Giraffes, Flamingos, Defund, Defend, and the Wisdom and Madness of Crowds
To belabor the obvious America, and the world, is going through upheavals. We unpleasingly argue our way through a pandemic.
It's hard to know who or what to believe.
We’ve pivoted from the melodrama of threatened, and then, in 2018-19 real (if partial and overhyped), government shutdown. Instead we have a massive social/economic shutdown.
The stakes are far higher.
Is it more dangerous to keep the economy (and school systems) closed?
Or, to open them?
Meanwhile, many hold that the calls to "defund the police" represent a blow against oppression and "systemic racism."
Which they, at least in part, are.
Yet, many see the calls to "defend the police" as taking a stand for our protection and for respect toward the thin blue line between order and anarchy.
Which they, at least in part, are.
The federal government swings like a weather vane in a hurricane.
Elected officials are pretty expert at reading public sentiment.
They are fixated, as they should be, on whether their actions are responsive to voters’ wishes and, thus, on their reelection prospects. And as bigfoot journalist James Surowiecki persuasively argued in "The Wisdom of Crowds" there are some great, scientific, reasons to consider crowds, which use "collective intelligence," wiser than individuals.
Good politicians can read those tea leaves.
Or . . . they don’t last long.
That said, the crowd also is foolish. Charles Mackay established that definitively almost two centuries ago in "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds."
To frost that cake, Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps the smartest man who ever lived, lost a fortune in the South Sea bubble.
He is widely reported by the omniscient internet to have said, "I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."(Newton’s actual words, as recorded by Joseph Spence of the recollection of Lord Radnor, were "that he could not calculate the madness of the people." Close enough.)
So. Many elected officials, rather proficient in calculating the madness of the voters, are at loggerheads with each other. And with career civil servants. The latter are technocrats.
The technocrats’ expertise resides in interpreting scientific data. They tend to rely on computer models. These sanitize and make sacrosanct a lot of judgment calls programmed in by scientists. Scientists, after all, are only human. And "To err is human."
Meanwhile, to those of us in the bleachers the only positive certainty is that the elected officials are busily contradicting each other — and the experts.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., elegantly characterized the most recent offspring of the pachyderms and the donkeys as "giraffes and flamingos."
There seems no arbiter in whom we can safely repose our trust.
The Establishment never fully recovered from the credibility gap it bought itself by systematically lying about the Vietnam war, as revealed in the Pentagon Papers (and elsewhere). This mendacity generated countercultural bumper stickers for many of us Hippies to the effect of "Question Authority" and "Don’t trust anyone over 30."
It really does seem like the collapse of Western Civilization began in earnest in the 1970s. It is now visibly gaining momentum. Many of the causes of the protests of yore — anti-war, women’s lib — have been long resolved.
The civil rights movement made gains and was slowly (yes, far too slowly) continuing progress.
Just one piece of President Nixon’s perverse economic legacy, the "temporary" closing of the gold window, lingers. Might this matter? What should we make of John Maynard Keynes’s observation in his prophetic 1919 "The Economic Consequences of the Peace"? Keynes there embedded a clue to the possible cause of the existential crisis underlying so many of our institutional crises.
“Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. . . . “Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”
Our political leaders, our experts, and our authorities obsess on symptoms.
The media and the pundits obsess upon the attendant palace intrigue. Meanwhile we in the wise and foolish crowd await the one-in-a-million capable of diagnosing what is unleashing all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction.
Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $88T. He served as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House, has worked closely with the Congress and two cabinet agencies, and has published over a million words on politics and policy in the mainstream media, as a distinguished professional blogger, and as the author of the internationally award-winning cult classic book "The Websters' Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World." He has served as senior adviser, economics, to APIA as an advocate of the gold standard, senior counselor to the Chamber of Digital Commerce and serves as general counsel to Frax.finance, a stablecoin venture. Read Ralph Benko's reports — More Here.
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