LESSONS LEARNED #39: “Socialism is easier said than done.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 11th, 2010

The Bolshevik Revolution Gave Russian Peasants Freedom.  And Famine.

Russia was one of the most backward nations at the turn of the 20th century.  Feudalism was still the economic model.  The only European nation still using it.  There were two Russias.  Hungry and impoverished peasants.  And a rich and well-fed ruling elite.  Then World War I came.  Russia bled on the Eastern Front.  There was a lot of discontent.  Germany took advantage of this by returning the exiled Vladimir Lenin to Russia via Germany.  And it worked.  Marxist revolutionary fervor forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate.  Russia pulled out of the war.  Lenin led the Marxist Bolshevik Revolution against capitalism.  White and Red Russia plunged into civil war.  And a few assassination attempts later, Joseph Stalin launched the Red Terror to kill all enemies of the Soviet state.  Including the Romanov family.  When Lenin died, Stalin consolidated his power.  Through terror.  And he would rule by terror.

With capitalism suppressed, Stalin was ready to build the new socialist/communist state.  He industrialized the state (with foreign engineering and machinery).  He collectivized farms to increase output.  Soviet industry made a great leap forward.  But the cost was devastating.  Famine.  Forced deportations.  Terror.  Millions died.  And the quality of life for the common Russian peasant went into the toilet.  Anyone who complained was an enemy of the state.  There were chronic grain shortages.  Which were blamed on farmers hiding grain to force prices higher.  The solution?  Stalin deported or executed these farmers as enemies of the state.  But they never found any ‘hidden’ grain.

Dictators rise to power through terror and violence.  And they hold power by even more terror and violence.  To silence their enemies.  These enemies of the state.  You see, if you disagree with the dictator, you disagree with the state.  For they are one and the same.  So they get a little testy when their policies fail.  They blame others.  Attack those who are clinging to capitalism and liberty.  Who don’t submit themselves completely to the state.  And herein lies their fatal flaw.  Slaves don’t willingly work for the greater good.  They only do the bare minimum to minimize their pain and suffering.  Either the work or the state will kill them.  They know that.  So they work hard enough to keep the state from killing them.  But not too hard that the work does.  It’s a bleak world.  But that is the life of the slave.

China’s Great Leap Forward Resulted in Even Greater Famines

The communist/socialist movement spilled over into China from Russia.  Mao Tse-tung rose to power much like Stalin.  Ruthlessly.  He industrialized China.  And collectivized their farms into giant collective communes.  He forced peasant farmers into these communes.  Which lowered the quality of life for millions.  The result?  China’s industrial output did increase.  But, like in Russia, the cost was devastating.

The Great Leap Forward was their second five-year plan.  The plan was to increase grain harvests by using the power of the state to collectivize and direct giant farming communes.  Party members (i.e., career politicians who kissed communist ass) ran these communes.  They reported to Mao.  None of them were farmers, though.  But they acted like they were.  Trying some screwy new ideas that only reduced the harvest.  But, being good party men, they lied.  They reported record harvests.  As the lying went up the party chain of bureaucracy, party leaders made decisions based on the lie.  They took so much of the harvest for party members, cities and for export that the peasant farmers working on the communes starved in history’s greatest famines.  Note that ‘famines’ is plural.  Yeah, it was that bad.  Tens of millions starved to death.  All in the name of helping the poor and oppressed.

Everyone lives in fear in a totalitarian state.  Even members in the ruling elite.  The communes were supposed to increase the harvest.  So those responsible for that increase lied.  To minimize their own pain and suffering.  For they knew if they failed the greater common good, the state would come after them.  So they protected themselves.  At the expense of the peasant.  The life of the peasant/proletariat only got worse.  The Bolshevik Revolution was supposed to free them from the oppression of the bourgeois capitalists.  It only oppressed them more.

Using Capitalism to Attack Capitalism

The socialists/communists learned some valuable lessons.  Although they may be good at terror and violence, they didn’t have any real talent or ability.  And though they hate capitalism (because they lack any real talent or ability), they understood that they needed capitalists to be their bitch.  They couldn’t kill them.  Because if they did, nothing would get done.  No wealth created.  And they needed these people to create wealth.  Because they can’t take wealth if the wealth creators don’t create it.  With no wealth to take, they have nothing to give the masses.  To keep them dependent.  And subdued.  So this was the next phase in the socialist/communist revolution.  To exploit the wealth creators for state gain.

The social democracies followed the same general plan.  Attack capitalism.  Oppress the poor by making them dependent on the state.  But instead of using physical fear and intimidation, they used psychological fear and intimidation.  At election time.  They, the compassionate state, wanted to give them stuff.  The mean, cold-hearted capitalists wanted to take away their Social Security.  Eat their children.  And other nasty things.  It worked.  It got votes.

The problem they ran into was that populations grow.  And costs go up.  That meant the social democracies had to give more and more people these ‘benefits’.  While at the same time the costs of these ‘benefits’ kept going up.  And herein lies their fatal flaw.  To keep the people dependent (and docile) you have to keep raising taxes.  But if you raise taxes too much, you kill the golden goose.  Because you can push the wealth producers only so far.  If the state makes them work harder for less so others can enjoy the fruit of their labors, the state is for all intents and purposes enslaving these wealth producers.  And what do we know about slaves?  They don’t willingly work for the greater good.  They do the bare minimum to minimize their pain and suffering. 

Communist China Concerned About the United States’ Anti-Capitalistic Behavior

There are all sorts of ways they can do this.  If the cost of hiring employees is too great, businesses will hire fewer employees.  If taxes are too high, people will cut back on their spending and businesses will lay off workers because of the weaker demand.  If the investment climate is too unfavorable (say, because of a high capital gains tax), investors will invest their money where the climate is more favorable (and not create jobs).  If taxes get too high, the economy will go underground where people pay no taxes.  As more of this happens, the government collects less and less in taxes.  They get to a point where they simply can’t raise them anymore.  So they borrow.  And when they borrow to excess and cannot borrow any more, they have to do the unthinkable.  Cut the benefits that have so successfully enslaved so many people to the government.  And when governments try, the enslaved fight back.

Following the financial crisis of 2008, some debt-ridden nations tried to do just that.  Cut benefits to avoid bankruptcy.  Greece tried.  France, too.  Both had riots.  Other nations are at the tipping point.  Great Britain is making draconian cuts that the people aren’t too happy with.  Ireland is staring down bankruptcy and may need a Greece-like bailout.  (Interestingly, Ireland’s problems don’t stem from a fat social welfare state.  Their troubles resulted from a real estate bubble fueled by the European Central Bank keeping interest rates low.  They, like the U.S., saw no downside in cheap, risky mortgages.)  And, of course, Communist China is lecturing the United States about the evils of currency devaluation as a solution to our problems.  Which we’re doing.  In a last-ditch attempt to stimulate our economy.  A weaker dollar would help.  It would make our exports cheaper.  And make our massive debt cheaper to pay off.  Which really concerns the Chinese as they’re holding the majority of that debt.  So they are not going to sit idly by while we slash the value of their U.S. holdings.  They’ll fight back.   And do whatever it takes (capital controls, tariffs, etc.) to protect their investment.

Whether by physical fear and intimidation or by bribery and deceit, socialism ends the same.  In failure.  For it to work people have to work hard so others can live better.  And people just don’t willingly submit to slavery.  When they’re forced into it, they do the bare minimum to minimize their pain and suffering.  And when people do, the economy will never reach its full potential.  Which is why the United States won the Cold War.  Capitalism encourages people to do their best.  Socialism encourages them to do the least they can get away with.  And you just don’t achieve greatness with mediocrity.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #25: “War is costly. Peace, too.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 3rd, 2010

ONE OF THE lasting consequences of war is the feminization of men.  War makes widows.  And fatherless sons.  Their mothers raise them the best that they can.  But women tend to be kinder and gentler than men.  More nurturing.  Fathers are, after all, the disciplinarians.  “Just wait until your father gets home.”  Sons with fathers knew what that meant.  And it wasn’t kind, gentle nurturing.

The American Civil War killed some 600,000 men.  A generation of fathers was lost.  When their sons came of age, they were more sensitive to the suffering of others.  And they felt a mothering urge to do something about it.  In politics they became Progressives.  They grew government.  Because government knows best.  Well, mother knows best.  And a government that mothers would solve all our social ills.  And these men would mother.  Compassionately.  And they thought all that rugged individualism was overrated.

World War I killed some 9 million men in uniform and about another 7 million in civilians.  These fatherless sons would rise in power and help create the cradle-to-the-grave welfare state known as European Socialism. 

World War II killed some 400,000 American men.  And their sons would follow the European’s lead.  They would attend the universities where the progressives taught.  They came out with heads filled with caring and compassion for victims everywhere.  LBJ’s Great Society would grow out of this movement.  As well as a hatred for American rugged individualism.  And anti-war fervor.

AND THEN YOU had the filthy, maggot-infested hippies.  South Park is a crude comedy.  And Cartman has few redeeming qualities.  But he’s right about hippies.  They ruined this country.  Born in the baby boom following World War II, most had the benefit of a father.  However, by the 1960s, the universities they attended were a lost cause.  Their professors would attack whatever their parents taught them.  They would learn to hate.  In a kind, gentle, nurturing way.

They hated America.  How it became.  What it did.  What its values were.  Are.  Instead, they would embrace America’s enemies.  Have kind, gentle, nurturing compassion for them.  They were proud Marxists.  And Communists.  They relished their First Amendment right to attack the American Republic that gave them that right.  While they supported oppressive regimes where you had no such right.  And spoke ill of the government at your own peril.  Oh, they damned America and its allies for all of their ‘crimes against humanity’.  But they said nothing about the reigning co-champions of human rights abuses.  The Soviet Union.  And Communist China.  No, they wanted to extend the proletarian revolution to America.  So more could suffer the worst of human rights abuses.  Why would anyone adopt such a conflicting course of political action?  Because they’re idiots.

Power to the People.  Give Peace a Chance.  All You Need is Love.  They knew all the answers.  John Lennon et al.  War was business.  Nothing more.  Or the folly of kings.  As the Monkees sang about in this anti-war song:

They met on the battlefield banner in hand.
They looked out across the vacant land.
And they counted the missing, one upon one,
None upon none.
The war it was over before it begun.

Two little kings playing a game.
They gave a war and nobody came.

(from Zor and Zam by Bill Chadwick and John Chadwick
Album: The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees)

This is what the anti-war people believe.  Either war is business.  Or the folly of kings.  That there is no ‘bad guy’ in war.  Just pawns.  And units of production.  Because human nature is peaceful.

WHO DID THE high school bullies pick on?  Who did they pansts?  Steal their lunch money from?  Give a wedgie to?  A swirlie?   Beat up.  Belittle with name calling?  Not tough guys.  Weak guys.  This is human nature.  The strong feed on the weak.

WHEN GUN OWNERS discovered a ‘loophole’ in Floridian law about carrying concealed weapons, they started carrying concealed weapons.  What happened?  Crime on Floridians dropped.  Crimes on tourists rose.  Why?  Because the bad guys knew that tourists didn’t carry concealed weapons.  This is human nature.  The strong feed on the weak.

BACK WHEN DETROIT was the murder capital of the U.S., a friend traveled there and bought a t-shirt.  It read, “Detroit:  Where the Weak are Killed and Eaten.”  Now I don’t recall reports of cannibalism in the Motor City, but the message was clear. Figuratively, of course.  Human nature was becoming animal nature.  The strong feed on the weak.

MANY ANIMAL SPECIES have large litters.  Or numerous litters.  Like bunnies.  Cute little, fluffy, harmless bunnies.  But bunnies are tasty.  They’re low on the food chain.  They are food to almost every carnivore in the wild.  Including man.   Few bunnies live long before becoming a meal.  This is animal nature.  The strong feed on the weak.

“IN EVERY GENERATION there is a chosen one.  She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness.  She is the slayer.”  (From the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)  In the world of vampires, demons and the forces of darkness, it’s kill or be eaten.  It’s even the nature of the supernatural.  The strong feed on the weak.

BIG GOVERNMENT AND UNIONS grew big and powerful in the 20th century to protect the little guy.  They said that Big Business and the free market favored the rich and powerful.  At the expense of the poor and weak.  They said it was human nature.  For the strong to feed on the weak.

DURING THE TIME of America’s involvement in Vietnam, the Communist Party of Kampuchea went on a killing spree.  While the hippies protested Vietnam, they praised the social compassion of anti-capitalistic communism.  Power to the People.  Baby.  Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge killed their own people wholesale (by a percentage of population killed, the greatest in history).  Included in the genocide lists were students or people with glasses.   They killed any ‘educated’ person.  And those who even looked educated.  So, yes, the hippies supported a movement that would have killed their own worthless selves if given the chance.   Human nature at its worse.  The strong feed on the weak.  And the stupidity of hippies.

THERE ARE BAD guys in the world.  And there’s no denying it.  Human nature is not peaceful.  It is anything but.  Darwinian Theory never played out so fiercely.  The strong feed on the weak.  They seek them out.  Like a predator in the wild, they seek out the weak and maimed and move in for the kill.  You can’t reason with them.  Just like you can’t reason with a bully.  Those who think that we can need to man-up and face facts.  And if you can’t, don’t worry.  We have others that are more than willing to man-up and fight our battles for us.  To keep America strong.  If we let them.

Predators don’t respect weakness.  They respect power.  And power is the only thing that will deter them.  The bad guys have attacked American soil few times.  Because America is powerful.  You mess with the big dog and it’s going to bite you.  And maul you.  So the bad guys don’t mess with the big dog often.  Because they pay dearly when they do.

America has known peace and prosperity like few other people can possibly imagine.  And the reason for that is that we have the biggest and baddest military in the world.  It kept the Soviets at bay in Europe.  It thumped Iraqi’s vaunted million-man army in less than 100 hours of combat.  It then thumped them again with a smaller force.  (That display of power cowed Libya from sponsoring terrorism for fear of that awesome power thumping them next.  And it got the Saudis to do the politically unthinkable – take on Al Qaeda in their kingdom.)  It ran bin Laden deep underground leaving him more impotent than threatening.  It held the line in Korea.  And it won every battle it fought in Vietnam.  (Of course, everything went to hell in a handbasket when we left.  But that’s another story.)

But that kind of power doesn’t come cheap.  And you gotta have the will to use it.  But when you do, you get peace.  An expensive peace, yes.  But peace is always cheaper than war.  Especially when that peace deters war.

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LESSONS LEARNED #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2010

ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS a real bastard.  John Adams hated him.  Thomas Jefferson, too.  George Washington looked at him like a son.  Aaron Burr killed him.  Politics.  It can get ugly.

Hamilton’s father was having an affair with a married woman in a loveless marriage.  Fathered two children with her.  First James.  Then Alexander.  Both born on the British island of Nevis in the Caribbean.  His father then moved the family to the Danish island of St. Croix.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton’s father abandoned his family.  Alexander was 10ish (there is some disagreement about his year of birth). 

At age 11ish, Alexander became a clerk at Cruger and Beekmen, an import-export firm.  There he learned about business and commerce.  People noticed his talent and ability.  Soon, they collected some money and sent him off to the American colonies for a college education.  Hamilton’s fondest memory of his childhood home was seeing St. Croix disappear into the horizon from the ship that delivered him to America.

Hamilton’s father did have some nobility in his lineage but he squandered it before it could do Alexander any good.  He was an illegitimate child (a real bastard).  His father abandoned him.  His mother died while he was young.  He had little but ability.  But that was enough to take him from St. Croix to the founding of a new nation.

Hamilton served in the Continental Army.  He served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Hamilton was in the know as much as Washington.  His understanding of business, commerce and money made him acutely aware of the financial disarray of the Army.  And of the Continental Congress.  What he saw was a mess.

The Continental Congress was a weak central government.  It could not draft soldiers.  It could not impose taxes to pay her soldiers.  It could only ask the states for money to support the cause.  Contributions were few.  The congress tried printing money but the ensuing inflation just made things worse.  The Army would take supplies for subsistence and issue IOUs to the people they took them from.  The Congress would beg and borrow.  Most of her arms and hard currency came from France.  But they ran up a debt in the process with little prospect of repaying it.  Which made that begging and borrowing more difficult with each time they had to beg and borrow.

The army held together.  But it suffered.  Big time.  Washington would not forget that experience.  Or Hamilton.  Or the others who served.  For there was a unity in the Army.  Unlike there was in the confederation that supported the Army.

WARS ARE COSTLY.  And France fought a lot of them.  Especially with Great Britain.  She was helping the Americans in part to inflict some pain on her old nemesis.  And in the process perhaps regain some of what she lost to Great Britain in the New World.  You see, the British had just recently defeated the French in the French and Indian War (aka, the 7 Years War).  And she wanted her former possessions back.  But France was bleeding.  Strapped for cash, after Yorktown, she told the Americans not to expect any more French loans.

Wars are costly.  The fighting may have been over, but the debt remained.  The interest on the debt alone was crushing.  With the loss of a major creditor, America had to look elsewhere for money.  The Continental Congress’ Superintendent of Finance, the guy who had to find a way to pay these costs, Robert Morris, said they had to tax the Americans until it hurt they were so far in debt.  He put together a package of poll taxes, land taxes, an excise tax and tariffs.  The congress didn’t receive it very well.  Representation or not, Americans do not like taxes.  Of the proposed taxes, the congress only put the tariffs on imports before the states.

Rhode Island had a seaport.  Connecticut didn’t.  Rhode Island was charging tariffs on imports that passed through her state to other states.  Like to Connecticut.  Because they generated sufficient revenue from these tariffs, their farmers didn’t have to pay any taxes.  In other words, they could live tax free.  Because of circumstance, people in Rhode Island didn’t have to pay taxes.  Connecticut could pay their taxes for them.  Because of the Rhodes Island impost.  And the Robert Morris’ impost would take away that golden goose.

As the congress had no taxing authority, it would take a unanimous vote to implement the impost.  Twelve voted ‘yes’.  Rhode Island said ‘no’.  There would be no national tax.  ‘Liberty’ won.  And the nation teetered on the brink of financial ruin. 

DEFALTION FOLLOWED INFLATION.  When the British left, they took their trade and specie with them.  What trade remained lost the protection of the Royal Navy.  When money was cheap people borrowed.  With the money supply contracted, it was very difficult to repay that debt.  The Americans fell into a depression.  Farmers were in risk of losing the farm.  And debtors saw the moneymen as evil for expecting to get their money back.  The people demanded that their state governments do something.  And they did.

When the debtors became the majority in the state legislatures, they passed laws to unburden themselves from their obligations.  They passed moratoriums on the collection of debt (stay laws).  They allowed debtors to pay their debts in commodities in lieu of money (tender acts).  And they printed money.  The depression hit Rhode Island hard.  The debtors declared war on the creditors.  And threw property laws out the window.  Mob rule was in.  True democracy.  Rhode Island forced the creditors to accept depreciated paper money at face value.  Creditors, given no choice, had to accept pennies on the dollars owed.  No drawbacks to that, right?  Of course, you better pray you never, ever, need to borrow money again.  Funny thing about lenders.  If you don’t pay them back, they do stop lending.  The evil bastards.

Aristotle said history was cyclical.  It went from democracy to anarchy to tyranny.  Hamilton and James Madison, future enemies, agreed on this point.  A democracy is the death knell of liberty.  It is a sure road to the tyranny of the majority.  If you don’t honor written contracts, there can be no property rights.  Without property rights, no one is safe from arbitrary force.   Civilization degenerates to nature’s law where only the fittest and most powerful survive.  (In the social utopias of the Soviet Union and Communist China, where there were no property rights, the people’s government murdered millions of their people).

WINNING A WAR did not make a nation.  Before and after the Revolution, people thought in provincial terms.  Not as Americans.  Thomas Jefferson hated to be away from his country, Virginia.  Unless you served in the Continental Army, this is how you probably thought.  Once the common enemy was defeated, the states pursued their own interests.  (Technically speaking, they never stopped pursuing their own interests, even during the War).

In addition to all the other problems a weak Continental Congress was trying to resolve, states were fighting each other for land.  A localized war broke out between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming region in north east Pennsylvania.  And a region of New York was demanding their independence from that state.  Hamilton helped negotiate a peaceful solution and the confederacy admitted the new state, Vermont.

There were problems with the confederation.  And people were getting so giddy on liberty that that they were forgetting the fundamental that made it all possible.  Property rights.  States were moving closer to mob rule with no check on majority power.  And the smallest minorities held the legislation of the Confederate Congress (the Continental Congress renamed) hostage.  Land claims were pitting state against state with the Congress unable to do anything.  Meanwhile, her finances remained in shambles.  She had no credit in Europe.  And creditors wanted their money back. 

They were choosing sides.  And you can probably guess the sides.  Hamilton had no state allegiances, understood finance and capital, saw how an impotent congress was unable to support the Army during war, saw provincial interests hinder national progress and threaten civil war.  George Washington, Virginia’s greatest son, had long looked to the west and saw America’s future there.  Not Virginia’s future.  His war experience only confirmed what he believed.  America had a great future.  If they could only set aside their provincialism and sectional interests.  James Madison saw the tyranny of the majority in the Virginian State House first hand.  He liked partisanship.  He liked competing ideals debated.  He did not want to see a majority stampede their vision into law.

These were the nationalists.  Madison wanted a strong federal government to check the tyranny of the states.  Hamilton wanted to do away with the states altogether.  Washington wanted what was best for these several united states as a whole after so many labored for so long during the Revolutionary War.  Ultimately, he wanted to capitalize the ‘u’ and the’s’ in united states and make it a singular entity.

On the other side were many of the old 1776 patriots.  Many of who did not have any army experience.  Such as Thomas Jefferson.  In them, the Spirit of ’76 was alive and well.  The Revolutionary War was to free the states from the yoke of British oppression.  They remained provincials.  They did not spend up to 8 years in an army made up of soldiers from different states.  They had no sense of this nationalism.  They saw everything through the eyes of their state.  And a strong central government was just another yoke of oppression in their eyes.

THE ANSWER TO all of their concerns was federalism.  Shared sovereignty.  The states would give up a little.  And the new central government would take up a little.  The drafters of the Constitution set up a 3-branch government.  It included a bicameral legislature.  Membership in the House of Representatives would be proportional to a state’s population.  They would have power of the purse.  Including the authority to levy taxes.  In the Senate, each state would get 2 senators.  They would be chosen by the states’ legislatures (a constitutional amendment changed this to a popular vote).  This was to keep the spending of the House in check.  To prevent mob-rule.  And to check national power.  Each chamber would have to approve legislation for it to become law.  But each chamber did not need to have unanimous approval. 

That was in the legislature.  In the executive branch, the president would be head of state and execute the laws written by the legislature.  He would also conduct a uniform foreign policy.  The president could veto legislation to check the power of the legislature.  And the legislature could override the president’s veto to check the power of the president.  Where the law was in dispute, the judiciary would interpret the law and resolve the dispute.

At first glance, the people didn’t love the U.S. Constitution.  Those at the convention didn’t either, but they thought it was the best they could do.  To help the ratification process, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of essays, subsequently published as the Federalist Papers making the case for ratification.  Those opposed wanted a Bill of Rights added.  Madison did not think one was necessary.  He feared listing rights would protect those rights only.  If they forgot to list a right, then government could say that it wasn’t a right.  He acquiesced, though, when it was the price to get the Virginian Baptists on board which would bring Virginia on board. 

Madison promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification.  So the states ratified it.  And he did.  The final document fell between what the nationalists wanted and what the ‘states’ government’ people wanted. 

OVER THE FOLLOWING years, each side would interpret the document differently.  When Hamilton interpreted broadly to create a national bank, to assume the states’ debts and to fund the debt, the other side went ballistic.  Madison, the father of the Constitution, would join Jefferson in opposition.  For they believed the point of the constitution was to keep big government small.  Hamilton was interpreting the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution to make government big.  Nasty, partisan politics ensued.  And continue to this day.

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