Graphs of US national debt from http://www.treasurydirect.gov data

 

In response to increasing nonsense about the fiscal responsibility of post-Eisenhower Republicans, here’s two graphs of raw data I downloaded from the Treasury department’s web site. I recommend looking at the chart of debt in terms of GDP at http://zfacts.com/p/318.html, which is much better for long term comparisons, but for those who need to see the long form this is just the dollar amounts from Uncle Sam. The site goes back to 1993, so these graphs don’t show the giant contribution Reagan made to saving the national debt, which was becoming an endangered species until he and his crew of busy elves rescued it, enriching themselves at our expense in the process.

However, what is clear is the immediate contribution GW’s tax cuts adventure wars made; the debt had fallen in GDP terms when he took office, and was flat even in uncorrected dollar. Publicans to the rescue! Immediately we see signs of life in our national parasite. That slope you see is your money disappearing into he sand in Iraq while the Romney class pockets massive tax breaks. In one word: Fail.

And that was before the fit hit the shan. The entire apparent net economic growth of the US during the Bush presidency was the result of fraudulent financial schemes and uncontrolled speculation, so just as in 1929-30 the whole thing blew up and we had a depression. For those who want to claim that the debt has grown faster under Obama, look at the spike in 2008 when Colonel Sanders died and the chickens came home to roost. The aftermath played out in a landscape that includes a ridiculously overblown military as big as the rest of the world combined, the world’s lowest taxes for the rich for any major country, and two stupid adventure wars that have been difficult to end for many reasons as well as a post-industrial state with massive debt in the throes of a depression. It hasn’t made things better that at least one third of the country are pre-enlightenment, irrational, faith-based non thinkers who believe Reagan put the country on the path to fiscal responsibility and vote for Tea Party obstructionists.

But as troops come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and slow economic growth takes place, we are beginning to see something happen. Note that the last eighteen months or so fall well below the trend line for 08-09. It appears that by the end of this year we will be about a trillion dollars below where we’d be if the Bush depression had continued unabated. Want to see another spike that will dwarf the GW disaster of 08? Vote for a Romney adventure war in Iran, get a whole lot of people killed and have your money disappear down a rat hole and into the pockets of Haliburton. Vote for a Paulie Ryan tax plan that will result in yet another transfer of wealth from the middle class and working class, and even from the poorest Americans, into the pockets of the Job Creators (blest be their names).

It took eight years to get us out of the last depression, one that was caused by the same climate of speculation that Reagan and the Bushes gave us and that Romney would like to restore. (Why not? Like a Saudi prince, he’s shipped enough money overseas that he can comfortably cool his heels elsewhere when things fall apart here. ) Last time around, the country spit the bit in 1937 and just when the wheel was out of the ditch went conservative again, causing a slide back into a recession that didn’t fully abate until WW2. This time, we are so stupefied that we elected the Failed Tea Party Congress to prevent measures that would get us out of the ditch in the first place. I figure if we actually tried to make things work we might be OK in another four years or so, and have the country fully restores in twenty. Every Tea Party Congress elected will set that back five years.

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Cargo Cult 1.0

Origins of the Great Twentieth Century Capitalist Cargo Cult  

Despite the significant number of uninformed people who like the sound of ‘Ponzi Scheme’, social security has little in common with Charles Ponzi’s famous venture.  A much better case can be made that the economic philosophy of the United States and much of the rest of the world is a Cargo Cult.

During World War II tribal cultures in the Pacific with little prior contact with the outside world were suddenly inundated with the products of civilization; shipwrecks, abandoned supplies, and the flotsam of war provided unthinkable wealth thought to be a gift of the gods. After the war, prayers and sacrifices failed to restore the gods’ favor. We aren’t much different in our beliefs.

Economists for sixty years have for the most part agreed that economic expansion is linked to technological innovation and population growth. Neoclassicists (Solow, Swann) explicitly account for advances as exogenous factors, while Endogenists and their successors (Schultz, Becker, Romer, Lucas) built them into their models implicitly. The concept of human capital is built on the enhancement of productivity per worker, but also accounts for more profound changes including the establishment of entirely new industries. Since few would argue that continued population growth is desirable, it seems clear that economic expansion depends on innovation.

I should point out that Catton and others have stressed the limitations of technological solutions to the problem of growth, and have used the term ‘cargoism’ to refer to the naïve faith that technology can solve all problems.  Cargoists in this sense believe that technology will inevitably allow our societies to expand their populations and wealth indefinitely. Catton’s critique stresses the limited carrying capacity of the earth. Here I intend to show you the money first.

Like bacteria growing in a flask, economies can grow at fixed percentage for a limited period, the logarithmic phase. A booming growth rate of 9% produces a doubling every 8 years or so, and economies, like Escherichia coli, can double only so many times. An agrarian economy at a fixed technological level (e.g., traditional Amish) can be prosperous, but quickly reaches a steady state in per capita yearly production.

The vast majority of peopledon’t understand the difference between exponential growth and linear growth. Linear expansion of wealth requires only that a constant level of economic activity is sustained at a level in excess of subsistence requirements. If economic activity grows by a constant amount each year (e.g., growth of GNP is linear), wealth increases faster. In both cases, the yield of investments goes down with time if we assume that a fixed fraction of wealth is invested in economic activity. In the hundred and fifty years before the Civil War the per capita GDP roughly doubled, driven by the industrial revolution and the introduction of railroads, telegraphs and other enhancements. In the half century between the end of the Civil War and the start of WWI, the per capita GNP doubled in one of the great expansions of American history. Exponential growth of the GDP at a 3% annual rate would produce a factor of 19.2 rise in a century; a 5% rate would produce an 80 fold increase in the same period. Does anyone seriously expect our per capita output to rise by one or two orders of magnitude during the next century? That’s what it would take to sustain those rates of return on a ‘typical’ investment. Those who anticipate a steady growth rate of 3-5% in the coming century might consider sacrificing a Chrysler to Bunga-Bunga, a potent volcano god who is believed to control the distribution of divine Cargo to humanity. I hear he likes the new 300.

Exponential growth is enshrined in our culture as ‘the magic of compound interest’ at ‘historically typical rates of return’, guaranteeing prosperity to those provident souls who save (Jesus) or invest (Moses). It should be clear to everyone that the United States and other mature economies long ago reached the point where exponential growth based on expansion into undeveloped frontier areas is over. (Nobody who has traveled extensively in the United States believes that the country is anywhere near ‘fully developed’). Neglecting the influence of innovation, it ought to be obvious to everyone that the best outcome for the GDP of a developed nation with a zero or low rate of population growth is a stable, no growth economy. In such an economy, an investor makes money by buying into an existing company or starting a more efficient one that out-competes others. As time passes, the linear increase in national wealth causes the ‘value’ of the average company to rise, and without an increase in income the yield falls. From the opposite point of view, the value of non-income producing assets, including but not limited to cash, falls. Exceptions include items in fixed supply (e.g., land).

Science and technology can fuel the establishment of new industries (e.g., automobiles, steel, computers, biotechnology) and also increase productivity in established industries. In the former case the expansion produces new products, new markets, new jobs, and generally raises the standard of living. In the latter case the improvements decrease the cost of manufacturing products, increasing profits and yield but displacing workers from those industries. Generally, increased productivity brings demands that labor share in the benefits while decreasing labor’s leverage because fewer workers are needed to produce a product. Increases in wages decrease the profit share of investors and management, and the societal sheer force produced by the juxtaposition of displaced workers and their higher paid former colleagues is significant: consider the contrast between middle class UAW line workers and the unemployed in 60s and 70s Detroit. For these reasons, establishment of new industries is a more effective driver of growth than productivity increases in mature industries that cannot significantly expand their sales. However, simultaneous creation of new industries and productivity increases in old ones is especially advantageous.

Most of these truths are self-evident, at least to those who understand first order differential equations and have read a couple of basic economics texts. Why then do we expect mature industries to sustain exponential growth? If the principal potential driver for growth in the United States is innovation, why is most of the public attention of the investment community focused on mature businesses including the auto industry but also non-industrial sectors such as banking and insurance? Investment in such industries withthe expectation of a slowly decreasing dividend yield (or a constant income if productivity gains are realized) is rational, but investment with the expectation of realizing a long term, compounded (hence exponential) return shows a touching faith in Bunga-Bunga. In days past, Henry Ford and General Bullmoose were very effective in saturating the auto market, perhaps helped by sacrificing Packard andStudebaker to Bunga-Bunga or his moral equivalent.

The time honored pitch of brokers everywhere is that stocks have ‘historically’ yielded a return of 10% compounded. A glance at the performance of the market since the end of WWII is illuminating. There was real expansion after the end of war to the early 1960s, driven by the rebuilding and demilitarization of America and much of the rest of world and by the population expansion caused by the baby boom and immigration. During the next fifteen years there was little or no real growth (the inflation adjusted S&P actually fell). In the eighties and nineties growth resumed, driven by the emergence of the personal electronic industry (real) and by a policy-fueled real estate bubble (which collapsed). The apparent growth produced by the dotcom boom also was not sustained, partially because so much of the ral growth was so quickly exported. There has been no sustained real growth in the American economy for the last decade; apparent net growth after 2000 until the 2008 depression was entirely due to real estate scams, and has evaporated.

The impressive expansion of the American economy during the twentieth century wasn’t due to the continued expansion of the blue chip firms of 1900; only a few of the largest 100 corporations in the United States existed in the early years of the last century, and most of these are oil companies dominated by the fragments of Standard Oil or banks that survived the depression. The largest exceptions are the modern version of AT&T, General Electric, and General Motors, which only recently emerged from bankruptcy. Thesethree businesses are ‘old tech’ companies that expanded intoa vacuum during the first half of the twentieth century and had periods of great success (postwar boom) and failure (post-bubble busts) in the second half.  They continued to make money because they adopted and developed new technologies.

It is clear that expansion in the absence of population growth, economic expansion is dependent on continued innovation. This is acknowledged in prevailing economic models, but innovation is ‘accounted for’ in ways that assume that steady advancements in technology will allow the standard of living to rise at a relatively constant rate.

The results of exponential and linear growth    

The charts shown below illustrate what happens when an economy is stable, when it grows linearly with aninitial rate of 3%, and when growth continues at a 3% rate, leading to exponential growth. The right hand chart shows the development of output (e.g., GDP) from an initial value of 1 to a final value of 4 (linear growth) or 19.2 (exponential growth) a century later. If the culture operates above subsistence, the wealth of the society will grow even if the economy does not. If 10% of the output resulted in long term increase in wealth, wealth would rise linearly under constant activity. The accretion of durable assets is why Rome is a wealthy city despite having long periods of low productivity, and why many new cities have accumulated less in real value. Linear growth would produce faster accretion, since the lead term is now time squared. Exponential growth produces exponential accumulation of wealth.

If we make the assumption that average incomes rise linearly with production, the factor of 20 producedby a modest 3% growth rate would take the median household income from $50,000 to $1,000,000 per year in constant dollars, and the wealth of the median household would explode to over $100,000,000 if we assume for the moment the current pattern of wealth distribution holds. What does that mean in real terms? It is impossible in our current civilization, because we don’t have the assets, the raw stuff, to create this much real wealth. Example: each US citizen’s share of the land area of the contiguous continental US is a shade under 8 acres and falling, including national parks, deserts, bare rock covered mountains, swamps and toxic waste sites. We couldn’t all live in the Biltmore, even if we wanted to. You can have a really excessive mansion built for a few million, but there isn’t enough power for all of us to heat and cool one. However, that kind of wealth isn’t even about personal wretched excess.

WEALTH                     PRODUCTION

We also can buy a really good automobile for around $30,000, and for three times that (depending on who you want to impress) we could all have a prestige automobile that would of course impress nobody if everyone had one. The point of excess wealth is not that it enables the wealthy to buy things that everyone wants to use; it enables the wealthy to make a point of having things that others can’t, and to buy people’s willingness to do things they otherwise wouldn’t (this ranges from benign transactions like hiring someone to do lawn care or design your house to corrupting local, state and federal officials to going Elliot Spitzer in the wee hours.)  Excess wealth enables the wealthy to exert power via campaign contributions, bribes, and social interactions with power brokers. This won’t work in a society with widespread excess wealth.

But most of all, excess wealth isn’t about the stuff you can buy; it’s about not having to work. Right now the upper fringe of the middle class has an income of around $200,000 per year, four or five times the median household income. This allows you to drive a nice car, live in a very nice house, vacation twice a year in Europe or the Caribbean, and in general live very well unless you are trying to send multiple children to Ivy-league level universities. If you earn this money through labor, however, you have to spend your time at work. Accumulation of $20,000,000 is the ticket to living at a basic rich guy level without working and with enough excess income to account for inflation over a lifetime of several decades. Accumulation of $100,000,000 allows for an upgrade; you can live in Cannes, not just vacation there, you begin to have serious influence, and if you have a family you can try founding a dynasty. If everybody has that much wealth, none of this is possible. Would you work in a typical middle class job (state government employee, mechanic, building trades, K-12 school teacher, nurse, fireman) if you had $100,000,000? Neither would anyone else. We can’t all be rich, in the sense that we can’t all be so above average that we can pay others to do our work for us. And we won’t be. Besides, Cannes would get too crowded. There would be a tiresome line for the bouillabaisse.

The other possibility, or course, is that income will be even more concentrated in the hands of the few so that the many will be forced into working to support society. Imagine then that the median income only doubles, while the Romneys of the world become so unimaginably wealthy that the current elite are as paupers beside them. How would their new wealth come into being? Not from selling the new products of the world to a middle class and working class that is only twice as well off as they are now. They couldn’t afford to buy them. We are already at the limits of wealth concentration, and already suffering from demand side economic problems. This also limits the ability of smarter machines to take over jobs for the working component of the human race. People who aren’t employed or already wealthy can’t buy products.

So if people a hundred years from now are much more wealthy than we are, it won’t be because they drive bigger SUVs and live in larger McMansions. But perhaps they will live 160 years, and maybe they’ll even have a personal flying saucer and robot servants.

An Amusing Aside: the Gold Standard

All the gold ever mined on this earth would fit into a cube a bit over 20 meters on a side, about 160,000 tons or six billion ounces. Most of it is still available, and the world adds 2500 to 4000 tons a year from mining. The vast majority of gold is used in jewelry or hoarded as an investment. Losses are small compared to production, so the gold supply grows slowly. Historically the price of gold increases roughly in tune with the world’s wealth. This is due to the fact that the price of gold is set by a market that values it not as an industrial commodity, but as Magic Natural Money (MNM). Gold’s industrial uses are in fact suppressed by its irrational use as a currency base by intentional primitives.

The MNM price of gold fluctuates between $1500 and $2000 an ounce, so all the gold in the world is worth around ten trillion dollars. In comparison, the land area of the US is around 2.3 billion acres. The value of the unimproved land varies greatly; most of the deserts and swamps are of low value, while vast expanses of farmlands, shore, river and lakefront, and areas with mineral resources have special value. A reasonable guess for the average undeveloped value of the property might be $1,000 acre. Does anyone really believe that all the gold in the world has more intrinsic value than the whole United States?

Imagine what would happen if the value of all the stuff in the US increased by a factor of 100! There wouldn’t be much more gold in the world, and if it were the basis of our currency it would still have to be the backing for an economy orders of magnitude larger. Clearly, there would have to be an increase in the money supply to support economic activity (or else a continuous deflation that would make it impossible to borrow money). An increase in a gold backed money supply would require an Easter Island type concentration of national effort on gold production, with early diminishing returns as deposits were exhausted.

The successors of President Paul in the magic alternative universe where 3% annual growth is made possible by a gold standard would be forced to periodically recalibrate the worth of their currency by decreasing the amount of gold you could exchange for it. Given the quasi-biblical status of MNM, perhaps this would be triggered by scheduled revelations from an official MNM prophet, a kind of combination of Grover Norquist, Paul Volker and Joseph Smith. This kind of gold standard, in which the government periodically and predictably decreases the amount of gold you can get for a fixed amount in paper currency, is worse than no standard at all, because it encourages hoarding and further debases the industrial usefulness of gold. Your money would constantly grow along with the GNP (or better, with the GWP); this is much like what happens with gold investments now, except that under President Paul and his successors government intervention in the free trading of gold as a commodity would smooth out the fluctuations and make gold hoarding safe for everyone. If only the Dutch had thought of basing their currency on tulip bulbs.

Amazingly this has pretty much happened before. At the end of the gold standard real economic growth had outstripped gold production, causing currency shortages (one wonders what William Jennings Bryan would have thought of Ron Paul, and how evangelicals would have reacted to it). The US and other countries were under tremendous pressure because $32 an ounce gold was unrealistic and unsustainable (they had to buy gold at the true market price and sell it at $32 an ounce), and their alternatives were essentially what President Paul’s successors would be: get off the gold standard, or set up a system in which the currency was openly and periodically devalued. We are long past the point where President Paul would be able to crucify mankind upon a cross of Magic Natural Money, even if he heard Ludwig’s voice telling him to do it.

Innovation

Of course, the increasing wealth of society isn’t built on having more of the same. George Jetson is better off than Fred Flintstone because he owns a personal flying saucer and has a robot that takes care of his house and cooks his meals, not because he owns a whole herd of dinosaurs or lives in Mammoth Cave or some other stone age McMansion. In the same way, we really are wealthier than the Americans of a hundred years ago, because among many other things we have cars, can fly in airplanes, have radio, television, computers and the whole range of electronic/electrical paraphernalia.

Most of all, we are much healthier and live much longer. In 1940, the average American’s life expectancy was only 63 years. We’ve gained two decades each since then. In 1900, the life expectancy was just over 47 years. How much is the near doubling of the human lifespan worth? (A lot to me. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, it is a sobering thought that by the time Mozart was my age he’d been dead for twenty years.) This increased life span has come about largely because of increased biomedical knowledge and the availability of really good new stuff.

So even though we don’t live in the Biltmore, in many ways the typical middle class American is much better off than the Vanderbilts or Rockefellers of a century ago. How did we become so well off? Neoclassicists and Endogenists would, through different representations, point to innovation.

The predecessor to the internal combustion engine as the prime mover was the steam engine. A toy steam turbine was invented by Hero of Alexandria during the Roman period, but although others designed rotary steam engines during the intervening millennia no practical use was made until around 1700, when Somerset, Savery, Papin and Newcomen eventually resulted in widespread use of stationery steam engines for pumping water and running mills. The first piston engines were very inefficient and had limited practical applications; they ran at low pressure, and the power stroke, driven by condensation, was limited by atmospheric pressure.

The problem of engine inefficiency was treated by a number of physicists, including Rankine and Carnot. High pressure engines and other improvements (e.g., by Watt, Trevithick, and Evans) had greatly improved efficiency, but the invention of thermodynamics was largely carried out to allow improved engine design. It worked.

Internal combustion engines had already been invented; the first designs were strictly analogous to steam engines, and were horribly inefficient. Thermodynamics made it clear what the problem was; the fuel mixture was taken in as the piston began to move down, valves closed, and a spark fired the charge to drive the piston on the second half of the down stroke. Without compression of the fuel-air mixture, high temperatures could never be generated, and the efficiency could never be acceptable. Introduction of a compression stroke and the resulting four stroke Otto cycle fixed the problem, and allowed the development of the automobile industry around internal combustion engines and oil. Electric cars might eventually have become more practical, but battery technology could not have developed far enough to produce fully capable automobiles.

The development of the ‘old tech’ electromechanical industries has much in common with the development of engines and automobiles. The basic work of Joule, Henry, Franklin, Volta, Ampere, Faraday, and many others led to the explosion of invention in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Edison is the celebrated archetype of the early old-tech inventor, and the early GE was his corporate vehicle for the proliferation of products based on his ideas. The second stage of this industry is represented by the rise of engineer-mathematicians who were responsible for developments in the next, more sophisticated phase of technology; de Forest, Westinghouse, Nyquist, and Wiener are examples of leading figures who drove developments in this phase. The developments in this phase had little in common with the invention of the cotton gin, or even the telegraph and telephone. Electronics required much more sophisticated mathematics and more advanced approach to development.

The ante was raised again during WWII. The war and the cold war that followed it produced a striking leap forward in technology fueled by a river of government funding. Early in the process the great corporate labs of the mid twentieth century made seminal contributions. The invention of the transistor by the ‘team’ (they hated each other) of Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain at Bell labs made modern electronics possible by immediately reducing the size and heat generation of vacuum tube circuits by two orders of magnitude. Electronics became portable, cheap, and reliable. A decade later Kilby, working at Texas Instruments, developed a workable integrated circuit with many transistors on a chip. These developments and others (e.g., a tip of the hat to Fairchild is in order) made computers and modern electronics possible.

This was a watershed in many ways. Any bright kid with a simple glass blowing rig, a vacuum pump, and a soldering iron can make vacuum tubes that work. Development of integrated circuits, on the other hand, is the province of gigantic corporations and university-government consortia that have resources far beyond those of a basement inventor. When listening to pundits discuss how Steve Jobs and Bill Gates transformed the world, it’s a good idea to take a few grains of salt with the applesauce being spooned out. Jobs, Gates, and many others certainly made contributions to the wealth of the world, but the garage inventions of Woz that Jobs marketed were based on Woz’s ability to arrange cheap, reliable, powerful and commercially available IC chips to produce a capable, cheap and simple computer. Microsoft was born out of the government’s decision to prevent IBM from making PCs and also selling the software for them; ironically, the government feared a monopoly, and in its finite wisdom created Microsoft.

The development of the pharmaceutical and biotech industry followed a similar arc. The point is simple: fundamental innovation is still happening, but it isn’t automatic and long ago became too expensive for tinkerers to do on their own, although talented people can still turn new developments into products that the original discoverers never imagined. It becomes more expensive to innovate every year, because low hanging fruit has been picked and the cutting edge of development is further from street level. At this point, the great corporate labs have been for the most part been shut down or diminished and diverted to product development. It’s too expensive to do fundamental innovation, and so this has become the province of universities and government labs. Of course, ‘pro-growth conservatives’ are loath to fund them, perhaps fearing that the Rapture will occur before the investment will come to fruition. Waste not, want not.

Innovation on the level of products like personal computers, the iPOD, cell phones, and the whole emerging palette of personal electronics gets a lot of gee whiz attention from the public and from the press, who would lead you to believe that much of the modern world emerged fully formed from the nimble brains of Jobs & Gates with a maybe a bit of help from a few close associates. While taking nothing away from this kind of technological entrepreneur, it’s worth pointing out that there is lot less innovation in the progression from earlier digital-capable cell phones to the iPhone than there was in the invention of the cell phone, and that this was a much smaller increment than the inventions of chips, ICs, transistors etc. that enabled the whole progression. We are living off the more fundamental inventions of people who worked half a century ago. They depended on the fundamental discoveries of previous workers.

Assuming for the moment that growth is good, we might expect that our society would arrange things to encourage and reward innovation. This ignores the perfect magic angle spinning catch-22 symmetry of the two part golden rule that governs ultra-capitalist societies:

1)   He who has the gold makes the rules.

2)   He who makes the rules gets the gold.

Regulations and tax codes are not constructed by a benevolent and expert council that dispassionately considers the needs of society, or assembled by a committee that rationally plans a strategy to enhance growth. Instead, they are cobbled together by a patchwork of legislatures and agencies that considers the impression they are making on the folks (i.e., voters and big contributors) back home, and weighs the favor of fellow log-rollers, party bosses and patrons (i.e., big contributors) before they consider whether policies actually work. If this seems cynical, it is borne of direct experience. I’ve had more than one conversation with federal and state legislators who responded to advice I gave by admitting that it would work, but that they could never even propose it because it would be opposed by those groups.

So instead of a regulatory approach and a tax structure that favors innovation, we have a structure that favors money and voting blocks. We reward all sorts of questionable behavior far more than we reward innovation. We spend huge amounts of politically motivated money on agribusiness subsidies, give ridiculous breaks to mature industries who are anti-innovation, and then smile and nod at monetarist cant about how to ‘grow the economy’, as if it were the lawn and all you had to do was sprinkle it with a bit of turf-builder each spring and water it once a week.

I’ve had numerous chances to observe the fate of innovators in the US economy. First of all, in most cases there is absolutely no interest in developing an idea that is more than five years from a product, so the widespread idea that industries or investors fund basic work is nonsense. In most cases they are reluctant to fund development until an advanced stage has been reached. If an inventor takes a product far enough to get venture capital funding, at each stage they lose more control to managers that the investors insist on to run enterprise, and their stake in the nascent company is diluted by each subsequent round of funding. Of course this should be expected, but what is less obvious is that much of the subsequent funding isn’t used to develop the original idea.

The strategy of investors and managers is not to develop a company that sells a product, but to develop the company as the product. Subsequent investments are used to purchase the rights to unrelated technology with the goal of constructing a company profile that contains multiple products in the developmental pipeline at different stages of development. This allows the original investors to cash out by selling the company. The original project has often been de-emphasized or discarded by this point. The goal isn’t long-term innovation, or even development of a viable product, although that would be welcome. The goal is to create an attractive profile for the next round of investors. Venture capital people appear to make a lot of money. The problem is that this is a lousy way to innovate. Most people who are capable of breakthrough ideas have little incentive to commercialize them.

When you hear the call to symbolically economize on the National Science Foundation budget, about 6.8 billion dollars out of a federal budget of 3.8 trillion, remember that this is the primary supporter of the basic research that corporations dropped over the last few decades. Whacking away at this or the energy R&D budget of the DOE, or dumping the basic research the National Institutes of Health supports into translational medicine, won’t hurt the potential for economic growth much for the next five years. Twenty or thirty years from now, however, the pipeline will be empty. Innovation is hard, not easy, and getting harder. Without it the zero growth society will come sooner rather than later.

I compared the effects of a product-oriented innovator like Steve Jobs with the more fundamental contributions of others, but all these people produced real innovation. After the collapse of the financial markets in 2008, we were treated to the spectacle of conservative congressmen, nearly in tears, pleading not to rush to regulation, which would stifle the outpouring of creative financial instruments. I don’t totally discount the possibility of creative financial instruments with real utility, particularly as life spans increase, connectivity expands, and the world changes in ways we can’t predict. It is pretty clear to me, however, that many things that pass for creativity and innovation are new names for fraud.

Be careful of the name game, the inappropriate appropriation of terminology from one set of concepts to another. During the Great Big Republican Debates and Traveling Medicine Show I was struck by the spirited defense from some quarters of Bain Capital, featuring the all but obligatory reanimation of that shambling Golem, creative destruction. Originally, of course, this was Karl Marx’ idea; the Marx and Engles analysis of capitalist wealth creation included it as an essential component of capitalist growth. Shumpeter’s analyses of growth stressed innovation, and his version of creative destruction new industries replaced old ones (e.g., the buggy whip factory in your town is probably out of business).

Now we find that Marxist rhetoric has been taken up by the ultra-conservatives, and creative destruction is used to describe downsizing to improve profits and even strip and sell corporate raiding. (You need to work on your dialectic a bit more, Komerads.) To Bunagists with such a world view, Mitt Romney and Bain are ‘innovators’ who can look Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison in the eye. Look for the ‘insurance industry’ to open a new plant in your town soon.

Internationalization

The themes and counterpoints that dominate debates over the internationalization of economy pit the advantages of efficiency and market access against the loss of jobs in high wage developed countries, the problems of economic exploitation by using grotesquely underpaid workers (and often children or prisoners), seeking ‘efficient’ business venues with no environmental regulations, and forming alliances for short term gain with (ahem) authoritarian regimes. Internationalization carries inherent risks in that it increases economic vulnerability from embargos and strikes, accelerates the loss of intellectual property, and can result in the total loss of an investment through nationalization of overseas properties. The success of an international venture depends on the details, and also on how you measure success. Example: deals with China tend to have good short term payoffs, but many will be long term disasters because the Chinese demand a high initial percentage of any venture and terms that eventually give them complete control, e.g., through transfer of  IP rights.

Money will continue to leave developed countries and flow down the developmental gradient into underdeveloped economies, and ‘free trade’ accelerates this tendency. It’s true in part that low wages, low taxes, weak regulation, and compliant and corrupt governments are attractive to industry, and these factors played a role in the industrialization of the American south. A major factor in the desirability of undeveloped areas and countries is the potential for rapid economic expansion and decades of high percentage exponential growth.

Why can undeveloped countries be ignited into exponential growth by investment, while the growth rates of developed countries continue to fall? Simple: they don’t have much to start with. Give the bacteria a fresh culture bottle, and they’ll grow exponentially until they reach a density that inhibits further growth. A middle class American family with two cars is much less likely to buy two new cars than a family with no cars and the same income, simply because the marginal utility of additional cars is low. Few people will buy a new flat screen TV month after month, because each TV lowers the utility of the next. The real problems of the American middle class are security, retirement, health care, and education costs, not the desperate need for more and better stuff. We don’t need to use national policy to promote the lifestyles of the rich and famous, or to glorify living large, and many people still have enough residual common sense to limit the purchase of things they don’t need, at least until they pay the rent.

People who don’t have things are much more likely to buy them, and they will start acquiring them as soon as they can afford them. Underdeveloped countries can grow exponentially because they haven’t made use of available innovation, so it isn’t necessary to invent flying saucers or robot maids to increase their standard of living, thereby making a profit. Money in such a society is often the limiting factor that determines the rate of development, and this is the essence of exponential growth:  dN/dt = kN , where the rate of change in the value of the enterprise is proportional to its current value. Brazil has just undergone a period of rapid expansion and has changed its status in the world as a result. This expansion will inevitably slow as more of the country is saturated with cars and electronics.

Intranationalization

These considerations lead to a startling idea: perhaps the United States would be better off, and growth would be better promoted, by using a demand side philosophy. Conventional wisdom appears to be that a few Masters of the Universe are responsible for growth, folks like Mitt Romney and Gordon Gekko. They are curiously reluctant to do so, however (maybe it hurts a lot), and can only be motivated to bestow their holy grace on the economy by being rewarded for their essential contributions by a gigantic share of the proceeds, to be delivered by favoring them in all regulations and in the tax code. The benefits of this sacrifice will eventually trickle down to the commoners, at least until the world end at the close of 2012.

As a larger and larger share of the proceeds has been captured in Romneyvaults in the Caymans and Switzerand, and as MNM stashed in secret caches under volcanoes by the devotees of Bunga-Bunga, there is less and less available for others to buy stuff. The jobless are particularly at fault here for their poor contribution to the demand side of economic activity. This might have had some small contribution to the recent mild economic downturn, and is unlikely to be rectified by further motivation of Mitt and his colleagues in the (ahem) glorious capitalist storm of creative destruction.

Why don’t we try trickle up, demand side economics? The key to Intranationalization is the development of undeveloped populations within the United States, providing a market and additional productivity at the same time. The less stuff they have to start with the more stuff they’ll want to buy.

This can only work if those populations are willing to work, are willing to develop new capabilities, and have (or can develop) a value system compatible with participation in a modern economy.  Development of Afghanistan is not likely to lead to economic expansion, and this extends to communities of the Amish and Franciscan monasteries.  On the other hand, there are large areas of the United States that are historically undeveloped, and other formerly developed areas are in dire need of redevelopment. The key to economic expansion is identification of populations that are willing participants. This is not as easy at it sounds.

There are areas of the United States right now that have substantial populations of people who are former participants in an industrial economy and who could presumably participate in redevelopment, with benefits to all involved. Among the obstacles is another major sect of Bunga-Bunga worshipers, who believe that their wages should automatically rise at a rate of 2% or so in inflation adjusted dollars, and who take it as an article of faith that it is the Bunga-given right of each generation of Americans to own a bigger house and motor vehicle than their parents did.

A parable: some years ago I was friendly with an African-American couple who owned a modestly successful business, and who were college educated, motivated, and entrepreneurial. I could not get them to understand that everybody in the United States who worked in a factory could not make $70,000 a year. I pointed out that this was a major factor in the cost of the products, and that in the long run the compensation of employees would be limited by the value of what they produced. (You might make less than you are worth, but a company that pays everybody more than they produce will soon be out of business.)

I had no impact; when I pointed out that the amount of goods and service produced in the United States was no where near the 15 trillion dollars a year it would have cost to pay all workers that much, my friends shrugged their shoulders and suggested that all industries would just have to raise their prices to allow them to pay their workers more. In a scene echoing Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, we eventually got through inflation, market instability and other drawbacks. While they had to concede that people couldn’t actually get any additional goods or services, that being limited by production, they still favored higher wages and higher prices because they liked the idea of being paid more. And that’s the lesson: no matter the result, even if they lose their job and the economy collapses and the topsoil blows away and they wind up in the spot next to the Joads in a migrant labor camp, people want to be paid more. They want a raise every year, just for being there in the same job, even if the value of their labor is no higher.

This particular cult of Bunga can apparently only be extirpated by the aforementioned storm of creative destruction. After the local plant closes and people have been hurting for a while, fair pay for fair work starts to look like an unattainable goal, and the days when they anticipated a big raise every third year seem like a distant dream. I’m not anti-union, and I think without unions the situation of working people would have been intolerable in this country; since unions didn’t exist, working people had to invent them. However, I have heard union leaders say things like ‘I don’t care if we have only one member working next year, as long as he’s the highest paid fudpucker in the state.’ This attitude is indefensible, and should be immediately recognized as fundamentally Bungaist.

Like Shia and Sunni, or the opposing parties in the defenestration of Prague, the various cults of Bunga don’t trust each other, and while they need each other to survive they are in an adversarial situation. Allow me to propose some good general reasons for expecting a raise:

1)   you got a promotion and have a job that demands more skill or has more responsibility

2)   you got through some probationary period and, as expected, are operating at a higher level of skill and productivity

3)   you didn’t get a promotion but did learn significant new skills

4)   you obtained additional training that made you more valuable to the company

5)   inflation made it necessary to get a cost of living adjustment to maintain real wages at a constant level

6)   productivity increases justify a performance based adjustment

Bad reasons to expect a raise include:

1)   you want a bigger car, house or boat

2)   you have worked in the same job at the same skill and productivity level for longer than the guy next to you who has the same productivity

3)   you have some way to suck up to your boss

4)   you have some way to blackmail your boss

5)   you heard that some other guy in another company got a raise

It might be reasonable to expect some share when your contributions have helped the company have a really good year, but unless that establishes a new baseline this justifies a bonus more than a wage increase. Now imagine if management was rewarded in the same way, instead of imposing their own expectations about the continuously expanding bounty of Bunga-Bunga. It would make it much easier for them to deal with skeptical union representatives.

People who have been unemployed tend to be much less aggressive about the fundamentally cargoist expectation of an exponential increase in their pay packet. Redevelopment of ruined section of the economy, like development of the third world, might yield a period of exponential growth if the population buys into the need to produce value in excess of compensation. Everybody needs to accept that this kind of growth is only possible until the sector approaches its potential.

Examples of under-developed sectors might include Mississippi in comparison to North Carolina, Warren County, New York, compared to Westchester County, New York, the Georgia costal plain compared to almost anywhere, or underdeveloped minority communities within otherwise developed geographic regions. I don’t claim that all such sectors, or all of these, can be profitably developed, because in each case development can be thwarted by cultural and political factors, and for each sector competitive ‘industries’ (not necessarily manufacturing) capable of supporting development would have to identified. This might not be compatible with the particular genius of the Okefenokee.

How does investment promote growth?

An article of faith in our society is that investment is the driving force that promotes growth, and like the best of our articles of faith, this is partially true: some of the money invested in business promotes growth, and investment is one component of economic expansion.

It is difficult to start even a small successful business without raising capital, and so almost all new businesses need to raise money from a mix that might include loans, government grants, and rich uncles. High tech businesses can try raising money from venture capital firms or through partnerships with established companies; there are risks and tradeoffs to every strategy, but it takes time to develop profitable products, and money is essential to buy equipment, pay rent and make a payroll in the interim.

Most of the money invested in the US doesn’t fall into any of those categories, and is unavailable to start-ups. Americans are conditioned to invest (directly or indirectly) in the stock market, in financial instruments (e.g., Treasury bills, bonds, certificates of deposit), or in their own businesses (e.g., buying a truck or other equipment).  How do these investments promote growth?

Let’s start with investment in personal small business. This is a large sector of the economy, and contributes significantly to the GNP and to tax revenues. It is easily depressed during economic downturns, and its recovery is a major factor in the restoration of prosperity. However, it is not a major contributor to economic growth per se, since, leaving aside the special case of high tech startups, it is a poor sponsor of innovation, although it provides a multiplier when Bill Gates hires a contractor or Genentech employees contract for lawn services, get their cars repaired, or eat lunch at Joe’s.

Money from purchases of stocks does indirectly find its way into R&D budgets of publically traded corporations, but the route is tortuous and most of the investment doesn’t wind up there. When a corporation floats an IPO, it directly raises capital that can be spent in many different ways, but most money put into the market goes to buy stock in established companies, and most of the time this money goes to stockholders who are cashing out. The investment has no direct input into innovation related expenditures, but there is an indirect effect because as the stock price rises the increased value of the company makes it easier to borrow money. This is a small fraction of the money invested. CDs allow banks to invest, but the favored investments of banks are not in risky high tech startups. Government papers might actually be the investment that most directly supports innovation, because the government funds most of the basic research in the United States.  This is a very small fraction of the government’s budget.

Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to spend most of the investment on innovation to achieve growth. Apple has to get its new products manufactured, shipped, sold, and, when they need it, serviced. The push to take research expenditures away from fundamental advances and spend it on short payoff efforts might produce the kind of short horizon results that get executives their next job, but it will ultimately leave the pipeline empty. This ultimately leads to marketing-based attempts at industry growth.

A good example is the two decades long growth in the size of American motor vehicles during the 50s and 60s. This eventually led to failure, but was nevertheless recapitulated by the SUV boom of the last two decades. Americans spent a lot of money on oversized low quality vehicles during both expansions, but the government ultimately had to step in on multiple occasions to keep the industry from disappearing. I originally expected a third wave of gigantic vehicle building after an intervening attempt to build low quality small vehicles (as in the K-car, he Ford Pinto, and the Chevy Vega). However, it appears that a bifurcation has occurred in which the auto industry is attempting actual progress along one fork while immediately building a new wave of giant vehicles on the other. Can the electric Hummer be avoided?

What’s the difference between the investment that produced the cell phone industry, and the investment that produced the wide-track Pontiac? One was truly innovative and transformative, generated a new industry that provided capabilities that almost everyone wanted and, once they were available, needed to compete. The other was in support of a marketing ploy designed to get people to buy wide Pontiac cars that cost more than a Ford or Chevy. It seems likely that the cell phone industry will prosper until technology renders it obsolete. Pontiac no longer exists; its demise was part of the cost of GM’s recovery from bankruptcy and government bailout. GM makes nine SUVs, some of them gigantic, although the SUV segment of the market is half of what it was at its peak around 2002.

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Defining Idiocy Down v 1.1

-C. Borgia from West Georgia

In 1993 the American statesman and scholar D.P. Moynihan published a seminal essay titled ‘Defining Deviancy Down’ in which he described an autocatalytic unraveling of society (1). Moynihan’s paradigm envisioned a stepwise descent in which at each stage the culture became inured to previously unacceptable behavior, establishing a new and progressively lower floor to societal norms. These new ‘accepted’ behaviors take many forms, including offensive speech, violent crime, political corruption, and the personal ethics of responsibility and integrity. Senator Moynihan’s ideas have been subjected to criticism from some quarters (e.g., 2,3). It is obvious that previously acceptable behavior has in some cases now become widely unacceptable (e.g., racist and sexist behavior and speech), although in some parts of the culture this behavior has intensified.

It is also true that in our culture and others deviancy has been redefined up in some periods; there is no entropic certainty about the weakening of cultural norms. None of the criticisms of Moynihan’s thesis, however, provides a cohesive argument that the process Moynihan describes isn’t taking place. They merely suggest that other mechanisms operate to conserve or strengthen strictures on speech and behavior. This is hardly surprising in a construct as dynamic as human society, and the evolution of culture likely depends on opposing forces along multiple coordinate axes. Over the last few decades the coupling between electronic media and political demagoguery focused on discrediting intellectual elites has resulted in a general weakening of the intellectual standards of American culture. This has occurred in parallel to the loss of traditional values such as self-sufficiency, work and family loyalty, and is coupled strongly to the degradation of the educational system by numerous groups with their own agendas.

Background: the advantages of playing football with no helmet

    American culture has from its colonial inception included potent anti-elitist strains that often have carried anti-intellectual overtones (4). The founding fathers included and were strongly influenced by the intellectual elite of the colonies, but strong populist influences in the south and west led to the rise of Jacksonian elements and continued to place uneducated and nekulturny leaders such as Zachary Taylor in positions of influence at regular intervals. Tension between popular distrust of all elites, including intellectual elites, and the recognition that ability and training are essential ingredients in successful leadership is a consistent theme in American history.

In recent decades anti-intellectual tendencies in American culture appear to have gained the upper hand (5). Previously, distrust of pointy-headed intellectuals has been balanced by respect for the acknowledged expertise of ‘the professions’.  In the second half of the twentieth century themes of popular culture included ridicule of scholars and intellectuals, who were stigmatized as nerds and misfits. Intellect was depicted as coupled to physical inadequacy and social ineptness. This originated much earlier in American culture, but became more deeply ingrained because of repeated depiction in mass entertainment. Since sub-normal intellectual development continued to carry its own social stigma, it became increasingly important to be, or at least appear to be, mediocre. The multiple roots of this phenomenon have been recently explored by Susan Jacoby (6) and others.

An important trigger for the destabilization of the dynamic balance between populism and intellectual influences had been the use of anti-intellectual political propaganda on an unprecedented scale using powerful electronic media and large expenditures of money. Previous movements with strong anti-intellectual components included the Jacksonians, the Know-Nothings, and the populists led by William Jennings Bryan (4). None of these movements had access to anything of comparable power to modern electronic media, and none specifically targeted professional expertise like current versions of conservative political organizations.

The struggle between the political and intellectual sides of society heated up during the mirror image presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Representing opposing parties and to some extent political philosophies, these men were both unscrupulous and willing to disregard facts to the extent that they presented a completely distorted version of reality whenever it suited their ends (c.f., Watergate affair (7), Gulf of Tonkin incident (8)). This caused an almost immediate rupture of the continuing relationship between the executive branch and university intellectuals that had extended from the presidency of Wilson (himself former president of Princeton) with the exception of the Harding/Coolidge administration. While Eisenhower was no intellectual, he had a keen awareness of the importance of intellect, as shown by his response to Sputnik. In the case of Johnson, the rupture was driven by organized opposition to his war policy on college campuses, but his response was limited by his forced withdrawal from politics.

Nixon’s nomination for president inaugurated four decades of Republican southern strategy in national politics (9). The overall success of this strategy depended on appealing to former Dixiecrats who were alienated from the mainstream Democrats by civil rights issues, and resented university based civil rights activists. It is important to understand that the evolution of the Republican Party in the late twentieth century has nothing to do with a plan for successful government, but was instead driven by changing demographics in late twentieth century America and an understanding of the political potential of an appeal to groups fearful of loss of status. Nixon did not enjoy wide support among university intellectuals, although many physicians, conservative lawyers, and engineers strongly supported what they perceived as moderate conservatism, primarily from economic considerations.

Nixon’s campaign strategy depended on appeal to a coalition of groups with strong anti-intellectual tendencies, and he selected people for important positions with an eye towards appealing to these groups. His selection of Supreme Court nominees, for example, unabashedly avoided the scholarship and intellectual potential that had characterized most previous nominees. Senator Roman Hruska (R-NE), not noted for his own intellectual capability, famously claimed that there were a lot of mediocre people in the United States (a tautology), and that they deserved representation on the Supreme Court (a prevarication). Nixon increasingly resented the strong opposition to his administration in universities, and instituted policies designed to punish them, including the unilateral elimination of research training grants from both the NIH and NSF that resulted in the legislation that instituted the National Research Service Awards fellowship program (10). His Committee to Re-elect the President introduced new levels of organized political dirty tricks and lies, and ultimately funded the criminal behavior that forced Nixon from office (11).

Nixon’s appeal to the ‘Silent Majority’ and the success of the southern strategy inaugurated a long period in American public life in which successful candidates in most electorates avoided the appearance of outstanding intellect or educational attainment. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are far more intellectual than G.W. Bush, but both men projected a folksy ‘bubba’ image that made it difficult to paint them as elitists. Any evidence of overt intellectual tendencies in a candidate in a national election immediately led to a flood of derogatory comments from the media. Candidates were evaluated on the basis of star power and celebrity appeal, and too much knowledge of issues led to the dreaded label of ‘wonk’.  Wonks, like nerds and geeks, were thought to be too cerebral to have the popular appeal of regular guys.

Kampfen gotten selbsts vergebens

Ronald Reagan was a new kind of presidential candidate. The Great Communicator was neither wonk nor ideologue. His appeal to the electorate was at the level of personality, and the conservative message he presented was crafted by a team in which he was front man but not intellectual leader. This was widely recognized by the media, but was generally reported as a positive; Reagan was praised for how well he handled the teleprompter, much as if he was the anchor man rather than the chief decision maker of the executive branch. Reagan was strongly supported by evangelical and anti-intellectual groups such as the ‘Moral Majority’ of Jerry Falwell, and famously appealed to anti-civil rights groups in Selma, Alabama. However, conservative intellectuals such as the Buckleys and the economist Milton Friedman were prominent, and Reagan himself was not an anti-intellectual (12).

Reagan’s political success eventually paved the way for the rise of neo-conservative elements that were among the most overtly anti-intellectual figures in the history of American politics. The feel-good aura he promoted through catch phrases and positive rhetoric (‘morning in America’) was contradicted by economic reality, but confidence was high in part because of the collapse of the Soviet Union because of its own failed economic policy and militarist hubris. Reagan remains a near-mythological figure to the American right.

His successor, G.H. Bush, was a career government official with far better credentials for office but less personal appeal. He was saddled with the fruits of failed policies from his predecessor’s administration; supply side economics had failed, and housing deregulation led to the scandalous S&L collapses that presaged the collapses of financial institutions during his son’s failed presidency (13). Although many of these problems were not directly caused by Bush, who once famously described supply-side economics as ‘voodoo’, he lacked Reagan’s charisma and did not have the political capital to repudiate Reagan’s failures.

William Jefferson Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 election largely because of the failure of the Reagan-Bush economic policies. Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar, avoided the damning perception of wonkishness through personal magnetism, masterful political sense, and skilful use of the ‘bubba factor’. He and his wife aroused deep resentment among Republican conservatives who had begun to feel entitled to power, and disliked policy goals such as national health insurance and tolerance of homosexuals.

The off-term elections of 1994 saw the rise of the neo-conservatives and the introduction of new levels of political incivility and disregard for facts. The Republican coalition that won the election relied strongly on appeals to ‘evangelicals’, and the Republican Party began to move more rapidly away from fact-based policy towards faith-based positions that appealed to this portion of their political base. The remainder of the Clinton administration’s two terms became a battleground for ‘culture wars’ that went far beyond anything seen since the red baiting practiced by Joe McCarthy in the early 1950; the first decade of the twenty first century saw determined and repulsive attempts by neocon stooges to rewrite history by demonizing FDR and rehabilitating McCarthy (e.g., 14). Visceral hatred of the Clintons was driven by driven in large part by Clinton’s political success as a two time president who succeeded in facing down the Gingrich-led Congress and for a time breaking the neocon-evangelical hold on power. Republicans spent millions of dollars in public funds pursuing flimsy rumors connecting Clinton to numerous scandals. They failed so completely in their attempts that the essentially political and amoral nature of their behavior became obvious to most people. Clinton was eventually embarrassed by revelations concerning his personal life, but no evidence of any political or financial wrongdoing was ever presented. This did not stop well-funded rumor mills from generating one unfounded accusation after another. Another line had been crossed.

All of a piece: the neoconservative dynasty

Thy chase had a beast in view

Thy wars brought nothing about

Thy lovers were all untrue

When Ronald Reagan was nominated by the Republican convention for the 1980 presidential election, there was widespread conviction that he was of insufficient intellectual caliber to be elected president or to carry out the duties of the office. Clearly, those that held this belief grossly overestimated the expectations of the American public for the intellectual potential of their leaders. Just as clearly, Reagan did at times fall short of the abilities needed to run the country and act as the leader of what was then without intended irony referred to as the ‘free world’, although it included a full range of tyrannical client states. Reagan acted as front man for his cabinet, did not understand many areas of policy, and by his second term appears to have degenerated mentally to the point where he could not stay awake at state meetings. However, his personal popularity remained high even when the public opinion of his performance in office wavered. He was greatly helped by the fact that by design his base was largely composed of the most irrational and anti-intellectual groups in the country.

When George H. Bush succeeded Reagan as Republican candidate, he sought a running mate who would balance his own patrician aura to appeal to those elements in the base who were most attached to Reagan while also appealing to younger voters. He ultimately chose Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, an undistinguished and inexperienced politician who was never viewed as an asset during the campaign or in office. Quayle was the butt of many jokes that painted him as an idiot, driven in part by his own inability to avoid public blunders. In truth, he was merely a mediocre man placed in a position that could have demanded much more.  Other than occasional embarrassment from his inopportune remarks, no great harm resulted from Quayle’s service other than further lowering the bar for vice presidential candidates.

The congressional group who took office during the Reagan Revolution was often far more anti-intellectual than their executive branch counterparts. Their campaigns could be more narrowly targeted to areas of the country particularly susceptible to anti-elitist rhetoric, and they were not shy about condemning universities and ‘ivy league elites’. This was ironic because much of the campaign funding and leadership of the Republican Party was and is derived from Ivy League elites. Both George H.W. and George W. Bush were classic examples, although the Bush family strategy successfully camouflaged this by providing George W. Bush’s generation with a Texas accent courtesy of their strategic relocation to Midlands.

Neocons were the direct descendants of (and often the same people as) conservative independent and sometimes Democratic supporters of defense hawks in Congress; then-Senator Scoop Jackson’s aides included Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. As suggested by influential predecessors such as Leo Strauss and by disciples such as Irving and William Kristol, and Nathan and John Podhoretz, the neocon elite believes they are justified in lying to the uneducated public to attain desired goals, in particular the benign domination of the world by the United States (15,16). The original focus of the movement was global political and military strategy, and cultural issues were gradually emphasized as a tool to gain political power. The movement was essentially secular; many neocons were and are atheists or agnostics, and the connection to evangelicals was initially an uncomfortable marriage of convenience from both sides.

Deregulation of electronic media ownership enabled Rupert Murdoch to start Fox News in 1996 (17). Despite claims to the contrary, Fox has pushed an unabashedly conservative worldview, often unfettered by mundane facts, since it was organized by former Republican strategist Roger Ailes. Fox has played an important role in the accelerated stupefaction of America by continuously attacking scientists and intellectuals and distributing anti-science propaganda designed to support the special interest and faith-based positions of various Republican constituencies. This includes anti-evolutionists and global warming and atmospheric CO2 deniers. Fox broadcasters range from political pundits with an intellectual veneer (Bill O’Reilly) to Glen Beck, who combines a small talent for broadcasting with a great talent for tear-stained emotional outbursts.

The surprising nomination and election of G.W. Bush was a low point in the history of American presidential politics comparable to the campaigns that produced Zachary Taylor and Warren Harding. Bush was elected in a campaign remarkable for its irregularities and criminal behavior, including suppression of minority and student voting in key states (e.g., Florida and Ohio). This produced even worse consequences than the campaigns that elected the equally unqualified stalwarts Taylor and Harding, largely because Bush managed to survive his entire term in office and then was re-elected despite manifest incompetence. How was this possible?

By the time of G.W. Bush’s election the United States was already deeply and perhaps irreversibly divided, a process begun by the Viet Nam war and carefully managed as part of national political strategies. G.W. Bush was originally a minority president, and the legitimacy and even the legality of his presidency was debatable, but he behaved as if he had a mandate from the American people. The 9/11 attacks helped to unite the country behind him, and he won re-election despite mismanaging the economy, failing to capture or kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and launching a disastrous war in Iraq. This worked politically because he and his advisors steadfastly lied to the country about it, and by this point much of the country had reached the point where they no longer believed the truth mattered.

The Iraqi invasion was described long before the Bush nomination in a remarkable neo-con position document; the original documents could be read by anyone until the Project for New American Century website was cleansed in 2006. The authors included many of the most prominent neocons, who later were influential officials in the G.W. Bush administration.  Devoid of serious scholarship and remarkably naïve, this paper proposed that overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship would enable the development of an Iraqi democracy (rather like Florida with camels) that would serve as an example to the ignorant natives and seed spread of democratic government, American values, and McDonald’s across the middle east (18). The 9/11 attacks provided the opportunity for Bush’s cabinet and VP, who were among the authors of the plan, to put it into practice. It proved easy to discredit truth-driven people (e.g., UN arms inspectors) who argued that there was no evidence for ‘WMDs’. Evidence was faked. The country proved easy to move, first on the grounds of emergency (Saddam is about to get nuclear weapons) and then by pretending that he was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were the main reason that the ‘war president’ was re-elected; he was avenging 9/11. That he mismanaged both invasions, and in doing so permanently damaged the country, still isn’t obvious to that fraction of the population who have been sucked down the rabbit hole and over the event horizon into Wonderland.

Bush’s disastrous presidency should have made clear the coupling between success in governing the country and intellectual ability; the best president isn’t necessarily the smartest, but success requires a level of experience and talent. Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Jefferson, John and John Q.  Adams, etc. were all much better presidents than George W. Bush, at least in part because of their greater ability. At the midpoint of Bush’s presidency more than half the people of the United States were firmly behind him, primarily because they chose to believe what he and his advisors told them. In some ways this wasn’t so very different than the deception of the country by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, but something had changed. Johnson and Nixon were master liars who told plausible lies. It was difficult to disprove Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin. It was difficult for many Americans to believe that Nixon was involved in so many political crimes. The Bush administration’s lies often weren’t plausible, but were widely believed anyway because the long-term efforts of political strategists to discredit ‘elitist’ experts had paid off. The country had reached the state where it believed that only belief mattered, that reality was a matter of faith, and that they could influence the shape of the world through their opinions.

By the end of Bush’s second term the American economy had begun to collapse. The Iraq war, declared over a few months after it started, continued to drain the economy because the real aim of the neocons had never been to remove the dictator, destroy his non-existent arsenal, or punish Al-Qaeda, but the impossible task of remaking Iraqi culture in our own image and likeness. The feeble resources allocated to our enemies in Afghanistan drove the Taliban from power but were unable to eradicate them and allowed them to rearm and build strength. Bush ended his presidency as one of the least popular leaders in the history of the country. The lesson was very short lived.

A convenient lie: the neo-con war on science

Look into the pewter pot

To see the world as the world’s not.

And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:

The mischief is that ’twill not last.

Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were both talented and committed liars, but both men retained a healthy appreciation of the existence of a physical world that need not adjust itself to their desires and pronouncements. Inconvenient realities could often be covered up by deft maneuvering, but lying didn’t make them go away. This valuable appreciation of the existence of a real world made them reliant on experts for advice, which for political, personal and economic reasons they sometimes didn’t take but at least considered.

Ford was rational if not intellectual, and Jimmy Carter was strongly pro-science. The Arab oil crises, coupled to the Iran hostage situation, destroyed his presidency and set the stage for the neo-con takeover of government, starting with the 1980 election. Reagan’s election began a transition that removed the rational wing of the Republican Party as a dominant player in American politics. Remaining rational Republicans were either marginalized by Reagan zealots or co-opted, like George H. Bush, who was forced to accept economic principles he knew were invalid.

Reagan had no understanding of science and technology, but recognized that it was important to the future of the country. His science advisors were chosen from the defense department establishment, and because of his lack of understanding or immediate interest he rarely met them personally. This resulted in the eventual marginalization of the Office of Science and Technology, and it never regained influence with Republican administrations.

Despite his lack of knowledge, Reagan was notable for promoting grandiose scientific and technical projects with little regard for their feasibility. Two examples of this were the Strategic Defense Initiatives program (aka Star Wars) and the Superconducting Super Collider (so big they had to call it Super twice) (19,20).

The serious scientific community was almost completely unified in its skepticism that SDI was anything more than a boondoggle and a waste of resources. Problems were manifold; an example of an immediate problem was the difficulty in rapidly identifying bona fide threats in time to respond. An example of a long term (and likely insoluble) problem is the fact that it is relatively cheap to launch MIRVed warheads at multiple targets relative to the cost of the technology required to intercept them, and even cheaper to launch decoys that are difficult or impossible to distinguish from actual attacks. For this reason, it is unlikely that SDI could ever protect the United States from an attack by a major nation state; the only potential use of an anti-missile shield is protection from a ballistic missile attack launched by terrorists or a weak rogue state like North Korea. The SSC was eventually scrapped because of cost overruns after the fruitless expenditure of several billion dollars. Reagan also backed NASA extravaganzas, claiming at one point that the space station/shuttle program would lead to a revolution in medicine. Reagan, with energetic cheerleading from the well-known aerospace experts J. Danforth Quayle and William Safire, poured over a billion dollars into the hydrogen powered National Aerospace Plane project (21). This fantasy project produced no benefit to anyone except the consortium of contractors (McDonnel Douglas, Pratt and Whitney etc.) who concocted the scam in the first place.

The failure of Reagan’s economic policy eventually led to broad reductions in science and technology funding. Reagan chose to oppose environmental and workplace safety concerns based primarily on economic considerations. It appears that the Reagan’s astrologer had more influence than his scientific advisors. Prominent scientists and engineers had largely lost their voice at the policy making level. George H. Bush attempted to take positions that took expert scientific advice into account, but his inherited baggage from Reagan limited his options.

During the 1990s neoconservatives mounted an attack on science designed to remove an impediment to their unfettered use of propaganda and to disarm fact-based criticisms of their policies. Opinion polls consistently showed that the American public trusted physicians, scientists, engineers, university professors and other teachers far more than lawyers, corporate executive, the media, and politicians. A major order of business was to discredit the intellectual professions and devalue expertise.

One weapon in this battle has been the use of anti-elitist rhetoric against professional elites as distinct from hereditary elites. This is ironic in that the people responsible for this propaganda are elites ranging from neocon insiders to wealthy Texas old-line right wingers; neither group is interested in having a beer with their target audience in the local sports bar. The premise here is that any American’s gut feeling about global warming, nuclear waste disposal, or the uniqueness of embryonic stem cells is just as valuable as the expert opinion of professionals. Many in the Republican base, who for some reason don’t seem eager to perform cardiac bypass surgery on each other, have warmly embraced this premise.

Another weapon is the Big Lie technique, rooted in the idea that if you say something enough times it will begin to sound true. For example, widely disseminated propaganda holds that evolution is not generally accepted by the scientific community as the origin of species, and hence should not be viewed as established. In fact, evolution is nearly universally accepted by serious biological scientists, and widely accepted by scientists from all disciplines; exceptions are primarily evangelicals trained in disciplines such as organic chemistry or petroleum geology who are motivated by their belief systems to construct alternatives which are not credible to the scientific community. Evidence in favor of evolution is overwhelming.

A third tactic can be termed inversion. Inversion can be as simple as coining words or names that mean exactly the opposite of what they sound like, as in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Patriot Act.  It can also involve attributing unpopular characteristics of the propagandists to their enemies; there is an aspect of this in operation when organizations founded and funded by billionaires ridicule their opponents as elitists. In the context of the neocon attempt to discredit the professions, the approach is more structured. What are the weakest points in the credibility of experts in the pay of the oil industry, the tobacco industry, or any industry seeking to acquire or extend its right to pollute? Clearly, the very fact that they are in the pay of these industries renders their testimony suspect, because it is by definition bought and paid for.

How can inversion be used to discredit disinterested professionals? A false equivalence has been carefully constructed in which an oceanographer funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency that funds research expressly for the purpose of providing unbiased and disinterested data, is held to be somehow ‘in the pay’ of other researchers who review proposals for support, just as employees of major oil companies pay their employees to support conclusions desired by management. Data supporting climate change has been collected and analyzed by thousands of independent research groups with no previous agendas from all over the world. Anti-climate change studies were almost invariably carried out with the goal of discrediting climate change, and were for the most part funded by corporations with large financial interests in delaying restrictions on CO2 production. There is little disagreement within the scientific community about the current rise in atmospheric CO2, its human origins, and its potential as a greenhouse gas. Scientists are not united in projecting immediate catastrophe, but are understandably nervous about assuming that we can double the CO2 concentration without major consequences.

Physicians are easier to attack because on the average they make more money than scientists, and because some of them have cozy relationships with pharmaceutical companies. On the other hand, their patients (almost everyone) rely on them and for the most part trust them with their lives and often their family’s lives. Equally telling is the difficulty in sparing drug company interests while attacking physicians as being in the pay of drug companies. This limits attacks on physicians by neocons, although anti-medical propaganda is produced by the religious right.

During the G.W. Bush administration, attacks on scientists and others with professional expertise reached an all-time high. It is not entirely coincidental that before he masterminded Bush’s campaigns, Rove was a consultant to major tobacco companies as they attempted to discredit medical research linking tobacco use to cancer, even though they knew full well that their products were killing millions. Attempts to discredit professionals in all scientific and technical fields used internet rumors, Fox News broadcasts, talk radio and other media. The intentional mis-information content of electronic and broadcast news is now so high that they are worse than useless as a source of information in many areas, unless the seeker is sophisticated enough to limit searches to professional sources. Since the vast majority of the public isn’t capable of parsing the lies, much of the public is now hopelessly confused on many issues.

There are limits to the success of this kind of strategy. Republican base voters have by and large been convinced of the unreliability of professional opinion. However, other segments of the public are more resistant to the propaganda effort, and many are hostile to the generators of mis-information and scornful of the Republican electorate. Republican base voters are cognizant of this scorn and resent it. A major effect of the neocon war on science and professional expertise is to deepen the cultural divide in the United States.

Mavericks and Mountebanks

Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink

For fellows whom it hurts to think

The 2008 presidential campaign was remarkable for the election of the first American president of non-European ancestry, but also for the election of the first professed intellectual since John Kennedy. During the campaign it became even more obvious that the divide in American culture had not been diminished by the wide recognition of the failure of the Bush administration. At least a quarter of the electorate were in denial about Bush, despite incontrovertible evidence of failure in almost every aspect of national life: failure in his wars, economic collapse, loss of privacy and personal freedom, degradation of the environment and deferred renewal of infrastructure as well as degradation of human resources through cultural and educational collapse. A smaller group acknowledged Bush’s failure but retained faith in conservative or neo-conservative principles.

These groups formed the remaining Republican base, and nominated the war hero Senator McCain for president. McCain had opposed many Bush administration policies and was thought to have the potential to distance himself from Bush’s many failures. McCain’s measured but sometimes vocal opposition included opposition of Bush’s re-nomination, and earned him a reputation for independence, insight and introspection far beyond his actual capacity. Remarkably, McCain chose as his running mate a politician with far less experience and ability than Dan Quayle. Sarah Palin had recently been elected governor of Alaska. Palin was apparently chosen in attempt to appeal to younger voters and women, segments of the population for which McCain had less appeal.

Palin quickly revealed herself to be a powerful polarizing force. She exerted a strong appeal to a portion of the Republican base, exposing an unintended consequence of the neocon anti-intellectual strategy. Convinced of the superiority of gut feelings over intellect and distrustful of professional expertise, a large portion of the conservative electorate became difficult to control by party leadership, who they unsurprisingly viewed as part of the elite. She alienated much of the electorate, however, and was a secondary factor in McCain’s defeat. The primary factors were the utter failure of the previous Republican administration and the surprisingly broad appeal of Barack Obama.

Palin was mocked and defeated in the election, and subsequently resigned as governor of Alaska in favor of touring to crowds of adoring admirers and appearing as a contributor and host on Fox News. During the campaign, as his staffers struggled with Palin’s lack of basic knowledge (she didn’t know Africa was a continent), McCain tried to exploit her anti-elitist appeal by using other cartoon characters, particularly ‘Joe the Plumber’.  This failed campaign tactic had longer lasting repercussions. Palin herself, despite laughable inadequacies, proved to have more staying power than McCain with her target sector of the electorate. Initially derided as an idiot by some of Fox News big guns, her popularity among low end base voters was such that Fox hired her as a kind of paid self-publicist.

Barack Obama was elected by a broad coalition including minorities, left and center ‘pro-intellectual’ voters, anti-Bush and anti-neocon voters, and people desperate for something different. He was able to overtly identify himself as highly educated and intelligent without suffering the full effects of anti-intellectual rhetoric because his persona, including his racial heritage, did not fit the wonk stereotypes created by the media; he could not be easily dismissed as stiff, cold and robotic (Al Gore), and he was too tall and dynamic to be unfairly caricatured as an adult version of the high school class nerd (Michael Dukakis).

Obama quickly became an object of fear and loathing because his election foreshadowed the end of the success of the southern strategy and Republican dominance of American politics. His nomination solidified the identification of a large fraction of minority voters with the Democrats, and emerging demographic shifts will over the next decade make it progressively more difficult for Republicans to contest national elections. This intensified the propaganda; if Obama wasn’t a wonk or a nerd, he must be a foreign imposter traitor socialist communist fascist tyrant dictator, or something else (pick one) equally bad. The attack machine that produced and widely disseminated the stories (Obama isn’t an American, Obama is a Muslim terrorist, Obama is a communist, etc.) started during the campaign, and intensified during Obama’s first two years in office. The stated aim of the Republican Party was, first and foremost, to cause the Obama administration to fail in order to return to power. This represents a radical departure from the behavior of pre-neocon out of power parties in America, and is most closely related to the strategies of various European communist parties, which have often done their best to cause economic and social disruption to cause governments to fall.

The propaganda machine of the Republican Party was directed primarily at the base. The southern strategy and its many corollaries has made it difficult for the Republicans to appeal to most high-growth demographic groups. Anti-Obama attacks have written off these groups, and concentrated on very high mobilization levels among their base. The Republicans are at this point a permanent minority party, but for the moment they can still win elections by getting a much higher fraction of their base to the polls. In typical recent elections, the ratio of voting percentages between non-Hispanic Americans of primarily European ancestry to eligible voters who self-identify and African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans is about 3:2:1. When minority voters go to the polls in large numbers, as in the 2008 presidential elections, it is difficult or impossible for the Republicans to overcome their impact, since they do not have a majority position among non-evangelical Americans of European ancestry. When minority voters are disinterested, as in the 2010 congressional elections, an all-out effort to mobilize the Republican base can result in victories, particularly in areas with large numbers of self-identified evangelicals and related groups.

The tried and true strategy for mobilization of the base includes establishment of straw man issues based on co-called ‘culture wars’ (e.g., anti-gay rights amendments, anti-stem cell votes, anti-immigrant propaganda, intensified demonization of liberals, anti gun control propaganda etc.). There are many such issues that can be tailored to specific regions, each intended to mobilize a segment of the Republican base.

An important tactical gambit in this strategy might be termed ‘trope a dope’. A simple phrase is seemingly endlessly repeated until the weak minded and un- analytical targets pick it up and start repeating it themselves. Examples include the idea that Barack Obama was born in Africa, all evidence to the contrary, or that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

This in itself is nothing new; similar tactics were employed by Nixon and were developed by successive generations of tacticians, including Karl Rove. An important change in the effect of the strategy was brought about at least in part by the increasing use of internet related electronic media. The effects of a well-funded campaign of internet rumors are far less predictable than the effect of a well-funded campaign of scare advertisements on television, or a well-funded campaign of smears on talk radio.

The internet was developed as a medium of communication between military, scientific, and engineering professionals, and although user protocols and hardware have changed greatly since its inception it remains a medium that inherently promotes two-way communication. Broadcast media, including television and radio, are inherently as didactic as print media in the sense that there is a well-defined central originator of information and many distributed receiver/consumers.

When Fox News broadcasts mis-information, they can control the message tightly by repeating it over and over, either keeping it constant or refining it to suit changing needs. If they want to dump a losing line of argument, they can just stop talking about it and be reasonably confident the base will have forgotten about it within a week. The base will repeat what they heard to some friends, but many of them will have heard the same message several times. The same is true of right wing talk radio or the New York Post.

When an internet rumor is started, the process is different. Right wing internet sites initiate rumors that are picked up by true believers and propagated through the blogosphere via comments. At the same time, lists of reliable stooges are maintained who can be counted on to forward propaganda emails, creating a widening circle of lies with no discernable source. This happened during fall 2010 at all levels with the escalating propaganda around Barack Obama’s visit to India. In different communications he was supposed to be accompanied by huge fleet of aircraft, a gigantic flotilla of navy ships was supposed to be stationed off India, and the trip was supposed to cost as much per day as the Iraq war. Most of these stories are constructed around a kernel of truth; in this case, Obama actually went to India.

The nature of the internet makes it difficult to trace rumors to their source, but it also means that the originators lose control of their message as soon as it is released. In that sense, the internet is a perfect post-modern medium, functioning imperfectly in a post-post-modern age. The ensuing propagation becomes an extended game of telephone; distortion is reduced by copy and paste and forward functions, but eventually the message morphs into almost unrecognizable versions far downstream. When the initial message, Barack Obama has taken a huge fleet of aircraft to India, morphs into the equally absurd message that Barack Obama has set the sixth and seventh fleets to India, no great harm is done to the rumormongers.

The same can’t be said for all messages. Messages intended to discredit intellectual elites, even through broadcast channels like Fox, eventually lead to distrust of the elites who propagate them. Messages blaming the big-spending Democrats for waste and corruption also breed contempt for big-spending Republicans who exhibited epic levels of waste and corruption. Attack politics can be effective in the short term, but a group that failed as spectacularly as the post-rational Republicans at governance eventually finds that almost any criticism they level can also be applied to them. This is particularly true when the propaganda so often relies on Rovian inversion schemes that attempt to tag others with the faults of the smear monger’s group.

Widespread distrust of all government wasn’t just driven by propaganda, but by the failure of government. In truth, this failure extended far beyond the age of G.W. Bush and Barack Obama, and to some extent applies to both parties; since Reagan took office, control of Congress has been almost evenly split, with Democrats enjoying control of the House and Republicans controlling the Senate in a majority of years. During Reagan’s presidency, Democrats continued in nominal control the House and could have blocked most of his programs. It is worth pointing out that this apparent majority included many Dixiecrats who voted with the Republicans, and under Gingrich became the most conservative wing of the Republican party.

Democratic failures can’t be blamed solely on the Dixiecrats. Democrats squandered a window of opportunity in Clinton’s first term, and the Carter presidency was a failure. However, in the context of the forty-five year decline in American economic. political, and moral influence, Clinton’s presidency must be viewed as a partial success, and Carter at least avoided doing the lasting damage perpetrated by the Reagan and Bush presidencies. The net result of forty-five years of failure is distrust. Even if failure isn’t perceived as it occurs, the residue of failure influences the national life for generations. Hence, while Reagan is still widely popular with many groups, his many failures contribute to the distrust of government by contributing greatly to the failure of national policy.

This doesn’t excuse Democratic and far left retreats from reason. We’ve recently been privileged to hear a Democratic Congressman voice his concerns that the island of Guam may capsize. Democrats in many states feel free to propose ludicrous programs that have only one purpose: to get them reelected. Democratic mayors like Richard Daley and Senators like presidential hopeful John Edwards have often been less than brilliant, and Democratic governors rival their Republican counterparts in their disdain for reality. The far left idea that there is no coupling between the value produced by work and the compensation of the worker who does it is particularly widespread and ultimately as pernicious as the overcompensation of executives. Left wing idiocy is entirely in keeping with American political tradition. It has not risen to greater heights because it has not been promoted by large scale donors, adopted by party leadership, or made the centerpiece of large scale campaigns in electronic media ranging from Fox News to propaganda web sites to email campaigns.

This distrust of government and politicians fueled the rise of the Tea Party, a loosely associated and headless group of anti-government activists and their supporters. The rise of the Tea Party was not nearly as spontaneous as many of its members believe, because it was heavily funded by right wing groups acting as fronts for very wealthy ultraconservatives . These groups are loosely aligned with the Republican mainstream, and often espouse policies far to the right of party positions. The amorphous and heterogeneous Tea Party rank and file, united primarily by discontent with the present and a deep distrust of government, have been supported, encouraged, and where possible guided by the people funding their activities.

Although the Tea Party has been funded by groups that have their own agendas beyond small government, deficit reduction, anti-buyout and other issues that form the core of the Tea Party’s common beliefs, these groups have been unable to steer the vehicle effectively after putting gas in the tank. Success in getting the Tea Party to identify primarily with the Republican Party had an unwelcome cost. Tea Party voters were successful in electing Tea Party candidates in many Republican primaries, ousting incumbents and defeating candidates backed by party leadership. Traditional Republicans were in some cases forced to adopt Tea Party ideas to survive. Sarah Palin, a laughing stock to most of the country ever since she identified Africa as a country, is a force to be reckoned with in the Tea Party, and her endorsement was enough to turn a number of primaries. Some of those primary victories led to Democratic wins in the general election, notably in the Delaware senatorial election in which the Tea Party candidate casually remarked that she had ‘dabbled in witchcraft’. (Palin later took back center stage in the idiot political celebrity talent show by promising to stand by her North Korean allies, presumably by wearing very large hats. This would presumably leave plenty of room for tinfoil. )

The net results of the campaign against professionalism waged by the G.W. Bush administration and intensified by the Republicans and their allies will take at least a decade to parse. In the short term, it probably increased the number of house seats won in the off year election. The party in the white house usually loses seats in the off year, and Barack Obama’s minority strength is particularly lessened in off years. Politically, it also brought a strange populist, anti-elite and anti-intellectual faction to power within the Republican Party. The southern strategy made the Republicans the Party of choice for a collection of unsavory right wing groups, resulting in embarrassing anomalies such as the self proclaimed Nazi nominated as Republican candidate for state attorney general in North Carolina in 1980 and the Dukes candidacy in Louisiana. The strategy (and the failures) that helped spawn the Tea Party has now made the Republican Party the party of choice for the ignorant, the credulous, the fanatic, and the intellectually lazy and subnormal. Just as the southern strategy was meant to attract voters but resulted in a shift in leadership, a takeover of the party by the shiny new idiot wing is in full swing in many areas. The first fruits of this strange union have already brought their unique gift for irrationality to a corrupt and cowardly Congress; who knows what strange beast shuffles towards Bethlehem to be born?

Idiots on Parade

“We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.”

- the Rev. Ray Mummert

By the end of 2010 the Palin wing of the Tea Party was established as a potent force within the Republican Party, thoroughly intimidating the leadership and promising to seize control of future nominations, in many cases without the clout to seriously contest general elections. The internet and much of the media have become so laced with propaganda and misinformation that they are virtually worthless as a source of reliable information on anything with political overtones. The only reliable information sources in many areas are maintained and vetted by professional societies and organizations with access to their expertise (e.g., professional journals in medicine, engineering, and science). Those without access are bombarded with lies, and most people are so uninformed that they have no way of distinguishing propaganda from fact.

The intellectual elite is in no immediate danger of losing control of their sources of professional information; mistakes in professionally maintained data sources are discarded either because they are identified as wrong by other sources or because they are made obsolete by later information. Information verification in intellectual professions is powerful. The fraction of the population that respects professional expertise generally has reduced access to information, but in most cases can obtain professionally vetted, reliable information and opinion if it cares to do so.

About 1/3 of the population appears to have largely rejected the reliability of intellectual professionals, to accept unvetted internet information as equivalent to the American Journal of Medicine or Nature, and to uncritically accept media propaganda as unbiased reporting. Once this point of view takes hold, it is very difficult to recover a rational worldview. Medical knowledge or scientific facts are portrayed as fabrication intended to deceive the faithful. The sense of identification with the group becomes more important than logic, and inconsistencies can always be overcome by appeals to faith. Although this sounds religious (and sometimes is), faith and group identification can equally well be secular and involve nationalistic totems. Some 2009 and 2010 propaganda emails contain numerous cartoon and photographic shibboleth images of warships, military aircraft, flags, soldiers, and other superficial patriotic paraphernalia designed to encourage loyalty to some undefined cause and to discourage disloyal rational thought.

This segment of the population feels that they are equal or superior to experienced professionals in evaluating complex issues; like the tin woodman, if they can’t reason it out in their brains, they can feel it in their hearts, or at least someplace nearby. The ready availability of lies purporting to be reliable facts has allowed the idiot wing the freedom to ignore reality. The fundamentalists have always had that freedom, because their direct line to God has allowed them to justify almost any absurdity (the four thousand year old universe, human-dinosaur coexistence) in the name of faith. Now this privilege has been extended to more secular morons by virtue of their ability to find almost any lie they could want on a web site or in a chain email. It now seems to many of these people that there are so many versions of the ‘facts’ that you can just choose the ones you like the best. The idea that there is a physical reality that must be accounted for has been lost for many people, and they are glad of it since they never understood how it worked anyway.

The Wages of Sin

He had brought a great map representing the sea

Without the least vestige of land

And the crew were quite pleased, for they found it to be

A map they could all understand

Reality is often harsh, and can’t be ignored forever. The long American post world war two spree is over, and the 2007-2010 ‘recession’ is merely the first installment on a forty five year check that started to accumulate with the politically motivated guns and butter promises of Johnson and Nixon. The wholesale destruction of American industry has been sold to a credulous populace who were led to believe we could make a decent living selling each other fast food, or get rich by selling each other worthless paper. Unavoidable and painful adjustments in American living standards will follow until our way of life approximates our real position in the world.

Fortunately there is fairly widespread awareness that new industries must be developed and old ones must be made to function. Nothing will succeed until the population comes to understand that there is a difference between a lie and the truth, that understanding, knowledge and capability are the fruit of labor and not something obtainable from a morning talk show host, a propaganda web site, or a chain email. Blind faith in the free market and other myths leads to irrational choices and vulnerability to real world pressures. An example of this is our ‘free market’ approach to pharmaceuticals; individual American consumers compete against nation states in world market, resulting in a huge flow of resources out of the country every year as Americans pay for drug discovery for the whole world.

It is possible to dig out from the mess that has been made of the United States over the last forty-five years, but it will take hard work, determination and toughness. It won’t happen until the vast majority of the country stop lying to themselves about their behavior, discard their irrational belief systems, and above all start recognizing that there is a complex reality at work that can’t be dealt with in the currency of emotional irrationality purveyed by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.

Digging out from idiocy requires progress on many levels. Adults have to stop lying to themselves because it feels good to be part of ‘morning in America.’ The educational system has to be treated as an essential ingredient to national security and national prosperity, not a political football manipulated to appease zealots or to produce serfs and bumpkins. No more Texas school board approved textbooks. No vouchers. No creationist nonsense. No more propaganda about American ‘free enterprise’. No more manipulation of state university systems. No more public money poured into right or left wing garbage at any institution. Just the facts, ma’m, with the best available hypotheses.

Institutions are important, but protection of the integrity of schools and the press is not sufficient unless the culture is reformed. Glorification of mindless behavior is destructive and must be curbed. Ridicule of expertise, intellectual work and even intellectual ability has to be abandoned. When kids are made to believe that engineers are pitiful dweebs but con artists and drug dealers are cool, the results are predicable. Media portraying intellectuals as hopeless nerds while glorifying anti-social activity has unavoidable consequences, and these don’t include a serviceable work ethic, an educated citizenry, or rational behavior. Rebuilding the prosperity and strength of the United States has to begin with rebuilding the degenerate aspects of the culture.

References

1 Daniel Patrick Moynihan  (1993) Defining deviancy down: How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels of Crime and Destructive Behavior. The American Spectator (vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 17-30).

2 Andrew Karmen (1994) “Defining Deviancy Down”: How Senator Moynihan’s Misleading Phrase About Criminal Justice Is Rapidly Being Incorporated Into Popular Culture  Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2(5) 99-112

3 “Defining Deviancy Up” (Charles Krauthammer’s address to the American Enterprise Institute, September 13, 1993

4 Richard Hofstadter (1963) Anti-intellectualism in American Life (New York: Knopf  434 pages).

5 Todd Gitlin, (2000) The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

6 Susan Jacoby  (2008) The Age of American Unreason   (Pantheon 385 pages)

7 Daniel Schorr (2005) Senate Watergate Report (Carroll & Graf 800 pages)

8) Tom Wells  (1994) The War Within: America’s Battle over Vietnam  (University of California Press 706 pages)

9) Kevin P. Phillips  (1969) The emerging Republican majority (Arlington House, – Political Science – 482 pages)

10) Committee on National Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists, Education and Career Studies Unit, National Research Council (2000) Addressing the Nation’s Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists (National Academies Press 120 pages)

11) Steven E. Ambrose (1989) Nixon, Vol. 2: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 (Simon & Schuster 736 pages)

12) Wm. F. Buckley, Jr. (2009) The Reagan I Knew (Basic Books 279 pages)

13) John Kenneth Galbraith, (1992)  The Culture of Contentment. (Houghton Mifflin 195 pages)

14) Ann Coulter (2003) Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (Crown Forum 368 pages)

15) Mark Gerson (1997) The Neoconservative Vision: From the Cold War to the Culture Wars. Madison Books  368 pages

16) Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in America’s Foreign and Defense Policy (2000)

Robert Kagan (Editor), William Kristol (Editor) (Encounter Books 392 pages)

17) James Fallows  (2003) The Age of Murdoch  The Atlantic Monthly  Volume 292, No. 2; 81-98.

18) Broad, William J. (1992). Teller’s War: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-70106-1. p127.

19) Jeffrey Mervis (2003). “Scientists are long gone, but bitter memories remain”. Science 302 (5642): 40–41.

20) Linda R. Cohen, Susan A. Edelman and Roger G. Noll (1991) The National Aerospace Plane: An American Technological Long Shot, Japanese Style   The American Economic Review Vol. 81, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred and Third Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association pp. 50-53

21) Jane Mayer (2010) Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama    The New Yorker

 

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell and Spread Them: Some Propaganda Emails 2010

Example I

Subject: HR 4646

Another late night, backdoor, sneaky effort, AFTER the Nov elections, by the same people who brought you Obamacare.. This is very important.  This is one more example of a Congress run amuck. Just think, for every deposit into any of your accounts, a 1% tax, anytime you move money from one account to another, a 1% tax.  For every check you write or deposit, cash withdrawal you make, a 1% tax.  This huge and the only way to stop it is to call, write, fax and email you congressman or woman and your senators.  This is going to be a disaster for this country if it is passed.

HR 4646

You can check this on both “Snopes” and “Truth or Fiction” .  It does exist!!!!!

WE WILL REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER!

H. R. 4646

I have gone into Library of Congress) and printed out and read all 15 pages of this bill which has been given the “Short Title” of “Debt Free America Act.”  It is the most socialistic thing I have ever read. Just think, if you deposit $5,000.00 into your checking account or savings account the bank has to  take out 1% or $50.00 of that money and send it to Washington . Then, any checks or cash you take out of your bank they will deduct 1% of each transaction and send it to Washington .  Total put in the Bank $5,000.00. $100.00 of that you give to Washington .

This bill, spells it out that everyone will pay the Government 1% of their income.  If you think about it, it really taxes you 2%, 1 when you deposit it, another 1% when you spend it. Page 9 states the House and Senate shall convene not later than November 23, 2010 and Page 11 states the vote on passage shall occur not later than December 23, 2010.

SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW AND EVERYONE NEEDS TO CONTACT THEIR

CONGRESSMAN AND SENATOR AND TELL THEM TO VOTE NO ON THIS BILL.

If you don’t know who your Congressman or Senator is, go to Google, type in “(your state) Congressman email address”.  When it comes up, click on “Complete E-mail address for Congress/House, Senate, Governors and get both e-mail and FAX info. The bill is HR-4646 introduced by US Rep Peter DeFazio D-Oregon and US Senator Tom Harkin D-Iowa.  It is now in committee and will probably not be brought out until after the Nov. elections. Suggest that you pass this along and also to your state senator and representative and US Congressman and Senators.

One percent transaction tax is proposed

President Obama’s finance team is recommending a transaction tax. His

plan is to sneak it in after the November election to keep it under the

radar. This is a 1% tax on all transactions at any financial institution

i. e. Banks, Credit Unions, etc.. Any deposit you make, or move around

within your account, i. e. transfer to, will have a 1% tax charged. If

your pay check or your social Security or whatever is direct deposit, 1%

tax charged. If you hand carry a check in to deposit, 1% tax charged, If

ou take cash in to deposit, 1% tax charged. This is from the man who

promised that if you make under $250,000 per year, you will not see one

penny of new tax. Keep your eyes and ears open, you will be amazed at

what you learn. Some will say aw it’s just 1%… remember once the tax is there they can raise it at will.

http://www.standard.net/node/44797

Example 2

>              WHO VOTED “NO” TO MAKE ENGLISH OUR OFFICIAL LANGUAGE? – WHO

>              VOTED “YES” TO GIVE ILLEGALS SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS?

>              It will soon be payback time for these traitors – forward

>              this list to everyone you know

>              Dont forget.  November 2 is Take out the trash

>              day !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

>              The following senators voted against making English the

>              official language of America :

>                                           Akaka (D-HI)

>                                            Bayh (D-IN)

>                                            Biden (D-DE)

>                                            Bingaman (D-NM)

>                                            Boxer (D-CA)

>                                            Cantwell (D-WA)

>                                            Clinton (D-NY)

>                                            Dayton (D-MN)

>                                            Dodd (D-CT)

>                                            Domenici (R-NM)

>                                            Durbin (D-IL)

>                                            Feingold (D-WI)

>                                            Feinstein (D-CA)

>                                            Harkin (D-IA)

>                                            Inouye (D-HI)

>                                            Jeffords (I-VT)

>                                            Kennedy (D-MA)

>                                            Kerry (D-MA)

>                                            Kohl (D-WI)

>                                            Lautenberg (D-NJ)

>                                            Leahy (D-VT)

>                                            Levin (D-MI)

>                                            Lieberman (D-CT)

>                                            Menendez (D-NJ)

>                                            Mikulski (D-MD)

>                                            Murray (D-WA)

>                                            Obama (D-IL)

>                                            Reed (D-RI)

>                                            Reid (D-NV)

>                                            Salazar (D-CO)

>                                            Sarbanes (D-MD)

>                                            Schumer (D-NY)

>                                            Stabenow (D-MI)

>                                            Wyden (D-OR)

>              Now, the  following  are the senators who voted to give

>              illegal aliens Social Security benefits.   They are grouped

>              by home state.  If a state is not listed, there was novoting

>              representative.

>              Alaska :                 Stevens (R)

>              Arizona :                McCain (R)

>              Arkansas :              Lincoln (D)            Pryor (D)

>              California :              Boxer (D)              Feinstein (D)

>              Colorado :              Salazar (D)

>              Connecticut :          Dodd (D)               Lieberman(D)

>              Delaware :              Biden (D)              Carper (D)

>              Florida :                  Martinez (R)

>              Hawaii :                   Akaka (D)              Inouye (D)

>              Illinois :                  Durbin (D)              Obama (D)

>              Indiana:                   Bayh (D)                Lugar (R)

>              Iowa:                       Harkin (D)

>              Kansas:                   Brownback (R)

>              Louisiana:              Landrieu (D)

>              Maryland:                Mikulski (D)          Sarbanes (D)

>              Massachusetts:       Kennedy (D)         Kerry (D)

>              Montana:               Baucus (D)

>              Nebraska:             Hagel (R)

>              Nevada:                Reid (D)

>              New Jersey:           Lautenberg (D)      Menendez (D)

>              New Mexico:          Bingaman (D)

>              New York:              Clinton (D)    Schumer (D)

>              North Dakota :         Dorgan (D)

>              Ohio :                         DeWine (R)      Voinovich(R)

>              Oregon :                 Wyden (D)

>              Pennsylvania :          Specter (D)

>              Rhode Island :          Chafee (R)            Reed (D)

>              South Carolina :        Graham (R)

>              South Dakota :           Johnson (D)

>              Vermont :                   Jeffords (I)   Leahy (D)

>              Washington :              Cantwell (D)          Murray (D)

>              West Virginia :          Rockefeller (D), by Not Voting

>              Wisconsin :                  Feingold (D)          Kohl (D)

>              THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF THE UNITED STATES NEEDS TO KNOW THIS  INFORMATION…..UNLESS THEY DON’T MIND SHARING THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY WITH FOREIGN WORKERS WHO DIDN’T PAY A DIME INTO IT.

>                  Jimmy Zee

A typical internet right wing propaganda site

http://www.norcalblogs.com/post_scripts/2009/02/what_is_the_clowardpriven.html

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Hello from CBORGIA.

I’m hoping that this will be a good place to expand my comments on American culture, politics, and economics to include essays that convey more than a sound bite. I try to be amusing, but I’m serious about what I have to say at the same time. I gave up trying to be nice to everybody some years ago. The price of Swift Boating, the Whitewater Uproar, the Birther saga, etc., not to mention the numerous frauds that have led to ‘income redistribution’ and wealth concentration is that thousands of people like me are disgusted enough to say what we think. We are no longer concerned about hurting the feelings of criminals and professional liars, or embarrassing their devoted supporters.

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