Sunday, December 7, 2014

My Cousin Mordecai Lawner's Death

My cousin Mordecai Lawner died five days ago, and I attended his memorial service this afternoon.  He had been an acting instructor at the Neighborhood Playhouse, Carnegie Mellon University and the High School of Performing Arts for many years, and his students included hundreds of professional actors.  Jeff Goldblum sent a memorial oration from LA via video, which my cousins played as part of the memorial service. Goldblum said that when Morty taught at Carnegie Mellon he introduced Goldblum to acting and had then been his lifelong mentor.  Morty appeared with George C. Scott in Death of a Salesman and played Woody Allen’s father in Annie Hall: .  He was a wonderful guy and a veteran. 

He once talked me out of a show biz career. I  asked him whether I should consider becoming a producer, and he told me to read Elia Kazan’s autobiography.  By the time I had gotten half through it, I gave up the idea.  The Variety and Newsmax articles are here and here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why I Don't Support the Separation of Upstate from Downstate New York

Following the reelection of Andrew Cuomo as New York's governor, I began thinking hard about separating upstate New York from downstate New York.  Downstate New York includes the five counties of New York City and the four counties that surround it--Westchester, Rockland, Suffolk, and Nassau.   Upstate New York is more Republican than downstate, although it is not as Republican as it was 50 years ago because few retirees can afford to remain here, and most of the productive business--as opposed to real estate developers, Wall Street, and other businesses on public outpatient support--have fled.

The issues of guns, fracking, religion, and regulation divide the state, but views are variable. The upstate urban centers of Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse are Democratic, and the many university-and-college centers sprinkled throughout upstate also are Democratic. Woodstock and Olive, where I live, dominated by  the music, film and art businesses as well as weekend homeowners from New York City, is Democratic too.  Nearby Kingston and New Paltz, home of a state university campus, are also Democratic.  Therefore, upstate New York is variegated; nevertheless, there is a difference because the big-government philosophy dominant in New York City is less prevalent upstate.  The recent gubernatorial election saw small-government candidate Rob Astorino lose in downstate New York but win the majority of the vote and the majority of the counties in upstate New York.  Crooked, big-government advocate Andrew Cuomo, closely linked to super rich real estate developers, hedge fund managers, and other of the privileged rich on government outpatient support, handily won downstate.

I thought I'd write a piece about separating the two regions for the Lincoln Eagle, and I interviewed a leading activist in the separation movement. He told me that there is increasing support for the idea, especially following Cuomo's reelection.  Cuomo's dictatorial approach to guns and his fascistic attitude toward conservatives (he says that they don't belong in New York) stimulated strong opposition upstate.

My thought was that the values and needs of upstate differ sharply enough from New York City that government would be more representative if it were more decentralized.  I've changed my mind.  Having interviewed the separation activist and read an interesting piece in the Rochester Business Journal, I am coming to the conclusion that separation isn't worth the fight.

The decision to separate or not should not be financial; it should not be based on on net monies transferred from downstate to upstate.  First, no one is clear about the direction in which money actually flows. Second, even if money flows upstate, if the political union doesn't work, then the money isn't worth it.  Readers who posted   on the Rochester Business Journal article claim that upstate could not build roads without New York City's financial support; they might consider turning their heads toward Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, whose roads are fine without New York City's help.

Two elements counterbalance each other.  First, New York City probably does subsidize the rest of the state because of the taxes collected from the financial industry, although the subsidization probably benefits two categories: special interests and welfare recipients.  Second, upstate suffers heavily from regulation and political mandates that emanate from the city.  These include a bloated, stupidly managed Medicaid system and heavy demands from public sector unions, to include the Service Employees International Union--which has successfully lobbied for the bloated Medicaid plan--teachers' unions, and statewide bureaucrats' unions like PEF and CSEA.  There is also the current prohibition on fracking, by which the environmental ignorance and superstitions of New York City's ideologues and cranks have deprived New York's Southern Tier of billions in revenue.

The question that remains is whether, given freedom, upstate will repeal the mandates,  regulations, and bloat that the city has imposed.  If it does not, will not, or cannot, there is no point to separation.  Having lived in Albany, Kingston, Potsdam, Binghamton, and New York City, my guess is that the people of New York are unable to overcome the lobbying of the special interests, the unions, the developers,  and crackpot green advocates, who have driven business away from the state.  The same processes of special interest brokerage will continue to dominate upstate New York, just as it has,  and I have no reason to think that upstate New Yorkers will gain 15 IQ points and start to think rationally about the costs and benefits of government policies.  North Dakota, with a population not much bigger than Buffalo's, has, but few states have.

The inner cities in upstate New York, such as the small city of Kingston, which is near me, are as backward as New York City; New Yorkers in rural areas are often co-opted by welfare and Medicaid programs that make them advocates of the bloated state, and a large share of upstate New Yorkers are public union looters.  The result will be, like the breakup of Standard Oil, two behemoth operations rather than one.  In the case of Standard Oil, the oligopoly included Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, ARCO, Sohio, and Pennzoil. In the case of New York, the oligopoly will become the bloated bureaucracy to the north and the bloated bureaucracy to the south. I don't think upstate New Yorkers have the brains to end the bloat that has deprived them of an economic future.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Why Americans Are Too Dumb for Democracy

I submitted this piece to The Lincoln Eagle. 

Why Americans Are Too Dumb for Democracy

Mitchell Langbert

Americans Ponder Obamacare

James Madison believed in republicanism. Republicanism holds that government should derive its powers from the people, that every class should be fairly represented, that terms of office should be limited, and that powers should be separated.  Republicanism rests on majority rule, but it also rests on a belief in a limited state.  The state establishes fair rules that permit private individuals to earn a living, to acquire property, and to benefit from the fruits of their imagination and hard work without threat of violence from other citizens or from the state itself. Republicanism depends on a limited scope of government.  Obama official Jonathan Gruber’s claim that Americans’ stupidity led to the passage of the president’s chief achievement, his health care legislation, is consistent with everything that has occurred in American politics for the past 125 years. Progressivism, America’s ideology since 1890, has created a dumb nation.

Republicanism and the freedom associated with it stimulate new ideas, and history has proven that republicanism and freedom are the only progressive system.  From 1840 until 1970, by when the power of the American state had significantly expanded, the median real hourly wage, the best measure of how well off the median American is, grew at an unprecedented rate: 0.5% to 2.0% per year.   To put that growth in perspective, there was net zero growth in the real hourly wage from the year 0 to the year 1800.  The classical economic historian Mikhail Ivanovich Rostovtzeff has written that the standard of living in the ancient Greek colonies was not equaled again until the 19th century.   The political power of the Habsburgs, the expanded market of the Islamic Ummah, the European conquest of Asia, and the Spanish discovery of America did nothing to expand the average worker’s real wages, nor did the expanded role of the central government under mercantilism, Louis XIV, and Henry VIII.  Only the imagination, hard work, and economic risk taking that came from free-market capitalism, from the limited state, and from expansion of freedom did so.

Despite the success of republicanism, by the Civil War, Andrew Jackson had expanded democracy. Then,  Hamilton’s descendants in the Republican Party altogether replaced Madison's republicanism with a further expansion of democracy.  Madison’s republicanism and federalism were transformed into Progressivism.   The Progressives, so-called because they claimed that the use of violence to redistribute wealth was progressive, extended the federal government’s role step by step. 

President Woodrow Wilson took the most important steps in 1913: the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank, which gave the government power to subsidize the super rich, and the imposition of the income tax, which eventually gave the federal government power to violently compel the median worker to give up his wealth to the state’s special interests.

The masterstroke of Progressivism, so brilliant that its adherents claim that it ended Progressivism and began a New Deal, was that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was the scion of generations of bankers. His uncle, Frederic Adrian Delano, was a Hong Kong-born railroad magnate whom President Wilson appointed to be the first vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank.   His fourth-great grandfather had cofounded the Bank of New York with Alexander Hamilton and had served as the bank’s second president.  During the 1920s FDR worked on Wall Street, and the newer, aggressive Wall Street firms supported Roosevelt in 1932. Roosevelt’s abolition of the gold standard via the Gold Reserve Act of 1934 was what any aggressive Wall Street hedge fund manager wanted. 

President Roosevelt’s masterstroke was to claim that the big-government policies associated with the Federalists, the Whigs, and the Progressives were policies that benefited the average American.  Because of the New Deal and President Johnson’s Great Society, within less than 40 years of the Gold Reserve Act, by 1971, the median American’s real hourly wage stopped growing. The real hourly wage today is the same as it was in 1964. In contrast, the real S&P 500 stock price has grown 16-fold since 1964.  Roosevelt was good for the poor and bad for the rich if you believe that the poor own stocks and bonds while the rich earn wages.

In 1940, during the Roosevelt years, Orson Welles aired a radio broadcast, based on H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, which through simulated news bulletins portrayed a Martian invasion as though it was actually occurring.  Enough Americans believed the broadcast to prove Walter Lippmann’s skepticism, expressed in his 1922 book Public Opinion, that Americans are unable to govern intelligently.

If a radio man tells Americans that Martians have arrived, Americans believe him.  It’s much less of a stretch for the radio man to say that Franklin Roosevelt increased the real hourly wage and ended the depression (both lies), that the federal government has made your life better, that economists who are beneficiaries of Princeton’s $18.2 billion endowment give advice that has your ends, and not the endowment, in mind, that government regulation has improved your life, and that Obamacare will reduce health care costs.  Increasing numbers of years of schooling also increased the opportunity of the government to indoctrinate Americans in the advantages of big government, in belief in the advice of supposed experts like Jonathan Gruber, and in the importance of bankers’ needs.

The same Americans who, in 1940, believed that Martians had landed now believe that the American economy has been in great shape for the past 50 years and that it was necessary to transfer trillions to investment and commercial banks during the past six years even though they have gained zero in their paychecks, and they are worse off than their parents. After all, the TV man told them so.  Chris Mathews said giving trillions to Wall Street would save the poor.  O’Reilly called it moderate.  The TV man told them that FDR was a hero, that Barack Obama is their friend, and that giving trillions to Wall Street is moderate and will save the poor.  Much as Curly remained loyal to Moe after countless slaps and eye pokes, so do the American people remain loyal to the television man.  What he says must be true.

Faith in media lies is not new.  In The Anti-Federalists Jackson Turner Main shows that the Federalists passed the Constitution, itself a step on the road to consolidation of the power of banks and other special interests, through manipulation of public opinion.  Main describes media manipulation that occurred in 1787 and 1788.  

The late political scientist and economist Mancur Olson shows why voters in a democracy must be dumb. The information required to make intelligent decisions on the thousands of issues that politicians in the extended state make is too great. In the extended, Progressive state, no one, including the politicians themselves, can make decisions intelligently.  The only solution to American economic stagnation is freeing ourselves of the ill-advised policies that the Progressives and Franklin Roosevelt put into effect.  The only progressive solution is a new limited state. The alternative is continued dumbing down of Americans and continued economic decline. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Ugly Cruelty of the Minimum Wage

Laurence Kudlow has written an excellent piece on the New York Sun website about the need to return to free-market policies.  A key element of the social democrats' increased-state-control thrust has been advocacy of a higher minimum wage, and Kudlow notes that Hillary Clinton is a higher-minimum proponent.  The best defense that the social democrats' organ,  New York Times, produces for the minimum wage is that the need is "obvious." The need for a minimum wage is as obvious as the need to throw millions of young Americans into permanent unemployment. 

 Germany didn't put a federal minimum wage into place until this year. The French minimum wage is 9.53 euros, and the German minimum wage is now 8.5 euros, about $11.91 and $10.65 respectively. The British minimum wage for 18-to-20-year-olds is 5.13 pounds or $8.21. The British rates vary with age. For workers above 21 it is about $10.40.  Let's take a look at the youth unemployment rates versus the minimum wages:
                  '14 Federal Minimum Wage      Youth Unemployment           

Germany                          0                                          8.1

US                               7.25                                        16.5
UK*                              8.21                                        21.3
France                       11.91                                        23.7

*Varies by age; rate for 18-to-20-year-olds shown

The minimum wage is vicious, for the effects of youth unemployment go beyond idleness. By depriving youngsters of formative employment experiences, the advocates of high minimum wages advocate attenuation of the work skills of a large segment of the population; excluded from formative employment experiences, this segment becomes dependent upon the state for its sustenance.  A segment of the population is turned into unemployable serfs who then live on welfare under totalitarian state control. We can add to this segment additional segments under the thumb of totalitarian American-government control: recipients of Social Security; workers and pensioners whose wages the Federal Reserve Bank drives into the ground; victims of America's racist drug laws, often imprisoned for life; victims of American imperialism overseas; and dissident taxpayers, whom the Obama administration has attacked on ideological grounds using oppressive income tax laws.  

The European countries with high minimum wages, having murdered the Jews,  have less diverse populations than the US does, so the harm that their minimum wages do is less than it would be in America, yet the chief victims of the social democrats' self-serving cruelty are the  small minority groups in those countries, especially the Arabs in France. 

Telling someone that because their labor is not worth some arbitrary minimum that they should not have freedom to work or to choose opportunities that might become available to them is among the ugliest and cruelest views of the social democratic movement.