Archive for August, 2012

Where did all the money go?

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

OWS protesters, left wing democrats and assorted intellectual pundits continue to trumpet the news that the richest 1% has a lot more wealth than the rest of us–the 99% middle class and poor. The more strident claim the rich have stolen it from the rest of us.

Let’s look at the record.

I spent the past couple weeks remembering and looking at historical statistics from my days in the Navy (1944-45) to today.

In 1944 we produced a GDP of 220 billion (in 2005 dollars). There were around 140 million of us so that was about $1500 each. In 2011 we produced more than 14 trillion. There were 314 million of us. This comes to about $45,000 each.

Where did all the money go?

In 1944 the state, local and federal government used over half (53.4%) of the GDP, mostly to finance the Second World War. Federal social services used less than 1% (0.9%). State and local governments used around 5.5% for education, pensions, health care, welfare, roads, police, firefighting, state and local government services.

In 2011 governments took close to half of the GDP (45%). State and local spending rose from 9.5% in 1950 to 21.2% in 2011. Federal spending rose from 15.3% in 1950 to 23.8% in 2011.

The proportions spent on defense and on social welfare have gone opposite directions.

In 1950 we spent 11.7% of our GDP on education, health, pensions, welfare and government services. Thirty years later in 1980 it was 25.5%; in 2010, 36.5%.

In 1945 (WW2) we spent 42% on defense. In 1960 (Vietnam) we spent 10.1%. In 2000 (the Cold War was over) we spent 3.6% on defense. In 2010 this went up a notch to 5.8% (Iraq, Afghanistan, Homeland Security).

How much of the GDP wealth went back to the workers who produced the products and services?

Leftists point out that since the 1980s the average worker has seen only minor increases in wages while the Wall Street bankers and corporate CEOs have had huge increases in compensation.

This is true. But misleading. Average and wages do not tell the whole story.

My first jobs after the Navy and college were in a factory, in an office on Wall Street, as a cab driver in Colorado, and teaching in elementary and high schools in New York and Wisconsin. I remember my first teaching wage in 1950 was $2,900 a year for nine months work (roughly equivalent to $24,300 today). I got the usual Christmas and spring break vacation days but no pension or health care benefits. I was happy in the job but with my small family it was touch and go to pay our bills.

This was pretty close to what I made in the factory, Wall Street office and cabdriver jobs. None offered health or pension benefits. All, except teaching, required twelve months work with no vacations other than traditional holidays. No benefits.

Maybe I wasn’t typical so I checked on the Internet to see what the averages were for factory workers, cab drivers, office workers and teachers in 1950. I found that the average cabdriver, coal miner or skilled factory worker made about the same as a teacher. He had to work twelve months though with less vacation time. No benefits.

Thirty years later in 1980 the average coal miner made around $27,000 dollars. Thanks to the United Mine Workers Union and new mining technology, miners in 1980 also got generous medical, dental and pension benefits. Wages and benefits for cabdrivers, skilled factory and office workers also rose dramatically. The average elementary or secondary teacher now made around $40,000 a year with benefits, more vacation time and smaller classes. College and university professors did even better. Many got yearlong paid sabbaticals, time off for research and fewer hours in the classroom or lecture hall.

Jump another thirty years to 2010 and you find the average teacher making over $50,000. Not as big a jump as from 1951 to 1980, but with 19% more students and 48% more teachers, classes were smaller and compensation included much more generous health and pension benefits. The same was true of government employees, college teachers and most professional and high skill jobs. In addition many workers, government and private, now had early retirement options.

It has been the same story with doctors, nurses, social workers, engineers, scientists, lawyers, skilled trades and factory workers. All have increased their numbers, incomes and wealth substantially over the past 30 and 60 year periods, especially when you include pension and health care benefits, early retirement options and hours on the job.

Some low skill factory, farm and service workers have not benefited as much, which brings the average wage statistics down. Automation and higher minimum wage levels have reduced demand. Companies have outsourced low skill jobs to foreign shores. Legal and illegal immigrants have taken jobs. On the plus side this has led to lower prices here and a dramatic decrease in poverty abroad. On the minus side it has led to more unemployment and fewer gains for low skill workers in the U.S.

Compared to my youth there are more than twice as many workers now and all are richer. Without question this unprecedented advance in wealth for the 99%–and for the 1%–is due to a growing free market economy in a democratic environment. The only time in world history that remotely compares is today. Countries like Germany, Japan, Poland, Mexico, Brazil, India, South Korea, China, Vietnam and others are replicating our achievements, each in their own way (some like China and Vietnam have not embraced the democratic part but they are leaning that way after disastrous experiments with command-economies).

The middle class and the poor also benefit the most from the huge increases in social welfare spending by local, state and federal governments. If they live an average life span, couples who retire on Social Security and Medicare today are millionaires. The middle class and the poor, like the rich, also benefit from higher quality of goods and services, new goods and services and lower prices (health care and education are exceptions when it comes to prices– maybe even cars, gasoline and housing in 2012).

Even the richest had no air-conditioning during the heat waves of the 1930s and 40s. No one had cell phones, computers or microwave ovens. We had ice-boxes instead of refrigerators; our homes were heated with coal furnaces instead of gas or oil; instead of thermostats we had to bank the fire at night and freeze our toes at breakfast; we had kitchens (1), bathrooms (1) and bedrooms (2, maybe 3) but rarely studies, great rooms or basement family rooms; we had radios and record players (78 rpm) but no TVs, iPhones or iPods; we might have one family car instead of two or three; we had a corner grocery with limited offerings of fresh vegetables and fruits (especially in the winter) instead of supermarkets with vegetables and fruits from around the world all year long; we had family doctors who made house calls with little black bags but could do precious little for us, instead of well-equipped hospitals and clinics that can do a lot for us; we had train stations, trolleys and railroads that restricted development and could not cross oceans, but no airports and airliners to take you thousands of miles anywhere for minimal cost; we had colleges and universities but mostly for the elite (the top 1%), instead of 50% going to college, close to 40% graduating and over ten percent with advanced degrees!

The 99% is wealthier than any people anywhere have ever been in human history. So are the 1%. What is the moral?

Economic growth raises all boats.

How to manage this in the future, while protecting and enhancing our common environment, is my subject next week.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. For a long view of how we got here see my new book, Twilight or Dawn: a Traveler’s Guide to Free Market Liberal Democracy.

P.P.S. Statistics are taken for the most part from usgovernmentspending.com. If you would like a copy of my Excel sheet, which summarizes the relevant ones, email me at billjane@hawkhill.com and I will send you a copy.

Poetry to heal

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Aug. 20, 2012

I don’t know why but everything seems to go in threes for me. Two weeks of poetry and now I feel compelled to add a third.

Many celebrities in literature, Hollywood, sports, business and politics have not been noted for praiseworthy personal lives. Robert Frost, Joan Crawford, Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs and Lyndon Johnson come to mind.

This need not dim our appreciation of their contributions to our economy and our culture. Literature, movies, sports, digital communications and civil rights would be poorer without the contributions of Frost, Crawford, Woods, Jobs and Johnson.

Frost, the flinty New England poet, wrote Neither Out Far Nor In Deep. I call it a healer.

The land may vary more

But wherever the truth must be

The people stand at the shore

The people look to the sea.

They cannot look out far

They cannot look in deep

But when was that ever a bar

To any watch they keep?

His A Dust of Snow also qualifies.

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

The Bible has many grisly patches, which I won’t quote. Judging by its popularity through the ages though, it has been a healer.

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:

he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Sometimes a bitter song can be a healer. That was the case with this one from the 1949 musical South Pacific, almost twenty years before the passage of Civil Rights Laws in the 1960s. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

A friend sent me a book of poems from Nepal. Vaishnav’s Poetic Garden has poems by Rt. Honourable Shyam Das Vaishnav, translated by Dilu Singh and Bibhuti Singh. His poems, even in translation, reach across cultures. Sudden Ache for instance, could be healing balm in our current 1% and 99% conflict.

Sorrow pricks everybody

That’s why the destitute

Cover the naked body

With colourful clothes and

Laugh and entertain

Sorrow pricks everybody

That’s why the well-off

Depute a guard at the gate and

Paste a notice

“Beware of Dog” and

Live in security.

Yes! Sorrow pricks everybody

Some fight against it

Some succumb to it.

Then there is Emily Dickinson who turned out to be a great healer despite a reclusive life.

Hope if a thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune—without the words

And never stops at all.

On fame:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

On Truth:

Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,

Success in circuit lies,

Too bright for our infirm delight

The truth’s superb surprise;


As lightning to the children eased

With explanation kind,

The truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind.

Remember Murphy’s Law—if your bread falls to the floor, it always lands peanut butter side down. In the old days I invented an alternative—Riley’s Laws. Riley, in my view, was Murphy’s optimistic cousin. Here a few Riley’s Laws.

“O if I am to have so much, let me have more.” Walt Whitman.

“All the dark there is can’t put out a candle.” St. Francis of Assisi.

“The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not quite sure it is right.” Judge Learned Hand.

“I seem to be a verb.” Buckminster Fuller.

“We are made of dust and the light of a star.” Loren Eiseley.

“You can’t help respecting someone who can spell Tuesday, even if he doesn’t spell it right.” Winnie-the-Pooh.

“If d-u-n doesn’t spell done, what the hell does it spell?” William Randolph Hearst Sr.

“A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillion of infidels.” Walt Whitman.

“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 time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist in any other medium. The world will not have it.” Martha Graham.

Finally a personal Riley’s Law:

“I’m supposed to respect my elders, but its getting harder and harder to find one now.”

From one of my heroes.

Abraham Lincoln knew the value of forgiveness. A distraught father came to his office to plead for mercy for his Union army son who had been sentenced to death for sleeping on duty. The father begged, “But Mr. President? I thought you said it was to be a pardon. But you say here ‘not to be shot until further orders come from me.’ And you may order him shot next week!”

Lincoln replied, “My friend I see you are not very well acquainted with me. If your son never looks on death until further orders come from me to shoot him, he will live to be a great deal older than Methuselah.”

In a Milwaukee speech in 1859 Lincoln told the story of an eastern monarch who charged his wise men to invent a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate at all times and in all situations. They presented him with the words, “And this, too, shall pass away.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. In that same Milwaukee speech Lincoln added, “And yet, let us hope it is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.”

P.S.S. I agree. I detail reasons in my new book, Twilight or Dawn: a Traveler’s Guide to Liberal Free-Market Democracy, which is surprisingly relevant to the upcoming election. Please read before you vote.

Poetry with a spark

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Poetry with a spark

In 1821 the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley claimed, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

That’s a stretch. Like many quotes that have lasted more than a century, it has a grain of truth.

In 1947 Dreams That Money Can Buy was an experimental film made for $25,000 in a New York loft by a group of avant-garde poets, painters and filmmakers. It won an award at the Venice Film Festival. A song from the movie had legs…

Oh Venus was born out of sea foam

Oh Venus was born out of brine

But a goddess today if she is Grade A

Is assembled upon the assembly line.

Her chromium nerves and her platinum brain

Are chastely encased in cellophane

And to top off this daughter of science and art

She comes equipped with a prefabricated heart.

Half a century later legislators around the world are besieged with demands for laws to outlaw cloning and restrict genetic engineering. The song may not have been responsible, but it lit a spark.

In ancient Greece Sophocles saw science and technology as good things.

Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man;

The power that crosses the white sea, driven by the stormy south-wind,

Making a path under surges that threaten to engulf him;

And Earth, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, the unwearied, doth he wear,

Turning the soil with the offspring of horses,

As the ploughs go to and fro from year to year.

And he masters by his arts the beast whose lair is in the wilds, who roams the hills;

He tames the horse of shaggy mane, he puts the yoke upon its neck,

He tames the tireless mountain bull.

And speech, and wind-swift thought, and all the moods that mould a state,

Hath he taught himself; and how to flee the arrows of the frost,

When ’tis hard lodging under the clear sky, and the arrows of the rushing rain;

Yea, he hath resource for all;

Without resource he meets nothing that must come:

Only against Death shall he call for aid in vain;

But from baffling maladies he hath devised escapes.

There was a long detour after Greece. Centuries later a rebirth of science and technology in the Western Renaissance made possible the industrial revolution and democracy. Ever since there have been critics who long to return to the natural and organic of earlier ages. In the early 19th century Ned Ludd and his followers tried to destroy the new machinery they felt was crushing them. The English Romantics wrote poems glorifying nature and questioning science and technology. William Wordsworth was an example.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—

We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.

William Blake was another…

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Few poets since have been kind to industry or business. In 1898 an elementary school principal, Edwin Markham, read his poem, The Man with the Hoe, at a public gathering in Oakland, California (still a hotbed of anti-capitalist protest). He was inspired by a painting of the same name by a French artist, Jean-François Millet. Here are a few verses that became famous.

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans

Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,

The emptiness of ages in his face,

And on his back the burden of the world.

Who made him dead to rapture and despair,

A thing that grieves not and that never hopes.

Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?

Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?

Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?

Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?…

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,

How will the future reckon with this Man?

How answer his brute question in that hour

When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?

How will it be with kingdoms and with kings—

With those who shaped him to the thing he is—

When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,

After the silence of the centuries.

Like hundreds of thousands of students during the Great Depression I had to memorize this poem. Today I see it as supporting my view that the agricultural age was not good for the 99% who were peasants, serfs or slaves. Markham and my teachers had a different view.

Markham wrote, “I soon realized that Millet [the French painter] puts before us no chance toiler, no mere man of the fields. No, this stunned and stolid peasant is the type of industrial oppression in all lands and in all labors. He might be a man with a needle in a New York sweat shop, a man with a pick in a West Virginia coal mine.”

Markham was not alone. Around the same time the Quaker socialist, Sarah Cleghorn, wrote…

The golf links lie so near the mill

That almost every day

The laboring children can look out

And see the men at play.

The hippie-before-his-time, Vachel Lindsay, wrote…

Factory windows are always broken.

Somebody’s always throwing bricks,

Somebody’s always heaving cinders,

Playing ugly Yahoo tricks.

Factory windows are always broken.

Other windows are let alone.

No one throws through the chapel-window

The bitter, snarling, derisive stone.

Factory windows are always broken.

Something or other is going wrong.

Something is rotten–I think, in Denmark.

End of factory-window song.

Later in the 1950s and 60s writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg led literary assaults on American lifestyles.  Ginsburg’s most famous poem Howl begins…

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…

T. S. Eliot, arguably the most important poet of the 20th century, won a Nobel Prize for his poems. Lines from The Wasteland are an example.

What shall I do now? What shall I do?

I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street

With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?

What shall we ever do?”

The hot water at ten.

And if it rains, a closed car at four.

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

W. H. Auden, runner-up to Eliot for top poet honors of the 20th century, describes a “Marble Monument Erected by the State” to The Unknown Citizen.

Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare

He was fully sensible o the advantages of the Installment Plan

And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,

A phonograph, a radio, a car and a Frigidaire

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content

That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;

When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war he went.

He was married and added five children to the population,

Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.

And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.

Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:

Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.


If you read the papers (or surf the Internet) today—we certainly have heard. The poets have made a difference.

Tune in next week for Poetry that heals.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. If you would like to read more of my take on these kind of sparks, stings and heals, see my new book, Twilight or Dawn: a Traveler’s Guide to Liberal Free-Market Democracy.

Poetry with a sting

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Aug. 6, 2012

Poets don’t always write of love. Sometimes they sting.

In The Mikado W. S. Gilbert has Ko-ko, the Lord High Executioner (who has to cut his own head off before he is allowed to cut other heads off) sing and sting …

I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list

Of society offenders who might well be underground,

And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!

There’s the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs –

All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs –

All children who are up in dates, and floor you with ’em flat

All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that – …

The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,

All centuries but this, and every country but his own.

He’s got them on the list—he’s got them on the list;

And they’ll none of them be missed—they’ll none of them be missed.

The late Ogden Nash, (329 poems published in The New Yorker magazine between 1930 and his death in 1971), set his sights on hunters.

The hunter crouches in his blind

‘Neath camouflage of every kind

And conjures up a quaking noise

To lend allure to his decoys

This grown-up man, with pluck and luck

Is hoping to outwit a duck.

He also wrote what may be the shortest poem ever written.

The Bronx?

No thonx!

He later repented when Bronx booster named Abraham Tauber, dean of the faculty at Bronx Community College wanted the borough’s golden jubilee to be a success …

Dear Dean Tauber,

I can’t seem to escape the

sins of my smart-alec youth;

Here are my amends.

I wrote those lines, “The Bronx?

No thonx”;

I shudder to confess them.

Now I’m an older, wiser man

I cry, “The Bronx? God bless

them!”

The ninth century Chinese poet Po Chu-I did not look kindly on the prejudice against intellectuals …

Sent as a present from Annan

A red cockatoo.

Colourd like the peach tree blossom,

Speaking with the speech of men

And they did to it what is always done

To the learned and eloquent.

They took up a cage with stout bars

And shut it up inside.

(Translated by Arthur Waley)

The German communist playwright and poet, Berthold Brecht, filled his satirical musical Threepenny Opera with stingers. His anti-hero gangster Mack the Knife (representing capitalism) sings this mock hymn to greed.

I used to think it might be worthy

To be a brave and sacrificing person

I soon found out it wasn’t reimbursing

And decided to continue being earthy

The noble poor are nobly underfed

And being brave will bring an empty fame

You’re all alone with no one else to blame

You’re mingling with the great but you are dead

Where’s the percentage

Ask Mack the Knife

The bulging pocket makes the easy life.

He has the whore Jenny sing this paean to the Bible.

Remember wise old Solomon

Recall his history

He was the wisest man on earth

And so he cursed the day of his birth

He knew that all was vanity

So not much fun had Solomon

Now most of us might agree

We’re not much better off than he

His brains it was that put him on the spot

I thought that brains were good—

Guess not.

(Translated and adapted from the German by Marc Blitzstein.)

Then there is Will Shakespeare. He wrote lovely sonnets to his ladylove but Macbeth’s speech after he learns his wife is dead is not one of them.

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

I close with the two writers I featured on the title page of my book, Samuel Beckett and Robert Frost. They were not afraid of dark nights and hard thoughts.

In Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot two tramps Vladimir and Estragon while away the hours waiting for the mysterious Godot. A boy comes at the end of Act One to tell them that Mr. Godot is not coming today but he will surely come tomorrow. The boy asks Vladimir.

What shall I tell Mr. Godot, sir?

Tell him … tell him you saw us. (pause)

You did see us, didn’t you?

In Act Two Vladimir gives this impassioned speech.

Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say? (Estragon says nothing.) It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we are no less a credit to our species. The tiger bounds to the help of his congeners without the least reflection, or else he slinks away into the depths of the thickets. But that is not the question. What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come— … Or for night to fall. (Pause.) We have kept our appointment and that’s an end to that. We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?

(pause) Estragon answers,

Billions.

Robert Frost sums up his quest (mine too) in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though.

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake

The only other sound‘s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. Have a good week.