Economics

Is America an Oligarchy?

Posted on Updated on

The United States has long shown itself to be the most magnanimous, the most generous country in the world. Wherever there is a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a natural disaster, an epidemic, who is the first to help? The United States. Who helps the most and unselfishly? The United States. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Many now claim that America is an oligarchy. Mostly I find the people saying this to be the same people that are cynical about everything American. They want badly to find fault. So I was and am a little skeptical when they say that America is an oligarchy, a term I’ve seen bandied around for about 5 years now.So I did some research.

I figured that the best way to see if the dreaded 1% had gained an inordinate amount of the wealth in America was simply to look at the past numbers compared to now.

What I found, is that the percentage of wealth controlled by the top 1% in America is not by any means out of the norm when compared to other times in American history. It seems now, that on so many topics, people in the media can just say something is true, and merely toss out some bromides without providing the facts or sound logic to back up what they are saying. First, let’s look at the numbers for the 1% since 1910 in America, then let’s consider what this really means.

Top 1%

 

As one can see, as of 2010, the percentage of wealth held by the top 1% is certainly not out of step with the norm of American history in the last 80 years. There have of course been variances, but 2010 was comfortably within what seems a normal range of wealth distribution.

The criticisms stink to me of the normal Marxist sentiments so common to the Left. They cannot explain of course how one person being rich, even absurdly rich, in America, keeps another poor.

There are laws that prevent monopolies in the US. The more corporations, the better off we are. All those who complain about “corporatism” and corporations, wake up and make their coffee in their Black & Decker corporation coffee maker, check their email on their Apple corporation laptop, call their friend on their Samsung corporation cell phone, then drive to work in their Toyota corporation car. All the while listening to a left-winger complain about the American oligarchy on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded, NPR.  The fact is, corporations made America a superpower, not the magic of the undefined “people.”

Corporations are going, we are told, to destroy the country. But what would this country be but for corporations? Who have developed it? Corporations. Who transact the most marvelous business the world has ever seen? Corporations. ~Jay Gould

For all the Left’s complaining about its all important equality, and its assertions that America is drowning in inequality, the UN’s Human Development report rated the United States third in the world in “Human Development Index” , in 2013. The HDI measures inequality and the score could be maximized if there were no inequality, which to me would be an impossible and destructive goal. Equality tells us almost nothing about the quality of people’s lives. Prisoners in Stalin’s gulags were very equal, and very miserable.  Never the less, the cry of inequality in the US seems unwarranted. We’ve had this argument before:

The idea the rich should not get richer displays either a massive lack of economic understanding or a preference for wealth redistribution at all costs, and therefore Marxism. Perhaps I repeat myself.  Of course the rich will make more and more money, because it takes money to make money.  86% of all millionaires in the US are self-made, they did not inherit or steal their wealth. They created it via investment or invention. When we as a country reach the tipping point where investment and invention are no longer profitable, we’re on the fast downward slope.

Want a true oligarchy? See Russia, where last year 110 people owned one third of the country’s wealth.  Funny thing is, it’s still better off than it was under communism. But don’t tell Paul Krugman that. Vladimir Putin is the richest man in Europe.  But don’t tell MSNBC. The Left has confused its boredom, the result of the American hyperpower, for the true angst generated by true poverty, of which there is almost none in the US. As Eric Hoffer pointed out, one of the most astonishing things about the US is the level of relative wealth in which the country’s so-called poor live.

Even the Huffington Post admits that the US is the most generous nation in the world. 

Much of the mythology about the American oligarchy is the the result of heretofore unseen level of populism in American politics. Those who worry about the history of wealth concentration in democracies should also study the effects of demagoguery. Playing upon the false and stormy passions of the populace in order to generate votes and approval ratings will prove disastrous for America.

America’s first “oligarchs” the Left’s favorite villains, the robber barons, in reality did more to build America and faster than any other people in history. The freedoms allotted the likes of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and JP Morgan, combined with their ingenuity and energy, launched America past Britain and the rest of Europe. Yet the Left can’t see past Das Kapital.

We’re all dupes now.

Bread and Circuses

Posted on Updated on

Americans have cast their vote. And I won’t sit here and type out some cliche’ lines about the wisdom of the American people or how we all just need to get along for the next 4 years, come together, hold hands, and make it all better. Because I believe this was a stupid choice and that the last 4 years were the result of an administration that has no direction and has already weakened the American character.

Our nation is withering, but it is not because of Barack Obama, it is because of that sacred animal of democracy, “The People.” No longer is it the man that fights the good fight, that presses on despite the odds, the strong individualist who sharpens his knife, oils his rifle, and cuts his own firewood, that draws the media’s camera and the adoration of Americans. No, the greatest person in America today is “The Victim.” The man who can’t get things done is our hero. He is a victim of the system, of the weather, of his race, of his gender, of his sexual orientation, of bad genes, and of the evils of corporate empire. It is difficult not to find a victim in every man these days, and so every man is a hero of sorts, unless you run a successful business; a business man is obviously out to make victims of everyone else, and thus he is no hero.

It is not “anti-government” to say that a government can either do a few things well, or a lot of things poorly. We have chosen a government that is involved in every aspect of our lives, and we choose this both locally and nationally. We are well on our way to becoming another Greece. And what happens when a government runs out of money and tells its people that programs have to be cut? Do the people band together in unity and peace and carry on? Some maybe. But the ones that get the media attention riot and spew hatred because their bread and circuses have been taken away.

This is the perfect example of how empires die. They are rarely killed from the outside. With few exceptions, they kill themselves.

And so I do not believe in the sanctity of the people. Democracy works just fine when a democratic nation is composed of intelligent, unselfish, and strong people. We are no longer that. What was Obama’s biggest selling point to the American people? That he will give us more stuff. Is that not the tacit message? We certainly don’t want a president that will tell us we’re too fat, too stupid, and too infatuated with Kim Kardashian. Which we are. As Rush Limbaugh said, “In a nation of children, Santa Claus wins.”

Unlike others, I am not hopeful for America. I have witnessed our decline for the last 20 years, and it has been inexorable. We are teenagers with Daddy’s credit card. The values that held our society together for two centuries are all but gone. Some will say, “times change and we must change with them.” But we are exhibiting habits with which no culture has prospered for long.

As for myself, I’ll continue to cling to my guns and religion, just as did real men like Davey Crocket and Daniel Boone. The rest of America can worry about what underwear Pink is wearing this week and continue shambling toward irrelevancy.

The Age of Envy and Whining

Posted on Updated on

America and Europe are now reaping what has been sowed for the last 50 years in Western society.  Our psychiatrists, parents, teachers and even religious teachers inundated us with our “specialness”, carried on about the uniqueness of each person, and generally robbed us of any sense of bad and good, success and failure, better and best.

Liberals accuse conservatives of being slaves to corporate greed.  Greed is taking more than one deserves or needs at the expense of others. In the cases where greed has damaged America, such as the housing industry, our country paid the price.  But it was not only corporations and banks that were greedy.  The people who purchased homes with variable rate mortgages while working low wage jobs were also greedy.  It is not only the rich that are greedy.  Most people who are doing well are not being greedy.  They are receiving the just benefits of hard work, education, frugal and wise spending, and paying their dues.

Growing up, I didn’t have much.  I lived with my grandmother until I was 7 years old.  My grandfather died when I was 5, and my grandmother had a tough time supporting me, but she never complained.  A hard life was just the way the world was, to her.  She lived through the Depression and her family and my grandfather were all blue-collar: welders, mechanics.  They never asked for a handout, not once.  That’s not to say that if friends offered to help out with some work that needed to be done, or offered some extra food for the pantry, that my grandparents would not have accepted it.  Only that you never would have seen my grandfather carrying a sign protesting the well-to-do.  I do not make a mythical hero of my grandfather.  He was human and possessed a withering temper at times.   But he was never brutal, only steadfast when pushed.  He even held a streak of racism, common in his day.  He was from New York and didn’t like Jews, as I remember it.  But the man worked like a horse.  He was in the machine shop every day, coming in with grease-stained fingers.  Our sink held a good supply of Lava soap, but his fingers were never free of darkened creases.  He would sit up at night and carve, draw, or sharpen his knives at the kitchen table, or any other form of “tinkering” you can think of.  He never complained that he had to support his grandson.  I would sit on his lap during the sessions of tinkering, or perhaps be ordeed by my grandfather to stand on a stool behind him and scratch his head.  An avid outdoors-man, rifles adorned the walls, suspended on the antlers of trophy game.  Later, it was not uncommon at all for me to carry a rifle in the woods alone at the age of 10 or 12 years old.  I think this is why my favorite books growing up were Where the Red Fern Grows and  Summer of the Monkeys.

I never remember envy directed at the rich.  My grandparents had it much tougher than any of the Occupy Wallstreet crowd.   They grew vegetables in a garden, washed clothes by hand, and had no microwave.  They did not have a designer child at 40.  They had four sons.  They also had a girl, who passed away to God when she was less than two years old.  Life was this:  Grandfather goes out to the shop to work all day on machine parts that people brought to him to fix.  He also repaired firearms.  Grandmother cooked and cleaned and cared for the children.  Grandfather endured Maine’s blistering winters, working outdoors, wrapped in a wool jacket and hat.  The family car was an Oldsmobile Delta 88.

There was Hee-Haw and Lawrence Welk at night.  A TV boxing match maybe.  A trip to Pat’s Pizza, or maybe over to Dysart’s truckstop or the 95er.  This was life and it was accepted. There was no time to envy.  There was certainly no time to march up and down the street carrying declarative and mocking signs.  The idea of recruiting once’s children to take part in protests would have repulsed both of my grandparents.

You earned what you worked for.  If you did not work for it, you did not earn it.  If something was given to you without your labor, it was because of the good graces of the giver, not because the receiver deserved it.  I’m trying to imagine my grandfather having the time to protest economic injustice.

No one was special “just because”.  You were special because of what you did.  You did not search for yourself–you made yourself.  Pat Farnsworth, the owner of Pat’s Pizza, and good friend of my grandfather, worked for about 70 straight years at his restaurant.  He sold 250,000 pizzas a year.  He began his restaurant with $150.  He never thought of retiring, right up until he passed away at 93 years old in 2003.  He never felt the government owed him a thing but freedom.  Let him do his thing, and Pat would put his nose to a grindstone until he succeeded.  That was America.   Pat had a fighter’s heart.  In his 80s, he was mugged by two young men as he closed up shop and stepped outside his business holding a sack full of the day’s earnings.  the men pepper-sprayed him and thrashed him about.  But he fought back and they ran off empty handed.  Pat was a millionaire when he passed away.  No one who ate at Pat’s Pizza during my grandfather’s day hated or envied Pat for his success.  They wanted to learn his secrets, they wanted to be like Pat.

Now, the  Occupy Wall Street  types cry about “fascism” and “police state” when they get pepper-sprayed after refusing to comply with lawful police orders.  Pat and my grandfather would have fully endorsed the pepper-spraying of people camping outside their businesses and homes for months.  They would go on working and the Occupiers would go on whining.

Our horrendous ideas on  parenting  are  partially responsible for the cretinous complainers, with their IPads and Powerbooks, sporting their Ralph Lauren glasses, protest signs (with poor spelling) exclaiming the injustice they face, and a lot of time spent not filling out applications.  This is the “A” for effort generation.  You tried (sort of). And you’re breathing. So the system owes you, but you owe the system nothing.  It’s like expecting a car to run without putting fuel in it.  Or maybe we just expect everyone else to buy the fuel for our car.

America was made, as Max Weber stated, on the Protestant Work Ethic.  That, more so even than Democracy was America’s secret.  Now, our secret is how much we can get from the system, not how much we can accomplish before we die.  We must game the system until the system cracks, and then blame the system.

To all you Occupying cry babies:  Until your calluses have calluses, until you’ve earned your Master’s degree in something other than Art History, until you’ve gone into the military as a well-paid officer, don’t complain.  Walk into the local recruiter’s office with your Bachelor’s degree, sign up as a 2nd Lieutenant, have the US government pay for your college loans and find out what real responsibility looks like.  Until then–shut up.

Demographics is everything

Posted on Updated on

Greece, now Italy.  Next may be Spain.  Russia, too is dying.  Much of their problems are demographic and there’s almost no hope in fixing it.  Huge cultural and economic shifts are taking place and the next 20 years are likely to be very, very ugly.  I expect more wars, more poverty, and more political upheaval.  I’m serious.

To service members protesting in the Occupy Wallstreet movement: Get Real

Posted on Updated on

On today’s front page of the Stars and Stripes paper, a “sailor” sporting lug-nut sized earrings marches proudly beside a “soldier” whose chin is carapaced under a bushy goatee.  The article carrying this photo says that military veterans have joined the Occupy Wall Street movement and some are protesting the much higher wages that “corporate contractors” made in relation to what service members made while in war zones.

First of all, if money is the primary reason that someone is in the military, they should get out.  There’re easier ways to make money outside the military.  Secondly, the complaint about the contractors is ridiculous, at least in the context of what these protests are supposedly about.  Most of the contractors–a huge majority–are former military personnel with specialized skills.  The military hires them to fulfill two needs: 1) The specialized, technical skills those contractors possess aren’t easily found in 22 year old E4 Specialists.  2) Force Caps, or the maximum number of troops that Congress allows in Afghanistan and Iraq, hinders operations, and in order to get around that, the billets are filled with contractors whom have to pay for their own insurance, their own house back home.  With the contractors level of experience and college education, they’d be making similar money in the military if we counted benefits such as housing, training pay and TRICARE insurance.  Plus they could look forward to federal retirement pay.  And did military pay go down when we began paying a lot of contractors? Not to my knowledge.

These contractors also almost always have college degrees, or decades experience in a specialized field, such as law enforcement persons training foreign national troops.

I’m assuming that the two people marching in the protest are not currently in the military, because neither met the grooming or dress standards for anyone in the US Navy or Army.  And since they are protesting, it may be safe to assume that they are having a difficult time with finances.  In fact, below the photo in Stars and Stripes, the writer cites a complaint about service members having a difficult time after service.  Why did they leave the military? Even if the military is not the best situation for many people, it would seem better than being unemployed.  But I guess our government has made unemployment so comfortable an existence that it’s preferable to a real job with great benefits.  And you can always protest in hopes the government will give you the benefits you had when you were working.

Speaking of which.  The protesting service members should know that one of the things the Wall Street mob wants, is a free ride through college, and all their college debts paid off by–who else–the government.  Otherwise known as all the people who aren’t protesting but are actually working so as to generate taxable income.  As military veterans they have access to a fantastic thing called the GI Bill.  Have they used it?  Or did they throw away a job with no plan for the future?

To tell the truth, I have no idea if the two people in Stars and Stripes are really current or ex-service members.  Since ACORN got caught paying people to protest, it would actually be pure genius to pay some people to pose as disgruntled vets, just begging for more dole.

But if they are real, I’m embarrassed for them and by them.  If they’re not in the military anymore, I’m glad.  If they are they should spend more time studying for the next promotion board so they can make more money. And they got more free stuff in the military than they’ll get anywhere else.

Health Care Costs

Posted on Updated on

I did some research on medical costs yesterday and found some interesting things.  I’m quite familiar with the medical system; I’ve had 5 knee surgeries after tearing both ACLs playing football.

A few things of note.  I read a blog by a medical physician to get his opinion on why medical costs are so high and have been rising.  His opinion was that it was primarily a result of choice of the patient.  In other words, people are choosing more expensive procedures and equipment.  Some of this is the result of marketing.  Also, he said that when people have insurance, they tend to choose the most expensive thing that insurance will cover, even if it doesn’t do a better job.  Also, people would choose prescription medication instead of over the counter meds because insurance paid for the prescriptions.    If people are constantly choosing more expensive procedures, it seems this would inevitably result in higher insurance premiums.  In other words, it seems that health care is no more expensive than it ever was, it’s just that when studies are done showing people are paying more, it’s the people themselves that are choosing to pay more because most of them have insurance.

My first two knee surgeries were covered by Medicaid because I was a college student.  I paid for my others.  I can’t remember the exact amount, but I think the total was somewhere in the range of $10,000, total.   The hospital allowed me to pay in very small installments; some months I only paid 5$, but I kept paying and eventually paid the bill in its entirety.  This got me to thinking: Since we know that insurance companies are profit driven like other companies, they know that in all likelihood, most people will pay more to their insurance companies than the insurance companies will ever pay for medical bills.  If the hospital allows me to make smaller payments than an insurance company does each month, why do I have insurance?  And here’s the key:  With insurance, I’m paying to make sure two businesses make a profit–the hospital and the insurance company.  If I have no insurance, I’m only paying the hospital and they always seemed easier to work with than any insurance company.  When I worked for the police department in Bangor, I was astounded at how much the city paid in insurance costs for each officer.  I paid a small percentage of the total cost.   The insurance companies were making huge amounts of money, something I have no problem with except that I think much of the profit is driven by hysteria.  Maybe those companies create some of the hysteria to sell their product, I’m not sure.    The problem with having no insurance is that the uninsured must pay prices determined by the majority of people who have some sort of medical coverage.  The market is completely distorted.

I’d also like to point out that in almost all my interactions with the medical system, I had no idea what I was going to be paying when everything was said and done.   I didn’t really know what my insurance would cover.  Sometimes I walked out amazed at how little I had to pay, and other times I was surprised that I had to pay a large chuck of money.  I think that someone should sit down with people going in to have surgery and go over each cost, line by line, just like they’re buying a car.

The reason I started looking at medical costs was because I’ve always wondered why medical costs would rise more than other costs within the economy.  Medical costs should be controlled by supply and demand, just like the costs, of say, roller skates.  I believe that medical costs are artificially inflated because of insurance.  People buy products that they have only minimal demand for simply because they can.  Medical companies and hospitals can soak the insurance companies, who have near bottomless pockets, and the cost gets back to the consumer, even those that don’t try to game the system.   To tell the truth, since we have mixed our economy to the point where we actually have damaged the natural process of determining value, we may be better off just allowing the government to fix prices within the medical field.  Of course, this greases the already slippery slope of centralized control.