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What Caused the Progressive Plague? February 14, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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When we look back at the ravages of a plague that has swept through a region or even a continent, it is many a person’s impulse to, once the dust has settled, do a little detective work and ascertain its origin.   Where did it begin?  What was its root cause?  What was the impetus that caused it to spread across an area so relatively quickly, leaving havoc in its wake?

George Will succinctly observed that for there to be an epidemic, one needs two things; a microbe, and an enabling social context.  For example, the enabling social context for the infamous Black Plague of the 14th Century was increased international trade.  The bacteria causing the deadly disease were found in the saliva of fleas laced with rodent blood.  They hitchhiked on the rats (or, gerbils, as a recent scientific study suggests) as whole colonies of them moved westward through Asia along with merchants traveling along the Silk Road, eventually reaching the ports at Crimea.  The rats wasted no time climbing the mooring ropes of merchant ships bound for ports in Europe, and the rest, as they say was history.  If one were to view a map of the number of dead per square mile (or kilometer) in Europe, it becomes clear that Italy, with its bevy of Mediterranean ports, was the hardest-hit area of Europe during the time of the Black Death almost 700 years ago.

 While media hype may have overblown the occasional Ebola outbreak in west Africa, nothing like the Black Plague has ravaged society like it did Europe so long ago.

 That said, another infectious plague, this time of the ideological persuasion, has been ravaging America for the past century:  that of Progressivism.  But what caused its spread at the outset of the Twentieth Century?  Sure, the microbe of the authoritarian ideology had germinated amongst some of the intelligentsia during the last couple of decades of the 19th Century (e.g, John Dewey and his idea that we should be “free” from poverty).  At that same time, Woodrow Wilson found out how to rationalize his knowing what was best for his fellow man.   He did so while studying for his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University, a school that imported the collectivist, bureaucratic German thinking of the age in the attempt to infect the American-nurtured concept of a freeborn citizenry.

 But while the ideological microbe had grown into a potent colony of cells by the 1900s, what was the social context that unleashed its destruction?  Blame the progress of that time, indirectly.  Joel Mokyr of the Manhattan Institute explains the context.  The hallmark of the 20th Century, he says, in terms of human progress, was large-scale technology.  Some examples include:  massive shipping containers; manned spacecraft (or just communication satellites) launched into space on huge rockets; oil-drilling platforms; massive power stations; steel mills and car assembly plants that take up many acres, not to mention huge airplanes (from Howard Hughes’ Hercules to the recently-retired Boeing 747).

 While these are familiar sights today, a century ago, such large-scale things would be absolutely awe-inspiring.  At that time, titans of industry were opening up production facilities at scales undreamed of then.  For example, Henry Ford opened up his Highland Park plant in 1910, and implemented the first auto assembly line there four years later.  By 1917, Ford already started building his even-larger Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich.  The size of this plant is mind-boggling even by today’s standards, what with its covering 960 acres (that is one-and-a-half square miles), and had 100 miles of internal railroad track.  At its peak, 100,000 men earned their livings in that gargantuan facility.

 At the same time, giant steel mills sprang up along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, and even more so along the Allegheny and Monongahela of Pittsburgh.  As political scientist Michael Barone speculated, these had to have been breathtaking to people in the 1910s, since most of those folks grew up on farms where the tallest structure they had ever seen was the steeple of their local town’s church.

 Also during this time, immigrants came to America through New York harbor.  They travelled on ocean liners that were the largest ever built, and once in the Big Apple, they witnessed skyscrapers continuing to arise, one higher than the other.  Some of them held offices for the titan industrialists and financiers, like that of John D. Rockefeller at 26 Broadway and J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street.  Behind them was the 60-story Woolworth Building, which was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1913, and would maintain that distinction until the Chrysler Building was built in 1930

All this was amazing progress by the standards of any age, before or after.  But it came with a major side effect.  “Large” technology had the tendency to encourage large bureaucracies and large government.  To be sure, you needed this sort of large, military-style bureaucracy and centralized control in the private sector to manage those 100,000 workers at Ford’s factory complex in Dearborn, and eventually, to manage the big unions that grew with it and other plants.

It thus became an easy sell to the voting public that that with so much wealth and such gigantic means of production concentrated in the hands of so relatively few, that both (a bigger) government and (growing) labor unions should be a counterweight of power in society, lest we somehow become a Plutocracy (or so the Progressive narrative went as part of their sales pitch to the people).

Of course, that was 100 years ago:  this is now.  And now, the potentially new American Century is defined by small-scale technology.  Television is a good example:  they used to take up whole consoles in a living room.  Now, you can watch network and cable TV shows alike on your portable, lightweight smartphone on demand.  Henry Ford’s plants were an icon of that industrial age, while the smartphone is an icon of ours.

Another contrast between the ages, technologically-speaking, is the military.  Large technology begat large armies, as is evident in both World Wars.  Historian Niall Ferguson estimates that total casualties of the First World War alone to be about 9.5 million deaths and 15 million wounded.  Almost three decades later, military tactics evolved along with the technology.  Gone were the Napoleonic approaches of trench warfare; in was General Patton’s mechanized warfare doctrine, which, according to military historian Robert Shales, culminated in the march to Baghdad in 2003.  But the enemies adapted, and the mass armies that were of Patton’s time have given way to special operations forces who are more adept at dealing with asymmetrical warfare.

The reason that large-scale technology became the breeding ground for Progressivism to infect the public like the Plagues of yore was that it required the standardization of masses of people; it required centralized command-and-control, along with conformity to social norms (the latter of which might ironically appeal to social conservatives today, contingent on the social benefit of said norms).

Yet it is “small” technology of the current day and age that enables more individuals to make individual choices, to fashion our world in our own dimensions, and to apply our talents and pursue interests in ways that we choose.  In short, what has happened over the past 100 years, at least in terms of options in the market, is that standardization has given way to customization.

The B. Hussein Obama Progressives of today do not understand this at all.  They – the President included – see history as a progress from minimal government to ever-larger, ever-growing government.  This is only logical, since government is the false god they worship.  Indeed, such religious zeal blinds Progressives to the fact that history does not proceed in a straight line.  One only needs to see the decline of Rome, and the technological and economic stagnation of the Dark Ages that succeeded it, to understand this fact.

More to the point, that fact is on display today.  The Progessives’ religious fixation on big government has thus led to a major disconnect in our society.  Sure, it was an easy sell to the public 100 years ago given the afore-explained context of large-scale technology.  But the “small” technology of today requires a different approach; that is, more adaptability and responsiveness to constituents.  One does not get that from the bloated bureaucracies of a big government that is a disastrous holdover from yesteryear.

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Looking Forward, Not Backward, through Conservatism November 6, 2015

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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Ronald_Reagan1The essence of conservatism, in general (i.e., not through any particular nationalist lens) is defending the existing order of things.  Thus, conservatism means different things in different countries, depending on what is, or was until recently, the status quo.  In Russia or China, for example, being conservative means that you are a communist, and have disdain for the new order brought on my free[er] markets in those respective countries.  Same goes for the countries in the Balkans, where some people still, oddly, long for the days of communist rule because it guaranteed them some sort of employment.  Perhaps when one has been a serf for more than a millennium, one tends to be quick to sell off one’s birthright for even the most meager messes of pottage.

But in any case, the American version of conservatism is to defend that which you already have, that being, individual liberty and a free market, both defended by a limited government.  Indeed, the citizens of the original Thirteen Colonies already had this in the 18th Century, and was not until after the French and Indian War concluded in 1763 did the British have the bright idea to arbitrarily mess with this good thing the colonists in North America already had going at that time.  For example, the standard of living in the American colonies was already higher in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.  Therein lies a key thing to remember, that the colonists did not separate from Great Britain and risk blood and treasure in so doing to create something radically new, but to defend that which they already had.

The same impulse in this shared ideology continues strongly today, as well it should.  After all, Thomas Jefferson famously reminded us in all times to come that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.  The only problem is, electorally, it can sometimes be a double-edge sword.

Two recent examples are the redefinition of marriage and Obamacare.  Those who care for long-held traditions that have been established over millennia, and established for good reasons born out of experience through the ages, have been understandably dismayed at the development of five Supreme Court judges arbitrarily changing that sacred definition.  To suggest that marriage should be redefined as being legitimate if it is between two men or two women instead of the traditional definition of one man, and one woman, shows incredible arrogance in that this generation is wiser than all the collective wisdom of all of our forbearers.  Such a thinking is reckless for the present and outright destructive for the future.

Moreover, Obamacare has caused far more problems than it solved.  Yes, it allowed previously uninsurable people access to health insurance, but it has come at considerable cost.  Everybody’s insurance premiums have skyrocketed on account of this Orwellian-named Affordable Care Act.  One family can pay as much as $20,000 a year, and if you do not buy the insurance, you pay a fine (albeit much less than the aforementioned gouging).  This Act, which is considered to be Obama’s greatest achievement, gives many people the perverse economic incentive to pay the fine.

For those of us who were happy with the insurance we already had, we ended up losing some of our doctors on account of sudden changes in insurance networks, but our premiums continue to go up and up, not only on account of having to insure the expensively uninsurable, but, more to the point, having to pay for “options” we do not even want.  Why should men, for example, be forced to pay for an insurance policy that offers birth control?  Why should all of us, man or woman, we force to pay for a policy that provides for acupuncture?

So what to do?  The impulse to defend can misguide us to often look back.  But to be electorally viable, we must look forward.  Young people especially are not concerned with some supposedly idyllic past.  Even the recent past of Clinton and (eventually) Obama in the White House is certainly no past destination to return.  Moreover, it has been almost 27 years since the late, great, Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Conservatism’s strength comes in two major dimensions:  its practicality, and its optimism.  For this piece, let us focus on the latter as a winning tool to win elections and to create a winning vision moving forward.

Start with marriage.  The institution of marriage has been the central unit of society since before recorded history (which started around 3500 BC, fyi).  It has proven, over the course of centuries and millennia, to be the cornerstone of solid, functioning families, which themselves are vital to a well-functioning society.  Within the institution of marriage, it has proven over the same immense span of time that the institution functions best when it is comprised of one man and one woman.  The reason is twofold:  for one, it takes a man and a woman to be able to get together so as to procreate.  For another, the partnership of a man and a woman is mutually beneficial to both sexes, as such a union helps both mates help curb the excesses sewn into the nature of both sexes.  Most importantly, the central reason for marriage is for the successful raising of children, so that society’s values and culture can be as successfully passed on through a married couple’s children. The different kinds of love that originates from father and mother respectively help put children in the best possible positions to be well-adjusted, productive members of society.  Family break-down hinders both the successful raising of children, and consequently it creates defective, instead of functional, cultures.  Just look at the high illegitimacy rates in the black-dominated inner city neighborhoods; such high out-of-wedlock birthrates, combined with an alarmingly high rate of absent fathers negatively affect those children’s lives.  Such family break-down those leads to the forming of bad-warped values that leads to high crime and poverty rates.

The solution?  As conservatives, we must not try to fight increasingly old battles about same-sex marriage, but rather work to strengthen traditional marriage, especially within the context of how it best benefits children in particular and families in general.  Fighting old battles is a losing proposition.  Looking forward is a winning one.

Concerning Obamacare, instead of fighting to repeal it, let us concentrate our energies to move forward by way of reforming it.  By doing so, we conservatives can seize an even greater macro opportunity by positioning ourselves as people who stand for reform in general.  Big government has proven not to work time and again, especially in an age where most companies are becoming less bureaucratic and more nimble, and technology gives us more options than ever before.  We are therefore perfectly positioned to fight to reform government by making it more streamlined, less bloated and rigid, and allow people more options.

Obamacare is a perfect place to start.  Its central problem?  In classic, big-government fashion, it is a one-size-fits-all model, and thus allows for no options.  We cannot decide what we want on our policy and what we do not want.  Government dictates what we must buy for our policies, even if it is too expensive for most discerning buyers.  If we do not like it?  Tough.  Why not allow for people to decide for themselves what they want to buy and what they do not want based on what they can afford and what they actually need?  Again, as conservatives, we are in the perfect position to offer reform policies in government that would thus allow for people to have these common sense options.  Doing so would be perfectly in line with government upholding liberty (a conservative tenet) by allowing for such common sense solutions-as-options.

Defending that which we have (our families and liberties) does not mean we must always look backward, either.  Being conservative does not, nor should it automatically equate to being reactionary.  Part of being a conservative is being practical:  that is to stay, understanding what works and what does not work, and to act accordingly.  The Constitution, for example, might not be a perfect document, but it certainly is a practical one, and has proven to be for more than two centuries and counting.  Moreover, the human being as an organism is goal-oriented in its very nature.  Such a nature was conveniently overlooked by Karl Marx, who, along with Friederich Engels, had his head in the clouds about an unattainable ideal of economic equality.  It never works because it ignores this central tenet to human nature.

But more to the point, being goal-oriented means that one instinctively looks to the future, since therein lies the goal that the individual wishes to attain.  Our Constitution was constructed on the idea to create the best possible system of government and economics within the confines of human nature.  Why not therefore use this conservative tendency constructively in the same way?

Therefore, look forward and sell the voting public on why conservative principles of a free market will create a better economic system now and in the future for people of all walks of life.  On the social side of the equation, we must, as cooperative individuals, work to strengthen traditional marriage.  Politically, we must dismantle policies that give perverse incentives for families to disintegrate so as to cut off what is in effect the funding of inter-generational social problems in the inner city and elsewhere.

Back to the free market side of things, we must look forward to a freer economy that creates better opportunities for people of all walks of life – including those in the inner city – by scaling back and streaming regulations so that people addicted to welfare who are otherwise able-bodied will have ample opportunity to act on another conservative tenet, that of self-reliance.  Looking at it another way, as a purely pragmatic way of looking at things, young people of today are becoming an increasingly large portion of the electorate, and their sole focus is looking forward, not looking back to try to recapture the past.

The genius to the central messages of Ronald Reagan was that conservatism works just as well in modern times as it did when America was founded in the late 18th Century.  Reagan was always optimistic about the future because he recognized that, as long as these same principles were headed now and in the future, things will continue to work well.

Though it was been more than three decades since Reagan was re-elected in an historic landslide, our best political solution as conservatives is to take the same approach and look forward with winning, practical policies that promise, and invariably deliver, a better future.

The Opinion Index, 11-17-12 November 17, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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Let us be as blunt as we can:  Obama may have won re-election, but he certainly did not win a mandate.  Not with lower voter turnout overall than in 2008, and even less so with winning fewer votes 10 days ago than he won 4 years ago.  What many should ask is, how did he win?  Well, leave it to Michael Medved to expose the dirty little secret of Obama’s campaign victory:  going negative early and often.

Think about it:  negative campaigning does not succeed by turning off either side of the base against you.  It wins by turning off independents from even showing up at the voting booth.  Medved is not the only fellow to figure this out, either.  The ever-astute Michael Barone came to the same conclusion in his piece published this past Monday.  Obama was very good at turning out his base, and repelled enough independents (whom Romney carried by six points) from even voting.  Such behavior certainly does nothing at all to reassure so many people jaded about politics in general.

Does this mean that all you have to do is go negative early and often, and in so doing, you will be bulletproof?  Not necessarily.  For the longest time in the campaign, Romney was unable to counter all the negativity in key swing states because campaign finance laws prohibited him from using key funds to do just that until after he was officially nominated.  That did not happen until the convention — in August.  By then, in hindsight, the die was cast, or so it seems.  Karl Rove has reportedly offered an obvious solution:  have the national convention earlier in the campaign season so one can access the funds earlier and more effectively counter the negativity.  Makes sense to me!

Oh, and we forgot to tell you, Obama supporters:  it does not matter who the president is, or how great (or not) he turned out to be.  One ironclad rule of American politics is that a president’s second term is ALWAYS worse than his first.  Always.  That rule even applied to George Washington, arguably the greatest of all the presidents, as well as the first, who set the standard for all to follow.  Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of this very pertinent rule.

Something else that is quite curious is the coattail effect of Obama’s campaign, or in this case, the lack thereof.  For the president himself, his re-election mirrored the 2004 presidential campaign in which the incumbent triumphed in a close, hard-fought race.  But Michael Barone has noticed that the further one goes down the ticket, the more this election mirrors, oddly the enough, the 2010 election — in favor of the GOP, no less!  Basically, Obama excels at winning elections, but he does so without helping anybody else win theirs.

Meanwhile, this cannot be reiterated enough:  one thing the Republicans have going for them is a super-talented bench that is very, very deep.  One member of that bench is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.  He has sounded a clarion call for the party to start expanding its base.  It can start, so he says, by “stop being the stupid party.”  This and other insights will make Jindal someone to observe in the coming months and years.