difference in the land is reflected in the attitudes and character of its inhabitants. I am a sojourner.

I cannot quite remember how I first stumbled across The Front Porch Republic folks other than it was by way of the work of Bill Kaufman. At some point I had an interaction with James Matthew Wilson, an earnest young poetry professor at Villanova. Wilson strongly reminds me of my nephew Zachary Harrod, who as near as I can tell has the same job and function at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He suggested that I meet with Jefferey Polet. I traded a few emails with the latter, but we never got around to meeting. Still, here were people not that far from where I was who freely used the term "Localism". I had written two books with that word in the title, and its not a word one hears often. I was very curious as to what they had going on.

I forked over the $53 attendance fee to their annual conference to be held on the campus of Notre Dame, and sent a message asking about the expected dress. On receiving a reply emphasizing that comfort rather than formality was the general rule, I set out my jeans, t-shirt and sweat top. I then set the alarm for o-dark-thirty.  The next morning I made the drive from Toledo to Notre Dame.  With no time for breakfast, I stopped only to pay the execrable tolls. Even though I took I 90 all the way, I had to stop four times at toll booths. There is not a single toll booth in the entire state of Arkansas. Most Arkansans have only heard of toll roads in books about the Middle Ages.

Once at the campus I asked the attendant for directions, and made my way to a parking lot near Bond Hall. As soon as I got out of the car a pleasant woman about my age introduced herself and said that she was told by the attendant to follow me. On the short walk to the hall we discovered that she and I had lived in the same small Arkansas town for a few years in the 1990s. "Well, OK" I said to myself, "this may work out after all."

I checked in, putting my name on my name tag with large, friendly letters. Then I went to the auditorium. The nice lady was lost in the crowd. I decided that our connection was not substantial enough to seek her out and took a seat more towards the back. I did not know anyone there, but they all seemed nice enough. Clearly they had a different idea of what constituted casual dress than I did. Some habits were in evidence. Many wore jackets. Most wore slacks. There were a lot of jeans there, but few tee shirts. Mine was the only sweat-top I saw.

The first session had three speakers. The first gentleman spoke of shifting property (and other) taxes to land taxes.All land in an area would be taxed the same regardless of the amount of capital improvements put on it. I heard much derision of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders from the podium that day, but this seemed like an idea that both of them could love. Sanders for its seamless integration with the attenuation of property rights and Trump because his Trump Tower would be taxed in the same amount as the one story chocolate shop down the block. Plus, speculators will always find ways to game the decisions of central planners, and this idea needed regional authority to pull off. I thought it was the exact opposite of localism. The scope of his lesson was far too great for the time allotted, and his time ran out long before he reached its natural end.

The next speaker was a young lady. I had read some of her stuff on FPR and she is a talented writer. She was not however, a talented speaker. Her voice was soft, indistinct, and did not carry well. Her New York pace of speech was too rapid for my middle-aged southern ears to comprehend. I was able to make out about every other word, which was really not enough to follow what she was trying to say.

The last speaker of the panel was Elias Crim. He was more engaging. Not in a barn-stormer sort of way, but he was thoughtful and what he said made sense. It was a little short on specific solutions and conclusions, but he did describe why local economies were worth saving.

As we took the first break I was a little grim. Mingling with strangers in a crowd during short breaks is not my strong suit. I was hungry. I wasn't sure what to make of the presentations either. I decided to take a little walk around and  get a couple of photos of the more magnificent buildings on campus. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart and the Gold Dome were prime examples of "papist" architectural splendor. I had to admit that the Baptist churches back home looked like tin barns by comparison. On the rare occasions southern Pentecostals get enough money to build a fancy building, it often comes off looking garish and awkwardly colossal. But then all modern architecture seems to be in decline. Government buildings constructed in modern times can't hold a candle to some of the old court houses either. Its a part of the cultural decline that these people were talking about.

 It was time for the next session. I took a seat next to another stranger and settled in for the panel on "Populism and Place." OK, now this was more like it. The speakers were orders of magnitude better, in particular the aforementioned Bill Kaufman. Apparently it is a proverb among these people that you do not want to have to follow Bill Kaufman at the podium nor be introduced by Jason Peters at the podium.

As the day went on I realized that what I saw that morning  was not representative of the event as a whole. Rather it represented a problem that small-school football coaches were familiar with. A coach may have twenty-five players, but only eight or nine athletes. Regardless, there are eleven slots to fill. What we all do (I coached just a bit) is work in players who are not as developed where we think it will hurt us the least. A day-long conference needs a certain number of slots. They are almost to the point where they can put a natural "athlete" in every one of them.

The second panel consisted of Michael Federici, a dead-ringer for Bill Nye the Science Guy, who argued against populism and in favor of elitism; Bill Kaufman who elegantly and with good humor spoke in favor of populism, and Jeff Taylor (who Jason Peters claimed won the Elton John look alike contest) helped show the audience that populism was not really one thing, but that several strains of thought could be lumped under the heading "populist". Whether it was good or bad depended heavily on what one meant by the term. If Taylor had gone first instead of last it would have been easier to see how Federici and Kaufman were talking past each other vis-a-vis definition of the subject at hand. I could tell by the questions from the audience afterward that the I.Q. of this room was stratospheric.

This was a subject on which I had already thought long and hard and while the presentations sharpened my thinking it did not alter the substance of my previous opinion. If to be a populist was to believe that the voice of the people was the voice of God, then a faithful Christian cannot be a populist. But nor can one be an elitist, if that means substituting the voice of the "wise" or powerful for the people in the metric stated above. Neither group unfailingly speaks for God. Rather, God has spoken for Himself, and sometimes the Elites are furthest from His voice and sometimes the People are furthest. To make either group the standard is idolatry, but to have reflexive contempt for either group is to disdain their Maker as well.

The nature of man is such that class is no protection against sin nature. That is why we need both the elites and the people to serve as a check and balance on one another. This is just as certain as the idea that we need the branches and levels of government to check and balance one another. When the elites are closer to the heart of God, I am an elitist. When the hearts of the people are closer to God, I am a populist. Neither term should be considered a permanent identity, but as a permanently provisional label of convenience to reflect the belief that we follow those who follow Him. Our allegiance to these groups should shift as their relative acknowledgment of the truth and justice of God's law might change. As such, we should be the moderates on this issue. Also, the issue of local elites vs. national elites was barely touched on. I think at the stage we are in, it should be the focus of the debate.

Lunchtime came. I was famished. There were box lunches from Jimmie Johns stacked on the table. I took a #12, which comes two ways, in the hopes that they would have sprouts instead of lettuce. It had lettuce. The crowd had lunch on the steps outside on what was a glorious day of October weather for South Bend. I did not know who to sit with, and I did not want the refined and cultured catholic Yankees about me to be presented with the unsightly spectacle of my tearing into this big sandwich. I walked to my car and ate there. Then, with insulin levels properly reset, I went back to Bond Hall to listen to the Keynote Address.

The Keynote was by Patrick Deneen, but Jason Peter's side-splitting introduction was a tough act to follow in itself. Deneen made the case that modern liberalism is a failed ideology. He made the sell to me. But then I view all evil as ultimately self-defeating, because it makes war on some aspect of God's truth. Political theory is just a particular case of that broad principle. The ideology may be failed, but those who hold it still control the machinations of the state, including legal force even if that force has been denuded of its moral underpinnings. Meanwhile the left has been busy constructing an new morality, founded on ether, by which it might animate its more ignorant subjects into desired action against those of us whose faith in God has produced an unacceptable level of moral inflexibility.

That led us to Rod Dreher, he of "The Benedict Option." He is a former Catholic, and current Eastern Orthodox. In spite of some talk of the ecumenicism of the group, the whole thing seemed very Catholic to a southern protestant like me. I wondered if I were the only southern protestant in the room of 200-300 people. Back home, most people could not tell you the difference between an Eastern Orthodox church and a Roman Catholic church. The two would be sufficiently alike, and different from most of the rest of their religious experience, as to be lumped into the same category.

But if the ecumenicism of the room was a good deal narrower than my hosts imagined I lay the blame more at the attenuated intellectual condition of the Protestant Church than on any real or imagined error on their part. Protestant scholarship has suffered greatly by their running the machinery of the state for so long. They simply had the state house much of their intellectual institutions. When the protestant church lost that part of the culture, they consequently lost their scholarship too. What was left mostly retreated from the field with an unfortunate anti-intellectualism. The Catholics were never in a position to have the machinery of the state reflecting the nuance of their intellectual life. They had to preserve their own parallel institutions. In this respect there is a lot that the protestant church could learn from such a group, but I don't know that there is the interest. Satisfaction from hard thinking has given way to pursuit of good feeling. It grieves me to write those words.

Dreher spoke with grace, humility and sincerity. Dreher said it was time for Christians to admit that we had lost the culture war and we should give up on using the state to force outward conformity to a moral code which the population no longer adhered to. My wife has said much the same thing for years. He was somber in the certainty that increased persecution of the church is coming, and that we should prepare for it in every manner. He gave two historical examples of dealing with persecution in previous times- Czechoslovakia in the waning days of communism and of course the Benedictine monasteries during the decline of the Roman Empire. The focus was on preserving the essence of our western Christian culture through times which might otherwise destroy it.

After he finished his speech I finally got the nerve up to ask a question- my first and only of the day.. Since most members of the audience were asking high-brow questions full of nuance which assumed the listener understood the most tenuous of connections, I decided to be less blunt than my usual redneck self. I asked if he might be essentially "fighting the last war" in using the monastery model and wondered if the Czech experience might be more germane? After all, the Roman Empire had nothing against the monks. Roving barbarians were the problem, not the state. In the Czech model the failing state was the enemy. And in that case the resistance had to very quickly step into the public arena when the state's failure became obvious.

Dreher is too honest to claim that he has all of the answers, and he did not try to do so here. But he replied by way of giving an example of how the monasteries helped re-launch civilization by teaching the locals farming techniques, even in the face of roving bands of barbarians. Apparently to someone from religious traditions that have monasteries, the way you preserve cultural knowledge is to have monasteries. That is the way they did it in the past and so emulating them in principle is the way to do it going forward.

The Front Porch Republic tackles localism by answering the fundamental question of why we should preserve local cultures. It also gives us a good idea of what that means. What is to be preserved and why we should preserve it are the most seminal questions of localism. My area of interest, and expertise, is more derived. This is the question of how we might preserve what we preserve in localism. It has been said that the person who knows how will always work for the person who knows why. I accept the truth of that statement, but Dreher's presentation seemed to be the only answer they even considered to the question of how. It is the answer one might expect from their cultural viewpoint, but I am not convinced that its the right answer. Or rather I should say its only the middle part of the answer, which leaves the first and last parts without the great thought and discussion which had been given to other aspects of localism.

Our culture should be preserved not merely from wandering hordes of barbarians seeking easy plunder, but from an increasingly pitiless and totalitarian state which will brook no rivals or any universal truth claims by which the validity of its actions might be judged. They will not just be after our goods, they will be after the very culture which we wish to preserve. The great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu who wrote "The Art of War" said that to win battles we had to know ourselves and our enemy. The monastery model, as a stand-alone answer, does not take a proper account of who the enemy is and what their goals and capabilities are.

It does not fully account for our own capabilities either.  Yes I agree that we have lost the culture war and that we are going to have to face persecution. But Dr. Deneen was correct, liberalism and the leviathan state, is doomed to fail. There are other ideas about the state which can and have served mankind better. Those ideas too deserve preserving. The Republic has failed, but when we come out of the ashes we need to be able to tell whoever is left more than how to farm between barbarian raids. We need to be able to show them why it failed and what can be done next time to sustain a benign Republic. Since we agree the modern liberal state will fail, we should produce an alternative model to rebuild from. One which is based on an accurate view of who God is and who man is. One that takes into account the painful lessons learned from our history, and truly honors diversity as a pre-condition of freedom.

That is on the back-end. But I would also say that we need to talk a little more about the front end. That is, what if anything can we do before the darkness falls to lessen the severity of its impact? I agree that engaging in national politics at this point is a waste of valuable energy. I agree that engaging through the means of the utterly corrupt and captured major political parties is worse than useless, it is actually harmful to our cause. But can it really be that it won't matter in the coming storm who our sheriff is? Who our mayors are? Perhaps it will be that due to the vestiges of our federal system that the severity of the persecution might vary from state to state- as it did from province to province in the times of our Roman forebears.

There are other levels at which one can engage in public life besides the national. There are other offices at stake besides the Presidency. And if there are no worthy political parties available to participate in, perhaps we should have our own loose network of friends to promote moral candidates in local offices. People who would not owe their office to any national label, but to the people around them. When the courts of Rome became corrupt, our spiritual forebears did something similar- setting up their own parallel system of courts. In time even the unbelievers turned to the ecclesiastical courts for justice.

Jesus said "If they persecute you in one city, flee to the next." If we followed His command it would not be too long before there were critical masses of us in a number of cities. We cannot exclude the possibility that the monasteries should try to save the cities, and if they do so they might find that the cities will become instrumental in saving the monasteries. And when the season of darkness for this nation ends, as they all must end, the faithfulness we have shown in a small thing may help make us ready for faithfulness in larger things.

The last panel saw Wilson and Peters being joined by Andrew Balio. They did a fantastic job of answering the what and why of localism in the fields of poetry, music, and vocation. We have values that are real and true, even if temporarily out of vogue. We have beauty, which the post-modern state wishes to replace with ashes. Only our view of the world can produce beauty in the liberal arts and satisfaction and belonging in the utilitarian arts. Those are among the whats that we should sacrifice to preserve and some whys we should preserve them. This is what FPR does so well. I recognize the pre-eminence of that mission over the part of the equation where my own primary interests lie. Perhaps their part in this question is not the same as my part. It does not make either of us wrong. It does make both of us incomplete, but I knew that of myself before I hit the first toll booth.

On my way out the door I noticed boxes of cookies, untouched. "Take them please" said a young blond lady who had been assisting with the event. I grabbed three cookies, one for each child I had given up a Saturday with in order to attend the event. Then I walked back out to my car and began the lonely ride back to not-home.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mass Murders and the Central State


I see that CNN is touting a poll showing support for new national restrictions on firearms. This is not surprising considering the large amount of publicity recent mass shootings have been given. Each one of them is a tragedy, and I grieve not just for the victims, but that we are being shaped into the kind of society in which such senseless violence is manifesting itself. While over-all murder rates have reached a 30 year low, the perception is that mass shootings by mentally unstable people are on the increase.

The largest mass-killings of civilians in historical terms have been perpetrated not by any particular type of private citizen, but by government itself.  If you have any doubt at all about what central governments with a monopoly on firepower tend to do to their own people then have a look at the figures from R.J. Rummel who wrote the book "Death by Government." Or I will save you the trouble- governments with a monopoly on firepower have a very strong tendency to butcher large segments of their own populations. The 20th century is known for its exceptionally bloody wars, but governments in that same time span actually murdered six times as many of their own citizens as were killed in war. 

If civilian mass shootings are in fact higher than they were previously, and we wish to reduce them to at or below their previous levels, then the sensible thing to do is to find out what changes caused them to increase. That way, we at least have a valid idea of what to correct. This would allow us to construct effective policies to reduce mass shootings instead of imposing ineffective policies as a reflex response just so we can feel better about "doing something". Such emotion-driven non-solutions may have ghastly unintended consequence later. 

Up until the 1960s, mass shootings were very rare and when they occurred they tended to be a deranged family member attacking other members of their own family. Going to a public place and murdering people that were either strangers or that you did not know well was unusual. The increase in mass shootings that we see is due to an increase in attacks on the larger society.

I think it is pretty clear that unstable people lash out at what they feel has let them down or what they are uncomfortable with. If they feel alienated by their family when their expectation is acceptance and support, then they lash out at their family. If they feel alienated in their society, especially when that society makes a large outward show of accepting and tolerating almost everybody, then they lash out at society. 

For some time now the ruling elites in the west have been imposing policies on their populations which virtually guarantee there will be an increase in resentment and alienation among the various sub-groups in our society. Policies which undermine family, faith, and community reduce our ties to one another. At the same time that the state has been pushing policies which reduce our ties to each other it has supported programs which increase our ties to itself. This has resulted in a nation full of people who feel alienated, isolated, and unconnected. Man does not live by government social guarantees alone. A large proportion of the mass shooters are either people whose families are recent immigrants from alien cultures or from sub-cultures which have been most alienated from society by government programs which replace traditional families with a case-worker and a government check. 

Access to guns is not what has changed. Americans have had access to guns for a long time. We have had semi-automatic handguns since at least 1911. We had "assault rifles" in the 1950s. And if our weapons then lacked some features available to us today then understand that last week in France an individual fitting the profile I described killed scores of people with a truck. Yesterday in Japan, a man with a knife murdered 19 people and wounded at least that many. In 1966 Charles Whitman murdered 14 people and wounded 32 others, mostly with a bolt-action rifle. And he would have killed many more people if armed civilians had not assisted police with covering fire, forcing him to retreat to positions which limited his own field of fire.

Access to guns is not what has changed in society. Nor are guns necessary in order to kill or maim large numbers of people. What has changed is our sense of connection to one another. Consider the weakening of these connections as the (possibly) unintended consequence of government programs which replace family and community with central state mediation. Consider also the (possibly) unintended consequences of subsidizing day care at the expense of children who are raised in their own homes by their own families. Further consider the cheapening of life and family through state-subsidized abortion, and divorce laws which discourage marriage but not co-habitation. Consider the lessening of connection when community schools become federally-directed schools. 

Consider the (possibly) unintended consequences of a society which is forced by the ruling class to absorb waves of people from cultures whose mores are sharply contrasting with our own. This is also isolating and tension-creating. It has created pockets of alienated sub-groups within immigrant communities and simmering resentment in the formerly dominant culture. Different groups of people can have very different ways of looking at the world. Perhaps throwing these different groups together at a high rate of speed and attempting to dictate from the top what the population's attitudes and values to such cultural interaction should be is a bad idea- unless one is cultivating a "divide and conqueror" strategy in which government creates its own market for mediation services between hostile groups.

I have not even touched on the over-prescription of powerful 
psychotropic drugs. Many of the mass shooters were on such drugs which masked rather than treated underlying problems of social deficits in their lives. Indeed, the long term effect of such drugs is to make the problem worse since the state of mind produced by many of them is not conducive to making and building new social connections. Young people can walk around in a "zoned-out" mental state for years only to wake up and realize they have no true friends, and a dysfunctional family. They feel no connection to a society which has done nothing for them but drug them so that they won't be "a problem" for the authorities.

Firearms are not the problem and more central government mandates concerning the ownership of firearms are not going to solve the problem. The problem is a loss of family, community and connection.  This precipitates a commensurate increase in isolation, alienation, and hostility. Firearms are simply the tools by which a few individuals pushed past the edge sometimes manifest the true problem. Were they not as readily available, other tools, perhaps deadlier tools, would be sought out. 

Federal government policy has done nothing to address the real problem, other than make it worse. They have undermined families, communities, and other institutions such as churches. Government policies have systematically reduced the effectiveness of all competitive institutions in favor of strengthening its own hands. Reckless immigration policies have increased people's anxiety while the centrally mandated politically correct attitudes which they have attempted to impose from the top down are driving people apart instead making space for the natural process of their coming together over time. 

Because the true nature of the problem is an artifact of the central government's policies, the solution cannot be found by that government taking up more authority for itself. By its very nature, a vast central government cannot provide connection, community, and family. It can only undermine them or not undermine them. It has chosen to undermine them, and as a result individuals on the fringe of various sub-groups are lashing out at the culture they feel has not provided them what every human being needs.

Therefore the solution to this problem must be that the governments which have been creating the conditions which precipitate mass murder should change their policies and quit creating those conditions. Repeal laws which substitute government in place of family, in place of community, and in place of faith. Stop deliberately throwing together groups of people who do not wish to be around each other and demanding that they express the "proper" attitude for one another. Allow quarrels to be resolved at a lower level rather than Washington- even if Washington does not always like the resolution. Stop trying to do so much and stop trying to prevent others from doing it instead.

Unfortunately there is no serious possibility that the central government will do this any time soon. The negative societal consequences of central control and supplanting of other institutions will be suppressed by yet more controls and rules and policies which will result in yet more tension, isolation, and eventually lashing out. I fear they will even violate the principle of the Rule of Law and impose even more restrictions which are beyond their legitimate constitutional powers to impose. While they may manufacture a temporary fake political approval of their actions, in the long run when government and those at the highest rungs of it are clearly acting above their own laws it only fosters more resentment and anger. When it comes to building a stable society, suppression is no substitute for justice.