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:

The Decline of Religion in America

A frequent topic of this blog is religion, specifically Christianity, and its influence on American society and Western Civilization.  Many of the problems we face as a nation are the result not only of bad government policy or dangerous ideologies, but are metaphysical and spiritual in nature.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (KJV)

As such, two pieces caught my eye this week, both dealing with the decline of religion in the West generally and the United States specifically.  One is from Dissident Right blogger Z Man, “Religion Versus Capitalism“; the other is a syndicated column by Daniel Davis, “America is Still Highly Religious, So Why Do We Keep Liberalizing?”  Both offer different answers to the question posed by the latter question.

For Davis, the problem is that, while Americans are more religious than our European counterparts, and that we say we want a greater role for religion in society, our theology is bad—infected (my term) by the social justice and Cultural Marxist platitudes of our age.

Americans embrace “feel-good Christianity,” what I call the “Buddy Christ” version of our faith:  Jesus was just a cool hippie who wanted everybody to love each other, man.  In this distorted version of the Gospel, sin isn’t a grave threat, but simply “missing the mark”—you’ll do better next time, kiddo.  Keep practicing sinning and eventually you’ll hit that mark!

(I’ve actually heard this argument from some Evangelical preachers, mostly of the hip, non-denominational type.  They get so caught up in the root of the word “sin” as “missing the mark” in the context of target practice, they inadvertently give blanket license to sin, as grace is abundant, so God will forgive you—an early heresy that the Apostle Paul addressed directly.  “Missing the mark” trivializes the gravity of sin, making it sound like “oops! My bad!”  If the “mark” is righteousness, then missing the mark is pretty serious.)

Davis points out the pitfalls of this “feel-good Christianity,” and our propensity to make God fit our worldview, instead of us trying to accept and embrace His:

What we have in America is a radical separation of God from “reality”—the real world that we claim to live in. It’s not that we reject “God” per se, but we reject a God who comes with a certified worldview package—a God who orders the universe, sets moral norms, defines our being, and binds our consciences to a moral code in this world—today.

We’ve kept God, but jettisoned the traditional package.

The problem is, this is almost the same as rejecting God completely. If believing in God has no impact on the way we view realities in this world—whether they be gender, marriage, or who counts as a person worthy of dignity and respect—then what God are we even worshipping?

Could it be that the atheists are right when they accuse us of worshipping a God of our own making?

Davis also links to a website, The State of Theology, which highlights the disconnect between professions of faith and what Christians—including Evangelicals!—actually believe.  Part of the problem is “feel-good” theology, but a big part is simple biblical ignorance.  Americans pay lip service, according to The State of Theology, to core precepts of Christianity, but don’t seem to understand them at a deeper level or apply them to their daily lives.

Z Man—who I believe is Catholic and Catholic-educated, though he stated in one podcast that he hasn’t been to church in years—approaches the problem from a different angle.  He argues, essentially, that the proliferation of capitalist materialism is at odds, fundamentally, with Christianity and other religions, and the West has embraced materialism as its true faith.

He also links the decline of religion to a decline in fertility rates, and notes that as nations have become more integrated in the global economy, they’ve become less religious and less fertile.  There are myriad possible explanations for declining birthrates in developed societies, but Z Man’s theory is intriguing.  As material wealth increases and the profit motive becomes the “highest good,” religiosity declines.  With the decline of traditional religious values comes less of an emphasis on family formation.

For Z Man, the problem is that we worship materialism—he argues that libertarianism is the irrational, passionate “religion” of capitalistic materialism—in place of God.  To quote his piece at length:

In a system where the highest good is a profit, then all other considerations must be secondary. Lying, for example, is no longer strictly prohibited. The seller will no longer feel obligated to disclose everything to the buyer. The seller will exaggerate his claims about his product or service. Buyers, of course, will seek to lock in sellers into one way contracts based on information unknown the other seller. The marketplace, at its most basic level, is a game of liar’s poker, where all sides hope to fool the other.

Religion, in contrast, also assumes certain things about people, but seeks to mitigate and ameliorate them. Generally speaking, religion assumes the imperfection of man and sees that imperfection as the root cause of human suffering. While those imperfections cannot be eliminated, the negative effects can be reduced through moral codes, contemplation and the full understanding of one’s nature. Religions, outside of some extreme cults, are not about altering the nature of man, but rather the acceptance of it.

I would argue that capitalism does not necessarily lead to liars—how do you build business if you gain a reputation for dishonesty?—but capitalism definitely needs the traditionalism of orthodox religion to work for long.  In the absence of the moral framework that socially and religiously conservative values supply, capitalism can easily become an orgiastic free-for-all of mendacious exchanges and swindling.

Indeed, China’s autocratic capitalism is a prime example of a state using the mechanism of capitalism in a moral vacuum to aggrandize its own power.  Wags and particularists will argue that China’s system is not true capitalism, but rather a corporatist perversion, which is certainly accurate—but the United States has its share of cronyistic arrangements.  To be clear, there is a world of difference separating China’s increasingly totalitarian brand of corporatism and America’s more mundane system of well-heeled lobbyists, but the Chinese example clearly demonstrates what happens when you value pure materialism at the expense of everything else.

While I don’t completely accept Z Man’s analysis, I do think he makes a solid point.  Christians should never subvert true faith in Christ to the false god of capitalist materialism.  Indeed, such faith is merely the more benign face of a two-sided Marxist coin.

Both unbridled libertarianism and full-throated Communism are premised on a materialist worldview that discounts the metaphysical.  The former allows religion to exist as a largely private, subjective concern, so long as it doesn’t get too insistent about its truth claims.  The latter seeks to destroy any loyalty to anything other than the state—or the “Party,” or “Dear Leader,” etc.  The former is certainly preferable to the latter, but both ultimately will leave followers unfulfilled.

The Church—Orthodox, Catholic, High Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, etc.—needs to commit itself fully to foundational biblical Truth.  We should be reading and debating Augustus and Aquinas, not to mention the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles.  Preachers need to move beyond the mega-church formula of glossy advertising campaigns, Sunday morning rock concerts, and blandly inoffensive, pop-culture-laden sermons.

Instead, unabashedly proclaim the Gospel.  Denounce abortion from the pulpit.  Call out homosexuality.  Call out radical Islamism and progressivism as the existential threats they are to Western Civilization.  Deus Vult!

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.

Painting

Tonight’s post is one of those self-indulgent entries that has little bearing on what’s happening in the world today, but it’s germane to why this post is so late to arrive.

I spent the day painting in my brother’s finished basement.  He and his wife have this great living area/playroom for their kids down there, but there was a great deal of trim work that needed painting, as well as baseboards.

I spend many of my summers working maintenance at school, which usually involves painting classrooms.  There’s something about slapping a fresh coat of paint on a room that makes it look like there have been major upgrades or improvements, when really you’ve just changed the color.

Of course, everyone loves that fresh paint smell, and new paint does look good.  A change in color can dramatically change the atmosphere of a room—it’s “feel,” if you will.

This post, however, is more about the process of painting.  While I am thankful I do not have to paint for a living, it is an activity that I enjoy on occasion, usually because I’m getting paid to do it (as was the case today—thanks, bro).  Beyond the financial benefits, the act of painting is akin to driving long distances on the Interstate:  it’s a bit tedious, but it clears the mind wonderfully.  I’ve done some of my deepest thinking done while painting walls.

There’s also a tangible pay-off to painting:  the finished product is very satisfying.  What’s more, the process itself is rewarding, as you watch your progress unfold in real time.  There is little in the way of “busy work” in painting a room.

So many jobs today, especially of the clerical sort, seem to be about spinning wheels in an attempt to appear productive.  I’m convinced that huge sectors of our economy consist of such paper-pushing.  Just look at the excessive credentialing that underpins so many fields, like education, without tangibly improving the quality of the professions.

In painting—as in my blue-collar trades—there is little room for such wheel-spinning.  The job either gets done, or it doesn’t.  Unreliable contractors baffle me for this reason (and they are common in the rural South, as I suspect demand drastically outstrips supply), although the problem there is usually getting the project started.

Regardless, the job must be done.  If it’s not done, it’s noticeable, especially when painting.  A missed spot on the wall is like starting at the pirates’ black spot in your hand.

Of course, painting takes its toll.  My entire body is sore from bending and stretching all day (I was switching between trim on the ceiling and baseboards on the floor, as well as some window trim and door frames).  Anecdotally, I’m told that many professional painters are drunks.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve heard it from enough different people that there must be some kernel of truth to it.  What’s the connection?  (Apparently, paint fumes, but that’s not a huge problem, I’ve found, with latex paint in well-ventilated areas.)

That said, I will sleep soundly tonight, and enjoy a sense of serene accomplishment.  Painting today was a wonderful way to refocus my mind and to help me calm down after a busy, extended Easter Weekend.

Happy Wednesday!

–TPP

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’.

Americans Support America First Agenda

A quick Saturday night post:  a Harvard/Harris Poll (PDF), according to Breitbart, suggests there is substantial support for an “America First” agenda.  Such an agenda places the government’s priority as protecting American citizens first and foremost, and includes enforcing immigration laws, pushing for fairer trade via tariffs, and ending open-ended foreign wars.

I’ve written about the rise in economic nationalism before, including a detailed case study from BreitbartTucker Carlson’s 3 January 2019 monologue is probably the best defense of an “American First” agenda I’ve ever heard.

Economic nationalism dovetails with immigration in that enforcing immigration laws—and deporting illegal immigrants—would drive up wages for workers domestically.  I would also argue that a moratorium on most legal immigration for at least a decade would probably be prudent, to facilitate assimilation.

And, as painful as they would be, mass deportations of any illegal alien, regardless of criminal record, would do much to remove the un-assimilated, and to dissuade further incidences of border hopping.

It seems a good portion of Americans agree with at least some of these assessments.  Here is a quotation from the Breitbart piece on the poll:

Across racial lines, the vast majority of white Americans, 79 percent, and black Americans, 75 percent, said they would support a candidate who said they wanted an immigration system that benefited American citizens, rather than foreign nationals.

Similarly, more than 6-in-10 voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate in an election that spoke of the national “emergency with the savage MS-13 gang” that has been largely due to the country’s mass illegal and legal immigration system that has been supported by Republicans, Democrats, the open borders lobby, Wall Street executives, and corporate interests.

It’s encouraging to see solid support for an America First agenda, even if that doesn’t always translate to love for President Trump himself.  It does suggest, however, that if he sticks to his original campaign promises—as he has largely done—he is poised to do well in 2020.