Muslim Welcome

Here is a nice little story, I think.

I was once a pretend hippie. It was only “pretend” because my drug consumption was moderate and limited and I never dropped acid. Also, I never dropped out as recommended. I attended graduate school and I even worked quite a bit.

At the end of a work interlude in France from graduate school in the US, I thought I deserved a reward. (I often think I deserve a reward; it does not take much.) I was a big-time free-diver (no SCUBA) for most of my life, not so much for the beauty of it but always in search of something good to eat. I decided to leave gray Paris for a diving vacation in sunny Algeria.

It was only nine years after the end of the bloody war by which Algerians won their independence from France. Practically, the whole French population was gone. There were tensions between the French and the Algerian governments although hundreds of thousands of Algerians were working and living in France. I thought my good manners and my smiling face would get me through any difficulty. Also, I thought that with the French gone, there must have been precious little spear fishing in Algerian waters. I half-believed that big groupers would practically jump at me

I packed my VW bus I had outfitted for camping and I put a small borrowed plastic boat on its roof. My then-future ex-wife ( “TFEW”) and I drove to Marseilles where we checked in bus and boat. We spent the night-long crossing of the Med on deck. There was a moving moment in the middle of the crossing when all the portable radios on board suddenly tuned them selves to Arab music from Radio Algiers. The dolphins accompanied our ship into the light blue waters of Algiers Bay.

One thing the Algerians had learned from the French and had not yet forgotten was running a non-corrupt bureaucracy. (I believe corrupt is good, that it expedites bureaucratic processes.) It took hours to clear us because the TFEW had an American passport, something unusual then and there. Clearing the bus and the boat through customs took even more time. By the time we were out of the harbor building, the sun was setting. We did not want to spend the night in some shabby overpriced hotel in the big city so, we drove on out of town in a general eastward direction.

After a couple of hours in deep- darkness, we were on a dirt road climbing some hills which made me admit that it was probably not the main coastal highway. I couldn’t see much with the weak VW headlights and there was a little mist. The torchlight I had packed was not much more useful. I ended up stopping the bus more or less at random. We stepped outside for a leak. There were not house lights, not street lights, and no sound except the song of the cicadas. We figured we might just bed down in the van till morning.

The sun was fairly high in the sky when we woke up. I saw some blue through a window of the bus. I opened the door to take out the equipment necessary for a cup of Nescafé. I discovered we were parked right in the middle of a low farmhouse courtyard. And old man in a djellaba was quietly sitting on a rock outside our door with an earthenware jar of cool water at his side and a basket of figs on his lap. “Bonjour, Salaam” he said pleasantly.

Posted in Short Stories | 1 Comment

Killing Black Men; Dallas (Updated)

     Although I am white, I feel no guilt about the cortege of atrocities of the slave trade, of slavery, and of racial segregation. Perhaps it’s because my ancestors were dumbly digging potatoes in central France when all that happened. So it’s up to me it seems to go past the mind-numbing platitudes, the lies, and the half-truths following the assassination of five police officers in Dallas.

First, Black Lives Matter, the organization, has blood on its hands although it probably was not premeditated, and not the Dallas group, it seems but others in other cities. I will not forget the incantation to “fry them [cops] like bacon.” Exaggerations matter because there are always sociopaths listening who will take them as suggestions or even as orders, we were just reminded. With the social media,. there are many more sociopaths within earshot than there used to be. In fact, if you repeat something often enough you can almost be sure that someone will act on it. Also, if you keep repeating the same horrors over and over again, they begin to feel like normalcy.

The national narrative is being shaped by the president and by liberal voices in the media (same thing, mostly) because conservatives are paralyzed. The narrative is full of holes. Its main anchor, although it’s only implicit, is that police officers killings of black men are racially motivated. I have seen images that made me sick of a suspect shot in the back when on the ground. I have seen a cop shoot a fleeing suspect also in the back. In both cases, the officer was white and the victim black. Those looked to me like judicial murders. A district attorney and a jury will decide. Murder is murder.

In the deplorable event where a young black man was shot to death in Minnesota, recently (an episode that prompted the protest in Dallas), the shooter was a police officer with a Hispanic name. You may also remember the lamentable incident in New York city a couple of years ago when a small-time cigarette trafficker was mishandled by police until he died. The ranking officer on the scene was black and a woman to boot. Of the six officers involved in the admittedly stinking death of a Baltimore arrestee in a police vehicle, three are black, including the ranking officer. Am I supposed to start believing that these black cops, this Hispanic cop kill black people out of racial hatred? Am I stupid?

In the best known recent case, that of a young large black petty thief killed by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, enormous means were brought to bear to try and prove racism and they had to be abandoned. Reminder: both Missouri authorities independent of the town where the shooting took place and the [federal] Justice Department investigated and could not find evidence to indict the officer, of murder, even of manslaughter, or even of any civil rights violation. This although the shooting took place in front of many witnesses, most of them black. That incident gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement through a fallacious recounting of events faultlessly supported by the liberal press. Incidentally, from what I have read, the Ferguson killing was avoidable and possibly hasty. Yet, it says nothing about race or racism.

I would be curious to know – and someone might dig the relevant numbers and supply them here if they exist – whether white cops or black cops are more likely to shoot black citizens. I am guessing, black cops, but by a small margin. (Yes, you read right: I think black cops are more likely to shoot blacks.)

A narrative can be faulty as much because of what it does not cover as because of what it covers falsely. The facts of black criminality are being ignored as if by an implicit collective, all-American agreement.* Here are two numbers that tell a story. Adult black males can’t be much more than 6% of the total American population. Yet, from year to year, they are responsible for somewhere between 40% and 50% of homicides. (If my figures are wrong by as much as 1/4 either way, it changes little, you will notice.) Members of police forces everywhere are aware of these facts, at least in a general way.

The long and the short of it is this: Black males as a category** are dangerous.

It changes little that most black males are not dangerous, that few black males are dangerous. We think in categories; we have to think in categories until we know someone personally. Take categories [breeds] of dogs. Many German shepherds are sweethearts and some French poodles are aggressive a..-h….. But I am much more likely to have my arm mangled by a German shepherd than by a French poodle. It’s a fact. Armed forces everywhere and companies in the guarding-anything business are not confused about this. They rely on German shepherds rather than on French poodles 10,000 to one, if that.

It’s true that if I am a white man living in a white area, I am much more likely to be killed by a white person than by a black person. It’s also true that blacks kill primarily blacks. Police officers, though cross barriers as part of their job. Cops of all races are much more likely to be killed by a black man than I, a white civilian, am. They know it, also in a general way.

Human beings are constantly, ceaselessly playing the odds. It’s probably the way Mother Nature intended it for weak, slow, unarmed creatures with big food requirements like us.

To expect police officers to abandon this normal, habitual human preferred strategy when their lives may be at stake verges on madness. Given the same circumstances – absent any racial prejudice – police officers are more likely to shoot dead a black man than a white man. Given the fundamentally rational nature of the odds strategy, this must be true of black cops, of Asian cops, of Hispanic cops. This is not to assert that there is no racial prejudice but to say that racial prejudice is a superfluous explanation for the readiness of police officers to kill or to severely harm black citizens.

The last part of the narrative currently being peddled is to turn every bloody shooting incident into an argument for gun control that many people – including me – see as an unconstitutional assault on the Second Amendment. President Obama seems to want gun restrictions to be the last page of his legacy. We don’t yet know as I write (07/09/16 ) the details of the killing of five Dallas officers in cold blood by a black man with a long gun. I must say that this incident comes closer to providing a rationale for restricting some gun ownership than anything I have seen in the past four or five years. (The fact is, that the killer couldn’t have done what he did with any handgun.) Yet, this idea seems futile because there are at least 300 millions privately owned firearms in America. That horse left the stable long ago. And the old saw remains true that when guns are outlaws, only outlaws will have guns.

I think the way to reduce officer killings of citizens (of all races) is a deep transformation of police culture. I believe American cops shoot too easily as if no other means of incapacitating a subject, such as Tasers and pepper spray ever existed. I have heard that the police doctrine in most places is that if an officer takes out his firearm, he should aim to kill, not even think of wounding, of making the suspect unable to fight. (I may have heard wrong; I hope someone will correct me here if I did.) This ought to change. Police work should not be like war. Citizens are not enemies.

In general, I am pessimistic about deliberately changing a culture. I am not in this case for two reasons. First nearly all policemen in America receive formal training. Their training could be inflected toward lesser lethal use of firearms. There could be emphatic training in techniques to controlling suspect involving no firearms. Second, police officers are not private citizens. They operate under orders and within hierarchies. The people at the top of police hierarchies can decide to reward certain behaviors over others. This is not utopian. Occupational cultures are often modified through conscious decisions. I also suspect (suspect) that more could be done to screen out volatile or even sadistic types from police forces. After all, there is no shortage nationwide of recruits for police work. We can afford to be demanding and choosy.

Update  7/ 18/16     A professor of Economics at Harvard conducted a comparative study of about 1,000 police shootings across the nation. He reports that there is zero (No) evidence of racial bias in police shootings:

Fryer, Roland G. 2016  “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force”

Prof. Roland is a secret member of the KKK, of course. Oops, my mistake, he is African-American!

* Every time I try to talk about this around a liberal, he immediately tries to change the subject to the alleged causes of black criminality. That’s another topic altogether. If superior black crime is a result of injustice, past and present, or of poverty, or of a correctly perceived lack of life opportunities for young black men, it does not change my analysis at all.

** Why “blacks” (African-Americans) became a highly relevant social category as opposed to say, blondes, or geniuses, or dog owners is a complex story with several historical roots, a story I will tell sometimes if someone asks me. The efforts of black organizations in the twentieth century and until now also have something to do with the social relevance of that category. You can’t have it both ways, speak of a black “community” one day, demand special privileges for members of a category, the next and insist at the end of the week that there are only black individuals.

On police culture, see also on this blog:

Posted in Current Events, Cultural Studies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

TemporaryAbsence from this Blog; Political Correctness.

I have been absent from this blog for innocent reasons. First, during this election season, I have found Facebook more useful than this blog. Second, prompted by stupid statements by all presidential  candidates, I have begun an long essay on the nature of work. (I think I have.) In the meantime, there is a lot of good stuff to rummage through on this blog. Summer time may be a good time to read my ever-topical series on international trade. (Remember that both Trump and Sanders are against it, by and large. Clinton does not know; she will sell her preference to the highest bidder.) As always with my didactic efforts, it ‘s directed at the ignorant intelligent and at the intelligent ignorant. If you are neither, this is not for you. Look for a series of nine short essays that all contain the words “protectionism” and “protectionist” in their title.

Or, you could read one of my three recent books:

Three  books of mine are available on Amazon Kindle and on some other reading devices. None is a scholarly book. Two are in English and one in French. The first is entitled: I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography (2014).This one also exists in paperback. You can obtain the paperback from me through this clever email address: It’s listed under my name: Jacques Delacroix. My second book in English exists only in electronic form. It’s entitled: Indecent Stories for Decent Women. (2015) It’s under the pen name: “Jean René Adolph.” Reflecting on its title will suggest why I am not using my real name in this one.

I have a third book, written in French, that is completely different from the others: Les Pumas de grande banlieue: histoires d’émigration. (2014) .This one is also only in electronic form. It’s under my real name: Jacques Delacroix.

I pay attention to feedback. Thank you. I am open to sponsoring and commercial publication of any of the three.

I also invite you to follow me on Facebook. (It’s under my name: “Jacques Delacroix.”) I am on a tear to make at least one politically incorrect statement each day in the interest of collective sanity. FB will be a main vector of such statements.

See you there.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Memorial Day in the Days of Trump


It disturbs me that in my area of the Central Coast of California, Memorial Day is almost entirely a beach day, a sailing day, a fishing day, and a barbecue day. There is little here to mark the day as one of remembrance for those who died to protect our precious republic (and by the way, to save many innocent civilians, including me). Most of the local people are too sophisticated and too lazy to do anything out of the ordinary on that weekend except pretend it’s summer. And then, some of the population is gone because the university lets out on Memorial Weekend and many students go somewhere else. They are replaced to a large extent by visitors from Silicon Valley forty minutes away on a hard mountain road, and from as afar as the agricultural Central Valley, hours away. The ones and the others want to sit on the beach or go on rides on our famous old fashioned Boardwalk, a sort of permanent carnival. The ocean water is still too cold for almost all adults but the kids will wade in a little. (Frankly, I think few adults around – except surfers – here know how to swim in the ocean but that’s neither here nor there.)

I know that the locals don’t care much about the meaning of Memorial Day because there are only three American flags on my long street, and two belong to my household.

In the vicinity of Santa Cruz, there is one Saturday morning Memorial Day parade. It’s held in Felton, a small, funky town not ten minutes from Santa Cruz proper. It’s in the mountains (as opposed to near the sea). The real estate there is a little cheaper than in Santa Cruz. It’s home to a certain horsey set, not the kind that rides knees to the chest, English style, but those who ride on a Western saddle, with their legs comfortably extended. Its downtown stretches over half of a street with a couple of grocery stores, other small businesses, and one Chinese restaurant (not that good, to tell the truth). But, this is Santa Cruz county so, there is also a mediocre Mexican restaurant that’s doubles as a fantastic music venue.

In spite of physical proximity, the culture in Felton is strikingly different from the culture of university-anchored, progressive, mock-sophisticated, vegetarian/organic, and often transgender Santa Cruz. For one thing, its population is visibly different. The people at the parade in Felton are mostly light-skinned or Portuguese-washed out olive (but see below), many of their children have blond hair. Everyone is badly dressed, not poorly dressed just dressed carelessly, even the young women.

The thin crowd does not include many brown skins. I can guess the reasons. The large Hispanic population around here is almost entirely from Mexico. It lives in another part of the county and in Santa Cruz proper. It’s not that Felton discriminate, it’s that immigrants tend to agglutinate around where the first immigrants from their countries take root. It’s almost a random process, in historical terms. Many immigrants and their children appear to be dimly aware of this country’s military history. Mexico had no military history for more than eighty years, after all. This does not promote attention to such fine points. Incidentally, Mexican immigrants and their children don’t, by and large, understand Cinco de Mayo either although it’s an official California holiday made up just for them. Hispanics are welcome in Felton, I believe but they don’t come and their absence makes a difference. The local culture is different where they are numerous.

The parade in Felton inspires something close to pity but also a little melancholy. It starts at 10 am sharp, as announced. It includes no marching band and few flags. The cub-scouts do carry flags. They look bedraggled although they are on parade. The Mom who is a cub-scout leader is wearing jeans, some example! There is bagpipe band – something I always enjoy – but it includes only three bagpipes. Mostly, the parade consists of people in automobile vehicles. There are several fire trucks of course. This feels good because, in these parts, fire brigades are mostly composed of volunteers, an American institution if there ever was one. The other cars are there for no particular reason I am able to grasp except one car. There is a guy driving his period muscle car in average condition with the words “For sale” painted in several places. That’s American commercial ingenuity, I think.

From all cars but that one and from the firetrucks as well issue jets of candy aimed at the little children brought by parents to see the parade. There is so much candy that boys on either side of the street start a candy fight during a lull in the parade. Two middle aged women quietly fill a backpack with candy. One is white, the other black. If this is not proof of harmonious race relations, I don’t know what is, really!

The people in the parade and the people at the parade strike me as absent from the current American cultural narrative. You don’t find them in books, you don’t find them in movies, you don’t even find them in TV series anymore. They barely exist in popular music, even in country music. There are pockets of them all over the country, mostly larger pockets than in Felton. No wonder they feel forgotten and are pissed off in an often inarticulate ways. No wonder election analysts and the political class is disconcerted by the rise of a Donald Trump. They were mostly invisible until now.

I am sorry conservative rationalists like me missed the boat.

Posted in Socio-Political Essays | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Un ultra-libéral et Donald Trump

Je suis en contact intermittent avec un copain de lycée ( presque 60 ans plus tard!) Dernièrement, il m’ a écrit ceci:

“…c’est vrai que je n’ai pas récemment formulé d’avis sur tes dernières livraisons[sur Facebook et sur mon blog-J.D.] dont beaucoup se rapportent à des sujets typiquement américains sur lesquels je n’ai pas d’opinion très argumentée. Je m’intéresse cependant beaucoup aux élections avec la crainte que Donald (un président avec un nom de canard!)  finisse par l’emporter. Simplement çà serait tellement du n’importe quoi à tous les étages que çà serait passionnant à observer. Si cet événement terrible  se réalisait il répondrait probablement hélas à une question que je me pose régulièrement:qu’est ce qui initiera le déclin de l’Amérique

Je comprends que les Francais, y compris mon copain qui connait bien l’Anglais – soit éberlués. Je vais essayer d’expliquer un peu ce qui se passe y compris mes propres actions à venir. Mais avant tout, je dois répondre à sa question sur le déclin de l’Amérique: Indubitablement, c’est la présidence de Barak Obama, un homme médiocre, vaguement gauchiste, élu seulement parce qu’il est noir (et encore, pas tellement -une remarque que j’expliquerai volontiers si on me le demande).

La popularité de Donald Trump auprès d’une grosse partie de l’électorat, autant que son impopularité pour une encore plus grosse partie, ressortent du même phénomène psycho-social. Curieusement, il y a un recouvrement considérable entre la popularité de Trump et celle du Démocrate de gauche Bernie Sanders, des révolte populistes.

Apres 8 ans de marasme économique – pas très grave selon les critères français mais inhabituels ici – après huit ans de déclin géopolitique américain, assaisonné du spectacle pitoyable de marins à genoux, les mains croisées sur la tête dans le Golfe Persique, apres un “accord” nucléaire catastrophique autant qu’extra-constitutionnel avec la meurtrière République Islamique d’Iran, après de nombreux autres débordements extra-constitutionnels de l’administration Obama (dont “l’accord” en question n’est qu’un exemple), beaucoup de conservateurs habituellement modérés sont furieux. Ils se demandent pourquoi le Congrès a servi a M. Obama sur un plat d’argent tout ce qu’il voulait après deux victoires consécutives du Parti Républicain aux élections partielles. A quoi sert d’avoir une majorité aux deux chambres si le président continue à faire ce qu’il veut sans se soucier des voeux de plus de la moitié des électeurs, ses concitoyens, on se demande?

Le phénomène Trump est donc surtout et avant tout un rejet massif d’une classe politique Républicaine jugée trop passive. Le parallèle avec les progrès du Front National en France est limité mais foncièrement valide. Trump exprime un ras-le-bol politique dont Sanders est le pendant à gauche, (pour des raisons seulement partiellement différentes).

Etant donné le caractère emotionel de ce phénomène, les débordements de Trump, ses déclarations loufoques, même sa fréquente grossièreté, ne le desservent moins qu’il ne renforcent sa popularité auprès de la grosse minorité des conservateurs qui ressentent le plus ce ras-le-bol. On respecte son espèce de franc-parler, en quelques sorte, même si on trouve qu’il va un peu loin.

Que faire quand on est un conservateur, un “ultra-libéral” rationaliste et peu sujet aux engouements – comme moi, par exemple? L’analyse pertinente n’est pas si compliquée qu’on peut le penser.

Aux élections présidentielles de Novembre, bien que d’autres partis soient representés, seulement deux candidats auront la moindre chance de gagner, Trump et Clinton*. Mon copain de lycée a raison: un Président Trump risque de faire un peu n’importe quoi. En plus, de mon point de vue “d’ulta-libéral” ce n’est même pas un vrai conservateur. Ses positions hostiles vis-à-vis des accords de commerce international, par example, en eux mêmes me sont complètement inacceptables. Bien qu’il s’en défende, c’est un protectioniste de la vieille école. En plus, son ignorance macro-économique est choquante, même pour un ancien prof comme moi, endurci par l’expérience et que les étalages d’ignorance choque rarement.

De l’autre côté, nous avons l’ex-Première Dame, protectrice des ignominies adultères de son mari et de son parejure public, sous-serment, et dont le bref passage au Senat est passé (heureusement) inaperçu, l’ex-Secrétaire d’Etat( Ministre des affaires étrangères) au mandat à la fois incompétent et mensonger. Nous avons aussi en elle une escroque garantie et déjà vendue par avance à plusieurs pays étrangers par le biais de la fondation- machine-à-soux qu’elle a créee avec son mari Bill, un véritable repaire de voleurs.

Dans mon esprit, voter pour Trump c’est voter pour l’inconnu plus un peu de connu que je n’aime pas du tout. Voter pour Clinton, c’est voter pour l’incurie garantie et pour la malhonnêtetée systémique. (Je constate bien sur que m’abstenir est une sorte de vote pour Clinton.) Pas un choix facile. Heureusement, Trump a fait dernièrement ce qu’il fallait pour trancher le noeud gordien.

Les commentateurs avertis nous disent que le prochain président se verra dans l’obligation de nommer, deux, trois et même peut-être quatre juges de la Court suprême fédérale. Or, la Court suprême legifère de plus en plus, un fait contraire à la Constituion et que je regrette vivement, ce qui ne m’empêche pas d’ être conscient de ses profondes implications socio-politiques. (Ces juges sont nommes a vie.)

On sait d’avance qui Clinton nommerait, essaierait de nommer à la Cour Suprême: des gens choisis pour leur apartenance à une catégorie sociale donnée (fille-mère noire et lesbienne d’origine asiatique, par example; je plaisante mais pas beaucoup). Surtout des juristes qui continueraient la dérapade anti-constitutionnelle et le glissement vers une société américaine ressemblant aux sociétes bloqués et inertes de l’Europe. (Oui, comme la France, par example).

Trump lui, a produit il y a quelques jours une liste de onze candidats potentiels à la Court Suprême. Après examen par des périodiques conservateurs sérieux, dont le Wall Street Journal et le Weekly Standard, tous me seraient acceptables. Pour moi, c’est la fin du dilemme. Je voterai pour Trump, que je n’aime toujours pas du tout. Vote du moindre mal s’il en fut!

Un écart possible: Si les sondages indiquent juste avant les élections un ras-de-marée probable en faveur de Clinton, je donnerai mon vote au petit parti Libertarian qui n’a aucune chance de gagner mais dont le programme constitue un recherche intellectuelle et morale sur la réduction de la surface de l’Etat vis-à-vis de la société civile. Ce serait donc un vote de principe sans portée politique directe.

*Bernie Sanders: La seule chance que M. Sanders devienne le candidat Democrate serait que l’enquête actuelle du FBI aboutisse enfin et que M. Obama autorise sa copine la Ministre fédérale de la justice (“Attorney General”) à inculper Mme Clinton pour ses divers délits. Ça m’étonnerait, ça étonnerait tout le monde, surtout Mme Clinton d’ailleurs. Si l’impossible arrivait, j’aurais une longue conversation avec moi-même sur la possibilité de voter pour un crypto-communiste. J’aime bien le Senateur Sanders. Il a mon âge. C’est indéniablement un homme intègre. Et puis, il croit virtuellement tout ce que je croyais à l’âge de 25 ans! Il n’a pas changé d’une virgule. Si par extraordinaire, il devenait président, ce serait chouette, le retour de 1968!

Posted in Commentaires politiques en Francais, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Socialisms – Part Two


Sweden’s Imaginary Socialism as a Non-Model

Part One of this essay was posted a couple of days ago. In it, I reviewed briefly several avatars and zombies of socialism vaguely defined. I arrived at the conclusion that when Sen. Sanders says “democratic socialism,” he means pretty much Sweden and only Sweden (and perhaps, Denmark).

First, let me say that Sweden is a good place to live; it’s a very civilized country. I just don’t know in what sense it’s “socialist.” Center left parties took part in governing the country for most of the 20th century, true. Yet, little of Swedish commerce or industry is nationalized, or in any way public property. The Swedish government tends not to be invasive with regulations or direct intervention. Sweden even ranks a little higher than the US in “business freedom” on the 2016 (international) Index of Economic Freedom. Swedish companies are thriving, at home and abroad. Swedish capitalism is obviously alive and well.

I suspect that what confused Sen. Sanders and those of his supporters who have even thought about it is that the Swedish government offers extensive and high quality services to its citizens, many of which services that would belong to the private sector in other advanced societies. Let me say it again because this is an important point: The Swedish government is a quality service provider. But Swedes pay for these services with very high taxes. Swedish workers, on the average receive less than 50 of the income they earn. Careful: micro aggression coming. This is to me an unbearable negation of personal freedom, no matter how high the quality of services Swedish citizens receive “in return.” Thus, even in moderate, impeccably democratic Sweden, “socialism” proves to be liberticide, it blocks on a massive scale and routinely the realization of individual wishes, the pursuit of happiness, in other words. To take an example: Those Swedes who would rather earn less money and spend more time reading philosophy, for example, practically are prevented by high taxes from even trying. Incidentally, the share of GDP taken by Swedish taxes has been declining since the 90s. It would make sense for socialist Sen. Sanders to ask why. Hint: This decline was accompanied by a strong rise in GDP growth.

Sweden is a well managed capitalist welfare state. It would have been more ingenuous for Sen. Sanders to say this clearly rather than drag out the soiled word “socialism.” This assumes that he knows the difference, of course. His followers evidently do not.

I want to make a detour here about Swedish income inequality. because inequality is a topic dear to Sen. Sanders’ supporters. As you would expect, and as is intended, Sweden has one of the lowest income inequality on Earth (Gini Index: 0.25 vs the US about 0.44). However, its wealth inequality is very high (Gini Index: 0.85). This curious divergence is compatible with several scenarios including this alluring possibility: Socialist-inspired schemes designed to procure income equality had the effect – probably unintended – of freezing wealth disparities to where they were before “socialism.” It’s almost impossible to get ahead from near the bottom of the economic ladder when your income is seized before you even see it. For one thing, high taxes make it difficult or impossible to accumulate capital to create a new small business and therefore, new jobs. In other words, in many years of Swedish socialism, the restaurant waiter remained a restaurant waiter, the local Rockefeller remained Rockefeller, while the former was earning $12/hour and the latter only $24, both after taxes. (Figures made up). As I said, other scenarios can account for divergence between income inequality and wealth inequality. Play at imagining them. Good luck.

Whether or not one considers the objectives of Swedish-style “democratic socialism,” desirable there are considerable obstacles in the path of realizing it in America. Sen. Sanders and his followers semi-consciously assume that given the right legislation – not to forget far-reaching executive orders since the path has been open by President Obama – the United States could be turned into a kind of Sweden. There are three-plus things about American society that make this dream unrealistic.

First, until right now, Sweden was a thoroughly middle-class society. I mean by this that nearly everyone, except for a few skinheads, shared an understanding of the good life, and the same ethical system. We, in the USA, by contrast have a whole Third World inside our boundaries. I refer, of course to all of Louisiana, to Chicago and its suburbs, to some parts of Texas and New Mexico, and to nearly all black inner- city ghettos. (Read carefully: I did not say “predominantly black areas.”) Third World conditions breed predatory behavior. That makes the job of civil servants difficult. It also sucks up public resources for policing.

Second, and at the risk of breaching the etiquette of political correctness, Swedish society if fairly restrained as compared to most others, certainly as compared to American society. It’s a collective trait. It does not mean that most Swedes are restrained but that many Swedes are. I mean by this, for example, that on the average Swedish drunks are more polite, less noisy and less dangerous than American drunks. Collective restraint makes all government functions easier to perform obviously.

Third, Sen. Sanders assumes implicitly that given a victory, his administration would easily generate the first-class federal civil service that makes the Swedish welfare state function effectively and smoothly. That is an unrealistic assumption. Think the IRS, of course, and TSA (that’s never caught a terrorist ever, or ever stopped a terrorist action). Think of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives that generously donated hundred of firearms to Mexican drug cartels. Think of the Environmental Protection Agency, that declared CO2 – the main plant food – a noxious gas subject to its regulation. I could go on.

Good civil services are rooted in a broad social  tradition whereas smart, well-educated people chose careers in government in preference to a business career. There is no such American tradition. It would take many years of bad private employment before preferences of such individuals would shift away from business. Here is the question: can so-called “socialist” policies be implemented so quickly in America that private employment will worsen soon enough to serve the requirements of a quality civil service necessary to the implementation of the same-self “socialism”?

I must add a fourth obstacle to the success of Swedish style welfare state in the US, one that I don’t necessarily believe in myself. Swedes and also Danes keep telling me the following: Their form of welfare “socialism” involves a high degree of forced sharing. The acceptance of such taking from Peter to give Paul is well served by the fact that Paul is a lot like Peter and even looks a lot like him. According to this view, the high population homogeneity of Sweden until now is a necessary condition to the confiscatory taxes imposed on ordinary wage earners that is at the heart of its “socialism.” Needless to say, the US population is low on homogeneity (a fact, I celebrate myself).

So, a gifted, honest, competent civil service is central to the welfare capitalist supposedly “socialist” Swedish model (which the Swedes themselves explicitly do not propose as a model). My unavoidably subjective judgment is that a United States Sanderista civil service would, with some effort, with much reform, place somewhere between the French and the Brazilian. To think otherwise is the height of ignorant wishful thinking bordering on hubris.

 I am not hugely alarmed at the prospect of a new American capitalist welfarism though for the simple reason that we are already half-way there. Sen. Sanders’ more-of-the-same would not be Armageddon. It only promises an accelerated decline of this vibrant, inventive, culturally brilliant society accompanied by more short-term equality, less equity, and more poverty- and therefore less freedom – for all.

PS Incidentally, I am not much opposed to Sen. Sanders’ proposal to make state universities and college tuition-free. I think the proposal has the same justification as publicly supported elementary and secondary schooling. I would be willing to bet such a measure would have the same overall beneficial economic results as the GI Bill did right after WWII. Finally, there is just a chance that government management would put a brake on the unconscionable rise in the cost of tertiary schooling, of what universities charge without restraints. It’s not as if the current system that largely separates the decision makers from the payers, from the beneficiaries had worked really well!

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SocialismS – Part One

Sanders and Me and not so Democratic Socialism

Sen. Sanders got a huge pass this primary season. Captivated by the deep dishonesty of one probable nominee and the crude ignorance of the other (not to mention his plain crudeness), the media, and informal commentators like myself, have not given the Demo candidate and his program the attention they deserve. Also, in the current primary contest, it’s difficult not to like the guy. I have said several times that he inspires in me a kind of twisted affection. Plus, he has real pluck. But, let’s face, it: He is probably done, or done for.

Sen. Sanders has gone very far into the primary while maintaining perfect dignity in his demeanor. He has seldom stooped to personal insults even when he was being severely tried by a Ms Clinton who seems to consider the man’s very candidacy a grave offense, an offense against the natural order of things, a crime of lèse-majesté, even a form of woman abuse. In the meantime Mr Sanders will have single-handedly rehabilitated the word “socialism.” This matters for the future of this nation. Time to look at it critically.

I, personally, especially like Sanders the man. I have reasons to. We are the same age; we went to college at about the same time, both in good universities. He took a fairly active part in the desegregation movement. I did not because it was too early in my American sojourn. (I wish I had taken part.) Nevertheless at age 25, Sanders and I were both leftists. The main difference between us is this: Fifty years later, he has remained impeccably faithful to the ideals of our youth while I walked away, faster and faster, really. I learned to understand the invisible hand of the market. I did some good readings. I was lucky enough to observe my leftists academic colleagues in action at close range early on. Cannily, I observed that the victorious Vietnamese Communist Party did not establish a workers’ paradise in its part of the world. I loathed authoritarianism in any guise. The Senator, meanwhile, spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union.

When that latter country fell apart and its archives were open, the Senator had nothing to say about the eighty years of mass atrocities they revealed. I am guessing he did not think he had to because he believed in the democratic brand of socialism. It’s hard to tell how much history he knows.(I think that liberals in general are ignorant, including academic liberals. I could tell you stories about them that would raise your hair on the back of your neck.) It does not take much knowledge though to guess that Lenin and the 1916 Bolsheviks did not originally set out deliberately to create a tyranny. Too bad they had to come to power by overthrowing by force of arms a democratically elected government. (See “Kerensky.”) Still, they named the new country “The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics,” and the word “soviet” means “council,” and “republic” means what it means. But, building socialism wasn’t working out; too many people with bad attitudes. So Lenin had to nudge History a little bit with bayonets, with barbed wire, with organized famines and soon, with a bullet to the back of the head of those who stood in the way. The Bolsheviks were forced to choose between socialism and democracy. They chose the former and they got neither. There is no record of Sen. Sanders making any relevant comment. (As always, I am eager to correct my errors.)

It’s less clear whether the Communist Party of China ever had a democratic plan. The unauthorized biography of Mao by his personal doctor reads like a tissue of horrors right from the start.(Dr. Li Zhisui.The Private Life of Chairman Mao   1994) The Communist Parties of Eastern Europe simply came to power in the wagon train of the Red Army occupying their countries. None of them ever got close to getting there through free elections. The most interesting is the case of East Germany, ruled by a fusion of a native communist party and of preexisting democratic socialist parties. Together, they achieved a fair degree of material success for the East German people yet, they never managed to make do without a police state. Today, Sanders’ backers may not remember or they may not know that the German Democratic Republic, as it was called with a straight face, disappeared overnight. Someone had left a back door open to this paragon of socialist success and the people immediately started voting with their feet by the tens of thousands.

This is all irrelevant, Senator Sanders’ supporters would claim. You are describing a grave perversion of socialism; again,we only want democratic socialism.

During much of my adult life, the ill-defined words “socialism” and “socialist” were used with all kinds of modifiers: “African socialism,” “Arab socialism.” In all cases, the regimes so named led their countries straight to poverty, usually accompanied by official kleptocracy. In India, a really democratic country, the mild Ghandian-Nehruan form of socialism produced deep poverty for two generations including in the large, educated Indian middle class . (Just compare and contrast with un-socialist South Korea which started in 1953, after a devastating war, much poorer than India had been in 1949 when it became independent.) Socialism – whatever that is – is normally the road sign that points toward generalized poverty. Perhaps, this is only the result of a fateful case of reverse magic naming: Call something good, reasonable “socialist: and it begins degrading and sinking! Go figure!

OK, this is all about ancient times, they say. So, let’s look at current examples.

In Venezuela, socialism started under unusually favorable conditions because the country had considerable oil income that minimized the need for high taxation, a major reason for discontent in most socialist experiments. Yet, the socialists in power there made such a mess of it that today, only a few years later, the country suffers about 400% inflation (in 2016). If you had a dollar’s worth of local money there 12 months ago, it now only buys about a quarter’s worth of milk or bread. The skilled middle-class is leaving or trying to. They may return later; or, they may not. If they don’t, it will take a couple of generations at best to rebuild the country’s human capital after the socialist experiment ends.

Note that the sharp drop in world oil prices has affected many countries. It’s only in “Bolivarian” socialist Venezuela that you will see mass exodus and severe shortages of necessities.

In Brazil, The Workers’ Party is in power. The sitting president is a woman whose bona fide, whose socialist credentials are not in question. When she was young, she was imprisoned and even tortured for her belief in socialism, or because she was a guerrilla. ( That ‘s the name for a left-wing terrorist). She would now be impeached for making up optimistic economic figures for her country, except for the fact that the man constitutionally designated to replace her is also under indictment for corruption. It was bound to happen. The federal government in Brazil eats up 40% of GDP. The huge national oil company, Petrobras is nationalized; it belongs to the government, a favorite socialist arrangement. So oil revenues belong to everyone which means they belong to no one. Why not help myself a little, generations of Brazilian politicians have figured? There are no shareholders to keep tabs and to complain, after all. Socialism and kleptocracy are like father and son.

But, but, you say, those are Third World countries that have not yet recovered from the corrupting influence of colonialism (200 years later). Point well taken. Here is another case I know well, of a socialist country that has not been colonized since about 50 (BC.) France has been under the guiding hand of the French Socialist Party for nearly five years this time around. By the way, France is a democratic country with fair elections and a free press. The Socialists won fair and square. They were in power for 23 of the 35 years since 1981. They largely implemented their program and there few few rollbacks – except by themselves, a few times when they understood the disastrous effects of the reforms they had implemented. I am thinking of a broad de-nationalization of banks in 1981-82. (This is directly relevant to Sen. Sanders’ thinking.)

The French Socialist Party in power never tried to restrict freedom of the press and it did not fill the prisons with its opponents. (Instead, it emptied them hastily of violent criminals, according to its security critics.) By and large, its rule has been quite civilized. There is just that pesky problem of chronic unemployment which never dips much below 10% (25% for the young; sky is the limit if you are young and your name is “Mohamed”). There is also the fact that economic stagnation is now seen as normal by the young. Has been for a couple of generations, now. And then, there is the unbelievable cultural sterility of French society (another story, obviously that I partially tell elsewhere on this blog. Ask me.)

True story: a few months ago, members of the socialist government celebrated loudly. That was because the government office of economic analysis had revised upward its estimate of annual economic growth from GDP: + 0.4% to +0.6% !(Yes, that ‘s 6 tenth of one per cent. It’s true that today, in the spring of 2016, it’s at a respectable annual 2% plus.)

“No, no,” cries Sen. Sanders ( and I can almost hear him from here) ” I don’t mean ‘socialist’ as in ‘Union of Socialist Soviet Republics,’ and I don’t mean Red China, and I don’t mean North Korea, certainly, and I don’t mean Cuba (although…), and I don’t mean Venezuela today, or Brazil. And, I don’t even mean France although I could not explain why exactly. ( Bad call here, Senator. The French single-payer health care system works well; it’s cheaper than US health care, and French men live two years longer than American men.) I mean socialism as in Denmark and Sweden. Now, here we are at last. In part Two, we will look at what passes for Swedish “socialism.” (Denmark is too small to be an example, perhaps.)

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