Archive for September, 2011

A Confession and a Plea for Help

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Sept. 26, 2011

I have a confession to make and a plea for help. A close friend who likes my new book thinks it has one major fault—the title. I have come to believe he is right.

The Road to a Tea Party is misleading. I emphasized in the preface that I meant A Tea Party, not THE Tea Party. But the implication is there that I am a supporter of the Tea Party and that my book is somehow about the Tea Party. Which is not so.

Ergo. I am planning to bring out a revised new edition with a new title and a new ISBN number. What would be a good title? I need one that is honest—represents more accurately what the book is really about—and one that will tweak people’s curiosity enough to buy a copy. I chose The Road to a Tea Party title more for the tweak than the honest description. As often happens when you do this, it backfired. Many potential readers confessed they wouldn’t read a book with that title.

So what is the book about? There was a cartoon of Sydney Harris in The American Scientist a few decades ago. A cave man’s family is going to bed and the father says to his wife and children, “We have to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow is the dawn of history.”

That is what my book is about—not the dawn of history, but the dawn of a new age, the Industrial-Scientific-Democratic one.

First came the hunting/gathering age that lasted 100,000 years or so. This was followed by an Agricultural Age that lasted about ten thousand years (still the way it is in many developing countries today). Right now we in the West are in the changeover from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial-Scientific-Democratic Age. This one began in Western Europe and took more definitive shape and scope around the time of our American Revolution. It is still in its infancy. Just as the cave man proclaiming the dawn of history is fair game for cartoonists, so the people who think our Western Civilization is senile after a few hundred years are, to my mind, comical.

Nevertheless, the view among many intellectuals today is just that—we are on our last legs. Many complain that unless we make some very sharp turns—the most common suggestion now is “sustainable” living—we are goners.

In my youth the popular turn was toward socialism. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the winds of socialism have calmed, to be replaced by the windmills and solar panels of a sustainable age.

My book explores these claims and finds that neither socialism nor sustainability is an adequate response to our current growing pains. As a new civilization we have barely scratched the surface of the possibilities for human growth and prosperity in our new age of scientific, industrial and human progress. Collectives are not the answer. Nor are sustainable communities.

What is needed are vigorous efforts to continue the progress begun in the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment of the Western World. The fast developing worlds of Asia, Africa and South America are now beginning to catch on, just as an intellectual elite in the West  seem to be giving up and calling on us to retreat.

I think we need to advance.

In practice this means continuing to vigorously promote science and technology, to build on the proven principles of capitalist economic systems, and to listen to the humanistic bent of our founding father’s tolerant versions of Judeo-Christianity.

That is a brief summary of what my book is about. You will have to read it to decide whether I make a good case or not.

The modern Tea Party movement does advance some of those ideas. It also opposes some of them. But to repeat, my book is not about the Tea Party and I should never have put that name in the title.

So we come back to my plea. What would be a good title?

In my days at Antioch College I had a friend who later made it big—Rod Serling. Rod’s most famous show (still seen in reruns on cable channels) was The Twilight Zone. This suggests a possible new title: The Twilight Zone or the Dawn of History?

Or maybe a simpler version: Twilight or Dawn?

The subtitle could stay as it is: A Fresh Look at the Cold War, 9/11 and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy.

Or broaden to: A Fresh Look at the Past, Present and Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy?

Other titles suggested by friends and family follow in no particular order:

Dusk or Dawn?

The Last Best Hope

The Last Best Hope of Earth

The Way to Go Home

Promises to Keep

Good Morning America

Good Morning

Morning

From Antioch to Common Stock

The Road Just Traveled

Looking Forward to the Past

What the Past Has Left for the Future

Be glad to consider any others that readers might suggest. Also eager to have your opinions about the above suggestions.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. In the meantime you can still get a copy of the book with it original title. Check out THE ROAD TO A TEA PARTY: a Fresh Look at the Cold War, 9/11 and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com.

“lies, damn lies, and statistics”

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Sept. 19, 2011

My friend Michael sends me statistics that show the inequality of income and wealth in this country is vast and is increasing. Which is statistically true.

Looking to my own experience since graduating from college in 1949, I have caveats.

I taught science in elementary and high schools in the 1950s and the 1960s. Our four-person family lived on the income from my teaching, supplemented by after-school tutoring and miscellaneous summer jobs.

These were the decades Michael and his progressive friends are nostalgic about. The top earners had 70 to 91 percent marginal income tax rates. Unemployment was low. The unions were strong. Eisenhower launched the Interstate Highway System. The economy grew at 7% or more a year. The rich, the middle classes and the poor all prospered.

Around the time President Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in the mid-70s, things began to change. The middle classes and the poor hit a plateau and have advanced hardly at all since then, while the rich have gained like gangbusters. Judging by statistics, the war on poverty was won—by the rich.

My experience makes me skeptical.

In the 50s and early 60s we, a middle class teacher’s family, rarely ate in restaurants; almost never bought tickets to concerts or shows; never traveled to Europe or to Florida or California or Colorado. Vacations, when there were any, were usually spent at home in our small apartment, a cold-water flat where we had to supply the heat and the only air conditioning was to open the windows, which brought in soot with the hot air. We bought our first house (on land contract with no down payment) when we moved to Wisconsin in the 60s. We also bought our first car and a new color television.

There were no credit cards, food stamps, fast foods, motels, computers, cell phones or Internet sites. Medicare and Medicaid did not exist. The air and water were suspicious. I had to scramble to get after-school and summer jobs to make ends meet. Still, we lived a good life.

Maybe that still is the way it is with middle class families. I doubt it. Most of the middle class individuals and families I know (young, old and retired), have been to college or send their children (or grandchildren) there, go on expensive vacations, travel by RV’s cross-country and by air abroad, own three-bedroom houses with air conditioning, two or three TVs, computers, iPhones, and Facebook pages.  At times they may be strapped for funds, but they also patronize restaurants, fast-food delis, pizza parlors, organic supermarkets, rock concerts, and own two or three late model automobiles. Sports formerly played by the wealthy like golf, tennis, sailing, skiing, and horseback riding are popular now with middle class families. Their children and grandchildren add new sports that demand expensive equipment, appropriate clothing, special shoes, and often long-distance travel. Sports like snowboarding, bike racing, hang-gliding, rock-climbing, mountain biking, sports car rallies, soccer and Frisbee tournaments, triathlon and marathon runs and who knows.

How could that be when the statistics show such small growth in middle class incomes over the past three or four decades?

Statistics of taxes, income and wealth are misleading.

In the 1950s the top marginal income tax rate was 91%. Today the top rate is 35%. Surprise though—the percentage of the national budget paid by the top 1%, or the top 5%, is about the same as it was in the 50s and 60s.  (Even more true for state and local budgets.) Governments get a higher percentage of their revenues from the wealthy now than they did in the 50s and 60s, even though the marginal tax rates were much higher then.

There have been very large increases in health, pension, education, and welfare benefits. In 1960 the federal government spent 4% of the GDP on health, education, pensions and welfare. By 2011 we spend 15% of the GDP on these programs. The GDP multiplied 29 times from 1960 to 2011. The total spent on pension, education, health and welfare benefits multiplied 125 times! None of that transfer of wealth is reflected in average gross income or net worth statistics.

We have budget problems today and our national debt is getting out of control. Is it wars then that are responsible? Defense spending was 10% of the GDP in 1960 (no wars). In 2010 (despite Iraq and Afghanistan) defense spending had declined to less than 6%.

How to make sense of this confusing data?

Having lived through many decades, I can confirm that the vast majority of middle class and the poor are better off today than they were in the post-war years of 1950s and 1960s. I say this even though statistics don’t agree.

The statistics don’t take into account the large increases in government transfer payments on health, education, pensions, disability and other welfare programs (as well as safety and environmental regulations). These transfer payments are responsible (in large part) for the higher living standards of the poor and seniors today. The middle classes have benefited too, but not as much. (See my blog a few weeks ago).

Most of the gains in living standards for the middle classes have come from lower prices on basics like food, clothing, shelter and energy, and from the creation of new goods and services (computers, nuclear energy, internet, big-box stores, etc.). The lower prices, the better quality, and the explosion of new goods and services are due to increases in efficiency, new developments in science and technology, increasing wealth in China, India, Mexico and other developing countries—and free trade.

The net result is we don’t spend nearly as many hours of work today to buy a loaf of bread or a pound of butter. We clothe ourselves, access information, eat in restaurants, play golf or tennis, travel by air cross-country or abroad, more easily and cheaply than we could sixty years ago. We get much more bang for much less buck. Thanks to both industry and government (and the environmental movement) we also breathe air that is more healthful and drink water and eat food with more confidence it won’t make us sick.

The question lingers. Why have the rich and the super-rich gained so much more in income and wealth then us middle class folk?

The reporter asks the woman-on-the-street, “Which do you think is the greater problem today, ignorance or apathy?” The woman answers, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

In this case I do care, but I don’t know. Maybe some reader can enlighten me.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. 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, for historical background on progress. You can find it on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com.

P.P.S. The Hawkhill DVD program Democracy in World History tells the story with live video. See especially Part Six: Democracy in the 21st Century. Also available on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com

9/12

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Sept. 12, 2011

An old friend conspired with my wife and I got a birthday present (my birthday was Saturday, 9/10). It was one of the best ever—a new flag. Made in the USA with embroidered stars and neatly sewed red and white stripes. It is replacing the faded one that for many years waved from the front porch of our home in Madison, Wisconsin.

I am a proud flag waver. In my left-liberal-progressive hometown this puts me in the minority. Left-liberal-progressives are in favor of giving the government more power, even though they don’t like much of what our government has done with that power in the past. When someone claims we are an “exceptional” country, they demur and call this right-wing claptrap.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the attack on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and (presumably) our Capitol or Executive Mansion. Muslim terrorists hoped to destroy our military power, our free-market economy and our liberal democracy with one dramatic strike. It was dramatic and they succeeded in killing nearly 3000 people and destroying billion of dollars worth of real estate, but they failed in their wider mission.

An environmental activist, Daniel Burton-Rose, commenting on the attack said he could have approved “taking down a Niketown or Starbucks … but why couldn’t they have done what they did on a Sunday? There are always ways to make allowances for people’s lives.” Perhaps he was inspired by a progressive professor at the University of Massachusetts, Jennie Trascen, who claimed, “What the flag stands for is a symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and repression.”

Burton-Rose, Trascen and many of their fellow far-left activists (there are more than a few in the elite universities of this country and Europe) agree with the Muslims that our Western civilization is decadent and deserves to die.

I respectfully disagree.

When this country was founded in 1776 the population was around three million. There were a few rich people but the vast majority were poor farmers, indentured servants or enslaved Africans. Health was poor for the rich and for the poor. Families were large because most babies died before they learned to walk. Most husbands had three or four wives because so many women died in childbirth or from overwork. Most adults and most children were illiterate. Only a few lived to retirement age.

The environment was poisonous in the cities and worse in the countryside. Massachusetts became famous for burning witches. Presbyterians hated Congregationalists, and vice versa. Protestants hated Catholics, who were considered the anti-Christ. We were in more or less continual war with Native Americans and we enslaved one out of every five immigrants brought involuntarily from Africa.

None of that was unusual. There were variations, but basically that’s the way the world operated in the ten thousand years of the agricultural age. It was a zero-sum economy everywhere. Any gain by one meant a loss to another. If you wanted to get richer, theft or war was the only choice.

What was unusual is how the founding fathers led the way to change. Change that led to a better way to govern, a better way to prosper and a more humane civilization.

Today the population in the U.S. is over three hundred million. All three hundred million are free. We live in a win-win economy where any gain to one usually brings a gain to others. The vast majority of us are well fed (too well fed sometimes), are literate, live in an environment that is clean and safe, and live healthier and longer—mostly in peace and prosperity—than any people have ever lived on earth.

The Bible says Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes and changed water into wine. Changing three million poor into three hundred million rich should also get high marks. How did it happen?

Progressives claim we were lucky. We found a continent rich in natural resources and sparse in people. We killed the people, stole their land, and exploited their natural resources with slave labor (wage slaves and chattel slaves). When we couldn’t find enough resources here, we beat up other people around the world to steal their resources. All this to help a few get filthy rich while the great majority of working men and women lived in poverty and degradation.

According to many progressives, that is still the story today.

As I wrote in last week’s blog, —“That’s funny … “

Middle class folks today (the vast majority in this country) spend their holidays at the beach, send their children to college, drive two or three cars, live in three-bedroom suburban houses complete with air conditioning, Internet cable, iPhones, DVD players, etc., etc. They shop at big box stores and supermarkets crammed with goodies beyond counting. Some poverty. Some degradation.

If all that was needed was aggressive action and plentiful natural resources, how come Native Americans made so little progress in the thousands of years they lived on this continent? How come the Spaniards and Portuguese didn’t make equal progress in wealth, health and democracy when they came to Central and South America? How come China and India and Africa and the Middle East and Southeast Asia and Australia and Oceana and the Caribbean Islands haven’t make similar progress in population, wealth and democracy in thousands of years of trying? In fact how about Europe where most of our pioneering settlers came from, as well as a flood of immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries? Most countries in Europe only became prosperous and democratic in the final decades of the 20th century.

All of these countries and continents have abundant natural resources and smart aggressive people.

What’s the answer?

It’s the culture, stupid.

We were lucky. But in a different way than progressives claim. We inherited the cultural values of Judeo-Christian and classical Greek-Roman civilizations radically humanized by the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. It is called Western Civilization. Transported to the new world of America, Western Civilization went through a major recharge, one that led to the tsunami of national and world progress we see today.

It was the synergetic combination of science, capitalism and religion (the kind that emphasizes morality, not theological dogma). All three of these basic pillars were born in Europe but all three changed in a unique entrepreneurial way in the United States. Which has made the miracle of world progress possible.

Science led the way with inventions that give the three hundred million of us the power of one hundred slaves apiece. Free market capitalism multiplied the capacity to create goods and services in win-win transactions so that each citizen today, even though there are a hundred times as many of us, is more than a hundred times richer than each citizen was in 1776.

As for religion, one of the wisest things the founding fathers did was separate church and state. One important result—the moral human side of religion has been able to join with science and capitalism in a unique synergy to lead the way in abolishing slavery, liberating women, ending child labor, cleaning up the environment, founding public education, combatting racism, making many of us our neighbor’s keepers and fostering the kindness of strangers.

The U.S. didn’t do all of these nice things alone but we led the way.

9/11 was a day of sorrow. 9/12 can be a day of hope. Hope that the whole world will have a new renaissance, a new reformation and a new enlightenment. Join me in waving our flag to advance that hope a few more miles.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. 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, for historical background on this progress. You can find it on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com.

P.P.S. The Hawkhill DVD program Democracy in World History tells the above story with more detail and with live video. See especially Part Two: Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment and Part Three: The Industrial Revolution, Capitalism and the United States of America. Also available on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com

That’s funny …

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

Sept. 5, 2011

A friend put me onto an interesting book, 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks. The first page has a quote from Isaac Asimov.

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’”

In 13 chapters Brooks shows how this happens in fields as disparate as cosmology, cold fusion, ET life, homeopathy, and the placebo effect. In each case the accepted view is challenged by mavericks who say, “That’s funny …”

Cold fusion was first “discovered” by two internationally respected chemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, at the University of Utah in 1989. It created a stir. Nuclear scientists had learned to tame nuclear fission back in the 1950s. The result—nuclear power plants now supply 20% of the nation’s electricity.

They have been working on ways to tame the fusion reaction (the same one that powers hydrogen bombs, our sun and stars). The high temperatures and pressures needed to mimic the sun on earth are a problem. The experimental results cited by Fleischmann and Pons gave hope that fusion could happen at room temperatures and pressures!

The hopes were soon dashed as laboratories at Caltech, MIT and in the UK reported that they could not replicate the experiments. The reputations of Fleischmann and Pons suffered a colossal crash. Most scientists thought cold fusion was a hoax. As one writer put it, cold fusion was “as respectable as pornography in church.”

A few did not give up. Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratories continued research into cold fusion under a different name—“anomalous effects in deuterated systems.” They could not replicate Fleishmann/Pons but “that’s funny … ”—they did find decay products of fusion reactions in their room temperature and pressure  experiments! Maybe cold fusion would turn out to be respectable, or even revolutionary.

Or maybe not.

See Chapter Four of the Brooks book.

That’s the way science goes, you never know. You can never be sure that experiments tomorrow will confirm or refute what is accepted as scientific truth today.

This awareness gives encouragement to perennial conspiracy theorists (it wasn’t Muslim terrorists, but CIA and Israeli Mossad agents who planned and carried out the attacks on 9/11).

It should also make us wary of “all scientists agree” in the popular press (see current green and climate change dogmas).

Brooks claims even theories as tested and proved as Newton’s famous laws of motion and Einstein’s theory of relativity are called into question by recent data in cosmology and space travel. These theories work well in explaining and predicting solar system movements, satellite orbits, and moon landings. But when the space probes Pioneer 10 and 11 left the solar system back in the 1970s —“that’s funny … “— they did not keep moving in strict obedience to Newton’s and Einstein’s predictions. The discrepancy was slight but, despite many attempts, physicists and mathematicians cannot explain why. We don’t know.

See Chapter Two of the Brooks book.

So, too, in cosmology. Data clearly shows that distant galaxies are expanding, moving away from us at enormous speeds. Speeds that are accelerating! That’s funny. According to all we know about motion, gravity and relativity, it should not be so. Einstein couldn’t explain the data so he inserted an awkward cosmological constant in his equations that corrected for it, but did not explain it.

Recent data has shown that most of what we see and measure in the universe is only a small part of what exists. Most of the universe (including us and our environment here on earth) seems to be made of “dark matter” powered by “dark energy.” We have no clues what “dark matter” and “dark energy” are. We haven’t been able to see them or measure them. All we can be sure of is that most of our universe is dark, unknown. Which may be the funniest of all.

See Chapter One of the Brooks book.

What about the science and society issues that are making the news today? The discrepancies and the doubt should engender caution. Scientists may be better guides to the future than most of us, but they are not infallible. Scientists are good at gathering data, forming hypotheses, analyzing and theorizing, but not so good at predicting. When it comes to science and society issues the record of “scientific” predictions is—there is no other word for it—pathetic.

In 1970 the biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted that sixty-five million Americans would die of starvation by 1990. He considered India a basket case. The best we could do was sit in the bleachers and watch with horror as hundreds of millions of Indians starved to death.

Ehrlich’s view that the world was dangerously overpopulated was the accepted consensus view of scientists as well as most educated world citizens for the next two or three decades. But then—“that’s funny…”—some contrarians noticed that the richest countries were the most densely populated while the poorest were the least densely populated. They noticed that India (and China) grew in population throughout the late 20th century. Doubled in fact. They also noticed that in the final decades of the 20th century both China and India changed their economic policies from socialist to capitalist. Today they can feed their own people and they grow food to export.

Ehrlich, along with other science experts (including the present science advisor to the President, John Holdren) published reports and scholarly books that claimed natural resources were becoming alarmingly scarce. We were running out of everything! The scarcities would lead to shortages of essential materials to maintain our civilization. A growing economy meant a shrinking ecosystem. One of their most prestigious and influential reports was titled The Limits to Growth.

Again, a few maverick scientists (later to become a majority) noticed a funny thing. Iron, copper, aluminum—lumber, food, living space—wilderness, wildlife, species diversity—all were increasing in availability and decreasing in cost as the country and the world became more populated and used more resources—and got richer! How could that be?

See Chapters Sixteen to Eighteen in my new book The Road to a Tea Party.

Today the issue that gets the lion share of attention is climate change. Over and over “scientists” tell us global warming will bring unimaginable catastrophe unless we take immediate and drastic steps to curb our carbon footprints. Disasters like Katrina or Irene are routinely cited to reinforce the point.

A few mavericks point out that while past history does show warmer temperatures came about the same time carbon dioxide increased—warm temperatures were followed by a carbon dioxide increase. That’s funny. I always thought causes came before effects.

Funny too, we know that clouds and water vapor are far more powerful in changing the earth’s climate than carbon dioxide. Will clouds and water vapor warm or will they cool? We don’t know. (See Chapter Nineteen of my book. Along with other contrarians, we don’t deny the role of carbon dioxide in the greenhouse effect, nor do we deny that there has been warming in the past century. We do question confident predictions of future catastrophe if we don’t dramatically lower our carbon footprints.)

That’s funny enough for this week.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. 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, for historical background and other ideas and hints on these issues. You can find it on www.hawkhill.com or www.amazon.com.

P.P.S. The new Hawkhill DVD program Resources, Populations and Climate Change is selling well in Canada and Australia but not very well in the U.S. That’s funny too.