Spread too thin

How do you destroy a powerful thing? The death of a thousand cuts: quietly drain away what it needs to be healthy.

If you want to do it without dying, you need to subvert it from within. Take its most precious value, twist it, and re-direct the energy from productive activity to unproductive.

Take for example the modern West. Our founding belief is that we reward those who do well. Deconstructed, this becomes a belief that the best things are not done for pay, therefore we should spread our wealth around so everyone is rewarded.

That way, others tell us, no one has reason to be discontented. Everyone has a reward. Everyone is equal, and without friction, we’re safe. We have a new Utopia.

Thinking of this nature led us off to war in WWI which, unresolved, festered for another two decades and then exploded in WWII. We were fighting the War to End All Wars, a continuation of the 1789 French revolution sentiment that nations were the problem, and we needed a new order. An international order, where there was no ethnicity, and no allegiances. We would replace all of that with a political order where everyone was equal and the wealth got spread around.

What a pleasant vision! Few stopped to think that if it was that easy, it would have happened centuries ago. We were too busy inventing enemies who opposed this vision, starting with the kings and then the big empires like the Ottoman Empire and the German federation. We wanted to believe in this vision so badly that we demonized anyone who didn’t explicitly agree with it.

The battle lines thus drawn, the West — Europe and America — began to deconstruct themselves. They spread their wealth to the granular level of the individual, and the individual then managed to transfer that wealth to economic dead-ends. They spent it on products which would make no one any further money: entertainment, booze, luxuries. These had their value added already and did nothing but depreciate.

To avoid the crisis this provoked, we created bubbles. Like the housing bubble, each consisted of us agreeing (internally) that we were truly ahead of everyone else, and we could sell each other stuff while marking it up along the way, and somehow extract “profit” from this even though no new wealth was created. It was all on paper, based on the value of our economies. Conveniently, it was our own news sources and academics who agreed on this, and each got a piece of the pie.

As with all things historical, it took a long time for this action to be mated with the full list of its consequences. With WWII over, we created a bubble in providing products for our citizens; next, we created a defense bubble, then a housing bubble, then a technology bubble. Our inflated values skyrocketed. But did they actually gain value?

Under the Länderfinanzausgleich – or state financial equalization – rules, state revenue from sales tax and parts of income and corporate tax, are used to redistribute money to smooth out differences between the nation’s richer and poorer states. Federal government grants are also used for the same purpose.

But the governments of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse, all net payers, decided at a joint cabinet meeting in Stuttgart on Monday to commission a legal challenge, which they would use to pressure other states towards a compromise.

They want an overhaul of the equalization system, under which the richer and more powerful states help the economically weaker ones. Among other complaints, they argue that the system gives recipient states no incentive to be fiscally disciplined. – The Local

The principle of spreading wealth thin is that we take from those who do better, give equally to everyone, and thus avoid conflict. But instead, we may be sacrificing our competitiveness, because this means that we no longer concentrate wealth with those who are most capable of using it to produce more wealth.

Instead, we have concentrated our wealth in the broadest mass of people, in which a lowest common denominator reigns supreme, so that our actions are “popular.” But there’s a catch: they’re only popular in our countries, and generally among people who have no influence on our future. We’re buying ourselves off.

Perry also designated for quick approval in the state legislative session that started Jan. 11, a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, stronger property-owner rights, tighter voter identification requirements at the polls and a resolution directed to the U.S. Congress to pass a balanced-budget amendment, the American-Statesman reported.

Democrats, however, said in focusing on these issues, Perry is trying to shift attention from news that the state is $27 billion short of the money needed for government services over the next two years. – UPI

Why is it American states are going bankrupt? They focused on social expenditure, or spreading of wealth, and not on concentrating that wealth in areas where more would occur. Their budgets ballooned and, in the name of whatever the voters thought sounded pleasing, they chased impractical ideas that looked good on the news. The same happens in Europe.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed last week that the public sector alone will be forced to spend £30 million each year on new equality audits that include asking staff sensitive questions about their religion and sexuality.

An investigation into the implications of the new law revealed that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs paid consultants £100,000 to produce a report on how groups such as the Chinese, homosexuals and Welsh speakers could be affected by efforts to boost Britain’s coastal fish stocks.

The Department for Transport issued a study this month into harassment and discrimination against groups such as transsexuals on ships and hovercraft. – The Telegraph

This isn’t just a travesty; it’s high comedy. Texas is drowning in debt in part because its public services are under assault by legions of illegal aliens. Europe is experiencing the same with its immigration. When you spread the wealth equally, you stop wanting qualified citizens. You import anyone who does cheap labor, and you use them cruelly. In turn, you replace your population with a dependent one, and you drain your wealth to them at the same time you exploit them.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich released new statistics this week showing social spending for those families in his county rose to $53 million in November, putting the county government on track to spend more than $600 million on related costs for the year — up from $570 million in 2009.

Antonovich arrived at the estimate by factoring in the cost of food stamps and welfare-style benefits through a state program known as CalWORKS. Combined with public safety costs and health care costs, the official claimed the “total cost for illegal immigrants to county taxpayers” was more than $1.6 billion in 2010.

“Not including the hundreds of millions of dollars for education,” he said in a statement. – Fox

When America was a land of immigrants, it was a land of people who took risks. They left Europe, came here, and built a new land. The trials they faced were a far cry from the ease of boarding a plane, or even a leaky boat, and arriving here to work as unskilled labor. The original Americans did not demand government handouts; they were happy enough with an equitable situation, meaning one in which they could make something of it, not one in which the wealth was spread equally. After all, they were escaping a Europe which was increasing fanatical about spreading its own wealth, a tradition which continues to the present time where unskilled laborers make a good wage, but as a result costs for any activity are high, and the nations are further paralyzed by Nanny State bureaucracies who waste their money and tie them down with regulations.

That’s what happens when you go from reward-the-good to spread-the-wealth. It also does something to your spirit:

Thomas L Friedman is a three times Pulitzer Prize winner who writes for the New York Times.

He is worried – just like George and Bruce Springsteen – about the decline of something Americans used to champion, the nation’s working class.

“What’s most unsettling about China to Americans is not their communism, it’s the capitalism,” he said as we chatted in his kitchen.

“We see in China things we used to see in ourselves: can-do, get it done, hard work, sacrifice, ‘own the future’.

“That used to be us, and now we see it in them.” – BBC

Unlike the dying West, the Chinese are not fascinated by how much they can sell stuff to themselves. They are interested in conquering new ground, ground that’s old hat for the West but still, a source of growth and replenishment. Their goal, although crude, is a goal; the West has lost touch with anything but itself, and has make itself into an echo chamber in which the “popular” ideas are rewarded, creating a new elite of people who are not competent so much as have the right opinions, know the right social codes, and can flatter others and come up with popular ideas. Popular, in the West disconnected from reality.

How much does inequality matter? A lot, say Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors of “The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone”. Their book caused a stir in Britain by showing, with copious graphs and statistics, that inequality is associated with all manner of social ills. After comparing various unequal countries and American states with more equal ones, the authors concluded that greater inequality leads to more crime, higher infant mortality, fatter citizens, shorter lives, more teenage pregnancies, more discrimination against women and so on. They even found that more equal countries are more innovative, as measured by patents earned per person.

As technology advances, the rewards to cleverness increase. Computers have hugely increased the availability of information, raising the demand for those sharp enough to make sense of it. In 1991 the average wage for a male American worker with a bachelor’s degree was 2.5 times that of a high-school drop-out; now the ratio is 3. Cognitive skills are at a premium, and they are unevenly distributed.

Parents who graduated from university are far more likely than non-graduates to raise children who also earn degrees. This is true in all countries, but more so in America and France than in Israel, Finland or South Korea, according to the OECD. Nature, nurture and politics all play a part. – Economist

A new cognitive elite, really? Then we’d better make sure we’re handing out those university degrees on the basis of skill and not as rewards for repeating the right dogma, or knowing how to do trivial tasks well. We have to make sure we’re not an echo chamber rewarding its own echoes. Are we? Well…

I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years – not about the talent of the applicants but about the education American universities are providing. Even from America’s great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago.

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why.

Unlike many graduate fellowships, the Rhodes seeks leaders who will “fight the world’s fight.” They must be more than mere bookworms. We are looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership. The undergraduate education they are receiving seems less and less suited to that purpose.

An outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president’s health-care bill but doesn’t really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn’t really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral. A young service academy cadet who is likely to be serving in a war zone within the year believes there are things worth dying for but doesn’t seem to have thought much about what is worth killing for. A student who wants to study comparative government doesn’t seem to know much about the important features and limitations of America’s Constitution. – Washington Post

Generation X saw this disaster coming in the 1980s. As the Baby Boomers surged through the system, we saw a rise in standardized testing and rigorous application processes in order to weed the motivated from the amotivated. But in the process, we lost something. We lost the wildcatters who aren’t motivated by standardized tests, uniform education, and repeating the right dogma. We lost the free thinkers, and with it, our will to surpass our past. Instead, we focused on finding people who fit into what we already had. This is why the kind of trivial thinking detailed in the above article is rewarded, and why we have become even more of an echo chamber. The chamber finds more people who fit into it, instead of picking people who will make the best of any situation. This stagnant, solipsistic and moribund outlook explains the lack of American competitiveness: we have selected for people who work the system, not work the job or grasp the problems not delineated in official documents.

Our newer generations have no idea. They have grown up in the system, and trusted its education, because the dogma it teaches matches what they hear from rock stars and entertainers. They believe that they sound more intelligent for repeating such things, even though if they could think critically (they cannot, with a few exceptions) they would see that the root of all this dogma is the same idea that propelled the revolution in France: spread the wealth, and nobody gets hurt.

It sounds good except that we kill the goose that laid the golden egg. We sacrifice our ability to compete, reward the mediocre and frustrate the exceptional and creative. We make a world that is one-size-fits-all, ruled by bureaucrats and other inflexiable and stultifying idiots, all while convincing ourselves we’re more “compassionate” out of a desire to be popular. We please ourselves, and disconnect from reality.

As we watch the Tea Parties in America and the New Right in Europe get to their feet, we are seeing the counterreaction to a disaster that began with the French Revolution. Spreading the wealth is not progressive or wise, it’s suicide. It destroys our belief in a future and leaves us open to be replaced by those who have a goal outside of narcissism, even if a crude one. This death of a thousand cuts won’t even get us martyrdom status, because we did it to ourselves from a lack of more interesting ideas.

One Comment

  1. [...] Stevens – “The Multicultural Mystique, by Harriet E. Baber“, “Spread Too Thin“, “Gender Roles: Adaptivity, Not Control“, “The SUV Paradox“, [...]

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