LESSONS LEARNED #26: “If we need Big Government to protect us from ourselves, then our public schools can’t be the best place to learn.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2010

WE ARE WHAT they teach us.  And here is a little of what our teachers taught us.  And a little of what we learned by observation.

WHEN I WAS in grade school, our teachers went on strike.  It was great.  Another week or so of summer vacation.  But I saw a curious thing.  Some of my classmates were carrying picket signs.  And there they were, walking with the teachers.  I could not understand why anyone would want to help to end an extended summer vacation.  That’s all I knew about a teacher’s strike.  I had no idea why they didn’t want to go back to work.  I just knew it meant I didn’t have to go back to school yet.

The signs my fellow students carried said something about making our schools better.  As kids typically don’t like being in school, I couldn’t imagine they thought much about improving the educational system.  Other than greatly shortening the school day.  And school year.  But giving a pay raise to our teachers?  Giving them more benefits?  How, exactly, was that going to make school better?  I mean, if they got more pay and benefits, our education would get worse, not better.  They would just transfer money from the classroom to the teachers.  Unless the city raised property taxes to replace the classroom money that was given to the teachers.  And that would only increase the household costs of these kids’ parents.  Meaning less presents at Christmas.  Couldn’t these kids see the folly of their ways?

Of course they couldn’t.  They were just useful pawns.  They hadn’t the foggiest idea why teachers go on strike.  The teachers told them what to say.  What to think.  And they lied to these kids.  They weren’t striking because they wanted more money and better benefits.  Which they were.  No.  They told these innocent children that they were striking so they could have a better art department.  A better music department.  Better field trips.  That’s why these teachers were on the picket lines.  For the children.  And that every time there were cuts in the classroom, it was because of the greed of their parents who didn’t approve a millage.  Or who bitched about rising property taxes.  It was never their OWN greed.  Never that.

WE HAD A mock election when I was in 7th grade.  It was an ‘exercise in democracy’.  I remember voting for the Democrat candidate.  I don’t know why.  I knew nothing about politics.  I had only recently quit playing with my toy cars.  I was still reading The Hardy Boys mystery novels.  And thinking about the pretty girls in class.  What I don’t remember was spending much time thinking about the presidential election.  But there I was, voting for the Democrat candidate.  Who won in our little mock election.  But how did I, as well as my fellow students, know enough about politics to vote for the Democrat candidate?

Obviously, they taught us what to think.  That the Democrat candidate was the better candidate.  Because he was for the working man.  And cared about the little people.  That the Democrats cared about education.  Not profits.  All these touchy feely things.  Which was about all a kid could understand.  A kid can’t understand monetary or fiscal policy.  The intricacies of foreign policy.  They don’t have a clue about those things.  But kids do know that they should play nice.  And that’s what the Democrats are all about.  Playing nice.  And providing political muscle for the teachers’ unions in exchange for votes.  And obedient little minds of mush that will one day become voters.

I HAD A speech/debate class in high school.  Our teacher used the latest in progressive teaching methods.  A lot of touchy feely stuff.  Feel more than think.  We often did these exercises where the class as a whole debated the pros and cons of a particular position.  One day we went through a list of five or so.  I found the last one interesting.  It was about a ‘death ray’.

I had recently watched a program about nuclear weapons.  I learned that the size of their warheads was a function of the accuracy of the weapons.  They needed a big radius of destruction to guarantee the destruction of the target.  This is true for all weapon systems, conventional or nuclear.  The less accurate they are, the bigger the destructive force required.  (Whereas smart weapons today can have smaller warheads because they can be steered onto target.)  The more accurate the weapon, the less destructive it can be.  The less collateral damage there would be.  Less civilian dead.  The lesson described the ‘death ray’ as a weapon of pinpoint accuracy.  Based on what I just recently learned, I thought that it would be very interesting to discuss the pros of such a weapon.

When we finished discussing the position before the ‘death ray’, he said something like it was obvious that no one would argue for such a weapon system.  So there was no point in discussing it.  And then, as an afterthought, he said “unless someone does” with a condescending smirk.  I raised my hand.  I began to make some positive points.  He cut me off.  There was to be no discussion in favor of any weapon system in his class.  Turns out he was anti-war.  Free speech was one thing but not when you disagree with the program.

TWO BOOKS THAT that stand out from high school that were required reading are The Grapes of Wrath and Johnny Got His Gun.  You couldn’t find a couple of more depressing books if you tried.  The Grapes of Wrath was about the plight of a family who lost the farm during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  In it you learned that bankers were evil.  Rich people were evil.  That Big Business was evil and exploited the poor.  Whereas poor people were virtuous.  And only poor people helped other poor people.  That Big Government was good and helped the poor people.  That FDR’s New Deal was good and helped the poor people.  That unions are good and protect those who Big Business exploits.  You get the picture?  Democrats good.  Republicans bad.  Because the Democrats take care of the little guy.  And evil bankers and fat cats are all Republicans.  Or so we were taught.

Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war book.  It’s about a U.S. veteran of World War I.  Joe Bonham.  He lost about every part of the human body you could.  And yet they kept him alive.  I read it in the 10th grade.  Young and impressionable, I saw the folly of war.  War hurt good, young men like poor Joe Bonham.  (Incidentally, the name ‘Bonham’?  It’s from the French ‘bon homme’, good man.)  A pity only the anti-war crowd read it.  Apparently no one read it in Germany or Italy or the Soviet Union.  Maybe if their citizens did read it World War II would not have broken out.  Thankfully for the free world, though, men did serve in the armed forces despite what happened to poor Joe Bonham.  And they saved liberty.  And the burning of books did not spread further.  And books like this, because of men who did pick up a gun, remain in the public school curriculum.

Of course, you know why they (the public school teachers) are anti-war, don’t you?  It’s simple.  Any money spent on the military is money not spent on them.

I HAD AN electronics teacher in high school who was really cool.  He let us drink coffee in class (or, should I say, cream and sugar with some coffee).  He’d send a student across the street to buy donuts to eat with our coffee.  And he taught us how to build little black boxes that could unscramble scrambled television.  He was also a pretty good teacher.  A PNP transistor symbol?  The arrow was P-N (peein’) on the base.  (An NPN transistor symbol pointed away from the base.)  The resistor color code?  Bad boys rape our young girls but Violet gives willingly.  The whore.  (Hey, this stuff was funny when you’re only 16 years old.)  He even set up an interview for me at an electronic repair shop.  He liked being a teacher.  But he enjoyed doing concrete flatwork, too.  One of those things he did to pay the bills while in college.  And kept doing after college.  And that’s what he did during the summer, the peak of the construction season.  And made good money doing it.

MY MOM WORKED as a volunteer at my grade school.  She got to know the teachers pretty well.  She even went to their homes.  One lived not too far away from us.  I went with her once or twice.  Talk about surreal.  Seeing your teacher outside the school.  Acting so un-teacher-like.  Wearing something she doesn’t wear to school.  Having fun.  Laughing and joking.  And seeing her being a mom to her own kids.  That was weird.  We treated her politely and with respect in school.  Her kids whined “maaaa” at home just like I did when I was at home.  My teacher was just a normal person.  Human, almost.

But what really struck me then was that though they lived in the same general area as we did, they had more.  Bigger house.  With nicer stuff.  A newer car in the driveway.  More presents under their Christmas tree.  And in bigger boxes.  It was a ‘blue-collar’ neighborhood.  Her husband was a ‘blue-collar’ worker.  Just like my dad.  But my mom volunteered.  My teacher was, well, a teacher.  The ultimate second income in a two income family.  Good pay and benefits.  And no child care to worry about.  Teachers are off when their kids are off.  Holidays.  Breaks.  Snow days.  And, of course, summer vacation.  It just didn’t get better for a working mom.

IT IS INTERESTING that people become more conservative with age.  They may start out Democrat.  But after working awhile or raising a family, they often become Republican.  Not all of them.  But a lot.  The net number of people changing from Democrat to Republican far exceeds those changing from Republican to Democrat.  If there are any.  Other than for political reasons (in a desperate attempt to get reelected by switching parties).  That’s why the Democrats depend on the youth vote.  Because the youth vote is an uninformed voted.  They haven’t been deprogrammed yet.  They still toe the party line.  Because they don’t know any better.  Yet.

As we work and live in the real world, though, away from the insulated life of home or the college campus, things change.  We get older.  And wiser.  Less naive.  Less idealistic.  Less ignorant.  That’s why there is a net change from Democrat to Republican.  We grow up.  And start thinking for ourselves.  And try as they might during our public school indoctrination, we stop being sheep.  Eventually.  We strop bleating their mantra.  ‘Big Government good.  Private sector bad’.  Why?  Because we see that public school teachers and government workers live a lot better than we do.  This privileged few, this ruling elite, continue to take from us and respond with condescending arrogance when we complain.  Angry that we don’t mind our place in the lower strata of society.  Where we belong.

And they are nervous.  They can only maintain their elite status as long as we pay for it.  The more we learn, though, the less we are willing to support this aristocracy.  And they know it.  So they try to keep us dumbed down.  For an educated constituency is the greatest threat to Big Government.  And the public school system.  This self-proclaimed aristocracy.

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LESSONS LEARNED #13: “If you were to live under the socialist maxim ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need’ you would find yourself surrounded by needy people with no ability.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 13th, 2010

KEY TO CIVILIZATION growth is the food supply.  Food surpluses in particular.  Before dependable food surpluses, life was short, harsh and miserable.  Especially for women.  When they weren’t working in the fields they were giving birth and raising children.  High infant mortality rates, though, inhibited population growth.  Most of the children women gave birth to didn’t survive to adulthood.  So there was a constant state of child rearing.  But few children survived to help with the business of family life.

Malnutrition and famine were common.  Feudalism provided a precarious balance between life and death.  For centuries the common people (i.e., peasants) eked out survival on their landlord’s manor.  The lord owned the land.  The peasants worked it.  Most of the bounty went to their lord.  But they kept what they grew on a small strip of land for themselves.  Just enough for subsistence.

But England changed all that.  By 1750, her agricultural output was second to none.  Private property.  Free market economy.  Capitalism.  Increased productivity.  Specialization.  These all combined to provide incentive.  Incentive produced food surpluses.  Food surpluses produced profits.  Reinvested profits improved farm yields.  This produced more profit.  And the cycle continued.  In less than a century feudalism would disappear from England.  There, you either worked land you owned or were paid wages to work land owned by others.  People began to live longer and healthier lives. 

The British Empire ruled the civilized world in the 19th century.  Representative government.  Abolition of slavery.  Free trade.  The Industrial Revolution.  These things, and others, gave them wealth, power and moral authority.  A lot of good came from this island kingdom.  Including the United States.  They weren’t perfect.  There was a learning curve.  But the modern capitalistic economy which they gave us liberated the masses.  It let us do what we wanted to do, not just what we had to do.  In particular, women, who could do more than just raise families and work in the fields.  One day, she could even become prime minister of Great Britain.

FOOD SURPLUSES BEGET industrialization.  Food surpluses beget everything, really.  Food surpluses release human capital to do everything else we do besides farming.  England was at the van of this modernization.  Others followed.  In time. 

Russia abolished serfdom (i.e., feudalism) in 1861.  Industrially backwards at the time, this liberty awakened a dormant human capital.  They followed the English model.  In time, with the advent of steamship and rail transportation, Russian grain competed with other European producers.

Joseph Stalin, looking to jump ahead in the industrialization process, implemented collective farming in the late 1920s.  He turned away from the English model.  The government became land owners.  It was feudalism on a grand scale.  Large collective farms would produce vast food surpluses that could feed industrial cities.  And there would still be surpluses left over to export to raise capital to build these industrial cities.  At least, that was the plan.

With less incentive came less productivity.  What land the former serfs had come to own was lost to the state.  The state took so much of the harvest that there was little food left for those who labored to grow it.  And the price the state paid for their crops was less than it was before collectivization.  The ‘free’ serfs were earning less and working more.  They didn’t like it.  And chose not to participate.  Collectivization became forced collectivization. 

Deportations, terror, murder and famine followed.  Perhaps more than 5 million starved to death during the famine of 1931 and 1932.  Others were to follow.

Forced collective farming produced famines elsewhere.  In China, during Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization produced even greater famine deaths.  Historians estimate that 20-30 million, maybe more, starved to death in the famine of 1959–62.  Though hard numbers aren’t available, North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the late 1990s that claimed millions.  But in the West, in the 20th century, famine was unheard of.  When the United States suffered during the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s, there was no corresponding famine despite the loss of productive farmland.

WITH INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY comes incentive.  With incentive comes productivity.  A small island nation of free land owners could produce grain to feed themselves with surplus left over for export.  Nations with great fertile tracts farmed by forced collectivization led to famine.  Slaves have little incentive other than to subsist.  The collective good means little to them when they are starving.  They continue to sacrifice.  And continue to suffer.  Even if they do produce a few more bushels of grain.  So if the suffering is the same, what is the incentive to work harder?

As individual liberty declines, those in power tend to exploit those they rule.  In the name of the state.  Or the common good.  This is easy to see when it results in famine or revolution.  Not easy to hide those things.  But it is a little more difficult to see when the results are more benign.  Longer unemployment benefits, for example.  I mean, those are pretty nice.  Hard to see the downside in them.  As it is in other benefits these rulers give us.  So we are seduced as they whisper these sweet nothings in our ears.  And soon we willingly cede our liberty.  A little at a time.

WITH THE RISE of individual liberty, there was a corresponding decline in the ruling elite thanks to representative government.  Great Britain gave this gift to us and the United States took it to incredible heights.  The oppressed everywhere immigrated to the United States to feed a growing industrial demand.  Being new, we did not know all the affects of industrialization.  When the bad things came to light, we addressed them.  Great Britain, for example, was one of the first to protect women and children from the worse of industrial society.  Still, working conditions could be harsh.  As could life in the industrial cities.  Poverty.  Filth.  Disease.  And it was the wretched state of life in these slums that gave birth to a new school of thought on industrialization. 

In 1844 Friedrich Engels wrote The Condition of the English Working-Class to expose life in these slums.  He would collaborate 4 years later with Karl Marx on a treatise called The Communist Manifesto.  And from this Marxism, Communism, socialism, collectivism, etc., would follow.  As economic systems go, these would all prove to be failures.  But the essence of them lives on.  State planning.

You see, it was capitalism that gave us the industrial slums.  And that was good propaganda for a ruling elite looking to rule again.  So they whispered sweet nothings into our ears.  They talked about a Social Utopia.  From each according to his ability to each according to his need.  Fair taxation (i.e., only the ‘rich’ pay taxes).  Social safety nets (paid for by taxes of the rich).  Shorter workdays.  Longer paid vacations.  More government benefits.  A burgeoning welfare state.  Free stuff for everyone.  Again, paid for by taxing the rich who have exploited the working class.

What evolved was the elimination of the middle class.  You had the evil rich (and the middle class were, for all intents and purposes, rich because they didn’t need government help) whose wealth the government taxed away.  And the poor.  The poor who the government would now take care of.  If elected.  And they were.  They seduced a great many people with their utopian vision.  Even in the West. 

Great Britain and the United States would fall to this seductress, too, thanks to the Great Depression.  It was capitalism that gave us the Great Depression, after all.  The greed of the money people.  And so these great nations declined from greatness.  They became welfare states, too.  They had short respites during the 1980s.  Margaret Thatcher helped rejuvenate Great Britain.  Ronald Reagan, the United States.  But the ruling elite whispered more sweet nothings in our ears and the decline continues.

In 2010, our appetite for state benefits appears to be insatiable.  And we may have run out of wealth to tax away to pay for it.  California is on the brink of bankruptcy.  New Jersey elected a governor who proposed draconian spending cuts to stave off bankruptcy.  Other ‘blue’ states (i.e., states who vote Democrat) are also in trouble.  Underfunded pension obligations.  Demands of teacher unions.  Of government worker unions.  Everyone is there with their hand out.  None of them are willing to sacrifice for the common good.  No, they expect others to do the sacrificing.

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION has increased federal spending to such record levels that Communist China is concerned about our fiscal/monetary policies.  As they should be; they hold a lot of our debt.  The federal government has ‘bailed out’ private industry and taken de facto control.  They have created a healthcare entitlement that will cost more than a trillion dollars.  More spending is coming.  And it is all for the greater good.  They are vilifying those who are not poor, taxing away what wealth they can from them and giving it to the poor.  When about half the electorate doesn’t pay any income taxes, there is little opposition to raising taxes on those who do.  For if the ‘rich’ complain, the government vilifies them.

Where will it all end?  It is difficult to say.  How will it end?  Badly.  We can look at Europe who we seem to be emulating.  They’re further down The Road to Serfdom than we are.  With the excessive government spending, there will have to be greater government revenue (i.e., taxes).  Previous methods of taxation may prove insufficient.  Hello value added tax (VAT).  It’s all the rage in Europe.  It’s a multiple tax.  At every stage of production, government is there.  Taxing.  From the raw materials to the final assembly, government is there at every stage.  Taxing.  VATs will increase government revenue.  But they will also make every day life more expensive.  VATs increase the sales price of everything you buy.  And you pay it again at checkout.  It’s everywhere.  Everything will cost more.  From manicures to lattes to toilet paper to tampons.  And this is a tax everyone pays.  Even the poor.  It is a regressive tax.  The rich will pay more, but the poor will feel it more.  This hidden tax will take a larger portion of what little the poor has.

But how bad can it really get?  In 2010, I guess the answer would be to look at Greece to see what happens when a country can no longer sustain her welfare state.  And the people aren’t all that keen on losing the government benefits they’ve grown accustomed to.  It isn’t pretty.  But when you start down that road (from each according to his ability to each according to his need), the taking and giving always get bigger.  It never gets smaller.  And when you reach a critical point, government just can’t sustain it any longer.  And it crashes.  Like in Greece.

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