03 April 2010

Just how out of tune are the children of Progressivism?

This concept that 'Progressivism', that political movement to centralize private functions in the State, has been around since the State was first invented.  When there wasn't much in the way of private ownership of anything, the early States took it all.  Ancient Hydraulic Empires in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and Central to South America all centralized functions around the State or Empire.  The use of waterways and early water power for navigation, transport and some larger scale projects meant that the only organization that could handle those things was the State.

The City State was an outgrowth of non-large waterway civilization, although most often associated with coastal waters and islands, they also popped up along trade routes, near mines and at oases.  City States did not depend on centralized works and administration but on this thing known as 'trade'.  Such trade was built up by diversity of production from a resident population and they would trade such goods they made or grew with others who wished to exchange their goods in trade for those produced elsewhere.  These could grow into Empires, like the Hittite and Assyrian, or form confederations, leagues and other such new forms of government, typical of the Greeks.  Hydraulic Empires did have trade craftsmen, miners, masons, farmers and such, but the centrality of the major river waterways centralized authority so that all goods came under the overview of the State.  Items for trade did build the interior of Empires and allowed external trade to flourish, but that was done with the cognizance and permission of the State. 

In the City States, due to their diversity, there was no centralizing authority, and even the Hittites dispersed powers to provincial governors and mayors of large cities to ensure that they had indigenous protections against foreign forces.  The Empire could, and would respond if it was able to, but time and distance meant that forward forces needed to be present in some form as a part of civil society.  Unlike the large centralized armies of Pharaoh or a Sun King, say, a dispersed army is generally weak, as it is not concentrated, but it is locally supported, which gives it moral and local knowledge as a benefit.  If local forces could hold up a larger force for a few weeks, then the Empire could respond with better and more numerous forces (or often just more numerous).  Thus when the Egyptians faced the Hittites, the Egyptians had extremely numerous and skilled forces, but centrally directed, and they faced a foe willing to go through multiple fall-back positions and perform supply line attacks with small forces, fending off the larger force until the Empire could respond.  At Kadesh the treaty there puts the battle, a long multi-week affair, at a draw.  In fact both forces lost: the Hittites had picked up a plague that would cause the downfall of the Old Kingdom and the Egyptians were so spent that when the Sea Peoples arrived, they could only fight a defensive action.

These armies were composed of different types and styles of troops, and the supply lines for the centrally supplied troops of Egypt was long and specialized, to meet up with their style of warfare.  The Hittites supplied a varied force and those that were local had no distance, at all, to get re-supplied with equipment, and any of the more centralized forces that utilized similar tactics and equipment were also better supplied.  Part of that is fighting on the defensive with interior lines: the defender gets better supplies.  The other part, that of adapting to local conditions, is a by-product of the way the civilization was created from a number of smaller City States and Kingdoms.  And if Kadesh happened after another major campaign, the decade of ravaging the coast around Troy plus outlying islands, then the collapse of the trade system that had been present meant that the Hittites and the rest of the Eastern Med. was put at dire peril as the City States broke from each other due to loss of funds, personnel, a constant drain of food supplies and, from that, a decreasing population.  This haphazard system that was made up as it went along fell, took the Hittites, Greek City States and other minor States with it, and nearly toppled Egypt and Babylon through attacks towards the former ravaging State farms and the cut-off of trade with the latter, which was a way point on east-west trade.

That was the last time a large set of centralized States or Empires survived the collapse of a major trade system locally.

It was circa 1100-700 BC.

After that the collapse of centralized trade empires, like the Macedonian/Greek, Roman, and Mayan civilizations would bring their own problems and cause a localized breakdown of States to less over-arching and more nearby control.  The slow collapse of the Roman Empire, West to East, between 900 -1500 AD did just that across the old holdings of the Empire, and the rise of the Ottoman Empire would see one of the last of the old style Empires arise only to slowly collapse inwards due to corruption and inability to handle trade well.

This stuff is all history and pretty old at that.

Now compare those motions of the old Empires and States to this thumbnail overview of Progressivism by Michael Barone ( Source: Washington Examiner, 31 MAR 2010):

The Progressives have always assumed that people needed safety nets and would welcome dependence on government. The public's clear rejection of the Democratic health care bills has shown that this assumption was unwarranted. Americans today prefer independence to dependence on government, just as they did 200 years ago.

All this was supposed to have been consigned to the past long ago. The Progressives of the early 1900s -- Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, New Republic founder Herbert Croly -- argued that in an industrial era of mass production and giant businesses, ordinary people were helpless and needed government's guiding hand. It would be more efficient, they argued, for centralized, disinterested experts to administer national institutions than to let chaotic markets operate freely and to observe the Constitution's horse-and-buggy limits on government power. The Founders were out of date.

Feel 'repressed' by Big Business?  'Helpless'?  Unable to cope with them?

That concept of America, itself, is rather dated to a period where modern communications structures had not gotten in place.  It was only somewhat suited to the latter 19th century, but even then the telegraph and later telephone and radio would start to shift the basis of understanding on how information about these large companies was moved around and understood.  Fast forward just to the 1970's and you get the 'mutual fund' which advertises for individuals to invest for fractional shares in a fund that invests widely across a set of industries.  Multiple different funds address multiple sectors of the economy and you can help in the ownership and make money off of them through investing in the economy.  Early and conservatively managed funds from Vanguard popularized this notion, and between 1972 and the mid-1980's the concept of using mutual fund investments as part of an Individual Retirement Account was born.  Thus demonstrated skill in understanding market segments could be analyzed not only in detail, but in grosser funds covering business sectors.

With that the idea of being 'repressed'  or 'helpless' against Big Business started to make less and less sense as individuals were cumulatively investing and making money off of these very same Big Businesses.  And small business.  And venture capital investments.  And bond fund investments, which had started the whole thing off even before Vanguard.  And overseas investments.  You could invest by company type, by market type, by company size, by company location... you now had the opportunity to start controlling your own destiny based on the success or failure of businesses and you were not exposed to just one company going up or down, but widely distributing funds across entire sectors so as to help insulate your investment against bad management at any single firm.  Or any single fund.

And that hasn't gotten us to the 1990's.

Still in the 1980's the PC revolution placed computers onto desktops and one of the foremost applications for it, and the reason so many businesses wanted them, was VisiCalc.  It was not a word processor but a spreadsheet.  With an interactive spreadsheet you could take those old, dusty formulas out of economics textbooks and apply them to your business situation and see if the damned things actually worked or not!  And once the $3,000 price barrier went down to Moore's Law, by the end of the 1980's these were becoming home PCs, with many of them running Lotus 1-2-3 and then Microsoft Excel.  You, as a savvy individual willing to learn some automated tools, could use the market data, trot out those lovely formulas from dusty economic texts and then apply them to larger parts of the market and make your own investing decision.

When the first person who had a PC with a spreadsheet to help them analyze the market as a personal investor actually did that, they were utilizing more information power, processing power, business acumen, and skills than Carnegie, Rockefeller, Standard Oil... combined for their era when they were Monopolies.  That date probably was in the early 1980's, and possibly even back in the late 1970's with early Apple II machines.

The gulf between how ancient states stood up and fell, and why, is well known and documented.

A concept of an eternally helpless individual against the power of a mere COMPANY is ridiculous on its face given how mankind creates new tools to manage our affairs as individuals.  Centralized State institutions of the philanthropic or 'good' kind depends on a subservient and dependent people who cannot imagine themselves taking care of themselves.  Michael Barone sums up these two parts of the massive fault line in western political ideology as it appears in the US as follows:

The Declaration of Independence's proclamation that "all men are created equal" with "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has proved to be happily elastic. It still sings to us today, thanks to the struggles and sacrifices of many Americans who gave blacks and women the equality denied to them in 1776.

In contrast, the early Progressives' talk of an "industrial age" and an outmoded Constitution sounds like the language of an age now long past. Their faith in centralized planning seems naive in a time when one unpredicted innovation after another has changed lives for the better.

The Marxist theme of when the proletariat rises up and takes over the means of production sounds pretty damned outmoded when the workers are investing in the means of production so as to profit from it.  In an era with lawsuit happy lawyers willing to take on ANY Big Business and Class Action Lawsuits that go after abusive companies and oligopolies, this funny idea of trying to centralize ANY aspect of life because it is 'threatened' by Big Business is ludicrous.  You, as an individual, have more legal leverage and ability to tie a large corporation in knots than any other person in any era of any Nation in all of history. 

You are one of the most powerful people who have ever lived in the realms of economics, law and understanding of society.  A veritable god amongst men.

When 'the poor' have a problem of 'obesity' in a more decadent era that would just mean they were getting fattened up for ritual slaughter to some god that had to get appeased on an annual basis.  Today it means you wear $150 sneakers, have $40 jeans, $30 shirts, $20 sunglasses, $40 watch, $10 baseball cap you can't wear right, watch a color TV worth $400, have a $300 DVR or similar, have a $80 iPod with $250 worth of music, a good place to live in that is subsidized, a washing machine and drier for $600 or so, refrigerator for $100, stove for $350, a dishwasher for $150 and probably a fancy $60 coffee maker.  I'm sorry but this is not a poor person who gets subsidized food to the point where they can purchase junk food and get obese.

That is not a poor, helpless victim of Big Business but someone who has greater benefit from ALL BUSINESS than any person who ever lived before 1930.  Which includes all of the big capitalists that Progressives bitched about.

And this poor person pays NO INCOME TAX.

Say, maybe if they cut back on the lifestyle clothing, suffered with an older TV, and did without an amenity or two they could save up some money and PAY for their OWN healthcare! Because they are not suffering the ill-effects of not contributing to society, far from it.  If anyone is 'repressing' them it is the bureaucracy that makes not contributing an attractive lifestyle, encourages people to stay in poverty to get subsidies and goodies, and then puts ZERO penalty on them when they can't be bothered to spend all those goodies on watching their food intake and generally taking care of themselves.

What these poor folks need is a liberation movement to free them from the shackles of government that wishes to keep them oppressed to the benefit of the ruling class of elites.  Because it is the elites, thinking they are doing 'good' by handing the poor other people's money, that are doing the harm to society by trying to remove the burden we each have to care for our fellow man.

The poor must be saved and liberated from the chains of subservience. Those chains created and cared for by government.

Their precious liberty and freedom is at stake. And so is that of the rest of the Nation and each and every single citizen.


So which sounds like the future?

The political ideology that tells you that you are a weak, poor, miserable creature that needs to either have your money or liberty taken from you so as to have government decide how to run your life.  You need guidance, government will do that for you because you are incapable of it and you will do as you are told.


The political ideology that says that each individual is a mighty force in and of themselves with their self-evident liberty and rights allowing each man and woman to decide their own course and take in their hands, in a mighty grip, the course of industries and their Nation for the betterment of all and the disparagement of none.  You need no guidance and government had best get out of the way when it tries to stop YOU from leading YOUR life when YOU harm NONE.


One is the path to empires and their collapse.

The other is the path to freedom and liberty, to keep empires from happening so that mankind can thrive and prosper.

One sounds like the future, the other like the buggy whip of an ideology long past its expiration date.

No comments: