July 12, 2012

A Sense of Powerlessness

I stumbled across an interesting quote today,

...a sense of powerlessness, collective irrationality, and perennial political discontent.

Once upon a time this was exactly how I felt. I felt there was no way I could ever compete economically so why should I bother trying? I felt that both the world at large and individuals around me consistently behaved in irrational, self-destructive ways. Even worse, I honestly believed I had no voice in the political process. I believed politics was rigged against the common man and there was nothing I could do to change that.

I don't feel that way anymore.

I went to high school in California. My hometown, Calistoga, had more millionaires per capita than Park Avenue. It was and is, wine country. The wine industry in California is completely dependent on illegal immigration to do business.

Rich kids in my hometown were a dime a dozen, but all of them claimed to not come from rich families at all. The way they told it, their parents were simple blue-collar working class folks. I knew then it was not true but I wasn't sure why. Now I know that the area around Calistoga offered an ideal climate, relatively low taxes, and easy access to several major airports. It was the perfect location for someone living off their investments, royalties from their creative works, licensing fees from their inventions, and so on. False humility was, and even now is, the primary lubricant of social relations between the wealthy residents, the service workers who make their lives comfortable, and the illegal immigrants who keep money flowing into the valley by providing the labor that makes the wine industry profitable.

My hometown is also a hotbed for political progressives. When people have enough money they no longer must work to live comfortably they begin to feel saddened by the sight of so much poverty in the world. They don't understand why their music, their books, their fuel spigot invention, their condensed radio circuit patent, and so on, have given their life so much comfort when so many people don't have that advantage. Since they live surrounded by people like themselves, no one around them has any real answers for them. So they start political campaigns designed to leverage the power of the collective to help the impoverished rise to their level of comfort.

Unfortunately, the more the government does to help people the less people are able to help themselves. After a few decades, the bills for all those social programs come due and the people living off the receipts of their success suddenly find themselves facing enormous tax burdens. Prices start to rise as government money floods into the economy. The rich who paid for, petitioned for, and campaigned for this huge social reform program flee the area in droves, which means the service workers no longer have anyone who needs their groceries carried to their car, their meals cooked, their lawns mowed, their laundry done, and so on. That leaves the illegal immigrants, but they work for slave wages and most of what they earn is sent home to Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and so on. In dire straits, local government begins raising taxes, inventing new taxes, and otherwise looking for ways to fill their coffers. Some of them borrow heavily in order to keep the huge social reform going just long enough for them to leave office.

Along the way the kids like me whose parents worked in service sector jobs have been taught over and over again by our teachers, our community "leaders", and mothers of our rich friends that someday we will all become good mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters. After all, we don't really want to work so hard at silly book-learning as they had to, right? We don't want to sacrifice our free time to write novels, learn music, create symphonies, and make movies. Better to leave that to their kids because after all, without the same kind of support they can provide for their own children there's no way for us to compete anyway.

The first time I went broke I was in Denver studying to become a body, fender, and paint technician. I was doing well in school, but my family had no money, so I was amassing student loans right and left. For some reason, even though they had no money, my father's salary as a small town cop was just high enough to push me out of the bracket for grants. There were no scholarships for the technical trades when I was young. I woke up one day nineteen years old, unemployed, about $25,000 in debt, and getting kicked out of my apartment because I couldn't pay rent. When lost in depression I ran my car into a pole and busted up the front end, it killed any chance I had to look for another job. I had a friend from church take me down to the Air Force recruiter, but they couldn't even be bothered to greet me at the door and ask my name. I went next door and joined the Army. They gave me a $4000 bonus, which repaired the car, and promised me three years in Hawaii.

My experiences in the military changed everything. I learned about personal responsibility. My confidence grew in leaps and bounds as I learned new strategies for not depending on anyone. One of the most important lessons the Army taught me was to examine my mistakes and devise alternative strategies ahead of time so when I encountered that same difficulty again, I'd be prepared to deal with it. I learned self-reliance.

Then I married a Japanese woman, left the Army and came to Japan. Many people don't understand that the "strength" of modern Japan is complete and total dependence. They depend on the U.S. and the U.N. to protect them from external enemies. They depend on one of the largest per capita police forces in the world to protect them from criminals. In daily life they depend on countless signs, megaphones, alarms that sounds like chirping birds, and endless uniformed "officials" to tell them where to go, what to do, and how to avoid danger. Train stations have dozens of workers standing around to answer questions, department stores have dozens of sales people and information desks to help them find just the right bargain, and every time you turn around there is a police officer using hand signals to reinforce stop lights, help locate a lost bicycle, or just give you directions.

One of the first things said to me by one of the local Japanese was, "In America you invent machines so you don't have to use your body. In Japan we invent systems so we don't have to use our brains."

So when I read a quote like the one I opened today's blog post with I cannot decide whether to shake my head in sadness or scream in rage. Every time we allow "progressive" policies and programs to make our lives better we surrender some of our own personal ability to make that decision or take that action on our own. Sooner or later we wind up where we are now: a country of cowards and criminals who depend on the government for tax relief from taxes we demanded in order to implement programs we were told would make our lives easier. This:

...a sense of powerlessness, collective irrationality, and perennial political discontent.
is the direct and inevitable result of rich people trying to leverage government to relieve poverty. There is no other cause. There is no other source. This ennui is the direct, unintended consequence of social reform based on utopian fantasies of a perfect world.

I know this for a fact because I have seen it in full operation twice over the course of my life: first in California, second in Japan. The creation of a dependent class is the destruction of personal empowerment. It is a form of enslavement that is reinforced over time by a growing sense of psychic impotence. In order to recapture psychic potency (and partly from boredom) extreme self-indulgence becomes the baseline of acceptable social behavior.

There are young adults in Japan who have not left their bedrooms for years! They are socially powerless and economically dependent on their parents but they know they should not be living that way. Their solution to this impossible dichotomy is either suicide or extreme isolation and sometimes both. There are millions of young people in California, New York, Michigan, Florida, Hawaii, and other "blue" states who are in the exact same situation. True, the internet is a powerful enabling force, but even if you remove the internet completely, these young people will simply read comic books or graphic novels, play video games, and watch television or discount DVD movies. The problem is not the flood of entertainment media. The real problem is that school, society, and the media have conditioned them to believe they cannot help themselves.

There are two ways out of this quagmire: world war or economic recovery. One or the other. World War is easy and appears to be the current game plan of Iran, the U.N., China, and Russia. Over here on the other side of the coin, decades of Keynesian economics have failed to bring about their promised recovery. That's because Keynesian economics is the economics of government dependence and government dependence adds to the ennui people are feeling because it relieves them of personal responsibility and robs them of personal empowerment. That is why California stands on the brink of economic collapse and Japan's economy has been frozen for so long no one remembers what growth feels like. That is also why Iran, China, and Russia feel confident we cannot block their determination to carry the world into a global war.

War or recovery. That is the choice we are facing. Keynesian economics has failed, so unless we are going to ride to war, we need a better strategy to usher in a new economic recovery. Getting the government out of the market is the first step. Unless you prefer a world war. In that case, just keep right on doing what you're doing until Iran starts throwing missiles around. You shouldn't have long to wait. I'm thinking they're going to want to get the party started before the election and definitely before the Inauguration.