February 02, 2009

Economic Voodoo

Feb. 28, 2008 - Glenn Beck's Defconomy Scale
Dec. 29, 2008 - Forecaster Predicts American Disintegration in 2010
Jan. 9, 2009 - Illegal Confiscation of 16 Firearms at LAX
Jan. 18, 2009 - Illegal Confiscation of Firearm at Protest Rally
Jan. 29, 2009 - Russia Demands Say in Fed
Jan. 29, 2009 - Europe Warns U.S. over "Buy American"
Feb. 2, 2009 - Karl Denninger on "Buy American"

I am not an economist. Point of fact, every time I add two plus two I wind up with five and have trouble understanding how everyone else winds up with four. And, to be perfectly honest, I'm not certain what it is I'm trying to communicate today, so bear with me if it comes across vague and indistinct.

I went to high school in Calistoga, California, the heart of Napa Valley Wine Country. Well, that's not exactly right either. We lived in Calistoga from the time I was four years old until I was seven. My parents divorced, my mother remarried, and the guy she picked this time could not hold a job to save his life. For the next six years we drifted around, finally resettling in Calistoga when I was thirteen. All told, I spent five years at Calistoga Junior/Senior high school (small town, grades 7-12 are all on the same campus). The five most important development years in the life of a young man.

During those five years vineyard land rose from less than $1000 an acre (often much less!) to nearly $20,000 an acre. Nowadays there are places where a cool million will not buy half an acre of Napa Valley vineyard. Most of this growth was driven by a global PR campaign commanded and directed by Robert Mondavi. I watched kids from families with good connections go from jeans and t-shirts to Gucci and Armani. Italian dresses were in vogue at my senior prom, for those who could buy them. The rest of us made due with tuxedos and gowns from the same rental shop that had provided formal wear to Calistogans since the 1890s.

That was not the hardest part, though. The real pain came from watching kids who had been friendly and helpful in eighth grade slowly transform into condescending elitists by the time we graduated. I came away from America's richest small town with both complete disdain for the trappings of wealth and a deep mistrust of those who seek it.

The collapse of Enron did not suprise me. The wild conspiracy rantings of Alex Jones do not disturb me. Watching the Paulson-Bernanke comedy duo lead us merrily into complete and total civil war nauseates me, but it is not unexpected. When the Brady Campaign uses a college massacre as a fundraising gimic to sponsor leglistation that has nothing to do with the root causes of the massacre itself it horrifies me, but I do not find it surprising.

There is a culture of fake empathy and crocodile tears that I became intimately familiar with while watching kids in my hometown grow into economic elitists. At the very top of the American economic pyramid there is a culture of entitlement that assumes being rich also means being noble. These people believe down in the very core of their being that owning a New York penthouse overlooking Central Park is the minimum standard of acceptable living that each and every person alive should be striving for. They also believe that anyone who does not feel the same way is either delusional or dangerous and probably both.

They learned those attitudes from the economic elites in the rest of the world.

In Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, being rich normally means being from a family that has controlled the wealth of their homeland for centuries. The economic elites in the United States deeply envy the long history of noble families in the rest of the world. Traditional nobility brings with it an assumption that anyone not of noble birth is not quite human. Speeches are made to pacify the masses, not to genuinely improve their lives. Laws are passed to control the peasantry and when things get restless, minor concessions are grudgingly handed over. American economic elites mimic these attitudes, but at the same time, America has historically had little patience for such condescension. As a result, the narcissism of the American elites lacks the same genuine assumptions of the Old World noble families.

This is why Barack Obama was able to gain the Whitehouse with an overtly populist theme. As far as I can tell, President Obama's concern for the wellbeing of the average American is genuine. Unfortunately, nobody on his staff is equally genuine. Every nomination he has made is of people who come directly from the American economic elite. Most of them come from families who have been wealthy for at least two generations. Some of them trace their wealth back to the cowardly and cynical carpetbaggers of the 19th Century.

And now I sit here in Japan watching and waiting. If President Obama is politician enough, the ambitions and assumptions of his staff will be blunted and most of his populist ideas will be implemented. If President Obama is wise enough, the policies that come from the Whitehouse over the next thirty months (at which point his re-election campaign will consume most of his attention) will meet the needs of hardworking, taxpaying Americans and to everyone's great surprise, the nation will reinvent itself for the 21st Century and beyond. The nightmare of George Bush will be forgotten and the economic elite will postpone their dream of an American Kingdom for another generation.

Sadly, I am not confident. A part of me, the part that remembers how some of the people I admired most slowly transformed into condescending monsters that would not offer me the time of day, is scared. That part sees a civil war in the very near future as the alienation between the elistists and egalitarians grows into a gulf so vast it cannot be bridged.

Only time will tell. Ever since the horrors of the 1861-65 Civil War, we have brought ourselves to the brink of a reptition and then pulled back at the last minute on at least two occasions and possibly more, depending on who is doing the evaluating. Some of the smaller developments of the past two weeks have been very disturbing. If HR 45 passes and President Obama does not veto it, there will be hell to pay. If the "Buy American" clauses are removed from the stimulus package there will be hell to pay. If HR 45 is accepted and "Buy American" is struck down, a match will be set to the tinder and it will take only a tiny puff of discontent to set the nation ablaze.

Maybe the world would retaliate if "Buy American" is part and parcel of the stimulus. Maybe HR 45 will reduce crime. Personally, I don't buy either scenario. I think the world cannot afford to retaliate and I think HR 45 will increase crime while infuriating law-abiding gunowners. But more importantly, can we risk continuing to alienate the true core of the American population? Americans do not have a history of serfdom. They are still angry about TARP being passed in the face of enormous public opposition, let alone the mismanagement of the first half of the funds! Continuing to ignore their needs will not appease them and they will not lay down and accept the "wisdom" of a narcisstic elite.

The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives every citizen the freedom and privilege of taking up arms and opposing a tyrannical central government. That, and that alone, is the true purpose of the Amendment. It is our ancestors bequethal to us of a sacred trust. No matter what the Brady Campaign wants to believe, no matter how narcisstic the elite becomes, the majority of Americans still believe and honor the duty given to them by their forefathers. The 2nd Amendment is nothing less than a call to defend the Constitution and the Republic against all enemies, both foreign and domestic!

It is not the exercise of this right that I fear. No, what really scares me is the willingness of the economic elite to drive the country so far down the road to civil war that there might be no turning back. Do they really believe the American people will sit back and let them?

I'm half afraid they might. I'm equally afraid they won't.