When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise, we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Guest Post From Tao - Part II

To be American used to mean that a man was not judged by the wealth that he exhibited but rather by the standards that he brought to his work. It was more honorable to be considered a good honest person rather than a rich person.

We were once a people that lived with one another but now we have our poor in separate neighborhoods and our rich barricade themselves behind the gates of their country club communities.

We were once a place where your banker worked in an office at the bank and now all decisions are made in another city by someone who you have never met. Customer service and your extended warranty are outsourced to other companies and other countries.

“Our” schools are run by administrators who hide behind regulations and standards that they call “regulations.” “Our” teachers work for the unions and “our” school boards are professional positions who meet and cloak everything in rules, regulations, and procedures.

“Our” churches have grown bigger and more grand where the congregation number in the thousands and yet their influence on our day to day lives is becoming smaller and smaller.

We shop in stores where if you have a question and if you can find store staff willing to help then the most typical response you will get to your question is, “…I don’t know…I just work here…”

It seems that as we have lost control with our own personal lives we seem to have an increased desire to control the events in other countries. We have meddled in the affairs of other countries all over the world since the end of WWII and we have not learned one thing from all that meddling. Then one day we find that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked (the White House was the third target). Did anyone stop to think that these terrorists attacked the center of our economic power, the center of our military power, and planned to attack the center of our governmental power?

NO! All we thought was, “…how dare they attack us!” Not once did we bother to think that we have been meddling in their world for decades and they have only once attempted to meddle in ours.

Did you ever stop to think that during the election, John McCain announced that “....the foundation of our economic system was sound…” and then for the first time by any Republican acknowledged that the American worker was the foundation of our economic system. In one sentence he debunked 30 years of supply side economics.

In the last 30 years we have watched as massive Agribusiness concerns have pushed families off the land they farmed for generations. We have watched as mega box stores have entered our communities and put the family owned and operated retail establishments out of business. We have watched as locally owned manufacturing concerns were gobbled up by multi national corporations which traded these factories back and forth among themselves for tax and accounting benefits only to eventually move the operations overseas. McDonald’s has replaced the local diner as the place to socialize and eat. Thanks to blogs and social media we are “friends” with more people in the world but know less about the people that we live by and work with.

We gave up being Americans when we became fascinated with “bigness.” We wanted our companies and our economy to get bigger and bigger. We wanted our military to become bigger and more involved in everything throughout the world. Of course then government became bigger because it had to meet all the demands put on it by the people.

We became so arrogant in our bigness and the corresponding righteousness that we felt from being the biggest that we no longer remember what America was all about. We got involved in wars with ideology. We bullied the world in the name of freedom and democracy. We created an enormous amount of wealth for a few and a tremendous amount of consumer goods for all the rest…but now it appears that we have in fact created nothing but illusions.

We have found out that bigger is not better.

It is obvious that the concept of “Too big to fail” is an illusion. It should also be no illusion that this country is “Too big to fail.” There is nothing wrong with being big as long as you maintain the same values that you had when before you were big. We obviously lost our values along the way to gaining “the one and only superpower” status.

Now, we do not need to wait to elect change we can actually begin to implement change ourselves. Shop locally and buy “Made in the USA.” Find local providers of produce and buy baked goods from local bakeries. Find local service providers and use them rather than national chains. Move your banking to independent locally owned banks and or credit unions. Turn the television off once a week and the computer and take the family to the local library. Don’t go to church but rather have your family commit that time to a local charity or cause. Go to the next school board meeting and ask them a very simple question, “..why is this school so far behind the national average…” or better yet, “…why is my kid so stupid?” Then demand an answer because we have to start locally to demand accountability and no place is more local than school boards and city councils. Go to your local city council meeting and demand that all services contracted with local funds be given to local firms. Call this the beginning of an affirmation action program for Main Street. Look around your company, your church, and or your school system and see what goods and services they consume and demand that they be locally produced and or provided and that they be “Made in the USA.”

Will it cost more? Sure! But freedom is never cheap and this is definitely an issue of freedom. We have to free ourselves from big government and big business because they exist to support each other. We will never be able to overcome the interests of lobbyists or the desire of politicians for money and thus there is no other way to combat the ills that affect this country except by changing ourselves. We are not victims but rather we have victimized ourselves. If, as conservatives, we believe in the power of the individual and the concept of small government then lets do something about it and lets start now. It has nothing to do with philosophy or concepts but rather it has everything to do with each and everyone of us taking responsibility for our own actions.

I do not need elected officials or leaders to change things I can do just fine all by myself and I have been doing this since around 2000. I do not shop at Walmart but rather at local stores. I buy American every chance I get. I even invest in only companies that have plants in town, and are companies that I know quite well; .truthfully, I invest mostly in Treasury Bonds, Municipal Bonds, and my favorite, U.S. Savings Bonds. When my banker of 15 years told me he had to check with “corporate” I moved all my banking to a local community bank the next week.

That is why I do not buy into all the typical conservative slogans and it is why I do not get all worked up over Obama and all that. I know what it means to be an American and I know that my actions speak louder than any vote I could offer ever could.


Biased Girl said...

I am not Anti-walmart, but for those who are like yourself, I applaud the personal boycott as a way of protest.

Americans vote with their money. Look at Hollywood, as much as they Loved Obama, they weren't out Preaching as they did in 2004,because they found Out Americans don't pay $20 to see a movie with a guy that is a part time Politician.

TAO said...

haven't been to a movie since I took the kids (nine of them and don't ask me who they all belonged to!) to see Lion King....

Between movie tickets and a constant trip to the concession stand it was expensive...

Haven't really noticed a movie really worth putting out the effort to go see...

As a manufacturer I have issues with Walmart that do not even effect you...but realistically my biggest issue with them is that they make consuming way too easy! You can find a whole bunch of stuff there that you do not need.

I remember my father called me up one time and he was angry...apparently my mom was having some sort of yard sale and my dad found stuff there that still had Walmart price stickers on them....she would find things at Walmart and buy them and once she got home decided she didn't need them.

Gayle said...

But Tao, we must consume to keep the economy going. If we stop consuming, then the bottom drops out... sort of like what it seems to be doing right now. :(

One thing you didn't mention in your post, which is a large part of what being an American used to mean, is our society is going downhill morally. People stomp someone to death trying to get some item they think they can't live without at a discount! That says a lot about what's wrong here, don't you think? People are growning up in this society who do more living in their video games than they do dealing with real people in real life. Empathy seems to be in very short supply. Morality is becoming a thing of the past. The "if it feels good do it" motto of the liberal left is spreading like wildfire. Wife-swapping has become vogue in many communities. Civilization is not truly civil, is it?

I'm thankful I finally was fortunate to find a community where people still say "good morning" and "hello" when they don't even know you. Complete strangers wave as they pass by you on a country road, and I'm not talking about them waving their middle finger! People stand in line patiently here at check out counters when the clerk gets involved in a personal conversation with a customer and the business transaction has been completed, but the two of them are still chatting merrily away. The community I live in in Central Texas is like rolling back the clock to an earlier era. I wish more of America could be that way.

Beltway said...

Wal-Mart seems to be the popular part here, so I'll stick with it. Don't want to ruffle to many feathers yet ;)

There is another way to look at it. If people stopped spending on things they didn't need, wouldn't that mean more money to direct at every day essentials?

More money being directed at everyday essentials, would mean higher job growth in those associated industries, and in theory negate the job loss in the "macro" retail world of places like Wal-Mart.

When you look it at on a fundamental level though, as a society we need to train ourselves away from the human compulsion that causes people to horde unnecessary shiny things.

TAO said...

Absolutely, this country has a moral issue! Greed is immoral...and greed manifests its self in many ways.

I am no big moralist and I am not a bleeding heart liberal, but as long as we buy Chinese goods and or shop at Walmart the macro economic event is that our money is leaving our country and or community. Now, who do we get that money back to grow our own communities and our own country? There is only one way....and that is government!

We do not manufacture enough goods that China wants to be able to equal out the trade imbalance (besides they like to steal stuff and they have no respect for trademarks and copyrights) and as long as the pile of dollars is getting bigger in China then we are getting poorer. So, government spends money and issues bonds, which the Chinese buy with US dollars and we get our money back.

I think the trade imbalance is the biggest threat to our future. We do not make enough stuff that the world wants, and that includes stuff we make with our minds. If you believe in capitalism then you realize that we have a huge problem.

Globalization has made us well off from a consumption point of view but it has also lowered our savings rate and the amount of dollars we have for innovation and growth.

The same holds true for Walmart...they get the funds from a community and ship them to Bentonville, Arkansas. Then what happens? Well, small businesses shut down and the tax base shrinks. Walmart has property tax exemptions...so then what is a local community to do? Raise property taxes or raise property values....

Then, if Walmart is the biggest employer in a town and then their wage scale becomes the wage scale for everyone in town...that means less people have money. Less money means less consumption on a variety of things...

It all becomes a vicious cycle....and it spins downward. the easy credit of the past covered all of this up...but obviously easy credit is gone....and now we are going to see reality...and it is ugly!!!

Gayle said...

It's clear that you understand the economy better than I do, TAO, but what really confuses me is the "easy credit" issue. People should have to prove they can pay back a loan they've applied for before it's approved. I keep hearing on the news that people can't get loans. I hear all of this, but it confuses me because my husband and I receive offers for loans from two or three Credit Card companies every week, so it's obvious if you have excellent credit you won't have a problem getting a loan.

As I said, I'm not very grounded in economics, but I'm getting from this that you are implying there aren't enought Americans with excellent credit to keep our economy afloat. If that's true, then that's a real testimony to the fact that far too many Americans have the entitlement mentality. Perhaps it would do America good to tighten it's belt a bit and find out what a bit of hardship is. I think we're far to soft.

CB said...

I wasn't going to jump in this so as not to discourage guests but that's not the spirit of what I believe we've got going.

It seems to me brother TAO that you have a nostalgic lament going about American values. You particularly take on "greed" and "wealth" as anti-American. You rightly point out that jihadists struck at our financial center, I would add that they also struck at our concept of the rule of law and defense of those principles, by striking wanting to but failing to strike the Capitol and succeeding in hitting the pentagon. They have a better understanding of what is distinctly American than do most Americans.

I think a little historical perspective is in order. One of the major criticisms of George Washington as a general, was that he often seemed more concerned about his real estate holdings than he did prosecuting the war.

Thomas Jefferson understood that the key to the ability to pursue happiness was property and contract rights. Those that debated and then drafted the Constitution also understood that freedom from the tyranny of government was best secured through the medium of property rights. If you can own and dispose of something as you wish, then you are free, you have liberty. The successfully acquiring property, they argued, brought more and more freedom, so long as government respected your rights.

What they also understood was that those property and contract rights were the key to prosperity. If one were able to successfully acquire and maintain real and personal property, you would not just maintain your freedom but you would also enjoy that freedom through wealth.

A member of the Young Hegelians also contemplated these questions about how man could best meet his material need about 100 years after our Constitution was established. He challenged Hegel's dialectic which essentially said that life ultimately moves forward toward man's greatest good. Although not an adherent of Malthus, he saw lack and limitation and was not a believer in God like Hegel. He and a colleague summed up in one sentence what it meant to be communist. He understood who the father of capitalism was. No, not Adam Smith but a man 100 years before him in Scotland who wrote Two Treatises of Government. A man by the name of John Locke, from whom Jefferson borrowed the phrase, life, liberty and property! Marx said the sum of communist is the abolition of private property.

Marx also introduced into the conversation language used today as critiques of capitalism and to advance communist thought. To be certain, caste systems existed in monarchies but had no place in a representative republic. He introduced the concept of class, from which we seem to nonsensically have accepted the notions of rich, poor and middle class.

What has eroded much of what you lament as our former values, is not attributable to greed, it is the result of the chipping away at the fabric of property rights in favor of a foreign concept, "economic rights." Economic rights were first introduced by the Lochner decision and later and explicitly called such by the Douglas court in Williamson v Lee Optical. If you understand that the key to liberty and prosperity are property and contract rights, then you will understand that circumscribing them necessarily erodes both liberty and propsperity.

Economic rights are put in place through regulation and legislation. Economic rights are those things like telling people that you must join a union in order to work or that you must be licensed to practice, giving preference to one individual or group over another. Economic rights are things that sound right to many like "a right to health care." Economic rights are used to justify subsidies for ethanol, cap and trade schemes designed to curtail economic activity and massively redistribute income with the phony science of anthropogenic climate change.

Although it would have been quicker to read war and peace than this response, the resolution to the issues you concerned about, the change in values, has a lot more to do with public policy than you think.

Gayle said...

Now that I was able to understand, and it was a lot easier to get through than War and Peace!

Dan Trabue said...

First off, let me say that I largely agree with what Tao has had to say here. I'd think that anti-consumerism, responsible-living and local-shopping are ideas that Left and Right could rally behind.

I just had one other comment, where someone said:

But Tao, we must consume to keep the economy going. If we stop consuming, then the bottom drops out...

Is this not the excuse of the addict? We can't stop consuming our junk because things would collapse if we did not consume that junk. Whether the "junk" is cheap crap we don't need from poor folk elsewhere (who are forced by circumstances into slave labor jobs all too often) or the "junk" is heroin or alcohol - an addict has to consume more and more or they die.

I'd suggest weaning ourselves off the junk - and any economy that has grown up around the junk - is the responsible answer.

Ottavio said...

ALASKA LOVES SARAH for the great work she has done reforming government to work for the citizens, and AMERICA IS FALLING IN LOVE WITH SARAH for her genuine sincerity, honesty and brilliant mind. Except the Lib media is so afraid of her that they are doing their best to destroy her for the 2012 election..

It is time to recognize that women can do a great job,just as good as men and Sarah Palin's record shows she is exceptional.

The president elect Obama and the liberal media is in disarray, confused and foaming at the mouth after the Maverick, John McCain chose Sarah Palin, a woman reformer for VP. Their response has been a vicious attack on Sarah ranging from insults to smearing and the sexist tactics that brought Hillary's campaign crashing down.

Obama fractured and divided the democratic party when he rejected the choice of 18 million democrats and instead of choosing Hillary for VP, so he chose an old Washington politician Joe Biden, and made some kind of under the table deal with Hillary and gave her the SOS position..and by this grave mistake in choice, negated the flag of "change" Obama had been waiving and replaced it with the "more of the same" one.

On the other side, The Maverick stole the mantra of change from Barack when he selected a woman reformer for VP, who has gained the respect of the State she governs as well as of the nation governors.

The McCain/Palin ticket has also gave some sort of hope to all the 18 million former Hillary supporters who now have a very compelling reason to vote for the republican ticket, as a way to put their country first by electing a president that has the qualifications, experience and love for our country and at the same time elect a woman to the White House as equal partners in governance and leadership of our country.
But no they elected the empty suit and even before he takes office all kinds of doubts are flying all over the place. You say that,: To be American used to mean that a man was more honorable to be considered a good honest person rather than a rich person.
Yes, so very true, but the key word here is "used to mean"

TAO said...

As Dan said,

If we purchased less we would be a better country and if we purchased less BUT purchased more MADE IN THE USA goods then we could create jobs in our own country and solve some problems that it seems Wall Street and Washington DC are too busy to deal with right now....

Which is putting Americans to work and building a stronger more secure America.

rockync said...

I miss Main St and the Five and Dime and the butcher's and the bakery.
The shops were small and perhaps they didn't carry everything under the sun, but then you didn't need everything under the sun.
Children grow up walking through mega malls and mega stores and we have developed the culture of "I gotta have that!"
Perhaps it has become an addiction all this accumulation of stuff. And the negative side of this addiction becomes evident when some who don't have the money but want all the baubles rob and/or murder. And so we feed a vicious cycle. We can make all the excuses we want about why we continue to feed this beast but all of us have a responsibility to do our part in effecting real change.

CB said...

Public policy plays a role in consumer behavior. Now, we tax wealth and income, which are immoral and anti-American. A better, more equitable system would be to tax consumption (to the extent we need to fund government). A consumption tax would do two things immediately, it would retard the growth of government because people would immediately question why they're paying so much and it would encourage savings and investment.

Dan Trabue said...

Unfortunately, CB, a consumption tax would also be a regressive tax, causing the poor to pay a greater portion of their meager dollars for necessities. Perhaps if you had some way of working around that problem, you might find support for the notion.

In general, though, Americans prefer a progressive system of taxation, I believe. From Thomas Jefferson on, it has made sense to many of us that those who benefit the most, ought to pay the most (percentage-wise).

And retarding the growth of gov't can be a good thing when unnecessary fat is trimmed from budgets, but it can be a bad thing when there aren't enough cops on the streets, when bridges collapse, when the regulators can't do their job, when our streams and airs are getting polluted, when our children's education is suffering, when we have no places to put prisoners and no court system in place to try crimes.

In short, smaller gov't is not always the best solution. I favor smarter gov't, not smaller gov't.

CB said...

A tax on consumption is neither progressive nor regressive, it should be low and fixed. The federal government alone is nearly 25% of GDP which is neither small nor smart. Total government shouldn't be 20% of GDP.

I reject the Marxist premise of class distinctions, I reject the premise of the New Deal, Great Society, War on Poverty do gooderism. These programs only harm those they purport to help and drag the rest of us down with them.

There is this movement afoot among many Brooksians to throw additional dirt on the grave of Reagan, I don't buy it. He was correct when he said, government is not the solution, government is the problem. The Leviathan has become unwieldy and despotic and must be cut down.

Some government tyranny is necessary to maintain order, laws against fraud, protecting property rights, speed limits in school zones, laws against bringing physical harm to another. But now, government is contemplating fat taxes, pet taxes, animal flatulence taxes, taxes on non pollutants like CO2, I don't smoke, but it has become criminalized, the government is confiscating more private property to undertake dubious missions like nationalizing health insurance or forcing unproven, unneeded and unsustainable technologies down our throats in order to control ever larger percentages of the economy making more of us wards of the state. Government is not just the problem, it is the enemy.

TAO said...

When you look in the issue of Madoff and his Ponzi Scheme....

You start to get a sense of what our real problem is.

Here is a man that was well respected and successful....

His niece is married to a bigshot in the SEC, which should have investigated him and he had a lobbyist firm working for him...

Our focus has gone from being a government that does what best for the country to a government that does what best for ME!

Sadly, the concept of "ME" does not seem to apply to about 98% of Americans....

I know everyone loves to go on and on about government regulation but realistically what we have now is not regulation but rather a "good ol' boys" club.

Z said...

I must admit I do still get "worked up over Obama" because of the damage he can and probably will do to America, but I sure did agree with the rest of this excellent piece..good thinking!!!

CB said...

The biggest Ponzi scheme known to man is social security, a government program. The most modern iteration is the Ponzi scheme of GSE's and their "moral obligation" to back the paper issued under its name. The problem is government.

The illusion of government regulation doesn't prevent fraud. Private organizations are much better positioned to provide consumer protections than corrupt bureaucracies.

Dan Trabue said...

Why do you suppose private organizations would not be as corrupt or bureaucratic as gov't agencies?

Private organizations will generally have a monetary angle - some reason(s) that will encourage them to find fraud or not as best suits their needs.

This is not to say that there is no corruption in gov't or that it is always the best answer. I just reject the notion as wholly unfounded that somehow our fellow citizens, brothers and sisters who work in gov't or somehow more likely to be corrupt than our brothers and sisters in the private realm.

People are people, no matter their employer.

CB said...

Private organizations failing to fulfill their function will go out of business. Government bureaucracies failing to perform their function continue to grow.

If your image is damaged in the market place as a private actor, you will have to mount a mighty effort to rehabilitate it but with that come the necessary corrections to provide consumers with confidence (Tylenol).

What do we do with failed government regulatory schemes and bureaucracies when they fail? We add more people, more rules, tax and spend more so that everyone suffers. The incentives are superior with private oversight, evil, sinister, profits. What motivates a bureaucracy? Expansion of size and influence, which can only come at the expense of liberty. It is not additive or contributory. But in the face of a monopoly of government regulation, people will rely upon it and then complain when, as it must, it ultimately fails and it's not easy to sue the government.

Dan Trabue said...

Ultimately, I reckon that, while I don't trust gov't and while I prefer local solutions over gov't solutions, I differ from you in that I don't trust corporations to be any less problematic than gov't. An entrenched bureaucracy is an entrenched bureaucracy is an entrenched bureaucracy.

I would LOVE for private enterprise and non-profits to step up and deal with the very real and very costly problems associated with homelessness. My wife - who works at a non-profit social service agency - would love it. The people who leave her shelter to become productive citizens would love it. IF the private world would step up and take care of it.

And the great thing is that there's not ONE THING that anyone could do to stop private citizens from removing the need for gov't intervention in homelessness, IF IF IF they would step up and do it.

But, in the meantime, homelessness has costs to society. Something needs to be done to deal with these sorts of problems or we end up paying for it in some other realm. One way or the other, citizens DO pay for problems like homelessness. So, failing private citizens stepping in and dealing with it, I DO want gov't to do something about it.

I'd rather some up front rather than more later - and there will be more to pay.

And I use homelessness for an example, this thinking holds true on other fronts as well.

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