Sunday, May 23, 2010

Episode 20: What Have We Learned?

In the first 19 shows, we've covered these topics:

Ayn Rand and her epic novel, “Atlas Shrugged”. The lesson is that the industrious and creative people in society have a choice. To explain that choice, I like to use the analogy of the oxcart. The productive and creative among us are pulling the cart, and the dependents (and their parasitical elites) are riding in the cart. Are the people in the cart grateful to the oxen? Of course not. Do they think we oxen will ever stop pulling? Nope. But unlike the oxen, the people pulling society’s oxcart aren’t just performing dumb labor. It is our intelligence, our initiative, and our industry, that keeps society’s oxcart moving. We can stop pulling any time we like, if we want to badly enough. Once enough of us do that, the free ride is over, and the whole rotten Collectivist mess will come crashing down.

Collectivism, individualism, and the TRUE nature of man. The forces of Individualism and Collectivism have been in conflict since the dawn of mankind. Individualism leads to prosperity—not necessarily for all, not equally distributed—but it results in the greatest measure of prosperity and happiness for the largest number of people. It promotes a climate of productivity, opportunity, and personal charity.

Collectivism offers the false promise of equality of outcome, but eventually replaces prosperity and inequality with tyranny and universal misery, meted out by the handful of elites at the top. Collectivism is ultimately self-destructive. Individualism is not, not directly, but it is susceptible to the temptations of Collectivism.

Here’s a quote from an editorial in the Washington Times by Arthur C. Brooks, “America’s New Culture War: Free Enterprise vs. Government Control”, Sunday, May 23, 2010:
“America faces a new culture war. This is not the culture war of the 1990s. It is not a fight over guns, gays or abortion. Those old battles have been eclipsed by a new struggle between two competing visions of the country's future. In one, America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise -- limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.”

This is a FALSE choice. You can choose the collectivist route, but only for a little while. That route eventually leads to its own demise. Mark Steyn refers to the death-bed demographics of Europe. Germany is only RELATIVELY financially sound. They won’t be able to afford their social welfare program once the current crop of aging German workers hits the retirement rolls. In reality, Germany is just a bit higher up on the slippery slope of unsustainable collectivism. Once Greece, or Portugal, or Italy or some of the others slip into the well, Germany won’t be far behind.

It’s really not necessary to dig much more deeply into the philosophical schools of thought on how societies of man should be governed—that was brilliantly done over 200 years ago, in the founding of the American nation. The tragedy since then has been the incremental undoing of the Constitution’s protections for the individual, and replacement of liberty, responsibility, the rule of law, etc. with accumulated Collectivist ballast.

The unfolding of history, however, and the unavoidable demise of Collectivism, will eventually provide us with an opening to restore the fundamental principles expressed in the Constitution, if we are prepared.

The flow of events—Short-term chaos, long-term trends. Greece is only the most recent example of the philosophical and literal bankruptcy of Collectivism. Greece is an oxcart that has broken down, and now the rest of Europe is going to see how long they can pull it (and their own oxcarts) before another bigger cart breaks down.

That’s the long term trend ahead of us: A series of ever-larger bailouts and prop-ups, leading inevitably to massive collapse of the global economy. The events that will trigger this collapse will probably unfold as a series of minor disasters—financial, social, or natural—that will defy precise forecasting, but will build quickly in scale and impact. Panic will start small but will eventually become universal. The collapse itself may be shocking in its speed.

It is possible—just possible—that we will as a nation come to our senses and, through a massive reversal in mindset, undo the collectivist trap that we’ve been sliding into, and manage to isolate ourselves from whatever happens in Europe, China, and the rest of the world. But the overwhelming odds are that we will just keep sliding along until it is too late.

Generational Dynamics.
GD explains the cyclical unfolding of history more accurately than prior theories. The flow of generations drives events more powerfully than leaders. As young children, a given generation is widely “imprinted” with the same visceral experiences which color their interpretation of events and animate their actions for the rest of their lives. Generational flow creates and drives our societies, much more powerfully than any leaders that emerge (the generational flow actually shapes the leaders that emerge, and drives the events that carry them, and us, along.)

Example: The generation that experienced the privations of the Great Depression grew up as relatively cautious, frugal, risk-averse adults. As they retired, the organizations they led abandoned their more austere ways, taking more risks, because they did not experience (they were actually sheltered from) large-scale economic and social failures and their consequences.

This explains the sudden rise in the stock markets since 1995, as risky ventures and loose lending practices went mainstream. This led to the creation of ever more risky financial instruments and the massive upswing in government overspending in the past decade, despite the consequences that lay ahead.

The “crash” of 2008 was just a warning of what’s coming—and we haven’t heeded it. If you lost your job and haven’t found equivalent work again, you suffered badly. And the majority of people who did not lose their jobs still lost something—the paper value of their homes, their investments, and confidence in the future. But many of the same practices that led to what was really a mini-crash have either come back or are coming back. Memories are short, and the power of denial is very strong.

I offer a simple example as proof—during the worst recession in decades, filled with warnings of the dire consequences of the already obscene levels of government debt, we accepted without much protest the addition of a new, giant entitlement program, government-run health care. Oh sure, it wasn’t advertised as that, but the majority of Americans are smart enough to see what will happen once the government takes a bite this big out of a major industry. The bill was signed into law in spite of polling that made it very unpopular. If the crash of 2008 had been much bigger, that could never have happened. The real crash, the big one, is still ahead of us.

Don’t bet your future on political change. Participating in political movements, such as the Tea Party, or promoting specific political leaders, may improve things a bit, but are more likely to give you a false sense of security.

If you think we can accumulate enough political power to reset the Social Security retirement age to 80, cancel Medicare, replace the IRS with a flat tax or national consumption tax, remove the federal government’s financial and regulatory control of education, energy, housing, medicine, labor, and agriculture, if you think we can remove the systematic over-regulation of trade by restoring the Commerce Clause to its original intent, then good for you, but I have to say the odds are strongly against it.

An outcome significantly short of that will just delay for a while the inevitable fiscal collapse of the US government, which will take down the rest of our society along with it.

Go ahead and protest, go ahead and campaign for conservative or libertarian candidates, but don’t let it be the only thing you do about our situation, which is increasingly dire.

“Shrugging Out” combines the concepts of Atlas Shrugged and Modern Survivalism. It is an active program for shrinking your support for the Dependency Culture and becoming more independent. Simultaneously, Shrugging Out improves your capability to survive the collapse that is likely coming, and to prosper in the transformed world that will follow the collapse.

“Galt’s Gulch” is not a place you can escape to.
It’s not a place on the map. Any such place would become a target for federal (or even state) authorities. For most of us, Galt’s Gulch won’t even be something as desirable as a family retreat far from the city and its suburbs. For most of us, Galt’s Gulch will be wherever we are right now, because it’s an idea, really, a state of mind. It’s about viewing ourselves and those around us as individuals capable of producing value, and freely trading value for value, based on our knowledge, our skills, and our industry.

The most important modern survival tool is your mind.
The most important “prep” is preparing to be valuable in a radically changed world. You may survive the relatively short chaotic unfolding of the crash, but lose all your possessions—what will you do then? Will you be able to produce value for others so that they will trade with you, or will you depend on charity? Or worse: Will you turn to fraud & theft?

What does it all mean?

I’m doing this show because there are a lot of us who can see what’s going on with the Dependency Culture, collectivism in America, and where it is taking us. We’ve put up with it long enough, and we’re starting to reach the limits of our tolerance. Our power is limited. The Dependency Culture outnumbers us. But ultimately, we do have power over what we choose to do with our lives. They can’t make us pull the oxcart without our permission. In my own small way, I’m giving a voice to those of us who have had enough, and I hope I’m also giving encouragement to people to change their lives, and stop pulling that oxcart, or at least stop pulling so hard.

The path I advocate for you is simple to describe, but difficult to do.

It may seem to be pessimistic, gloom & doom, but I say the alternative is simply naïve, and ultimately nothing more than dangerous, willful denial.

Shrink your desire for gadgets and things. Rethink what is truly valuable, including where you live, the vehicle you drive, the schools your children attend, your belongings, your investment, and anything else that chains you to a life that mainly serves to prop up the dependency culture, and which is destined to fail miserably.

Talk to your friends and neighbors about what they believe, mainly to find those of like mind, or at least open to enlightenment. Don’t just complain about what’s happening—talk with them about the alternative of individualism. Many people have a vague sense of unease but they don’t know the seriousness of the problems we face and what they can do about them. You can help them become enlightened.

Become as independent as you can from today’s Dependency Culture. “Shrug out” as much as you can. Deny the dependency class (and their parasitical elites) the fruits of your productivity and creativity as much as you can. Reserve as much of that for you, your family, and others whom you choose to trade, or to help. Incorporate your own business—start it as a hobby, and make it grow. Develop creative ways of exchanging value with neighbors and friends.

Use the time we have now to develop skills that will be valuable in a much more primitive economic world than we enjoy today. Your day-job today may well become unviable, but a hobby of yours might become suddenly valuable. A broad collection of skills will probably be more helpful to you and your family than a narrow specialty, though a specialty could become quite valuable if it happens to match the circumstances that emerge. What can you do now to prepare yourself for growing, inventing, designing, building, supplying, improving, or protecting what you and others will value?

Make whatever preparations you can that will help you and your family survive the chaos that will reign during the collapse itself. You may at various times need to be cautious or daring, anonymous or visible, passive or aggressive. You may be called upon to do things that you could never have imagined yourself doing, but if they are right and necessary and you can live with yourself afterwards, that’s all you can really demand of yourself.

Through it all, it is the American idea—our individualism, rights from God (not government), personal liberty, responsibility for self-reliance, free trade, the rule of law—that animates what we do. Now that the American idea has been brought to the world and has lived in our hearts for over 200 years, it cannot be extinguished. Not as long as there lives an American who remembers, and believes.

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