Wisconson - sign of more to come?

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The Authoritarian ~ by Robert Altmeyer

Poet,

This is a PDF link to a complete online copy of The Authoritarian ~ by Robert Altmeyer

Chapter One

Who Are The Authoritarian Followers?

Because this book is called The Authoritarians, you may have thought it dealt with autocrats and despots, the kind of people who would rule their country, or department, or football team like a dictator. That is one meaning of the word, and yes, we shall talk about such people eventually in this book. But we shall begin with a second kind of authoritarian: someone who, because of his personality, submits by leaps and bows to his authorities.

It may seem strange, but this is the authoritarian personality that psychology has studied the most. We shall probably always have individuals lurking among us who yearn to play tyrant. Some of them will be dumber than two bags of broken hammers, and some will be very bright. Many will start so far down in society that they have little chance of amassing power; others will have easy access to money and influence all their lives.

On the national scene some will be frustrated by prosperity, internal tranquillity, and international peace--all of which significantly dim the prospects for a demagogue -in-waiting. Others will benefit from historical crises that automatically drop increased power into a leader’s lap. But ultimately, in a democracy, a wannabe tyrant is just a comical figure on a soapbox unless a huge wave of supporters lifts him to high office. That’s how Adolf Hitler destroyed the Weimar Republic and became the Fuhrer. So we need to understand the people out there doing the wave. Ultimately the problem lay in the followers.

In this chapter we’ll consider the way I measure people’s tendency to be authoritarian followers and whether this approach has any merit. And if after that you find yourself thinking, “More, more, I still want more. I simply love reading books on a monitor!” I’ll tell you the story of what happened at my university on the night of October 19, 1994, When Authoritarians Ruled The Earth.

Right-wing and Left-Wing Authoritarian Followers

Authoritarian followers usually support the established authorities in their society, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders. Such people have historically been the “proper” authorities in life, the time-honoured, entitled, customary leaders, and that means a lot to most authoritarians. Psychologically these followers have personalities featuring:

1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3) a high level of conventionalism.

In the next chapter we’ll try to figure out why high RWAs are so aggressive. Then we’ll try to understand how nice, ordinary people--like some of your neighbors, some of your co-workers, and perhaps even some of your relatives--became right-wing authoritarians.

Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers right- wing authoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said. (And when someone did the lawful thing back then, maybe the authorities said, with a John Wayne drawl, “You got that riht, pilgrim!”)

In North America people who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives, 2 so you can call them “right-wingers” both in my newfangled psychological sense and in the usual political sense as well. But someone who lived in a country long ruled by Communists and who ardently supported the Communist Party would also be one of my psychological right-wing authoritarians even though we would also say he was a political left-winger. So a right-wing authoritarian follower doesn’t necessarily have conservative political views. Instead he’s someone who readily submits to the established authorities in society, attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional. It’s an aspect of his personality, not a description of his politics. Right-wing authoritarianism is a personality trait, like being characteristically bashful or happy or grumpy or dopey.

You could have left-wing authoritarian followers as well, who support a revolutionary leader who wants to overthrow the establishment. I knew a few in the 1970s, Marxist university students who constantly spouted their chosen authorities, Lenin or Trotsky or Chairman Mao. Happily they spent most of their time fighting with each other, as lampooned in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the People's Front of Judea devotes most of its energy to battling, not the Romans, but the Judean People’s Front. But the left-wing authoritarians on my campus disappeared long ago. Similarly in America “the Weathermen” blew away in the wind. I’m sure one can find left-wing authoritarians here and there, but they hardly exist in sufficient numbers now to threaten democracy in North America. However I have found bucketfuls of right-wing authoritarians in nearly every sample I have drawn in Canada and the United States for the past three decades. So when I speak of “authoritarian followers” in this book I mean right-wing authoritarian followers, as identified by the RWA scale.

The RWA Scale

The what? The Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale. Get out a pencil. I’m going to take you into the inner sanctum of a personality test. Just don’t be FRIGHTENED!

Below is the latest version of the RWA scale. Read the instructions carefully, and then write down your response to each statement on a sheet of paper numbered 1-22.

This survey is part of an investigation of general public opinion concerning a variety of social issues. You will probably find that you agree with some of the statements, and disagree with others, to varying extents. Please indicate your reaction to each statement on the line to the left of each item according to the following scale:

Write down a -4 if you very strongly disagree with the statement.
Write down a -3 if you strongly disagree with the statement.
Write down a -2 if you moderately disagree with the statement.
Write down a -1 if you slightly disagree with the statement.
Write down a +1 if you slightly agree with the statement.
Write down a +2 if you moderately agree with the statement.
Write down a +3 if you strongly agree with the statement.
Write down a +4 if you very strongly agree with the statement.
If you feel exactly and precisely neutral about an item, write down a “0."

(“Dr. Bob” to reader: We’ll probably stay friends longer if you read this paragraph.) Important: You may find that you sometimes have different reactions to different parts of a statement. For example, you might very strongly disagree (“-4") with one idea in a statement, but slightly agree (“+1") with another idea in the same item. When this happens, please combine your reactions, and write down how you feel on balance (a “-3" in this case).

___ 1. The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protesters are usually just “loud mouths” showing off their ignorance.
___ 2. Women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married.
___ 3. Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.
___ 4. Gays and lesbians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else.
___ 5. It is always better to trust the judgement of the proper authorities in government and religion than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubt in people’s minds
___ 6. Atheists and others who have rebelled against the established religions are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly.
___ 7. The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad ideas.
___ 8. There is absolutely nothing wrong with nudist camps.
___ 9. Our country needs free thinkers who have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people.
___ 10. Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the perversions eating away at our moral fibre and traditional beliefs.
___ 11. Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.
___ 12. The “old-fashioned ways” and the “old-fashioned values” still show the best way to live.
___ 13. You have to admire those who challenged the law and the majority’s view by protesting for women’s abortion rights, for animal rights, or to abolish school prayer.
___ 14. What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil, and take us back to our true path.
___ 15. Some of the best people in our country are those who are challenging our government, criticizing religion, and ignoring the “normal way things are supposed to be done.”
___ 16. God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.
___ 17. There are many radical, immoral people in our country today, who are trying to ruin it for their own godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action.
___ 18. A “woman’s place” should be wherever she wants to be. The days when women are submissive to their husbands and social conventions belong strictly in the past.
___ 19. Our country will be great if we honour the ways of our forefathers, do what the authorities tell us to do, and get rid of the “rotten apples” who are ruining everything.
___ 20. There is no “ONE right way” to live life; everybody has to create their own way.
___ 21. Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy “traditional family values.
___ 22. This country would work a lot better if certain groups of troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s traditional place in society.

Done them all, as best you could? Then let’s score your answers, and get an idea of whether you’re cut out to be an authoritarian follower. First, you can skip your answers to the first two statements. They don’t count. I put those items on the test to give people some experience with the -4 to +4 response system. They’re just “warm- ups.” Start therefore with No. 3.

If you wrote down a “-4” that’s scored as a 1.
If you wrote down a “-3" that’s scored as a 2.
If you wrote down a “-2" that’s scored as a 3.
If you wrote down a “-1" that’s scored as a 4.
If you wrote down a “0" or left the item unanswered, that’s scored as a 5.
If you wrote down a “+1" that’s scored as a 6.
If you wrote down a “+2" that’s scored as a 7.
If you wrote down a “+3" that’s scored as an 8.
If you wrote down a “+4" that’s scored as a 9.

Your answers to Items 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19 and 22 are scored the same way.

Now we’ll do the rest of your answers, starting with No. 4.
If you wrote down a “-4" that’s scored as a 9.
If you wrote down a “-3" that’s scored as an 8.
If you wrote down a “-2" that’s scored as a 7.
If you wrote down a “-1" that’s scored as a 6.
If you wrote down a “0" or left the item unanswered, that’s scored as a 5.
If you wrote down a “+1" that’s scored as a 4.
If you wrote down a “+2" that’s scored as a 3.
If you wrote down a “+3" that’s scored as a 2.
If you wrote down a “+4" that’s scored as a 1.

Now simply add up your twenty scores. The lowest total possible would be 20, and the highest, 180, but real scores are almost never that extreme. Introductory psychology students at my Canadian university average about 75. Their parents average about 90. Both scores are below the mid-point of the scale, which is 100, so most people in these groups are not authoritarian followers in absolute terms. Neither are most Americans, it seems. Mick McWilliams and Jeremy Keil administered the RWA scale to a reasonably representative sample of 1000 Americans in 2005 for the Libertarian Party and discovered an average score of 90.3, 4 Thus the Manitoba parent samples seem similar in overall authoritarianism to a representative American adult sample. My Manitoba students score about the same on the RWA scale as most American university students do too.

Let me give you three compelling reasons why you should treat your personal score with a grain of salt. First, psychological tests make mistakes about individuals, which is what you happen to be, I’ll bet. Even the best instruments, such as the best IQ tests, get it wrong sometimes--as I think most people know. Thus the RWA scale can’t give sure-thing diagnoses of individuals. (But it can reliably identify levels of authoritarianism in groups, because too-high errors and too-low errors tend to even out in big samples. So we’ll do the group grope in this book, and not go on the individual counselling trip. )

Second, how you responded to the items depended a lot on how you interpreted them. You may have writhed in agony wondering, “What does he mean by _______?” as you answered. If I failed often to get the gist of what I was saying over to you, your score will certainly be misleading.

Third, you knew what the items were trying to measure, didn’t you, you rascal! The RWA scale is a personality test disguised as an attitude survey, but I’ll bet you saw right through it. In fact, you could probably take each statement apart and see how I was trying to slyly tap the various components of the RWA personality trait.

Take that first-scored item, No. 3: “Our country desperately needs a mighty leader (authoritarian submission) who will do what has to be done to destroy (authoritarian aggression) the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us” (conventionalism). Well if you’re smart enough to do that, you’re smart enough to realize how easily you might have slanted your answers to look good. So I didn’t ask you to answer the RWA scale to see if you’d find true happiness and fulfilment as a storm trooper in some dictator’s army. It’s not a vocational test. Instead, I wanted you to experience for yourself the instrument used to identify and study authoritarian followers. Most of what I have uncovered about authoritarianism, I have dug up with this tool, and now you know what it is and how it works.

Is The RWA Scale Valid?

According to the High Laws of Science (you do not have to genuflect here), ideas must be repeatedly tested to see if they fail. So the next (and extremely important) question is, does the RWA scale really measure what it says it measures? Are the test scores valid? If they are, we should find that high scorers submit to established authority more than most people do, aggress more in the name of such authority, and are much more conventional. What’s the evidence? Authoritarian Submission. Everybody submits to authority to some degree. Imagine a world in which people ignored traffic laws and sped through red lights. The cost of auto insurance would shoot through the roof (although the line-ups to buy it would become much shorter). But some people go way beyond the norm and submit to authority even when it is dishonest, corrupt, unfair and evil. We would expect authoritarian followers especially to submit to corrupt authorities in their lives: to believe them when there is little reason to do so, to trust them when huge grounds for suspicion exist, and to hold them blameless when they do something wrong. We don’t expect absolutes here; people are much too complicated to completely, always, blindly submit, no matter what. But IF the RWA scale truly measures the tendency to be an authoritarian follower, those who score highly on it should tend to do these things, right? So do they?

Well, they will tell you that people should submit to authority in virtually all circumstances. If you give them moral dilemmas (e.g. should one steal an absurdly expensive drug to save a life?) they’re more likely to say, “The law is the law and must be obeyed” than most people are. High RWAs also say they would bow more to show respect for their fathers, the president of companies where they worked, and so on, than most people indicate. (An astronomer suggested I ask about the bowing, which I thought was silly, but he was right. “Social scientists are such blockheads!”) High RWAs trusted President Nixon longer and stronger than most people did during the Watergate crisis.11 Some of them still believed Nixon was innocent of
criminal acts even after he accepted a pardon for them. (Similarly the Allies found many Germans in 1945 refused to believe that Hitler, one of the most evil men in history, had ordered the murder of millions of Jews and others. “He was busy running the war,” Hitler’s apologists said. “The concentration camps were built and run by subordinates without his knowing it.”) To pick a more current example, authoritarian followers believed, more than most people did, President George W. Bush’s false claims that Saddam Hussein had extensive links to al-Qa'ida, and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And they supported the invasion of Iraq, whereas less authoritarian Americans tended to doubt the wisdom of that war from the start.

Caution Number One: On the other hand, right-wing authoritarians did not support President Clinton during his impeachment and trial over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. So as I said, the support is not automatic and reflexive, but can be trumped by other concerns. In Clinton’s case his administration not only had advocated for groups anathema to authoritarians, such as homosexuals and feminists, his sexual misdeeds in the White House deeply offended many high RWAs.

Shifting our focus a bit, please give your reaction to the story below:

It has been reported in the press that the FBI has maintained illegal wire-taps of the telephones
of about 60 persons in the United States who were suspected of being sympathetic toward radical
political organizations. The FBI is reported to be taking no chances that these persons might become
active in their support of these groups. Under current legislation such wire taps are legally permissible
only if a judge has signed a court order authorizing them. The FBI reportedly has never sought court
approval of these wire-taps because they believed their case was too weak and the courts would deny
them. The FBI has denied the wire-taps exist, and described the report as a “complete fabrication.”

If the story is true, how serious a matter would you say the illegal wire-tapper are?

0 = Not serious at all; they clearly are justified by the circumstances.
1 = Mildly serious
2 = Somewhat serious
3 = Pretty serious
4 = Extremely serious; such acts strike at the foundation of a free society.

What would you say? You can put me down for a “4.” What’s the point of having laws protecting privacy if the law enforcers can decide to ignore them whenever they wish, and then get away with it?

The issue may remind you of the Bush administration’s policy of authorizing the National Security Agency to engage in electronic spying, without warrants, on Americans suspected of supporting terrorism--which simply ignored the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that required prior court approval of such surveillance. And indeed, David Winter at the University of Michigan discovered that high RWAs felt Bush’s policy was “both necessary and appropriate” because of terrorism. But the wiretaps case presented above comes from a study I did over thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1974, using students from five scattered American universities. I found that persons who scored highly on the RWA scale tended to answer with 0's, 1's and 2's, while those who scored low in RWA used 3's and 4's much more often. (The overall average in those months immediately following Watergate equalled 3.0.)

And this is just the beginning. Over the years I have found that authoritarian followers blissfully tolerated many illegal and unjust government actions that occurred in the United States and Canada, such as:

- a police burglary of a newspaper office to get confidential information.
- drug raids carried out without search warrants because judges wouldn’t give them.
- denial of right to assemble to peacefully protest government actions.
- “dirty tricks” played by a governing party on the opposition during an election.
- immigration office discrimination against radical speakers.
- placing agents provocateurs in organizations to create dissension and bad press relations.
- burning down the meeting place of a radical organization.
- unauthorized mail openings.

Authoritarian followers seem to have a “Daddy and mommy know best” attitude toward the government. They do not see laws as social standards that apply to all. Instead, they appear to think that authorities are above the law, and can decide which laws apply to them and which do not--just as parents can when one is young. But in a democracy no one is supposed to be above the law. Still, authoritarians quite easily put that aside. They also believe that only criminals and terrorists would object to having their phones tapped, their mail opened, and their lives put under surveillance. They have bought their tickets and are standing in line waiting for 1984, The Real Thing.

There might as well not be a Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. And when the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is used to deny people the right of habeas corpus--one of the oldest rights in western law--it is unlikely that right-wing authoritarians will object to the loss of this constitutional guarantee either.

In fact, who even needs the whole Bill of Rights? Here is a (fake) letter-to-the-editor I asked some San Francisco State University students to respond to in 1990.

If a person stops to think about it, most of the problems we are having can be traced to the Bill
of Rights--or more precisely, to the way it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court. “Freedom of
speech” has been twisted to mean that pornographers can sell their filth, and that anybody can say
whatever he wants, whether it’s good for society or not. And “freedom of religion” has been twisted to
mean children can’t pray in public schools any more. And the “right to happiness” has been twisted to
mean women can have abortion after abortion if they’re “unhappy” being pregnant. And think how many
drug pushers and criminals have gotten off scot-free because their “rights” were supposedly violated after
they had robbed or killed somebody.

A lot of people hoped the new Supreme Court, rid of the “Liberal Majority” which had made all
these terrible rulings, would overturn them. But it’s clear now that they won’t. No Supreme Court can
reverse the ruling of an earlier Supreme Court, so we are stuck with these interpretations as long as there
is a Bill of Rights. And we will soon be destroyed as a nation because of them. So the only thing we can
do, to make America the free, pure, safe Christian nation that the founding fathers intended it to be, is to
repeal the Bill of Rights.

If you like, you can count up how many ignorant, inaccurate, misleading and just plain stupid things there are in this letter. I knew it was ridiculous when I composed it. But I got the material from various people I’ve heard speak on the subject. If you haven’t heard them, tune in to “talk radio” some night.

I asked the students how sensible they thought the letter was, and whether they thought the Bill of Rights should be repealed. High RWAs found the letter pretty sensible, don’t you know, and they favoured repealing the Bill of Rights more than anyone else did. Which sprinkles a dash of irony into this stew. The founding fathers added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution to prevent tyranny by the government. I wonder if they realized that democracy could be undermined from “below” as well as crushed by tyranny from “above” by people who didn’t want the freedoms?

The last string of studies I want to lay before you regarding authoritarian submission concerns authoritarians’ willingness to hold officials accountable for their misdeeds. Or rather, their lack of willingness--which catches your eye because high RWAs generally favour punishing the be-jabbers out of misdoers. But they proved less likely than most people to punish a police officer who beat up a handcuffed demonstrator, or a chief of detectives who assaulted an accused child molester being held in jail, or--paralleling the trial of U.S. Army Lt. William Calley--an Air Force officer convicted of murder after leading unauthorized raids on Vietnamese villages.

The “Milgram experiment,” which we shall discuss at the end of this book, offers another example of authoritarian followers “going easy” on authorities. In his famous study Stanley Milgram manoeuvred subjects into a situation in which they were ordered by an Experimenter to inflict painful, and possibly lethal, electric shocks on another person (who in fact was not hurt at all). The subjects clearly did not want to deliver the shocks, but the Experimenter told them they had to. The Experimenter even said, if pressed, that he would accept responsibility for whatever happened. Yet Tom Blass of the University of Maryland at Baltimore found that high RWA students tended to blame the Experimenter less for what happened to the victim than most students did. Whom did they blame instead? I found, when I replicated the study, they blamed the poor devil who was ordered to deliver the shocks, and the victim, more than most others did.

If some day George W. Bush is indicted for authorizing torture, you can bet your bottom dollar the high RWAs will howl to the heavens in protest. It won’t matter how extensive the torture was, how cruel and sickening it was, how many years it went on, how many prisoners died, how devious Bush was in trying to evade America’s laws and traditional stand against torture, or how many treaties the U.S. broke. Such an indictment would grind right up against the core of authoritarian followers, and they won’t have it. Maybe they’ll even say, “The president was busy running the war. He didn’t really know. It was all done by Rumsfeld and others.”

Authoritarian Aggression. When I say authoritarian followers are aggressive I don’t mean they stride into bars and start fights. First of all, high RWAs go to church enormously more often than they go to bars. Secondly, they usually avoid anything approaching a fair fight. Instead they aggress when they believe right and might are on their side. “Right” for them means, more than anything else, that their hostility is (in their minds) endorsed by established authority, or supports such authority. “Might” means they have a huge physical advantage over their target, in weaponry say, or in numbers, as in a lynch mob. It’s striking how often authoritarian aggression happens in dark and cowardly ways, in the dark, by cowards who later will do everything they possibly can to avoid responsibility for what they did. Women, children, and others unable to defend themselves are typical victims. Even more striking, the attackers typically feel morally superior to the people they are assaulting in an unfair fight. We shall see research evidence in the next chapter that this self-righteousness plays a huge role in high RWAs’ hostility.

Believe it or not, researchers are not allowed to organize murderous mobs to study hostility. So we have to study authoritarian aggression in subtler ways. For example:

You are a judge presiding at the trial of “The People vs. Robert Smith.” Evidence introduced in
court indicates that on the evening of May 23rd, a Mr. Matthew Burns (a 47-year-old, Caucasian
accountant) was walking to his car in a hotel parking lot when he was stopped by a man who produced
a pistol and demanded Mr. Burns’ wallet. Mr. Burns complied, but as the robber ran from the scene Mr.
Burns ducked into a doorway and began shouting “Stop that man!”

These cries were heard by a policeman cruising nearby in a patrol car who after a short chase
apprehended a Mr. Robert Smith, (a 28-year-old Caucasian of no fixed address or occupation). The
police officer saw Mr. Smith throw what proved to be Mr. Burns’ wallet down a sewer as he was being
pursued. Smith matched the general description Mr. Burns gave of his assailant, but Mr. Burns was
unable to identify Smith “with absolute certainty” because it was dark in the parking lot at the time of the
robbery.

Smith told the court he saw another man running from the parking lot, and then he found the
wallet. He began to run after picking up the wallet because he heard the police siren and realized how
incriminating the circumstances were. That was also, according to Smith, the reason he threw the wallet
down the sewer.

Smith has a record of two previous “mugging” arrests and one prior conviction. He was found
guilty of robbing Mr. Burns by the jury, and it is your duty now to declare sentence. A second conviction
of armed robbery of this sort is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, with parole possible after
1/3 of the sentence has been served.

When asked if he had anything to say before being sentenced, Smith said again that he was
innocent. What sentence would you give?

Many factors would undoubtedly shape someone’s decision in this matter, even if s/he were just filling out a booklet of surveys and was suddenly asked to imagine being a judge. But such role-playing does create a situation in which someone can imagine punishing someone else in the name of established authority. I’d give Smith about four or five years of further experience with the penitentiary system, and overall, subjects answering my survey would impose an average sentence of about 3.5 years. But right-wing authoritarians would send Robert Smith to the slammer for a significantly longer time than most people would.

In fact they’d send just about anyone to jail for a longer time than most people would, from those who spit on the side-walk to rapists. However, as noted earlier, authoritarian followers usually would go easy on authorities who commit crimes, and they similarly make allowances for someone who attacks a victim the authoritarian is prejudiced against. (If you were a district attorney prosecuting a lynching case, you would NOT rejoice at a jury filled with high RWAs.) But in general they would sentence most criminals to longer terms than the average Joe would. They also tend to strongly endorse capital punishment.

Why are high RWAs extra-punitive against law-breakers? For one thing, they think the crimes involved are more serious than most people do, and they believe more in the beneficial effects of punishment. But they also find “common criminals” highly repulsive and disgusting, and they admit it feels personally good, it makes them glad, to be able to punish a perpetrator. They get off smiting the sinner; they relish being “the arm of the Lord.” Similarly, high RWA university students say that classmates in high school who misbehaved and got into trouble, experienced “bad trips” on drugs, became pregnant, and so on “got exactly what they deserved” and that they felt a secret pleasure when they found out about the others’ misfortune.

Which suggests authoritarian followers have a little volcano of hostility bubbling away inside them looking for a (safe, approved) way to erupt. This was supported by an experiment I ran in which subjects were (supposedly) allowed to deliver electric shocks to someone trying to master a list of nonsense syllables. The subject/teacher could choose the level of shock for each mistake the learner made. Since the punishment was sanctioned by the experimenter, this opened the door for the authoritarian. The higher the subject’s RWA scale score, the stronger the shocks delivered.

Here are some items from another scale. How would you respond to them on a -4 to +4 basis?

1. There are entirely too many people from the wrong sorts of places being admitted into our country now.
2. Black people are, by their nature, more violent and “primitive” than others.
3. Jews cannot be trusted as much as other people can.
4. As a group, aboriginal people are naturally lazy, dishonest and lawless.
5. Arabs are too emotional, and they don’t fit in well in our country.
6. We have much to fear from the Japanese, who are as cruel as they are ambitious.

I’ll bet you have figured out that I use these to measure prejudice. You may be taken aback however to discover that these prejudices usually show up bundled together in a person. But social psychologists found long ago that people who are prejudiced against one group are usually prejudiced against a whole lot more as well. Prejudice has little to do with the groups it targets, and a lot to do with the personality of the holder. Want to guess who has such wide-ranging prejudices? Authoritarian followers dislike so many kinds of people, I have called them “equal opportunity bigots.” They will not win the gold medal in the Prejudice Olympics (we’ll find out who does in a later chapter), but high RWAs will definitely be on the podium.

Here’s another one of my measures, which I call “Posse,” that you may find so ridiculous that you’d say no one would ever buy into it. Humour me, gentle reader.

Suppose the federal government, some time in the future, passed a law outlawing various religious cults. Government officials then stated that the law would only be effective if it were vigorously enforced at the local level and appealed to everyone to aid in the fight against these cults. Please respond to the following statements according to the following scale:

-4 indicates the statement is extremely untrue of you.
-3 indicates the statement is very untrue of you etc. to:
+4 indicates the statement is extremely true of you.

1. I would tell my friends and neighbours it was a good law.
2. I would tell the police about any religious cults I knew.
3. If asked by the police, I would help hunt down and arrest members of religious cults.
4. I would participate in attacks on religious cult meeting places if organized by the proper authorities.
5. I would support the use of physical force to make cult members reveal the identity of other cult members.
6. I would support the execution of religious cult leaders if he government insisted it was necessary to protect the country.

I’ll assume, because I know what a fine person you are, that you would respond to each of these statements with a -4 or a -3. Most people do. But not authoritarian followers. They typically answer with -2s and -1s, and sometimes even say, “Yes I would.” If that shocks you, remember that the premise behind “Posse” runs right down Main Street in the authoritarian aggression mind-set. When the authorities say, “Go get ‘em,” the high RWAs saddle up.

Who can ‘em be? Nearly everybody, it turns out. I started with a proposition to outlaw Communists and found authoritarian followers would be relatively likely to join that posse. Ditto for persecuting homosexuals, and ditto for religious cults, “radicals” and journalists the government did not like. So I tried to organize a posse that liberals would join, to go after the Ku Klux Klan. But high RWAs crowded out everyone else for that job too. Then I offered as targets the very right-wing Canadian Social Credit Party, the Confederation of Regions Party, and the mainstream Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. These were the parties of choice for most authoritarian followers at the time, yet high RWAs proved more willing to persecute even the movements they liked than did others.

Finally, just to take this to its ludicrous extreme, I asked for reactions to a “law to eliminate right-wing authoritarians.” (I told the subjects that right-wing authoritarians are people who are so submissive to authority, so aggressive in the name of authority, and so conventional that they may pose a threat to democratic rule.) RWA scale scores did not connect as solidly with joining this posse as they had in the other cases. Surely some of the high RWAs realized that if they supported this law, they were being the very people whom the law would persecute, and the posse should therefore put itself in jail. But not all of them realized this, for authoritarian followers still favoured, more than others did, a law to persecute themselves. You can almost hear the circuits clanking shut in their brains: “If the government says these people are dangerous, then they’ve got to be stopped.”

One more thing. Remember when I was talking about putting President Bush on trial for authorizing torture? Look back at Items 5 and 6 in my list of acts an ardent authoritarian follower might do in support of a malevolent government. It’s been clear in my studies for several decades that lots of people, with no persuading by the authorities at all, were already close to endorsing the torture and execution of their fellow citizens if the government simply said it was necessary. So it would be no surprise at all if they supported President Bush’s insistence that America be allowed to torture suspected foreign terrorists.

High RWAs tend to feel more endangered in a potentially threatening situation than most people do, and often respond aggressively. In 1987 my colleague Gerry Sande and I had five-man teams of male introductory psychology students role-play NATO in an “international simulation” involving (they thought) another team of students playing as the Warsaw Pact. Some of the NATO teams were composed entirely of low RWA students, and other NATO teams were stocked entirely with highs. (We experimenters secretly played the Warsaw Pact.) The simulation began with a couple of ambiguous moves by the Warsaw Pact, such as holding military exercises earlier than anticipated, and withdrawing divisions to rear areas (possibly for rest, or --as Dr. Strangelove might argue--possibly for redeployment for an attack). The NATO teams could respond with non-threatening or threatening moves of varying magnitudes. But if they made threats, the Warsaw pact responded with twice as much threat in return, and the NATO team would reap what it had sown as an escalation of aggressive moves would likely result.

The low RWA teams did not interpret the ambiguous moves at the beginning of the game as serious threats and thus seldom made threatening moves. The high RWAs on the other hand usually reacted to the opening Warsaw Pact moves aggressively, and sowed a whirlwind. Over the course of the simulation, the high RWA teams made ten times as much threat as the low teams did, and usually brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Caution Number Two: Can we conclude from all these findings that authoritarian followers always aggress when they think the “proper authorities” approve? No, no more than they always submit to established authority. “Always” is a lot, and such generalizations ignore the complexity of human motivation. Fear of counter-aggression can freeze the authoritarians hand, or belief that the hostility is unlawful and will be punished. Nevertheless, one can easily find settings in which high RWAs’ aggressive inclinations comes bubbling to the surface.

Conventionalism. By conventionalism, the third defining element of the right-wing authoritarian, I don’t just mean do you put your socks on before your shoes, and I don’t just mean following the norms and customs that you like. I mean believing that everybody should have to follow the norms and customs that your authorities have decreed. Authoritarians get a lot of their ideas about how people ought to act from their religion, and as we’ll see in chapter 4 they tend to belong to fundamentalist religions that make it crystal clear what they consider correct and what they consider wrong. For example these churches strongly advocate a traditional family structure of father-as-head, mother as subservient to her husband and caretaker of the husband’s begotten, and kids as subservient, period. The authoritarian followers who fill a lot of the pews in these churches strongly agree. And they want everybody’s family to be like that. (A word of advice, guys: check with your wives first.)

Thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev (Thanks so much, Mikhail!) I can show you how thoroughly some high RWAs sop up the teachings of another set of authorities, their government. As soon as Gorbachev lifted the restraints on doing psychological research in the Soviet Union an acquaintance of mine, Andre Kamenshikov, administered a survey to students at Moscow State University with the same freedom that western researchers take for granted. The students answered the RWA scale and as well a series of questions about who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” in the Cold War. For example, did the USSR start the arms race, or the USA?

Would the United States launch a sneak nuclear attack on the Soviet Union if it knew it could do so without retaliation? Would the USSR do that to the United States? Does the Soviet Union have the right to invade a neighbor who looks like it might become allied with the United States? Does the USA have that right when one of its neighbours starts cozying up to the USSR? At the same time Andre was doing his study, I asked the same questions at three different American universities.

We found that in both countries the high RWAs believed their government’s version of the Cold War more than most people did. Their officials wore the white hats, the authoritarian followers believed, and the other guys were dirty rotten warmongers. And that’s most interesting, because it means the most cock-sure belligerents in the populations on each side of the Cold War, the ones who hated and blamed each other the most, were in fact the same people, psychologically. If they had grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, they probably would have believed the leaders they presently despised, and despised the leaders they now trusted. They’d have been certain the side they presently thought was in the right was in the wrong, and instead embraced the beliefs they currently held in contempt.20, 21

Gidi Rubinstein similarly found that high RWAs among both Jewish and Palestinian students in Israel tended to be the most orthodox members of their religion, who tend to be among those most resistant to a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict. If their authorities endorse hostility, you can bet most authoritarian followers will be combative. A lot of high RWAs apparently do not think that the peacemakers will be blessed.

You can also gauge the conventionalism of authoritarian followers through my “feedback-conformity experiments.” I simply tell a group who earlier had filled out a scale for me what the average response had been to each item, in the sample as a whole. For example, I would tell them that the average answer to Item 1 of the RWA scale was a “+1,” the average answer to Item 2 was a “-2,” and so on. Then I ask the sample to answer the scale again, with the average-answers-from-before staring them right in the face. The point, as you have no doubt surmised, is to see which extreme moves more toward the norm, the lows or the highs. High RWAs shift their answers toward the middle about twice as much as lows do. This even works on hard-core authoritarian beliefs such as their answers about homosexuals and religious fundamentalism.

Which explains another peculiar finding. If I tell a group of former subjects most of what I’ve told you in this chapter--which I think raise some questions about how “Blessed are the authoritarians”--and then ask the sample what they personally would like their own RWA scale score to be, what do you think happens? The low RWAs say they’d like to be low RWAs. So do the middles. But the highs usually say they want to be middles, not lows. I thought this happened because highs often dislike the people who would score low on the RWA scale, and that may be part of the explanation.. But I also discovered that if you ask subjects to rank the importance of various values in life, authoritarian followers place “being normal” substantially higher than most people do. It’s almost as though they want to disappear as individuals into the vast vat of Ordinaries.

Caution Number Three: Once again, however, I should temper our natural tendency to overgeneralise. High RWAs would like to be rich as much as the next person would, they’d like to be smarter than average, and so on. It’s “good” to be different in some ways, it seems. And I found they would not change their opinions about abortion an inch by showing them how different they were from most others. They are quite capable of adhering to the beliefs emphasized by their in-groups when these conflict with what is held by society as a whole. Nevertheless, they do get tugged by what they think everybody else is saying and doing. For example, their attitudes toward homosexuals have become markedly more positive recently, just as the rest of society’s attitudes have changed. And thirty years ago the solid majority of high RWA students in my samples said premarital sexual intercourse was flat-out immoral. Now most say it is moral if the couple plans to get married.

Unauthoritarians and Authoritarians: Worlds of Difference

By now you must be developing a feel for what high RWAs think and do, and also an impression of low RWA's. Do you think you know each group well enough to predict what they’d do if they ran the world? One night in October, 1994 I let a group of low RWA university students determine the future of the planet (you didn’t know humble researchers could do this, did you!). Then the next night I gave high RWAs their kick at the can.

The setting involved a rather sophisticated simulation of the earth’s future called the Global Change Game, which is played on a big map of the world by 50-70 participants who have been split into various regions such as North America, Africa, India and China. The players are divided up according to current populations, so a lot more students hunker down in India than in North America. The game was designed to raise environmental awareness, and before the exercise begins players study up on their region’s resources, prospects, and environmental issues.

Then the facilitators who service the simulation call for some member, any member of each region, to assume the role of team leader by simply standing up. Once the “Elites”in the world have risen to the task they are taken aside and given control of their region’s bank account. They can use this to buy factories, hospitals, armies, and so on from the game bank, and they can travel the world making deals with other Elites. They also discover they can discreetly put some of their region’s wealth into their own pockets, to vie for a prize to be given out at the end of the simulation to the World’s Richest Person. Then the game begins, and the world goes wherever the players take it for the next forty years which, because time flies in a simulation, takes about two and a half hours.

The Low RWA Game

By carefully organizing sign-up booklets, I was able to get 67 low RWA students to play the game together on October 18th . (They had no idea they had been funnelled into this run of the experiment according to their RWA scale scores; indeed they had probably never heard of right-wing authoritarianism.) Seven men and three women made themselves Elites. As soon as the simulation began, the Pacific Rim Elite called for a summit on the “Island Paradise of Tasmania.” All the Elites attended and agreed to meet there again whenever big issues arose. A world-wide organization was thus immediately created by mutual consent.

Regions set to work on their individual problems. Swords were converted to ploughshares as the number of armies in the world dropped. No wars or threats of wars occurred during the simulation. [At one point the North American Elite suggested starting a war to his fellow region-airs (two women and one guy), but they told him to go fly a kite--or words to that effect.]

An hour into the game the facilitators announced a (scheduled) crisis in the earth’s ozone layer. All the Elites met in Tasmania and contributed enough money to buy new technology to replenish the ozone layer.

Other examples of international cooperation occurred, but the problems of the Third World mounted in Africa and India. Europe gave some aid but North America refused to help. Africa eventually lost 300 million people to starvation and disease,
and India 100 million.

Populations had grown and by the time forty years had passed the earth held 8.7 billion people, but the players were able to provide food, health facilities, and jobs for almost all of them. They did so by demilitarizing, by making a lot of trades that benefited both parties, by developing sustainable economic programs, and because the Elites diverted only small amounts of the treasury into their own pockets. (The North American Elite hoarded the most.)

One cannot blow off four hundred million deaths, but this was actually a highly successful run of the game, compared to most. No doubt the homogeneity of the players, in terms of their RWA scores and related attitudes, played a role. Low RWAs do not typically see the world as “Us versus Them.” They are more interested in cooperation than most people are, and they are often genuinely concerned about the environment. Within their regional groups, and in the interactions of the Elites, these first-year students would have usually found themselves “on the same page”--and writ large on that page was, “Let’s Work Together and Clean Up This Mess.” The game’s facilitators said they had never seen as much international cooperation in previous runs of the simulation. With the exception of the richest region, North America, the lows saw themselves as interdependent and all riding on the same merry-go-round.

The High RWA Game

The next night 68 high RWAs showed up for their ride, just as ignorant of how they had been funnelled into this run of the experiment as the low RWA students had been the night before. The game proceeded as usual. Background material was read, Elites (all males) nominated themselves, and the Elites were briefed. Then the “wedgies” started. As soon as the game began, the Elite from the Middle East announced the price of oil had just doubled. A little later the former Soviet Union (known as the Confederation of Independent States in 1994) bought a lot of armies and invaded North America. The latter had insufficient conventional forces to defend itself, and so retaliated with nuclear weapons. A nuclear holocaust ensued which killed everyone on earth--7.4 billion people--and almost all other forms of life which had the misfortune of co-habitating the same planet as a species with nukes.

When this happens in the Global Change Game, the facilitators turn out all the lights and explain what a nuclear war would produce. Then the players are given a second chance to determine the future, turning back the clock to two years before the hounds of war were loosed. The former Soviet Union however rebuilt its armies and invaded China this time, killing 400 million people. The Middle East Elite then called for a “United Nations” meeting to discuss handling future crises, but no agreements were reached.

At this point the ozone-layer crisis occurred but--perhaps because of the recent failure of the United Nations meeting--no one called for a summit. Only Europe took steps to reduce its harmful gas emissions, so the crisis got worse. Poverty was spreading unchecked in the underdeveloped regions, which could not control their population growth. Instead of dealing with the social and economic problems “back home,” Elites began jockeying among themselves for power and protection, forming military alliances to confront other budding alliances. Threats raced around the room and the Confederation of Independent States warned it was ready to start another nuclear war. Partly because their Elites had used their meagre resources to buy into alliances, Africa and Asia were on the point of collapse. An Elite called for a United Nations meeting to deal with the crises--take your pick--and nobody came.

By the time forty years had passed the world was divided into armed camps threatening each other with another nuclear destruction. One billion, seven hundred thousand people had died of starvation and disease. Throw in the 400 million who died in the Soviet-China war and casualties reached 2.1 billion. Throw in the 7.4 billion who died in the nuclear holocaust, and the high RWAs managed to kill 9.5 billion people in their world--although we, like some battlefield news releases, are counting some of the corpses twice.

The authoritarian world ended in disaster for many reasons. One was likely the character of their Elites, who put more than twice as much money in their own pockets as the low RWA Elites had. (The Middle East Elite ended up the World’s Richest Man; part of his wealth came from money he had conned from Third World Elites as payment for joining his alliance.) But more importantly, the high RWAs proved incredibly ethnocentric. There they were, in a big room full of people just like themselves, and they all turned their backs on each other and paid attention only to their own group. They too were all reading from the same page, but writ large on their page was, “Care About Your Own; We Are NOT All In This Together.”

The high RWAs also suffered because, while they say on surveys that they care about the environment, when push comes to shove they usually push and shove for the bucks. That is, they didn’t care much about the long-term environmental consequences of their economic acts. For example a facilitator told Latin America that converting much of the region’s forests to a single species of tree would make the ecosystem vulnerable. But the players decided to do it anyway because the tree’s lumber was very profitable just then. And the highs proved quite inflexible when it came to birth control. Advised that “just letting things go” would cause the populations in underdeveloped areas to explode, the authoritarians just let things go.

Now the Global Change Game is not the world stage, university students are not world leaders, and starting a nuclear holocaust in a gymnasium is not the same thing as launching real missiles from Siberia and North Dakota. So the students’ behaviour on those two successive nights in 1994 provides little basis for drawing conclusions about the future of the planet. But some of what happened in this experiment rang true to me. I especially thought, “I’ve seen this show before” as I sat on the sidelines and watched the high RWAs create their very own October crisis.

Summary

You have trudged your way through (I suspect) the most boring chapter in this book, and are entitled to some sort of reward. I hope you consider this worthy payment: You now know that the RWA scale is a reliable, a valid, and (as these things go) a rather powerful instrument for identifying the authoritarian follower personality. That’s worth knowing because most of what follows in the later chapters depends on it. The social sciences are awash with attitude scales, opinion surveys, and personality tests, and frankly most of them are not very good IMHO. But this one (among others) appears to be the real deal.

A goodly amount of evidence has piled up showing that scores on the RWA scale really do measure tendencies toward authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism. We can therefore use it to try to understand the people who seem, so unwittingly, ready to cash in democracy, and perhaps the world.

~ VF ~

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Divide and Conquer

Poet wrote:
Are the media personalities and web sites talking to the majority of Americans (like me) who are in the middle - or just to themselves and the uninformed to build up the hate and misinformation, y'know what I mean? They don't realize that they're not attracting converts so much as radicalizing the choir while turning away new recruits.

So are you talking about Rachel Maddow here? Smile

Rachel Maddow hypocrisy?

Rachel Maddow divisive?  I wonder what she's now saying about our new war?

Hmm, maybe just a shill for the left - or just more hypocrisy?

Now, I believe all these people have a right to say whatever they want - it doesn't hurt me as I can just choose not to listen, however, both sides seem to vilify those who think differently - that is the problem.  This over-sensitive, your insulting my president/leader/beliefs and I have to kill you (figuratively or not) is the problem.   So do you consider Maddow and all those on the left the same as Beck, Palin, and Rush?  Or are you "not attracting converts so much as radicalizing the choir"?

Poet wrote:
I bet you some of them wouldn't dare watch Jon Stewart or Rachel Maddow at length. Their minds juat aren't open enough to take an honest look at both sides.

This strikes me as incredibly divisive.  I certainly don't consider myself on one of the two sides!  So perhaps that is just a false paradigm used to divide us.  In your post you essentially have decided that Maddow is center and reasonable? Really?

Personally, I believe I'm in the party that's for freedom, responsibility, and can do math (something woefully absent from most of the Republicans and Democrats). Surprised

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I tried...

I tried to read the entire thing VanityFox451 but I got bogged down by the questions.  I do not think they represent  a middle ground.  Many seemed to be very one sided.  Nothing is that simple any more.  Once in a while I may get on a soap box here but in general reason must prevail.  There are usually at least 2 sides to every issue, often more.  It is hard to put that all together in a short post.  Discussing complex issues can be difficult even for people with excellent command of the language.  While I may not always agree with everything I read on this site, I do agree with a lot of it, and even the posts I do not agree with often make points that cause me to do some thinking that I would not have done otherwise.  In the end I may still disagree but at least I did some honest thinking about the other positions(s).  I think it is good for me.  It is easy to get trapped into one sided thinking.

I am terrified that I might end up a Right-Wind Authoritarian - Eee Gads - what a dismal end to be ranting on my death bed about statism.

I will be so bold as to digress back to Wisconsin.  The revenue stream into State and Local governments has been reduced.  That is just a fact.  I do not see where this revenue stream is going to increase significantly any time soon unless there are large tax increases.  I am not even sure large tax increases will even make a difference.  As a result, State and Local governments are simply going to have to reduce costs.  They are not going to be able to continue to pay high wages and/or killer benefit packages to public employees.  The private sector has been and continues to be cut.  Now the reduction in standard of living has moved into the public sector and it is going to have impact.  There are going to be cuts.  There has to be cuts.  If my accounts receivable is 10 dollars and my accounts payable is 12 dollars I have a real problem.  It is the same story with State and Local government.

While my political self does not believe unions belong in government for multiple reasons, the financial situation will dictate the result.  It is going to go the same way as it went in the private sector.  People are loosing and going to loose their jobs.  Wages are going to be stagnate.  Benefits will be cut.  It does not really make any difference if there is a union or not.  It will either be cut through an organized process like legislation or through an unorganized process like default.  But it will it be cut.

It is like Obamacare.  It would be nice if we could repeal it in an organized manner, but if not, then it is self repealing as it can not be paid for into the future.  Just take a look at the numbers - they do not add up.  A lot of other stuff is like that also.

CM is right.  He has done a great job.  I watched the crash course and I am sure my mouth hung open.  It converted me into a slack jawed idiot in an hour.  Two of the Es are starting to converge now - Economy and Energy.  The only thing I think CM was off on was the timing.  It is going to take a while - a few years.  There is always the chance we could implode next week but probably not.  The entire thing is going to just grind down slowly until it gets to the point the class of dependency rebels.  At that point it is going to get pretty ugly.  Wisconsin is just the beginning.  Christie was elected in NJ under the same or worse conditions.  He is cutting right and left.  The interesting part is he cut like 10 billion the first year and then the next year he had to cut another 10 billion that was not obvious the first year.  So the entire thing is sinking.  The rule is becoming cut and then cut some more.  That is just as unsustainable as out of control spending.

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Not Preaching To The Choir

rhare wrote:

Poet wrote:
Are the media personalities and web sites talking to the majority of Americans (like me) who are in the middle - or just to themselves and the uninformed to build up the hate and misinformation, y'know what I mean? They don't realize that they're not attracting converts so much as radicalizing the choir while turning away new recruits.

So are you talking about Rachel Maddow here? Smile

Rachel Maddow hypocrisy?

Rachel Maddow divisive?  I wonder what she's now saying about our new war?

Hmm, maybe just a shill for the left - or just more hypocrisy?

Now, I believe all these people have a right to say whatever they want - it doesn't hurt me as I can just choose not to listen, however, both sides seem to vilify those who think differently - that is the problem.  This over-sensitive, your insulting my president/leader/beliefs and I have to kill you (figuratively or not) is the problem.   So do you consider Maddow and all those on the left the same as Beck, Palin, and Rush?  Or are you "not attracting converts so much as radicalizing the choir"?

Poet wrote:
I bet you some of them wouldn't dare watch Jon Stewart or Rachel Maddow at length. Their minds juat aren't open enough to take an honest look at both sides.

This strikes me as incredibly divisive.  I certainly don't consider myself on one of the two sides!  So perhaps that is just a false paradigm used to divide us.  In your post you essentially have decided that Maddow is center and reasonable? Really?

Personally, I believe I'm in the party that's for freedom, responsibility, and can do math (something woefully absent from most of the Republicans and Democrats). Surprised

Rhare:

I agree. Math is woefully absent from most of the Republicans and Democrats.

I was talking about both sides being so polarized and refusing to spend time at length not just listening, but considering, the viewpoints of the other side. Both sides are so strong in their opposition to each other, they want to legislate their opinions onto others. By doing so, they take freedoms and money from the people, left and right.

I find myself offering more counter-arguments to conservative arguments here, not because I'm a Democrat - I'm actually independent and moderate on some things, and hold a mix of strong conservative and strong liberal views  - but because I feel that the other side needs to be said, or that a more balanced, or more nuanced view needs to be expressed, and people shouldn't be falsely labeling others or demonizing others: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Poet

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VF On The Authoritarian

Vanityfox451 wrote:

Poet,

This is a PDF link to a complete online copy of The Authoritarian ~ by Robert Altmeyer

Chapter One

Who Are The Authoritarian Followers?

VF

I'll be honest with you. I think that's WAY too much text to post. I already know I'm not an authoritarian follower, of the left or right wing variety. And it's unlikely to convince anyone who happens to be an authoritarian follower to change who they are.

But yeah, I get what you're sayin'.

Poet

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Vanityfox451
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The Authoritarian ~ by Robert Altmeyer

Poet,

Then I think it deserves its place as its own thread. No matter how long, I've read it through about five times over these past months, and in my opinion it is an air-tight appraisal of what has become the capture of the United States media, and what has become the wrought in discussion on this forum with camps placing themselves to the left or the right and causing arguement where time could have been better spent asking "Why" this world opporates in the way it does, rather than stating "That" it does ...

~ VF ~

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WI sentors ignore judge

Okay, back to Wisconsin.

Here's more new from Reuters. The WI senate republicans basically said, "In your face!"

"(Reuters) - Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a measure stripping state public employees of most collective bargaining rights was now in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge's order against publication.

The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the legislation, which in recent weeks sparked huge demonstrations and ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power."

Read the article. It was done on a techincality, but then so was the restaining order. WHAT I SEE COMING is a test of the "separation of powers." The legislative branch just challenged the judicial branch of our government.

I'd say that was long overdue.

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yes, yes, and yes...

safewrite wrote:

Okay, back to Wisconsin.

Here's more new from Reuters. The WI senate republicans basically said, "In your face!"

"(Reuters) - Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a measure stripping state public employees of most collective bargaining rights was now in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge's order against publication.

The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the legislation, which in recent weeks sparked huge demonstrations and ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power."

Read the article. It was done on a technicality, but then so was the restraining order. WHAT I SEE COMING is a test of the "separation of powers." The legislative branch just challenged the judicial branch of our government.

I'd say that was long overdue.

Yes, yes, and yes.  This is all pretty simple.  There is not enough money to pay for the gov services we have become accustomed to having.  The gov has to be cut at all level.  The different local, state, and fed govs will take different paths and use different methods but the end result is cutting.  Big cuts.  Costs have to be brought in line with revenue.  It is just that simply.  While I politically disagree with unions in the gov, it does not really make any difference.  It just makes for some interesting side shows because the cuts have to be and will made - union or no union.

A legal show down will be interesting.  But, it will not make any difference.  The cuts are coming no matter what.

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yes, yes, and yes...

dshields wrote:

safewrite wrote:

Okay, back to Wisconsin.

Here's more new from Reuters. The WI senate republicans basically said, "In your face!"

"(Reuters) - Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a measure stripping state public employees of most collective bargaining rights was now in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge's order against publication.

The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the legislation, which in recent weeks sparked huge demonstrations and ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power."

Read the article. It was done on a technicality, but then so was the restraining order. WHAT I SEE COMING is a test of the "separation of powers." The legislative branch just challenged the judicial branch of our government.

I'd say that was long overdue.

Yes, yes, and yes.  This is all pretty simple.  There is not enough money to pay for the gov services we have become accustomed to having.  The gov has to be cut at all level.  The different local, state, and fed govs will take different paths and use different methods but the end result is cutting.  Big cuts.  Costs have to be brought in line with revenue.  It is just that simply.  While I politically disagree with unions in the gov, it does not really make any difference.  It just makes for some interesting side shows because the cuts have to be and will made - union or no union.

A legal show down will be interesting.  But, it will not make any difference.  The cuts are coming no matter what.

The money is there, it's just not being paid by big corporations:

the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.

1)      Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009.  Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2)      Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3)      Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4)      Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5)      Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6)      Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7)      Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8)      Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9)      ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10)  Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

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xraymike79
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 24 2008
Posts: 2040
Sucks not to be part of the corporatocracy

Useyerloaf wrote:

dshields wrote:

safewrite wrote:

Okay, back to Wisconsin.

Here's more new from Reuters. The WI senate republicans basically said, "In your face!"

"(Reuters) - Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a measure stripping state public employees of most collective bargaining rights was now in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge's order against publication.

The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the legislation, which in recent weeks sparked huge demonstrations and ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power."

Read the article. It was done on a technicality, but then so was the restraining order. WHAT I SEE COMING is a test of the "separation of powers." The legislative branch just challenged the judicial branch of our government.

I'd say that was long overdue.

Yes, yes, and yes.  This is all pretty simple.  There is not enough money to pay for the gov services we have become accustomed to having.  The gov has to be cut at all level.  The different local, state, and fed govs will take different paths and use different methods but the end result is cutting.  Big cuts.  Costs have to be brought in line with revenue.  It is just that simply.  While I politically disagree with unions in the gov, it does not really make any difference.  It just makes for some interesting side shows because the cuts have to be and will made - union or no union.

A legal show down will be interesting.  But, it will not make any difference.  The cuts are coming no matter what.

The money is there, it's just not being paid by big corporations:

the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.

1)      Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009.  Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2)      Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3)      Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4)      Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5)      Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6)      Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7)      Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8)      Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9)      ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10)  Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Useyerloaf,

What they mean is that there is not enough money to maintain social services for the general public while keeping the entrenched practice of corporate tax dodging in place. Someone's gotta pay and it won't be the crony capitalist corporations, so it's gotta be the lowly minions. Sucks not to be part of the corporatocracy. And if you question this then you must be anti-capitalist, but realy you're anti-crony capitalist.

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goes211
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We should fix Corporate Taxes unfairness but....

What we mean is that the mismatch between income vs expenses is so far off that even after fixing these corporate tax avoidance issues, we will still have to cut spending.  That does not mean we should not go ahead and fix these issues.  It just means that it still won't be enough.

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xraymike79
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Joined: Aug 24 2008
Posts: 2040
Every CEO for themselves

goes211 wrote:

What we mean is that the mismatch between income vs expenses is so far off that even after fixing these corporate tax avoidance issues, we will still have to cut spending.  That does not mean we should not go ahead and fix these issues.  It just means that it still won't be enough.

I don't see those coporate tax evasion issues being fixed. In addition to that, CEO pay is increasing hand over fist. I guess it's a case of grabbing all you can while the ship goes down and trampling on the women and children while setting up a life boat for yourself.

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littleone
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 24 2009
Posts: 200
Tax solutions?

Henry George , author of Progress and Poverty, observed that the growth of industry seemed to worsen poverty...and here is why...

The taxes paid by the poor or the rich is not the only factor in inequity. Wealth ultimately comes from resources/land. Only land owners should pay taxes because they have access to the resources.  Land taxes should not include improvements made to the land, just a basic tax on the raw land. For this to work properly, all other taxes on labor and sales would need to be eliminated. This shifts the focus from sheer profit to responsibility...and also does not over-burden those who do not have access to resources/land. Think....what if all the corporations had to pay taxes on all the land they occupy?

I am curious what others think of this idea.

-littleone

Useyerloaf's picture
Useyerloaf
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 8 2011
Posts: 22
Sucks not to be part of the corporatocracy

xraymike79 wrote:

Useyerloaf wrote:

dshields wrote:

safewrite wrote:

Okay, back to Wisconsin.

Here's more new from Reuters. The WI senate republicans basically said, "In your face!"

"(Reuters) - Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a measure stripping state public employees of most collective bargaining rights was now in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge's order against publication.

The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the legislation, which in recent weeks sparked huge demonstrations and ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power."

Read the article. It was done on a technicality, but then so was the restraining order. WHAT I SEE COMING is a test of the "separation of powers." The legislative branch just challenged the judicial branch of our government.

I'd say that was long overdue.

Yes, yes, and yes.  This is all pretty simple.  There is not enough money to pay for the gov services we have become accustomed to having.  The gov has to be cut at all level.  The different local, state, and fed govs will take different paths and use different methods but the end result is cutting.  Big cuts.  Costs have to be brought in line with revenue.  It is just that simply.  While I politically disagree with unions in the gov, it does not really make any difference.  It just makes for some interesting side shows because the cuts have to be and will made - union or no union.

A legal show down will be interesting.  But, it will not make any difference.  The cuts are coming no matter what.

The money is there, it's just not being paid by big corporations:

the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.

1)      Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009.  Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2)      Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3)      Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4)      Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5)      Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6)      Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7)      Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8)      Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9)      ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10)  Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Useyerloaf,

What they mean is that there is not enough money to maintain social services for the general public while keeping the entrenched practice of corporate tax dodging in place. Someone's gotta pay and it won't be the crony capitalist corporations, so it's gotta be the lowly minions. Sucks not to be part of the corporatocracy. And if you question this then you must be anti-capitalist, but realy you're anti-crony capitalist.

That's not what's being claimed, what's been said for the most part in the media and forums like this is the debt is the fault of unions, social programs, earmarks etc. While runaway expansion of programs does contribute to the debt, the biggest problem has been an accumulation of years of corporate tax avoidance and big subsidies to business's that are already profitable.

Useyerloaf's picture
Useyerloaf
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 8 2011
Posts: 22
Tax solutions?

littleone wrote:

Henry George , author of Progress and Poverty, observed that the growth of industry seemed to worsen poverty...and here is why...

The taxes paid by the poor or the rich is not the only factor in inequity. Wealth ultimately comes from resources/land. Only land owners should pay taxes because they have access to the resources.  Land taxes should not include improvements made to the land, just a basic tax on the raw land. For this to work properly, all other taxes on labor and sales would need to be eliminated. This shifts the focus from sheer profit to responsibility...and also does not over-burden those who do not have access to resources/land. Think....what if all the corporations had to pay taxes on all the land they occupy?

I am curious what others think of this idea.

-littleone

Then the corps would just "sell" the land to some post office box corporation in the Cayman Islands and "rent" it from themselves, then claim it as a business expense at tax time.

littleone's picture
littleone
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 24 2009
Posts: 200
Land rent

I would like to clarify that land tax should be more properly termed: land rent.

This does not mean you cannot essentially own land/property ...but a conscious moral attitude emerges that does see the need for land/ resources for all living humans globally...water, food, air, and a vibrant living ecosystem. The human need for resources is as absolute as the finite nature of global resources.  

Then we see that if we do have the right to own some of the earth's finite resources we should pay into the community who doesn't because everyone cannot have an equal share...AND do we really want to keep battling this out FOREVER. Does any individual have more rights to the source of life than any other? This is where the larger body idea is relevant. Also, the idea of land rent seems to eliminate the emergence of a creepy, all powerful, TOP(collective) system dictating human needs.

comments?

-littleone 

littleone's picture
littleone
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 24 2009
Posts: 200
Assets

Then the corps would just "sell" the land to some post office box corporation in the Cayman Islands and "rent" it from themselves, then claim it as a business expense at tax time.

Useyerloaf, I don't know the way around that...but maybe others who understand stealthy tax evasion could figure out if land rent could work or not(locally...global benefit for humanity). Keep in mind other taxes would be eliminated.

here is an excellent resource: Land Value Taxation: Rebuttals to Common Objections :

http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=160421.0 

and...

Rebuttal to Arguments Against Land Value Taxation

by Fred E. Foldvary, Senor Editor
The Progress Report
February 28, 2011

“Wisconsin Death Trip.” Mass Privatization as the "Final Stage" of Neoliberal Doctrine

by Prof Michael Hudson and Prof Jeffrey Sommers

Global Research March 12, 2011

...

But who is one to steal from? Most wealth in history has been acquired either by armed conquest of the land, or by political insider dealing, such as the great US railroad land giveaways of the mid 19th century. The great American fortunes have been founded by prying land, public enterprises and monopoly rights from the public domain, because that's where the assets are to take. ...

-littleone

dshields's picture
dshields
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 24 2009
Posts: 599
interesting conversation

This is interesting stuff.  We have high corporate taxes.  And, I do agree that corporations should pay the taxes they are asked to pay, however, we need to lower corporate taxes.  We simply must become more competitive in the world economy and try to create/return some decent paying jobs in America.  High taxes is one of the reasons our products too expensive to effectively compete.  And yes, clearly CEO's and their direct reports make too much money.  But, the truth is their compensation is determined by the board.  The boards of public corporations are typically elected by the equity holders.  If we want to see reform in executive pay we need to get that across to the boards by voting them out.  If boards believe they will be fired if they hand out crazy pay packages to executives they will stop doing it.

We are going to need more jobs created so when the public employees get laid off due to insufficient revenue at the fed, state, and local levels they have jobs in the private sector to move to and become productive.  Wealth is produced in the private sector.  Gov is generally just overhead that lives off the private sector.  Since WW2 the fed gov has become extra-constitutional.  It is amazing all the stuff the fed gov does that they have no legal or moral right to do.  Out of control spending must be reined in or we are going to have a national catastrophe.  That process started in the 2010 election.  Unfortunately, not enough responsible people were elected.  The 2012 election will see many more responsible people elected and at that point we will be able to stop the out of control spending.  Hopefully, it is not too late.  I am very worried that out of control spending will ultimately result in the dollar losing its status as the reserve currency.  That would be very very bad for America.  Global loss of confidence in our ability to manage our financial affairs in a responsible manner must be avoided at all costs.

America is experiencing a forced reduction in the standard of living.  It is going to impact every person who lives here.  Public employees are not a privileged elite that will get a free ride while the people that pay them go down hard.  It simply is not going to happen that way.  Government at all levels must start to live within its means just like the rest of us.

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Poet
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Posts: 1836
Flat Tax Race To The Bottom

Just a thought. Those who run corporations are always happy to advocate flat taxes for corporations. But do be careful, because it can a race to the bottom as neighboring states or countries vie with one another in a race to the bottom...

The tax burden continues then to be shifted increasingly to the middle class, as it pays more and receives less. Kinda like how in the U.S., most corporations pay very little in taxes already because they've got "regulatory capture". Certainly far less than the 35% they complain about - typically from 10% to 0%.

Example Article:
"The so-called “Baltic Tigers” – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – that were praised by conservative economists for their institution of a flat tax a decade ago are now mired in so much debt that they have been forced to gut social programs and fire off a mass of civil service workers." Sound familiar?
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/flat-tax-lose-l...

Poet

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goes211
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Georgism

littleone wrote:

I would like to clarify that land tax should be more properly termed: land rent.

This does not mean you cannot essentially own land/property ...but a conscious moral attitude emerges that does see the need for land/ resources for all living humans globally...water, food, air, and a vibrant living ecosystem. The human need for resources is as absolute as the finite nature of global resources.  

Then we see that if we do have the right to own some of the earth's finite resources we should pay into the community who doesn't because everyone cannot have an equal share...AND do we really want to keep battling this out FOREVER. Does any individual have more rights to the source of life than any other? This is where the larger body idea is relevant. Also, the idea of land rent seems to eliminate the emergence of a creepy, all powerful, TOP(collective) system dictating human needs.

comments?

-littleone 

There are certainly things to like about Georgism.  There seems, at least to me, to be something fundamentally fair about taxing those that are taking the resources we all share on this planet, especially finite natural resources like oil, minerals, .... 

One thing that has always bothered me about pure libertarianism is the concept that everything is already owned by the time I got here.  It seems to me that any system that denies me the right to exist, because all land/water/air is owned by someone else is fundamentally flawed.  Also I question if property rights really exist for those that gained their property in unfair maners.  I am not talking about small-time owners of this and that, but oligarch's that have gained massive wealth through unjust manipulation of the system.  When the systematic reset comes, there is no reason that these people's wealth should remain with them.  I consider this distinct from those that created something and became massively wealthy.  I have no problem with wealth disparity as long as it was occured by actually adding value to society.

The problem I see with Georgism is who collects the taxes, sets their amounts, and decides where they are spent?  It seems like that would quickly be corrupted just like every other system.   Otherwise I find it an interesting idea, even if it is probably unrealistic/unworkable.

dshields's picture
dshields
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 24 2009
Posts: 599
the race to the bottom...

Poet wrote:

Just a thought. Those who run corporations are always happy to advocate flat taxes for corporations. But do be careful, because it can a race to the bottom as neighboring states or countries vie with one another in a race to the bottom...

The tax burden continues then to be shifted increasingly to the middle class, as it pays more and receives less. Kinda like how in the U.S., most corporations pay very little in taxes already because they've got "regulatory capture". Certainly far less than the 35% they complain about - typically from 10% to 0%.

Example Article:
"The so-called “Baltic Tigers” – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – that were praised by conservative economists for their institution of a flat tax a decade ago are now mired in so much debt that they have been forced to gut social programs and fire off a mass of civil service workers." Sound familiar?
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/flat-tax-lose-l...

Poet

Completely agree.  The race to the bottom thing has already started.  I read a report just a couple of weeks ago that clearly described this.  The states around Illinois are all going to companies in Illinois and offering them sweat deals to relocate to their states since Illinois raised their state taxes.  The race to the bottom has begun.  The race to the bottom is part of the reduction in standard of living we are experiencing.  That will also continue.  Globalization has resulted in a tough deal for America.

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darbikrash
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Posts: 564
Your asking some very good

littleone wrote:

Then the corps would just "sell" the land to some post office box corporation in the Cayman Islands and "rent" it from themselves, then claim it as a business expense at tax time.

Useyerloaf, I don't know the way around that...but maybe others who understand stealthy tax evasion could figure out if land rent could work or not(locally...global benefit for humanity). Keep in mind other taxes would be eliminated.

here is an excellent resource: Land Value Taxation: Rebuttals to Common Objections :

http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=160421.0 

and...

Rebuttal to Arguments Against Land Value Taxation

by Fred E. Foldvary, Senor Editor
The Progress Report
February 28, 2011

“Wisconsin Death Trip.” Mass Privatization as the "Final Stage" of Neoliberal Doctrine

by Prof Michael Hudson and Prof Jeffrey Sommers

Global Research March 12, 2011

...

But who is one to steal from? Most wealth in history has been acquired either by armed conquest of the land, or by political insider dealing, such as the great US railroad land giveaways of the mid 19th century. The great American fortunes have been founded by prying land, public enterprises and monopoly rights from the public domain, because that's where the assets are to take. ...

-littleone

Your asking some very good questions and unfortunately the answers are not so simple. But they should be. The issue of property rights, rent, land ownership et. al. go back centuries, and has been the source of much disagreement over a very long period of history.

Your quite right to challenge this. If you are so inclined, you may find it quit useful to have look at what some of history’s best thinkers have had to say about the subject, such a John Locke, David Hume, and more recently, David Harvey. Also, read the critiques of these works. I think you’ll find it a fascinating journey, and perhaps a little more than you bargained for.

Wiki

According to Adam Smith, the expectation of profit from "improving one's stock of capital" rests on private property rights. It is an assumption central to capitalism that property rights encourage their holders to develop the property, generate wealth, and efficiently allocate resources based on the operation of markets. From this has evolved the modern conception of property as a right enforced by positive law, in the expectation that this will produce more wealth and better standards of living.

In his text The Common Law, Oliver Wendell Holmes describes property as having two fundamental aspects. The first is possession, which can be defined as control over a resource based on the practical inability of another to contradict the ends of the possessor. The second is title, which is the expectation that others will recognize rights to control resource, even when it is not in possession. He elaborates the differences between these two concepts, and proposes a history of how they came to be attached to persons, as opposed to families or entities such as the church.

Most thinkers from these traditions subscribe to the labor theory of property. They hold that you own your own life, and it follows that you must own the products of that life, and that those products can be traded in free exchange with others.

"Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself." (John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government)

"The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property." (John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government)

"Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place." (Frédéric Bastiat, The Law)

  • Socialism's fundamental principles are centered on a critique of this concept, stating, among other things, that the cost of defending property is higher than the returns from private property ownership, and that, even when property rights encourage their holders to develop their property or generate wealth, they do so only for their own benefit, which may not coincide with benefit to other people or to society at large.
  • Libertarian socialism generally accepts property rights, but with a short abandonment period. In other words, a person must make (more or less) continuous use of the item or else lose ownership rights. This is usually referred to as "possession property" or "usufruct". Thus, in this usufruct system, absentee ownership is illegitimate and workers own the machines or other equipment that they work with.
  • Communism argues that only collective ownership of the means of production through a polity (though not necessarily a state) will assure the minimization of unequal or unjust outcomes and the maximization of benefits, and that therefore private ownership of capital should be abolished.

Both communism and some kinds of socialism have also upheld the notion that private ownership of capital is inherently illegitimate. This argument centers mainly on the idea that private ownership of capital always benefits one class over another, giving rise to domination through the use of this privately owned capital. Communists are not opposed to personal property that is "hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned" (Communist Manifesto) by members of the proletariat. Both socialism and communism are careful to make the distinction between private ownership of capital (land, factories, resources, etc...) and private property (homes, material objects, and so forth).

Thomas Hobbes (17th century)

The principal writings of Thomas Hobbes appeared between 1640 and 1651—during and immediately following the war between forces loyal to King Charles I and those loyal to Parliament. In his own words, Hobbes' reflection began with the idea of "giving to every man his own," a phrase he drew from the writings of Cicero. But he wondered: How can anybody call anything his own? He concluded: My own can only truly be mine if there is one unambiguously strongest power in the realm, and that power treats it as mine, protecting its status as such.

James Harrington (17th century)

A contemporary of Hobbes, James Harrington, reacted differently to the same tumult; he considered property natural but not inevitable. The author of 'Oceana', he may have been the first political theorist to postulate that political power is a consequence, not the cause, of the distribution of property. He said that the worst possible situation is one in which the commoners have half a nation's property, with crown and nobility holding the other half—a circumstance fraught with instability and violence. A much better situation (a stable republic) will exist once the commoners own most property, he suggested.

In later years, the ranks of Harrington's admirers included American revolutionary and founder John Adams.

Robert Filmer (17th century)

Another member of the Hobbes/Harrington generation, Sir Robert Filmer, reached conclusions much like Hobbes', but through Biblical exegesis. Filmer said that the institution of kingship is analogous to that of fatherhood, that subjects are but children, whether obedient or unruly, and that property rights are akin to the household goods that a father may dole out among his children—his to take back and dispose of according to his pleasure.

John Locke (17th century)

In the following generation, John Locke sought to answer Filmer, creating a rationale for a balanced constitution in which the monarch had a part to play, but not an overwhelming part. Since Filmer's views essentially require that the Stuart family be uniquely descended from the patriarchs of the Bible, and since even in the late 17th century that was a difficult view to uphold, Locke attacked Filmer's views in his First Treatise on Government, freeing him to set out his own views in the Second Treatise on Civil Government. Therein, Locke imagined a pre-social world, the unhappy residents of which create a social contract. They would, he allowed, create a monarchy, but its task would be to execute the will of an elected legislature.

"To this end" he wrote, meaning the end of their own long life and peace, "it is that men give up all their natural power to the society they enter into, and the community put the legislative power into such hands as they think fit, with this trust, that they shall be governed by declared laws, or else their peace, quiet, and property will still be at the same uncertainty as it was in the state of nature." Even when it keeps to proper legislative form, though, Locke held that there are limits to what a government established by such a contract might rightly do.

"It cannot be supposed that [the hypothetical contractors] they should intend, had they a power so to do, to give any one or more an absolute arbitrary power over their persons and estates, and put a force into the magistrate's hand to execute his unlimited will arbitrarily upon them; this were to put themselves into a worse condition than the state of nature, wherein they had a liberty to defend their right against the injuries of others, and were upon equal terms of force to maintain it, whether invaded by a single man or many in combination. Whereas by supposing they have given up themselves to the absolute arbitrary power and will of a legislator, they have disarmed themselves, and armed him to make a prey of them when he pleases..."

Note that both "persons and estates" are to be protected from the arbitrary power of any magistrate, inclusive of the "power and will of a legislator." In Lockean terms, depredations against an estate are just as plausible a justification for resistance and revolution as are those against persons. In neither case are subjects required to allow themselves to become prey.

To explain the ownership of property Locke advanced a labor theory of property.

William Blackstone (18th century)

In the 1760s, William Blackstone sought to codify the English common law. In his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England he wrote that "every wanton and causeless restraint of the will of the subject, whether produced by a monarch, a nobility, or a popular assembly is a degree of tyranny."

How should such tyranny be prevented or resisted? Through property rights, Blackstone thought, which is why he emphasized that indemnification must be awarded a non-consenting owner whose property is taken by eminent domain, and that a property owner is protected against physical invasion of his property by the laws of trespass and nuisance. Indeed, he wrote that a landowner is free to kill any stranger on his property between dusk and dawn, even an agent of the King, since it isn't reasonable to expect him to recognize the King's agents in the dark.[citation needed]

David Hume (18th century)

In contrast to the figures discussed in this section thus far, David Hume lived a relatively quiet life that had settled down to a relatively stable social and political structure. He lived the life of a solitary writer until 1763 when, at 52 years of age, he went off to Paris to work at the British embassy.

In contrast, one might think, to his outrage-generating works on religion and his skeptical views in epistemology, Hume's views on law and property were quite conservative.

He did not believe in hypothetical contracts, or in the love of mankind in general, and sought to ground politics upon actual human beings as one knows them. "In general," he wrote, "it may be affirmed that there is no such passion in human mind, as the love of mankind, merely as such, independent of personal qualities, or services, or of relation to ourselves." Existing customs should not lightly be disregarded, because they have come to be what they are as a result of human nature. With this endorsement of custom comes an endorsement of existing governments, because he conceived of the two as complementary: "A regard for liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subordinate to a reverence for established government."

These views led to a view on property rights that might today be described as legal positivism. There are property rights because of and to the extent that the existing law, supported by social customs, secure them.[11] He offered some practical home-spun advice on the general subject, though, as when he referred to avarice as "the spur of industry," and expressed concern about excessive levels of taxation, which "destroy industry, by engendering despair."

Critique and response

"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is, in reality, instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have property against those who have none at all."

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776 [12]

By the mid 19th century, the industrial revolution had transformed England and had begun in France. The established conception of what constitutes property expanded beyond land to encompass scarce goods in general. In France, the revolution of the 1790s had led to large-scale confiscation of land formerly owned by church and king. The restoration of the monarchy led to claims by those dispossessed to have their former lands returned. Furthermore, the labor theory of value popularized by classical economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo were utilized by a newideology called socialism to critique the relations of property to other economic issues, such as profit, rent, interest, and wage-labor. Thus, property was no longer an esoteric philosophical question, but a political issue of substantial concern.

Charles Comte – legitimate origin of property

Charles Comte, in Traité de la propriété (1834), attempted to justify the legitimacy of private property in response to the Bourbon Restoration. According to David Hart, Comte had three main points: "firstly, that interference by the state over the centuries in property ownership has had dire consequences for justice as well as for economic productivity; secondly, that property is legitimate when it emerges in such a way as not to harm anyone; and thirdly, that historically some, but by no means all, property which has evolved has done so legitimately, with the implication that the present distribution of property is a complex mixture of legitimately and illegitimately held titles." (The Radical Liberalism of Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer

Comte, as Proudhon later did, rejected Roman legal tradition with its toleration of slavery. He posited a communal "national" property consisting of non-scarce goods, such as land in ancient hunter-gatherer societies. Since agriculture was so much more efficient than hunting and gathering, private property appropriated by someone for farming left remaining hunter-gatherers with more land per person, and hence did not harm them. Thus this type of land appropriation did not violate the Lockean proviso – there was "still enough, and as good left." Comte's analysis would be used by later theorists in response to the socialist critique on property.

Pierre Proudhon – property is theft

Main articles: What is Property? and Property is theft!

In his 1849 treatise What is Property?, Pierre Proudhon answers with "Property is theft!" In natural resources, he sees two types of property, de jure property (legal title) and de facto property (physical possession), and argues that the former is illegitimate. Proudhon's conclusion is that "property, to be just and possible, must necessarily have equality for its condition."

His analysis of the product of labor upon natural resources as property (usufruct) is more nuanced. He asserts that land itself cannot be property, yet it should be held by individual possessors as stewards of mankind with the product of labor being the property of the producer. Proudhon reasoned that any wealth gained without labor was stolen from those who labored to create that wealth. Even a voluntary contract to surrender the product of labor to an employer was theft, according to Proudhon, since the controller of natural resources had no moral right to charge others for the use of that which he did not labor to create and therefore did not own.

Proudhon's theory of property greatly influenced the budding socialist movement, inspiring anarchist theorists such as Mikhail Bakunin who modified Proudhon's ideas, as well as antagonizing theorists like Karl Marx.

Frédéric Bastiat – property is value

Frédéric Bastiat's main treatise on property can be found in chapter 8 of his book Economic Harmonies (1850).[13] In a radical departure from traditional property theory, he defines property not as a physical object, but rather as a relationship between people with respect to an object. Thus, saying one owns a glass of water is merely verbal shorthand for I may justly gift or trade this water to another person. In essence, what one owns is not the object but the value of the object. By "value," Bastiat apparently means market value; he emphasizes that this is quite different from utility. "In our relations with one another, we are not owners of the utility of things, but of their value, and value is the appraisal made of reciprocal services."

Strongly disputing Proudhon's equality-based argument, Bastiat theorizes that, as a result of technological progress and the division of labor, the stock of communal wealth increases over time; that the hours of work an unskilled laborer expends to buy e.g. 100 liters of wheat decreases over time, thus amounting to "gratis" satisfaction. Thus, private property continually destroys itself, becoming transformed into communal wealth. The increasing proportion of communal wealth to private property results in a tendency toward equality of mankind. "Since the human race started from the point of greatest poverty, that is, from the point where there were the most obstacles to be overcome, it is clear that all that has been gained from one era to the next has been due to the spirit of property."

This transformation of private property into the communal domain, Bastiat points out, does not imply that private property will ever totally disappear. This is because man, as he progresses, continually invents new and more sophisticated needs and desires.

Contemporary views

Among contemporary political thinkers who believe that natural persons enjoy rights to own property and to enter into contracts, there are two views about John Locke. On the one hand there are ardent Locke admirers, such as W.H. Hutt (1956), who praised Locke for laying down the "quintessence of individualism." On the other hand, there are those such as Richard Pipes who think that Locke's arguments are weak, and that undue reliance thereon has weakened the cause of individualism in recent times. Pipes has written that Locke's work "marked a regression because it rested on the concept of Natural Law" rather than upon Harrington's sociological framework.

Hernando de Soto has argued that an important characteristic of capitalist market economy is the functioning state protection of property rights in a formal property system where ownership and transactions are clearly recorded. These property rights and the whole formal system of property make possible:

  • Greater independence for individuals from local community arrangements to protect their assets;
  • Clear, provable, and protectable ownership;
  • The standardization and integration of property rules and property information in the country as a whole;
  • Increased trust arising from a greater certainty of punishment for cheating in economic transactions;
  • More formal and complex written statements of ownership that permit the easier assumption of shared risk and ownership in companies, and insurance against risk;
  • Greater availability of loans for new projects, since more things could be used as collateral for the loans;
  • Easier access to and more reliable information regarding such things as credit history and the worth of assets;
  • Increased fungibility, standardization and transferability of statements documenting the ownership of property, which paves the way for structures such as national markets for companies and the easy transportation of property through complex networks of individuals and other entities;
  • Greater protection of biodiversity due to minimizing of shifting agriculture practices.

All of the above enhance economic growth.

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dshields
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America
  • Socialism's fundamental principles are centered on a critique of this concept, stating, among other things, that the cost of defending property is higher than the returns from private property ownership, and that, even when property rights encourage their holders to develop their property or generate wealth, they do so only for their own benefit, which may not coincide with benefit to other people or to society at large.
  • Libertarian socialism generally accepts property rights, but with a short abandonment period. In other words, a person must make (more or less) continuous use of the item or else lose ownership rights. This is usually referred to as "possession property" or "usufruct". Thus, in this usufruct system, absentee ownership is illegitimate and workers own the machines or other equipment that they work with.
  • Communism argues that only collective ownership of the means of production through a polity (though not necessarily a state) will assure the minimization of unequal or unjust outcomes and the maximization of benefits, and that therefore private ownership of capital should be abolished.

Both communism and some kinds of socialism have also upheld the notion that private ownership of capital is inherently illegitimate. This argument centers mainly on the idea that private ownership of capital always benefits one class over another, giving rise to domination through the use of this privately owned capital. Communists are not opposed to personal property that is "hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned" (Communist Manifesto) by members of the proletariat. Both socialism and communism are careful to make the distinction between private ownership of capital (land, factories, resources, etc...) and private property (homes, material objects, and so forth).

*******************************************************************************************

America was founded on equal opportunity, not equal outcome.  It is enshrined in the constitution and bill of rights.  It is one of, if not the most important, reason(s) America has been able to generate the civil society and wealth it has created.  If we stray from equal opportunity and move to equal outcome we will fail.  There is so much to say about this one subject.  It is the root of the rot from within that we are dealing with these days with the class of dependency.

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The limitations of liberty...

There are certainly things to like about Georgism.  There seems, at least to me, to be something fundamentally fair about taxing those that are taking the resources we all share on this planet, especially finite natural resources like oil, minerals, ....

I agree.. libertarianism doesn't cope well with 1) Land ownership, 2) Pollution... the "tragedy of the commons" problem.

If we look at the nuclear power issue, using it inevitably endangers (if only psychologically..), your neighbours even across borders... you get the benefit, they get the harm... 

Does everyone on the planet get a veto ? Everyone within 50km ? I can't see any principled solution...

There's something missing.. an ethical basis for conduct which inevitably affects others.

Similarly for GM crops (dispersal, resistance), and patents.. if I happen to get there first, do I really have a moral right to control an idea, even when independently rediscovered later ?

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darbikrash
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Choose wisely

dshields wrote:

America was founded on equal opportunity, not equal outcome.  It is enshrined in the constitution and bill of rights.  It is one of, if not the most important, reason(s) America has been able to generate the civil society and wealth it has created.  If we stray from equal opportunity and move to equal outcome we will fail.  There is so much to say about this one subject.  It is the root of the rot from within that we are dealing with these days with the class of dependency.

The subject of property rights is indeed a large subject, and digs deep into many areas of the political economy. The references are well rounded, and not biased to any particular agenda. I merely suggest that each read and draw their own conclusions as to what property rights means to them, and then to our society. Not sure there is a right or wrong answer.

At some point if one is intellectually honest, we have to overlay all this fine thinking with what we see today in our economy. Which is failure.

Is it a failure because of the actions of a class of dependency? Or is it failure because of actions from a class of accumulation and greed? It is for each person to decide.

Choose wisely.

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Wendy S. Delmater
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as if the choice matters

Is it a failure because of the actions of a class of dependency? Or is it failure because of actions from a class of accumulation and greed? It is for each person to decide.

or is it failure because of Peak Oil and the end of growth? Globalization will cause developed nations to lower their standard of living, as surely as dye permeates water via osmosis, but so will being saddled with a fiat currency in the midst of a severe credit contraction cased by the end of cheap energy.

Your choice is a false dichotomy, looking toward the past. What frightens me is the possibility of a global tyrant rising from the ashes of the Crash. If big Government of any stripe will be holding a whip, expect things to get rocky.

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darbikrash
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dichotomy

safewrite wrote:

or is it failure because of Peak Oil and the end of growth? Globalization will cause developed nations to lower their standard of living, as surely as dye permeates water via osmosis, but so will being saddled with a fiat currency in the midst of a severe credit contraction cased by the end of cheap energy.

Your choice is a false dichotomy, looking toward the past. What frightens me is the possibility of a global tyrant rising from the ashes of the Crash. If big Government of any stripe will be holding a whip, expect things to get rocky.

In the context of dshields post(s) it does matter. In the context of rebuilding from a failure and repeating the same mistakes, with or without oil- it does matter. In the context of allocating resources in a diminished resource environment -it does matter.

It is yours that is the false dichotomy. If you believe removing debt based fiat currency and switching to renewable energy means its back to business as usual, you may want to consider a growth imperative that comes not from money, but from other causality. What might that be?

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littleone
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Goes, You make a good point

Goes,

You make a good point about who already owns most of the land. In fact, I recall listening to an interview with Jamie Foxx, right after his huge success from his starring role in the movie RAY, where Foxx said he asked Oprah for some advice on what to do with his money. Jaime Foxx said Oprah told him, there is only so much ocean front property. It is sad that very large properties can be bought up just to sit on for wealth protection and creation. Putting a limit on land purchases maybe? Land values would need to be estimated or calculated. I am partly fascinated with this because if values were assessed locally or globally we might see the reality of the equation.

Also would there be a penalty for pollution or harm? Derrick Jensen talks about cell phone towers harming birds. We need birds for birdsongs and they fertilize the soil for us. Humans are also sensitive to magnetic and electical fields...many people who work on a computer all day get migraine headaches and carpal tunnel. A person's brain can be altered with light patterns, etc...

The health of the land is the health of the people. Now...if that is true, how would TIME, or MONEY, or TECH factor in?

I keep coming back to this as something that needs deeper reflection because the current money/tech/oil monolpoly and the coming money/tech/water monolopoly both rely on the unseen/plausibly deniable effects of humans unnaturally becoming a battery link for total forced/perpetual consumption. Yes, humans are natural predators, but there is a natural balance that occurs between predator and prey when relationships with nature and each other are honored.

As far as who is in control...well I struggle with that question...I do think with all individuals there are levels of morality that come with maturity and experiential knowledge...I also think the My Precious/Darth Vadar move is possible at anytime. So far, I like Russell Means talk on Matriarchy...Male and Female Elders are the think tank for the clan but no decisions are made unless they are unanimous. I do not think adults remain healthy under heavy coercion.

Darbikrash,
Thank you for taking the time post all that info. Very helpful to grasp the scope of this issue.
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littleone
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labor and property

First let me correct a spelling mistake from my previous post: Darth Vadar should be Darth Vader.

On the idea of moral law evolving into an economy or civilization due to the connection between labor and property...this may be of interest to some:

Leo Tolstoy's essay To Women

quotes:

...

From this error springs that remarkable piece of stupidity which is
called the rights of women. The formula of these rights of women is
as follows: "Here! you man," says the woman, "you have departed from
your law of real labor, and you want us to bear the burden of our
real labor. No, if this is to be so, we understand, as well as you
do, how to perform those semblances of labor which you exercise in
banks, ministries, universities, and academies; we desire, like
yourselves, under the pretext of the division of labor, to make use
of the labor of others, and to live for the gratification of our
caprices alone." They say this, and prove by their action that they
understand no worse, if not better, than men, how to exercise this
semblance of labor.

This so-called woman question has come up, and could only come up,
among men who have departed from the law of actual labor. All that
is required is, to return to that, and this question cannot exist.
Woman, having her own inevitable task, will never demand the right to
share the toil of men in the mines and in the fields. She could only
demand to share in the fictitious labors of the men of the wealthy
classes.

...

Only that mother who looks upon children as a disagreeable accident,
and upon love, the comforts of life, costume, and society, as the
object of life, will rear her children in such a manner that they
shall have as much enjoyment as possible out of life, and that they
shall make the greatest possible use of it; only she will feed them
luxuriously, deck them out, amuse them artificially; only she will
teach them, not that which will fit them for self-sacrificing
masculine or feminine labor with danger of their lives, and to the
last limits of endurance, but that which will deliver them from this
labor. Only such a woman, who has lost the meaning of her life, will
sympathize with that delusive and false male labor, by means of which
her husband, having rid himself of the obligations of a man, is
enabled to enjoy, in her company, the work of others. Only such a
woman will choose a similar man for the husband of her daughter, and
will estimate men, not by what they are personally, but by that which
is connected with them,--position, money, or their ability to take
advantage of the labor of others.

But the true mother, who actually knows the will of God, will fit her
children to fulfil it also. For such a mother, to see her child
overfed, enervated, decked out, will mean suffering; for all this, as
she well knows, will render difficult for him the fulfilment of the
law of God in which she has instructed him. Such a mother will
teach, not that which will enable her son and her daughter to rid
themselves of labor, but that which will help them to endure the
toils of life. She will have no need to inquire what she shall teach
her children, for what she shall prepare them. Such a woman will not
only not encourage her husband to false and delusive labor, which has
but one object, that of using the labors of others; but she will bear
herself with disgust and horror towards such an employment, which
serves as a double temptation to her children. Such a woman will not
choose a husband for her daughter on account of the whiteness of his
hands and the refinement of manner; but, well aware that labor and
deceit will exist always and everywhere, she will, beginning with her
husband, respect and value in men, and will require from them, real
labor, with expenditure and risk of life, and she will despise that
deceptive labor which has for its object the ridding one's self of
all true toil.

Such a mother, who brings forth children and nurses them, and will
herself, rather than any other, feed her offspring and prepare their
food, and sew, and wash, and teach her children, and sleep and talk
with them, because in this she grounds the business of her life,--
only such a mother will not seek for her children external guaranties
in the form of her husband's money, and the children's diplomas; but
she will rear them to that same capacity for the self-sacrificing
fulfilment of the will of God which she is conscious of herself
possessing,--a capacity for enduring toil with expenditure and risk
of life,--because she knows that in this lies the sole guaranty, and
the only well-being in life. Such a mother will not ask other people
what she ought to do; she will know every thing, and will fear
nothing.

...

-littleone

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dshields
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Posts: 599
yes and more

darbikrash wrote:

dshields wrote:

America was founded on equal opportunity, not equal outcome.  It is enshrined in the constitution and bill of rights.  It is one of, if not the most important, reason(s) America has been able to generate the civil society and wealth it has created.  If we stray from equal opportunity and move to equal outcome we will fail.  There is so much to say about this one subject.  It is the root of the rot from within that we are dealing with these days with the class of dependency.

The subject of property rights is indeed a large subject, and digs deep into many areas of the political economy. The references are well rounded, and not biased to any particular agenda. I merely suggest that each read and draw their own conclusions as to what property rights means to them, and then to our society. Not sure there is a right or wrong answer.

At some point if one is intellectually honest, we have to overlay all this fine thinking with what we see today in our economy. Which is failure.

Is it a failure because of the actions of a class of dependency? Or is it failure because of actions from a class of accumulation and greed? It is for each person to decide.

Choose wisely.

It is all that and more.  We are being eaten alive from a bunch of different directions at the same time.  My previous post was just about one of the important ones.  A list might include -

1) Wall Street craziness (plenty of that to go around and I work for a wall street company)

2) Increasing energy prices

3) Government out of control spending

4) Three wars going at the same time ?

5) Massive welfare (makes us the "War-fare" state)

6) Statism has to be reversed as we are heading into a soft tyranny

7) Unbelievable debt  - fed, state, local, business, and personal

8) Serious income distribution problems.  We actually have a third world income distribution model.

9) Inflation being driven by energy prices and way too many dollars injected into the economy by the fed res.

10) Continuing housing market collapse

11) Distorted financial markets due to fed res actions

12) Incorrect tax model where half the population does not pay really any fed income tax.  Pretty much everyone needs to have at least some skin in the game or it distorts voting and promotes the class of dependency.

13) Very serious labor market problems.  This is a result of a number of different factors.  You could write a book on this one alone.

14) We are in some bad trade agreements - bad for us good for everybody else.

15) Screwed up energy policy.  Is there an energy policy ?

16) Immoral and illegal behavior at every level of government.

...and a bunch more...

Which crazy gig do you want to discuss ?

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