Trade War Favors the United States

Thanks to my dad for sending along this piece from stock guru and madman Jim Cramer about the trade war with China.  I’ve been writing a great deal lately about economics (including the “Lazy Sunday IX” and “Lazy Sunday X” compilations), and I share Cramer’s nuanced view of the trade war and Trump’s tariffsGlobalization of capital is not an unalloyed good.

Cramer gives a nuts-and-bolts rundown of this latest round in the trade war with China.  Monday saw a big selloff in the market, as investors panicked about China slapping tariffs on American goods.  As Cramer points out, the biggest loser is Apple, which is also reeling from a loss in the Supreme Court that will allow a class-action monopoly suit to go ahead against the tech giant.

The two other companies that will most be affected are Boeing and Caterpillar.  Cramer points out—as does President Trump—that there is a huge backlog of potential customers waiting to purchase jets from Boeing, and Caterpillar made a deal with the devil, so screw ’em.

Otherwise, the Chinese dragon looks a lot more like a paper tiger.  In addition to blocking imports of liquefied natural gas—like jets, a product that the rest of the world is clamoring to import from the United States—China targeted a laundry list of foodstuffs:

…[W]hen the Chinese unveiled their retaliation list it was pretty pathetic. I am going to list some of them because you are going to know how little ammo they really have. Here’s the guts of the list: beans, beers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rabbit meat, frog legs, almonds, cashews, apples, pineapples, dates, figs, mandarin oranges-mandarin!-hazelnuts, pears, macadamia nuts, whey as in curds and whey although curds aren’t on the list, eggs, butter, pasta, rice, corn, eels, trout, chickens, turkeys, peanuts, cakes, wine, wheat and then here’s some odd ones: televisions, DVRs, and cameras.

Note that those farm products are the necessities of life.  The production of televisions, DVRs, and cameras, as Cramer notes wryly, has been wiped out Chinese competition already, so they’re absurd non sequiturs.

I had a friend lament the collapse of the soybean farmers because of the trade war.  While I sympathize with the farmers, one could be forgiven for thinking this an example of missing the forest for the soybeans.  Someone else will buy the soybeans, and our generous farm subsidies will dull the pain of any major losses.

That’s all to say that soybeans and temporary market disruptions are a small price to pay to restore the American economy and to hobble China’s.  China is a far more serious geopolitical and economic threat than the Russian boogeyman (not to say Russia isn’t a threat), yet we’ve kow-towed to their authoritarian corporatism for decades, with ruinous results.

Yes, some products will cost more.  I spoke with a repair technician about doing some work on an old saxophone, and he said, “Your buddy Trump is why parts are so expensive.  As soon as the trade war started, prices for parts jumped 1000%.”  Based on the value he placed on my pawn shop Noblet, I’m assuming he’s engaging in a bit of genuine hyperbole.

Regardless, the technician lamented the decline of the once-great American instrument-making industry (huge in Elkhart, Indiana), saying that parts are made in China and other countries, with only a few horns still assembled in Indiana.  He mentioned, too, that Gretsch “sold its soul to the devil” as a result of cutting corners and relocating abroad to save costs.

Again, his fixation was on the high price of parts—but those parts could be made here again, at a higher-quality and lower cost.  Elkhart could once again become the global capital of instrument manufacturing, and saxophones wouldn’t be cheap, leaky Chinese toys.

In the short-term, the trade war will be painful for some investors (although Cramer argues that this latest round will calm down as early as today, with investors getting over their textbook-based fear of a Smoot-Hawley Tariff situation), and in the long-term, trade wars tend to produce only losers.

But in the Chinese case, it’s worth some short-term pain, and the disruption of reallocating resources, to regain our economic dominance against China.  Anything we can do to hobble their rise is a net benefit for the United States, East Asia, and the world.

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Lazy Sunday X: Economics, Part II

Last week’s edition of Lazy Sunday—“Lazy Sunday IX: Economics, Part I“—featured four pieces about economics.  As I wrote last week, my thinking on economics has evolved by degrees over the past decade.  To summarize:  I used to think that (mostly) unbridled capitalism could solve most of society’s problems through ever-more-efficient allocation of resources.

Now, I’d argue that capitalism is a great system that should benefit people, but which we shouldn’t worship as a panacea.  Put another way:  we shouldn’t be sacrificing people’s livelihoods and communities on the altar of efficiency.

Naturally, there’s a great deal of room for nuance in that position, and it opens up a tricky question:  who gets to make the decisions that ameliorate some of the excesses and disruptive side effects of capitalism?  What’s the limiting principle at play?

These are important questions, but their difficulty should not lead us to resignation—to worship efficiency by default.  This week’s three pieces are my small contributions to that discussion:

  • TBT: Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism” – this piece dates back to the old TPP website, from the TPP 2.0 Era, and I consider it one of the most important essays I’ve ever written.  Social conservatives are the punching-bag of the modern Right, and the least-respected “leg” of the traditional Republican Party “tripod” coalition between social, economic, and national security conservatives.

    That’s a shame, because without the values of social conservatism, capitalism cannot long endure.  Without traditional morality, capitalism becomes an asset-stripping free-for-all:  employers have no obligation to their employees beyond a crude economic exchange of value; businesses can cheat on contracts when they coldly calculate it’s worth the potential costs; and human life, especially unborn life, is valued in dollars, not spiritual worth.

  • Tucker Carlson’s Diagnosis” – Fox News host Tucker Carlson eloquently and forcefully expressed some of the ideas implied in the previous bullet point in a powerful monologue back in January 2019.  Carlson has become a major paleoconservative voice, one that offers a much-needed counterbalance to the capitalism-as-highest-good mentality dominant in the Republican Party.

    That Carlson’s show is highly popular demonstrates that these ideas have legs politically.  Again, Carlson doesn’t have a beef with capitalism, per se, but believes it should work for us, not the other way around.  This monologue powerfully points out how our elites have thrown the rest of us over the bus, and are enjoying the fruits of their corporatist, globalist schemes.  It’s a must-watch.

  • April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective” – this piece is a bit of a personal essay, looking back to 1 April 2009, the day I found out my teaching contract would not be renewed for another year.  It’s easy to forget how awful the years of the Great Recession were, and how bad the “recovery” was under President Obama.  This piece also serves as a nice counterbalance to the other two:  it shows how important robust economic growth is to sustaining strong societies.  If social conservatism is necessary to foster economic growth, that growth makes it easier for families to gain self-sufficiency (so long as we avoid the easy traps of prosperity).

There you have it—more essays on economics, a field we should consider a human science—part of the humanities—not a cold, deterministic hard science (the essay linked in this sentence, “Economics: A Human Science,” is another strong contender for today’s compilation).

Get out there and hustle!

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Lazy Sunday IX: Economics, Part I

I followed a fairly standard political-philosophical trajectory to where I am now. Back in my salad days, I was a big Milton Friedman fanboy (in many ways, I still am).  His works, particularly Capitalism and Freedom, compelling made the case for many things I already believed, and made me love liberty even more.

I skewed heavily into libertarian territory (without every fully becoming a capital-L Libertarian), and came to believe that, in most cases, free markets could (and, in some golden future, would) solve virtually all of humanity’s problems, as history Whiggishly improved more and more with each passing year.  Efficiency would free humanity from drudgery, and we’d all have plenty.

Indeed, that is, in many ways, the story of the modern West:  greater efficiency and economic fluidity has yielded material wealth unparalleled in human existence.  Capitalism works quite well at alleviating material misery.

But there’s the rub:  as I’ve grown older, gradually amassing a nest egg and hustling constantly, I’ve come to understand that, as nice as material abundance is, it is a false god (as is the neoliberals’ lust for ever-greater efficiency).  Despite our great wealth and our cheap, shiny, plastic baubles from China, America’s are culturally, morally, and philosophically miserable.

So, for the next two Sundays I’ll be featuring posts on economics, a topic I believe should be regarded as one of the humanities, rather than a social science.  I still believe capitalism is the best possible economic system ever devised, and does a great deal to secure liberty for individuals and nations (as Milton Friedman wrote, economic freedom is a necessary precursor to political freedom).  That said, I’ve adopted Tucker Carlson’s formulation that capitalism should work for us, not the other way around.

To that end, here are this week’s pieces on economics:

  • 4.8% Economic Growth?!” – this very short post relaunched this blog.  The TPP 3.0 Era, as I call it, kicked off with my move to WordPress.  It trumpets the incredible growth of the Trump Administration and its economic policies. After years of sluggish “recovery” under President Obama, the Trump Renaissance breathed fresh life into our moribund economy.
  • Q&A Wednesday – Tax Cuts, Trade Wars, Etc.” – I adapted this post from a response I wrote to some Facebook comments from two of my most loyal readers.  It details my evolving views on tariffs—essentially, that instead of opposing nearly completely, I now see their utility.Towards the end of this essay, I address an idea I’ve been kicking around:  that it’s better to subsidize workers through protective tariffs (thereby giving them work, and a sense of purpose) than simply to hand out money or administer costly welfare programs.

    I developed that idea more fully in the next essay on this list.  It goes to the idea that people—and, I would argue, specifically men—derive a great deal of their sense of self from their work.  This understanding is closer to the term vocation than it is merely to “work,” the distinction being that vocation is work that is both productive and fulfilling—it’s work in a higher sense, beyond merely providing for one’s basic needs.

  • The Human Toll of Globalization” – this post was inspired by a lengthy Breitbart piece about the costs of globalization, and is of a piece with the previous essay.  Therein I explored the idea, mentioned directly above, that work is ennobling, and its benefits go beyond a paycheck.  There is a quiet, affirmative satisfaction to doing something and doing it well.  Why else would I blog daily with zero revenue?
  • Global Poverty in Decline” – lest you think I’ve jettisoned the old Friedmanian views completely, this short post—based on a Rasmussen Number of the Day—deals with the decline in global poverty in the last few decades.  That decline is, truly, astonishing.  A good chunk of it came with economic liberalization in China, which has come, in part, at the expense of the United States, but it also reflects the benefits of economic liberty across the globe, particularly in the former Soviet bloc countries.For all the potential moral hazards of excessive material wealth, there’s no denying the inherent morality of a system that prevents starvation, malnutrition, and homelessness, all with only minimal government coercion and interference.  That’s pretty remarkable, and one reason we should be careful to protect capitalism, even as we seek to rein in its more destructive tendencies.

That’s it for this XXL (that’s “Extra-Extra-Large”) edition of Lazy Sunday.  Enjoy!

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Trump’s Economy and 2020

There’s been a spate of good economic news lately, largely thanks to President Trump’s economic policies.  US GPD grew 3.2% for the first quarter of 2019, blowing away economists’ projected 2.5% growth.  Of the 231 companies in the S&P 500 to report their Q1 earnings so far, 77.5% of them have exceeded analysts’ expectationsUS consumer spending increased 0.9% (0.7% when adjusted for inflation) during a quarter that is usually slower after the Christmastime rush.  All of that growth has occurred without a substantial increase in inflation.

That economic news is good for President Trump, but it might not be enough in and of itself.  In better times, any president with those economic numbers would breeze into a second term, but the perception among Democrats (no surprise) and some independents (more troubling) is that the economic growth we’re witnessing isn’t benefiting everyone, but instead favors the rich and powerful.

To be clear, Trump is in a strong position at the moment.  Having emerged battered but unbeaten from the Mueller investigation, he’s bested the greatest existential threat to his presidency.  Construction on the border wall has begun, and even progressive economist Thomas Friedman endorsing a “high wall” on the border.  And loony freshman Congress members like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continue to commit bone-headed, unforced errors.

That said, the scuttlebutt on the Dissident Right is that economic success alone won’t secure Trump’s reelection, and that excessive focus on it might actually alienate the blue-collar workers that delivered Trump victory in 2016.  The general argument is that, unless Trump doesn’t come down hard on immigration, even economic growth won’t save him.

I don’t fully buy this argument, but there might be some truth to it.  When the economy is already good, voters begin looking at other issues more closely.  If a worker loses his job to an illegal immigrant, or if the plant moves to Mexico, it doesn’t matter how good the economy as a whole is doing.

One alarming sign of trouble:  former Vice President Joe Biden and Texan weirdo Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke both are competitive against Trump—in Texas!  Granted, it’s very early in this process—the 2020 election is an eternity away, politically speaking—and the media loves to trumpet Democratic victories in historically deep-red States.  But the situation in Texas, like other border and high-growth States, illustrates the importance of the immigration issue.

A quick summary:  ultra-progressive California taxes and regulates its most productive citizens out of the State, while importing cheap labor illegally (supporting it with sanctuary cities, etc.) so the uber-wealthy Silicon Valley tech titans have gardeners and nannies at slave wages.  Enough Lefties bleed out into Arizona, Texas, and other reddish States with low taxes and good law enforcement.  Those States also struggle with illegal immigration, and are demonized for trying to protect their borders.  The result:  the purpling of Texas.

To clarify:  I think President Trump is well-positioned to win in 2020, especially if the Democrats nominate a wacko or a blatant race-baiter (like Kamala Harris).  He’s got a tougher fight against a perceived moderate like Biden or Pete Buttigieg, but momentum and incumbency are on his side.

Regardless, it is vital that President Trump return to his key campaign promise from 2016:  securing the border.  Not only is that crucial for tapping into the populist discontent that catapulted him into the Oval Office, it’s the only way to preserve the United States we know and love.

TBT: Mark Sanford’s Ideology

Today’s #TBT mines the depths of my 2009 scribblings, during the “TPP 1.0” era of the blog.  Yesterday’s post about the “The State of the Right” got me thinking about how much the state of play has changed in the last decade, particularly since the Trump Ascendancy in 2015-2016.

One example of that change is former Congressman and South Carolina Mark Sanford.  Sanford was the first Republican I ever voted for in a general SC gubernatorial race, and I loved his fiscal conservative grandstanding (he once walked into the General Assembly carrying two piglets under his arms to oppose “pork barrel spending”; he allegedly barbecued the two oinkers later on).

He always took largely principled stands.  He refused to expand Medicare during the worst part of the Great Recession, knowing that once federal dollars were withdrawn, South Carolinians would pick up the tab.  He opposed the seatbelt law (you can now be pulled over specifically for not wearing a seatbelt in South Carolina, whereas before it was only ticketable if you were pulled over for some other infraction), arguing that adults can make their own decisions about their safety, and that traffic officers have enough to deal with already (it has to be difficult to spot through a window).

So, in my youthful naivete, I wrote a letter to my hometown paper, The Aiken Standard, showing my support for Mark Sanford.  He was under intense pressure to accept federal “stimulus” dollars, and when he relented, the opponents who argued he should take the money gleefully noted his inconsistency (a rule here:  the Left will never be satisfied).  Governor Sanford sent me a letter thanking me for the op-ed, which I still have somewhere on my bookshelf.

Then, less than a month or so later, Sanford was caught in a major sexual scandal (and I learned an important lesson about not overly-idealizing political figures).  After disappearing from the State, an aide told the press the governor was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” to clear his head.  A reporter with The State newspaper happened to see Sanford at the Atlanta airport at the time, and within days the whole sleazy story came out:  Governor Sanford had been in Argentina with his mistress (now wife), and his cloyingly sentimental love e-mails to her were blasted all over the news.

Sanford refused to step down as governor—a good call, as snake-in-the-grass, power-hungry, loafer-lightener Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer would have taken over—and finished out his term.  Everyone was sure he was done with politics… until he ran for US Congress for SC-1, his old district during his tenure in the 1990s.

He won against incredible odds.  His opponent, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch (the sister of Comedy Central hack Stephen Colbert), received huge fundraising donations from Democrats all over the country, including from the national party.  Sanford—deprived of his wealthy ex-wife, Jenny Sanford—urged supporters to make homemade yard signs out of plywood, cardboard, or whatever they had around the house.

Outspent 4:1, Sanford won.  He successfully painted his opponent as a hollow stand-in for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and his grassroots, DIY campaigning worked.  Of course, as one of my former students put it, “Jesus could run as a Democrat in that district and lose.”

Sanford returned to Congress for a few terms, then lost in a primary battle against Trumpist Katie Arrington.  Sanford always had one foot firmly planted in the Never Trumper wing of the GOP, and Arrington gobbled up his support in the primary.  She would, unfortunately, end up temporarily wheelchair bound due to a bad car wreck, and lost a very tight race to her Democratic opponent in 2018, a loss that still stings.

That’s enough history lesson for today.  Here is 2009’s “Mark Sanford’s Ideology“:

There has been much discussion lately about Governor Mark Sanford’s resistance to accepting federal stimulus money.  In the face of enormous public and political pressure, the governor has accepted these funds but will exercise considerable authority in determining who gets it.  For the purposes of this letter, I am not interested in whether or not this was the right thing to do.

I am more concerned with how the governor’s opponents have characterized his decisions.  Sanford’s rivals have accused him of political posturing.  Ignoring the vehement protestation against the governor’s actions, I find this interpretation lacking.  While the cynic in me is willing to acknowledge that there might have been an element of posturing to Sanford’s resistance, it seems highly unlikely that this was his only, or even a major, motivator.

His month-long battle against the federal stimulus, however, is much more readily explained by taking a look at his ideology and his record both as governor and as a congressional representative.  Sanford is perhaps the most ideologically consistent politician in contemporary American politics.  Since entering the political arena in 1994, Sanford has been the quintessential Republican; at least, he has been what the quintessential Republican should be.  By this I mean Sanford has sustained an unwavering faith in free enterprise and the free market while also endorsing socially conservative measures.  He is not quite a libertarian, but he has the general ideological bent of Ron Paul when it comes to the economy without the gold standard baggage.

A cursory glance at a website like ontheissues.org demonstrates how consistent Sanford’s ideology is.  In fact, the only inconsistency in his voting over the past 15 years is on affirmative action in college admissions.  While in Congress in 1998, Sanford voted against ending preferential treatment by race in college admissions, but in 2002 he said that affirmative action was acceptable in state contracts but not in colleges.  A closer examination of his voting history in Congress might reveal a few more inconsistencies, but I would wager any additional irregularities would still be far less than the typical congressman.

Regardless, Sanford’s commitment to fiscal conservatism and government accountability is astounding.  Sanford has repeatedly supported term limits (for example, he imposed one on himself while a representative to Congress), a balanced budget, and lower taxes, as well as pushing for choices for citizens in education.  Therefore, if we view Sanford’s struggle against the federal stimulus through the lens of his voting record and his statements as a congressman and governor, it is clear that his position derives from his sincere belief in his ideals.

Whether or not the governor is right is another matter.  That is not the point I want to make.  Agree or disagree, Governor Sanford is not taking a stand for political attention.  He is taking a stand because he believes it is right.  And, after all, isn’t that the important thing?

Symbolism and Trumpism

Blogger photog at Orion’s Cold Fire often links to noteworthy pieces on American Greatness, the premiere blog for the Trumpist Right.  American Greatness does real yeoman’s work to articulate what Trumpian conservatism is.

His American Greatness Post of the Day for this foggy Monday morning is Robin Burk’s “What Trump Understands that Kevin Williamson Doesn’t.”

Kevin Williamson, you’ll recall, is the house globalist/libertarian for National Review (despite a brief, one-article stint at The Atlantic).  In 2016, he infamously wrote that “dysfunctional, downscale communities… deserve to die.”  He argued that communities like Garbutt, New York—a gypsum boomtown in the nineteenth century that ran its course when the gypsum was gone—have outlived their economic usefulness, and its inhabitants should move elsewhere for opportunity.

There is something to this perspective, but, as Tucker Carlson eloquently noted in an exchange with Ben Shapiro, the neoliberal order and its notions of economic mobility are hugely disruptive to communities.  Families are told, essentially, to leave behind their grandparents’ graves, their Little League teams, their memories, in order to work in service to the gaping maw of some efficiency-maximizing corporate conglomerate.

What Trumpism understands is that, while economies are dynamic, they require strong communities and stable families to maintain.  So it is that Robin Burk argues that Williamson’s libertarian approach lacks any sense of a narrative or symbols.  Williamson is testy because Trump is planning a big military parade (and, presumably, because Trump has been a far more effective advocate for conservatism than Williamson’s angry brand of libertarian orthodoxy).  It seems like wasteful agitprop to him.

What Burk explains in her piece, however, is that a common people need some unifying symbols.  That’s why the NFL National Anthem controversy revealed such deep splits in our culture.  It’s why Americans don’t particularly like it when protesters burn the American Flag.  Yes, it’s constitutional, but that doesn’t mean it’s good—and it’s the literal destruction of one of the most unifying national symbols.

Burk’s focus is more on the local, though, and it’s what makes her piece so interesting.  Communities are built between friends and neighbors.  Yes, the mills shutdown, and some people have to move to look for opportunity.  The mills shutting down also mean some people lose their way, and resort to opiates to numb the pain.

But not everyone can or wants to become economic mercenaries, shifting about rootlessly in search of the highest bidder—or just a job, for that matter.  Some folks want to build a life and a community where their ancestors did.

The implication from neoliberal and libertarian types is that, at best, that desire is unrealistic; at worst, it’s bad:  your loyalty should only be to efficiency!  Efficiency is morality!  While I love efficiency as much as the next cog, efficiency-for-its-own-sake is not and should not be our god.

As Carlson puts it (to paraphrase), we shouldn’t work for capitalism; capitalism should work for us.  Burk adds that we need symbols, formed from and interpreted by our individual experiences and memories, to create a society that fosters the good life.

April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

Today is April 1, 2019, popularly known as April Fool’s Day.  It’s a day for good-natured pranking and mirthful fun, a bit like a poor man’s Halloween.

This April Fool’s Day holds a particular resonance for me, however.  It was ten years ago today that, in the midst of the Great Recession, I lost my job.

Technically, my teaching contract was not renewed.  I still had an obligation to finish out the year, which I did as best I could, but I would not be coming back.

I remember it vividly:  my school’s former headmaster told me he wanted to speak with me.  I went into his office, and he told me a few things:  the school was consolidating my classes into fewer sections; the school desperately needed money (the enrollment was around ninety-five kids, and things were so tight they needed the $28,000 going towards my salary); and the economy was not conducive to private school fundraising and tuition.

He told me that, as I’d studied history (he, too, was a history teacher), I knew how these kinds of economic downturns went.  I thought he was mentioning this as a bit of cold comfort, a sort of, “don’t worry, it won’t last long, as you’ll be okay.”  Instead, he continued, saying, “this thing could last an entire decade!”  Yikes!  Way to kick a man when he’s down.

I knew (or, at least, I hoped—the day isn’t over yet!) that I’d never have the opportunity, grim as it was, again, so I said, “Wait a minute—this isn’t just some elaborate April Fool’s joke, is it?”  He said, stone-faced, “I wish it were.”

So, there I was, facing imminent unemployment in the worst job market since the Great Depression, with only one year of teaching under my belt and a Master’s degree in United States Trivia.

We forget, living in the wonderful Trump economy, how hard it was back then.  Jobs were not to be found.  Remember going to gas stations, and people would start polishing your hubcaps against your will so they could sell you the cleaner?  That’s how bad it was—people were hawking hubcap polisher at rural gas stations to try to make ends meet.  “Entry level” jobs required two years of experience, at minimum, which no one fresh out of college plausibly had (unless they’d wisely done some kind of internship or work study).

Fortunately, with some help and coaching from my dad, I landed a job at the City of Sumter, after only three months of formal joblessness.  I was quite fortunate.  I managed the Sumter Opera House, where I learned to run live lights and sound.  I also met some interesting people, including the comedian Gallagher (that used to be an impressive anecdote, but now few people under thirty know who Gallagher is; it’s a shame).  He was an odd bird, which isn’t that surprising, given he made a career out of smashing fruits with a sledgehammer.

That job turned into a grind—remember, if you had a job, you had to do pretty much anything your employer demanded, lest you face termination—but I learned a great deal, and it landed me back at my old teaching gig, under a new headmaster, in 2011.

That experience—being jobless in the Great Recession—left an enduring mark on me.  My first year teaching, I definitely phoned it in.  I worked hard on lectures, of course, but beyond a little club for musicians, I didn’t do much extra.

My first year back in the classroom, in 2011, was completely different.  I was teaching World History, Government, Economics, History of American Popular Music (a course I created), and AP US History.  I had to do prep for all of them.

I was astonished how much American history I’d forgotten since high school and college (a pro-tip:  studying American history in graduate school is more about reading overly-detailed monographs about obscure bits of the story of America; when I took my exams to finish my Master’s, I essentially used information I learned in my eleventh-grade AP US History class).  I would spend hours on Sunday afternoons at the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina writing up lesson plans.

Then, I became the de facto sound guy for school events after a talented tech kid graduated (I named an award after him, which I give to students who assist with our concerts and plays on the tech end).  It’s the ultimate in job security—no one else knows how to do it—but it’s also a major obligation—no one else knows how to do it.

Since then, I’ve grown a decent side hustle teaching private music lessons.  I also teach courses at a local technical college, mostly online, but some face-to-face.  In 2014, I taught Monday-Wednesday evenings, first from 6-7:15, then from 9-10:15 PM.  I’d come home, exhausted, and fall asleep in my recliner.  Thursdays felt like Saturdays because, even though I still had two days at the high school, it was the longest possible point before a grueling sixteen hour Monday rolled around.

I save constantly for retirement—I make the legal annual maximum contributions to my IRA, 403(b), and HSA—and spend very little money.  I still drive the same Dodge Caravan that I’ve had since 2006.  I will occasionally splurge and buy digital piano, but my saxophones are falling apart (literally—my pawn shop alto sax has a key falling off).  I occasionally worry that, on that glorious day when I do retire, I won’t know what to do with myself if I’m not working.

All that said, I have done everything possible to position myself against another recession, bad labor market, etc.  April 1, 2009, seems now like a distant memory, but it could all come back.  I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode where some repo men are repossessing property from a failed Dot Com start-up.  One of them says, “It’s a golden age for the repo business—one which will never end!” as he lights a cigar with a $100 bill.

It’s easy to fall into that mindset.  I’m optimistic for the future, but I’ll never take prosperity or security for granted again.  Constant hustling—booking new gigs, picking up more students, getting more classes, working maintenance on the weekends, leading summer camps, collecting songwriter and publishing royalties—is what it takes.

No foolin’.

More Good News: Tom Rice on the State of the Economy

My Congressman, Tom Rice of SC US House District 7, laid out the incredible impact President Trump and the Republican tax cuts have had on the American economy.  It’s worth taking five minutes to watch his testimony to the Ways and Means Committee of Congress, in which he discusses how dramatically the economy has improved in two years—after ten years of moribund “recovery”:

Congressman Rice gives a shout-out to Florence-Darlington Technical College and its diesel mechanics program, as well as Horry-Georgetown Technical College.  Our education system is a complete mess, but if we can get over our fixation on sending everyone to college, we’re poised to train skilled workers for high-tech manufacturing jobs, which are exploding in demand for qualified employees.

Most notably, he points out that Marion County—the poorest county in South Carolina—has seen its unemployment rate fall from ~9% to a little over 4% in two years.  Marion County is ~56% black, so that directly benefits the quality of life of black Americans in the county.

It’s little wonder that a recent Rasmussen poll put President Trump at a 52% approval rating.  President Trump’s reforms—passing tax cuts, fighting for better trade deals, and slashing regulations—have energized the American economy dramatically.

America’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

Scott Rasmussen, writing for Ballotpedia, reports that 62% of American adults say their dream job is owning their own company.  That’s encouraging news, as it suggests that, despite decades of welfare state decadence, Americans still possess our entrepreneurial spirit.

That spirit has been with Americans going back to the colonial period.  Textbooks tend to focus on the Puritan planting of the Plymouth colony, which was certainly important, but the first permanent settlement in colonial British North America was Jamestown.  That settlement, and the entire colony of Virginia, was founded as a commercial enterprise, the efforts of joint-stock company in England.

French aristocrat and political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in Democracy in America (1840) over two centuries later (during the height of the Jacksonian Era), noted Americans’ keen interest in commercial matters, and the pulsing energy and enthusiasm of always hustling.  He also noted the positive effect of trade upon liberty:

Trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. Trade loves moderation, delights in compromise, and is most careful to avoid anger. It is patient, supple, and insinuating, only resorting to extreme measures in cases of absolute necessity. Trade makes men independent of one another and gives them a high idea of their personal importance: it leads them to want to manage their own affairs and teaches them to succeed therein. Hence it makes them inclined to liberty but disinclined to revolution.

Despite enthusiasm about the idea of starting a business, Rasmussen’s findings show that only 5% of Americans are “very likely to start their own business” in 2019, while 11% are somewhat likely.

Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see that the desire to hustle is prominent among Americans.  The economic mojo of the Trump economy no-doubt improves Americans’ optimism (although I should note that many Americans started businesses during the Obama stagcovery, albeit for a different reason—they couldn’t find work).  That optimism likely fuels some desire to get in on the action.

On a personal note, I will say that even I, a high school teacher—teaching being a job uniquely suited to the risk-averse in general—have caught this bug (don’t worry, loyal readers—I’m not going to try to sell you massage oils with untested healing properties).  I’m excited to expand some of my side-hustles in 2019, including writing, performing live music, and teaching private lessons.

Regardless of how those pan out, the thrill of applying effort towards ones passions is exhilarating.  What could be more American?