Two Nations, Under Mammon

Patrick Deneen uses a book review in the Wall Street Journal as an opportunity to make two haunting points.

First, even though the book in question, Average Is Over by Tyler Cowen, “tells of a coming(?) nation of two economic classes, the meritocratic elite and an increasingly poor,” Kurt Vonnegut and Michael Young made this same observation. In the 1950s.

Aficionados of science fiction know that Kurt Vonnegut predicted this world already in 1952, with the publication of his first novel, Player Piano. There he describes with chilling accuracy this world ever-more coming into view—one divided between a meritocratic class with all the right degrees (even the secretaries will have Ph.D.s in a credential-inflated future) and the “Reeks-and-Wrecks,” who a visiting dignitary from the Middle East insists on calling “Takaru”—”slaves.”

Furthermore, while there are those on the right and left who like to beat their breasts and lament about symptoms they’re particularly concerned about, both wings of the same ugly bird have been contributing to this dichotomy for a very long time.

The fact is that this project was readily discernible to the likes of Vonnegut in 1952 and Michael Young (author of The Rise of the Meritocracy) in 1958, and national and international elites have been busy constructing this world ever since, regardless of political label. The Right laments the decline of “family values” as it supports economic policies that support this arrangement (even as it has garnered votes from those displaced by an increasingly rapacious economy, attracted to its message of traditional values. Notably, many of these voters simply stayed home during the last election, rightly perceiving that neither of the major candidate was in their corner.). The Left laments the income gap, and proposes various forms of social welfare that will cushion the blow, all the while even more enthusiastically constructing the meritocratic society and populating government and leading thinkeries with Ivy League “winners.” These button-down hipsters increasingly accumulate in a select number of urban echo-chambers described most recently by Charles Murray, where they lament the rise of a growing underclass while sipping $7 lattes. These social policies are purportedly to be supported by a tax base of theoretical future citizens that are not being born, a logical outcome of an aggressively expanding and government-subsidized sexual revolution, contracepting, gay marriage, and abortion culture advanced by the very same Left.

Which leads Deneen to his second broader point.

 [I]t has never failed to strike me that it is libertarians (perhaps of a certain stripe) that advance an “inevitability” thesis. Cowen, according to [the book reviewer], argues that “resistance is futile.”

There’s nothing we can do, says Mr. Cowen, to avert a future in which 10% to 15% of Americans enjoy fantastically wealthy and interesting lives while the rest slog along without hope of a better life, tranquilized by free Internet and canned beans.

This is an important observation. Just because we can use certain mental tools to discern trends from the past does not mean we know the future. While there may be a likelihood that a certain stream of events may come to pass, there are far too many variables to say with certainty “this is what is going to happen.”

For example, those of us who have studied Austrian economics are certainly, perhaps gravely, concerned about the effects on the economy (particularly the poor and shrinking middle class) from the Federal Reserve’s attempts to reflate the economy through the creation of new money. We use tools like Austrian Business Cycle Theory to help us think about the effects of this policy. What we don’t know, however, is where this new money will actually go, and when the bust will occur.

Furthermore, we also don’t know about the political effects of more and more people learning about what the Fed is doing. The economy certainly isn’t booming as predicted by the New Keynesians. To what extent does this new awareness have anything to do with it?

While it is certainly worthwhile to be aware of and be concerned about trends within our society, there is the risk that “knowing” the future leads to viewing life as absurd and futile. After all, being uncertain about the future provides for an element, however small, of hope. Those of us who worry about these things sometimes have to remind ourselves that things could actually improve.

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California effectively nullifies NDAA

Finally! The California legislature and Jerry Brown did something I fully endorse!

Assembly Bill 351, commonly called the California Liberty Preservation Act, has been signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown making it statewide policy to refuse compliance with federal attempts to enforce “indefinite detention” made famous by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA). What began as a marginal issue with little legislative support has unified Californians of all persuasions and brought attention to the proper role the people and their states play in a constitutional republic.

This language of AB351 goes far beyond what has been considered in most other states, which focus solely on indefinite detention powers under the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and nothing else.  [Repubican Assemblyman Tim] Donnelly’s legislation broadened the scope by recognizing that indefinite detention should not be complied with no matter what federal law is used to justify it.  Donnelly confirmed this broad scope, “AB351 will prevent California from implementing indefinite detention for any reason.”

On a side note, as someone who started a blog to share my concerns about the state of our economy, foreign affairs and civil liberties, there has been far more good news to discuss than I could have ever anticipated. We averted military action in Syria, the US is talking to Iran, the government is currently closed, and now California is sticking its tongue at the US for NDAA.

What’s next? The implementation of gold-backed money???

h/t Becky Akers

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Bank of Panama re-opens without incident

SIlver Doctors is reporting that the Bank of Panama re-opened on Tuesday, as promised, without incident. Any concerns about another Cyprus bail-in situation has been alleviated.

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I’m sure the next door will be open…

h/t ZeroHedge

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The beginning of the end for Washington?

I don’t know if I agree with the nuances of this article, but the simple fact that the premise is even being raised is telling.

Meanwhile, as the media’s focus has generally been on the civil war within the Republican Party about how to proceed on Obamacare and the debt ceiling, the Democratic Party ain’t exactly holding up very well either. For one thing, the main fundraiser for the party is nearly broke:

The Democrats’ numbers speak for themselves: Through August, 10 months after helping President Obama secure a second term, the [Democratic National Committee] owed its various creditors a total of $18.1 million, compared to the $12.5 million cash cushion the Republican National Committee is holding.

Several executives at firms that contract to provide services to the party — speaking anonymously to avoid antagonizing what remains an important if troubled client — describe an organization playing for time as they raise alarms about past-due bills falling further behind. And senior strategists close to the DNC say they worry the organization appears to have no road map back to solvency. “They really thought they could get this money raised by the summer,” one said, “but the fact is, from talking to people over there, they have no real plan for how to solve this.”

Several commentators have been frothing over the possibility of the Democrats retaking the House from the Republicans in 2014. However, aside from all of the issues now raging on the Hill, the Jackasses have more pressing problems to address.

Like avoiding bankruptcy.

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Isaiah’s Job, by Albert Jay Nock

In the year of Uzziah’s death, the Lord commissioned [Isaiah] to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. “Tell them what a worthless lot they are.” He said, “Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

Read the entire essay here.

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Atlas’s shoulders are beginning to twitch

I am not a big Ayn Rand fan. Her fiction is ok, I haven’t read much of – nor am I terribly interested in reading – her nonfiction, and I was underwhelmed when I attempted to read Altas Shrugged while in college. Then again, I was a liberal Democrat-turning-socialist at the time, so that may have contributed somewhat to how I read her book.

During recent election cycles it had become stylish among Tea Party Republicans to encourage anyone and everyone to praise the foresight of Ayn Rand while protecting their Medicare. “Read Atlas Shrugged!” was the motto. It’s one thing to read fictional depictions of otherwise productive people go on strike to protest the smothering demands of the welfare state; it’s another entirely for someone to actually do it.

Karl Denninger has taken such a step:

At the end of the day you have to be able to sleep with yourself every night.  And unfortunately there can come a point where the cost-to-benefit ratio is simply all out of whack.  I’ve been blessed with both industry and luck; via both I was able to answer the “do you have enough?” question in the affirmative close to twenty years ago.  My motivating factors left the realm of making sure I could eat at that point and now the balance has unfortunately shifted to where what I do every day is work rather than joy.

In no small part this shift is due to the zombie-like activity of many in this nation, including in places and among parts of the population where you’d think it would not be present.

I refuse to continue to silently accede to, and actively fund through my drive to acquire that measured in and rewarded by “wealth”, the rampant theft and fraud that has and continues to take place in the economic sector, especially in the banking and health care areas of our economy.  None of this could ever exist except through the insertion of the guns of government up the noses of the American people.

I can no longer live with being one of the better sources of funding for these abuses.  This decision did not come lightly, easily or quickly.  But I’m convinced it’s the right choice as things stand today.

In short, if you want it in two words, it’s this: I’m done.

Denninger will be reducing his “income footprint” to be within the (in his words) “Screw You Uncle Sam” range. His blog will be shifting from market-related topics to more political-related topics. His focus will primarily be on

putting before the people a chronology of lies, frauds and scams in the hope that others wake up.

It will be interesting to see if others follow in Denninger’s footsteps.

h/t Economic Policy Journal


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