American Elephants


Slavery in America, and How it Happened. by The Elephant's Child

I am reading An Empire of Wealth by John Steele Gordon, and I am finding the book immensely rewarding.  It is history leavened by the economics that moved events, and I recommend it.

In Virginia, on July 30, 1619, the first representative assembly in America met in a church at Jamestown. Three weeks later, a Dutch ship sailed into the Chesapeake, the captain intent on selling his cargo of human beings to the planters who were desperate for laborers to work the expanding tobacco fields.  The men on board had come from Africa where they had been sold to the captain.

Yet, Gordon explains, they were not quite slaves. The planters purchased their indentures, not the men.  When they finished their term of servitude, they would be free, just as English indentured servants were.  Even later in the 1680s, indentured servants outnumbered slaves. An indentured servant cost about 15 pounds to purchase four years of his labor. A slave cost 25 to 30 pounds but was bound for life.  Gordon went on to make some important points:

It is hard for us, who are the beneficiaries of so much hindsight, to understand, but people in the seventeenth century did not regard slavery as a moral issue. It would be the middle of the eighteenth century before the idea that slavery was inherently and ineluctably immoral took hold.  Once born, that idea then spread very quickly throughout both Europe and America.  At least it did among the nonslaveholding parts of society, for economic self-interest is always a severe impediment to clear thinking on the moral and political aspects of an issue.

In the seventeenth century, when most people felt one’s “station in life” was determined by God, slavery was regarded as nothing more than a personal misfortune, not the abomination we see it as today.  Nor were slavery and race, at least at first, intertwined.  In the middle of the seventeenth century a black man named Anthony Johnson owned a 250 acre tobacco plantation on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and at least one slave.  He regarded himself, and indeed he was largely regarded by his neighbors as an equal.  He had no hesitation asking the court to enforce his rights when his slave ran away, and enforced they were.

But as the number of black slaves increased steadily both absolutely and as a percentage of the population, while tobacco began to be less profitable per unit of labor as the market reached saturation, attitudes changed.  Strictures on the activities of slaves, and of free blacks as well, increased as the fear of rebellion and the economic necessity to get more work out of the slaves increased.  By the beginning  of the eighteenth century blacks could not assemble in groups of more than four and needed written permission to leave their home plantations.  Patrols enforced the new strictures.  Discipline increased as well.  One “unhappy effect of owning many Negroes” planter William Byrd wrote, “is the necessity of being severe.  Numbers make them insolent, and then foul means must do what fair will not,”

“Racism,” Gordon added, “became a cancer in the body politic and would cost much blood and much treasure to excise.” Slavery became the answer to a chronic American economic problem — a shortage of labor.

Seems helpful to understand the accurate history of how it came about, though it doesn’t make it any more palatable. Perhaps we can forego dismissing all of the Founding Fathers because some of them owned slaves.

People forget that the Moslem nations of the Mediterranean conducted raids into Europe and England to capture slaves. Before the introduction of the full-rigged ship, ships were propelled by galley slaves, often of enemy nations.  American Indians owned slaves, and some tribes  like the Kwakiutl in the Northwest conducted large slaving raids down the Western Coast.



When Politics Gets Nasty: by The Elephant's Child

There was quite a kerfuffle about a large acreage that Governor Rick Perry’s father leased as a hunting spread many years ago. It seems that when it was first leased,  a large rock at one entrance to the property featured the words “n-(offensive word)-head” which were painted over as soon as the Perry’s leased the land.  The rock was 5′ in one direction, so it really was big. The Washington Post had a lengthy article exposing “the scandal.” Herman Cain announced that he could not support Rick Perry, and the fact that a rock once bore those words was offensive.

Political insiders pointed out that this is the kind of thing that comes from opponent research, and by a process of elimination suggested that it came from the Romney camp.  The offending rock not only was not painted by the Perrys, who never owned the property, but merely leased hunting rights, was painted over shortly after they leased the property, and to be sure that it didn’t show through, at some point the rock was turned over, or down.  As sleazy insinuation goes, this is pretty sleazy.

This is what most of us hate about politics.  Give us a good juicy scandal, if it is true, but don’t do silly stuff and try to make a silk purse out of the proverbial sow’s ear.

During the Bush administration, all the accusations, imagery, and name-calling were of the Hitler/Nazi/ and Fascist variety.  Try Googling ‘Bush Hitler images.’ Now they’re into racism. The Tea Party, they claim, is racist, without the slightest evidence. Anyone who criticizes the president’s policies is racist. Anyone who does not go along with his programs is racist.

We have a lot of problems. When we cannot share ideas, discuss different approaches, or even disagree without being called names, we’re in a bad way. The object is to fix the problems.



A Clash of Visions for America! One of Them is Wrong. by The Elephant's Child

       “A mind is like a parachute; it only works when it’s open.”  Ian Plimer     

Harold Hamm is the Oklahoma-based founder and CEO of Continental Resources, and the original discoverer of the Bakken fields of North Dakota and Montana. Since 2005, America has been in the middle of a revolution in oil and natural gas. Mr. Hamm says that the U.S. could be “completely energy independent by the end of the decade.”

The official estimate of the U.S. Geological survey a few years back said the Bakken was between four and five billion barrels.  Mr. Hamm disagrees, and says that fully developed the entire field contains 24 billion barrels.  That would double America’s proven oil reserves.  He expects the reserves and production to triple over the next five years.  OPEC’s market share is declining and no longer dictates world price.

He was invited to the White House for a “giving summit” with wealthy Americans who have pledged to donate at least half their wealth to charity. Bill Gates  and  Warren Buffett were there as well as many others.

When it was Mr. Hamm’s turn to talk briefly with President Obama, “I told him of the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC. I wanted to make sure he knew about this.”

The president’s reaction? “He turned to me and said, ‘Oil and gas will be important for the next few years. But we need to go on to green and alternative energy. [Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.'” Mr. Hamm holds his head in his hands and says, “Even if you believed that, why would you want to stop oil and gas development? It was pretty disappointing.”

So there you have it.  President Obama is a true believer in green energy, and he’s going to do everything he can to boost the country along the road to a “clean green economy.” As Richard Epstein has explained — Obama does not change his mind. His ideas are set in concrete. He ignores the warnings of failure and bankruptcy as unimportant, because you have to expect that not every attempt will be a winner.  He discounts the need for oil and gas production because he simply believes it is an old outdated technology, and the future relies on green energy, and his job is to see that we move as rapidly as possible in that direction.

Mr. Hamm says that Washington keeps “sticking a regulatory boot at our necks and then turns around and asks: ‘Why aren’t you creating more jobs?'”North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.5%, but Mr. Hamm doesn’t believe that. He says the state has 18,000 unfilled jobs that pay $50,000 t0 $80,000 a year. Housing is a problem.  Because of the oil boom, North Dakota has a budget surplus and is thinking about ending income and property taxes.

President Obama wants to raise $40 billion by excluding the oil and gas industry from the tax credits that go to all domestic manufacturers. Mr. Hamm believes that over time the federal government could raise over $18 trillion in royalties — more than the U.S. national debt.  In the meantime, a few months ago, the Obama Justice Department brought charges against Continental and six other oil companies in North Dakota for causing the death of 28 migratory birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Act. Continental’s crime was killing one bird the size of a sparrow, charges that carry criminal penalties up to six months in jail.  Meanwhile the bird cuisinarts in the wind industry kill hundreds of thousands of birds a year, which the feds do not prosecute.

Mr. Hamm recalls Jimmy Carter’s windfall profits tax. He says America’s rig count on active wells went from 4,500 to less than 55 in a matter of months.  A truly dumb idea.

I think that the charges of “crony capitalism” seem misplaced to Obama.  It’s simply the way business is done in the Chicago politics in which he and Valerie Jarrett, his liaison to business,  were trained.




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