Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reflections on the BP Oil Disaster

The issue before the nation is the BP oil disaster.  I do not watch television news but obtain snippets while in public places like my gym.  I suspect the key issue behind the spill and its handling has not been discussed. That is BP's incompetence, which reflects the Progressive economic system's decline.  BP is not a free market, competitive institution.  Rather, it is a product of government subsidy and protection.  The government subsidization that has given power to an incompetent management like BP's arises from Progressivism's regulation and subsidization of big business; its emphasis on interpersonal skills and looks in employee selection; its emphasis on the ability to "get along" rather than to get the job done; and its emphasis on paper credentials like college degrees rather than performance. 

There is a competency gap in American society.  It originates from the lack of competitiveness of American business, that in turn arises from the protections government affords business in a variety of ways but especially through the Federal Reserve Bank's subsidization of interest rates and the imposition of regulation and income tax on small producers. The succor that the state provides to big businesses inhibits the innovation that characterized the gold standard-based capitalist economy of the post-bellum nineteenth century.  Progressivism, a radical form of Whig elitism, claimed that it was establishing government as a stabilizer of the economy and a countervailing power to favor justice.  In fact, the economy has become less stable and less just following Progressivism's advent in the 1890s.  The economic policies of Progressivism created racially divided inner cities.  It smashed the competitive spirit of small business.  It served to transfer wealth to university-supplied economic elites. 

One of Progressivism's most important effects was the replacement of inner-directedness or individualism by other-directedness or stylish conformity and "keeping up with the Joneses". This effect took place in several stages.  It was not an effect that the Progressives or their New Deal successors anticipated.  It occurred as follows. Progressivism created protections for business. It also advocated increasing efficiency for business and for a time encouraged implementation of efficiency through the ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose book Principles of Scientific Management  outlines one, not the only one but one, approach to managing work well.  But Taylor's and other management theories, such as Elton Mayo's 1930s human relations school and, in the 1950s, Frederick Herzberg's two factor theory of motivation (the idea that you motivate workers through opportunity for achievement), were never widely adopted.  Nor have the chief insights of human resource management that also arose in the Progressive era been adopted as widely as they should.  Thus, the scale of business increased while the competency of business did not keep pace.   For example, General Motors was a dynamo of innovation beginning in the early 20th century, just following the introduction of Progressivism.  As Progressive ideas circulated, GM became a bastion of conformity; of yes-man-ism; of groupthink.  It blamed its organizational problems on labor unions.  Meanwhile, Toyota implemented lean manufacturing and total quality management concepts in the 1950s. It literally took GM fifty years to catch up, if it has caught up.

In the 1950s, books advocating other-directed interpersonal skills like How to Win Friends and Influence People became staples of business success.  The emphasis was not on how to make work more efficient, which was Frederick Winslow Taylor's interest, but in how to get along; how to make people like you; how to fit in.  This reflected the sociologist David Reisman's observation that other-directedness was replacing  inner-directedness in urban centers dominated by university graduates.

Not that achievement orientation had ever completely disappeared.  But in the centrally planned, Federal Reserve-subsidized sectors of the economy, the world of large corporations and Wall Street, conformity became paramount, as did paper credentials.  In New York City parents began to vie to get their children into the best nursery schools so that they could get into the best private schools and then into the best Ivy League colleges so that they would present a good package to Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan, and in turn prove that they were the most eligible for public bailing out.  The idea that the most competent employee ought to rise to the top had died long before.  All that mattered was conformity to elite norms.  American business was no longer the powerhouse of innovation it had been until 1950.

This brings us to BP.  I can picture the management of BP: educated at elite schools; tall in height; masculine or feminine; good looking; well dressed; capable of holding their own with the best groomed elite of Wall Street.  Have these men and women been selected because they are the best engineers; the best managers; or the best planners?  Or have they been selected because they conform to the social standards of the economic elite; they fit in, are physically attractive and so ought, in the vision of Wall Street's analysts, to run businesses.

Progressivism has destroyed America's future.  Now, its incompetence is destroying the environment.   A just economy would require all firms to bear the costs of the externalities that they generate.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why I Do Not Watch Television News or Read Newspapers

Mass mind is my reason for avoiding mass media.  A large proportion of the public, including myself, is susceptible to psychological suggestion.  How many times have you watched a news program and become emotionally upset at some story of crime or misconduct?   Media has tremendous power.  Even if such power were vested in a physician it would require review and oversight.

But those who produce the mass media have no professional standards.  There is no professional oversight.  How much that is presented to the viewer of television news or the reader of print news is subject to bias, slant or involves outright lies, and how much is true?  

There is no reason to believe that television networks or print media are neutral actors. Ownership guarantees bias.  Ownership is not spread across the various interest groups in the nation.  Rather, it is concentrated in the hands of those linked to centers of financial power. 

The claim of conservatives that media reflects "liberal bias" is itself a product of that bias. There is nothing liberal about the interests of the owners and employees of the American media.  It has one goal, one objective, the interests of its proprietors.

I have no doubt that most of what appears on television news is true.  Nor do I doubt that most of what the chairman of Goldman Sachs says is true.  But I have no more reason to believe that the news is unbiased than I do to believe the Goldman Sachs chairman.

Moreover, the incredible power of television to manipulate emotion compounds the risk of deception.  Print media is less emotional but the likelihood of manipulation is ever present.  The likelihood of deception is confirmed by its history.  The New York Times's  history of incompetence and lies; the near criminality of its owners, the Ochs Sulzbergers; its participation in the cloaking of mass murder in the Soviet Union and America's loss in Vietnam; its role in Robert Moses's destruction of New York City and New York State; its vocal advocacy of Keynesian economics and transfers of much of America's wealth to the super-rich. Not only is the Times corrupt, it is the most influential newspaper.

Because of emotional manipulation; the ownership structure of the mass media; and its history of self serving lying the media is not a source of information.  We do better by avoiding its immediacy and emotional content, and carefully evaluating and mostly rejecting its claims.

America a Nation of Grifters

I just sent this e-mail to Paul Smart, editor of the Olive Press in Phoenicia, New York. 

Dear Editor:

In 1950 Americans paid $43.5 billion in taxes to the federal government.  In 2010 they will pay about $2.2 trillion, 50 times as much, according to US Government  Of course, those numbers need to be adjusted for increased population and inflation. A dollar in 1950 would be worth $9.05 today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  That is, inflation has been 900% and federal tax revenues have increased 5000% since 1950. As well population has doubled, from 151.3 million to 309 million, since 1950.   Taking population and inflation into account, federal tax revenues have increased from $287 per capita in 1950 dollars to $774 per capita in 1950 dollars, almost a threefold increase from 1950 to 2010.

The letters of your readers show why the real hourly wage has stagnated since 1970.  Hard working Americans have allowed fast talking grifters, socialists, commercial bankers, school teachers, hedge fund managers and other beneficiaries of governmental thievery to bleed them dry.  One of your readers, apparently educated in one of America's   mind-numbing socialist public schools, claims that the threefold per capita tax increase since 1950 did not occur and that taxes are lower now than in the 1950s.  Another complains that class sizes of 20-25 students are too large. Another demands increased spending on nursing homes. 

Well, I can be a grifter too.  I have the most important demand.  As a professor, the salaries of professors are too low. So mine must be raised. At everyone else's expense.  All America should labor on my behalf.  Taxes should be raised and the excess paid to me and my union, NYSUT. Those who disagree are selfish and greedy. I must have a raise. You must pay.  


Mitchell Langbert

Monday, July 5, 2010

Paladino Opposes Ground Zero Mosque

 Michael Caputo of the Paladino campaign just forwarded this New York Post article:

>Andrew Cuomo and his GOP challengers are splitting sharply on the hotly contested question of building a mosque near Ground Zero, even as they're in surprising agreement on the need to cut taxes and spending.

Attorney General Cuomo said he favored building the mosque, which polls show is opposed by most city residents, including many who say it would be an insult to 9/11 victims...

...Buffalo builder and megamillionaire Carl Paladino, a Tea Party activist expected to challenge Lazio in the GOP primary, said, "I am dead set against the mosque at Ground Zero because it's an affront to Americans everywhere.

"It just doesn't make sense to build a needlessly bold and insulting statement on hallowed ground where radical Islamists declared war on America."

Read more of Fred Dicker's column at the New York Post HERE: