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August 31, 2007

Florida, a Short History

Michael Gannon – 9780813026800

What did you say? Four years after the re-release of this little volume you [meaning me] finally got around to reading it. Yep. Thaz-rite!

Now I know why . . . or at least I have an excuse. It is indeed short, but it is primarily a review of demographics and politics with a few little vignettes thrown in, such as orange grove freezes, hurricanes, etc. It occurs to me that the “Dean of Florida History” could have done considerably better.

Disappointing would be a kind word for this work. Further, for such a brief digest he manages to repeatedly mention how dismally blacks were treated without mentioning how much things have improved; how blacks were kept out of all save one college during a time when this was universal across the south; how they were re-enslaved in the turpentine camps and other trades and mentions the mini-pogrom in Rosewood in 1923, along with another.

Now, I have no objection to this history being revisited repeatedly to remind of how unjust the U.S. was prior to the peaceful, sensitizing mini-revolt led by Martin Luther King, but it seems to me over the top to dwell on this type of event to the exclusion of all others.

He minimizes some factoids regarding blacks, slipping them in between other data: e.g. over 50% of blacks owned their own farms beginning shortly after the civil war, and continuing thereafter. It seems fair to have been given a little more prominence, especially since the incidence of white ownership was only 10% higher.

I almost forget to mention--but then he did, too--the Seminole War(s). In what he describes as one of the “darkest chapters” of Florida history he recants the second war (no mention of the first and third). This war of genocide warrants two whole paragraphs, occupying nearly two-thirds of a page. In fairness, however, he did include a full page picture of Osceola!

Anyway, if you’re a political junkie it’s probably worth the hour or two it takes. But if you’re interested in more interesting historic vignettes I’d recommend the three volume series: Florida’s Past, by Gene Burnett. It is an anthology of his columns written over 30 years; a great bathroom read encompassing 500 word columns about the lumbering trades, crooked bankers and miscreant land developers, inventors and other noteworthy Floridians, making cigars in Tampa, hunting alligators in the swamp, etc. Put it down any time, pick it up again and open it anywhere. Continuity isn’t intended. It’s just fun to read, and especially for things about which you’d never willingly read more than 500 words, and it might suggest to you subjects you’d wish to explore in greater detail.

Equally good are Jeff Klinkenberg’s columns, also archived in three separate books over the years, the most recent being Seasons of Real Florida; and don’t forget Carl Hiaasen, whose most recent accrual is Kick Ass.

Posted by respeto at 10:49 AM

August 21, 2007

Economics in One Lesson

Henry Hazlitt – ISBN – 9780517548233

This is an accidental review . . . sort of. For several years I have been having ad hoc discussions—more correctly described as pleasant arguments—with a little old lady who frequents my shop. Sooner or later they revolve around economics, or rather her total ignorance of it. In her late 80’s she remains an inveterate if wholly uninformed altruist who makes decisions and forms opinions altogether without foundation. Woman’s intuition don-cha-no?

Hence I finally became frustrated enough to purchase the book as a gift for her with the proviso that she actually read it. Having not read it myself for at least two decades I decided to do that first.

It was then that I decided that all of you should be reminded to read it as well! Without doubt it is the best primer of economics ever written and remains in print 50 years after initial publication and 30 years after last updated. Adjust the dollar values of his examples and it remains a treatise which best explains the essence of economics to any lay reader with an I.Q. near ideal refrigerator temperature.

Throughout he challenges the willing role of government in areas it is neither needed nor has expertise. He explains that much of government means only increased taxes taken from more productive uses within the economy. The principal difficulty with individual understanding of this and other problems, he notes, is what is forgone . . . what is not done with the funds extorted by government for its own and usually unwise purposes.

His favorite all purpose example is the “broken window”: a shopkeeper with a window broken by a malefactor. While not good, per se, it is nevertheless results in economic activity for the sand pit operator, glass maker, transporter and glazier, all of whom profit by the replacement of the window. What is always overlooked is that the money spent to replace the window would not simply disappear. Had the shopkeeper the money he would have used it to buy a sweater. groceries, or something else of comparable value—perhaps even saved--thus providing profit for others. In the latter case(s) it would have been more productive than simply replacing what had already existed. Were the former case logical, then a state of perpetual destruction of the extant would provide wealth to all. Continuous wars, anyone?

Most all of his examples are that clear
, including positions against minimum wages, equal pay, credit, rent control, tariffs, governmentally fixed prices, etc. His arguments are devastatingly accurate and logically uninfringeable, which is why the book is so phenomenally caustic for received wisdom. He literally destroys the myths of “beneficial” government pensions, subsidies, make work projects, government welfare and monopolies, amongst many others.

He disputes the postulate that labor unions have raised wages, except perhaps temporarily for members, and insists and explains that the primary cause of increased wages and improved working conditions has been the creation of capital, and the increase in productivity. Even child labor was eliminated by the increased wages which permitted a man to support his family by himself. While he is not against unions, he rails against violence perpetrated by unions to enforce strikes or to intimidate employers and recalcitrant union members. To the extent that wages are increased they are cancelled out by the inflation they cause, inflation being just another form of taxation.

Only increased productivity increases wages. Profits are produced by the introduction of economies and efficiencies which reduce production costs and the largest profits inure to those firms which have achieved the lowest cost of production. Not incidentally they also pay the highest wages . . . without unions!

Virtually all of the wealth of the modern world, and everything that distinguishes it from the pre-industrial world of the 17th century consists of its accumulated capital. The steady reduction of unit costs of production by the addition of new capital reduces the costs of goods to consumers and/or increases the wages of the labor that employs the new equipment by increasing the productive power of that labor.

The section on governmental loans and subsidies emphasizes that government undertakes to support those activities “which private markets will not.” In so doing the government heavily taxes successful private businesses to support failing ones. Private capital is not nutty enough to risk these loans because of the all but certain loss of capital. As a result the country’s economy is lessened by that capital wasted by government risking the inane or the unproductive.

Another nugget is his clarification on saving, explained as just another format for spending. What is put in the bank or otherwise invested is used by others to generate additional capital (see above) and repaid with interest, providing ample passive return as profit to the investor. Spendthrifts, it’s true, provide employment and comfort for so long as their funds last, but savers provide ever increasing capital flows to the economy in perpetuity.

He offers clear explanations of profit margins as opposed to gross profit—currently a big debate with high oil prices—and indicates that the term profiteer is a pejorative term, but, has anyone ever heard of a wageer? In what way are they different? Somehow wages are acceptable but profits are not. Profits, after all, are the primary determining factor in guiding production: what and how much, indeed, even if! (Unless it is demanded by government.)

Government, he remarks, “always and everywhere tends to assume that production will go on automatically, no matter what is done to discourage it.” Untrue!

Would that he were still alive to dispute the current buzz encouraging “government investments” in the future, or mandates for health insurance which price it out of the reach of so many Americans. I’d find irresistible his predictably disparaging discussion of corn based ethanol and government support of this feeble-minded approach to our energy problems.

Arguments against governmental folly, no matter how logical, are derided because, as the old saw goes: My mind is made up. Don’t bother me with the facts.

Virtually all government attempts to redistribute wealth tend to smother productive incentives and lead toward general impoverishment. It is the proper sphere of government to create and enforce the framework of law which prohibits force and fraud, but it must refrain from specific economic intervention. The primary problem, he emphasizes, is not economic but political.

“When Alexander the Great visited the philosopher Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for him, Diogenes is said to have replied: ‘Yes, stand a little less between me and the sun.’ It is what every citizen is entitled to ask of his government.”

It is a breezy read, easily understood, and ought to be required reading for every high school student along with anyone else who hasn’t read it.

Posted by respeto at 11:23 AM

August 15, 2007

White Guilt

How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era
Shelby Steele – ISBN – 9780060578633

Left or Right, Black or White, this book is required reading. If you want to understand black power, affirmative action and the racial dilemma in which we now find ourselves, you must read this succinct masterpiece.

Ordinarily when I read a book I plan to review I use the mini-post-its to mark issues I want to include. This 180 page book is festooned with 97 little flags! No way to touch on all of that.

Steele begins by reviewing the civil rights movement, and explains his meditation over what went wrong. He describes his passage thru black power to his authentically “conservative” status. He draws the stunning conclusion that White Guilt and exploitation of that guilt is the cause, whether it be by the conniving, race-bating, “keep-em on the plantation” folks from Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton, or well-intentioned white liberals who refuse to see the product of their endeavors, or to accept that they have assumed a paternalistic attitude toward blacks which is not all that different from slave times.

Under the leadership of M.L.K blacks won their freedom—and became visible as individual humans--only to surrender it to black power and reconsideration of themselves as members of a race rather than individuals free of racial considerations. From “black studies” to affirmative action he demonstrates how damaging this really is to the progress of the black population.

For centuries blacks have been required to be responsible without accruing any of its benefits. Now they are encouraged to be irresponsible as they suffer no consequence. Liberals ask: how can you ask them to be responsible for pulling themselves up? They need help. By acquiescing to liberal ministrations they are again placed in their former degrading and dependent situation. “Blacks have constructed a political identity with no purpose beyond manipulation of white guilt.” Self esteem is awarded rather than earned.

Whites, in acknowledging slavery and subsequent black oppression, authored the destruction White supremacy. As well, however, they destroyed the moral authority vested therein. A vacuum created which left no place for moral choice. Instead of resting upon the good will of decent people who had acknowledged the brutality of the past, it depended on fear of being called racist.

The power to shame, silence and muscle concessions from society on the basis of past victimization has become the new “black power.” This militant inferiority assumes the continuing inferiority of the people it claims to represent.

Yet black achievements in music and sports have demanded full responsibility, making no concessions. These artists and athletes are engaged in the mainstream and succeeding. So why is there a need for help in other areas? More importantly, why is there no demand for responsibility in other areas?

Western societies were indeed racist and imperialistic, but they were also the centers of a great civilization. When white supremacy was delegitimized, whites did not simply lose the authority to practice racism. Lost, as well, was their authority to stand proudly for the values and ideas that made the West a great civilization despite its many evils. The loss of moral authority went too far the other way. “After America admitted to what was worst about itself, there was not enough authority left to support what was best.”

Coterminous with this the baby-boomers prevailed as they humiliated their parents for being insensitive, and part of the problem of acquiescence to the status quo. This was a devastating loss to society. As white guilt weakened America’s moral authority youthful rebellion represented a further challenge that authority and its societal institutions. Change for the sake of change became the norm. Boomers forsook such authority, despite the good it has done, and they served up a rich menu of social and moral contradictions and hypocrisies with which to hammer away at the moral authority of mature American society. Unique in world history, the impoverished, hormonally driven, inexperienced, altruistic young were in charge of the asylum without adult supervision. They still are. They, too, benefit from white guilt, and have undertaken to invent America all over again. And they have failed!

And now we have “A society . . . which lacks [even] the authority to ask its most brilliant, wealthy, and superbly educated minority students to compete freely for college admission with poor whites who lack all these things;” one in which the post-sixties liberalism again adheres to a hierarchy of whites over blacks. Worse, it views this as a virtue, granting these new men superiority because of their enlightenment.

And, then, there’s Bill Cosby, amongst others, who has had enough, and is chastised for it by many blacks. There’s also the rightist cadre including O’Reilly, Limbaugh, etc. who rail against these ineffective approaches, but are censored by the Left. Much of what they say is true and the Left is frightened by the fact that it is.

“The problem is that the dissociational left destroys the principles that would realize its goals, and the right lacks the moral authority to enforce those selfsame principles.” The result is impotence.

You might also read a permutation of this argument presented in a superb and challenging column which you can read by pasting this address into your search engine: http://www.thernstrom.com/pdf/National%20Review%20Online_May10_2006.pdf

Posted by respeto at 4:27 PM