Remind me not to buy American Apparel clothes

This is the beauty of the marketplace:  American Apparel can use its advertisements for clothes to advance a political agenda that urges us to dissolve our borders (which probably makes a wholesome change from the semi-pornographic ads it ran before) and I can refuse ever to buy these clothes, and urge all of you not to buy them either.  Ms Magazine is also a good example of the marketplace concept:  it can refuse to run an advertisement showing successful women in Israel (no doubt because it conflicts with the Leftist paradigm of Israel as the only backwards State in the Middle East), and it can be reviled across the internet — and, with luck, of its five remaining subscribers, one might be embarrassed and cancel her subscription.

On the subject of pornographic ads and clothes, there is an Abercrombie in my local mall.  I grew up when Abercrombie was staid and preppy.  My daughter, who desperately wants Abercrombie because the trendy girls in her school boast about it, grows up in an era when Abercrombie is sleazy and disgusting — if not in its clothes, than in its advertisements.  Passing the store with her the other day, one could see in the entry way, visible to anyone passing by, a huge black and white photo of a young man with his pants down to his thighs, running away from a group of people who were chasing after him.  I suspect that, on Madison Avenue (or its regional equivalent), they thought this showed young people running from convention and breaking free from conservative oppression.  To me, it looked like nothing more than a young man trying to escape a gang rape.  It is a very creepy picture, and I’m not going to take my children into a store with that kind of S-M porn on the walls.

More gold in Goldberg *UPDATED*

I’m still enjoying every page of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, and I thought I’d share with you a few more points that I thought either summed up perfectly something most of us have already figured out or explained why I’d been suffering from cognitive dissonance for so long trying to understand the liberal historic paradigms offered up in college and beyond.

I think Goldberg has summed up as well as anyone can the liberal view of race, and the liberal view of conservatives vis a vis race. Here is his summary of liberals and race:

Even on the liberal left [as opposed to the black supremacist left, which speaks in terms surprisingly reminiscent of Nazi racial ideology], where the poisonous notions are far more diluted, it is axiomatic that there is something inherently and distinctly good about blacks. How so? Well, it must be so. If you buy into the various doctrines of multiculturalism and identity politics you already believe that blackness is distinct, immutable, and unchanging. Once you accept this logic — and the left obviously does — you are then left with a fairly simple choice. If race is not neutral, if “race matters,” as Cornell West says, then how does it matter? Given the choice between assigning a positive value or a negative value, liberals opt for the positive. (p. 278.)

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to believe race is a matter of skin color. They keep in mind two important historic phrases: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This is what Goldberg calls “race neutrality.” How is it that an outlook that says race doesn’t matter routinely gets transformed into cries of “racist”? Jonah answers that question too:

There are only three basic positions. There is the racism of the left, which seeks to use the state to help favored minorities that it regards as morally superior. There is racial neutrality, which is, or has become, the conservative position. And then there is some form of “classical racism” — that is, seeing blacks as inferior in some way. According to the left, only one of these positions isn’t racist. Race neutrality is racist. Racism is racist. So what’s left? Nothing except liberalism. In other words, agree with liberals and you’re not racist. Of course, if you adopt color blindness as a policy, many fair-minded liberals will tell you that while you’re not personally racist, your views “perpetuate” racism. And some liberals will stand by the fascist motto: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Either way, there are no safe harbors from liberal ideology. Hence, when it comes to race, liberalism has become a kind of soft totalitarianism and multiculturalism the mechanism for a liberal Gleichschaltung. If you fall outside the liberal consensus, you are either evil or an abettor of evil. This is the logic of the Volksgemeinschaft in politicaly correct jargon. (p. 283.)

Goldberg also explains why I’ve always suffered from cognitive dissonance when being told that the Nazis were capitalist fat cats, so that people who believe in capitalism, and don’t view corporations as enemies, are fascists. This clashed head on with a few things I knew about Nazis: they hated capitalism, which is part of why they loathed Jews; they were socialists; they semi-nationalized most industries; and they were a populist movement that started with the Volk in Munich. As to this last, they were very hostile to aristocrats (who created the group that came up with the plot to assassinate Hitler) and industrialists. Those aristos and industrialists who became ardent Nazis did so because they shared its antisemitism and its Aryan racism, or because they saw that the Nazi nation was a profitable entity, with a good government trough. All that being the case, why did Nazism, and therefore “fascism,” get tied up with capitalism? Here’s why:

Doctrinaire Marxism-Leninism defined fascism as “the most reactionary and openly terrorist form of the dictatorship of finance capital, established by the imperialistic bourgeoisie to break the resistance of the working class and all the progressive elements of society.” Trotsky, an admirer of Mussolini’s, conceded that fascism was a “plebian movement in origin” but that it was always “directed and financed by big capitalist powers.” This interpretation was foreordained because by the 1920s communists were convinced that they were witnessing capitalism’s long overdue collapse. Marxist prophecy held that the capitalists would fight back to protect their interests rather than face extinction in the new socialist era. [The Marxist version of the “left behind” theory, I guess.] When fascism succeeded in Italy, communist seers simply declared, “This is it!” At the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in 1922, less than a month after the March on Rome — long before Mussolini consolidated power — the assembled communists settled on this interpretation with little debate over the actual facts on the ground. (p. 286-287.)

In other words, because Marxism assumed that there would be a last gasp of capitalism before the inevitable communist take-over, and because fascism appeared when the Marxist chronology had dictated that this last gasp would occur, therefore fascism was the last gasp of capitalism — a false syllogism if I ever heard one. It sure does explain, though, why I never could make head nor tail of the line taught me at Berkeley — namely, that fascism is simply capitalism carried to the extreme.

And my last Goldberg point for now has to do with a rather charming irony. Do you remember liberal outrage that Cheney sat down with industry leaders to draft rules governing the industry? (And for the life of me, sitting here this morning, I can’t remember which industry it was that Cheney had the termerity to meet with.) It turns out that the close relationship between big industry and government is a long and honorable progressive tradition, one that began even before Wilson’s ultimate progressive WWI government. Goldberg explains that big industry originally encouraged government regulation for an anticompetitive purpose — it knew that small players couldn’t afford to keep up with government requirements. For example, when Upton Sinclair wrote his famous 1906 muckraking book The Jungle, about the meatpacking industry, he was being just a bit disingenuous:

The problem is that it’s [the liberal myth that progressive government forced unwilling corporations to become humane] totally untrue, a fact Sinclair freely acknowledged. “The Federal inspection of meat was, historically, established at the packers’ request,” Sinclair wrote in 1906. “It is maintained and paid for by the people of the United States for the benefit of the packers.” (p. 291.)

Originally, government was hostile to this kind of thing, because it was meant for anti-competitive purposes. However, when Wilson, the first progressive took the White House and was able to use WWI to begin his experiments, he immediately set about controlling big business — and big business went along with it, believing that it would drive out competition and increase profits:

Big business and the Wilson administration formed the Council of National Defense, or CND, according to Wilson, for the purpose of redesigning “the whole industrial mechanism . . . in the most effective way.” “It is our hope,” Hudson Motor Car Company’s Howard Coffin explained in a letter to the Du Ponts “that we may lay the foundation for that closely knit structure, industrial, civil, and military, which every thinking American has come to realize is vital to the future life of this country, in peace and in commence, no less than in possible war.”

When the war broke out, the CND was largely folded into the War Industries Board, or WIB. Run by the “dollar-a-year-men” from the world of finance and business, the WIB set prices, trade quotas, wages, and, of course, profits. Trade associations were formed along vaguely syndicalist lines. “Business willed its own domination, forged its bonds, and policed its own subjection,” wrote Grosvenor Clarkson, a WIBer and historian of the effort. The aim was for the “concentration of commerce, industry and all the powers of government.” “Historians have generally concluded,” writes Robert Higgs, “that these businessmen-turned-bureaucrats used their positions to establish and enforce what amounted to cartel arrangements for the various industries.” (p. 293.)

As Goldberg repeatedly states throughout his book, when Roosevelt’s New Deal came along, there was nothing “new” about it. Almost without exception, its policies simply resurrected the policies that Wilson had put into place during WWI. One of these policies should remind you of the infamous Cheney/industry meeting:

The propaganda of the New Deal — “malefactors of great wealth” and all that — to the contrary, FDR simply endeavored to re-create the corporatism of the last war. The New Dealers invited one industry after another to wrote the codes under which they would be regulated (as they had been begging to do in many case). (p. 293; emphasis mine.)

In other words, Cheney was doing nothing more or less than aping the Left’s idol — FDR.

If you can get a hold of a copy of Goldberg’s book, I really urge you to read it. As I noted before, it will explain how liberals ended up where they are, and why it’s the conservatives who wrongly get the pejorative label “fascist.”

UPDATE: It seemed appropriate to include in this post three links to good discussions about Obama and the race card, since it seems very likely that, if Obama is the Democratic candidate, anyone who does not vote for him will be castigated as a racist and, if he loses, the entire nation will be called to account for that “shame.” Article 1 is at Cheat-Seeking Missiles, Article 2 is at Commentary Magazine’s blog, and Article 3 is Charles Sykes, writing at American Thinker.

In the same vein, I had an interesting conversation with my mother, who gets her news solely from MSM television. She agreed with me that Obama lacks any meaningful experience, that he’s untried, and that he’s basically an empty shirt. She also agreed that his political positions do not represent the view of all Americans — and possibly represent the views of fewer than half of all Americans. Nevertheless, she then announced that if Obama loses, it will be because Middle America is racist and will not vote for a black. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a map of the US with me, because I think she forgot where Iowa is. My Mom is an intelligent, humane woman with a lot of common sense. Her take on Barack Obama, though, shows how even the best mind can start showing signs of cognitive dissonance if it is exposed to nothing more than the MSM.

UPDATE II: I read the Charles Sykes (American Thinker) article after I’d had the conversation with my mother and after I’d written about the conversation, above. I think Sykes must have been eavesdropping on my conversation, though, or looking over my shoulder as I blogged:

A central tenet of modern liberalism, after all, is the unshakeable conviction that white American is deeply and irredeemably racist. For three decades, America’s white liberals have invested in the belief that American is so incapable of racial fairness that society needs a panoply of laws, preferences, quotas, set-asides, and remedial programs to ensure that black people are treated fairly.

All of those policies are fundamentally based on the belief that America is deeply racist, that their fellow Americans are personally biased and institutionally prejudiced — consciously and unconsciously, intentionally and structurally; racist in history and practice.

It follows that many race-holding liberals will be among the last to believe that America will ever elect an African-American as president.

White liberals face this cognitive dissonance: if they decide that America is ready for a black president and back Obama they would also be forced to surrender or at least modify decades of convictions about American bias.

Communal living — the utopian dream that never dies

Did you know that when the Puritans first arrived in America, they set up a commune?  I didn’t, but that’s what John Stossel says happened:

When the Pilgrims first settled the Plymouth Colony, they organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share everything equally, work and produce.

As with all exercises in Communism, it didn’t work:

Why? When people can get the same return with a small amount of effort as with a large amount, most people will make little effort. Plymouth settlers faked illness rather than working the common property. Some even stole, despite their Puritan convictions. Total production was too meager to support the population, and famine resulted. Some ate rats, dogs, horses and cats. This went on for two years.

Only when the Pilgrims made a conscious effort to abandon their socialist enterprise and put a little self-interest into the mix did they have the kind of harvest for which they could give thanks:

“So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented,” wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, “began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, [I] (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. … And so assigned to every family a parcel of land.”

The people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.

“This had very good success,” Bradford wrote, “for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. … By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. … “

Stossel’s conclusion is one worth remembering as the Democratic candidates make their constantly recurring promises to take our money and spend it “wisely” on our behalf:

When action is divorced from consequences, no one is happy with the ultimate outcome. If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty and will not be refilled — a bad situation even for the earlier takers.

What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there’s a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.

Secure property rights are the key. When producers know that their future products are safe from confiscation, they will take risks and invest. But when they fear they will be deprived of the fruits of their labor, they will do as little as possible.

That’s the lost lesson of Thanksgiving.

To which I say, Amen!

Healthy and unhealthy consumerism

I am routinely thankful for my good blog friends, many of whom help me find interesting stuff in the blogosphere that I might otherwise miss. Since this was a busy, busy weekend, and since I have the kids for another few days before school starts, I can assure you that, had Earl not given me the heads up, I would have missed entirely Andrew Anthony’s “The Day Reality Hit Home,” an op-ed in Britain’s ultra Left Guardian (of all places). Here is how the Guardian itself describes Anthony as the introduction to excerpts from his just-published book:

The writer Andrew Anthony was a committed member of the liberal left – until the attacks of 11 September, 2001. A veteran of CND and Nicaraguan solidarity campaigns, he was astonished at the liberal left’s anti-American reaction. And so he began to question other basic assumptions about race, crime and terror – a political journey he charts here, in these exclusive extracts from his compelling new book.

As you can imagine from that introduction, it’s a fascinating article and I urge you to read it. It also, right off the bat, highlighted something I touched upon in my early “Why Fight?” post — which is a question about what we’re defending when we fight. I pointed out in that earlier post Bruce Bawer’s observation that Europeans, for all their high minded socialism, seem obsessively focused on consumerism at the engine driving everything. So many seem incapable of recognizing, let alone fighting for, abstract freedoms. To them, every war is about opening or positioning oneself in a marketplace. And since they’ve come to the conclusion that the marketplace is a shallow and uninteresting thing, they are disdainful of anything associated with it — including causes that Americans describe in high minded terms as fights for liberty.

Interestingly enough, that’s the very premise Anthony uses to describe the political and ideological world in which he was operating when 9/11 occurred. After describing his own mid-life malaise, he extended that as a metaphor to look at the pre-9/11 world:

A midlife crisis did indeed ensue after 9/11. In truth it had been brewing for some time. It wasn’t my midlife crisis, however, but that of Western culture at large. No matter what other aims may have motivated this singular act of terrorism, it was beyond question that it was planned as a symbolic, as well as a lethal, attack on ‘the West’, whether the target was militarism (the Pentagon), capitalism (the WTC), or cosmopolitanism (the heterogeneity of the victims). The problem was many in the West were not sure that it was worthy of defence. For some time in the post-Soviet era, as America established its position as the sole superpower, a West-based movement had been growing that rejected the spread of free-market capitalism and the Western values that underpinned the global market. Known as anti-globalisation, it drew attention to the poverty and deprivation that was such a common feature of life in the Third World. But it also posed some stark existential questions about the Western way of life. ‘What was the point?’ the anti-globalisers seemed to be asking, all we do is buy stuff, turn everywhere into a market, and force McDonald’s and Starbucks down other people’s throats. Our culture is nothing but consumption. As the anti-globalist writer Naomi Klein argued a few weeks after 11 September: ‘Part of the disorientation many Americans now face has to do with the inflated and oversimplified place consumerism plays in the American narrative. To buy is to be. To buy is to love. To buy is to vote.’

To Europeans and those on the American Left who look to Europe for intellectual guidance, there is no connection at all between freedom from government interference and the amazing comforts Western living provides. That is, they don’t see that the former is the beneficial soil, and the latter merely the lovely crop that springs from this rich soil. Put another way, although I’m not a person who craves “things” just to have them, I like my comfortable home, my nice car and my clean streets as much as the next person, possibly even more. I never make the mistake, however, of believing that these material trappings are the alpha and omega of America. They are merely symptoms, if you will, of a healthy society; they are not the society itself.

Europeans, however, are different. Keep in mind that, all during the 1960s and 1970s, when they seemed to have such a money rich society, so that they could produce those luxury European items American snobs know and love, and so that they could provide cradle to crave care, these trappings came about, not because they had a free society with a free market, but because America did away with their defense costs by providing a free military for them. England, which was the only European country that did not have American troops all over the place so that, forcing it to fund its own military, could not sustain a health socialist economy and a military all at the same time. Fortunately for the Brits, they had the wisdom to elect Maggie Thatcher, who put the brakes on the socialist experiment and revitalized the economy.

What this means is that, in Europe, there is no connection between a healthy marketplace, both economically and in the world of ideas, and a healthy consumer culture. For decades, because of American help, Europeans had, on the one hand, a government run marketplace and stifling ideological conformity, and, on the other hand, the ability to produce and buy massive amounts of consumer goods. I doubt many recognized that it was American help that made the latter possible despite the former. Given their obliviousness to the missing link, it’s no wonder that Europeans see consumer goods as a meaningless offshoot of nothing. If that were the case here, I too might start to look with both disdain and guilt upon my consumer culture.  Small wonder that the Europeans, confronted with a whole in their society, do their best to pass of the blame to America, which glories in its consumer culture. If only they could understand that America, unlike Europe, glories in consumerism it earned it through honest capitalism.

When you stop and really think about it, Europe is exactly like the Arab/Muslim world. Because of its submission to Islam, the Arab and Muslim world is a completely stagnant world. Half the population (the XX chromosome side) is prevented from being useful, except as breeding machines. No ideas or inventions come out of the Arab/Muslim world because that involves questioning and questing, ideas incompatible with obedience to Islam. There is no marketplace, especially since usury is understood, not as the charging of exorbitant interesting, but the charging of any interest.* The absence of investment money alone (never mind the fact that intellectual inquiry is actively discouraged) means that there are no reasonable opportunities for small businesses, inventors, innovators, prospective homeowners, etc.

Despite this completely dead economic and intellectual environment, however, much of the Arab/Muslim is awash in money. Massive of amounts of money. More money than many of us can imagine — and its all courtesy of the West, desperate for the black gold buried in Islam’s sands.  It’s a stagnant society with Mercedes cruising the sands.  It’s an extreme version of Europe, which boasts a semi-stagnant society with Mercedes, Volvos and Bentleys cruising narrow medieval streets and modern freeways.

The Muslim’s and European’s fundamental inability to understand American capitalism is a big problem for Americans.  If those arrayed against us, whether Muslims or Europeans, make no connection between freedom and material prosperity, they are always going to think we’re hypocrites offering false coin when we assure them that we truly believe in freedom, both in and of itself and as a pathway to the pleasures of an active, exciting, responsible and beneficial marketplace.

__________________________

*Some writers contend that in Islam there is a difference between charging ordinary interest and charging usurious interest.   While that may be true in theory, the fact is that ordinary Muslims understand the matter as I have described it.

Understanding market forces

The other day, my kids got an object lesson in the how the market works.  As I was picking them up from camp, two ice cream trucks were lined up outside the camp.  The flashier truck had a long line of children in front of it; the lower key truck was abandoned.  Suddenly, the driver of the lower key truck leaned out the window and hollered “All ice creams are 75 cents.”  Within about two minutes, he suddenly had the longer line as the kids all shifted to the truck offering a serious (25 cent to $1.25 per product) discount.  My kids, who had been haggling in the first line about how to split a single ice cream for the $1.50 they had left to them, were amongst the kids who instantly, and rationally, peeled off to the cheaper product.

As we walked away, I pointed out to my kids that the driver offering the discount had made a smart decision, but only if (a) he could still make money selling at the lower price or (b) he hoped to get kids to switch trucks permanently.  We didn’t know about the first factor, and my kids weren’t so sure about the second.  They explained that the flashy truck has a much broader selection to go with its higher prices.  However, the driver of the flashy truck is apparently quite impatient, while the other driver, the one who offered the discount, is more pleasant to deal with.  Over the long run, they weren’t quite sure which would draw them the most.  We then talked about the fact that anyone offering a product, whether that product is goods or services, has to make decisions about market positioning:  best price?  best product?  best service?  Two out of three?  Three out of three?  My kids were fascinated, and show every sign of becoming budding capitalists, God bless ’em.

Market forces are working at the home front, too.  I’ve had a cheap swimming pool service that, in theory, should fulfill all my needs.  The business, however, seems to be unclear on the “service” part of its swimming pool service and hasn’t been showing up at all.  Today, I’m switching over to a more expensive enterprise, but one that also involves a broader range of services.  Even at that, though, I’m not paying top dollar, because the new guy is a solo.  It’s smart positioning.  The big pool service companies in this area charge a little for chemical only service, and a lot for everything else.  I’d gone with the former, and gotten nothing.  With this new guy, because he has almost no overhead, I’ll get “everything else,” but for less money.  Sounds like a deal to me.

Incidentally, these obvious, on-the-ground market forces seem either to elude or to frighten more sophisticated people.  On the one hand, Thomas Lifson has another in his series of articles chronicling the almost pathetic decline of the New York Times.   On the other hand, inspired by a probably righteous fear of talk radio, Hillary and Nancy may well be busy plotting its demise, and are apparently planning to use government forces to shut down the marketplace.