October 2009 - Posts
A short blurb in today's (10/27/09) Wall Street Journal stated that home prices rose in most major American cities in August. This is cited as evidence of a recovering economy. But what does this mean and is it something we really want?
Perhaps you've noticed that prices at the pump are going up. Since this indicates demand for fuel has increased it is also touted as another 'sign' that the economy is rebounding. So, we have rising home prices and rising energy costs. Traditionally these indicators lead everything else which means we'll be seeing rising costs across the board. And this means the economy is rebounding?
I'll be the first to admit that once again, my raise at my job was an embarrassing joke. And even though it is called a 'merit' raise, my supervisor apologized and tried to make everything better by informing me that due to deflation the cost of living is actually lower than it was last year. Sorry, but, wrong. I'll bet than I'm not alone in what is obviously a long term era of wage stagnation.
So, we have costs going up as a sign of a reviving economy while wages are flat since the cost of living has gone down. And while I'm supposed to be happy that the economy is recovering, to tell you the truth, I hope it doesn't. If the only fallout from an improving economy is rising prices, since this has already been predicted to be a jobless recovery - whatever that means - then I don't think I want a better economy. In fact, I can't see that an improving economy helps anybody except the people who already have most of the money. Sure, the wealthy complain that they pay 90% of the taxes, but they seem to forget that they control 90% of the money.
I think it's time for the world, and especially America, to rethink what we mean by a growing economy. If it means forever escalating prices and flat wages then it isn't really helping anyone. At the same time, government mandated market controls and other draconian measures, that have been experimented with at length in various countries, always lead to disaster. So what can we do?
The US economy is driven by consumerism, which is why the Bush/Obama bailout is doomed to fail. It doesn't address the underlying flaw in the American economy. A flaw which is based on neither our government nor our economic system. It isn't even related to our political system - though both parties tend to make it worse in their own way. Indeed, the fatal flaw in the US economy derives from a growing problem in our society. As long as people determine the value of another person based on purely material criteria our economy will continue to sputter. And you see it everywhere.
The beautiful woman is able to rise to economic security faster and more assuedly than the unattractive woman either through marriage or preferential promotion. The wealthy man progresses more quickly up the ladder as a result of his houses, cars, and golf clubs. The children of wealthy parents secure coveted spots on sporting teams. Attractive babies get smiled at more often. Wealthy children get selected for better schools and colleges. None of this is a secret which is why the beauty products business is so ubiquituous, parents engage in unethical behavior to secure preferential treatment for their children, and people will lie, cheat, steal, and do anything, to win. While I'm not so foolish as to believe that people haven't been doing this since the dawn of time, I do know for a fact that the depth to which it penetrates society varies enormously.
For 200 years America's trump card was Christianity. But not because God was biasing world events in our favor. It was because the Christian behaviors of moderation, charity, mercy, honesty, self-sacrifice, and tolerance - the classic virtues - greatly favor the performance of an economy simply because they smooth the interaction between people. It makes for good business. God doesn't even have to exist for this to be true if enough people believe it. Indeed, these are the same reasons that any culture rises to prominence - and there have been many non-Christian cultures that have shone brightly. And despite the negative view Christianity has taken of these cultures, from Ancient Egypt to Rome, it was these very virtues that worked in their favor.
But as the prevelance of these behaviors begins to fall in the general population it begins to impact the economy. At first it isn't noticeable, which but encourages more people to abandon virtue in favor expediance. This is called the slippery slope. Once you start down that path it is very difficult to climb back up. In fact, history shows that it is impossible. At some point, as more and more people abandon virtue in favor of hedonism, especially those who control the wealth, society will collapse and the economy will follow. It might not happen over night, but it will happen. I think this is where we are in America today.
Do we want the economy to recover? Who does it benefit? Answer these questions for yourself and you may see that the slippery slope isn't a slippery slope anymore but a cliff. The edge draws near. What choices will you make today?
In his article in The Observer on October 4th, Paul Harris asks the question, "Will California Become America's First Failed State?" Governor Schwarzenegger's specious California Vacation commercials notwithstanding, this is a question that needs asking. Indeed, in a scene reminescent of the post-Soviet collapse in Russia, the California state government was paying its employees in IOUs this summer and unemployment is over 12% - the highest in 70 years. (Do grocery stores take IOUs?) Regardless the situation is dire and one wonders how much Federal Stimulus money will go to prop up that teetering socialist state?
California, among its many socialist programs, has a health care program called Healthy Families that is intended to provide medical care for millions of the state's poorest residents. Over the years people have become dependent on this program. And why should they not? People tend to form dependencies on free services very quickly. The danger is when these free services fail. At present Healthy Families is failing due to the drop in tax revenue resulting from the recession. A recent scene at the Inglewood Forum near downtown Los Angeles, recounted in Harris' article, sounds more like a UN aid mission to Somalia than something happening in an American city. A travelling medical and dental clinic had set up shop outside the forum that promised free services to the first 1,000 people. The line stared forming at 1:00 AM and before the clinic had opened there were far more people in line than could be treated. Some had travelled hours to attend only to be turned away. Those who had become dependent on the state were being treated by volunteer workers. Americans used to travel to foreign countries to do this. Now we're doing it here.
This is the danger of socialist programs: It can not be assumed that tax revenues are going to be constant or that the economy is always going to grow. At some point the economy is going to contract and where does that leave the socialist programs? Introduction of a socialist medical system, even if it is a competing system and doesn't take over the private system, will spell disaster if not for everyone, then at least for those who grow dependent on it.
Consider the recent economic woes that have swept the nation - indeed, the world. To 'save' the global monetary system U.S. tax payers are forking over $750,000,000,000. Actually I should say, will be forking over $750,000,000,000 because the money is borrowed. And since jobs have dried up, the business sector has shrunk, and investment is down, the tax rolls are down, too. Way down. This is the problem in California and is why they can't pay for their socialist medical care program and people are resorting to volunteer run clinics. If we institute a socialist health care system at a national scale the same thing will eventually happen on a national scale. And when it does, not if - when it does, the non-existent private medical care industry won't be there to fill in with volunteer workers. Not to mention that the economy is down right now and talk of a HUGE new program is irresponsible at best and simply ludicrous at worst. It is tantamount to signing a contract for an expensive new gym membership when you just received word you're being laid off.
Before we adopt a socialist health care system, even if it isn't single payer, we had better look at California and ask what we're going to do the next time the economy shrinks. Except the next time it won't be just the monetary system or the mortgage industry that fails, you can pile health care on top of that. (Note: the health care system WAS NOT affected by this latest recession.) And it won't be tens of thousands as in California. It will be tens of millions. That's a lot of people angry at broken promises that should have never been made. It is simply amazing that Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both senators from California, are both such strong proponents for a national system when they are from a state where the system is failing. Are we simply going to borrow more to pay for it like California will have to do?
Will we borrow over $1,000,000,000,000 next time? How many zeroes are too many? How much of our progeny's future do we want to bargain away to feed the poor's insatiable, self-indulgent appetite for warmth and a full belly? This isn't a conservative or liberal question. It's a question asked by anyone who understands the danger of having more cash going out than you have coming in. Asked by anyone in an underpowered airplane or an overloaded ship. Asked by anyone who can't find enough food to replace the day's calories. It is a question ignored only by lemmings who will run any direction they are herded until they hurtle over a cliff and into the sea. Watch the film White Wilderness. Once those lemmings go over the cliff it's too late. See them try to scurry back up the slope? They can't and fall to their death. The narrator sounds really nice but he's the very guy driving them over the edge. And he got an Academy Award for it! I'm not a lemming. You're not a lemming. Anyone who doesn't want to go out and get a job like you and me doesn't deserve health care, much less FREE health care. Or free internet. Or a free cell phone. What kind of a nut is coming up with these ideas?
So Rush Limbaugh wants to own an NFL football team, huh? He does seem to know alot about, and have a true love for, the sport. Funny how things a person says years ago can come back from the past to haunt them later in life. Sort of like what this blog will do to my writing aspirations if ever I get the attentions of a gatekeeper (i.e., agent or editor). But for now my anonymity is doing a great job of keeping me, well, anonymous.
In reality I don't think Rush is a racist. If he were, he wouldn't make such seemingly racist comments. No, I think in this case he is a victim of his own self-honesty - at least on that subject. Then again, that Donovan McNabb comment was pretty stupid and he should have known better.
Regardless, it seems his bid for partial ownership of the St. Louis Rams has met with an untimely end in what he says is a vicious smear campaign bent on destroying conservatism. While Al Sharpton and his many detractors are definitely not conservatives, I think Rush's perception of who is destroying conservatism is skewed. Though he is right, conservatism is on the decline.
Even if the talking heads on the left are trying to destroy conservatism that sort of assault is generally ineffective. It is tantamount to Americans trying to convert Al Qaeda. Conservatives simply don't repond to those kinds of attacks. Just like Liberals don't respond to attacks from the right. In general, either camp, when under assault from the other, tends to circle the wagons. And in many cases, attacks from the opposition strengthen the base. The problem with conservatism isn't the attacks from the outside, the problem is what's happening inside the wagon-circle.
Every successful movement goes through a series of stages. There is the genesis when the group's founders carve a niche for themselves and begin attracting followers. It is their energy and the truthfulness of their message (in the ears of the converts) that builds momentum by attracting true believers. In most cases the group's founders not only preach the message, but live it as well. They become icons and examples of the ideologies they champion.
The second stage can be broadly categorized as growth. In this segment the group gains additional members not only from the truth of the message but from the appeal of a successful group. Except during this stage one begins to see that new members are less and less true believers, but simply people who want to be part of something that matters. In this stage you'll find people from the opposition flocking to the new movement like lemmings. Especially if the opposition is already in the third stage - corruption.
Success of a movement always breeds corruption because in addition to attracting true believers, success always attracts followers who have no interest in the core ideology. They just want to be in charge. It is these people who usually become the second generation of leaders. Because they have no stake in the ideology they are more free to move fluidly and are nearly always more aggressive and predatory. At the same time they are often charismatic and charming and will do whatever it takes to rise into leadership positions. For these people charisma and charm formed early in life as they realized they had nothing substantive to offer but were skillful at manipulation of others to get their way. In many cases they are sociopathic and in a primitive society would be banished because they not only offer nothing useful to survival, they demand to be served. In modern, affluent societies though they find willing followers because they personify the energy of the movement's success in themselves, and the majority of the second stage converts are only there for the party. Or rather, the partying. These leaders also tend to promote only those like themselves which but reinforces the growing problem.
Corruption of course leads to decline. A hypocritical group of leaders can only sustain the charade for so long before the acolytes doing all the work - that dwindling number true believers - get fed up and leave. When that happens the ideology collapses and all you are left with is a large group of angry people with self-aggrandizong leaders: the Republicans in 2008. It is also where the Democrats found themselves in 1994 when they were tossed out by an up and coming group passing through the second stage: Neoconservatives.
Reagan rekindled the dormant flames of Conservatism and he was, there can be no doubt, a true believer who was amply endowed with charisma and wit. True conservatives flocked to him in droves followed by millions who just thought he was a cool guy because he stood up to the Soviets. It was the second generation of his followers who took the reins of power in 1994. This included George Bush Jr., Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Marc Sanford, and many others, as well as popular figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who effectively self-monetized the swelling tide. While I won't say all these people are not conservatives, their actions do identify them as people whose personal aspirations trump the mandates of their own ideology. And some of them, such as Mark Foley and John Ensign were conservatives in name only, using the ideology only for personal gain and herding their only followers like lemmings to the cliff.
It is these people, I charge, with destroying conservatism - Not Al Sharpton, Henry Waxman, Barbara Boxer, or even Barak Obama, who in fact tend to strengthen the opposition's core. From Rush Limbaugh's drug addition to Newt Gingrich's extramarital affairs, from Dick Cheney's greed to George Bush's mistaken invasion of Iraq, from the seemingly uncontrollable sexual appetites of an endless string of elected officials, the party of Conservatism has become the party of Corruption and is being killed from within. Can the Republicans take a lesson from the Democrats who have reinvented liberalism in the form of a young, charismatic outsider? With the same old names being bandied about, I got to tell you, it looks like a trainwreck in slow motion. Or a modern adaptation of the film White Wilderness. And I for one am not going to wear a furry suit for those characters.
Leave it to the Norwegians. Barak Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing... well, nothing. He did manage to get elected but he's only been in office for eight months. And he wins the Nobel Peace Prize? That can mean only one thing. The Nobel Peace Prize is worth about as much as the dollar.
Physicists strive for years to perfect their theories. Economists are honored after their death. Doctors come up with novel, new treatments that bring relief to millions. Artists and writers compile an entire lifetime of work before they are even eligible for a Nobel. And Obama gets one for doing even less than Gore. Or even Carter. Oh well, maybe he'll put the monetary award into the stimulus package - er, I forgot. The Nobel Prize is tax free.