How to turn a recession into a Depression.

The Fed has confirmed that we are officially in a recession. The actual decline in GDP is higher, though. It is at least -1.6%

What caused the Great Depression? Amity Schlaes’ book “The Forgotten Man” suggests that Roosevelt’s “Regulatory Uncertainty” was a big part of the cause. How were businessmen supposed to plan when policies changed from month to month ? The Roosevelt “Brain Trust” could not decide what might work. Some were good ideas, like the CCC which took young men off the street, helped them get into condition and did many worthwhile projects. Some, like the National Recovery Association, were Fascism which was popular in the 1930s.

Now, we face a disastrous shift in the national focus to imaginary threats like Global Warming. This has become all powerful among politicians because none of them know any science and the science people have become dependent on government funding. Fear is a great driver of government money. Climate science has become a rich field through flogging the unskeptics with fear of global warming. It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence of global warming or any of the other alleged threats. The super rich, like Barack Obama, are still buying waterfront estates no matter what they tell their followers.

Here is a proposal that might help.

Central planning always fails, but the utopian visionaries implementing the plans cannot admit that they are at fault. A scapegoat must be found. As a leading example, when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture led to mass starvation, the official blame was placed on “saboteurs” and “wreckers.”

Our current-day analog is the centrally-planned replacement of our very large, inexpensive and highly functional energy system, mostly based on fossil fuels, with the alternatives of intermittent wind and sun-based generation, as favored by incompetent government regulators who don’t understand how these things work or how much they will cost. Prices of energy to the consumer — from electricity to gasoline — are soaring; and reliability of supply is widely threatened.

All of which brings our President forth to blame the current price and supply issues in the energy markets on anything but his own administration’s intentional efforts to suppress the functional fossil fuel energy. One day the scapegoat is Vladimir Putin; another it is “companies running gas stations,” who stand accused of price gouging.

One possible solution is to use the states as experimental laboratories.

With federalism in energy policy, we can have New York forging ahead with its “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” and California doing the same with its SB 100 — both of them seeking to eliminate fossil fuels from the generation of electricity, and then to force all energy consumers to use only electricity for their supply. Will that work? If New York and California are successful, they will be a model for the rest of the country to follow. Congratulations will be in order. If they fail relative to other states — that is, if they see energy prices soar, or frequent blackouts or shortages of needed energy — then it will be obvious to all that it was the green energy that failed, and not that there were “saboteurs” or “wreckers” or “price gougers,” who after all could have attacked the other states as well.

Well the Feds allow this? Probably not with the current regime in power.

Fortunately, the red states are not just going along with this kind of thing any more. This will be a critical battleground over the next five to ten years.

We will see after the election. Many Republicans are in thrall to the climate hoax.

Shall It Be Sustained?

As a July 4th tradition, I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I originally used for these posts was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.

Narrator:

This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
And, afterwards,
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.

And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

Benet’s poem ends with these words:

We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

But shall it?

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Cloward Pivening

Once upon a time in the mad 60’s a pair of mad lefty (but I repeat myself) socialist sociologists refined a strategy for bringing about the blessed socialist utopia by overloading and bankrupting the welfare system. This, they confidently hoped, would crash the capitalist system and bring about the longed-for socialist utopia. Essentially, they drafted the poor and unprivileged into an army demanding services which the state ultimately could not provide; somehow, this would crash the system and bring about radical social reform. The whole thing sounds rather like the Underpants Gnomes theory of economics or the cartoon showing a pair of white-coated scientists examining a complicated mathematical sequence on a chalkboard with a notation in the middle of it which says, “And here a miracle happens.”

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Memes, Political Persuasion, and Political Intimidation

An interesting and important post at Quillette: Confessions of a Social-Justice Meme Maker.

I observe that political memes today tend not only to be oversimplified, which goes with the nature of the medium, but also to be insulting.  Political communication today has too often abandoned persuasion in favor of approaches which are believed to rally ‘the base’ while insulting opponents.

I am again reminded of something that Stalin’s master propagandist, Willi Munzenberg, said to Arthur Koestler back when Koestler was still a Communist:

Don’t argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them. Make them shudder with horror. That, Arturo, is propaganda!

A very high proportion of political memes today would cause Munzenberg to nod in approval.

In addition to stirring up one’s own side (good for contributions and for election day turnout!), a sufficiently vitriolic stream of insults can intimidate opponents from speaking out, lest they themselves be subject to such attacks. This intimidation is more effective, though, when a political side largely dominates the channels of communication, as the Left dominates most American media today.

The insult-and-intimidate approach, though, does have a downside: it may well alienate people who are somewhat aligned with the opposing side but may still be persuadable.  Even if they are intimidated from speaking out, they may still remember the sting of the insults when they alone in the voting booth.  Few practitioners of meme-driven insults and other forms of hostile political communication seem worried about this side effect of their work, though.

A factor that should not be underrated: many people get a certain kind of pleasure from engaging in cruelty while feeling virtuous and also reinforcing their sense of membership in an in-group.  See this horrible example from the UK.  I’ve seen no evidence that this particular incident had anything to do directly with memes, but I’m confident that the same kind of attitude is well-represented among the forwarders and makers of malign political memes.  My 2018 post Conformity, Cruelty, and Political Activism is relevant here.

As I noted above, memes oversimplify, by their very nature.  As the author of the linked Quillette post winds up her piece:  “Everything worth knowing is much more complex than any slogan can possibly convey.”

While this is true, it is also true that the kind of simplification represented by memes is by no means a new thing.  Political cartoons, for example, can be seen as a forerunner of memes.  Is the effect of today’s bad memes any worse than that of scurrilous political cartoons in, say, 1900?  I think that it may be: In 1900, literacy (in a broad sense) was on an upswing, and key cultural institutions of society were encouraging more of it, as did the technologies of the time. Whereas today, literacy (in the sense of being able to read, follow, and understand arguments of some complexity) seems to be on the decline, a trend certainly aggravated by the short-attention-span nature of much Internet media.

Neal Stephenson wrote an interesting little book called In the Beginning Was the Command Line.  While the book does talk about human interfaces to computer systems, its deeper subject is the impact of media and metaphors on thought processes and on work.  He contrasts the explicit word-based interface to systems and to information with the graphical or sensorial interface.

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