Charlie's Blog: The Crunge


The Crunge

Ain't gonna call me Mr. pitiful, no! 
I don't need no respect from nobody...

One of the things I like about Led Zeppelin is that virtually every one of their songs is a winner. Any band can come out with a couple of good songs, but the Zep guys made musical excellence a habitual thing. The one exception is "The Crunge." This was Zep's attempt to rip off James Brown, but they should have let Brown keep his funk. I am sure there are some fans of this song out there who will take me to task, but I have never been a fan of this one. This was Zep trying to expand their repertoire, and they reached their creative limit.

I have a hundred things on my mind as I write this on a Friday night sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon and trying to overcome the disgust I feel for my employer. This potent disgust only flows into the larger river of angst and despair I feel for this economy and this country. I feel like I am treading water in a fetid cesspool and a little just splashed in my mouth. I am torn between my inability to get out of the cesspool and the temptation to just give up and sink to the bottom. I was very close to buying a piece of real estate that would be the foundation of my homestead dreams and my escape to a better life of labor and freedom. Unfortunately, this piece of property is in the hands of a crazy woman who thinks we should buy her property but allow her to live in it indefinitely. Basically, she wants us to be her landlords while she pays no rent and takes her sweet time finding another piece of property. My life is dogged by perpetual frustration.

My employer likes to do this trick where the business hires more people than they need. They respond by cutting down everyone's hours which leads to massive anger and low morale. Since most people live paycheck to paycheck, they immediately look for another job to pay the bills. The new hires are not much better off, so they do the same thing. So, they hire three people and lose six people. This creates a yo-yo effect as some weeks can see 60+ hours followed by weeks of not even getting to 40. This stupidity has gone on for years, and they never learn. The result is that turnover is identical to what you see at a fast food restaurant. This results in added training expenses and a decrease in productivity as every employee becomes a new employee. Somehow, this madness produces a profit.

My escape from the company's madness is held up by the madness of a lady who won't sell her property because she can't accept that she will actually have to leave the thing that she has sold. Why does God allow me to go through this? How much longer can I endure this?

My brain is a battleground between Distributism and the Acton Institute. Acton is basically Austrian economics wedded with the morality of Christianity. I am very familiar with their thought because of my extensive reading of Hayek, Mises, and Rothbard from my libertarian days. My problem with these free market thinkers is that they overlook the problem of concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands or "natural monopolies." Austrians deny that natural monopolies exist. Basically, monopolies are the creation of government laws and regulations. Yet, here we read about the latifundium of ancient Rome which were the precursors to our modern day agribusinesses. Here is a favorite quotation of mine from Wikipedia:
The latifundia quickly started economic consolidation as larger estates achieved greater economies of scale and senators did not pay land taxes. Owners re-invested their profits by purchasing smaller neighbouring farms, since smaller farms had a lower productivity and could not compete, in an ancient precursor of agribusiness. By the 2nd century AD, latifundia had in fact displaced small farms as the agricultural foundation of the Roman Empire. This effect contributed to the destabilizing of Roman society as well. As the small farms of the Roman peasantry were bought up by the wealthy and with their vast supply of slaves, the landless peasantry were forced to idle and squat around the city of Rome, relying greatly on handouts.
Austrians will be at pains to point to the presence of government and tax incentives for the wealthy landowners against the smaller landowners. But one of the problems you begin to see with the Austrians' argument is that it is unfalsifiable. It's like having an elf in a box that disappears as soon as the box is opened. Since you have to open the box to see if the elf is in there, there is no way to know if there really is an elf in there. The same thing applies with natural monopolies since we would have to possess a society where no government exists to see if a natural monopoly would emerge in the absolute vacuum of government interference.

I always point to Google as the most potent evidence of a natural monopoly. They own the search engine market, and Bing is virtually a non-factor. I do not know of any government favors for Google in this regard. Another example would be Microsoft's dominance of the PC market with their Windows OS. The government has actually gone on to beat Microsoft down with antitrust moves, yet Microsoft still owns the lion's share of the PC market. Granted, Google has lost to Facebook, and Microsoft has lost to both Apple and Google's Android in the smartphone market. But you can see where both Facebook and Google are duplicating the move towards monopolization.

My belief is that the concentration of capital precedes the government favors and not vice versa. The process is very simple. A capital owner experiences a bit of good fortune and leverages that good fortune into a competitive advantage that leads to more good fortune. When the stack of money is large, they buy off the only threat left which is the government. Government does not create monopoly. Monopoly controls government.

This process is most obvious in the creation of the Federal Reserve. The Fed is a favorite target of Austrians, but they fail to highlight where the Fed came from. The Federal Reserve was the creation of a cabal of private bank interests. A central bank had been created and destroyed twice before by the US Government. Yet, the Federal Reserve is actually a private bank. Granted, the Fed has been given the power of money creation by the government, but this was secondary to the process.

If you had a separation of state and market much like we have a separation of church and state, you would still see these monopolies emerge. This consolidation happens across many industries. A new market may emerge like the internet or craft beer. But winners emerge, and winning becomes its own advantage. The losers sell out to the winners. Concentration of capital is the result.

Another example of this process happens in the black market. If natural monopolies need government help to emerge, then there should be no natural monopolies in markets that the government tries to destroy. Yet, we see the country of Mexico dominated by a few drug cartels who compete fiercely with each other until one emerges as the final winner. The power of these cartels is greater than the government itself. They are a law unto themselves.

The Acton Institute does not adequately address this issue, but the Distributists do. In addition, the work of economist Thomas Piketty and his extensive research into wealth concentration has been a real sore spot for free market economists. Most of the arguments for free markets comes from the benefits of competitive markets. But free markets do not remain competitive over the long haul. Their propensity is towards monopoly and stagnation.

Most of the essays I write come from a place of certainty. When I write them, I know what I know. These stream of consciousness essays are different because I am writing about what I don't know. When it comes to this economic thinking, I don't know. I have lived long enough to see rich people use free market thinking to get richer while the rest of the country has gotten poorer. I think Acton and the Austrians get a lot of things right, but they don't get everything right. Capitalism is always better than socialism, but capitalism produces disparities that should not exist. One of those is a town where 90% of the economic activity is at the Walmart while the rest of the town looks like it was hit with a neutron bomb.

I think Catholic social/economic thinking is at a crossroads similar to the one Aquinas encountered when Aristotle came back to Europe. Aristotle didn't have all the answers, but the Plato/Augustine thinking of Catholicism didn't have all the answers either. Aquinas took Aristotle and took thinking to a higher plane. The Catholic Church needs an Aquinas of economics. Neither the Distributists nor the Austrian Actonites have the answer. A new thinking must emerge that promotes justice but not at the expense of economic reality. I suppose I will have to try and do it myself.

I see an economy as a game like football or baseball. Obviously, the laws of physics are the bedrock of these games and can't be changed. The motions of balls and bodies are governed by those laws, and that is what it is. Above that are the rules of the game that players adhere to but circumvent at times in what is known as cheating. Those rules of the game are dictated and enforced by officials and referees. Now, every so often, those officials get bought off and throw a game which ruins people's faith in that game. But we must not think the game would be better off without those officials or the rulebook to be governed purely by the laws of physics and whoever is most adept at cheating. This takes it from a game to a brawl.

There is no such thing as a free market. The free market ceases to exist the moment you decide that theft and fraud cannot be permitted.  Once you have those rules in place, why can't there be others? For instance, why not have rules saying that you can't pollute or endanger the safety of employees. And why not also have rules that set tax rates and rules of incorporation and the like. And what about borders? Should states and countries have something to say about corporations that want to operate in their space?

This game model of economics makes more sense to me. Games can be ruined by bad rules, corrupt officials, and cheaters. A laissez faire game is akin to the ones we played on the playground back in school. Inevitably, the game would cease midway as we debated and ended up fighting over a rule infraction. With basketball, the rule was "no blood no foul." These games were more like brawling than playing. But it didn't matter because we would forget the score somewhere along the way because we had no scorekeeper. This is the essence of the libertarian way.

The reason libertarianism does not work in practice is because it is little more than anarchy. Libertarianism comes in two flavors--minarchy and anarcho-capitalism. Minarchy is basically conservatism. Conservatives believe in small government. Minarchist libertarians believe in even smaller government. This is why you see these minarchists and conservatives hanging out together. Cato and Heritage Foundation people routinely speak and post on each other's sites. The only difference is that the conservatives enjoy scotch after an event while the minarchist libertarians slip out to the parking lot to smoke a jay.

The anarcho-capitalists of the Mises Institute are a different story. In terms of personal morality, they are like Baptists and Presbyterians dressed in gray suits and bow ties. Yet, they advocate no government in favor of private contract arrangements that look suspiciously like government. Does it matter if the man with a badge is a police officer or a private security guard? The simple fact is that the vacuum of anarchy leads to government. The problem isn't government but the excess of government.

The first great threat was fascism followed by communism. Today, the real threat to limited government and freedom is technocracy. The purest form of this movement is the European Union which is literally a government comprised entirely of bureaucrats or, more precisely, technocrats. These technocrats govern virtually every square inch of life for Europeans. There is a parliament, but it is largely ceremonial since this parliament has no power at all. The Brits are now voting this week for their Brexit, and the polls indicate the UK will leave. If the results render a "remain" conclusion, you can bet your sweet life the vote was rigged.

In the USA, technocracy is found in the ever swelling federal government and the departments of the executive branch. My personal belief is that all such things fascism, communism, and the crony capitalism we see today are variations of technocracy. These governments differ in philosophy, but they are all governed by technocrats. The belief is that there is a "science" to government, and government is best left to the rule of an educated elite. Citizens are reduced to mere children. The elected officials are there merely to placate the citizenry. You can see this in the way that Congress has ceded most of the war declaration and treaty making powers to the executive branch.

Alex Jones can be a bit nutty in some of the things he says and in his beliefs, but he does get one thing right. He is always ranting about the globalists. Globalists are simply proponents of technocracy. The ultimate aim of technocracy is a one world government. Such a government would regulate all trade and end all wars because wars are fought across borders. Things like the Bilberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission provide the "brain" for technocracy. As such, they represent a sort of shadow government. Add in the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, and on and on. This complex byzantine structure is a defining element to technocracy.

The main elements of technocracy are these:

1.)Strong centralized control

2.) Universal scope and reach

3.) Rule by elites

4.) No democratic or deliberative body with any power.

5.) Secrecy.

Basically, technocracy is the rule of conspiracy. This is why conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones go ga-ga over this stuff. Now, simple logic will tell you certain things. People don't like technocracy. They resist it and will abolish it if they can. They may even turn to violent revolution. Naturally, to preserve itself, technocracies will resort to elimination of enemies on either the individual level, the group level, and even on a national level. The tools technocrats use are mass surveillance, lists of people restricted in various ways, character assassination, incarceration, and actual assassination and mass slaughter. This is when things sound nutty, and critics of technocracy end up sounding like paranoid loony birds. The problem is that we already know that some of this stuff has been going on courtesy of Edward Snowden. We live in a country that has done mass surveillance on citizens and broken the laws and defied the Constitution. Yet, we still have a terrorism problem. Think about that. As bad as the police state was in the Soviet Union, it did have the advantage of keeping crime at a very low level. Yet, terrorism flourishes in this quasi-police state.

My belief is that the technocrats allow this thing because it produces crises that can be used to greater advantage. In the case of domestic terrorism, it has been the erosion of civil liberties with the ultimate goal the forfeiture of people's second amendment rights to keep and bear arms. The reason the second amendment was ever included in the Bill of Rights was to make sure the American people would have the arms needed for another revolution. This is why that second amendment is a prime target for technocrats and why the NRA is always to blame for Islamic terrorism, lone shooters, and the like. The American people are too well armed to simply go along with the technocracy.

Donald Trump is a direct threat to this technocratic elite. He isn't in the club. He never belonged. They were happy to take his money as long as he keep his mouth shut and stayed out of the game. But Trump is that guy that is too hard headed to get the message. Like Alex Jones, Trump subscribes to conspiracy theories. Trump also believes in the value and dignity and intellect of the little guy which is why he has so much love among the working class people of America. The guy may be rich, but his mind and words indicate that he is with them.

The opponents of Trump will assail his intellect. This man is not made of the stuff needed to be a leader. Basically, he is not a technocrat. And he and all of his supporters are vilified as racists, Islamophobes, and homophobes. Trump is not a sophisticated man. He is a form of what Taleb calls "Fat Tony." Basically, Fat Tony is the unsophisticated rube who knows in his gut the right answer. He just can't express it in mathematical formulas and academic speech.

In other things, I have reflected further upon email, and the fact that no one checks their email. I will still use email for communication with people, but I no longer care to use it for non-essential sharing of information. The world is simply awash with information as I declared before. The problem of our time is that we have no effective means of separating the important from the trivial. That filtering problem is one I still grapple with. I basically have four avenues of online information input:

1.) Email

2.) Google News

3.) Feedly

4.) Twitter

A typical day has me checking email until the inbox is clear. Then, I read Google News to get the overview of news. Then, my deeper reading is done through Feedly. Twitter is my mobile pipeline when I am away from my computer. I will check in on Twitter when I am waiting in the checkout line of the grocery store. I rarely read it when I am at home.

On the flipside, I have information output avenues:

1.) Email

2.) C-blog

3.) Twitter

I use my blog mostly for my writings. I use Twitter mostly for the writings of others I encounter in my reading. Now, I don't know the strategies others use, but I suspect that few use Feedly while many use Facebook. I don't use Facebook. I was once a Facebooker, and I did not do well on that platform because of "oversharing." Facebook is not a platform for cerebral conversations about deeper things. There is a reason academics and journalists and the like love Twitter. It best fits their brains. It is the least social of social media platforms.

When I check the mail in my snail mail box, I have a collection of bills, magazines, sales circulars, and junk. It is a daily chore to separate this big pile into smaller piles. Email is similar. You have your spam folder which you have to check to make sure a real email didn't go there. Then, you have the collection of vital and personal emails to process. I do my email just like my snail mail. The problem with sending links to people is that it takes a personal email and turns into something else. Consequently, my email becomes like Facebook in your inbox. Then, when something vital is sent, it ends up in the magazine rack unread.

My new rule on email is never send any email unless it is a vital need to know thing. Of course, it doesn't change the fact that my emails may still be ignored in much the same way that a utility bill may end up in the shredder along with a credit card offer. People suffer from attention fatigue. They cannot sustain attention to one thing for very long.

Email is the same thing. Most people have become so accustomed to ignoring their email that when they do get to email to check it they are left with the embarrassment of having left it unchecked and responses dropped. So, they go on pretending that they never read the email. When I run into the person and ask if they got the email, their faces become red. and they stammer a bit before they lie and say no. It is easier to lie than to admit they ignored it. I should be hurt by that, but I am not. I care less about myself than the business of the email.

The least that I can do is to restrict myself to my blog and Twitter when it comes to sharing information. I've been blogging for over a decade now, and I have watched my readership decline in direct proportion to the growth of Facebook. When I was on Facebook, I noticed my audience on the platform was larger than on the blog. There was even a temptation for a time to end the blog and just post straight to Facebook. I'm glad I resisted that temptation.

I know how to promote myself as a writer and a blogger, but I just don't care to do it. Self-promotion seems antithetical to humility and letting the work speak for itself. I find that most of the products I love spend virtually nothing on television commercials. Even the word "hype" has come to be synonymous with the lack of substance. I have taken the opposite tack of cramming a lot of substance into my writing. This is how you get long essays like this one on deep subjects and/or crap.

I have made the deliberate choice to confine myself to the deep end of the pool. It has actually been liberating. Basically, I dump my thoughts into my blog, my Twitter feed, and my personal journal where they can be safely ignored by the world. I only email someone when necessary and usually in reply to something they sent. Finally, the response can only be one sentence to accommodate the short attention span of the reader. Well, I am being a smart aleck on that last bit, but I am confining myself to an economy of words in all correspondence.

Enough ramble for this one.