Why I am a Yeomanite

One of the things President Obama is frequently accused of in the right of center media is blaming former President George Bush for our economic woes. His supporters point out, for example, that TARP was passed by Bush and that most people now blame President Obama even for that.

Frankly, President Obama is right to blame former President Bush for much of our economic situation.

However, that is beside the point.

President Obama has presented himself and the government as the means to economic growth. Behind all his policies is the assumption that the state knows best where our energies should be directed to grow the economy.

Yet, for nearly 18 months nothing he has done to move the economy has caused anything like a recovery. Furthermore, his predictions have been off, which demonstrates that the economy is not as simple as his promises, or at least his implied beliefs, indicated.

In other words, in the end, just like Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, et al et al, President Obama does not know how to grow the economy.

Of course, it is premature to say that what he has done won’t help, but I am among the multitudes who are beyond skeptical of the efforts of the present government to do the right thing.

Beyond skeptical, because I positively believe that they have done and are doing the wrong things.

But even that is beside the point. Let us suppose that President Obama does know best what our economy needs. There is no possibility that by the time he presses it through congress, his solution will look anything like what he knows we need. Only a dictator could overcome that reality.

As long as people hope that government decisions will lead to a recovery, as opposed to allowing one, our government will be permitted to make decisions that can’t possibly work.

Economic recoveries happen when people who make small scale economic decisions are able to use their own intelligence based on the conditions before them to do what best enables them to fulfill their responsibilities.

When everybody is sitting around waiting for the next big decision from Washington about who gets the next dollop of corporate, social, or economic welfare, nothing happens.

When people are unwilling to take the risk of opening a new restaurant or expand their warehouse or sell a new product because they are afraid the state will have something more intelligent for them to do, the economy can’t grow.

What leads to economic recovery is not a mystical force in the market or the intelligent hand of the state planner. It’s people being allowed to attempt to fulfill their duties according to their best lights. The recovery comes because so many fail, but quite a few succeed.

The harder it is to fail, the harder it is to create new jobs.

It may be worth noting here, though it is an  aside, that it is not “enlightened self-interest” repackaged as greed that grows a healthy economy. It is fathers who want to provide for their families. Everything else feeds off that basic duty.

That is why I’m a Yeomanite. Nobody is smart enough to intelligently direct an economy, but many, many people are smart enough to figure out what to do in their circumstances.

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Another Sign of Renewal

I love education and I distinguish it from training, but here is an idea that fits our circumstances and that I hope will set an example for other colleges to emulate.

COLLEGE LAUNCHES CATHOLIC MEDIEVAL GUILDS

It’s the mindset behind this idea that needs to spread.


Conservative Literature: Where is it?

In this article, Brian Doherty compares libertarian literature to conservative and finds the latter wanting. His argument is intriguing, as it indicates the decline in conservative thought since Russell Kirk was the leading spokesman and sage of the conservative renewal. Until conservatism can reconcile the free market with the preservation of culture and the soul it sustains, it will continue to be a divided movement, somewhat effective but always on the brink of ruin.

Freedom and Planning

I was in our headmaster coaching meeting this morning when the topic of the span of central planning came up. Yeah, that’s a conversation starter!

In his book The Logic of Liberty, Michael Polanyi includes an essay called The Span of Central Direction. He was a chemist before he became a philosopher, so you’ll want to pay close attention to the following quotation, but I’ll comment on it afterward if it causes you excessive stress. Here’s what he says:

This essay may be labouring the obvious…

I affirm that the central planning of production–in the rigorous and historically not unwarranted sense of the term–is strictly impossible; the reason being that the number of relations requiring adjustment per unit of time for the functioning of an economic system of n productive units is n-times greater than can be adjusted by subordinating the units to a central authority. Thus, if we insisted in placing the 100,000 business units of a major industrial country under a single technocratic control, replacing all market operations by central allocations of materials to each plant, the rate of economic adjustments would b reduced to about 1:100,000 of its usual value and the rate of production would be reduced to the same extent….

My point is that it can be demonstrated that an overwhelming reduction, amounting to a standstill in the possible rate of production, must arise from the administrative limitations of a system of central direction.

If the technical stuff was confusing, go back to that last sentence. Maybe pin it on the wall near your television or computer screen or wherever you get your news.

When I made this point, the headmaster I was meeting with responded immediately by saying, “Let me give you a case in point.”

This particular headmaster works for a public charter school, so he has to contend with the consequences of people ignoring Polanyi’s insight every day. His case in point was very simple. He told me that on Friday, President Obama, the de facto central director of America’s schools, issued an executive order that all flags must be flown at half-mast on Monday (yesterday) in honor of all who have died as victims of terrorist attacks.

So far as I can tell, there is no reason to be opposed to President Obama’s gesture, which is a very important point. Polanyi’s argument has nothing whatsoever to say about the quality of the character of the people who are directing things from the center. The argument revolves entirely around the question of viability, and therefore of consequences.

What President Obama seemed not to have adequately taken into consideration is “The number of relations requiring adjustment per unit of time.” Notice a few details here:

1. Relations require adjustment when a director passes down a directive. Always. You can’t ignore this fact because it isn’t mathematical.
2. Adjustments to relationships require time. Perhaps you have noticed that in your personal or professional life.
3. There is a finite, though vast, number of relationships that require adjustment when a central director hands down a directive. For the directive to achieve its desired end, ALL OF THEM must be adjusted to the extent necessary.

Thus, if a man is talking with another man at the water cooler (that seems to be the only place where business professionals can talk), or if a middle manager is meeting with a team of subordinates to plan the execution of next week’s testing directive, or if two teachers are meeting to resolve a tension over the way they handled a student cheating on a test, all of those relationships must be adjusted (meetings ended, conversations redirected, emotions set aside,  etc.) in order to act on the directive handed down by the central director. ALL OF THEM.

Of course, some of them are more easily adjusted than others. The men at the water cooler should not be allowed to slack off and develop a human relationship anyway, and the two teachers should never allow anything like tension between them block the execution of a central directive. But what about important things, like test-planning? Surely even the most hard-hearted defender of central planning can see that central planning can only be sustained by arbitrary and quasi-objective testing? Surely we don’t want to stop a test-planning meeting to lower the flag to half-mast!

Ah, you object, it isn’t that hard to lower a flag. No, it isn’t. But it is hard to get 100,000 people to adjust their relationships to do so. In fact, the inevitable problem in this particular event seems to have occured closer to the source (of which there is only one variable – the central director or President himself) than to the flag pole (of which there are thousands of variables and therefore more opportunities to botch the directive) because my headmaster friend only received this executive order at 2:00 PM on Monday!

Somebody close to the White House, or at least closer to the White House than to the School House, or some group of people, did not adjust their relationships soon enough to help others adjust their relationships soon enough to help others adjust their relationships soon enough to act on time. And so, the school was not in compliance with the will of the central director.

My guess is, that caused some anxiety for the school. Nobody likes to be out of favor with central directors.

Let me summarize by making my point as clear as I possibly can. Planning production or any other human activity can only be effectively done to a certain scale.

Let me try again: When we plan things, we will only succeed if we pay attention to the scale of what we are planning. There are limits to how far we can reach before we are guaranteed to fail by the nature of the task we are planning.

Perhaps it will help if I make the point more concrete: The Public Education system in America cannot possibly succeed because it is too big and too centralized. This is not an ideological statement, or an argument from theory, or a racist position, or anything else.

It is a mathematical certainty.

Let me extend my point just a little bit. American political and economic society has adopted an architecture that cannot hold it up.

I have always admired President Obama and his evident commitment to his wife and to the suffering. I would never ask him to pull back on either of them. But he and his country have made a fundamental mistake. They seem to believe that it is possible to have enough power to bring about changes that will improve conditions for the poor and suffering.

It is not possible. The attempt can only betray the attemptor.

The only hope for the poor and suffering is love of neighbor.

Of course, it is possible for the President and Congress to help some of the poor and suffering. Whoever they favor will no doubt benefit from their power. But on a larger scale, they can only spread misery.

Why? Not because they are evil or anti-Christ or any such nonsense. Because it is mathematically impossible to solve the problems they attempt to solve on the scale they attempt to solve them.

That is why no school reform can ever fix American education. That is why the inner cities will never be reached by federal aid. That is why the Great Society led to widespread cynicism among Americans in regard to their government. That is why the more we rely on our federal government to “change” our society by achieving an abstract equality and justice, the more we become dependent on unelected organizations established by our elected officials but always spinning out from under their control.

It’s also why large corporations waste more time and energy than can be comprehended in a mortal lifetime.

This is not an anti-government diatribe. I am completely in favor of government and believe it to be a noble and beautiful thing – by no means a necessary evil.

Nor is it an anti-business tirade. I love business. My dad owned one and almost half of the employed work force in America works for one.  I don’t even think business people are necessarily vulgar or unklempfed (whatever that means).

It’s a pro-scale appeal. It’s a cry for respect for human beings. It’s a little hopeless, too, because I know how we are overly invested in everything gigantic.

But maybe, as in the Soviet Bloc, Gargantua and Leviathon have been seen to fail and it isn’t too late. Maybe enough Americans are willing to be responsible within their just sphere that we can at least live free, if not dreamily happy.

We’ve made a mistake. A measurable, observable, obvious mistake. Can we learn from it?

Time will tell.

tanning beds and taxing the poor

For some people the health care funding and decision-making law that passed a few weeks ago is a political triumph for President Obama and it is exciting because it is “historical.” Some people may even benefit from it.

But for many, many people the new law is an expression of a new American mindset. Admittedly, this mindset was put in motion in the late 19th century by the Progressives, implemented by short-sighted people like Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, and expanded under blind leaders like Lyndon Johnson and the George Bushes.

So maybe I should call it a “renewed” mindset rather than a new one.

In the last two years I’ve seen an alteration in the common discourse that I was oblivious to before that. Maybe it was there and certainly it could be found if you looked for it. But in the summer of 2008 someone gave the parrots permission to talk about Progressivism in positive light.

Now everywhere I go on the internet I read articles and comments that defend and use the word Progressivism instead of the word liberalism.

Progressivism is like Depressions. The people who live through them are very careful with their money and tell their children about what they endured. They avoid debt and, for the most part, so do their children. But the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, lacking a historical sense, forget. So they lay the foundations for the next cycle.

But it’s not the big words that concern me, it’s the open commitment to meddling. The latest is the tax placed on tanning beds. Did you know that you will have to pay a 10% tax to use a tanning bed.

So far, that seems like not a big deal. But what bothers me is the mentality of those who defend it. It seems that the reason this tax is acceptable is because tanning is bad for you. So the government, by slapping a tax on it, might discourage people from engaging in this carcinogenic activity.

It confirms to me that the battle over cigarette smoking was only an early field test in this battle.

What am I failing to understand? Why is it so hard for people to get their heads around the fact that they are giving increasingly unlimited power to a government that, as President Obama repeatedly pointed out in his campaign, isn’t trustworthy – plus it doesn’t like them?

What are we afraid of that is so scary that we run into the wolvish mouth of the state?

It seems to me that the reason lies in the national habit of thinking tokens instead of thoughts. Words and political gestures are symbols. People can’t imagine those symbols coming alive in their own lives, so they just enjoy them. Orwell predicted this.

Today you will be taxed for using a tanning bed. Tomorrow you might still have to pay the “Botax,” but since you have an interest group and lots of money behind your right, the state will have to wait until they can demonize you. You’ll probably make it. You know how to play the game.

The people who are going to carry the burden of this new American mind are those who can’t afford the lawyers.

Did you notice? Everything just became a special interest.

Freedom Begins at Home

If a people would be free (and very few people would be free) there are two things they must do, two foundations they must lay and that firmly. First, they must love their neighbors. Second, they must honor their fathers and their mothers.

There is a third as well. They must not commit adultery.

And yet another comes to mind, and maybe it is the foundation for all the rest. They must not steal.

These crimes against the soul are snakes in the garden, cancers in the social body, breakers of wills.

A people governed by sentiment will tolerate thieves and nurture adulterers. In such a society children will learn to dishonor their parents as a matter of right, while abstracting love of neighbor into a substitute to soothe the conscience rather than to obey it.

Such a people will never learn to govern themselves. Each will cry out for protection from and power over the other, some from greed, some from fear, some for vengeance.

Thus, like charity, freedom begins in the home. When husbands fail to love their wives, when children are not expected to obey their parents, when families do not love their neighbors, the blessings of liberty are sought with an ever intensified futility.

For how can she whom we have killed continue to bless us?

Freedom, Mandates, and Financial Solvency (with an implied comment on the power of naming)

Rep Paul Ryan wrote a rather tepid response to the health funding and decision making  plan that President Obama passed into law yesterday. It was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Of all the parties in the discussion, Rep Ryan has presented the most clear alternative, so he’ll be interesting to watch over the next few years. If he has charisma, the Republicans might be wise to lean on him.

However, I was most struck by two comments by readers. I have no idea whether these views are widely held, but you need to look at them closely. At least some people support the new law for the reasons described below.

Way to many procedures being done for no reason. I agree people should be mandated to live a health life style. How many times do you see overweight people with handicap parking and driving those electric shopping carts. Who is giving out these permits, doctors. Instead they should be telling these people to exercise and lose weight and some of there disabilities will actually improve.

comment in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

But costs are not Ryan’s main beef. He is an idealogue. He wants small government, commerce, low taxes and individual freedom, financial solvency be damned.

another comment

Way back when women were not allowed to vote, some of the opposition was the male chauvenistic argument that women love to meddle and that if they are allowed to vote, we will have a state that meddles in all our affairs. I always thought that was pretty funny. It would be so nice to think that one sex has this vice more than the other. Oh well.

Meddling is a sin, but since we don’t have any room for religion in public life it is not worth pointing that out here. More to the point is this simple fact: with a federal health funding and decision making plan in place, there is nothing that people do with their time that does not affect our federal budget. The state now has an interest in absolutely everything you do.

I think it was my brother Nate that made this point about motorcycle helmets. If an insurance company insures a driver of motor cycles, they have, it seems to me, the right to tell them to wear a helmet or at least to charge a lot more in premiums for those who don’t agree to wear the helmet. After all, they will have to pay a lot more money to reconstruct shattered skulls than bruised ones.

Since the motorcycle rider has made a voluntary association with the insurance company in order to defray potential emergency expenses, he can walk away from that arrangement if he disagrees with the terms. Everything is private and voluntary.

Now we bring in the federal government. It carries, or at least will eventually carry, the final burden for every medical expense in this country. For now we can set aside the favors and bribes that will become a routine element of federal health funding and decision making. Let’s just accept the fact that we are all now paying for every stupid thing that anybody ever does.

In a world where symbols dominate the discourse, we have handed the federal government the right to eliminate anything they can persuade the people they should not like. Today it might be motorcycle helmets. Tomorrow it might be babies with missing chromosomes. On Friday it might, through an unimaginable social revolution, be people with STD’s. On Saturday it might be a mental disease.

The lady who wants doctors to be mandated to tell obese patients to lose weight needs to understand that when the power she has voted to Leviathon wants to eliminate some problem she carries, it won’t sit when she tells it to. This is not a Night at the Museum.

That is why I would urge you to reread that second quotation. Do you notice what he thinks of freedom? It is an ideology. Financial solvency is his priority.

Ideologists have a habit of projecting onto their opponents their own vices, in particular, ideology. They also have a tendency to create false dichotomies. The great lesson of history, vis economics, is certainly this: individual freedom has always been the only predictable path to financial solvency.

We are living out the Law of the Catastrophic Continuum. The next steps are not hard to predict, though their timing is. Being frightened infidels, afraid of reality, unwilling to accept the certainty of death and the risks of life, we are building a tower to heaven. It will end in haos and catastrophe, but not until we’ve convinced ourselves we can touch the sky.

But at least we know it won’t end with a flood.