Archive for May, 2011

E PLURIBUS UNUM

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

MAY 30, 2011

Out of many, one.

This phrase was the unofficial motto of the United States when the Constitution was adopted in 1787. It is still on our coins and bills. In colonial days it meant 13 colonies united as one state. Later in the 19th century it came to mean immigrant groups united into one national people—the “melting pot” idea.

On this Memorial Day in 2011, I think E Pluribus Unum is still true and is one of the ways our nation is still exceptional.

Harsh critics never tire of pointing out that the melting pot did not work very well when it came to people from Africa brought here to be slaves. Or people who lived here before the Europeans came. Instead of “melting” with them, we robbed them of their land, often murdered their families, and eventually confined their offspring to remote reservations. The people who came from China, Korea, Poland, Italy and Ireland (and many other countries) were not always treated very well. We mocked them, and put down as chinks, slant-eyed gooks, dumb pollacks, dirty wops, and drunken Irish. Etc. Etc. None of that was exceptional.

Everything in this troubled world is compared to what. The exceptional thing about this country is that eventually there really has been a melting pot. Not without violence and not without heroic actions and achievements of the oppressed minorities themselves and mainstream progressive reformers. The Civil War was the ultimate, but in my lifetime the freedom riders and the many politicians, activists and ordinary citizens who helped to overcome the Jim Crow laws and eventually bring the Civil Rights laws to passage, also comes to mind.

In colonial days even though Europeans often came here to escape religious persecution in their home countries, over here they were often just as intolerant of people who differed from them in religion. Congregationalists did not like Baptists. Anglicans did not appreciate Methodists. All varieties of Protestants were deeply prejudiced against Catholics. They were not just heretics—Catholics were the Antichrist. And few religious people approved of atheists.

Our founding fathers in their wisdom decided there should be no state religion and wrote it into the Constitution. This was an exceptional statement in 1787, and is still exceptional today.

Today this country is more religious than most, and also more tolerant. We not only have many varieties of Christianity, but also multiple varieties of many other religions—Islam, Hindu, Sikh, Judaism, Buddhist, Confucian—you name it, we have it. Including atheism, feminism and environmentalism in their multiple incarnations.

Exceptional I call it.

Violence against “other” groups has been the norm for centuries past in all countries of the world. Slavery or serfdom was the normal way to get work done and create wealth. In all agricultural age societies war was the normal way to deal with differences and the accepted and expected way to gain more power and wealth.

It was also that way long before there were nations. Native hunter/gathering tribes (our own more remote ancestors) everywhere on all continents were cooperative and loving toward their fellow tribe members (not always), but competitive, fearful and downright nasty to people from other tribes (almost always). If we had as much per capita violence as stone-age pre-agricultural tribes had, eighty million of us in the U.S. would die a violet death at the hand of fellow citizens—before the age of twenty-five. It seems to be the way human beings are constructed.

Yet today in this country we have (finally) got to a point where there is surprisingly little violence between disparate groups— ethnic, national, racial, and gender. Very little, by no means none. We have made progress.

Other nations have also made progress, but it is fair to say we have consistently led the way. We have been and are exceptional.

Is there any other country in the world today where blacks, whites, people of any and all colors, Irish, Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Chinese, Indians, Sri Lankans, Jews, Slavs, Serbs, Croatians, Japanese, Germans, Greeks, Hispanics, Poles, Czechs, Spaniards, French, Italians, Arabs, Libyans, Egyptians, Palestinians, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thais, Russians, Latvians, Lithuanians, English, Scots, Welch, Belgians, Danes, Algerians, Nigerians, Kenyans, Thais, Cambodians, Fiji Islanders, Hawaiians, Ukrainians, Swiss, Romanians, Hungarians, Albanians, Straights, Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Protestants, Catholics, Wiccans, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Algonquins, Iroquois, Cheyenne, Ho-Chunks, and god knows how many other ethnic, religious, social and national groups I haven’t listed—live side by side, intermarry, have fun together, pray together, work together and are, on the whole and most of the time, polite and nice to one another even if one is “different”—and to top it off, we have a president who is half-Irish and half-Kenyan—I mean how many Western countries can say as much? (The longest sentence I have ever written for the greatest country that has ever existed.) The short answer to the long question is—none.

My case rests. E Pluribus Unum.

Happy Memorial Day.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. You can explore some of these ideas in my new book The Road to a Tea Party—a Fresh Look at the Cold War, 9/11, and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy at www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com. Final corrections are being completed now and it should be available for sale on these web sites and others by the middle of June.

Rich people

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

MAY 23, 2011

When I was young we called rich people millionaires.

“According to my calculations based on government data,” writes John Cogan, professor of Public Policy at Stanford, “starting next year, the typical couple, receiving the average benefit … will begin receiving monthly checks that will, on average, total about $550,000 after inflation. They will receive health-care services that, on average, will total another $450,000 after inflation. The benefactors will be a generation of younger workers who are trying to support themselves and their families while paying taxes to finance the rest of government spending.”

This million dollars is what the average retiree will get from his or her social security and Medicare benefits (far more than they contributed in payroll taxes during their working life—that money the government has already spent). In addition many retirees, especially many local, state and federal government workers, will get far more than this from pensions and supplemental health plans they contracted for in collective bargaining over the last few decades. For the next twenty to thirty years these fortunate folks will be not just millionaires, but multi-millionaires (would that qualify as super-rich?).

And, wouldn’t you know, they are often the most vociferous in complaining about rich people. See recent protests in Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as similar outbreaks in the UK, France, Greece, and other European welfare-state democracies.

Whether these bits of data raise your spirits or dampen them depends at least partly on how old you are, and where you work.

It highlights the serious ditch we have driven into in this country. Not only in this country, but in the entire social democratic world of Europe, North America, Japan and the Pacific rim. The good news is that ordinary people are healthier, living longer and are wealthier than any people have ever been in human history. The bad news is that people are healthier, living longer and are wealthier—and we can’t afford it.

The incredible prosperity is without question due to the thriving entrepreneurial culture in the United States. (We were the first. Our example has inspired other countries in North America, Europe and Asia during the second half of the 20th century and now they too are richer, healthier and living longer.) That entrepreneurial culture rests on three basic pillars: science, democracy, and capitalism.

Great as this achievement has been, it has not gone unpunished. Walt Whitman, put it this way: “O God, if I am to have so much, let me have more.”

Many people today take the cornucopia for granted and expect still more without paying attention to where the wealth is coming from. Worse, some even curse the geese that are laying the golden eggs—science, democracy and capitalism.

Intellectuals, literary and media stars, and heavy academics are often like spoiled adolescents in their disdain for profits, for corporations, for businesspeople, for producers of all kinds, along with their enthusiasm for more government control and more zero-sum benefits.

Some of these same luminaries not only attack capitalism but also attack science and technology (plastics, nukes, fossil fuels, genetic engineering, factory farms, chemicals, suburbs, auto-culture, IQ testing, etc. etc.) in the name of more “natural,” “local,” “fair”, “green” and “organic” lifestyles.

They claim to be devoted to democracy, but they are quick to dismiss Tea Partiers and Republicans (half the nation) as know-nothing dupes of the evil Koch brothers. Their solution to budget constraints is simple—soak the rich. Many claim we are turning into an oligarchic, fascist society.

No wonder the Tea Party is angry.

I can understand “if I am to have so much, let me have more.” That’s self-interest, the basic motive in capitalism, and in life itself. But where is that “more” to come from? The government is necessary, yes—but the great bulk of the new wealth is coming from old-fashioned profits created by the system so many enjoy condemning so vociferously. The more you tax the profits, the less wealth there is to distribute.

I could illustrate this with data from two hundred years of history (which I have done in my new book—see below) but for this News let’s try personal.

When I started my working career after WW II, Dwight Eisenhower was president. The income taxes on rich people were at the 90% level. The rich, the middle class, and the poor all had less wealth, and made less income than they do today.

The 1950s were a boom time. Jobs were plentiful, but wages were low. My first teaching job paid me $2900 a year. I worked at other jobs in the 50s, as a cab driver, a factory worker, in a construction company, as an engineer for Western Electric. My wages never rose much above that modest level.

I’m not complaining now and I wasn’t complaining then. We did the best we could and managed to live a decent if not luxurious life. Better than workers in the rest of the post-war world. Unlike most middle-class families today, however, it was pretty Spartan. Buying a house was not possible. Most years there was no money to take a vacation. We didn’t have computers, cell phones, credit cards or the Internet. New clothes and eating out in restaurants happened, but rarely. Travel abroad was never considered. Nor were trips on airliners or cruise ships. Some families had a car. We didn’t.

I didn’t think much about retirement in those days. When Roosevelt started the system in the depression the average age of death was 62.

We were not unusual. That was how the middle-class lived in the 1950s when income taxes took 90% of the rich family’s income. (Government revenues in the 50s were close to the same percentage of GNP as they are today.) Some leftists want to bring back those times. They imagine that if only we raised the taxes on the rich to 90% or more we could afford still more generous government benefits to the middle class and the poor.

Good luck.  I don’t want to get into a futile argument about statistics—every partisan has his or her favorites—but I do know that over the past half-century tax rates have gone more or less steadily down and the economy has gone more or less steadily up. Income inequality has varied. In the 20th century it went up and down. It is greater today, but not even close to where it was in the 19th century and for many centuries before. The rich are richer today, but the middle class is also richer. And the poor are much richer. Not only here in the U.S., but all over the world. Yes there have been booms and busts. In the past two centuries the recessions have been brief (a year or two), clearing the way for another leap forward.

With one exception—the Great Depression of the 1930s. FDR tried to cure the economy then by soaking the rich and rhetorically damning them for their “greed,” just as leftists are doing today. He also increased by powers of ten the government’s role in the economy, as leftists are trying to do today. It didn’t work. That depression was by far the longest and deepest in U.S. history. It also reverberated around the world paving the way for Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

Do we want to go down that road again? Maybe it is time to take seriously the road to a new Tea Party.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. You can find out more details in my new book The Road to a Tea Party—a Fresh Look at the Cold War, 9/11, and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy at www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com. It should be available for sale on these web sites by the first of June.

bell curves and education

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

MAY 16, 2011

Garrison Keillor in his Prairie Home Companion days used to describe the mythical Lake Wobegon as the town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.”

Wouldn’t it be loverly! The first two requirements are possible, if unlikely. The third is impossible and therein lies a tale.

Living things follow bell curves in pretty much all their definable characteristics. Some golden retrievers are astonishingly good at catching a Frisbee. Some are not too good. Most are in the middle, pretty good but not astonishingly so. So, too, with peonies. Some are showy, top of the line, some are puny, most are in the middle range, pretty but not gorgeous.

So it goes with people, too. A favored few are movie star handsome. An unblessed few are homely. Most are good looking enough, but not movie star caliber. And that’s okay. In looks, as in all characteristics, we, too, follow bell curves.

The one place today that cannot seem to accept the realities of the bell curve is education. It is understandable. Educators, rightly so, always want their students to improve. All of them. Get smarter, learn more, achieve. In recent years it seems to me this laudable desire has been high jacked by an idea that somehow all students should end up equal, or even above average. They all should be winners—that’s for sure. But they all don’t start out and they all can’t end up equal, much less above average.

Every few weeks still another study comes out in local and national news decrying the “gap” between the test scores of this or that group as compared with the test scores of this or that other group. African-American children, Hispanic children, Jewish children, Hmong children, Chinese children, Korean children, suburban children, inner-city children, public school children, private school children, charter school children, rich children, poor children—all these and more are compared, not as individuals, but as groups. The trouble is not one of us want to be judged by our supposed “group.” We all treasure our individuality. We want to be seen, listened to, and appreciated for what we are as individual human beings, not for our alleged group affiliations, least of all our ancestors.

Two hundred years ago my ancestors came to this country, some from Germany, some from Switzerland, some from Scotland. A few thousand years before that my genes came from who knows where in Europe, the Middle East or western Asia. And a few thousand years ago before that my genes were almost certainly first created in Africa.

Remember, too, almost all of my distant ancestors were slaves. More recent ones who lived in Medieval Europe were serfs or peasants. All things considered—so what?

Should I be labeled a German-Scottish-Swiss-Native-Afro-formerly-enslaved-American? No. I am who I am, Bill Stonebarger, proud citizen of the USA, the only group label I want.

I realize these comparisons and gaps are often studied and reported on with good intentions—presumably to improve the educational opportunities of this or that group in our public schools. One trouble is they end up blaming teachers and schools for “gaps” that they have little or no responsibility for creating, and little or no power to change. Another, more serious trouble, is that they stick group labels on individuals that often hurt and retard individual achievement. And a third, even more serious trouble, is that instead of diminishing prejudice, they increase it.

People differ in native ability. These differences come from their genes, their memes and their environments. The genes you can’t change. The memes and the environments you can. Somewhat. Not always as much as some think though. I could never in a million years have been “educated enough” to challenge Michael Jordan on the basketball court. Or Bret Favre on the football field. Or Albert Einstein in the world of physics. Or Barack Obama in the world of politics and leadership. For whatever reason—genes, memes, physical equipment, temperament, luck or my environment growing up—I simply was not on the upper part of the bell curves for the skills and whatever else it takes to achieve at those levels in those fields.

I am not alone in these inadequacies. On the other hand, not to go too far in the direction of false modesty, I think I may well be on the upper levels in some other skills and achievements. A decent modesty prevents me from naming them too definitively, but a healthy self-respect assures me that they are there.

I have no doubt that most people feel the same. We may not be an Einstein or an Obama but we, too, have our virtues. Why don’t we allow our students and our teachers the same latitude? Why continue to demand that they be part of a “group” that is either lagging behind (on the down side of a bell-curve distribution) or surging ahead (on the up side of the bell curve distribution)? Why talk about gaps at all since there are so many differences between all groups in all characteristics? In addition, defining any “group” with even remote precision is near to impossible.

Whether you are comparing strength, height, speed, health, intelligence, athletic achievements, academic achievements, moral goodness, street smarts, personality charm, verbal fluency, mathematical know-how, technical know-how and can-do, likeability, kindness quotient, you name it—it is the individual mix that counts. Not the group average.

Whatever individual you are talking about there will be gaps and there will be possibilities. Let’s concentrate on the possibilities and forget about any “gaps” there might be between, at best, ill-defined “groups.” The gaps are irrelevant. The possibilities are real.

The dancer Martha Graham had the best word on this subject:

“There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. To me this is one of the directions the best of the new Tea Party is after—the freedom to be you and the karma that rewards your unique achievements and hard work (and punishes your mistakes, meanness and laziness). You can find out more in my new book The Road to a Tea Party—a Fresh Look at the Cold War, 9/11, and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy at www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com. It should be available for sale by the first of June.

Chess moves and long-term goals

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

May 9, 2011

The assassination of Osama bin Laden was one chess move in what will be a long historic struggle. The President deserves credit for his courage in authorizing this move. It was shaking the dice and could have ended up a disaster. Some credit should also go to former President George Bush for setting up the intelligence network that made it possible. And of course the major credit should go to the CIA and the Navy Seals who planned and carried out the daring raid.

One regret is that they did not capture bin Laden and bring him to the U.S. to stand trial. It is impossible at this time to know whether they made the choice to assassinate him on the spot or were acting on orders from the President to kill rather than capture. As it turned out, it looked uncomfortably close to the frontier “justice” that happened only too often in our early history.

While I can understand and even sympathize with the street jubilation in New York and Washington, I found it unseemly. Bin Laden was a sad, desperate, criminally brainwashed leader, responsible for thousands of innocent deaths. So have been a few thousand others in this woeful world. Satisfaction at their death is one thing, street celebrations are another.

There will no doubt be many conspiracy theories about the execution in the months and years to come. There already are spirited arguments, from the left and the right, about details of how the intelligence was gathered, whether there really was a firefight, the morality of assassination vs. capture, whether Osama was armed or not, the futility of the Pakistan military, whether we should release the photographs or not, etc. etc.

What interests me most is the long run. And here I see hope for the long-run future, but trouble in the short-run future. How long or how short is anybody’s guess. There will be short-term repercussions I am sure. How do we, how should we, react to the long-term challenge of Radical Islam today and tomorrow?

One important leader of Islamic extremism is no longer with us, but the movement is far from dead. In a way it is a religious war despite our leaders wanting to distance us from this reality. Christianity took three or four hundred years to evolve into a (relatively) progressive peaceful religion that supports democracy instead of opposing it. We had a Renaissance, a Reformation and an Enlightenment that changed our Western culture for the better. (Especially the Enlightenment.) All of these changes, however, came with much pain and violence for our ancestors.

Islam, for the most part, is just beginning that evolutionary road. Considering the speed of modern life it will probably take many fewer years for Islam to evolve into a more tolerant, democracy-supportive religion. But evolve it will, I am convinced. Look today at the turmoil in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia to see strong beginnings. How can we help it in this treacherous journey to modernity?

A. E. Housman, the English poet of the early 20th century, once wrote that “malt can do more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man.” We should take the hint.

A few years ago, during the peak of the violence in Iraq, Jane and I went to a showing of a fascinating home movie here in Madison. A daring young moviemaker from Illinois spent his life’s savings to go alone to Baghdad, carrying nothing but a small video camera. He spent a week in central Baghdad dodging suicide bombers and Sunni fighters. American troops would not venture into downtown Baghdad in those days without an armored escort.

One of the scenes that sticks in my mind, was his video clip of a local theatre. It was, he said, very popular—sold out for five shows a day. What was showing? X-rated American movies!

I don’t recommend we subsidize porn but I do think the export of many other (not always universally popular) sides of our Western way of life—McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Victoria’s Secret, Holiday Inns, supermarkets, etc.—may in the end do more than tanks, drone planes, daring raids and USAID missionaries can do to hasten that evolution.

It worked in the cold war.

I remember vividly, for instance, the New Years Eve in Moscow when the Soviet flag came down and the Russian flag went up over the Kremlin. We went with a small group to see Swan Lake at the famous Bolshoi Theatre. After the show our guide took us to what was then considered the best restaurant in Moscow, a spanking new, squeaky clean, McDonald’s. There was a line around the block to get in. Russian young people considered it the place to go on a date. The food was plentiful, good and cheap. It was clean. The clerks behind the counter actually smiled at you when they took your order. All of these features were radically new to Muscovites in those heady early days after the collapse of the command-economy of Soviet socialism.

Another example is the story of the Russian visitor to an American supermarket. When she walked in the automatic doors and saw the huge selection of food and luxuries, she fainted.

With the ever growing power of the Internet, cell phones, DVDs, computers, Facebook, Twitters, and who knows what new electronic marvels, the example our culture gives around the world is also growing ever more powerful and persuasive. I read recently that some of the democracy protesters in Egypt were waving American flags and that protesters in Libya today are painting “Facebook” on their foreheads. There were no images or signs in praise of bin Laden or al Qaida in either case. As always, the world is changing. My bet is that it won’t take as long as many predict for Islam to mellow and promote, rather than reject, free-market liberal democracy.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. For more information on the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, see our current best-selling DVD of that name. Recently it has enjoyed brisk sales not only to schools but also to individuals. You can find it on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com.

“History is more or less bunk”

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

MAY 2, 2011

Henry Ford said it. “I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. History is more or less bunk.” The philosopher Friedrich Hegel agreed, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” Huck Finn also agreed, “by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time: so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”

I’m a history buff so I don’t agree with Ford, Hegel and Huck Finn. I do take stock in the dead. As William Faulkner put it, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

What can we learn from history?

We can’t learn easy answers to knotty problems of the day. But we can see broad trends. Lessons from history can point us in directions for future progress.

History is also fascinating if you approach it with an open mind—and a strong stomach.

Here is a taste of what it was like in China during the 10,000 year long agricultural age: (all of the following quotes are from The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010.)

“A note in the royal chronicles for 842, during the reign of the heavenly sovereign, Ninmyo, gives us a glimpse of grotesque poverty just outside Heian’s own walls: ‘The Office of the Capital was ordered to gather up and burn some five thousand, five hundred skulls lying around,’ the chronicler tells us. The peasants who lived along the Kamo river, which flowed past Heian, were so poor that they could not afford tombs or deep graves for their dead: instead they scratched holes in the sand for the bodies. As the river wore the sand away, the bones were flung up onto the shore.”

The Middle East was probably where the agricultural revolution began. Six hundred years after the birth of Jesus, the Arabs, the Persians and the Christians were battling non-stop (as they still seem to be doing today).

“Heraclius [the Christian king] decided to sue for peace, even if it came on poor terms. He sent envoys to Khosru II [the Persian king], to bring an end to the war. But Khosru II was winning, and he refused. … He then besieged Jerusalem. The city fell. The Persians, who were irate over the length of the siege, stormed in and massacred the population. … They destroyed persons of every age, massacred them like animals, cut them in pieces, mowed them down. Families were herded into the dry moat around the city and put under guard until thirst and heat killed them. In all, nearly sixty-seven thousand men, women, and children died under Persian swords. The most precious relic of Jerusalem, a fragment of the True Cross, joined the Mandylion in the Persian archives.”

Referring to a war about the same time in India, one of many thousands of wars on all continents among all societies during these 10,000 agricultural-age years …

“The ninth-century Persian historian al-Baladhuri writes that when the governor al-Hajjaj reckoned up the tribute paid during the first year, his profit was double the cost of the conquest.”

A hundred years later Charlemagne (the justly-famous head of the Holy Roman Empire) was reigning, fighting and enforcing his will in western Christian Europe.

“The Saxon resistance to his rule and the Saxon toll on his army had so angered him that, in 782, he had ordered forty-five hundred Saxon prisoners to be massacred. … Afterwards Charlemagne decreed that any ‘unbaptized Saxon who conceals himself among his people and refuses to seek baptism, but rather choses to remain a pagan shall die.’ A Saxon who stole from a church, or did violence to a priest, or indulged himself in the old Saxon rites instead of Christian worship, would be put to death. And any Saxon who did not observe Lent properly would be executed.”

Gruesomely fascinating … but what’s the point?

The agricultural age on earth lasted about 10,000 years. We today— just two hundred years into the industrial and scientific age—still carry the genes and the “memes” of all our ancestors who lived and reproduced during this long agricultural age. The genes we can’t do much about. The memes (that is, the accumulated lessons, languages, habits of mind, prejudices, loyalties, loves and hates) are still with us. In the last two hundred years some of these memes have changed, but not everywhere, and not as much as they could and should change anywhere.

What are some of these outdated ideas and prejudices?

To my mind one of the most important, and destructive, is the idea that resources are limited. Any gain to one is a loss to another. The world is a zero-sum game. To gain more wealth you have to fight. To solve poverty you need to take from the rich, and give to the poor. And since the world is such a terrible and uncertain place the only safe sanctuary is the safety of a strong religious belief shared by an in-group.

Today, even in America and Europe, this ancient agriculturally based meme translates often into modern demagogic class war. Profits are theft. To get more money, take it from them that have it, the rich. “The government that takes from Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.”

The good news is that the big central idea behind this class war—this all-important meme that says resources are limited—is not true. It used to be true. It was true for ten thousand years. But it is not true today.

What makes it not true today is a combination of three very important events in recent world history (two hundred years recent) that changed the reality, but as yet have not changed the minds of many modern citizens.

One is the birth of modern science and technology that has made modern lifestyles possible; two is the ascendancy of modern free-market capitalism with its win-win capabilities, rather then zero-sum restrictions; three is the evolution of ancient religions so that they no longer demand exclusive rights to the soul, but instead allow freedom of religion, freedom from religion, and freedom of thought. You might add a fourth—the freedoms pioneered in the Reformation and Enlightenment now featured in modern liberal democracy.

In light of the above, if I could wave a magic wand and change memes overnight here are my suggested mutations.

Don’t worry too much about resources. The most important natural resource is the power of the human hand and brain (science and technology) and that resource is virtually unlimited.

Trade is better than war. The win-win transactions of capitalism are better than the zero-sum ones of socialism.

Governments are important, but beware of giving them too much power and authority over our lives. Even with the best intentions, they often harm as much as help.

And lastly, religion is best when stripped of exclusive claims and dogmatic pronouncements, and focused instead on kindness and love.

Remember, you don’t need to take stock in dead people, but when you look closely, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. If you are interested in more detail on the above history and ideas see my new book, The Road to a Tea Party: a Fresh Look at the Cold War, 9/11, and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy. Note that each word of the subtitle is important. It should be available on amazon.com and hawkhill.com within the next month.