Chaos Manor View, Wednesday, February 03, 2016
“This is the most transparent administration in history.”
Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for Western Civilization as it commits suicide.
I have been working on fiction all day; I was interrupted by a lack of laundry soap, and Roberta still reluctant to undertake outside expeditions, so I decided to try it: it was a beautiful day, I feel fine, and I drove my ancient SUV the few blocks to the local store. There were no incidents. I do not think I will try to drive at night, but I am now confident that I can do small routine errands.
I’m making much progress on other work; apparently I am completely recovered from my bronchitis. Roberta is recovering from pneumonia, slower that she would like, but quite well. We are approaching normality – at least as much as Chaos Manor ever approaches normality.
I have just finished a Preface to the 2016 edition of There Will Be War Volume Nine: After Armageddon. Originally published in 1989, this edition will be released as an eBook next week.
When I was President of the Science Fiction Writers of America about 1973, one of my duties was to arrange the annual Nebula Awards presentation. At that time we gave a dramatic presentations Nebula, and I was able to enlist the support of the Hollywood studios for the event. They bought several tables and gave us some money to hire a name speaker; not much money, but Dr. Ed Mitchell, sixth man on the Moon, agreed to come down and present the awards as well as make a keynote speech. I don’t have a transcript; this was years before personal computers and easy copies of documents. We got him to come without a fee because he was an admirer of science fiction and thought it important.
He was also involved in ESP research, partly at Stanford; these were the days of Dr. Joseph Rhine, who had been experimenting with ESP since 1928, and Rhine Card experiments were very popular on college campuses: with tens of thousands of unsupervised experiments it is statistically certain that some improbable events would occur—after all, if the odds are 100 to 1 against something and you run the experiment 200 times—but Ed was not a naïve believer, at least when I met him; he hoped it was all true, but he was fairly rigorous in his experimental protocols.
I didn’t know him for long or all that closely, but I was impressed, and I have been rather glad that someone of that stature has been warning us that we don’t know everything. The US government spent some $10 million dollars on remote viewing research; given the value of the payoff if it had been successful, I cannot quarrel with that appropriation, even if the final conclusion was that they had found no useful results. Ed Mitchell was heavily into remote viewing, but the experiments he conducted were fairly rigorous in protocol, not stunts. The results, as have been all the results of that sort of experiment, were ambiguous at best and not repeatable.
I’ve had no contact with Dr. Mitchell for decades; I gather he was still interested in weird experimentation; but so far as I know he was quite rational about it. We need a few people of stature to head such to introduce rationality and some rigor in testing the limits of our knowledge; or I have always believed so. Requiescat in Pace.
Think of this as a substitute essay by me; not that I agree with everything in it, but much is self evident and draws intelligent conclusion about the strange phenomena we are experiencing.
Erosion Of The US Middle Class
In the recent Iowa caucuses, of the people motivated enough to show up, 50% of Democrats (Sanders) and 66% of Republicans (Cruz, Trump, Carson, Paul) voted for candidates who are explicitly running against the current Establishment. Moreover, in recent Rasmussen polls, 67% of US likely voters are somewhat-to-very angry about Federal government policies, and 81% think the Feds are somewhat-to-very corrupt.
I recently listened to a Bernie Sanders stump speech and found myself surprised. I agree with him on the problem: The US middle class has been under prolonged attack, is already seriously damaged, and it’s only getting worse. (Mind, the moment Sanders started proposing solutions, I was reminded of H.L.Mencken: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”.)
Given the modest but real chance that an anti-establishment candidate who actually means it will wake up in the White House a year from now, a quick review of the US middle class’s actual problems and some practical solutions is in order. Much of this will be rehashing of to-us obvious points, some of it perhaps not. I don’t have time to make this definitive anyway – I’ll be happy if it merely starts wiser heads thinking more thoroughly.
First, though, let me digress briefly to WHY fixing this erosion of the US middle class is vital. Recently, I wrote you about the role of a healthy middle-class majority in making democracy a stable and practical form of government. My main thrust was Western elites’ destructive foolishness in pushing democracy in places where it would predictably lead to some flavor of one-man-one-vote-once tyranny, but in the buildup I mentioned this:
“My take is, what actually makes for the stable prosperous societies many in the West currently take WAY too much for granted is middle-class rule, not democracy per se, with ‘middle class’ defined as those who tend to plan for their next generation, not just for their next week.”
“Consider the US, where the vote was originally pretty much restricted to settled property owners, and the Founders agreed “there never was a democracy that didn’t commit suicide.” We continued to do OK as the franchise was expanded for so long as this coincided with the expansion of a reasonably informed and forethoughtful middle class. Now that we’ve spent a couple generations simultaneously destroying our educational system and insisting that anyone who draws breath (and many who don’t) should vote, things are getting a bit dicey.”
My take here is, it isn’t just overseas where our self-appointed betters in the bipartisan establishment elite are screwing up. They’ve also spent decades imposing destructive policies on us here at home. Now, finally, what’s left of the country’s real ruling class, our middle class, seems to be catching wise, and we may – may – have one last chance to fix things before we’re history.
I think it comes down to six things: Spending, taxation, regulation, education, and expectations. The sixth thing? A horrible result of these first five (though they do damage in other ways too.) To quote that eminent natural philosopher James Carville, “it’s the economy, stupid!”
Since the housing bust, GDP annual growth has been just over 2% – half the average rate for post-WW II recoveries. Unemployment is only “low” because so many have given up looking, and of the jobs available, far too few are full-time at wages that will actually support a minimal middle class existence.
But that’s pretty abstract. I deal with the blue-collar lower margins of our middle class a lot. A few are doing OK, most are hanging on by their fingernails, and every year a few more fall off the edge. When they do, it tends to be ugly. The “safety nets” don’t help as much as you might think, as these are designed for stable clients. People whose lives have just exploded but who aren’t yet resigned to clientude can fall a long long way and hit very hard indeed.
More patches to the safety net won’t save our republic. We must remove a lot of the accumulated progressive dreck that makes it so hard to hang on in the first place. [emphasis added by JEP]
Federal revenues as a fraction of GDP seem prone to stabilize at around 18%, regardless of nominal tax rates, since shortly after WW II.
Revenue sees temporary peaks in boom times, temporary drops during busts, but always returning to the same ~18%. (I wouldn’t go so far as to call this some sort of natural law, mind – it’s more likely a matter of a natural inflection in the curve of American resistance to paying more taxes.)
18% of an $18 trillion GDP is a lot of money. Unfortunately, over the last eight years, Federal spending has averaged almost 22% of GDP (21% in 2015, but alas rising again from 2014.)
This level of spending has been sustained since the Dems lost control of Congress in 2010 by amazingly unscrupulous maneuvering – Harry Reid’s deliberate crippling of the normal Congressional budget process, and see also the recent revelation that Treasury knew all along how to avoid default in the various “shutdown” confrontations with Congress – IE, the White House threats of disastrous default were barefaced lies.
Assuming Republican control of both Congress and the White House next year, one of the first things to watch for is whether they get serious about bringing Federal spending swiftly back under 18% of GDP. It will be ugly, it will be painful, but it’s vital.
Overt taxation at the bottom margins of the middle class is currently quite low. In fact, go low enough and EITC makes it outright negative – albeit on a one-“refund”-per-year basis that encourages a jackpot mindset unconducive to working back up into the middle class. This is worth fixing – if we’re going to subsidize lower-income workers with families anyway, we might as well figure out a way to do it per-paycheck instead.
Get into the broad middle of the middle class, and overt taxation rises to a substantial slice. Outrageous, no, but substantial. This is probably inevitable as long as we insist on government continuing to do most of the things it currently does, as the middle class is still where the bulk of of the money is. We’ll be lucky to succeed in stopping further national debt growth and paying for the middle-class entitlements we’re already committed to. Significant middle-class tax relief on top of that probably can’t happen until we have quite a few high GDP-growth years behind us.
Covert taxation is another matter entirely. There are any number of things that, by government policy, we pay a great deal more for as soon as we start putting some daylight between ourselves and the official poverty line.
Some of this is obvious: The various explicit subsidies for the government-client underclass that go away fast as income rises. It’s not news that there’s significant pressure at the lower margin to just give up and slide into being a government client rather than continue struggling to be an independent citizen. Tinkering at the margins can actually be quite effective here, as witness the ’90’s welfare reform.
A bit subtler is Obama care, where the majority of the middle class is only now discovering that it’s us paying for all the new mandatory expanded benefits, via outrageously higher premiums for anyone moderately healthy who’s above the not-very-high subsidy cutoff. A free market in insurance, plus a formally subsidized high-risk pool, would get rid of this covert taxation, and allow rational decisions on both how much coverage we need, and on how much charity, how paid for, we can actually afford.
Other examples abound, any place the government mandates that we buy more than we might otherwise choose. Now, many of these we might not want to change. For instance, I find modern auto crash-worthiness quite comforting, compared to some of the deathtraps I drove when I was younger. (Modern fuel-economy standards, on the other hand, I think have led to all sorts of pernicious nonsense.) But, my opinions aside, all such mandates should be reviewed for which are cost-effective in terms of supporting the overall well-being of our average citizens, and which aren’t, with ruthless pruning of the latter.
The regulatory metastasization-induced cratering of the small-business startup rate and (related) of overall economic growth has obvious implications for availability of middle-class jobs. Housing is also made more expensive by a range of government policies – largely local till recently, but increasingly national, with multiple new federal power grabs by the current administration underway.
There’s also the regulatory drag on individual initiative. If I start a craft guitar shop, will I go to jail for importing the wrong exotic wood? And on political participation – do my chances of going to jail for importing the wrong wood go up if I donate to the wrong cause?
Overall, regulation greatly overlaps with the “covert taxation” I’ve already described. One solution is the same: An ongoing review for which regulations are cost-effective in terms of supporting the overall well-being of our average citizens, and which aren’t, with an effective mechanism for removal of those that don’t make the cut. Another
solution: Mandatory sunset period for all new regulations. Another: No new regulation becomes final without resubmission to the Congress for an up-or-down vote.
The US middle class can’t afford Federal bunny inspectors any more.
Multiply that by a thousand and cut, and it’d be a start.
The nationalization and homogenization of US education to provide full employment for a politically-connected credentialed educrat class whose fads and fashions are increasingly unconnected to actual learning has been well covered elsewhere, and the solutions are generally obvious.
Painful and politically difficult, but obvious.
My major beef here is that basic teaching of children HOW to be middle-class has been not just neglected but actively sabotaged. The basic math skills to plan ahead, the basic logic skills to spot deceptive sales pitches, the basic historical knowledge to spot political knavery, the basic practical and technical skills to work productively, the basic personal discipline to apply all of these to leading a stable and decent life – the parts of our middle class strong enough to pass these skills on in-family survive, while those at the margins crumble ever faster into government clienthood.
Let’s not even mention US higher education coming to combine the worst aspects of debt-peonage and Maoist reeducation camps. Some things are just too depressing.
Curated this, organic that, free-range food, helicopter-parented over-scheduled designer kids – all these elite establishment cultural expectations hugely increase the cost of having a middle-class family.
It’s easy to dismiss all this as passing upper-class faddism – but increasingly it’s being applied to all by government mandate. As witness, parents being charged with neglect for allowing kids to walk to school alone, or schools being forced to switch to “healthy” foods the kids won’t eat (with the definition of “healthy” changing like the wind.) Much is curable faddism, of course – minimum “acceptable” houses growing ever larger, minimum acceptable media access growing ever more immersive, frenetic, and expensive.
Cultural counterpressure is the answer, of course, though blest if I know how to produce that. Beyond, that is, writing screeds like this and hoping for the best.
I note with interest that while Newt Gingrich – who, after all, as Speaker was able to get a balanced budget from Clinton – has not exactly endorsed Mr. Trump but has taken him seriously and has not joined the ritual attack machine. As I say, I find it interesting. And I do not expect Mr. Trump to tell me a lot of technical details; he will accomplish his goals (or not) the way leaders have always accomplished goals – by ordering them done by people he has a reasonable expectation of having the ability to do them, and seeing that they have the requisite resources. He could not tell you how he built Trump Tower; and few of you could do so either.
You say we should not mention the utter destruction of the free public education system that took this nation from farmers to a middle class as our vanished apprentice system made for a blue collar middle class; but it is important. We cannot thrive if the cost of an education is a lifetime of debt. We do not owe our academic masters a lifetime of luxury which they “perform” by abusing academic “adjuncts” and other minions. I agree that the system which produced me – financed by the Korean War GI Bill – was deliberately sabotaged, and credentialism has made essential a gang of academic thugs called administrators as well as given faculty. once accustomed to an adequate but not luxurious life, poppycock dreams which have been fulfilled.
The Ministry of Empty Gestures Wants You
What do Al Gore , Darth Vader and the Animal Legal Defense League have in common ?
An advertising consortium with enough clout to commandeer the Eiffel Tower
Shades of Kornbluth and Max Headroom !
Fellow of the Department of Physics Harvard University
You’ll see this again:
by the numbers
Seen on twitter
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.