How Do We Solve Our Divisiveness Problem? II. What Is Needed Is More Pluralism

America has a highly polarized and divisive political atmosphere at the present time.  Current events, such as the Kyle Rittenhouse trial and acquittal, just seem to make things worse.  How will this contagion hopefully play itself out and eventually end?  None of us know but we can still speculate.

My last post, starts a discussion of this issue by describing a cyclic theory of American history as developed by the geopolitical analyst, George Friedman. Mr. Friedman explains how a repeating 80-year institutional cycle and a likewise repeating  50-year socioeconomic cycle will both be renewing in the mid-to late-2020s and how the resulting clash will likely result in a “storm” before the ensuing “calm.”

The problem of the current institutional cycle, beginning in 1945, is that the federal government has now become too massively incomprehensive and opaque.  This creates distrust on the part of citizens who often feel overwhelmed by policies they disagree with and helpless in trying to overturn them.

The problem of the current Reagan socioeconomic cycle is that capital has successfully expanded but has by now created too much economic inequality.  This is also a cultural issue as the now dominant internet technology has led to an assault on traditional family values.

How will these two cyclic paradigms reinvent themselves simultaneously to address the above problems?  Here I leave Mr. Friedman’s analysis (which becomes vague at this point) and turn to David French. Mr. French starts out by asking the question, “How does a functioning nation manage the challenge of faction?” Response: “James Madison has the answer – pluralism.”

According to Mr. French:

  • One of the core projects of a healthy American constitutional republic is to protect not just individual liberty, but the federalism and freedom of voluntary association that allows a multiplicity of groups and communities to flourish.
  • Pluralism is an essential part of American life and we should seek to foster a political culture that protects the autonomy and dignity of competing American ideological and religious communities.
  • The quest for moral, cultural, and political domination by either side of our national divide risks splitting the nation asunder. To embrace pluralism is to surrender the dream of domination.

Conclusion.  Factionalism is the problem.  Pluralism is the answer.  “To save America, chart James Madison’s course.” Our Republic needs to become even more decentralized than it already is.  Stay tuned for the details!

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How Will America Solve it’s Divisiveness Problem? I. Background on the Cyclic Nature of American History

Everybody knows how polarized and divisive America now is in both culture and politics.  Is there anything we can do about it?  How will it end?  My next several posts will deal with this hugely serious national problem.

As one glaring example, we all know how polarized Congress is.  But state government is also highly polarized.  In 30 states, Republicans control both legislative chambers (including Nebraska which is unicameral).  In 18 states both chambers are controlled by Democrats.  Only 2 states, Minnesota and Virginia (after the 2021 elections) have divided legislative control.

           

My views are largely based on two books which I have been reading lately.  One is “The Storm Before the Calm” by the geopolitical analyst, George Friedman.  The other one is “Divided We Fall” by David French, the editor of the newsletter “Dispatch.”

  • Friedman sees American history as described by two different cycles: institutional cycles occurring every eighty years or so and driven so far by the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. The next institutional cycle will likely begin in the mid-2020s. There are also socioeconomic cycles that have an approximately fifty-year lifespan.  The first began with George Washington and ended with John Quincy Adams.  The second began with Andrew Jackson and ended with Ulysses S. Grant.  The third began with Rutherford Hayes and ended with Herbert Hoover.  The fourth began with FDR and ended with Jimmy Carter.  The fifth began with Ronald Reagan and may end with the president elected in 1924 or 1928.
  • The institutional cycles describe how the United States shifts the way its political institutions work. The first cycle started with the adoption of the Constitution in 1788 and the Revolutionary War.  It established the federal government but left its relation to the states unclear.  The second cycle emerged from the Civil War and established the authority of the federal government over the states.  The third cycle emerged from WWII and dramatically expanded the authority of the federal government not only over the states but also over the economy and society as a whole.
  • Every fifty years or so America goes through a socioeconomic crisis where previous policies stop working, causing significant harm instead. George Washington got things going with the original 13 colonies.  Andrew Jackson, elected in 1828, was the first president from west of the Appalachians where new lands needed to be settled.  Rutherford Hayes, elected in 1876, presided over the developing Industrial Revolution, and he backed the dollar with gold which led to massive new investment.  FDR, elected in 1932, introduced the new deal which led to our recovery from the depression.  Ronald Reagan solved the problem of capital shortage leftover from the Roosevelt cycle by shifting the tax structure, leading to massive economic growth.
  • For the first time in American history the current eighty-year institutional and fifty- year socioeconomic cycles are both ending at approximately the same time in the mid to late 2020s. “Donald Trump’s election was the first indication that the Reagan cycle is coming to an end. . . . Many see this as a sign that the country is coming apart, but in truth, it is simply evidence of a rapidly evolving country passing through an orderly change. . . . The problem of the third institutional cycle is that the door was opened for massive federal oversight of American life, without defining limits and without establishing an institutional structure capable of managing its vast authority.”  The crisis of the 2020s is the tremendous clash caused by both cycles having to readjust themselves at the same time.

Conclusion.  Mr. George Friedman’s cyclic description of American history is factually well-founded and leads to several predictions as to how our current highly fractured politics will play out in the coming years.  Stay tuned for the next installment!

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Why Does Racial Inequality Persist?

Let us acknowledge that there are many racial disparities in the United States today, from the academic achievement gap, to incarceration rates, to household incomes.  I personally do not consider racial disparities to be an indication of personal or systemic racism in our society but many people do.

For me, it is far more important for society to figure out how to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, these major disparities.  In fact, much progress is being made along these lines, even though, of course, much remains to be done.

My last two posts discussed the book “Woke Racism” by John McWhorter, who believes that the antiracism movement has betrayed black America.

Today I discuss an essay, “Why Does Racial Inequality Persist?” by the social scientist, Glenn Loury.  According to Mr. Loury:

  • There are two main narratives about the cause of racial inequality. The bias narrative holds that racism and white supremacy are the culprits and that blacks can’t get ahead until they end.  The development narrative holds that what is most essential is how a person comes to acquire the skills, traits, habits, and orientations that foster successful participation in American society.  This puts the onus of responsibility on African-Americans themselves to develop their own human potential.
  • Some 70% of African-American children are born to a woman without a husband. Is this a good thing?  Is it due to anti-black racism?  It is implausible to imagine how this would be reversed by government policies.
  • Young black men are killing one another at extraordinary rates. The young men taking one another’s lives on the streets of St. Louis, Baltimore and Chicago are exhibiting behavioral pathology.  Is this due to white racism?
  • How about the “mass incarceration” of blacks. Is this due to white racism or because black men more often break the law and therefore violate the basic rules of civility?

  • Of course, if teachers, principals, guidance counselors, and school-based police officers are discriminating by race when they discipline students, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice should get involved. But what if there is a racial disparity in the frequency of disruptive behavior which causes a difference in suspension statistics?  If behavior, not racism, is at the bottom of racially disparate suspension rates, think of all the disservice that is being done by not enforcing the rules.

Conclusion.  You cannot help the hand you were dealt, but you can decide how to play it.  To cast oneself as a helpless victim, to overlook what you have control over, while leaving the outcome to invisible, implacable historical forces: this is a self-defeating posture.
Take the poor central-city dwellers who make up about a quarter of the African-American population.  The dysfunctional behavior of many in this population accounts for much of their failure to progress.
While we cannot ignore the behavioral problems of this so-called black underclass, their fate is a national and not just communal disgrace.  We should discuss and react to these problems as if we were talking about our own children.  Our failure to do so is an American tragedy.  To progress will require adjusting ways of thinking on both sides of the racial divide.

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The New Racism II. What Does Sensible Progress Against Racism Consist of?

Racism, real and perceived, is one of the most contentious issues in America today.  I have devoted many posts to discussing this problem.  My basic view is that while there are remnants of our racist past in today’s society, America has made much progress in improving race relations in recent years, and systemic racism no longer exists.

Last week I presented John McWhorter’s view that there is now a new form of racism in America which he calls Woke Racism: how a new religion has betrayed black America.  Mr. McWhorter describes in great detail how Woke Racism has many characteristics in common with a religious movement.

Clearly, there are many different ways of discussing racism.  But, whatever it is, how should we be combatting it?  My own view is by achieving better educational outcomes for disadvantaged children and also by creating better job opportunities for them.

Mr. McWhorter is more specific:

  • End the war on drugs. Because drugs are illegal there is a thriving black market for them.  Underserved black men often drift into this market, as an understandable choice when schools have failed them.  Any legal work would be better than selling drugs, which puts people at high risk of being killed or at least going to prison for long stretches.
    I understand what Mr. McWhorter is suggesting and why but I am opposed to drug legalization because this would increase drug use and drugs are unhealthy.  Perhaps there is an intermediate course, for example, decriminalizing drug use without making it legal.  Or perhaps turning over drug use enforcement to the states, so that regional differences are better respected.
  • Teach reading properly. There are two ways of teaching a child to read.  Phonics (sounding out letters) is one way.  The whole word method (approaching words as chunks and guessing at their pronunciation) is the other way.  Since the 1960s, phonics has been unanimously demonstrated to be more effective for teaching poor kids to read.  Generations of black kids, disproportionally poor, have been sideswiped by inadequate reading instruction.  The impact on life trajectory is clear.
    Amen!  I entirely agree with Mr. McWhorter.

  • Get past the idea that everybody must go to a four-year college. America needs to truly value working-class jobs.  We must instill a sense that vocational school – not just four-year college – is a valued option for people who want to get beyond what they grew up in.

Conclusion.  Americans differ strongly on how bad racism really is in America today.  But most of us will agree that society should address it in one way or another, perhaps in many different ways, by helping African/Americans achieve more academic and economic success.  John McWhorter’s new book helps not only to understand what racism is but how to address it most effectively by helping black Americans move up the social and economic ladders.  

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The New Racism

 

One of the issues I often discuss on this blog is racism, real and perceived, see here   and here.  My basic view is that while there are remnants of our racist past in today’s society, America has made much progress in improving race relations in recent years, and systemic racism no longer exists in our country.

I have just come across the new book, Woke Racism: how a new religion has betrayed black America, by John McWhorter, which adds a new perspective to this controversial issue.  According to Mr. McWhorter:

  • There have been three waves of antiracism historically in our country.
  • First Wave Antiracism battled both slavery and legalized segregation.
  • Second Wave Antiracism, in the 1970s and ‘80s, battled racist attitudes and taught America that being racist is a moral flaw.
  • Third Wave Antiracism, becoming mainstream in the 2010s, teaches that because racism is baked into the structure of society, whites “complicity” in living within it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism surrounding them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity toward them. . .
  • In other words, Third Wave Antiracism, in its laser focus on an oversimplified sense of what racism is and what one does about it, is content to harm black people in the name of what can only be called dogma. It exploits modern Americans’ fear of being thought racist to promulgate not just antiracism, but an obsessive, self-involved, totalitarian, and utterly unnecessary kind of cultural reprogramming.
  • The author refers to these modern-day antiracists as the Elect. With the rise of third wave antiracism, we are witnessing the birth of a new religion.
  • The Elect have superstition: when Elect white people at protests take a knee for extended periods to indicate general wokeness after George Floyd’s murder, it is a submission to Elect imperatives.
  • The Elect have clergy: they are Ta-Nehisi Coates’ (“The Case for Reparations”), Robin DiAngelo (“White Fragility”), and Ibram Kendi (“How to Be an Antiracist”)
  • The Elect have original sin: “white privilege.” White people are racist, and if they deny it, it proves that they are.
  • The Elect are evangelical: just as fundamentalist Christians are bearers of a “Good News” which, if accepted, would create a perfect world, there is always a flock of unconverted heathen (white people) out there who don’t yet see the light.
  • The Elect are apocalyptic: in 2021 America has become conscious of racism, within just a year, to a degree so extreme and so sincere that history offers no parallel. But to the Elect none of this matters.  The same people are saying the same things that America never “comes to terms” with race.
  • The Elect ban the heretic. Since 2019 the Elect’s behavior has become known as “cancel culture.”  The Elect’s central moral duty is to battle racism and the racist.
  • The Elect supplant older religions. The imperative to “dismantle our white supremacy culture” has virtually taken over the centuries-old now combined Unitarian/Universalist denomination, which happens (what consternation!) to be my own church!

Conclusion.  “America’s sense of what it is to be intellectual, moral or artistic, what it is to educate a child, what it is to foster justice, what it is to express oneself properly, and what it is to be a nation, is being re-founded upon a religion.  This is directly antithetical to the very foundations of the American experiment.”

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The Critical Importance of Decentralized Government

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified 1791

Most of the time on this blog I write about major problems facing the United States as a whole such as economic, military, or foreign policy issues.  For example, in my last post, I discussed one of my favorite topics, our very large, and out-of-control, national debt.

However, one of the most important features of our republican form of government is its fundamentally decentralized nature, as described by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution (see above).  It stipulates that many public issues must be resolved at the state and local levels.  This protects many of our most prized liberties from usurpation by a central authority.  For example:

  • The Electoral College determines who wins a presidential election rather than the national popular vote. This establishes the authority of the states in a fundamental way.  A successful presidential candidate must have majority support in many different states rather than over-relying on huge majorities in just a few large states such as California or New York.
  • Voting procedures are primarily determined at the state level (as guaranteed by the Constitution). Again, this increases the political authority of the states and prevents a federal bureaucrat or Congressional majority from dictating how states should regulate elections.
  • Educational policy is primarily determined by the states with the exception of a few special needs programs such as Title I and Head Start. Likewise, state departments of education often cede policy control over controversial issues to local school boards. This assures that each local community has much authority over how and what its children will be taught in the public K-12 schools.
  • Public health policy is largely under state control. This has been particularly evident during the Covid-19 pandemic where only state governors have the authority to impose state-wide mask mandates and business lockdowns.  The red states have done much better than the blue states in allowing businesses to stay open and thereby preserving more jobs.

  • Other issues. It would make sense to let state governments determine gun control policy and drug law enforcement in their own states.  Such controversial issues as these would be more effectively resolved at the state level.

Conclusion.  The many individual liberties which Americans prize so highly are strongly protected by our decentralized form of government where many powers are given directly to the states (and ultimately to local government).  Such state and local control prevent remote federal Congressional majorities and bureaucracies from dictating how we should live our lives.  Americans often fail to appreciate this essential feature of our constitutional government.

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Why Americans Should Take Bitcoin Seriously

As readers of this blog well know, I write about what I consider to be the biggest and most serious problems our country faces.  And you probably also know what I consider to be the biggest problem of all:  our national debt.

As bad as our debt problem is, the practical problem is what should we do about it?  Of course, we need to restrain the growth of spending and/or raise taxes.  But what is a reasonable way to get this done?  I used to think that the best solution is to do a better job of controlling the growth of entitlement spending. This would still help a lot, of course, but such a strategy may not be enough because the problem is getting so much worse all the time.  Starting with George W. Bush, the debt problem has accelerated with each successive president: Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden.  It is discouraging and demoralizing to think that our debt problem is now so bad that it may be almost insolvable short of a huge crisis.

For all these reasons I am highly intrigued by an article in the current edition of National Affairs by Avik Roy, “Bitcoin and the U.S. Fiscal Reckoning.”  Mr. Roy says that soon “policymakers will face a Solomonic choice: either protect Americans from inflation (by raising interest rates) or protect the government’s ability to engage in deficit spending (by continually printing more money).  It will be impossible to do both.  Over time, this compounding problem will escalate the importance of Bitcoin.”

Here is a brief summary of his argument:

  • When viewed through the lens of human history, free-floating global exchange rates (like we have at present) remain an unprecedented economic experiment – with one fatal flaw. They enable deficit spending.
  • There are several reasons to believe that America’s fiscal profligacy cannot go on forever. Most importantly is the unanimous judgment of history: in every country and in every era, runaway deficits and skyrocketing debt have ended in economic stagnation or ruin.
  • Indications that investors are growing increasingly concerned about the U.S. fiscal and monetary picture – and are in turn assigning more risk to “risk-free” Treasury bonds – are on the rise. Between 2010 and 2020, the share of U.S. securities owned by foreign entities fell from 47% to 32%.  As foreign investors reduce their purchase of U.S. government debt, the Fed is forced to increase its own bond purchases.
  • Until and unless Congress reduces the trajectory of the federal debt, U.S. monetary policy has entered a vicious cycle from which there is no obvious escape.
  • Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, wrote in 2009, “the root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust.
  • Bitcoin has the same five important qualities as gold has: it is unforgeable, divisible, durable, fungible, and scarce. Furthermore, bitcoin is rarer, more portable, and more secure than gold.  And it cannot be censored (e.g. by China).
  • Policymakers will be tempted to impose capital controls that restrict the ability of Americans to exchange dollars for bitcoin. This would be a huge mistake by confirming to the world that the United States no longer believes in the competitiveness of its currency.
  • Instead, federal policymakers would do well to embrace the role of bitcoin as a geopolitically neutral reserve asset. In fact, the Treasury Department should consider replacing a fraction of its holdings – say 10% – with bitcoin, sending a positive signal to the innovative blockchain sector.
  • Ideally, the rise of bitcoin will motivate the U.S. to mend its fiscal ways. But even if this doesn’t happen, ordinary Americans will have the opportunity to protect their savings from the federal government’s fiscal mismanagement.

Conclusion.  Bitcoin represents an enormous strategic opportunity for individual Americans and the U.S. as a whole.  The bitcoin currency and its underlying technology could become the next great driver of American growth.  But in order for this to happen, the changeover from the current fiat currency must begin to take place before the economy is decimated by drastic inflation.

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The Fundamental Question about Joe Biden: is he a Competent President?

In the latest Quinnipiac Poll 38% of Americans rate President Joe Biden as competent and 53% as incompetent.

Here is the evidence so far:

  • The Afghanistan withdrawal was a debacle. The President ignored his top military advisors who urged keeping a small residual force in place. The overall effect of our withdrawal is a boost to terrorism around the world.
  • The disaster at our southern border. The Biden Administration 1) failed to complete border wall construction begun under Trump, 2) immediately canceled the Trump Administration’s Remain in Mexico (while asylum requests are being considered) program, and 3) terminated the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with several Central American countries which requires asylum seekers to request relief from the first safe country able to assist them. The overall effect is that 200,000 illegal immigrants are crossing the border each month and being released into the U.S.  It will be impossible to solve our illegal immigration problem until the southern border is effectively CLOSED to illegal entry.
  • Where did all the workers go?  Although the unemployment rate dropped to 4.8% in September, there are still 11 million job openings in the U.S. even though wages are up 7.4% in the last year. The lack of workers has become a drag on the economy contributing to supply-side strains. The problem is caused by an easy monetary policy to boost demand coupled with squeezing the supply side with incentives not to work.

         

  • The current inflation spike.  Currently, consumer price inflation is rising at over 5% annually with big spikes in food prices, housing costs. and energy prices.  Meantime the Biden Administration is pushing for trillions of dollars in new spending for both infrastructure and social programs which will make inflation even worse if enacted.

Conclusion.  It is not that President Biden is doing everything wrong but that he is making too many big mistakes that are adding up and becoming quite noticeable.  This is the reason for his plunging support in national polls.

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“Never Bet Against America”

There is currently much pessimism about the strength of American democracy and our status in the world, see here and here.

Furthermore, my most recent posts, here and here, in defense of democracy and freedom, have received lots of negative comments on FaceBook.

But the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, says to “never bet against America” and I agree with him.

Consider:

  • The Pandemic is largely under control in spite of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Most of the recent deaths are of people who have not been vaccinated.  The drug company, Merck, has developed a pill that will protect against new high-risk infections.  Covid, in fact, will soon become endemic (i.e. manageable with annual flu shots) rather than epidemic.

  • Most top world companies are located in the U.S.  It clearly shows that the U.S. dominates world industry, commerce, and innovation. This trend is likely to continue indefinitely because of our superior political and economic systems.

    Stop worrying about the rise of China. The Quad, made up of the Asian powers Australia, India, Japan, and also the U.S., is more than capable of working together to keep Chinese hegemonic ambitions under control.

  • Debt and inflation. Debt is by far our largest problem at the present time and it could soon get much worse with the Biden Administration’s blowout spending plans. But inflation is continuing to rear its ugly head. It is inflation that will directly lead to higher interest rates, which will, in turn, set off our next debt-caused financial crisis.  If we’re lucky, the present rise of inflation will knock some common sense into the big spenders so deeply embedded in national government.

Conclusion.  The U.S. can certainly not afford to be complacent but our great strength, economic and military, as well as our superb democratic form of government, along with our highly prized personal freedoms, will all contribute to help us keep our dominant position among the nations of the world for many years to come.

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Democracy Is Alive and Well in the United States II. We Should be Optimistic about the Future of Our Country

“The land of the free and the home of the brave”                         Francis Scott Key, 1814

I live in (Omaha) Nebraska, home of the “Good Life.”  I am an optimist by nature but also partly because of where I live.  The state unemployment rate is 2.2%, the lowest in the nation.  We have effective and efficient government at both the state and local levels.  The crime rate is low overall.  We do have some problems such as crowded prisons and a poor state foster child program, but they are being addressed in an open and transparent manner.

Perhaps it is partly because of my own secure and pleasant life that I am so optimistic about the future of our country.  My last post discussed the great strength of our country’s democratic traditions.  Today I elaborate on why I believe our country will continue to prosper socially and economically for many years to come.

Consider:

  • The American Dream is alive and well.  Wages for the typical worker have grown (in real terms) by more than 20% in the last three decades. Most Americans in their 40s are doing better than their parents were during their 40s (see attached charts).
  • America should not fear the rise of China. The U.S. rightly helped China emerge from its sluggish past and has recently been making rapid economic progress.  But China has a severe demographic problem.  The UN predicts that the number of working-age Chinese, between now and 2100, will fall by half while the number of working-age Americans will increase by 15%.  This leads to the further prediction that the Chinese economy (GDP), relative to America’s, will peak at 76% by 2040.
  • The world’s largest companies.  Seven of the world’s ten largest companies are American and two are Chinese copycats.  This is a tribute to the initiative, inventiveness, and hard work of individual Americans.  Our immigrant forebears had to take initiative and personal risk to get to America.  We have clearly benefitted greatly from the “can do” spirit of those who came before us.
  • Emphasis on personal freedom. In addition to our strong tradition of democratic government, we have a strong tradition of individual freedom.  Freedom is a tough concept because it means the freedom to fail as well as the freedom to succeed.  But our society strives (even if imperfectly) to provide equal opportunity for all, especially in terms of foundational education and equality under the law.  Ultimately, however, each of us has to take personal advantage of these opportunities in order to succeed in life.

Conclusion.  Of course, the United States should never take its premier world status for granted.  But we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave” for a good reason.  We are the descendants of immigrants and pioneers who wanted personal freedom and were willing to take great risks to obtain it.  Our brilliantly conceived democratic form of government has now lasted for 233 years (the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788). All we have to do, so to speak, is to strive to live up to the ideals of our predecessors.

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