American Elephants


In a Disordered Society, A Little Food for Thought by The Elephant's Child

Constitution

In the current situation, I have dragged out some old, but favorite books: Angelo M. Codevilla’s The Ruling Class, and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. I suspect a great many of us are sick of being confined, bossed around, and lied to. I think of government as a management group chosen to take care of the details that we cannot individually cope with. I vaguely hope that those we have chosen are up to the job, but don’t expect all that much. and I usually turn out to be more or less correct. In his Foreword. Professor Codevilla says:

It is about the fact that America now divides ever more sharply into two classes, the smaller of which holds the commanding heights of government, from which it disposes in ever greater detail of America’s economic energies, from which it ordains new ways of living as if it had the right to do so, and from which it asserts that that right is based on the majority class’s stupidity, racism, and violent tendencies.

A little later, in another chapter, he adds:

Our Ruling Class’ agenda is power for itself. It seeks and exercises that power through unremarkable patronage and promises thereof, as well as by courting supporters and denigrating opponents. These ordinary means, however, are having remarkable effects on America’s body politic, because their practice is wrapped up in our Ruling Class’ peculiar intellectual and moral pretenses. Chief among these is an ideological belief that it has an exclusive, Gnostic grip on modern science’s secrets. Nevertheless, as we look at how our Ruling Class is making our economic livelihood ever more dependent on itself, at how it is running a system of representation and a legal system quite opposite to those bequeathed to us by our founders, as well as at how it is disaggregating our families and dispiriting our souls, let us keep in mind that this agenda is driven primarily by mundane personal interest. This agenda proceeds from claims that our Ruling Class knows formulae for spreading economic wealth, for engineering social happiness, and for legal and constitutional fairness. It claims as well to be more resistant than the rest of us to the temptation to profit personally from power. In short, it  proceeds from the premise of human inequality and leads to even greater inequality. But, pretenses notwithstanding, our Ruling Class was no more present at the creation of our nation than the rest of us, nor are they any less self interested. Its members too put on their pants one leg at a time.

Does that sound a bit familiar, as if it is touching on the world of today? We Americans like to think that we are the freest people on earth, that the rest of the world envies us as they cope with their difficult governments. We find AOC fascinating because of her absolute ignorance of American history and American beliefs. Today she was back with the idea that we kept illegal immigrant children in cages, to boost her support for Biden, completely unaware that it was the Obama administration which did that.

Charles Schumer spoke up to say that the Democrats would present us with a “Rooseveltian” world, as if that was something to yearn for. They still believe in FDR’s Administration, unaware that his efforts with the Great Depression made it last seven years longer than it should have. Two economists from UCLA, Lee Ohanian and Harold Cole proved that conclusively. Don’t need to do that again. We should have learned what a failure FDR was, but it’s hard to give up your heroes.  Michael Moore has a new movie out admitting that wind farms and solar arrays do not work. How this will sit with the Democrats remains to be seen. They are very open to the “Green New Deal,” unfortunately.

Milton Friedman’s book is an essential for every library. He asks on the second page:

How can we benefit from the promise of government while avoiding the threat to freedom? Two broad principles embodied in our Constitution give an answer that has preserved our freedom so far, though they have been violated repeatedly in practice while proclaimed as precept.

First. the scope of government must be limited. Its major function must be to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets. Beyond this major function, government may enable us at times to accomplish jointly what we would find it more difficult or expensive to accomplish severally. However, any such use of government is fraught with danger. We should not and cannot avoid using government in this way. But there should be a clear and large balance of advantages before we do.  By relying privately on voluntary co-operation and private enterprise, in both economic and other activities, we can insure that the private sector is a check on the powers of the governmental sector and an effective protection of freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought.

The second broad principle is that government power must be dispersed. If government is to exercise power, better in the country than in the state, better in the state than in Washington. If I do not like what my local community does, be it in sewage disposal, or zoning, or schools, I can move to another local community, and though few may take this step, the mere possibility acts as a check. If I do not like what my state does, I can move to another. If I do not like what Washington imposes, I have few alternatives in this world of jealous nations.

You see, we are not alone in our discontent. It has been recognized by some of our most celebrated minds. If that gives you some comfort in your locked-down situation. They tell us that meat should be more plentiful in the grocery stores very shortly, but that is dependent on getting everybody in the meat-packing plants in masks and protective gear, I think. The government recognizes the problem and is working on it. Nobody has explained why I could not get any eggs!

The books are available from Amazon, and used copies are really cheap.

 

 



Words, Words, Words, But Does Anyone Really Read Anymore? by The Elephant's Child

The conversation out there has become quite impossible. Rude, insulting, partisan, phony, uncivil. How did we get here? Everyone seems to be playing the old “can you top this” game. Can insults become offensive enough? Some were suggesting that it was a matter of attention. People just weren’t paying enough attention, and they didn’t understand what was really going on. I’m not convinced. But it started me off on a slightly different track.

I have been noticing that people don’t seem to read anything much – in depth. Snippets here and there. A few lines, and decide it’s not interesting enough. A headline here, a picture caption there and on to something else. Reading is complicated, much of the writing is lightweight. The internet world flashes words. A serious passage is interrupted with ads and pictures, The worst is a ad with a picture that is moving right in the middle of something that promised to be rewarding. Your concentration is always broken. Words and voices are competing constantly for your attention. While you are trying to read a short paragraph, a message appears about your incoming mail, and are you listening to the radio while you read? As you surf the web, are you actually learning anything at all? What do you do with longer pieces that promise to offer something worthwhile? Do you read it immediately to see if it is worth saving or just save it, and forget to read it later?

Think back to earlier days when new information was not so easily obtained. When there were town criers, when the telegraph finally crossed the continent. When books were scarce, and information only arrived occasionally. Now we are drowning in it, and view it with mild interest and often contempt. We suffer from a glut. The fact that it is no longer valued is exemplified by the proliferation of “fact-checking sites,” Back when information was slow and scarce, we probably believed it all because there was no competition. Do you know the history of our country? Do your kids know the history of our country? Or only Howard Zinn’s phony version?

Let’s say you are interested in China, because you have heard of the Hong Kong riots, and “Trump’s trade war”— how do you satisfy the urge to know more? Do you start with a Google search? Turn to Fox News or the Huffington Post or Drudge? You surely search for a source you trust, but why has that site earned your trust? And are they informed enough to have good information, and how much information do you need to find to satisfy the need to know?

I was an English major a hundred or so years ago, and I learned to read and read a lot. I know I read a lot more than my kids do, because I have more available time. Do you squeeze the news into your work day? Or does that wait till you get home? I suspect that in the “Information Age”, we may be dumber and more poorly informed than ever before. I think there are many who have never learned to read the hard stuff. What has Twitter done to our use of words and our understanding? Are our kids learning too much from computer screens instead of the printed page? Newspapers and magazines are clearly slowly dying. Do people subscribe to newspapers and magazines any more? Does anyone subscribe to a movie magazine or a People type magazine except for Doctors offices and hairdressers? Are any of your children real readers who get lost in a book? And how did they get that way? I think there is a big change here underlying our present world, and I’m not at all sure it is a good one.



A Lonely Advocate Fighting For the Common Good. by The Elephant's Child

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This is Philip K. Howard, who has been a practicing attorney in Manhattan for many years, and who has been thinking deeply about the law and writing about it for twenty years. His first book, The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America, was a direct hit on the body of law and regulation that dictates impossible rules that make no sense. But he doesn’t stop there, he offers solutions.

He followed that up with The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far. Politically correct law has become the enemy of freedom and of the common good. Legal anxiety trumps right and wrong. What if most of us grew up with seesaws in playgrounds and want our kids to have that experience as well.
Sorry, the legal consequences of an accident are too great. The result is playgrounds that are so excruciatingly boring that the kids aren’t interested. Demanding that we be “fair” to everyone is an impossible goal. As your mother probably used to tell you — life isn’t fair.

Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America: was about restoring the can-do spirit that made America great. We are losing the freedom to make sense of daily choices — teachers can’t maintain order in the classroom, managers are trained to avoid candor, schools ban tag, and companies plaster inane warnings on everything: “Remove Baby Before Folding Stroller.” Why is our economy not recovering more rapidly? Where are the entrepreneurs? Facing a body of law that destroys initiative. What is at issue is the vitality of American culture.

His newest book is The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, just out. He says that underneath the double-dealing, the polarization, the self-serving is a broken government system that produces rising debt, failing schools, overly expensive health care and economic hardship. Rules, inflexible rules, have replaced leadership, and everyone looks to the rules to know what to do or not do. Philip Howard argues for a return to the framers’ vision of public law — setting goals and boundaries instead of dictating daily choices. This is not a situation to be easily defeated. Congress turns newly passed laws over to federal agencies to draw the lines and devise the regulations that will enhance and grow the bureaucracy and guarantee their jobs. Our hero Trey Gowdy speaks of the House’s job of making law — yet does not mention the job of reforming, eliminating, or repealing bad laws — a task seldom mentioned and even less often accomplished.

Each of these books is only about 200 pages, and invaluable. This is not dry lawyer talk, but real, living examples of how Law has taken over our lives, sapped our creativity, destroyed our freedom. No one is free to make choices, including government officials. An important reason why it is so difficult and expensive to start a business, and why innovation has slowed to a crawl.

Highly recommended. Great reads. And essential to understanding just what has gone wrong in our government and how we can fight back. Nobody said it was easy.




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