Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Just Living Your Life... Under the Watchful Eyes of the Swamp

 “A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”  Writing in 1928, John Shedd wasn’t really talking about ships. He was talking about life.

Years ago, my girlfriend and I went to see a movie.  What we saw, I’ve no idea, but I do know we had a terrible time, and it had nothing to do with what was on the screen and everything to do with what was going on in the theater. People were yelling at the screen, talking to each other, and smoking. My girlfriend mentioned the smoking, and I said that if that was the only problem we encountered, we’d be lucky, as I’d recently witnessed a bloody knife fight between two girls over a baby-daddy in a nearby theater.

I mention this because when you think your life may be in jeopardy, it’s hard to enjoy entertainment, and enjoyment is the whole point of movies. Movies require your buy-in for success, you must turn off reality and connect with the characters.

If you can’t do that, you can’t enjoy the movie. If you’re worried that someone’s going to pull a gun or set the place on fire, you’re going to be too busy scanning for danger to become engaged with what’s on the screen. You’d end up doing little more than wasting your time and money.

Just as movies require your buy-in and focus for success, so too does life. And that’s a problem with 21st-century America and the always-on-everywhere swamp. The danger is not so much that Big Brother is watching and trying to control our every move. He/it doesn’t have to. Our knowing that the state could be watching or listening is enough. It’s called the “
Chilling Effect”, basically the government doing something that chills citizens’ willingness to exercise their constitutional rights for fear of reprisals.

Think about it this way: If you think it’s tough to enjoy a movie when you’re worried about what’s going on in the theater, imagine how difficult it would be to write a compelling, engaging movie with a critic holding a club looking over your shoulder the entire time. Well, that’s you trying to live your life.

How different would the script of your life be if you knew your every word might end up as part of some government dossier? How much could you embrace freedom and focus on having fun, sowing your wild oats, finding your passion, or risking failure to pursue some crazy dream if you were constantly wondering what some government bureaucrat with the power to throw you in prison or destroy your business or take away your kids might think? And that’s true even if you didn’t do anything illegal.

And that’s the problem. Since 2013’s Snowden revelations, we’ve known the government is actively collecting reams of data on virtually all of us. Back then, even the NY Times called it a “Threat to Democracy.” The government, against virtually the entire Bill of Rights, has and currently is looking at everything Americans do. (Want to see how much data they collect? Click here.)

Knowing our government is actively looking at emails, phone calls (or “just” our metadata, as we were assured), as well as our online surfing and purchasing habits, sends a chill down your spine. With 350 million people in the country, they’re probably not looking at you…but they might be.

And it’s not just the government. While, yes, it is the FBI, NSA, IRS, and other agencies in the alphabet soup of the state, it’s also Facebook, Google, Apple, and AT&T. It’s also the banks. Maybe the most relevant example of the banks is JP Morgan Chase—a company that recently paid $290 million to victims of Jeffry Epstein for empowering the pedophile—recently closing down the accounts of a prominent vaccine skeptic after closing the account of a religious freedom nonprofit last year. This follows a since derailed plan by MasterCard and Visa to track gun and ammunition purchases.

“But they’re private companies!” That’s technically true, but also false. They may be private but they’re often coerced by the government to do its bidding. What’s more, there’s often a revolving door with government officials that makes explicit coercion unnecessary and government service quite lucrative for potential regulators.

And so back to the life you’re living…

How comfortable are you going to be doing or saying anything that might cause the federal government (or state or local) to put you on some watchlist? You ask yourself “Should I wear this MAGA hat to that school board meeting, or should I wait until my building permit is approved?” “Should I write that blog critical of my senator, or should I wait until my nonprofit application is approved?” “Should I post pictures of my kids at the range, or should I wait until my bank approves my mortgage application?”

The reality is, citizens silencing themselves is a far bigger problem than the government censoring them. (Just think how unfunny “comedy” is today with the censorious woke scrutinizing every joke.) How many journalists or bloggers have avoided writing something or “toned it down” because they were worried they’d pay some price for offending the wrong bureaucrat?

It’s not just the words not spoken or the stands not taken that are the problem. It’s the fact that energy must be spent considering them in the first place. Living a successful life is challenging in the best of circumstances. Getting everything from an education to a job, starting a company or finding the perfect spouse and raising good kids. All take a lot of effort to do successfully, but the question is, how much harder would they be if you had to divert X% of your focus to constantly wondering what the consequences on them be if you exercised your First or Second Amendment rights?

Sure, you could simply keep your head down and not bother, but as we know from Fahrenheit 451, that actually harms society. And, even if you tried to keep your head down and go about your way, there’s no guarantee you aren’t going to end up on the wrong side of a government vaccine policy or tripped up by a school board’s constantly evolving “pronoun” policy.

At the end of the day, living a good life takes work and can be challenging, that’s particularly so in a free society. But it’s the freedom of ideas that the advancements of society, whether advocating for a legislative check on a monarch’s power, proffering a sun-centered system, or filibustering for a Bill of Rights. There’s a reason the US and the West have led the world in the growth of prosperity and advances in science and mathematics, and that reason is the freedom to exchange ideas, good and bad and otherwise.

Getting the most out of life, like enjoying a movie, depends on the ability to focus on the task at hand without fear for your safety as you do so. As the surveillance and control leviathan of the swamp grows, doing so becomes ever more difficult. Now might be a good time to start supporting candidates who vow to dismantle it before it dismantles what’s left of our freedoms.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Cost of Prosperity - Distraction From What Really Counts

Americans are busy people—but the real risk in the lead-up to 2024 is that we may be too busy to pay attention to our last chance to preserve our liberties.

In one respect we’re no different than any other people on the planet given that our primary needs are food, water and shelter. Beyond that however, Americans enjoy a life of leisure opportunities that virtually no one else on the planet enjoys. Not leisure that’s measured in hours worked as in France or Germany. Workers in most developed countries work fewer hours per year than Americans do.

No, what’s different is that Americans have so many ways to spend their leisure time: Motocross. Shopping. Video games. Countless cable channels. Amusement parks. Golf. Swimming. Skiing. Football. Baseball. Golf. Putt putt golf. Pickleball. Off-track betting. Gymnastics. Theater. Karate. Star Trek conventions. Habitat for Humanity. Cornhole. BBQ competitions. Quilting competitions. Beauty pageants for kids. These are only a tiny fraction of the myriad options Americans have at their disposal to entertain themselves or spend their leisure time watching or participating in.

If one were to compare the spectrum of activities available to the average American with the equivalent spectrum for any other country on the planet, it wouldn’t take long to see an enormous difference. Many countries share some of our pursuits, but the depth and breadth available to Americans is unparalleled. None of this came about by accident. The reason Americans have dozens of sports and thousands of activities to participate in, from grade school to the senior center, is because the nation has been so prosperous for so long, and the nation has exemplified creativity for things both consequential and not. The result is a nation where most people have available a level of entertainment and leisure unparalleled in history.

One consequence of such is that Americans are busy. So busy, in fact, that they forget to pay attention to some things that really matter—specifically, government. In a perfect world, no one would have to pay much attention to the government because it would be run like a well-oiled machine in the background that wouldn’t cause any trouble. But that’s not how governments work. Our Founding Fathers knew that, which is why they gave us a government of separated powers with staggered terms for those responsible for exercising them. But even such a near-perfect document cannot stand forever in the face of avarice and the lust for power.

That greed and lust for power is the defining characteristic of what we call the Swamp. And it was enabled by a plethora of acts that strengthened and emboldened the apparatchiks who man it. These included Executive Orders by JFK and Nixon giving federal employees powers or “protections” they’d never previously had, as well as a 1984 Supreme Court case that required courts to defer to federal agencies as it relates to rule-making when there is ambiguity in the legislation.

Together, these and other acts made the Swamp possible. They built a federal government where it’s almost impossible to fire anyone, and agencies essentially get to decide who and what they regulate while those affected have limited redress. So basically, we have agencies that decide what laws they want to write staffed by people who can’t be fired regardless of their failure, incompetence, or criminality.

Of course, every two years, the cacophony that is American life is made that much more dissonant by elections. Most Americans, however, unfortunately, spend less time learning what’s really at stake in those elections than they do selecting teams for their March Madness brackets or wondering what’s going on in the dysfunctional Kardashian universe. The reality of this disaster was demonstrated 15 years ago by John Ziegler.

This situation might have been acceptable 100 years ago when the federal government was relatively small and had little discernible impact on most American lives. Today, however, when the leviathan of the federal government seeks to control virtually every aspect of our lives, it’s simply not. There’s a tipping point in every endeavor in life, and the lifecycle of a Republic is no exception. Leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked: “Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” He responded: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Two hundred and thirty years later we are on the verge of losing it. The problem is that too many Americans have no idea what the danger is and have little interest in finding out. They’ve spent so much of their lives enjoying the leisure and entertainment our Republic has made possible that they’ve forgotten that the foundation of freedom and prosperity upon which those conditions are built are not ordained by God, not set in stone, and not guaranteed. The conditions underlying Americans’ freedoms and prosperity are far more fragile than most recognize but, like frogs in a pot of slowly warming water, they’re succumbing to the creeping threat. Indeed, there’s an inverse relationship between government micromanagement and citizens’ freedom.

In what might be the single most crystallizing example of government micromanagement of Americans’ everyday lives since Barack Obama’s attempts to destroy the suburbs, the Biden Administration is considering banning gas stoves and a plethora of other items Americans use in the normal routine of their daily lives. Think about that…

Natural gas has been a key element of cooking in America for centuries. It’s a clean-burning fuel, cheap and plentiful, with a variety of sources, mostly in red states, which makes it hard to control. So, if Democrats can’t control the supply of something, they simply take control of the demand. Doing so in this case has the twin virtues of harming the economies of red states while forcing Americans to buy new, “green lobby approved”—read: dysfunctional and expensive—appliances. All, of course, in the name of the “Climate Change” hoax.

These and literally tens of thousands of other federal regulations are the cost to Americans of not paying attention, summed up by the notion that politics is downstream from culture. Hollywood and the media destroyed American culture, which made turning Washington’s alphabet departments, agencies, and bureaus into tools of tyranny easy.

The question is, can anyone shake the American people out of this political stupor long enough for them to recognize the danger they face? Will Americans rise to the occasion in 2024, or will they instead continue to eat the fruit from the tree of liberty, oblivious to the rot of its roots?

Perhaps a paraphrasing of Martin Niemöller might help:

First, they raised the minimum wage, and I cheered because I had a job.

Then, they destroyed public education, and I didn’t act because I sent my kid to private school.

Next, they limited cable rates, and I applauded because I saved $20 a month.

When they came for my light bulbs, I didn’t react because it made me feel good to help the environment.

One day, they said ethnicity was more important than ability for college acceptance, but I said nothing because I’d already graduated.

They increased taxes on the rich, and I didn’t care because I wasn’t rich.

Then they came for my gun, my car, my job, and eventually everything I hold dear, but there was no one left to stand with me because no one remembered what real liberty was or how it was supposed to be protected in the first place.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Not news - nor a surprise: The Government Lost the War on Poverty

Recently the Supreme Court put an end to Joe Biden’s efforts to gift erstwhile college students almost a trillion dollars in “debt relief”.  That’s a lot of money… but in reality that’s a tiny fraction of the money the government has wasted on redistribution, AKA social programs over the last six decades.

Next year the United States will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the War on Poverty, initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The War’s programs initially started on a modest scale but have expanded almost parabolically since. At the 50th anniversary of the launch the government had spent more than $22 trillion on various welfare and redistribution programs and today spends $1 trillion a year on said programs… not including various “targeted” expenditures under Social Security or Medicare, which make the true total simply unknowable.  To put that in perspective, $1 trillion is greater than the GDP of 194 of the world’s 213 countries. 

Is this massive expenditure justified by the results of the War on Poverty? Initially one might suggest the results say yes. As of 2021, poverty in the United States hovered at approximately 11.6%, down from the approximately 18% rate in 1964 when the War on Poverty began. That’s a reduction of 6.6%, or almost one third. 

A closer look however reveals that that 6.6% reduction after an expenditure of $30 trillion seems underwhelming to say the least.  To see the full picture of the failed War on Poverty one need only look at the poverty rate over the 15 years prior to its beginning.  In 1949 the poverty rate in the United States stood at 34%, fully one third of the nation’s population.  Over the next 15 years, without significant government redistribution programs, indeed, without the War on Poverty, the poverty rate fell almost by half, falling from 34% to 18%, a reduction of a full 16 percentage points.  So, without government spending significant money poverty fell 16% in a period of 15 years, or 1.08% per year.  But with government spending more than $30 trillion over the next 55 years it fell by a total of just 6.4%, or .12% per year! That essentially means that without government intervention the poverty rate was falling 10 times faster than it did once government programs kicked in.       

And that 11.6% itself deserves a closer look.  In 2014, when the War on Poverty turned 50, the American poverty rate was still at 15%. That means that after spending $20 trillion over the previous half century the government had successfully reduced poverty by a mere 3%. When Barack Obama he entered the White House in 2008 the poverty rate stood at 12.5%.  It jumped up to 15% for four years before dropping back to 12.5% by the end of his presidency and where it was when Donald Trump took the White House. A mere three years later Trump’s economic renaissance had reduced poverty by 2%, bringing it to its lowest level in history, 10.5%, before the Covid scam derailed the prosperity engine. To put that in perspective, Donald Trump’s economy brought poverty down by 2% in 3 years, fully half as much as government spending did in the 53 years between 1964 and 2016.   

And of course the income numbers only tell part of the story.  Sadly, there is much more to it. 

An unintended consequence of the War on Poverty appears to have been a skyrocketing of single-parent households, which is a significant driver of poverty.  In 1964, around 4% of American children were born to unwed mothers. By 2021, this percentage increased a full ten times to 40%. Under the heading of Unintended Consequences one could observe that the welfare programs intended to save children from poverty, have, by making it economically and socially viable for single-parent households to exist, in fact stranded many children in poverty and worse, inflicting on them the coincident pathologies of poor education and crime, not coincidentally, both also being consequences of government failure.

From another perspective, let’s draw a comparison between the effects of government spending and the impact of private-sector investments. Let’s take just three companies, Apple, Amazon, and UPS who together had about $1 trillion in revenue in 2022, approximately the same amount the government spent on welfare that same year. These companies – and many others like them – revolutionized industries, drove many trillions of dollars of business for customers and vendors and affiliates; directly and indirectly employ millions of Americans who are breadwinners for their families, and at the same time generated trillions of dollars of wealth for investors.    

One can only wonder what might have happened if the more than $30 trillion the government wasted on its failed War on Poverty had instead been invested in startups similar to Apple and Amazon.  Not that we want the government taking our money and investing it – WE DON’T – but imagine the impact that money might have had had it somehow been targeted towards entrepreneurship and economic development. The 2% reduction in poverty during Trump’s first three years demonstrated with crystal clarity that market driven prosperity is a far more efficient vehicle for reducing poverty than government spending of any form. At a minimum, a market driven solution would likely have fostered a far more empowered, economically vibrant and dramatically more prosperous population than the generational dependency created by the government with its alphabet of aid programs. 

Benjamin Franklin understood this more clearly than virtually any politician in America today, having commented: “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

Whether it’s student debt or the federal and state welfare perpetuation machines, America would be better off looking to the Founding Fathers for guidance than the grifters at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue…