Power & Market
As millions of Americans recover from their Thanksgiving indulgence, an intriguing question arises: How much did your Thanksgiving dinner cost?
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 38th annual survey:
…the average cost of this year’s classic holiday feast for 10 … is $61.17 or less than $6.20 per person.
They also mention that:
This is a 4.5% decrease from last year’s record-high average of $64.05, but a Thanksgiving meal is still 25% higher than it was in 2019, which highlights the impact high supply costs and inflation have had on food prices since before the pandemic.
Anyone who hosted dinner this week will immediately know their proximity from the $61.17 average.
According to the data, the average meal for 10 people looked like this (comparison to last year in brackets):
16-pound turkey: $27.35 or $1.71 per pound (down 5.6%)
14-ounces of cubed stuffing mix: $3.77 (down 2.8%)
2 frozen pie crusts: $3.50 (down 4.9%)
Half pint of whipping cream: $1.73 (down 22.8%)
1 pound of frozen peas: $1.88 (down 1.1%)
1 dozen dinner rolls: $3.84 (up 2.9%)
Misc. ingredients to prepare the meal: $3.95 (down 4.4%)
30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix: $4.44 (up 3.7%)
1 gallon of whole milk: $3.74 (down 2.6%)
3 pounds of sweet potatoes: $3.97 (up .3%)
1-pound veggie tray (carrots & celery): $.90 (up 2.3%)
12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries: $2.10 (down 18.3%)
While not everyone consumes alcohol, many average people do, so it's immediately noticeable that it's not included as part of the meal plan. And those in the South might feel a bit slighted as there is no mention of peach cobbler, collard greens, or sweet tea, but the list of omissions is long.
This is one of the challenges with averages. Similar to the concept of inclusiveness, which inherently involves exclusiveness, arriving at an average number certainly gives us a number, but its relevance becomes questionable. Who exactly is it relevant for, and how does this number help inform us of anything useful?
A closer look at t Wal-Mart’s website should raise more eyebrows:
The Turkey on the left from Shady Brook Farms approximates the average Turkey price we’ve been given, but the Perdue Farms (for two Turkeys) is considerably higher.
And these are just two brands in a country with many Turkeys. Of course, this leads to an additional problem: the existence of the Turducken:
Those fortunate enough to pay north of $100 to serve the famous Turkey/Duck/Chicken combination have been entirely excluded from the analysis. If the market price of Turduckens were $300, it would have no impact on the $61.17 average; we must wonder how this data could be considered representative.
There exists no magic or secretive technique behind this; the sample method is described as follows:
This year’s national average cost was calculated using 245 surveys completed with pricing data from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers checked prices in person and online using grocery store apps and websites. They looked for the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals.
Statistical sampling and averages may sound convincing to some, but this should be compared against one's own perception and anecdotal evidence. Not only are we informed that the average dinner costs only $61.17, but we're also being told that Thanksgiving dinner this year is less expensive than last year. While one may lack statistical survey data to support this, the idea of Thanksgiving deflation this year seems more like wishful thinking than anything else.
This is not to say the data was compiled maliciously in any way; however, when compiling data, a malicious person can compile it in any way.
Markets are pricing a rapid decline in price inflation and the end of central bank policy normalization. However, there are two challenges ahead that we must consider.
The most important is that price inflation is cumulative, and the year-on-year change between January and July was supported by the base effect. When the CPI inflation rate used for the year-on-year change is high, even a persistent increase in prices looks like a “decline” in inflation. If I gain ten pounds one year and four the next, my CPI inflation rate will fall, but I am not slimming. And prices continue to bite, hurting the economy and consumers.
The end of this “base effect tailwind” is particularly important. According to Bank of America Global Investments, unless month-on-month inflation in the U.S. stays below 0.2%, price inflation will rise in 2024. If the CPI rises 0.3% month-on-month, annual price inflation will rise to 4.6%. Furthermore, if month-on-month price inflation is 0.5%, annual price inflation will soar to 6.1%. Even if CPI is 0% month-on-month, annual price inflation would be 2.5% in 2024, significantly above the Fed’s 2% target.
The second challenge is that commodity disinflation, alongside the base effect, has been a major driver of the reduction in the annual CPI inflation rate. Rate hikes and monetary normalization triggered a decline in almost all global commodities in international markets, sending oil, natural gas, food prices, and agricultural goods down to pre-Ukraine invasion levels. It proved that price inflation is a monetary phenomenon. However, the Fed-induced commodity decline reached a bottom in May, and the Bloomberg Commodity Index has bounced from the two-year low and is almost flat on the year. Rate hikes and monetary contraction have slowed, and commodity prices bounced as the fundamentals of supply and demand remained unchanged.
Real wages remain in negative territory, and this means a weakening of consumers’ purchasing power. The latest Employment Cost Index (ECI) shows a severe slowdown, and ECI private wages and salaries in the second quarter pushed the annual growth rate down from 5.1% to a two-year low of 4.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Average hourly earnings in real terms have fallen from $30 in 2021 to less than $29, according to the BLS.
Why should we remain worried? Because the market is excessively optimistic about the end of the price inflation problem and investors keep buying extremely cyclical, high-beta stocks,
Real Personal Spending in June continued to show a weak trend (0.4%), and the Personal Consumer Expenditure (PCE) Deflator is still rising, 0.2% in June and 3.0% in the year, with its core component increasing 0.2% in the month and 4.1% in the year.
The reality is that monetary normalization remains far from complete. The Fed’s balance sheet soared from 17% to 36% of GDP and is now at 34.5%. It rose in July from the May low of 32.4%.
Many investors believe we have seen the worst of the inflation burst and hope that the economy will remain on a soft landing while central banks start easing, which would be very bullish. However, persistent inflation is hurting the economy, and the worst is yet to come now that savings have been mostly consumed and credit conditions are much tighter. If the base effect and monetary easing drive inflationary pressures higher, betting on central banks to cut rates and purchase government bonds may be very risky.
On the eve of its opening, I had the pleasure of viewing Christopher Nolan’s new film Oppenheimer with the Mises Summer Fellows. Despite what the trailers may lead one to believe, this movie is about much more than the bomb. It is about minds, wits, power, and politics. Oppenheimer is the focus of a much larger story unfolding in front of viewers, involving the role of ethics in scientific discovery, Presidential cabinet struggles, the Cold War, and of course, the story of the development of the atomic bomb.
I have quarrels with the performance of Robert Downey Jr., who seemingly does not know how to act as anyone other than himself. Cillian Murphy gave a decent performance of the promiscuous scientist and alleged communist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer confronts viewers with two significant issues: the importance of a normative vision in a positive scientific quest and the horror of the atomic bomb.
The central theme of the movie is Oppenheimer’s struggle with the morality of his involvement in the development of the bomb. As Austrians, we must ask ourselves why we engage in value-free economic science. Doing value-free economics is a way of describing the created order. There is nothing necessarily wrong in doing value-free economics. Scientific law is morally neutral.
However, what we do with positive economics has moral implications. For example, a purely positive, means-ends analysis for Stalin on the most effective way to deport Kulaks to Siberia is possible, however one cannot claim to be morally neutral in doing this. The value-free analysis is used in a way which has drastic moral implications, namely, the mass murder of innocent souls. This same principle applies to Oppenheimer.
1st Corinthians 13:2 states, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” We cannot merely pursue science on its own, as science does not tell us what is morally upstanding. This is not to say that economics is immoral, but that we must recognize that knowledge must be directed toward the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Simply doing science for its own sake is dead.
Of course, what would Oppenheimer be without an atomic bomb? Throughout the movie, scenes are interrupted by cuts of an atomic blast. Despite what the trailer may lead people to think, Oppenheimer’s atomic explosion is portrayed much more like a horror film than a typical Hollywood action movie. One member of our party stated that he covered his ears, expecting the climatic drop of the bomb to be deafeningly loud. However, it was not. During the test, all that is heard is breathing coming from a previous scene in the movie. The blast was virtually silent. I think of no better way to portray the absolute destruction of a nuclear weapon than this. The silence is indeed deafening.
Despite some historical inaccuracies and seemingly leftist sympathies, Oppenheimer is worth the price of admission. Even if you do not particularly enjoy Christopher Nolan’s work (which this film is unlike any other he has made), Oppenheimer makes viewers grapple with important questions that any intelligent person could appreciate. The movie ends with Oppenheimer seeing a future of nuclear destruction. We should pray that Oppenheimer's vision is not prophetic.
Ryan McMaken of the Mises Institute joins Scott to discuss the ill effects central banking has on the country. McMaken wrote an article recently pointing out that the Federal Reserve, America’s central bank, is technically bankrupt. Scott has McMaken explains how that’s true and why the costs of a bankrupt Fed are felt by us all. Scott and McMaken also address some common points about inflation made by the left and examine what they get right and where they go wrong. The two also look at today’s economy to try and work out where we are in the boom-bust cycle.
Discussed on the show:
That phrase is a stark truth from the American Revolution, yet most people can’t tell you who said it and where. It’s not as if it didn’t deserve better.
Even if you believe the Revolution was a bad idea, given the inflation that funded it and the Hamiltonian government that emerged from it, it would be hard to find words more influential in determining our history.
The argument in their favor goes something like this: In late 1776 Washington’s troops were chased from New York City and fled across New Jersey, finally settling across the Delaware River near Philadephia. Not only the British but many colonists were certain of their surrender, and only a Christmas break and snow were delaying the inevitable. Legend has it that while the troops were camped out waiting for their enlistments to expire, one of them, Thomas Paine, a British expatriate who had arrived in the colonies only two years earlier, borrowed a fellow soldier’s drum to use as a desk so he could pen an essay that General Washington had his officers read to the men (December 23, 1776):
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Paine’s message got the troops standing tall again for an afternoon. With Paine among them they crossed the ice-strewn Delaware, marched nine miles through the night in a blizzard to Trenton, and surprised a British detachment of hung-over German mercenaries on the morning of December 26, 1776. The fight was over quickly, and the General had achieved his first victory in the war for independence.
A new thought suddenly emerged among the colonists: The war might not be futile. Morale was temporarily restored among civilians and soldiers. “The dramatic victory inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.” (Wikipedia)
Paine had already achieved fame earlier that year for his pamphlet Common Sense, in which he argued persuasively that the colonies could govern themselves, and that George III was no more than the “Royal Brute of Britain” rather than some loving father who cares for his subjects.
“For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King,” Paine wrote. In a Paine-style flourish he added:
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
To attack the king in such manner was considered blasphemy and treason, but in the colonies, it found a sympathetic audience. Six months after publication the widespread popularity of Common Sense nudged the Continental Congress to draw up a Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Paine, in other words, ignited the drive for independence and kept it alive during its darkest hours.
Such deeds would overwhelmingly qualify a person as one of the country’s Founders, but in Paine’s case they haven’t. Some historians regard him as an unfortunate footnote in the country’s creation and nothing more.
The Age of Reason
Among the reasons for his diminutive stature was a three-volume book he wrote much later, The Age of Reason, which was openly critical of organized religion and the Christian Bible in particular. Paine’s attack was based on his personal biblical scholarship and as such called for scholarly counterarguments by those who disagreed. While there were rebuttals, most people seemed to regard him as Teddy "Bully Boy" Roosevelt did many years later, as a “filthy little atheist.”
Is Roosevelt’s charge legitimate ? Age of Reason opens with the “author’s profession of faith,” as Paine described it, written while he was living in France during the Terror of the French Revolution:
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. . . .
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.
Is this is how a “filthy atheist” expresses himself? As Jill LaPore has written:
Paine considered his lifelong views on religion inseparable from his thoughts on government: “It has been the scheme of the Christian Church, and of all the other invented systems of religion, to hold man in ignorance of the Creator, as it is of Governments to hold man in ignorance of his rights.”
Paine had little in the way of formal education, yet his understanding of complex issues and his ability to articulate them clearly and passionately were without parallel in his lifetime. One of his greatest essays addressed the nature of paper money (1786):
The pretense for paper money has been that there was not a sufficiency of gold and silver. This, so far from being a reason for paper emissions, is a reason against them. . . .
As to the assumed authority of any assembly in making paper money, or paper of any kind, a legal tender, or in other language, a compulsive payment, it is a most presumptuous attempt at arbitrary power. There can be no such power in a republican government: the people have no freedom — and property no security — where this practice can be acted . . . .
If anything had or could have a value equal to gold and silver, it would require no tender law; and if it had not that value it ought not to have such a law; and, therefore, all tender laws are tyrannical and unjust and calculated to support fraud and oppression. . . .
Such insights are sorely missing from today’s narratives about money.
It’s difficult to document Paine’s contributions to liberty in anything less than a book, but for more extended presentations please see “Thomas Paine: Liberty’s Hated Torchbearer” and “The Sharpened Quill.” And for a script dramatizing his role in the nation’s founding, see Eyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution.
This Christmas, try to remember there’s poverty and then there’s “poverty.” In America millions of people have fallen on hard times as their savings continue to erode due to the government intervention and central bank currency inflation of late. This devastation is sobering, while other countries in the world whose socialism is “more advanced” than America’s face poverty that is difficult to fathom by our standards.
The Zimbabwe Independent tells us about Christmas on the other side of world:
Locals are battling debilitating power cuts of up to 19 hours daily… Poverty levels are deepening and incomes have been eroded…. Foreign currency shortages are deepening and the volatilities that have ravaged the currency for decades are continuing…
As for the festive holiday:
Most Zimbabweans will not have electricity to cook the family Christmas lunches, unless they grudgingly use firewood or gas.
Imagine your average American not having power for up to 19 hours a day, or seeing the purchasing power of their currency decline so much that they must rely on a foreign currency?
A screenshot of Zimbabwe's M1 money supply would tell the story, but no need to share as readers are capable of surmising its exponential growth over the last few years.
Then there is Canada, a country much like America but further “advanced” in its socialism; it's a nation where concepts like “liberty”’ and “freedom” have never woven themselves into the fabric of the nation nor been ingrained in the population. According to Canada’s government owned news channel, the CBC:
Even the price of Christmas trees is up this year, to the tune of 10 per cent, amid a nationwide shortage and higher farming and fuel costs.
According to Canada’s annual food price report, “a typical family will see its food bill climb over $1,000 next year.” In response to this:
…the Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate for the seventh time this year in the fight against inflation — now sitting at 4.25 per cent, its highest point since 2008.
Meanwhile, in America, Christmas isn’t normal either. CBSNews tells us:
Christmas tree prices had been expected to increase between 5% and 15% this year compared to last year… key holiday dinner items such as turkey, baking products and dairy are up between 15 and 25%.
This holiday season, take just a few moments to consider the lengths governments and central bankers across the world have gone to completely decimate their respective countries. One can bet that across the globe, this will be a Christmas to remember.
Making matters worse, there is no promise of a better next year since the response to the problem remains: central banks increase the money supply, prices go up, and market distortion occurs. Central banks raise rates. Why they continue to look at rates when they should be looking at the money printer is anyone’s guess. And while it’s unclear what the end game is to all of this, if the powers that be want America to look more like Canada initially, and Zimbabwe later, they are taking the right steps.
Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, had very clear views about the legitimate role of laws—solely to restrain harms to individuals’ and their rights, since going farther than that “night watchman” role necessarily violated some citizens’ rights. In fact, in his October 1, 1969, “Read’s Law” article in The Freeman, he even rode a wave of eponymous laws to create a law about fidelity to that principle:
It is becoming more and more fashionable for probers into political economy to concoct a “law” and tack their name onto it. Doubtless, this fad stems from such famous instances as Gresham’s Law: “Bad money drives out good money.” Or, Say’s Law of Markets: “Production generates its own purchasing power.”
This tendency among our contemporaries is a humorous way of presenting a serious idea.
[One of] the best known…is Parkinson’s Law: “Expenses rise to meet income.” A book entitled The Peter Principle [headed] the bestseller list: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Brozen’s Law reads: “Most obviously true economic policy propositions are false.” Rogge’s Rule tickles my fancy: “Whenever the government passes a law for your protection, take to the hills--because you are about to be had!”
What is Read’s Law?
“No politician can fly higher in office than he flew while getting there” …And the height to which I aspire is freedom; that is, no restraint against any creative action. In other words, freedom is my idea of high; socialism, statism--call it what you will--is my idea of low.
My “law” [could] be stated something like this: “No politician, after getting into office, can remove any more restraints against freedom than he promised to remove in his campaign speeches.”
An Upper Bound for Politicians
Over the years, I have known numerous aspirants for high office who, in private, endorse the freedom philosophy…Later, as I hear or read his campaign speeches, I find nary a word about the socialism he intends to repeal if elected…Then friends of mine hopefully ask “What achievements for freedom are you looking forward to from so-and-so?” I respond by repeating Read’s Law.
My claim has to do only with an inability to fly higher, not lower. An officeholder’s “ceiling” is set by his campaign speeches; he can descend to any level.
Let me explain how I discovered Read’s Law. The campaign manager of a candidate was my close personal friend. Because his man’s speeches were socialistic, I was critical. “Why, he believes the same as you and I do,” came the reply. “He has to say what he’s saying to get elected. Once in office, he will practice what we believe.” The contention was that his candidate would fly higher in office than he flew while getting there. But no one was able to prove that untenable thesis.
Implications of Read’s Law
This experience led me to three important conclusions. The first is that no officeholder can ever overthrow any socialistic practice unless there is an enormous consensus that it be done away with; otherwise, the practice is too tightly woven into the social fabric to be cast out by some political trick. Ridding our society of TVA or Social Security, for instance, is utterly impossible unless there be a general agreement for repeal. The candidates who never mention repeal in their campaign speeches make no contribution whatsoever to a new consensus. So, they have mustered no support for it, whatever their private views may be…They are impotent. On the other hand, if they had been elected because of their advocacy of repeals, they would then have a popular mandate to so perform.
Second, the candidates who pretend privately to believe in freedom principles and who run for office on other than a clear-cut freedom platform do not understand these principles...Candidates who thoroughly apprehend freedom principles would not--indeed, could not--do other than uphold them.
Finally, let politicians who privately say they are for freedom, but who publicly espouse socialism in order to get elected, be faithful to their public pronouncements…Exposing the fallacies of socialism and explaining the principles of freedom cannot possibly be achieved except through fidelity. Truth can never be found by those or among those who practice dissimulation.
How Read’s Law is Consistent with the Law of Liberty
Read’s Law focused on how campaign rhetoric imposed an upper limit on what a candidate professing the principles of liberty might actually achieve towards that end if elected to office. That is a valuable insight. But it also points to another truth that lovers of liberty need to remember: “The advancement of freedom is not a matter of who wields political power over creative actions; rather, it depends upon the disassembling of such power.”
Politicians are not the answer, so pinning one’s hopes on a particular one being “in charge” is a recipe for disappointment. Those who “fly higher” have the potential to advance freedom, but only by articulating a consistent case for liberty beforehand. Otherwise, they will be unable to disassemble their own and others’ power over us when they are in office, in the face of a political flood tide carrying us rapidly in the opposite direction, a fact made obvious in America’s most recent election. We can only hope that those whose rhetoric barely (if that) reached nap-of-the-earth altitude for liberty and will be in state and federal capitols in 2023 will not crash and burn what made America great.
Everyone expects the Federal Reserve to increase rates next week. The CME Group assigns a probability of 97% that the Fed’s target rate will rise from 3.0-3.25% to 3.75-4.0%. With the Fed hiking for quite some time, and inflation maintaining a 40 year high, at least two things should now be apparent: Raising rates to fight (price) inflation does not work and the Fed will continue raising rates to fight inflation.
Just last week, CNBC wrote:
Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Patrick Harker on Thursday said higher interest rates have done little to keep inflation in check, so more increases will be needed.
Showing not even the slightest reservation with their policy, the Fed President was quotes as saying:
We are going to keep raising rates for a while... Given our frankly disappointing lack of progress on curtailing inflation, I expect we will be well above 4% by the end of the year.
Incredible really, because so far, rate hiking has done next to nothing to “fight inflation.” Instead of examining their theory, the Fed decided to do more of the same in hopes it will somehow work… eventually.
According to our planners, prices have increased due to COVID, Putin, and anything else except the Fed’s $5 trillion monetary inflation. Their solution to lowering prices is to raise interest rates. While this has not worked so far; if rates reach above 4% by the end of the year, the prediction is that it will.
It’s comical but this is basically the narrative we’re told. There’s even more to the story:
The expectation is that the Federal Open Market Committee, of which Harker is a nonvoting member this year, will then take rates a bit higher in 2023 before settling in a range around 4.5%-4.75%.
And so, he claims:
At that point, I think we should hold at a restrictive rate for a while to let monetary policy do its work.
To recap: The Fed will stop raising rates sometime next year when rates are close to 5%. At this time, something will happen, and prices will go back down again. Or if they don’t want to call it deflation, the hope is that the CPI and other inflation calculators show a mere 2% inflation for the foreseeable future.
How or why any of this would be the case has never been explained by the most highly paid and decorated economists of our time. Nor has it been explained why raising rates to fight inflation will work in 2023 when it hasn’t worked in 2022. We must assume that on some level, everyone, including members of the Fed, know that inflation cannot be controlled like a water faucet. Surely, those in the Fed’s inner circle know their quantitative models are inherently flawed. For everyone outside the Fed, we must continue to take stock that whatever the Fed is doing, it’s economics in name only. Never forget what they’ve done to our money, our economy, and our future.
Barring any stock market catastrophe, rates will rise next week. If that doesn’t solve our inflation problem, expect rates to rise again. Of course, they cannot raise indefinitely because amongst other things, the world is drowning in debt. The rate cut will come eventually, irrespective of any inflation reading.
Many are dismayed that the American military and intelligence complex has gone woke.
“White supremacy” brainwashing at West Point, “white rage” handwringing by the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “cisgender millennial” CIA agents with anxiety disorders, and a “rainbow bullets” recruiting ad from the United States Marine Corps.
What happened to good old freedom and democracy? When did the American ideology switch from Uncle Sam to Drag Queen Story Hours?
There’s no need for dismay. Nothing has really changed. In the end, all ideology is interoperable. Apple pie, “Over There,” Rolling Thunder, shock and awe—there is no difference between these statist slogans and the seventy-two genders on Facebook. Ideology is ideology is ideology. The state will co-opt whatever will convince the greatest number of people to keep paying taxes and, when necessary, to die to protect the statists in their “undisclosed locations.”
There is no particularly American ideology, after all. The state takes whatever is available and twists it into a justification for its ongoing existence. Rainbow flags are not a replacement for the red, white, and blue. For the state, all emblems are, fundamentally, the same. All ideology can be switched out for all other ideology. Ideology is interoperable.
Austrians know perfectly well that the state is parasitic on the economy. The same logic applies in all other areas of human existence. The state appropriates everything it touches. The state renders the various aspects of a society in ways that maximize the state’s power. Even that which is not ideology—family, religion, human dignity, bare life—the state takes up and regulates as though it had standing in even the most intimate areas of human existence.
The officially atheistic Chinese Communist Party, for example, arrogates to itself the right to appoint Catholic bishops and to approve (or deny) the transmigration of the soul of the Dalai Lama. This is not at all strange. The state ideologizes all things. It takes whatever exists under its sway and builds a bureaucratic Faraday cage around it. No outside force can affect what the state has taken over. The state uses all things for statism, even metempsychosis and apostolic succession.
The Chinese Communist Party persecutes religious believers, but it will go to war to prevent outside states from attenuating its Buddhist and Christian prerogatives. Ideology is its own justification. Power knows no contradictions, only threats and subjugation.
States not always had this power, although they have always had this tendency. In the distant past, culture was prior to the state. A thousand years ago, only a mad tyrant would have dreamed of imposing “gay marriage” by fiat. And even then, nobody would have heeded him.
In the United States, too, cultural norms and civilizational expectations (including respect for hard work and private property, civic responsibility, and delayed gratification) lay outside the reach of the state. Personal freedom was the norm. Thomas Jefferson would have burned his vax pass with glee.
It was the rise of the nation-state and the “iron cage” of absolutist bureaucracy that turned human beings into subjects of pure ideology. In today’s America, ideology rules. Entrepreneurs serve Leviathan: Google’s contracts with the federal government are the Panopticon multiplied by Plato’s Republic. Entertainers are co-opted, too: Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga tweet traffic information for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Newspapers offer themselves like prostitutes to politicians: a “journalist” named Franklin Foer sent a draft of his “news story” to Fusion GPS so the Clinton team could edit it for him before publication. The state has captured a myriad of other “journalists,” too.
Ancient civilizations now belong to the statists as well. The Supreme Court recently expanded the government’s control over Native American tribes. There is nothing, after all, outside the state. Ideology and the state go together. They are, in fact, the same thing.
When I was young, I learned that George Washington could not tell a lie. Now I am old, and I am learning that Anthony Fauci cannot tell a lie, either. Tearing down Washington’s statues is how the American state survives today. Yesterday’s heroes are tomorrow’s scapegoats. There is a Black Lives Matter Plaza in the nation’s capital, where once paraded the Ku Klux Klan. All ideologies the state will ingest. In-Q-Tel, Mockingbird.
I fully expect that by the end of my life there will be a military guard standing watch outside the Tomb of the Unknown Stonewall Rioter. The head of the Department of Drag Queen Affairs will lay an absolutely fabulous wreath there. The state feeds on all cultural movements, without exception.
Even the pro-life movement, I’m very sorry to say, has been taken over by the state to a large degree. Roe vs. Wade was how the state captured the emerging zeitgeist and made itself the center of questions about children in the womb (thereby turning even gestation into part of the statist oeuvre).
Dobbs vs. Jackson was how the state wrested back control of a debate that was threatening to go beyond the bounds of statist oversight. Nothing substantial changes post-Dobbs. As before, Americans are going to be fighting about abortion as a political problem. We will now be “voting” about whether the taking of innocent life is legal.
So it shall be forever. Statists condemn to the gallows. Statists wave their hands in magnanimous pardon. Prisoners seek clemency from governors. Everyone knows who runs the show.
Christ alone did not flatter Pilate. Pilate, flummoxed, washed his hands of the matter. ‘He who will not beg for my mercy is no concern of mine.’ All else is ideology. The state has taken everything and made it its own.
Even Antifa reflects the state’s power back to itself. “Anarchists” with black flags and pink hair firebomb federal court buildings and take over police precincts. What better reminder could there be of who is really in control of things? Like pilgrims around the Kaaba, Antifa circle the source and focus of their existence.
The state feeds on Antifa, in truth. It makes even so-called revolutionaries instruments of its survival. “Defund the police” campaigns look more than a little silly in the shadow of a base system spanning the globe and a military fomenting and funding wars on an ongoing, planetary basis.
This is what the state does and is. Rainbow flag, black flag, Old Glory—the state is draped in all symbols, it wears all badges, it owns all measures of resistance. This is what they mean by “Be all that you can be.”
In ten years, I wager half the current Antifa crop will be working for the CIA. That’s where the real anti-civilizational work gets done. Why piddle with Molotov cocktails when you can drone-strike Yemeni peasants?
Hippies became yuppies. Rome became Christian. Ramzan Kadyrov is Putin’s Hessian now. Many stranger things have happened. And will in the future. Because all ideology is interoperable. The state takes all of human life and makes it into raw material for endless statist expansion.
It's time to reprogram the conditions of the economy to serve the many rather than the few.
Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru training exercise tests officer candidates' response to a no-win scenario: any attempt to rescue the crippled ship's crew results in the destruction of the candidate's ship, while standing by and taking no action results in the loss of the Kobayashi Maru's crew.
Captain Kirk famously defeated this no-win scenario by reprogramming the simulation to "change the conditions of the test." This can be viewed as either cheating or as creative problem-solving via "thinking outside the box."
The Kobayashi Maru is a very apt description of both the U.S. and the global economies, which are currently running a real-world no-win scenario called "Profits, Infinite Growth, Low Inflation, Full Employment." (PIGLIFE). To win in the PIGLIFE scenario, you need permanent expansion of GDP, consumption, profits and employment and a permanently low limit on inflation. Anything less and you lose.
Central banks and political leaders have managed to "win" the PIGLIFE scenario for decades, but at a cost that can no longer be cloaked by happy-happy statistics. The economy has been fatally hollowed out into a fragile shell of monopolies and cartels profiting from hyper-financialization and hyper-globalization, a system in which the only possible outcome is hyper-inequality and hyper-self-exploitation as the immense profits enable the purchase / capture of political and regulatory power.
Now that the PIGLIFE economy has stripmined all the easy-to-exploit resources and workforces, scarcities are pushing inflation far above the "winning" low level. Oops, you lose. Now the real teeth in the Kobayashi Maru scenario are bared: if Central banks and political leaders close the spigots of "free money" that's been expanding GDP, consumption, profits and employment for decades, then all those slide from expansion into contraction.
But if they keep the spigots of "free money" wide open, inflation threatens to feed back in a self-reinforcing loop of expectations of higher inflation that push inflation higher, which then justifies the expectations which then push prices, wages, etc. higher.
Meanwhile, the two engines of the PIGLIFE expansion, hyper-financialization and hyper-globalization, have dived off the cliff of diminishing returns. Boosting debt, leverage and globalized supply chains aren't generating expansion, they're actively undermining whatever "growth" is still sluicing through the PIGLIFE economy.
So sorry, Central banks and political leaders, you lose. The way you've rigged the system, it goes into self-reinforcing contraction if you close the spigots of "free money" even modestly. But if you don't, the Klingon ships of inflation destroy you. The more you push hyper-financialization and hyper-globalization as "solutions," the greater the destruction.
Clearly, we need a new set of conditions for prosperity and well-being that do not rely solely on expanding GDP, profits, consumption and employment. Many economists, for example, Joseph Stiglitz, have proposed retiring GDP as a measure of prosperity and well-being and using more accurate and sustainable measures of well-being to inform policies.
If we've learned anything, we've learned that enriching the already super-rich so they have even greater means to distort democracy to serve their private interests undermines the prosperity of the many rather than increases it. It's time to reprogram the conditions of the economy to serve the many rather than the few, and enable a truly winnable scenario of sustainable prosperity and well-being by tossing the "waste is growth / Landfill Economy" PIGLIFE model into the toxic waste dump of failed, no-win scenarios.