The careful threads of political correctness are roping us into pens from which it’s impossible to communicate and alert our peers to invidious government scams.
Notre Dame Professor Patrick Deneen taps into an area of thinking that I’ve been spotting with more frequency. To my observation that we have no excuse for repeating errors that have been known for millennia, Deneen might respond (emphasis in original):
Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.
During my lifetime, lamentation over student ignorance has been sounded by the likes of E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Mark Bauerlein and Jay Leno, among many others. But these lamentations have been leavened with the hope that appeal to our and their better angels might reverse the trend (that’s an allusion to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, by the way). E.D. Hirsch even worked up a self-help curriculum, a do-it yourself guide on how to become culturally literate, imbued with the can-do American spirit that cultural defenestration could be reversed by a good reading list in the appendix. Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.
To my suggestion that progressive government is setting up a sort of “company state” in which everything is ordered toward the business model of providing government services and making others pay for them, Deneen would add (emphasis added):
Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.
Maybe his most important addition, however, is Deneen’s glimmer of hope:
On our best days, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself.
That’s a difficult longing to fulfill. As Plato noted all those centuries ago, people once deluded in such a way “deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth,” and powerful forces in our society will give them every opportunity and excuse not to evaluate their sense that something’s missing.
As the scarcity of posts in this space illustrates, I’ve been extremely busy, this week. Things have slowed, but I’m still getting back on track.
One thing I’ve been doing has been to sift through the data available from the Family Prosperity Initiative (FPI). In summary, the conclusion seems to be inevitable that Rhode Islanders are good people who are just relatively unhappy, with something having happened around 2012 to reinforce that feeling, as suggested by adverse changes in things like new business establishments after that year. Notably, that was the year that Rhode Island first sank to 48th in the country by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), where it has remained since.
But the broad data from the FPI has some interesting contrast. Rhode Island does poorly on almost all markers, whether economic or having to do with healthy behavior, with an up-tick around that year in, for example, obesity. Yet other positive markers also jumped that year, or soon thereafter, including an increase in marriages, a decrease in divorces, an increase in weekly church attendance, and an increase in the percentage of children living in married households.
I wonder if some of these results are an indicator of two distinct paths’ that Rhode Islanders follow. I’ve long been saying that Rhode Island has been driving out its “productive class“; that is, people at a point in life during which they want to make progress and be productive tend to account for a disproportionate share of the Rhode Islanders parting for elsewhere. I’ve also been describing the “company state” mentality, whereby the state government pursues policies that increase the number of clients who give it justification for taking money from other people (the producers), in the state and elsewhere.
Maybe what the data shows is that, when a community gets in a funk, some people turn toward things that have traditionally led to stability, meaning, and success (religiosity and family), and other people turn to unhealthy behaviors, like drug use. This is speculation, at this point, but I’d wager that there’s a strong correlation between these two paths and the other options of leaving the state, on the one hand, or falling into government dependence, on the other.
Brexit and Luton don’t indicate a tension between latent nationalism and a more-enlightened elite, but between an economic model that creates opportunity and one that relies on mutual dependency.
I’ve been warning about the “company state” dynamic whereby an area’s core industry essentially becomes the provision of government services, with the revenue pulled in from the few productive residents and other cities, towns, and states. The goal becomes to attract and create as many dependents as possible so as to justify sending a larger bill to those who have no choice but to pay it. Eventually, though, the productive locals will leave or decide to join the dependent club, and other cities, towns, and states will refuse or no longer be able to cover the bills.
I wonder if that sort of civic and economic structure will set Rhode Island to be akin to the frontier areas as the Roman Empire receded. Here’s Jakub Grygiel:
In those frontier outposts, the locals have to make difficult decisions based on an assessment of how resilient their empire is, how persistent and dangerous the enemy appears, and how strong their own will is. And they experience different stages of geopolitical grief from denial and delusion to perhaps, in the best case, an attempt at indigenous security provision.
Clearly, Grygiel’s talking about security against invaders, but something similar seems likely to happen when a large class of people rely on handouts that simply cease to be handed out, whether one sees the recipients as a replacement for the invaders or you see them as the villagers failing to prepare to defend themselves against events that will damage or take their resources. Grygiel describes the stages as follows:
- “First, there is the gradual recognition that imperial forces were not what they used to be.”
- “Second, after the reassuring presence of imperial might has vanished, the next stage does not include calls for defense or balancing or stronger walls. No. It is the stage of disbelief and self-delusion.”
- “Third… the people of Comagenis … recognized that security was a creation of force, not a self-sustaining reality. But even before the technical question of how to defend themselves, the locals needed a reason to do it.”
In some ways, we may already be well into the first stage, perhaps into the second. Government funds cannot be increased at the rate to which officials have become accustomed. Some things (roads and pensions) are showing the pressure on the finances, and intra-progressive political battles are beginning to pit special interests against each other. Next comes the refusal to adjust policies to the obvious future and a desperate search to find any and all sources of new revenue to keep the game going.
When that no longer works, we can expect a fatalism as some sit and stare at the financial wasteland and others refuse to let our society return to the principles of freedom, self control, and self reliance that allowed our society to be so successful in the first place.
Further to my post from earlier today, refer back to a Paul Edward Parker article from the Providence Journal last week. Noting that manufacturing and health care have more or less flipped places when it comes to number of jobs over the last 25 years, Parker writes:
Two factors figure prominently in the shift, according to Paul Harrington, an economist at Drexel University who has studied Rhode Island’s job market.
Manufacturing could be done other places and cheaper than in Rhode Island, while the manufacturing operations that stayed in Rhode Island switched to automation, getting more done with fewer, highly trained workers.
But health care has to be done where the patients are, and, by and large, robots haven’t taken over the jobs — at least not yet.
Health care — at least its provision and practice, as distinct from the production of its tools — is inherently a secondary industry. It serves people who are growing the economy doing other things. If those people are not present, there is nobody to whom to provide the care, and if they are not doing anything to grow wealth, there is no money to pay for their care.
This is another data point in the running theme that I drew from Lawrence, MA, and the notion that Rhode Island is becoming a “company state” — by which I meant to invoke the much maligned idea of a “company town” in which a single company provides most of the work and, insidiously, essentially owns the local government as a department to manage its employees’ lives. In part because government has destroyed economic incentives, the wealth-generating activities dry up, but those involved in government and its satellite industries (like health care and education) still want to keep their jobs, and (indeed) the demand for public services goes up as people lose work.
This turn of events produces all sorts of perverse incentives. First, perhaps, comes the urge for protectionism, to keep other local industries, other than government, going as much as possible, but undermining the ability of non-insiders to find new directions or innovation in existing industry. While hindering locals’ ability to respond to economic realities, the government also works to distort economic signals that people should consider going elsewhere, where there is work. These joint efforts create a filter that tends to push the most economically motivated residents out while drawing in those who haven’t been able to find work elsewhere. Naturally, because these people require government assistance (i.e., the services that government has decided to provide), government and its satellites don’t much mind the exchange, in the short term.
In the article, Drexel University Economist Paul Harrington sort of chokes on the concept that health care jobs are less desirable, for the local economy, than manufacturing jobs, but the reality is that they can’t be seen as an economy-sustaining industry. Indeed, to the degree that the government forces their growth, health care jobs might veryu well be a sign of impending collapse. Eventually the money dries up.
Over my habitual Saturday morning coffee and pancakes, I perused Ted Nesi’s weekly column and came across this intriguing item:
Moody’s latest Rhode Island economic outlook, presented this week at the twice-annual revenue conference, is a mixed bag. … Other pluses: the job market and personal income both appear to be improving, and net migration (residents moving in versus moving out) turned positive in 2014 for the first time in a decade.
The downsides are middle-income jobs and home sales (and I continue to believe the overall employment numbers are greatly overstated). But what about that net migration? Slide 23 of the Moody’s presentation does indeed show positive migration, although it isn’t clear what scale the numbers are on or why they don’t match up with numbers directly from the U.S. Census.
Population is a limited measure, though. A more critical question, for a struggling state, is: Who is coming and who is going? Unfortunately, the IRS taxpayer migration data for 2014 isn’t online, for the moment, and detailed state-level data from the Census isn’t out for that year, yet. Still, the Census does have the population estimates broken out by “components of change,” with some high-level detail about why people came and went.
From 2013 to 2014, the Census estimates that 1,375 more children were born in the state than people died, but that’s not the detail we’re interested in. Under “net migration,” the data does show 903 more people coming here from elsewhere than the reverse, but the “where” is important. When it comes to domestic migration — that is, people moving from one state to another — Rhode Island lost 3,387 residents. International migration that makes up the difference, with 4,290 more people coming to Rhode Island from other countries than emigrating.
Obviously, the world is full of varied people, so any assumptions made at this level are just that: assumptions. Still, recalling my observation, in August, that the increase of students in Providence schools came almost entirely from Hispanics who need extra help with English, the picture comes into focus pretty well. The Census’s FactFinder tool can fill in some of the details. From 2009 to 2013 — over the course of just four years — the percentage of children living in households receiving cash assistance increased by more than 50%.
To deepen the picture a little, consider that the percentage of all families receiving public assistance increased by just 17%. That’s still a big increase, but it suggests that Rhode Island’s population growth is in large part attributable to migration of poor, young families from countries to the south of the United States.
One needn’t be xenophobic to worry about the consequences of this demographic shift on the well-being of Rhode Islanders overall. If Rhode Island’s economy were healthy and was therefore able to accommodate foreign families and empower them to lift themselves up, that would be wonderful. More likely, though, like Lawrence, MA, we’ll continue to see government bring in new clients to turn RI into a company state, and somebody’s got to pay the bill.
Kevin Williamson gives some interesting thought to getting people from welfare to work. The contrarian hook is that he’s coming out in favor of more employer paternalism and perhaps even something resembling the old company-town model. But the upshot is an encouragement to out-of-the-box thinking.
Why not, for example, change the structure of unemployment insurance? Rather than have a possible total on which the person can draw down until it runs out, let the person get some percentage of any unused balance as a lump-sum check after he or she finds (and holds) a job. Now, I can think of a number of potential pitfalls to such a policy, but it has some beneficial features. For one, it could flip the natural human impulse to strive for the biggest nut one can get; whereas, now, the unemployed person can feel as if he or she is losing out on “free” benefits by finding a job too quickly, that person would, instead, feel as if he or she is losing a bonus with each week’s small check.
Williamson’s focus, though, is the possibilities of the large check. A person could pay off a lot of debt with a big check, including debt that he or she accumulates while preparing for, easing into, or relocating in order to find new work. This brings to mind a quick item I posted in 2007, titled “Go West, Young Welfare Recipient.” At the time, employers in Montana (among other places) were raising low-end salaries quickly because they couldn’t secure enough workers, so I suggested that we should stop contributing to low-skilled workers’ inertia in our struggling Ocean State economy and instead direct them west.
Williamson likewise takes for granted the desirability of having people relocate for work. That’s where I think he misses a big, important piece of the puzzle.
As I observed a few weeks ago, with reference to Lawrence, Massachusetts, governments and their economic satellites are deeply invested in the notion that nobody should move beyond the reach of their own paternalism. This paternalism may be expressed in charitable terms — “People shouldn’t have to leave their homes in order to make a living!” — but it’s ultimately self serving. If Rhode Island were to have fewer needy people for any reason, but especially because they moved to other states with jobs on offer, then Rhode Island’s government-and-service complex would have to shed jobs and power.
Once again, we come to the same ol’ prior problem. We need government that responds to the real needs of the people who live within its boundaries, not the institutional needs of the government, itself. Unfortunately, those who prioritize the latter have much more incentive to be politically active, and the system has therefore become rigged. As a result, people who are unable to make Rhode Island work for them and who don’t want to become dependent on government become the ones to leave the state.
This is what people mean when they talk about “a death spiral.”
Writing on the quagmire of President Obama’s foreign policy, Richard Fernandez introduces a term that describes very well the challenge I observed on Friday, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island:
To understand how defeat can be winning recall the old principal-agent problem. “The dilemma exists because sometimes the agent is motivated to act in his own best interests rather than those of the principal.” Even though the people might gain more by “winning” if the political class can do better by “losing” then they lose.
The Wikipedia entry to which Fernandez links for a quick explanation places at the core of the dilemma the fact that the agent (say, a corporate board) has an advantage in information over the principal (e.g., shareholders). The board can better see the conditions of the investment and may find itself in a position in which recommending one path would pay off for the shareholders, but cost the board.
In the case of government, the asymmetry of information certainly exists, but the greater problem is the asymmetry of power. In theory, of course, government agents must convince voters that public actions are in their best interest, which is an information issue, but the government has the advantage that direct consent is not immediately necessary, so its persuasion can be done post facto. ObamaCare would never have won a national referendum, but imposing it and then manipulating asymmetrical information has kept it lumbering along.
The Greenhouse Compact failed in Rhode Island because it came to a vote of the people, while RhodeMap RI insinuated its way into law and now can continue based on the false information that it’s simply sitting on a shelf, or the even more obvious stratagem of changing its name. Remember that Governor Raimondo used a refinancing gimmick to produce the $80 million needed for part of her plan without the requirement of public consent, and some of her wealthy backers are helping to fund some of the planning stage, perhaps with reinforcement from the Boston Fed.
Decisions are being made that will affect every part of your life in Rhode Island. You still have time (theoretically) to change the people making the decisions or to take their authority away for specific actions. Many have already concluded that the only way to escape their authority is to leave, although the disinclination to stand up against them does not bode well for the hope that their approach won’t spread around the country and the world.
The Boston Fed cites Lawrence, MA, as an example of success for the program that it would like to bring to Rhode Island. That struggling city is actually a great case study in why Rhode Islanders should resist the Fed and any other top-down program to save the state.
Reading Lawrence Proulx’s observations in yesterday’s Providence Journal, one can easily predict what sort of reaction he’d be apt to get:
In my work, I read one of the world’s great newspapers; in my leisure time I read other general-interest papers and magazines. And I have slowly gotten the impression that white people and men are treated in a particular, unenviable, way. They are, in reporting and commentary, what you might call fair game. Where writers are generally reluctant to call attention to the sex, ethnicity, religion or race of people when the result would be unflattering, they make an exception for whites and for men. There is something in the air that implicitly imparts the message that white people and men have it coming.
One comment to a related Facebook post from commentary editor Ed Achorn captures the flawed thinking of the racist worldview that lumps people together based on the color of their skin:
… complaining that white men are being treated unfairly is absurd. Take a look around this room and tell me what you see. Especially on the Republican half of things.
The appended picture appears to be from a state of the union address to Congress. The reasoning is: It can’t be that white men are treated unfairly when there are so many of them in power. The problem is that, while white men dominate in Congress, a vanishingly small percentage of white men are Congressmen or Senators. By definition, most white men are not members of the elite.
What the American elite (which is overwhelming white) has done by permeating our society with the anti-white bias about which Proulx complains is to reduce opportunity for lower-class whites. Those who are surrounded by privilege have opportunities no matter their sex or race; those whose families and associates are not so well positioned need to find opportunities where they can. Dividing the playing board by race ensures that those who lack opportunities are the ones who pay the dues for their race.
If it’s true that white men of all classes have advantages over others in their own classes, then racialism impedes the greatest competition facing white men in upper classes. I’m not so sure the racial assumption is true, though, which means racialism allows elites to help out their privileged peers of other races by way of denying opportunities to those whom they’ve demonized.
Kenneth Colston traces the significance of Saint Francis and Franciscans in the works of Shakespeare, Manzoni, and Chesterton and applies them to Pope Francis.
Justin writes live from a speech talk by David Carlin on Christianity and Party Politics.
The Ocean State Current
The Ocean State Current is the independent, nonpartisan news and commentary bureau of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. Its mission is to leverage online multimedia to ensure that a well-informed public has the breadth of information required for healthy self governance. To further that mission, the Current seeks to integrate with the existing community of local news providers in all media in such a way as to find stories and convey perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked.
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Human nature and economic law influence all social endeavors. We can resolve to fight the current or resign ourselves passively to whatever direction it dictates, but we cannot ignore its pull. The current flows through each of us and in our interactions. However ingenious our designs, however eternal our structures seem, they need a comprehending touch and constant vigilance to forestall erosion.
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Managing Editor Justin Katz attracted national attention when he joined an early wave of bloggers with his site DustintheLight.com in 2002 — back when one frequently had to explain that the term was short for “Web log.” When current events convinced him of the precarious condition of Rhode Island civil society, he joined other local conservatives in founding AnchorRising.com in 2004. In the years since, Justin has published regularly in such venues as the Providence Journal, National Review Online, and Rhode Island Catholic and was featured in Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (HarperCollins, 2010), and Anchor Rising, now with the Ocean State Current, has become among the most widely read sources of political commentary in the state.
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Mike Stenhouse is founder and CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a state-based free-enterprise public policy think tank. With an Economics degree from Harvard University, Stenhouse was also a two-time All-America baseball selection and also earned a varsity letter in basketball. He went on to have an 8-year professional baseball career, including stints as a major leaguer with the 1986 Boston Red Sox American League Championship team, with the Minnesota Twins (’85), and with the Montreal Expos (’82-’84). Previously, Stenhouse served as Executive Director for the Ocean State Policy Research Institute. He formerly served as VP of the Board of Directors for RI Special Olympics. A Cranston, RI native and Cranston HS East graduate, Mike was named the state’s Journal Honor Roll selection as well as Words Unlimited Student Athlete of the Year as a senior in 1976. Mike has been inducted into the Hall of Fame for Harvard University Athletics, the Cape Cod Baseball League, the RI Interscholastic League, and the City of Cranston Athletics.
Larry Gillheeney is the Advocacy Manager for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. He holds an advanced degree in International Relations from Salve Regina University where he focused on global economic development. He is a lifelong resident of Cranston, Rhode Island. In his spare time he enjoys swimming, hiking, and Clint Eastwood movies.
Founded in 2004, Anchor Rising is possibly Rhode Island’s longest-running blog for news and commentary, especially with an emphasis on politics and policy. And it has long been the most prominent Web site expressing conservative views in the state. Ocean State Current managing Editor Justin Katz was one of the founding contributors. The other contributors are:
Carroll Andrew Morse
Carroll Andrew Morse has been a contributor to Anchor Rising since its founding in 2004. He writes regularly on the Rhode Island legislature and government, the underpinnings of self-government and the democratic process, the interaction of politics and policymaking, and national security and foreign policy issues. Andrew holds a Masters in Public Affairs from Brown University’s Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, but believes blogs posts should stand on their own, regardless of credentials.
The third of Anchor Rising founders, Marc Comtois lives and works in Rhode Island with his family. In addition to opining, he can be found volunteering or playing at soccer fields around the state. He also likes studying history, listening to music, digging into genealogy and drinking good beer.
Monique Chartier is a political gadfly and editor of the RI Taxpayer Times newsletter.