Monday, December 10, 2012

The Same Ole’ Enemy – 239 Years Later

Taking a long-view of economic history is another way to pinpoint the fact that climate change is a direct result of human activity.

Years before it would be confirmed by Berkley Earth by scientists who were skeptical about climate change but who found the link after going over data from the last 250 years, one could see the link pinpointed in the work of economic historians such as the late Dr. Angus Maddison in his book entitled Contours of The World Economy 1-2030 AD.

Berkley Earth reconstructed climate data to make their link, while Maddison reconstructed economic growth over three millenniums to find a pattern.  He learned that between the years 1 and 1000 AD, around the time that another era of climate change spawned Viking conquests, people had actually become slightly poorer overall.

Between 1000 AD and 1820, economic growth was stagnant even in western Europe and spinoffs such as the American colonies and fledgling United States of America.  The surge following 1820 was brought about as the industrial revolution kicked into ever higher gears.

Ironically, the seminal Boston Tea Party protest was not over unfair taxes but a revolt against a tax loop-hole created by the British for a “too-big-to-fail” corporation at the disadvantage of small independent merchants, some of them smugglers, as noted in this excellent TED Presentation  published on “Black Friday” by Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher for the Institute for Local Reliance.

I agree with Republican lawmakers that there is something wrong with government but, in my opinion, size isn’t the real issue.  Making government more nimble and responsive seems much more important. Nor do I buy the part of their tightly-woven narrative that this group’s frequent stalemating is on behalf of small businesses.

I am far more persuaded that the policies that have marginalized the middle class over the last thirty years and eroded small business by consolidating almost every part of the economy into the control of a few top-heavy players has been engineered not by government or the free market but by those on whose behalf lobbyists have rigged the system.

Even the process of devising regulations has been polluted by special interests; and those who argue that regulations should be simplified are far too often only fronting for interests, such as outdoor billboard companies, eager to see these regulations further rigged to their exclusive benefit.

Rent-seeking,” the term economists give this loathsome activity probably dates back to the 1879 book Progress and Poverty, written by economist Henry George in the early years of the Gilded Age.  George observed that poverty occurred back then when policies permitted absurd “economic rents” to be charged by monopolists including landowners resulting in an over-concentration of unearned wealth.

George proposed solutions he believed would benefit both capitalism and labor while curbing these rent-seekers.  Seven years after the book was published, George sought the office of mayor of New York City but finished behind a Tammany Hall candidate.

However, the coalition forged by George caught the attention of the third place finisher, Republican candidate Theodore Roosevelt.

Henry George had forged a coalition of groups that in a few years would become nationwide force known as the Progressive Era, which sought, in part, to curb the excesses of the Guided Age.  A variation would elect President Theodore Roosevelt and inspire the Square Deal including conservation and anti-trust.

It isn’t easy being a Republican right now.  A social network feedback-loop has the party torn between a “circle the wagons” approach and a desire to open up to alternatives.  A new poll for ABC, Washington Post and the Pew Center shows that by 53% to 27% Americans will blame Republicans if the current impasse persists.

The party would do well to study T.R., one of its greatest Presidents.  The real enemy isn’t government or taxes and it isn’t Democrats or women or minorities.  Just as it was in Boston harbor as the dawn of the American Revolution, the common enemy is still economic rent-seekers.

This issue isn’t about the 1% or the wealthy, although many didn’t earn their wealth but used rent-seeking instead.  The issue economic rent-seeking, as Joshua Brown, who blogs at The Reformed Broker, put it so eloquently a year ago is about the fact that:

  • “America hates unjustified privilege,
  • it hates an unfair playing field and crony capitalism …,
  • it hates privatized gains and socialized losses,
  • it hates people who have been bailed out and don't display even the slightest bit of remorse or humbleness in the presence of so much suffering in the aftermath
  • it hates rule changes that benefit the few at the expense of the many…”

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