Power & Market
Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joseph Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate today. Harris is currently a US Senator form California and the former Attorney General for the state. Biden's choice brings her back to the fore of the 2020 race after dropping out as a presidential candidate in early December.
In many ways, Harris dropped out because she had trouble setting herself apart from other candidates such as Biden representing the mainstream of the Democratic Party. While Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders represented in many respects the far-left of the Democratic coalition, Kamala was just one of several establishment Democrats in the race, and competed for many of the same fundraising dollars as Biden and Amy Klobuchar.
By picking Harris, Biden—or whoever is making these decisions for Biden—will likely placate the Obama-Clinton power brokers in the party who privately oppose lawmakers like Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who are viewed by establishment Democrats as candidates who often alienate middle-class middle-American voters. At the same time, Harris is likely to satisfy—or at least silence—critics on the Party's left wing who have long called for a black woman on the presidential ticket.
In 2020, the choice of a vice-presidential candidate is especially high-stakes because many believe Biden will be either unwilling or unable to run for president in 2024. This sets Harris up as the heir-apparent leader of the Party. Because Biden will be the oldest man to ever enter the presidency, and because he is clearly not in excellent health, it is known that Harris has a good chance of succeeding him directly in case he dies or becomes seriously ill.
But although Harris is "demographically correct" for the Party's left wing, she remains basically a social climber who is very well ensconced within the mainstream of the Party—although the Party's mainstream has itself moved considerable to the left in recent years.
On foreign policy, for instance, Harris is not significantly different from Hillary Clinton, Obama, or Susan Rice, Joseph Biden, or other high ranking US officials who have been happy to perpetuate endless wars across the globe in recent decades. According to her official campaign site, no region of the globe is off limits to US intervention, so long as the US intervenes multilaterally. It's just the Clinton-Obama doctrine, yet again. In usual Washington double-speak fashion, she says she is in favor of ending the war in Afghanistan but insists the US must maintain a presence there to prop up the Afghani regime. She has advocated continued military intervention in Syria.
Harris is very much an advocate of the conspiracy theory that Russians "hacked" the 2016 election and remain a major threat to US security.
On the environment, she supports a "Green New Deal," which we would today expect from any Democrat running for the White House. This means immense amounts of new subsidies for "green energy," paid for with new taxes, and a host of new regulations on private businesses. It means global management of carbon emissions in line with international agreements like the Paris accords.
On economic policy, its the usual interventionist slate of policies. She wants to "empower" labor unions, more heavily regulate employers, and aggressively prosecute businesses for a variety of "crimes" that run afoul of the intricate labyrinth of federal laws managing the financial sector. Fiscal policy is sure to be what we've come to expect from both Republicans and Democrats: endless deficit spending.
Harris has lauded federally imposed mandates like "forced busing" in which federal courts dictate public schools' enrollment policies in the name of racially desegregating schools.
In all of this, we don't find very much at all that differs from the eight years of the Obama administration. It's the usual center-left policy agenda we've seen since at least the 2008 election.
What is especially dangerous now, however, is that the political context has changed considerably. Both major US parties have adopted far more interventionist stances in terms of fiscal policy, monetary policy, and in terms of domestic police power. What's more, the presidency has slowly been moving toward a rule-by-decree model for decades, in which the president essentially rules through executive orders, and Congress only intervenes on occasion. The Trump administration has only accelerated this trend.
This is likely music to Kamala Harris's ears. Harris, after all, as a former prosecutor and as a presidential candidate has never shied away from aggressive use of executive power.
As Tyler Curtis has noted:
Over the course of her campaign, she has repeatedly promised to bypass Congress and take unilateral action on a whole host of intensely divisive issues. On immigration, she has vowed to issue an executive order granting citizenship to “Dreamers” (migrants brought to America illegally by their parents). On the environment, she says she will declare a “state of water emergency” and force the country to re-join the Paris Climate agreement. She also wants to ban the use of fracking.
Many observers have noted how dictatorial these statements sound, and rightly so. To follow through on any one of these proposals would be deeply suspect, but the sheer number of them, coupled with Harris’ brazenly peremptory attitude, must leave no doubt as to her authoritarian ambitions.
For Harris, Congress is at best merely an advisory body. As a kindly gesture, the President may ask Congress for permission to do something, but he or she does not really require their assent.
Harris has even said said she would do an end run around Congress on gun control:
[U]pon being elected, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to get their act together and have the courage to pass gun safety laws. And if they fail to do it, then I will take executive action. And specifically what I’ll do is put in place a requirement that for anyone who sells more than five guns a year, they are required to do background checks when they sell those guns.
These are the words of a politician who views the role of the president as an elected dictator. Many presidents, of course —including Donald Trump—have likely viewed things this way, but it's now easier than ever for a president to carry out these "promises" in which presidents don't wait for Congress to pass duly enacted laws. That's the old way of doing things. The new way is to follow Barack Obama's strategy of using "a pen and a phone" to issue diktats without the inconvenience of involving an elected legislature.
No doubt, many of Harris's detractors will call her radical or a tool of the far left. The reality is actually far more alarming. Radicals have a tendency to lose political battles because they often stand on principle. Harris is unlikely to have that problem. She is a very much a savvy player who fits in well within the Party's mainstream and who will carry on the center-left political program as we've come to expect it form the likes of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. There's not much here that's new. What has changed, however, is we live in a country where presidents are ever more rapidly becoming unrestrained in taking unilateral action to do what they want. In ages past it might have been reasonable to assume the Congress might effectively intervene to restrain a president's less popular and more radical proposals. That vision of the US regime is looking more unrealistic than ever.
Modern monetary theory, with origins both in chartalism and the "functional finance" doctrine of the 1940s, is the freshest left-progressive gambit to justify radically increased federal spending. It is functional finance, promoted by post-Keynesian economist Abba Lerner, to which Mises refers in this 1950s passage from the new edition of The Theory of Money and Credit. Mises also quotes Beardsley Ruml, the New York Fed chair who in 1945 delivered a talk before the American Bar Association titled "Taxes for Revenue Are Obsolete." This talk, later published in American Affairs, makes the protoargument for MMT: sovereign national governments, with full control over their treasuries and central banks, can issue money at will to fund government expenditures. Absent any need for taxes, the justification for their continued imposition becomes social and economic, not fiscal.
Everything old is new again. Mises could be describing the thoughts of an MMTer today:
For the naive mind there is something miraculous in the issuance of fiat money. A magic word spoken by the government creates out of nothing a thing which can be exchanged against any merchandise a man would like to get. How pale is the art of sorcerers, witches, and conjurors when compared with that of the government's Treasury Department! The government, professors tell us, "can raise all the money it needs by printing it." Taxes for revenue, announced a chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, are "obsolete." How wonderful! And how malicious and misanthropic are those stubborn supporters of outdated economic orthodoxy who ask governments to balance their budgets by covering all expenditures out of tax revenue!
Jeff Deist recently argued the case for economics over politics in his talk "Markets vs. Mobs." I believe markets will prevail, and here's why.
Our resource is not "science" but knowledge. It accumulates, perhaps at an exponential rate. Mises.org is one of the great consolidators of knowledge, attracting many more people than ever before (620,000 unique visitors per month, 1.5 million page views per month). If we can multiply those numbers by ten times we might start to make a dent in the universe.
Austrian or classical liberal knowledge has been associated with great advances in economics, higher average standards of living, and civilization, including enlightened government (Gladstone). But we don’t need to look backward; rather we need to market our ideas in a better fashion for the future. Jeff Deist talks about successful "2 percent movements." With 6 million mises.org visitors per month, we’d be in 2 percent territory. We don’t need great men, just a great knowledge repository with great communication and sharing.
Mises and Huerta de Soto say that socialism is an intellectual error. That means it is correctable, via superior ideas and the right knowledge. So far, we have spent most of our efforts fighting in the wrong channels—academia and politics—where we have already lost. Business is a new channel to try. Technology may be another—blockchain is one area of technology associated with liberty and individual sovereignty, and complex systems theory is a modern update of spontaneous order. Gaming could be another (so-called agent-based simulations rely on individual freedom of action for their "agents"). All of these fields have quite well-developed libertarian groups embedded in them.
And I will continue to believe that Austrian entrepreneurship can be one of our best vehicles. Professor Per Bylund and others have established the idea of the ethic of entrepreneurship. Contemporary researchers indicate that a belief in free markets and entrepreneurship is associated with meaning in life. De Soto calls entrepreneurship the most intimate and essential characteristic of man: his ability to act creatively. Society thrives when individuals pursue entrepreneurial creativity. Entrepreneurs resolve social maladjustment.
The changes required in institutions can be created entrepreneurially. Connor Boyack provides examples in the institution of education, and Robert Luddy pursues the same goal with his private academies. Kartik Gada of ATOM sees a future where technology rather than people is the source of tax revenues, which will change the relationship between people and government.
Government (or what we call the state) is the great problem. But perhaps even that is vulnerable. In Eastern philosophy there is the concept of the eternal cycle, in which, when systems become overly bureaucratic or otherwise sclerotic, any crisis that comes along can result in a creative renewal that overturns the bureaucratic managers responsible for the sclerosis. Fund manager Mark Spitznagel refers to this in The Dao of Capital, using the analogy of the forest. When the forest floor becomes overgrown, and the wrong species have become dominant in the wrong parts of the forest, strangling new and creative growth, a crisis like a fire comes along, destroying the maladjusted species and the dead undergrowth, and releases the creativity of new growth among agile and adaptive species. In his analogy, the conifers wait patiently in the acid, rocky soils to which they have been pushed by the aggressive angiosperms, waiting patiently and adaptively for the fires that are sure to come:
For the conifers, their roundabout strategy allows them to withdraw to inhospitable places, all the while producing innumerable pine cones loaded with seeds that can be expediently dispersed by the wind to other remote areas, giving rise to a phalanx of patient, long-living warriors awaiting the next rout in the ongoing battle between conifers and angiosperms. While conifers growing on the rocks may appear to be nature’s outcasts, theirs is truly the false humility of the Daoist manipulator-sage. They withdraw to where others cannot go and then act when conditions suddenly shift and an opportune moment arises, such as after a wildfire….fire is friend, not foe, to the patient conifer.
Spitznagel's analogy should give us confidence in the economic future of the West, despite the depredations of the state.
The saying goes: “The grass is always greener on the other side.” But is it really?
US dollar supremacy is something to which we have become accustomed. It’s easy to take for granted that the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency despite relentless efforts made by central bankers and governments to destroy it.
Few born in America have ever experienced what would be formally called “hyperinflation.” To most, hyperinflation is only something we hear about in other countries like Venezuela or Zimbabwe, those unfortunate countries whose currency was legally counterfeited into oblivion by those in charge of the printing press. The list of nations with an undesirable currency is long, but Lebanon has now joined the group of nations experiencing fiat destruction, as reported by Reuters, using the definition of hyperinflation as a period of time where a country's inflation rate exceeds 50 percent per month. Per the press release:
Now, Lebanon has been gripped by the phenomenon, becoming the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to suffer from rapid, runaway price rises for goods and services.
For some inexplicable reason, all over the planet and throughout history we find instances of perpetual inflation and hyperinflation appearing as the rule, not the exception. Central planners claim inflation in America has remained stubbornly low for a very long time. If anything, they’ve found a risk of “deflation” to be the concern; the cost of living and affordability of life for the average person would decline in such dramatic fashion that it would be a terrible thing for the economy.
Fortunately the “problem” of inflation may finally be solved within in a few short months, as CNBC explains in an eye-catching breaking news headline:
The Fed is expected to make a major commitment to ramping up inflation soon.
It starts slowly:
In the next few months, the Federal Reserve will be solidifying a policy outline that would commit it to low rates for years as it pursues an agenda of higher inflation…
The ideas get progressively worse from there, as neither the mainstream media nor mainstream economists understand inflation:
The Fed and other global central banks have been trying to gin up inflation for years under the reasoning that a low level of price appreciation is healthy for a growing economy.
Even the Chicago Fed president, Chris Evans, weighed in and said he would like to:
keep rates where they are until inflation gets up around 2.5%, which it has not been for most of the past decade.
So stay tuned! We may soon find, come September’s Fed meeting, that our monetary planners are set to embark on a formal policy of more inflation. Despite the fact that economists have struggled with “low inflation” for the past decade while neglecting the majority of Americans, who are struggling with a high cost of living, low savings rate, and high debt levels, those in charge of monetary policy will soon find reasons to further weaken the purchasing power of your dollar.
In countries like Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and now Lebanon, there are those who look at their bankrupt nation and wonder how those in charge could lead them astray, while in America we think the government will forever wield the Almighty Dollar, printing as many dollars as needed at essentially no cost. In other news, gold has reached its all-time high…
While Congress argues about how many trillions of dollars to create in the new coronavirus bill to pay for things like basic income or a new $1.75 billion FBI building, the Swiss National Bank posted a quarterly profit of $43 billion for the second quarter. As Reuters reports:
Although making a profit is not part of the SNB’s mandate, Switzerland’s federal and regional governments appreciate the payout it makes, which increased to 4 billion francs this year.
We can be sure the government appreciates the windfall. But to make the year even better, the central bank’s (Schweizerische Nationalbank, SWZNF), quarterly filing statement showed that its US equity portfolio now stands at a whopping $118 billion, up by approximately $24 billion from last quarter!
Reading through the list of 2,438 companies is impressive, especially to see that many of them pay strong dividends, like Apple, or that some of them are gold companies, like Kirkland Lake, which may offer a substantial upside in the years to come. Even more impressive is what Switzerland is getting away with. Most other central banks, like those in South America, Africa, and Asia, would surely suffer from runaway inflation if they made purchases of US equities with money created out of thin air. This “Swiss privilege” is unique to say the least, but how did it come to pass?
Switzerland has done a lot of things “right,” such as having a population smaller than New York City, avoiding wars and invasion, and having a central location in the heart of affluent Europe. On top of that, they do something integral to success that remains lost on mainstream economists: they produce goods and services. Whether it’s watches, chocolate, banking, or gold, coupled with a relatively strong embrace of economic freedom, Switzerland remains one of, if not the most, wealthy nations on the planet.
Very much like the Fed, whose $7 trillion balance sheet hasn’t (yet) led to a complete currency collapse, the Swiss are in a league made for only a handful of countries. Ironically, their lack of economic understanding and hubris rival that of the Fed. As Swiss chairman Thomas Jordan explains in his last speech when discussing foreign exchange markets:
Interventions prevent an excessive appreciation of the franc, but also expand the SNB's balance sheet and thus increase the financial risks. However, they are currently indispensable, together with negative interest, in order to ensure appropriate monetary conditions in our country.
Unfortunately, this is 2020 and the world we live in. The chairman can talk about how their money creation scheme is simply a by-product of the desire to weaken the franc, as if they knew what the price of the franc should be, and as if it were not stealing from those both at home and abroad. The Swiss planner will say inflation is low and that therefore negative rates are okay, yet Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. And they won’t tell you about having the most expensive Big Mac in the world at $6.91. They will talk about policy and the difficult choices they have to make to take the economy somewhere that can hardly be articulated. However, there is no mystery beyond the workings of the Swiss National Bank. Like the Fed, the man behind the curtain is revealed to be nothing more than a charlatan, exposed the instant commonsense questions are considered.
Swiss production created both wealth and demand for their currency. That they inflate their franc from time to time is “relatively” okay, because everyone else is doing it, and so far it seems to be working. As the balance sheet expands, asset prices rise, purchasing power continues to erode, and the bank wins while society loses. This cannot continue indefinitely, but so long as the game isn’t figured out, it will continue, and the portfolio will always get bigger.
Growth in total employment slowed in July, following two months of big gains in employment, during May and June. But it all comes after the US economy shed more than 19 million jobs during March and April.
In July, the US added 591,000 payroll jobs, with total employment rising to 139.1 million. This is a sizable slowing from June, when more than 5 million jobs were added. At its most recent peak in November 2019, more than a 153 million Americans were employed. From November to July, the US is down 14 million jobs, or 6.7 percent of the US's working age population.
In other words, the US remains well below peak employment, and at three months since enormous job losses began to mount, it remains unclear if the jobs recovery will require several years, as was the case after the 2008 financial crisis.
As of July, total employment is at 90 percent of peak levels, which is below anything we saw during the previous four recessions. At its nadir, employment fell to 91 percent of the peak during the 2007–09 recession (the Great Recession). But from that point, four years went by before employment returned to its former peak level.
Many commentators on the current crisis have insisted that the US will experience a rapid "V-shaped" jobs recovery. This result, however, is far from guaranteed, especially if the world's governments revert to mandating forced "lockdowns" and business closures again this summer or later this year.
The graph shows total employment indexed to the previous peak. For example, the black line shows the number of months since the previous jobs peak (November 2019), during which jobs remain below peak levels. Similarly, the brown line shows the number of months after the June 2007 jobs peak that total employment remained below peak levels. Recent jobs recoveries have taken significantly longer than was the case during the 1980s and 1990s.
The unemployment rate remains at recessionary levels as well. July's unemployment rate was 10.5 percent, slightly below the peak unemployment rate during the Great Recession, when it was 10.6 percent. In any case, of course, this is a high unemployment rate.
So, is there any sign yet that the jobs recovery will soon come roaring back?
The Labor Department also released new data on initial unemployment claims, and new claims data shows only very slow progress being made.
As of the week of August 1, 984,000 workers filed for initial unemployment benefits. This is a decrease from the previous week's total of 1.2 million, and it is well down from the the 6.2 million newly unemployed that filed for benefits the week of April 4. However, at nearly 1 million, the number of newly unemployed remained higher than during any week recorded during the Great Recession.
Moreover, these are just newly unemployed. Continued unemployment claims as of the week of July 25 still showed that more than 15.8 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits. This is more than double than what we saw at the peak of the Great Recession, when continuing claims hit 6.4 million.
Looking at the unemployment claims and payroll data combined, it is extremely likely the US now has at least 15 million unemployed workers, and there is no guarantee that most of these can look forward to a quick rehire so long as there remains the looming threat of government-forced shutdowns. Thanks to threatened shutdowns, regime uncertainty remains immense for employers, which is likely to reduce the demand for employees or business expansion.
What Can Be Done?
What could be done to help the situation? The first necessary step would be to end the threat of forced government shutdowns and forced changes in business capacity. As it is, the current spate of executive orders being issued by the one-man rule-by-decree regimes in place in most US states amounts to a huge expansion of the regulatory state. Business shutdowns and new requirements on building use and building capacity impose enormous financial and regulatory burdens on business owners. Naturally, hiring suffers as a result. If policymakers wanted to actually do something about unemployment—as well as the enormous public health burden that results, in the form of suicides and other threats to health—they would immediately announce that the threat of business closures has passed. Until this happens, expect hiring to remain lackluster.
This isn't to say that businesses would not need to adapt to a public that—even in the absence of government mandates—is likely to reduce spending on certain goods and services that are now less attractive in light of fears over the covid-19 disease. However, so long as governments continue to hand the threat of shutdowns and additional regulations over the heads of employers, this will continue to hamstring businesses' ability to adapt to new realities and will greatly hamper employment.
A second important step would be to reduce the overall regulatory burden. This would include regulations that predate the current round of job-killing mandates. These include rules on hiring such as minimum wage laws, licensing regulations, and other measures designed to limit hiring and employment in the alleged pursuit of higher quality or "higher wages." The real result from all these measures is that employment is outlawed for wide swaths of the population and entrepreneurs are prohibited from expanding their own services or from hiring others.
The need to reduce barriers to employment is greater now more than ever. In July, more than 32 percent of Americans missed their housing payments. Evictions are mounting. More Americans, due to income losses, are unable to pay the rent. Politicians—in the the thrall of well-paid and out-of-touch health bureaucrats—have decided this is no big deal and refuse to take the necessary steps to allow entrepreneurs and employers to usher in a jobs recovery. So long as these "public health" officials dictate economic policy, more and more Americans will become unemployed and destitute. Many will become homeless. The effects of the jobs implosion are just beginning to be felt.
Just two days after Trump’s nominee Judy Shelton was approved by the Senate committee, it was Mitt Romney (R), senator of Utah, who said:
I’m not going to be endorsing Judy’s Shelton’s nomination to the Fed.
No reason was provided as to why he intends to vote against her, and CNBC reports that his office declined to comment further. However, they noted:
That Romney would oppose the nomination is not entirely surprising given his contentious relationship with Trump.
It seems strange that a US senator would not offer a reason for something as important as this vote. Without providing anything to defend his position, we are left only with assumptions to make.
If Mitt is making his decision based on the relationship he has with Trump, as CNBC suggests, then it could mean that he's judging Shelton's qualifications based on the opinion he has of the president. He would still be within his right, but his reasoning might be called into question.
And yes, this is the same Mitt Romney who is currently one of America’s wealthiest congressmen, with an estimated net worth around $174 million that he accumulated by founding and operating Bain Capital. Also, yes, this is the same Bain Capital that a quick internet search reveals was involved in many highly publicized leveraged buyouts (LBOs), whereby a company acquires another company primarily with debt backed by the assets of the company being acquired.
There may be nothing inherently wrong with LBOs per se. If a bank is willing to put up the money, then the bank (shareholders/depositors) are taking the risk. But perhaps this is also a reason why he may fear Judy Shelton. In a world where credit is no longer cheap and easily given to the rich and powerful, people like Mitt would not be multimillionaires today. Unfortunately, since he remains silent as to the reason for his decision, we are left with little to make of his rationale besides his dislike for Trump and success with tapping credit markets.
The second Republican is Senator Susan Collins from Maine. She’s not as wealthy as Mitt but still not someone to take lightly, hailing from a fourth-generation political family. Her website proudly boasts:
Senator Collins is recognized as a skillful legislator, which is one reason why ELLE magazine named her one of the most powerful women in Washington.
On Monday, The New York Times quoted her:
Ms. Shelton has openly called for the Federal Reserve to be less independent of the political branches, and has even questioned the need for a central bank.
It remains unclear to the liberty and freedom crowd what the problem is, but the “skillful legislator” continued:
This is not the right signal to send, particularly in the midst of the pandemic, and for that reason, I intend to vote against her nomination if it reaches the floor.
Unlike Romney, Senator Collins offered an explanation. The problem is that it’s not a very good one. According to Collins, because Judy Shelton asks questions, especially during a crisis, she’s not qualified for the job. Sadly, this is not the America the Founding Fathers envisioned. Liberty dies when subservience is considered a virtue and questions are considered a crutch. Having a sound money advocate at the Fed creates much-needed discourse, but without one we may only continue to see the same anticapitalist groupthink. Especially in a time of crisis we should welcome such questions.
Tangled is this political web in which the nation finds itself. One person who has unimaginable wealth and another who is an heiress of a political empire are allowed to make economic decisions, yet little understanding of economics has been on their part. At least when the Fed lies to us it’s done using Fedspeak, supported by impressive degrees and data we cannot see. But the politicians—they can simply cast a no vote!
An Illinois politicians wants the state board of education to get rid of history classes until the curriculum can be made less racist. The local NBC affiliate reports:
Leaders in education, politics and other areas gathered in suburban Evanston Sunday to ask that the Illinois State Board of Education change the history curriculum at schools statewide, and temporarily halt instruction until an alternative is decided upon….
Before the event Sunday, Rep. Ford's office distributed a news release "Rep. Ford Today in Evanston to Call for the Abolishment of History Classes in Illinois Schools," in which Ford asked the ISBOE and school districts to immediately remove history curriculum and books that "unfairly communicate" history "until a suitable alternative is developed."
There are both good ideas and bad ideas here.
First of all, it's unclear in what way exactly history as taught in Illinois—as critics put it—"overlook[s] the contributions of women and minorities"
In practice, history as taught in most schools overlooks the good deeds of a wide variety of good people—not just ones who are women or members of certain ethnic groups. The usual history curriculum focuses overwhelmingly on politicians, military personnel and other government employees, who are supposedly the people who make the most important contributions, and allegedly make life livable for the rest of us. The private sector is generally ignored, including all the entrepreneurs, workers, business owners and managers who actually did the hard work of improving the lives and standards of living of countless human beings. Whenever business owners are mentioned, its usually as some sort of evil "robber baron" or similar caricature. If workers are mentioned, it is only nonspecific workers in a Marxian context.
So, given that the general focus in history courses is on "great men"—most of whom are actually despicable, craven politicians like LBJ or FDR or Woodrow Wilson—then yes, I'm sure women and nonwhites get little mention. There's a bias in whose contributions are mentioned, all right. But that bias tends to be in favor of the government class, regardless of race and gender.
But if the answer is to abolish history class, then I am all for it.
Ever since its conception, history class in public school has never been anything other than lessons in government-approved historical narratives designed to push a certain ideology. As historian Ralph Raico has noted, people's ideological beliefs are largely determined "by what they think they know about history." So as long as people think Americans invented slavery, or that capitalism means children must work until they get black lung disease in coal mines, then people will select their ideologies accordingly. What is taught in history will naturally shape a student's worldview.
That said, there is no "correct" unbiased narrative, of course. All history is written by specific human beings with their own experiences, judgments, and biases. Each historian must make decisions as to which information is important and which is not. Some historical events are mentioned, and other are not. This alone determines what people will learn and conclude about human history. As Ludwig von Mises noted:
Now, a real reproduction of the past would require a duplication not humanly possible. History is not an intellectual reproduction, but a condensed representation of the past in conceptual terms. The historian does not simply let the events speak for themselves. He arranges them from the aspect of the ideas underlying the formation of the general notions he uses in their presentation. He does not report facts as they happened, but only relevant facts.
Historians don't just recreate history. They make judgments about what historical narratives are told. The result is a narrative that is influenced by ideology and the historian's context.
Thus, it would be madness to leave it up to public school bureaucrats to determine which history ought to be taught and to cede to government employees the power to teach to children—for twelve or thirteen years, no less—the "correct" historical narrative.
Early proponents of public schooling were well aware of this, and they made sure history was taught in ways that backed up their own prejudices. In the early years of public schools, in the late nineteenth century, "history" class was designed to communicate anti-Catholic progovernment propaganda as approved by the progressive New England intelligentsia.
By midcentury—helped along by outright progovernment rituals like the socialist-authored Pledge of Allegiance—history class became a hotbed of center-left ideological studies designed to into inculcate American children the idea that men like Theodore Roosevet and Franklin Roosevelt were saintly harbingers of the American "progress" made possible by a strong US state. Also, central to the curriculum was the idea that all wars waged by the American state were virtuous crusades that made the world a better place.
Things have only gotten worse since then.
As a solution, Rep. Ford wants to get rid of history class. I say have at it. Let's just make sure history class is abolished permanently, and not temporarily, as Ford wants. Ford believes a "suitable alternative" can be developed, but I most certainly don't want anyone learning whatever version of history meets Ford's requirements.
I know that some old-fashioned readers will think it's still a good idea to teach children history in public school. These people are still in the thrall of the never true notion that there's some sort of "objective" history out there that everyone can agree on. This notion is wrong of course, and because of this, we'd all be better off if public school history class were replaced by reruns of old Saturday morning cartoons. That would be better than the twelve years of anticapitalist propaganda students are getting now. Moreover, students could concentrate on more ideologically neutral topics like math and reading, and leave the teaching of history up to parents. In truth, though, given that public schooling is for most people little more than government daycare, most parents wouldn't even notice if history class were abolished forever.
The weeks-long coronavirus lockdown is being exposed as, at best, a wild overreaction. Americans are starting to protest the destruction of their economy, the loss of their jobs, and the attacks on their basic constitutional rights. The walls of oppression built by the petty tyrants throughout the country are beginning to crack. It reminds me of the feeling that was in the air in that memorable year 1989, when the world as we knew it was turned upside down.
What was so significant about 1989, and why do I suddenly get that feeling in the air again? For me, it was two things: 1) the Tiananmen demonstrations—I was in Hong Kong during this period (I actually arrived I think a day before the death of Hu Yaobang, which is what started them), and 2) the fall of the Berlin Wall and the events that led up to it.
What it smelled like was this:
All of a sudden, anything at all was possible. All of a sudden, people realized that the chains that bound them weren't as real as they had always believed them to be. Of course, in China, as exhilarating as the demonstrations were, it did not end well. But for Eastern Europe it was very different.
I remember seeing the images of the picnickers (and others) from Hungary hopping the fences into Austria. Just hopping what looked like two-foot-high little wire fences. Like that was the only thing that had ever been holding them in. To me, those were the most moving images of all: people realizing that they were free.
By the time they started hammering away at the Berlin Wall, everything had already happened. It seemed like just the tearing down of a symbol at that point. I had visited Berlin five years earlier, and I remember people telling me it would never come down. Everyone hated it, everyone wanted it down, but nobody knew how to do it, and there seemed to be a widespread acceptance that there was nothing they could do about it.
Until there was.
That's what this feels like now. The governments' over-the-top response has pushed people too far. Which I imagine they anticipated, but I also imagine they believed that would result in riots and violent protest (which it will, once people can't put food on their tables—but we're not there yet.) But instead of rioting in the streets, people are engaged in peaceful protests, and more importantly, they are starting to simply defy the orders. Businesses, churches, and even some schools, are starting to open up again, in blatant disregard for the orders they have been given. They are ignoring the state.
There is more of this coming. And the more people who do it, the more are emboldened to. I don't know what goes on inside the minds of the people who want to rule the world, but I can only imagine that they believe people will always be easily manipulated by fear. It's true that people are far too easily manipulated by fear, but the capacity to do that is not infinite, and I think those who are using it have overplayed their hand this time.
Because what I'm seeing now is not people driven by fear. There was a lot of fear when this first started—but I think a lot of people are coming out of that now. I think a great many are realizing that the costs of the shutdowns are going to be much, much worse than the impact of the virus, and I also see a lot of people recognizing that individuals should decide for themselves what risks they are comfortable with. I'm seeing a lot of pushback against authoritarianism, and it's not coming from fear, but something else. I don't think the people who engineered this anticipated that something else.
Yes, there are still the people buying into the fear, ratting out their neighbors, etc. But I'm seeing a lot more of the opposite: people recognizing who the enemy is here, and that it is not their neighbors. I'm seeing small business owners having the courage to reopen their businesses against government orders, at the risk of losing their licenses and, here in LA, their power and water supply. And I see a huge number of people ready to support them. People are planning more peaceful protests, and more and more businesses are planning to open up. They're saying (here in CA) "They can't arrest all of us." What I see is that people are starting to realize that their chains aren't as real as they thought they were.
That's what 1989 smelled like.
In response to my article last week opposing the use of federal soldiers and federal agents on the streets of American cities, my inbox and the article's comment section filled up with readers claiming that it most certainly is the job of the US federal government to step in and take control of US cities against the will of the state and local governments.
These interventionists have lots of reasons for their federalization of local law enforcement:
- "The author is not realising the seriousness of the communist insurgency under way."
- Federal intervention is unjustified "except in cases where the local elected officials refuse to do what they had taken an oath to do."
- "The people are under the protection of the Constitution, thus during insurrections the president has the duty to mobilize to restore order."
- "Oregon state and Portland city governments either or both can't or don't want to stop violent protests with destruction of public and private properties. Therefore federal government needs to intervene to restore the order, normal functioning of city businesses and government offices."
Many of these readers attempt to make claims about constitutional authority, such as the meaningless claim that "the people are under the protection of the Constitution"—whatever that means—and that therefore the feds can do whatever they want to "restore order." Other claims are just vague legal assertions about how the president can send in troops wherever local officials aren't doing what "we" want them to do.
To this I would only restate that the entire historical and legal context of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the American Revolution is one of preventing distant national powers from sending in their agents, bureaucrats, and troops to carry out federal prerogatives.
But even if the current US Constitution did authorize federal takeovers of local police—which it doesn't—then the Constitution ought to be ignored, because constitutional authority is inferior to the larger moral principle of subsidiary, self-determination, and local control.
As with all things, the Constitution is only useful and worthy of being quoted when it limits federal power. When it doesn't do so, it should be ignored. The Constitution is not some holy writ. It's useful when it attempts to limit federal power, and worthless when it doesn't.
In this case, the Constitution is on the right side: it limits federal intervention in these cases. But if it weren't on our side, then it would be wrong. Stated simply, here is the basic principle at hand: as an American taxpayer who lives many hundreds of miles from Portland, it's not my job to solve Portland's problems.
To business owners and others who live in Oregon and Portland and who are being negatively affected by the riots there, I'm sorry you continue to choose to live in a poorly run state where the political leaders are craven socialists who kowtow to the mob. I highly recommend you consider moving away or expending your own time and energy to do something about it. I'm sorry you didn't see the writing on the wall years ago as the voters put into power—again and again—left-wing demagogues. You decided to stick around. But it's not now the job of Americans in other places to bail you out.
I fully encourage you to organize a local militia, a local political movement, recall effort, or some other strategy to deal with it. But Americans have plenty of their own problems in their own cities. We have our own crime problems and our own problems with corrupt politicians to deal with it. I'm sorry that residents of Portland and Oregon appear to be especially inept in this regard, but neither the Constitution nor common sense dictates that it's our job to swoop in and save Portland from itself, especially when the local majority is apparently fine with the situation.
There are a lot of poorly run cities in America. Like Baltimore, for instance, where the homicide rate is ten times the national rate. It’s not the job of the American taxpayer to solve Baltimore's problems either.
I know that some readers fancy themselves the only ones who truly appreciate the fullness of the "communist insurgency under way." In their minds, the federal government cannot possibly be given too much power, so long as that power is used to crush the commies. Anyone who insists on limiting federal power is thus "naïve." Yet it is these nonnaïve people who want to grant even greater power to a federal establishment that clearly views the American people as the enemy. These federal agencies are the ones who have relentlessly conspired to remove the current democratically elected president because he was not to their liking. These are the bureaucrats who let 9/11 happen, and then got raises afterward. These are the federal hacks who massacred women and children at Waco and at Ruby Ridge. These are the people who wanted the Patriot Act so they could spy on every American.
Back in the 1990s, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre referred to federal agents as "armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black…jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens."
While I’m no particular fan of LaPierre or the NRA, he was right. Wanting to limit the power of these feds is hardly the naïve position.