…and take all our separate planets with us

If you’re going to declare someone else to be insane, your diagnosis will be easier to credit if it’s not couched in absurdities.  Here’s the conclusion of Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post today at The Weekly Standard blog:

The outpouring  of condemnation from Europe—so outsized, so hypocritical, so ready to ignore the plain truths evident in the videos of the incident, so ready to pounce on embattled Israel—truly does reveal a world gone mad—the headline of  a Jennifer Rubin post over at Contentions. One hopes that we are not yet in 1939. But we are unquestionably somewhere in the 1930s, a decade in which few and lonely voices were willing even to recognize the looming catastrophe.

One typical symptom of insanity is the inability to distinguish between metaphor and reality, often joined to an insistence that others operate on the same basis.  For that reason, psychologists sometimes attempt to enter a schizophrenic’s world, where the aliens “really” are controlling the world’s oil supply via satellites whose signals sometimes interfere with the microchips surreptitiously implanted above all of our shoulder blades.

There is one thing that in my own schizo-reality is very clear:  We are not “unquestionably somewhere in the 1930s.”  I think we’re pretty much unquestionably somewhere in 2010, at least according to the Gregorian calendar (we use that one on my planet).

The current predicament of the world may bear some similarities to the 1930s, or offer some disturbing parallels, and my argument is not that the world has reacted, to say the least, very well to the flotilla incident or more generally to Israel’s strategic predicament or to the challenge of countries like Turkey under significant social, economic, and political pressure.  The dangers are great, but that’s the human condition, and, if we have any say in our fates at all, then maybe it’s worth remembering that the distance between “looming catastrophe” and “self-fulfilling prophecy” is not scientifically measurable.

The problem for those who are not already thoroughly persuaded by Schoenfeld’s case, or who aren’t transfixed by images of Winston Churchill peering back from the bathroom mirror, is that ever since the real 1930s, the current predicament of the world has always been somewhere close to 1939 in the eyes of conservatives.  We’re always preparing for Munich, or coping with the latest one, just as for the liberal left we’ve been somewhere in the early ’60s ever since the early ’60s.   Before then, and especially before 1939, we were perpetually in the 1910s – on the verge of a totally irrational and unnecessary, unimaginably horrific and inexpressibly wasteful cataclysm…

Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that both sides are equally right.  On the good side, it’s absolutely certain that both sides are, unquestionably, wrong.

It doesn’t help the efforts to arrive at and clearly analyze an adequately social and consensual reality to entertain this kind of presumption from Doctor Zero at the HotAir Greenroom:  “The central flaw in Western liberal foreign policy is the naïve belief they can construct a civilization without enemies.”  In my view, the central flaw in conservative critiques of “Western liberal foreign policy,” assuming there is such a thing, is the naïve belief that conservatives have even begun to understand what it is they are criticizing.  For some writers, those who never seem to encounter a generalization about the other side that’s too demeaning (and too self- and audience-flattering), falling victim to this latter naïvete is a constant danger.

I’ve known many liberals – as well as leftists, far leftists, anarchists, Greens, and so on – in my time on my version of planet Earth, and Doctor Zero has not managed to describe any of them.  Some, typically the young and more idealistic utopians and revolutionaries, may hold out the hope that someday humankind will leave war behind, in part because war in the industrial and nuclear age is something that a sane, serious, and morally responsible person will strive to the utmost to avoid.  I’m ready to forgive liberals for hoping and believing that we can and must avoid the worst, not to mention the second-, third-, and fourth-worst.  We may think that some have gone too far or are always ready to do so, that they are intoxicated by some Kantian vision of perpetual peace or too much preference for the Sermon on the Mount over the Revelation of John, secularized or not, but the grown-ups on the liberal left – there are more than a handful, I believe – are starkly aware of the fact that a world without enemies is not the world they live in or are likely to live to see.  Their consciousness of a world full of enemies and potential enemies is a large part of what motivates them.  Maybe that even all adds up to the central strength of “Western liberal foreign policy” (things work like that on my planet a lot).  
Maybe those lefties just live in a separate world from Doctor Zero and Gabriel Schoenfeld.  Like the man sang, we’ll all go together when we go…


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77 comments on “…and take all our separate planets with us

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  1. You seem to be objecting to common reference points, or commonplaces, and the use of shorthand in making an argument–as if we can ever do without those rhetorical devices. We will always frame current events in terms of past ones, and trying to figure out whether it’s “1939” or only “1935” might seem bizarre from the outside, but it is used to measure to trajectory of tyranical advance and Western self-abasement. If it inevitably misses something, other events can be introduced to frame other features of the situation, or to counter this framing. But claiming that those who use these frames take them literally constructs a straw man.

    As for “Western liberal foreign policy,” I don’t know about all the leftists you’ve known, but I read leftist publications like The Nation, Mother Jones, and others for many years, along with more scholarly versions of the same viewpoint, and I have no doubt that we can open one of them pretty much at random and find a discussion of war or militarism assuming that conflicts between nations are the result of material inequities and/or attempts by ruling classes (or “elites”) to “deflect” attention from their own depradations upon the people. And such an assumption easily leads to the conclusion that if we did away with material inequities and “elites” we would also do away with war. So Dr. Zero’s claim is a simplification, but a sufficiently accurate one.

  2. @ adam:
    Nope – GS said it is unquestionably the 1930s. He didn’t say like the 1930s or parallels with the 1930s.
    As far as it goes, your description of the leftist press contradicts your own claim, and Zero’s. Of course, I can’t speak to your generalizations, but even what you say indicates the existence of real enemies, maybe different ones – maybe Bushitler was one of them, I can’t say. The mainstream left, for instance, continues to finance a tremendously expensive military. There’s certainly a desire not to accept as an eternal the enmity of a Chavez or an Ahmadinejad, but a simple recognition that they act as enemies (for someone like Danny Glover or Sean Penn, on the other side, that’s even a good thing) is not beyond your everyday lefty.

  3. Let see we have Iran building at least two bombs, being run by a cross
    between Greg Stillson and Jack Bauer, with a war cabinet headed by
    a fellow advisor to Islamic militias, willing to deploy force as far away
    as Argentina. You have the fellow in N. Korea, living up to his caricature from Team America, the Russian bear arming the former and
    probing it’s old Imperial stomping grounds, West and Southeast. An administration that is at best ‘inattentive’ toward all these threats

  4. And I don’t know how President Drone Strike’s tactics square with a disbelief in present enemies, or where a mainstream liberal Democrat has recently spoken of complete world disarmament, world government, or some of the other dreams that used to be much more commonly discussed among visionary progressives. Maybe you can enlighten me, or provide a quote from your reading of MJ or THE NATION. Seriously.

  5. @ narciso:
    Right, and even by 1941 we still had military that was marching with broomsticks instead of rifles and stovepipes instead of mortars. There were no nuclear weapons, of course. That’s just an iddy-biddy taste. The differences are as important as the similarities. Maybe nuclear forces and aircraft carriers are like the Maginot Line. Or maybe the character of conflict in the 21st Century is radically different.

  6. We’re looking at Future History right, well the entitlement pressures combined with the administration’s predilictions make the future situation very unpredictable. We’re slated to be out of Iraq, to start
    pulling out of Afghanistan, starting next fall. We’re slashing our long term air defenses, while China for one, is building up their forward posture in the area. In Hindsight, the signers of the Washington Conference of Naval Power were somewhat naive

  7. @ adam:
    You made me realize something I wanted to say – and I’ve added it to the top post: That this supposed central flaw may be, or be attached to, what is in fact the central strength of WLFP, or in any event its indispensability.

  8. Nothing ever parallels the past but it can track uncomfortably close to past events on a general line and in that case I will forgive the author his perhaps overly simplistic analysis that suggests the western democracies seem to be sticking their heads in the sand because it is too difficult to either believe directly what our enemies say in broad daylight, or what our current leaders predominently say about nuclear disarmament when one nation just torpedoed another nation’s ship and the other one has promised to wipe little zion off the face of the planet.

    But hey, I work in the world of HR where we have to deal with the fact that all the fairy dust rules and laws don’t mean a hill of beans to most employees and just work to keep bad employees on the job with a gun to their employer’s head.

    But, its all good – the fact that you have taken the exact opposite argument on progressives by giving the term a definition you are comfortable with, one that they never used for themselves, that’s fine.

    Guess what – I do believe in evil, and I believe it works to obtain power at all costs in order to lord over the rest of us. I find the parallels between now and the pre WWII era rather scary, your phrase – “Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that both sides are equally right. On the good side, it’s absolutely certain that both sides are, unquestionably, wrong.” – sounds like a world unwilling to confront what is facing them in the face. I believe if you read enough British and French pre WWII history you will notice your comment paraphrased by most of the leading political figures, to a populace that did want to believe them for very understandable reasons. The difference is that the leaders had information that the population did not. Hey, but what’s 50 million dead between friends, right.

    To FDR’s credit, he understood that.
    Had he not quietly begun the mobilization effort who knows what might have happened in Europe.

  9. There are outliers like Schoen and Caddell, who seem pretty sensible, but it’s fairly easy to find liberal spokesman, who seem addicted to
    the ‘Yes but” caveat school of argument. In practice, they are loath to engage in any military operation, or even measures like exploring our won energy that makes us less dependent on unstable foreign resources

  10. To FDR’s credit, he understood that.
    Had he not quietly begun the mobilization effort who knows what might have happened in Europe.

    Is FD “Unconditional Surrender” Roosevelt not also “Western Liberal Foreign Policy”? Truman? JFK and Johnson?

    In practice, they are loath to engage in any military operation

    And conservatives aren’t? You sure you want to stand on that one?

    to a populace that did want to believe them for very understandable reasons.

    Different from ours. In my estimation the American populace is much more comfortable with war and intervention, accustomed to involvement around the world than still-isolationist America of the 1930s. This goes to the “it’s 1935” argument more than to the WFLP argument.

    But I have a basketball game to finish watching…

  11. @ CK MacLeod:
    You don’t serious believe that GS thinks he is time traveling, do you–saying “it’s definitely the 30s” is equivalent to a coach or broadcaster saying “it’s definitely crunch time”–it doesn’t mean he thinks he’s in a garbage truck.

    Of course the Left has enemies and hates them passionately. It’s enemies are those who delay the dream of a world without enemies–those who believe you can divide the world into good and evil rather than privileged and oppressed; or those who think pride, envy, overconfidence, conflicting interests and a host of other ineradically human motivations will always set humans at odds with each other in potentially violent ways. You can’t tell me, can you, that you’ve never heard a Leftist say that the cause of war is that we set up dichotomies like “friend/enemy” in the first place?

    If it really comes down to it, I could force myself to read The Nation again; but, as a show of good faith, before I subject myself to such torture, why don’t you give me an example of a lefty who refers, in an unqualified manner, to Chavez or A-jad as enemies?By “unqualified,” I mean without something like “but of course they are responding to our provocations.”

  12. Talking about the 1930s means talking about anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism, the child of anti-Semitism, is the glue that holds the Marxist-Islamic Alliance together. There is no other reason that North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran are the best of friends.
    Andrei S. Markovits, writing in the Winter 2005 issue of DISSENT, said that anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism were a commonality of all lefts.
    Hitler’s anti-Semitism was quite counter-productive, since he needed scientists and loved music, but drove Jewish scientists and musicians out of Germany. His decisions about giving priority to using railroads to transport Jews to Auschwitz over supplying his beleaguered soldiers in 1944 showed how idealistic and selfless he ws.
    The Muslim world today is equally selfless. Iran is tempting the world to impose sanctions against it by developing nuclear technology, which it wants in order to destroy Israel. Iran is utterly unaware of the fact that it has no quarrel with Israel. Europe, which hasn’t reacted to America’s use of drones to kill members of Taliban–and innocent bystanders–went nuts when Israel used phony passports to assassinate a Hamas member who was engaged in buying arms from Iran.
    Israel is a small and unimportant country. Yet it is the most hated country on earth. This is not only a danger to Israel but to everybody. Wars spread. Destruction is contagious. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will use them, and subject the entire world to radioactivity.
    It makes no sense to risk the world’s safety in order to fight Israel. It made no sense for Hitler to start World War II in order to kill Jews. What our era has in common with the 1930s is what anti-Zionism has in common with anti-Semitism: they are dangerous, ridiculous, pointless obsessions.
    Franklin Roosevelt, by the way, not only didn’t allow the St. Louis and its 930 German Jews to land but also didn’t grant a single extra visa to Jews fleeing Europe.

  13. @ narciso:

    narc, it’s easy to find examples of somebody saying almost anything….whether those people and their statements represent anyone else is another story..

    I don’t suppose that the guy who’s attempting to expend and even not lose the war in Afghanistan that that last robust bunch of caring conservatives managed to lose after winning…..
    might be a representative of … a liberal.

  14. @ George Jochnowitz:
    George, anti-Zionism isn’t necessarily a product of anti-Semitism.

    Here, in Brooklyn, there’s a big bunch of really hard-core Jews and not all of them are Zionists.

  15. @ forecastle casady:
    Maybe you’re being disingeuous here. There are certainly anti-Zionist Hasidim, some of them pathologically so, to the point of allying themselves openly and fiercely with Palestinian terrorists–they amy not be anti-semitic, they may require a special category or diagnosis of their own, but the vast majority of non-Zionist hasidim wish no harm to come to their fellow Jews and do not provide propaganda much less material aid to Israel’s enemies. But the desire to destroy Israel, and the determination to see Israel as uniquely evil, or the source of more of the world’s evil than other peoples or countries, are definitely anti-semitic.

  16. @ adam:
    adam, some people are anti-Semitic, some aren’t. There’s more than one explanation for why people dislike Israeli actions disproportionally, some of those explanations might account for why people seem to dislike US actions disproportionally.

    George sometimes ascribes anti-Semitism disproportionally, but it might not be due to anti-anti-Semitism.

  17. @ forecastle casady:
    There may also be many explanations for why one is anti-semitic, but that’s not the point–anti-semitism is visible in actions, not in intentions, and singling out Israel as a source of evil, or violence, or instability is anti-semitic.

  18. EXcept he found a reason to cut the requested number of troops, and shorten the timetable for the operation, the war they supposedly believed in, yes he’s gotten some good pelts on the wall, although when the Bush administration targeted Hamza Rabia and Abu Faraj Al Libi, he called it ‘air raiding villages’. Of course the UN’s Special Rapporteur, Mr, Alston wants to curtail even this tool. Against Hamas they say of course they are evil, but effectively they rise up whenever Israel does anything about it, the delusion about closing Gitmo has been well debunked by now, for most credible sources, except for the AP; for which malpractice is a kind
    description for what they do.

  19. Are we at 1979, well in someways we are, wading through Ixtoc 2, in the Gulf, for instance, then again the full impact of our insane fiscal
    policy hasn’t come to fruition, and we haven’t had a major sustained
    foreign policy disaster, thank heaven for small favors, For all of Holder’s bluster, we haven’t had a “Hallloween Massacre” at the Agency, it’s more a slow motion ‘Slouching toward Bethlehem’ And Ed Koch had more sense in spades then Bloomberg

  20. @ narciso:

    you’re “excepts” aren’t good and aren’t even true. you can’t get to saying that he cut the number of troops, but what the heck, we’re just quibbling there.

    the point is that we’ve got a guy in the White House, he’s what you and others would call (and have called) liberal or leftist or socialistcommunistanarchistloonyleftAmericanhater or whatever, and not only is he fighting but his admin recognizes that the war against the Islamists is going to last a decade or more and is going to have to be fought in lots of places.

    You’re about fair enough to admit that the liberal guy quietly put people on the ground in Yemen and a few other spots, and his admin has had more success getting Pakistan to move off lying and denying, so maybe others might get to the point of admitting some of the facts in evidence.

  21. @ forecastle casady:
    I have a half-formed hypothesis about Obama’s actions against Islamic terror, and it may or may not be fair, I really don’t know: I think he is trying to construct a way of fighting those who carry out or plan very precisely defined deeds in a way that corresponds completely to what the “international community” (or at least the one Obama imagines) can see as legitimate; but at the same time to fight seriously and even ruthlessly within those confining terms. All his other actions are predicated upon the assumption that the motivation to become one who carries out or plans such deeds is a response to our actions, which we can control (and can control the interpretation of). So, once you cross that line into wanton attacks on civilians you are fair game; until you cross that line we will appease you with all the means at our disposal. For me, this “experiment” is the only interesting part of this administration, because I can at least see a rationale here–a genuine transnational progressive might fight terrorism in this way, and thereby form a notion of the legitimate use of force, so we might as well see what comes of it.

  22. @ adam:Or it might be that a great many very realistic people in his administration (and on his campaign staff and transition team) put a great deal of thought into the most efficient way of combating terrorist threats, balancing our security needs, and national interests with the idea that enlisting the support, and resources, of the other democracies and near-democracies (as opposed to the neo-con formula of over-spending our own resources and spurning the efforts and compromises requisite to garnering the aid of others) is a force multiplier and that fighting in such a way as to minimize the number of people we alienate shrinks our future number of foes.

  23. @ adam:
    BTW – why are we stuck on the Nation and Mother Jones, adam? Zero referred to Western Liberal Foreign Policy, not “transnational far leftism.”

    Robert PollackKenneth Pollack is a name much more representative of liberal foreign policy. He wrote a book supporting the Iraq war and was one of the first people from the elite for pol community to recognize that the Surge was working. His book on the Middle East – A PATH OUT OF THE DESERT – was totally clear-eyed about enemies of the U.S. and freedom in the Middle East, and about a “Grand Strategy” for advancing our interests. Leslie Gelb, Martin Peretz come to mind. Even Brzezinski, hardly one of my favorite people, doesn’t run around dreaming of a “civilization without enemies.”

    Western Liberal Foreign Policy pretty much is our foreign policy. If you’re going to start from some Manichean perspective, an eternal war of good against evil, light against dark, you’re not talking about foreign policy at all anymore. You’re talking about a religious or philosophical outlook, that has nothing uniquely to do with liberalism.

  24. @ CK MacLeod:
    You have a point here–I read Zero’s “liberal” as “leftist,” as I often do, trying to adjust conflicting terminologies. When many conservatives say “liberal” they mean what I call “leftist” (as I can tell by what and who they refer to in that way). It usually works fine because there are today very few consequential liberals of the kind that essentially governed us for much of the Cold War–Peretz qualifies, Alan Dershowitz, Joe Lieberman. Many transformed before our eyes from liberals to leftists, like Al Gore. Their distinguishing feature, in fact, is seeing Israel as a friend. How many more are there? The president isn’t one, nor are the people he surrounds himself with. Do you think the administration and the leaders in Congress (or major media outlets) sound like Gelb, Peretz or Pollack?

  25. That’s Ken Pollack, CK, why would they put Pannetta a politician most recently know for cutting covert operations back during the Clinton
    administration at OMB in charge of the CIA. Why would you have adjunct advisors that speak of the Moderate Hezbollah, why focus the DHS on Christian ex veteran prolifers and miss the real enemy, folks
    who wear their Salafi credentials on their sleives like Hassan

  26. narciso wrote:

    That’s Ken Pollack, CK,

    Thanks. I suffer from chronic dysfunction on his name, which is why you will rarely see me at public events, since I am always deathly afraid that Western Liberal Foreign Policy will come up in conversation, and expose me to laughter and ridicule when we get to the Ps.

    Often, he’s Kevin to me. Sometimes he is the man with no (first) name and a coin-flip for a surname. In this case, he turned into the author of the WSJ op-ed on Turkey that helped inspire Schoenfeld’s post, and that I could have believed came from – checking carefully here – Kenneth M. Pollack.

  27. CK – my comment:

    to a populace that did want to believe them for very understandable reasons.

    was actually meant to provide cover to the French and British politicians who were acting in accordance with a very prevalent thought in their populations – the drastic impact WWI had on their psyche. I believe Chamberlain was widely adored for the Munich peace in our time schtick. I question whether he really believed or just wanted to. Of course in less than a year there was a new Prime Minister in Britain, one who had been warning all the political class what was coming. I probably should have been more clear about which population I was speaking about. I realize that at the time the US was very isolationist as well and FDR had to combat that reality, but my comment was not referencing that situation.

    Funny, but I ran across this posting in Contentions after I read the post:

    “Crawshay-Williams {Churchill’s private secretary – JEM ed.} wrote Churchill a meandering letter on June 27, 1940. He served in World War I, so he wasn’t a coward. But in 1940, he lacked the moral courage either to fight on or to argue straight-out that Britain had already lost the war. So he resorted to an argument that sounds familiar in the context of American declinism today: defeatism wasn’t defeatism; it was realism, and “if and when” an “informed view” demonstrated that there was no chance of victory, Britain should quit while the quitting was good. As is so often the case, the “informed view,” of course, was the pessimistic one.

    In June 1940, Churchill was a very busy man, but he took the time to reply the next day. He didn’t, though, take too much time. His response, in its entirety, was as follows: “I am ashamed of you for writing such a letter. I return it to you — to burn & forget.” ”

    I believe there is a level of moral courage necessary to not think all is relative in this world, and I appreciate that this concept lies outside the norm in the political world where everything is relative. There is evil, and Israel is currently right in its crosshairs. We can quibble over Israel should have boarded the ship more heavily armed, been more prepared to share their story immediately with the press, etc. But it’s errors in execution do not mean they were wrong to do so and they do not deserve the criticism they are receiving. It is a reflection of the world’s notion of relativity. I think quibbling whether it is exactly this or that is insane – yes insane. I like to look at the big picture, often times bigger than most are willing to acknowledge. We are in a cultural war for our survival. And we are barely playing defense.

  28. @ adam:

    I’m not sure that we are either aside from my being more willing to think that they think that they’re basing their actions on reason.

  29. JEM/We are in a cultural war for our survival. And we are barely playing defense.

    Survival is expensive. Our only remaining asset is our sovereign ability to print money. But here’s a reminder from recent history.

    “When he came into office in 1933, Roosevelt found unemployment at 33 percent (not the mere 25 percent that this nursery school of detractors claims), with no direct federal assistance for the jobless; the banking system and stock and commodity exchanges closed; farm prices beneath subsistence levels; 45 percent of residential housing under threat of foreclosure; and machine-gun nests at the corners and on the steps of Washington’s great federal buildings for the first time since the Civil War.
    When he left the White House twelve years and 39 days later, to the most heart-rending dirges and lamentations the nation had uttered or heard since Lincoln departed (on the same caisson), unemployment was less than half of 1 percent; millions of mortgages and the whole banking system had been refinanced; most of rural America benefited for the first time from electricity and flood and drought control; Prohibition had long been repealed and the liquor industry repossessed from the folkloric gangsters who had been running it; the U.S. had pioneered nuclear fission and set up the United Nations, had half the world’s economic production, was on the verge of the defeat of Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan, and had unlimited moral authority, military and economic power, and cultural influence”

    Conrad Black wrote that in NRO today. Also,please consider the article posted here.

    http://www.greenfaucet.com/economy/the-true-worlds-reserve-currency-is-gold/97446

  30. @ Rex Caruthers:

    Rex – I have no quibbles with the emphasis of the article, but it doesn’t offer any arguemtn for gold or not. What the goldbugs always forget is that by their scenerio once we cannot find more gold our currency is done, it cannot expand and so goes economic expansion with it. Once again I will ask – why is gold valuable?

    To Mr. Black’s column, it is one of his own biases that he reveres FDR to a fault. FDR’s economic policies were a disaster – unemployment cycled between horrific and terrible thoughout his pre-war adminstration. The conditions Black notes were almost exclusively a result of the war effort. To lend them credence because of any of his policies is ridiculous. In fact as the economy shrugged off bad policies he passed more which then dipped us again. Outside of prohibition and some infrastructure he was hopeless.

  31. Conrad has this thing about activist politicians, he wrote his thesis on
    Canada’s Dupleissis, it’s very arguable that the eight years of FDR’s
    dirigiste regime, had little impact on the final impact. Even Morgenthau
    admitted that around 1938 as I recall

  32. I’m waiting you out,as the years go by,and the economic crisis persists,It will be a relief when the Fiat Paper Bugs cry uncle,and admit that keeping on with the same plan,and expecting a different result,is Futility.

    “What the goldbugs always forget is that by their scenerio once we cannot find more gold our currency is done, it cannot expand and so goes economic expansion with it. Once again I will ask – why is gold valuable?”

    It is valuable because many individuals and markets percieve that it is valuable,and have percieved that value for a long time,approacing 1300 paper dollars per oz of the crap. We need a big jolt of ECT for this economy,and Gold has shock value.

    “Indeed, in the 1950s the top rate of taxation in the U.S. was 90%, but the S&P 500 rose 253% that decade. My explanation for why is that the dollar had a strict definition of 1/35th of an ounce of gold. Markets love currency certainty, and stocks soared’

    Expansion? 25% a year? that’s not good enough for you?

  33. I recall that we caught up to the valuations in ’29, around the half of that decade, we had fallen so far by that point.What was the M1 around that time

  34. half of that decade, we had fallen so far by that point.What was the M1 around that time?

    I know for a FACT that the Money Supply was very stable from 1944-1971,and exploded after that.

  35. What an idiotically pedantic argument. Of course no one thinks we are living in the 1930s. What many of us do believe is that many of the same problems are in place as in the 1930s. You remind me of some of the neo-Nazis who say they aren’t anti-Semitic because they’re pro-Arab, and Arabs are Semitic. Keep up the word games, CK!!

  36. This isn’t a new insight that I’ve offered, but the 1890s might be a better parallel, both in the US, with Coxey’s army and Bryan, but the strife between Boulangists and Anarchists in France, and similar actions in Spain, There are less parallels in the UK, although Salisbury
    did indicate the return of the Tories

  37. @ narciso:
    To paraphrase Yogi Berra, the problem with arguing about the past is that it took place a long time ago.

    I’m familiar with the criticisms of FDR’s domestic policy. I even read THE FORGOTTEN MAN, a lively and informative book, as I recall. But we don’t know what would have happened if someone else had been in a position to take over. Since FDR destroyed an incumbent president in the election of 1932, I don’t think it really makes much sense to imagine the country opting for some non-progressive, non-activist approach to the stubborn economic crisis. Subsequently to 1932, other options were put before the public, and Roosevelt’s own ambitions were sometimes frustrated, but he was re-elected by an overwhelming margin again in 1936, and by a healthy margin in 1940, and again by a healthy margin in 1944.

    So there’s a heavy burden on the alternative historian to open up a possibility for some other course of events. Why isn’t it just as permissible to assume that the people during a time of great uncertainty accepted the trade-off of lower risk for lower possible gain – i.e., rejected more laissez-faire approaches that might have eventually restored economic dynamism, but appeared to risk even more intolerable conditions in the short-term and a possible total breakdown of legitimacy? At the same time, FDR himself – and to a large extent self-consciously – represented a more moderate, typically progressive alternative to revolutionary collectivist ideologies of fascism and communism that were on the rise in other countries.

    What’s also completely true regarding Black’s judgment, and to my mind a rather devastating weakness in the common conservative critique, is that, bottom line, though it took a long time, statist progressivism had proved itself by the close of the war a world-historical success, as Black suggests. If we assume, contrary to all available historical evidence, that there really was a “live” laissez-faire option politically available, can we be so sure that it would have worked as well? Maybe at some point during the re-setting of the economy, things really would have spun out of control setting the stage for “it” to “happen here.” Or maybe a combination of laissez-faire and isolationism would have left the U.S. even less prepared to fight and win in World War II. Instead, nearly a decade’s worth of government activism and expansion had trained a large cadre of bureaucrats and administrators ready to exchange their suits for uniforms and win the war logistically.

    In other words, the “it wasn’t really the New Deal, it was the war” theory about the end of the Depression leaves out the fact that the war itself was handled in a highly corporatist manner, with a real war, not a manufactured crisis, finally putting the oomph in statism that a decade of exhortation and “bold experimentation” hadn’t quite mustered. The draft worked as a massive employment program. Government spending massively boosted aggregate demand. Propaganda was everywhere. Industry was heavily controlled. And it worked. Not particularly through strategic excellence or feats of great courage, but through massive productivity, the US economy totally overwhelmed opponents in two hemispheres. US strategy amounted to throwing more and more people and equipment and munitions in more different ways and in more different places than the enemies could match. No one knew what would work. Everything was tried. Immense efforts at great human and material cost frequently turn out in retrospect to have had little direct material effect on the outcome.

    The numbers on the corporatist ramp-up in production of tanks, planes, ships, trucks, bombs, rifles, etc., are staggering. Finally, a model government science initiative produced a technological fix in the form of a weapon so powerful it forever changed the nature of international diplomacy and warfare. Not private industry – a rigidly controlled government run enterprise. Even better for the progressive story, the model proved, with adjustments, to work well over the long haul – for generations with a few ups and downs, up to and including the present day.

    Maybe something else would have worked better, but that’s just an idea. Also the idea that we need something radically new or different. What is is what is, not anything else.

    Now, that’s just one version of the progressive story. Not the whole story, but I think conservatives are deluded if they believe that they’ve constructed a radically more persuasive and defensible totally non-progressive alternative narrative explaining how we got the good parts of what we think of as ourselves.

  38. Ken wrote:

    What an idiotically pedantic argument

    Ken, am I right in assuming that in describing the argument as pedantic, and further modifying the phrase as “idiotic” you are suggesting that we infer you to be using idiotic in the classical sense of having knowledge of self rather than of the external world instead of the more recent, vulgar usage of deserving naught other than ridicule?

  39. As Schlaes herself points out, Hoover was far from the pure free marketeer that Schlesinger among others, have tried to peddle,
    the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, his assent to the suicidal Smoot Hawley tariff, were among his misteps. The Depression did a good deal to topple almost all the democratic regimes in that era,from the illfated Ramsay MacDonald in the UK, The Inukai regime in Japan,
    the cohorts of Briand in France. Now one wonders what a Baldwin like regime, might have fared in the US

  40. @ Rex Caruthers:
    Rex – stick to what you know – every other western country had tax rates just as high and the ability to move capital was constrained by the financial logistics of the day – that is a fact. There is no value to gold beyond what we decide to give to it. Your explanation for its value is just as accurate as for paper. Your definition is worthless – you say gold has value because people say it does – try again. Why does paper have value – because people believe it does. In both cases faith, pure faith is the definition – so explain how they are different. I don’t think you can because for a long time you haven’t yet given an explanation for why gold has value that would differ from paper.

  41. It was more Giishi and Hamguchi that had to bear the brunt of the crisis, in Japan’s case. And Primo De Rivera in Spain, just like Carlos Ibanez in Chile fell because of it, as did Irigoyen in Argentina, leading
    to the rise of the Colonels, which would lead to Peron

  42. @ narciso:

    narc, you should make an effort to post an occasional comment at the Green Room.

    you managed to fit more information into two sentences than they manage to muster in half a week.

  43. @ narciso:
    That Hoover was no laissez-fairey strengthens the contention that there was no meaningful alternative to some version of progressivism. Coolidge ran against Hoover in ’32, got a handful of votes at the convention. What’s the primary purpose of government? Government – i.e., maintenance of order, legitimacy, etc. As you say, democracy was in retreat. Rosie for all of his faults and possible questionable intentions, kept the flickery flame alive, and satisfied a mass emotional yearning for security, authority, and hope. Much more so than today, I think, but in a parallel way, the Big Bust was seen as a failure of the same system that had produced the prior boom, so there was no going back ideologically or practically. Why can’t we say the people preferred to wait, even multiple presidential terms, to see themselves fashion collective instruments adequate to manage affairs, meaning bring themselves to a higher self-consciousness, in the newly emerging world? (Being intentionally Hegelian/historicist here.)

  44. @ CK MacLeod:

    Did you mean this?

    What was the debt to GDP numbers after WWII? Come on – it wasn’t sustainable and you know it. Hoover was a govt action guy by the way as even my junior high social studies teacher taught me in 8th grade. Other options? How about reversing all the progressive crap and global tariffs that Hoover imposed.

    This is a handy argument – progressive politics made a bad situation – the late 20s stock meltdown – worse, so the remedy was to do more of it. That sounds like the argument for programs from today. Let’s let govt screw up the health care system with medicare and then blame the private sector for the mistake 30 years later. Lets let them screw up student loans and then take it over after they screwed it up.

    Your argument that the population was wildly in favor of it is a statement of fact of course, but it doens’t mean any of it was particularly effective. That is like suggesting we know we are going to fail but we are going to do it anyway.

  45. I don’t think you can because for a long time you haven’t yet given an explanation for why gold has value that would differ from paper.

    Why do the markets believe it takes 1300 pieces of paper to equal the value of 1oz of gold? It takes a very unusual person to not understand that Gold backing makes paper money more valuable.

  46. In any event – suggesting that Black’s economic argument has any merit, as Rex did – I think we can all agree that FDR’s economic policies in general did not work. We can argue until the cows come home if there were any other alternatives. There were, but neither the politicians nor the populace were willing to consider something that might have worked. To whitewash them of their negative consequences seems rather silly.

  47. Rex Caruthers wrote:

    I don’t think you can because for a long time you haven’t yet given an explanation for why gold has value that would differ from paper.
    Why do the markets believe it takes 1300 pieces of paper to equal the value of 1oz of gold? It takes a very unusual person to not understand that Gold backing makes paper money more valuable.

    Rex, everytime you answer the question your answer is because people BELIEVE it does. Guess what, people BELIEVE paper does too. At times they like gold, at other times they like paper. So what is the difference?

  48. @ JEM:
    Just pointing out that it’s an available narrative with internal consistency. I’m well aware that Hoover was in effect another progressive. It was the spirit of the time. We can look back and impose our own imaginary preferences – for something that in our minds would have worked better economically, in terms of growth rates and employment figures and consumption and so on, but those are our preferences, and it’s only an assumption that a less statist approach, when it met the real particulars of human life ca. 1930, would really have worked even according to the narrow definition – that the people who would have had to make it work would have done so, especially when they were voting 60% for the more progressive alternative to the moderately progressive incumbent. Even if the non-progressive response would have worked, maybe the people wanted belief in answers, in their own powers to create answers, more than they wanted the answers themselves. Maybe the prevalance of that desire at the same time is why the non-progressive response was, in effect, not even considered. Maybe the idea of a non-progressive response is in this sense a huge absurd counterfactual – like “what if alien invaders had landed?”

  49. No, CK, Coolidge did no such thing. The problem with the 30s, that distinguishes it from other humdrum economic crisiss like those in the 1890s, was they forgot to ‘stop digging’ hence it was bad all around,
    it destroyed Labour’s hopes for a generation, it empowered the Blum
    left, it knocked the ground from under Bruning, thereafter known as
    the “Hunger Chancellor’ Butthat didn’t come close to solving the problem

    Thanks, Fuster

  50. Well, now I see you’ve effectively conceded that there might not have been an alternative, JEM. Still doesn’t answer the question regarding the greater desire of the people to believe in answers and in themselves, perhaps at certain historical junctures, than for the answers themselves: “Yes we can,” in other words. A form of demagogy, perhaps – or maybe it just seems that way.

  51. So what is the difference?

    You can’t print Gold,and by printing,make it worthless,you can do that with paper money/Weimar. You can manipulate the cost of Gold,but you can’t make it worthless. I can’t believe I’m writing this.

  52. narciso wrote:

    No, CK, Coolidge did no such thing.

    Sure he did – got all of 4.5 delegates in a photo finish with Hoover who got a mere 1,126. Or maybe you’re referring to something else. My point wasn’t that he Cal was a real alternative or a live one – to the contrary. There was around a 0.4% chance that the people were going to respond to the crisis with Coolidgeism.

  53. @ narciso:
    Well, again, there were many other factors that distinguished the 1930s from the 1890s – a different epoch altogether in critical respects.

  54. @ CK MacLeod:

    I have conceded nothing – I have acknowledged the political environment of the times. That FDR’s remedies were largely ineffective is pretty much without dispute. That I am willing to recognize the politics of the day seems strange to be some kind of concession that FDR was correct. He was not.

    His legacy is farm price supports, which increasingly distort world markets while being paid to corporate behemoths, and a retirement program that while still largely popular has begun paying out more than it receives while its assets have been raided and replaced with IOUs. It will have to changed in our lifetimes pretty drastically yet when a young politician brings up some ideas the dems decry it and the GOP gets timid. I guess you could also say that his foundation laid the groundwork for medicare. You know where I stand on that. Very popularly supported, even when pased, but a disaster right now.

    I will always give FDR credit for recognizing the gathering storm of WWII. However, his domestic economic programs were a disaster.

  55. @ Rex Caruthers:

    I can’t believe you cannot answer a simple question yet. Gold’s value has been manipulated by govt’s under the gold standard as well. Is it easier to print money – sure. It is just as easy to devalue either.

    Now another question for you, which I have also asked many times to not just you but to many other gold bugs. What happens when we cannot find anymore gold? We know ore is getting less and less pure, so we might actually be beyond peak gold already. So what happens then?

  56. I can’t believe you cannot answer a simple question yet

    I’ll try again,you can’t devalue gold to Zero.

    We’ll worry about running out of Gold later,right now,we need to reconstruct our currency,I’d be happy with $35 Oz money,wouldn’t you?

  57. Rex Caruthers wrote:

    I can’t believe you cannot answer a simple question yet
    I’ll try again,you can’t devalue gold to Zero.
    We’ll worry about running out of Gold later,right now,we need to reconstruct our currency,I’d be happy with $35 Oz money,wouldn’t you?

    You can’t? Why? I am serious. And your non-answer to my follow on question indicates you realize it has no answer for it means economic stagnation and the loss of value of labor, for productivity is no longer rewarded.

    Gold is not necessary to reconstruct our currency. Just turning off the printing presses, reducing govt spending, and quit hiring govt workers would do wonders.

    What you fail to recognize is that gold doesn’t have a constant value either – it fluctuates in relation to currencies. In the coming alleged economic armageddon gold will be worthless, food and water and guns and bullets will be king. How could that be?

  58. What you fail to recognize is that gold doesn’t have a constant value either – it fluctuates in relation to currencies.

    Au Contraire,Currencies flucuate in relation to Gold.

    In the coming alleged economic armageddon gold will be worthless, food and water and guns and bullets will be king. How could that be?

    I’m not aware of Gold being worthless anywhere in the last 4000 years, but There’s always a first time.

  59. From the end of pg 409-410 in Sobel’s book, I followed it from the link on the Wiki page for Coolidge, the RFC/TARP are uncommonly close
    in form and execution

  60. @ narciso:
    Calvin Coolidge might have been Karl Marx when he was at home, but I don’t see how his political persona, as it was understood at the time or is understood now, qualifies as progressive. The point about him receiving 4.5 votes at the 1932 Convention was kind of a joke. Maybe if you read the book you can find out which Coolidge the 4.5 delegates were voting for, but my main contention regarding the character of the times, of no laissez faire alternative, is strengthened further by the fact that, as the book you link points out, “the president who had called for minimal intervention was [by the 1930s] supporting aggressive government programs to alleviate distress.”

    @ JEM:
    Don’t know why you deny you’ve conceded anything when you then immediately proceed again to concede that the political environment of the time didn’t support the general policies that you believe, but are forever prevented from proving, would have succeeded. As for specific policy errors, many can be judged in terms of what FDR or his advisers expected, and what they achieved, or can be shown to have been wasteful in other ways. The rest is speculation, or assertion of pre-judgments.

  61. Yes but he wasn’t in support of the New Deal, or anything like the RTC.
    and I’m pointing out that it wasn’t necessarily a catastrophe to support
    something other than the new deal in Western Countries. AS I say, they forgot to stop digging in the same place. It may be that the combination of government demand for subprime debt, combined with
    Sarbanes Oxley, and a speculatory bubble that generated our current
    crisis, is irreversable, like the Grand Collapse in that sci fi tale I referenced earlier

  62. @ CK MacLeod:

    CK – I am not arguing that the people did not want what was served up, they clearly did. And FDR used propaganda to try and ease the angst, telling people things were getting better. But in reality, taking the decade as a whole up to WWII, it did not get better, it essentially stagnated. I am arguing that while politically perhaps progressivism was the only route to take that people chose to follow, with other routes completely out of favor, the route chosen was the wrong one. Had WWII not come who knows what might have happened and after WWII there was some immediate correction on labor laws as some politicans began to see there was a problem brewing. JFK realized the tax rate was way too high, and we began to separate what I would call economic central planning and social central planning. Though none would come out and say so, they realized that much of the economic policy of the progressives was counter-productive – they didn’t come out and say so. They just did. And when Nixon pulled all his crap in the 70s with price controls, etc. we were reminded again of the fallacy of govt interference. The beauty of the current financial dust up was the melding of social justice theory with govt financial inducements to create a perfect storm. Alinsky would suggest that was the plan all along. That is why OSlash’s current economic policies are looked at with the notion of is he stupid or devious?

  63. Rex Caruthers wrote:

    What you fail to recognize is that gold doesn’t have a constant value either – it fluctuates in relation to currencies.
    Au Contraire,Currencies flucuate in relation to Gold.
    In the coming alleged economic armageddon gold will be worthless, food and water and guns and bullets will be king. How could that be?
    I’m not aware of Gold being worthless anywhere in the last 4000 years, but There’s always a first time.

    For most people in a barter economy, gold doesn’t even exist.

  64. @ CK MacLeod:

    Because I never took issue with your statement. How can I concede that which I have never denied. I merely stated, and continue to do so, that FDR’s economic policies were a disaster and economically the 30s were stagnant, with no growth and high unemployment from beginning to end. That’s all. Black’s comment references an economic reality of a nation in total survival mode – not the product of FDR’s policies. Your statements with regards to what the govt achieved during WWII was also in a war footing with the govt probably driving 90% of GDP. To both of your I state that it was unsustainable, and that the population was tiring of the sacrifices in mass as early as late 1943 after not much more than 2 years of active fighting. The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan was of course a military one, but also a domestic politics issue of a nation who tasted victory in Europe and was impatent for the same in Japan. So while the accomplishments were tremendous, they were only going to last for a blip in time.

  65. Now if you want to say that people just wanted hope and change and there was value in that and that my rather clinical assessment of his policies from an economic perspective is too narrow; it was the reality of those clinical assessments that had the people upset in the first place. If you are going to say FDR was great because he fooled people into thinking things were better economically, OK. But my definition of success and greatness requires something more.

  66. @ JEM:
    The conservative counter-narrative still has to explain the historical verdict of WW2 (on our side a progressivist statist enterprise par excellence) and the post-war boom, accompanied by popular government-led programs like the GI Bill, interstate highways, Wilsonian internationalism, near-confiscatory tax rates (at least on the surface), and construction of a massive permanent government/welfare state/public administration.

    If you had put it to an American voter in 1932 or 1936 directly, and had said, “It will take us years to get it right, but, in exchange for putting off some economic growth under a familiarly uneven economic distribution and, of course, no long-term certainty of continued high performance, and accepting some waste and excesses against ideal conceptions of free economic rights, you get:

    unparalleled prosperity
    unrivaled global reach and power
    enemies turned into allies
    major revolutionary collectivist/militarist threats defeated definitively,
    nearly un-dreamt of technological advances vastly improving quality of life and life expectancies for ourselves and all of our friends,
    preservation of and iimprovement of our most basic freedoms, and
    an opportunity at any time through regular democratic debate and free elections to adjust or even completely junk the program”

    said voter might have hesitated to believe you, but that’s what, one way or another, he/we got.

    Now, I agree with you and with most sane observers of the current economic and political situation that major aspects of the progressivist inheritance need to be re-examined, and that dead weight should be lopped off. One way or another, through inflationary monetization or disruptive re-valuation or through pre-emptive or forced fiscal measures, or some muddled combination of all of the above and more, debt and unfunded obligations that correspond to an overgrown public sector and commitments that are unsustainable as currently structured and financed need to be reduced in proportion to productive economic activity.

    I’m happy further to consider that in such an effort, an over-correction in the other direction may be inevitable and even desirable. What I don’t accept is that a libertarian critique that somehow tries to paint half or more of the history of the country as a huge mistake and historic detour is viable. You’d have to be as nutty as a Paulbot to buy it. I don’t think that even most of the Paulbots really buy that – they just think that Ron’s Wonderful Revelations are too important to be set aside for mere details.

    I don’t think you’re anywhere near like that, JEM, but a somewhat similar pattern affects the conservative discourse more generally, a pattern of “we don’t really believe this because no one sane who had fully thought through all of the implications could really believe this, but we’ll say it anyway because it pulls in the right direction” thing. The Will piece I posted on is typical of this, in my view. (I had to check just now which thread I was writing on – this all goes together.)

  67. JEM, I know what in great detail what you are critical of,what I don’t know,(and I’ve been reading your comments for years)is what you admire. I’m easy,I admire Economics built on integrity,and I admire leadership with results,like FDR,as opposed to Obama or Bush. I believe that you are dystopian,but again,if you have ever given us a frame of reference that demonstrates the world you approve of;I guess I missed that Post.

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