Sunday, February 10, 2019

America, Land of the Social Security Check, Home of the Welfare Dependent

I applied for Medicare on Friday.  I'm going to be 65 in roughly three months.  When I called the Social Security Agency (welcome to socialist America),  I had an hour-and-fifteen-minute wait before I could get through, and they told me that I had to apply online.  Mark Zuckerberg needs to know, and make no mistake, Facebook can know if it wants to.  The Social Security website froze me out because I had typed in the wrong password when I had checked it several months before, so I called the helpline, which involved an additional 50-minute wait.  The young government worker was helpful, and I eventually applied after a four-hour battle.

As I was waiting on voicemail, the SSA proudly announced that 50 million Americans are currently on Social Security.  The number of Americans on means-tested welfare is roughly the same, about 52 million.  If you add the number of government employees, about 22 million, that's 124 million.  In July 2017 there were 252 million Americans over age 18, the voting age.  That means that 124/252 = 49.2% of Americans are dependent on the state. If you add to that the people who work in zombie industries that would not exist without state support-- including Wall Street, the auto industry, and public partnership real estate--the percentage of voters who depend on government is well above 50%.

In other words, the productive sector in America is well below 50% of the economy.  So much for land of the free, home of the brave--or liberty and justice for all.  America is a socialist welfare state with a dependent population.

I recently finished Garrett C. Fagan's audio  Roman history series from the Great Courses, which was a wonderful experience. The Great Courses lectures are all wonderful, and Rome was one of my favorites, along with Vejas G. Liulevicius's World War I. Fagan teaches at Penn State and Liulevicius teaches at the University of Tennessee.  My next one will be William R. Cook's history of the Catholic Church.  

In between, though, I am listening to Tucker Carlson's audio book Ship of Fools. Carlson makes a number of excellent points, and I am finding the book to be educational. Also, his writing is sharp.  I'm only up to Chapter Three. (I listen to all this in my car, so it is slow going.)

Carlson blames much of the recent decline in the American economy on elite selfishness and immigration.   Some of  his arguments parallel Christopher Lasch's in his books The Revolt of the Elites and The Culture of Narcissism.  Like Lasch, Carlson notes that the segregation of elites in all-white, upper-income neighborhoods makes them insensitive to the effects of the policies they advocate.   

Carlson's pillorying of Democratic Party looters is awesome. His discussion of dumbed-down, overprivileged millennial Chelsea Clinton is hilarious, and his discussion of  Mark Zuckerberg and the ugly effects of Facebook are eye opening.  He accurately depicts the Southern Poverty Law Center as a one-time opponent of racism that has become a fraudulent partisan advocate for Democratic Party elitists.  

As well, Carlson accurately depicts the current economy as one of decline for the average American and one of subsidization and privilege for financial, political, and technology elites.  However, a point of disagreement is that Carlson places the blame on immigration. 

Real wages have stagnated for the past 50 years, since the early 1970s, when immigrants were less than five percent of the population. Immigration is not the reason for stagnant real wages. It is at most a contributory factor, but in the absence of regulation and subsidization, immigration flows would adjust to the market- clearing level.  Native Americans ought to enjoy an economic advantage over immigrants, who do not know the language and culture. Increasing the minimum wage is likely harming immigrants, whose labor is less valuable than native speakers.  I'm not convinced that immigration is the real problem, and Carlson does not offer much fact for his claim.  The real hourly wage began to stagnate in the 1970s, right after the abolition of the gold standard and less than 10 years after the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid. By 1980 immigrants were still only six percent of the population, but real wages hadn't grown in seven or eight years. 

At the same time, it may be time to put a moratorium on immigration because of the anger it has caused. I have heretofore been in favor of open immigration, but about ten years ago I remember thinking that perhaps a moratorium on immigration might be helpful to American workers, who have suffered grievously at the hands of the Fed, the Democratic Party, and big government.  In general, a free economy based on limited government will result in optimal economic outcomes, including rising real wages, modest income inequality, and a stock market, with six percent returns.  In the 19th century most of the returns from the stock market were in the form of dividends.   

Besides immigration, my chief point of disagreement with Carlson is that he seems to believe that old-fashioned state activist liberalism--New Deal liberalism,--ought to be the new conservatism.  The old-fashioned state activist liberalism of the 1930-1970s may still capture President Trump's supporters' imaginations, but it will not restore the economy; it will not restore real wage growth; it will not return the country to the rapid economic growth of the laissez faire, Progressive, and New Deal eras (which ended in the 1960s).  

It is true that much of America's elite--the Clintons, Buffetts, Goldman Sachses, Zuckerbergs, Soroses--are a cancer on the average wage. It is also true that New Deal policies led directly to their ascendancy, and the group that was in power before them was already taking the country down a primrose path. Replacing today's rapacious, politically correct, finance-and-technology elites with the military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower and C Wright Mills warned and included George HW Bush's dad, Prescott Bush,  will not change the underlying problem, which is the result of monetary and regulatory systems controlled by a centralized, special-interest dominated state. The federal government has squashed real wages and allocated credit to crappy technology like Facebook,  crooked Wall Streeters like George Soros, and crooked hacks like the Clintons and Bushes.

Franklin Roosevelt, copying the innovations of Gustav von Schmoller and Bismarck in Germany, implemented a system that has similarities to what brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus imagined for Republican Rome in the early phases of the Roman Revolution, which led to its becoming a dictatorship, then an empire, and ultimately a monarchy:  Their plan was to give the plebeians cheap grain. (Later in the empire Emperor Septimius Severus made grain free.)    The dislocations of World War I and Progressive eras paralleled the processes in the Roman Revolution, which lasted about 150 years.  Although the Progressive era was short, its system may last for as long as the early empire and the Pax Romana, which lasted 150-200 years.  It may be that in 2,000 years historians will view our era as an extension of the Progressive and World War I eras. This is already occurring as historians are beginning to view the two world wars as one war.   

It is sad to see an America with the beautiful ideals of Locke and Jefferson turned into a bread-and-circus, totalitarian state dominated by the nincompoops of today's state, technology, and finance elites and their dumbed-down propagandist-journalists.  Carlson's hilarious depiction of psychopath Max Boot is on the money.

Even if  President Trump follows the proscriptions of Carlson and slows the looting by state, technology, and Wall Street elites, there is little hope for improvement because Americans have been satisfied with a $16,000 Social Security benefit, a welfare check, and Medicare. The dynamics of public choice and special interest behavior guarantee that a large, centralized government will benefit the most corrupt and opportunistic, and  Carlson's debate with the Democrats ignores the underlying dynamic.