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Since today, February 22 is actually George Washington’s birthday, I though this article by David Boaz, which originally appeared in Cato@Liberty, especially appropriate
George Washington was the man who established the American republic. He led the revolutionary army against the British Empire, he served as the first president, and most importantly he stepped down from power.
In an era of brilliant men, Washington was not the deepest thinker. He never wrote a book or even a long essay, unlike George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. But Washington made the ideas of the American founding real. He incarnated liberal and republican ideas in his own person, and he gave them effect through the Revolution, the Constitution, his successful presidency, and his departure from office.
What’s so great about leaving office? Surely it matters more what a president does in office. But think about other great military commanders and revolutionary leaders before and after Washington—Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Lenin. They all seized the power they had won and held it until death or military defeat.
John Adams said, “He was the best actor of presidency we have ever had.” Indeed, Washington was a person very conscious of his reputation, who worked all his life to develop his character and his image.
In our own time Joshua Micah Marshall writes of America’s first president, “It was all a put-on, an act.” Marshall missed the point. Washington understood that character is something you develop. He learned from Aristotle that good conduct arises from habits that in turn can only be acquired by repeated action and correction – “We are what we repeatedly do.” Indeed, the word “ethics” comes from the Greek word for “habit.” We say something is “second nature” because it’s not actually natural; it’s a habit we’ve developed. From reading the Greek philosophers and the Roman statesmen, Washington developed an understanding of character, in particular the character appropriate to a gentleman in a republic of free citizens.
What values did Washington’s character express? He was a farmer, a businessman, an enthusiast for commerce. As a man of the Enlightenment, he was deeply interested in scientific farming. His letters on running Mount Vernon are longer than letters on running the government. (Of course, in 1795 more people worked at Mount Vernon than in the entire executive branch of the federal government.)
He was also a liberal and tolerant man. In a famous letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, he hailed the “liberal policy” of the United States on religious freedom as worthy of emulation by other countries. He explained, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”
And most notably, he held “republican” values – that is, he believed in a republic of free citizens, with a government based on consent and established to protect the rights of life, liberty, and property.
From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.
Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”
“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Victor Davis Hanson is one of the true intellectuals of our day who is capable of writing in ways that the rest of us can understand. This article, copied from his site on the Internet, is the best concise explanation of the thinking of those who would make our country into something that it has never been. It is an interesting use of irony to make the point of reality.
If you think our quiet lives of desperation can sometimes become a bit much, relax. Here are some guidelines to soothe your frustration — a few commandments that make sense out of today’s nonsense.
1) Wealth and poverty are now more relative, than absolute, conditions. The ancient idea of the limited good once again rules. Someone who has more, by definition, took unfairly more from someone else with less, one who nobly chose not to do that in turn to others. Fairness, not poverty, is our national obsession. My 48-inch screen television gets wonderful reception and offers sharp quality, but only if I know that someone else does not (and should not) have a 52-inch screen. I liked my Accord until I found out “he” parked a BMW next to me. But at least I can console myself that I choose not to do the sort of things that the BMW owner succumbed to. As is true in every peasant-minded society, wealth is as collectively scorned as it is privately lusted after.
2) Regulators are never the problem; a dearth of regulations always must be. If a teacher is at fault, a train operator sleeps, or a Wall Streeter loots, it is never because an administrator was lax, a supervisor chose to overlook drug use, or an auditor was incompetent. Instead, the common culprit was that we did not have enough laws. If Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank did not preclude the career of a Jon Corzine, then we need far stronger statutes than both. If a gun is smuggled by ten idling TSA operators, then we need more and better full-body X-ray scanners. There are lots of odd mentalities at work here: the more poorly educated and inept are our regulators, the more we turn to regulations per se to make up the deficiencies — guaranteeing even more so that the regulators cannot wade through the accruing paperwork. While it is considered illiberal to fault employees as incompetent, it is considered very liberal to cite the shocking absence of yet another law.
3) Debt is a mirage. Borrowing right now has no connection with repaying eons later. At some future date, inflation, debt reduction, write-down, higher taxes on “them,” growing the economy, a computer meltdown, those not born, a few “fat cats,” or a German will somehow step in to erase what is owed — some $16 trillion in collective debt. Borrowing and spending win friends and foster admiration; cutting and repaying alienate and earn antipathy. Do we adore more the politician who enacts another entitlement with someone else’s money than we do hate the curmudgeon who wants to see how it is paid for? Close call. Just as a billion in 2009 instantly became a trillion, then why cannot a trillion in 2012 likewise become a zillion? What do a few zeros matter anyway?
4) In our new age of diplomacy, being liked trumps being respected. The former proves we are magnanimous, the latter that we may be unfairly feared and thus by implication unkind. Giving aid to an unappreciative country is a sign of sophisticated largess; cutting it is proof of small-minded vindictiveness. Being despised by recipient Egypt is part of sophisticated diplomacy; withdrawing our bitten feeding hand is abject yokelism. Trying to undermine Putin while assuring him we pose no threat to his dictatorship is now called clever reset; ignoring him while making it clear that he will regret bullying our allies was the primitivism that reset was supposed to address. We would prefer that Iran agree to make only three nukes due to our brilliant outreach diplomacy rather than to make none at all due to its fear of what we Neanderthals might do. In short, being considered right about human nature is a worse charge than being naïve; the one is proof of unthinking traditionalism, the other sophisticated idealism.
5) Collective national wealth is natural; private wealth is unnatural. Barack Obama flies on sophisticated jets because as an American president he deserves that birthright; Boeing, which makes such wonderful planes for profit, does so only by the exploitation of non-union workers. Shut down a Boeing plant, and the planes will still materialize out of the upper air. iPhones, gas, and brain surgery spontaneously appear for all our benefit; engineers, oil company CEOs, and doctors deliberately profit at all our expense. Good things appear on trees; bad people claimed they made them. The gas in your L.A. Mercedes never should come from the oil off your coast. The driver is a refined sort; the refiner is not. Those who use things are to be given more credit for their existence than those who provide them. The consumer, never the supplier, is king: dive into the steps of a swimming pool, and we will curse the negligent or conniving builder who out of greed or ignorance put steps there in the first place.
6) Medieval exemption is not medieval. Saying one thing, while doing another, is no longer hypocrisy, but rather logical, given that sinning is finessed by prior qualification. Deploring racial profiling ensures that you do not have to visit Detroit too often — and never feel guilt in avoiding it. Warren Buffett circumventing inheritance taxes, or fighting the IRS, requires him duly to whine about the soft tax treatment accorded billionaires like himself. Barack Obama can shake down Wall Street donors, but only if he has first branded them fat cats and corporate jet owners. Deriding super-PACsis requisite to creating them. You can keep Guantanamo open only if you damn those who opened it.
7) Victimhood is always sought, never questioned. If affirmative action seems biased and unfair, then we all will claim 1/16th Native American heritage due to our little known great-great grandmothers. We discriminate against Asian students on the basis of their too perfect grades and test scores, but would not so much if they just cited a grandparent unfairly interned or a great-great grandparent indentured to the railroad. What our ancestors apparently did not get to do can be more important now than what we have actually done.
8) Neanderthals need nerds. The cool gang banger who is knifed on Saturday night suddenly in extremis worships the surgeon who stiches up his liver and kidneys — a target whom he would otherwise have robbed earlier that Saturday afternoon. The thug who strips the copper wire from our streetlights nonetheless assumes a nerdish engineer will keep designing the wiring scheme that runs his car’s CD. For the good life to go on, each illiterate punk demands one corresponding graduate student at MIT to take care of him. When the former outnumber the latter, then civilization usually winds down.
9) Ideology, for all the protestations of the zealot, is now not to be taken too seriously — not in this age of global leisure and affluence. The pro-Palestinian European activist expects to stay at a comfortable Israeli hotel. The zealous supporter of affirmative action in row 22 on a transcontinental flight expects that tribal considerations will not adjudicate who is piloting his 747. The opponent of vouchers prefers his kids in Sidwell Friends to the D.C. public schools. The La Raza activist at the university does not really wish his tony suburb to resemble Oaxaca. Guantanamo is a horrific gulag in December — and a reasonable solution to an intractable problem by January 21. These hypocrisies are driven by both age-old and more recent fuels: power is always preferable to principle, at least for those who are attracted to office-seeking. And in this affluent age, it is nearly impossible for the populist to live the life of deprivation. Politics has become too lucrative a business; and the populace is no longer so poor.
10) Owing in our new millennium shall be less stressful than saving. The man with a little money in the bank is more worried that he thereby will be taxed more, earn no interest, or have his small sum expropriated, than the borrower is worried that he will have to pay back the full amount of quite a lot that he borrowed for his mortgage, credit card, or student loan. The saver is suspect of doing something bad to the borrower; savers are always active-voice beneficiaries, debtors passive-voice victims. An American without debt or a federal program to relieve it is not really an American. Before this Greek mess is over with, the press and elite opinion will have convinced us that the Germans who lost nearly $400 billion really are merciless and conniving and the Greeks who squandered it really are victims and largely innocent. In the modern age, the history of lending and borrowing does not count; the present ledger book trumps all: why do poor Greeks have to pay back rich Germans? Or better yet, if the defaulter of mortgage, credit card, and tuition bills is still poorer than those who lent him the money or others who did not take out such loans, why, then, should he become even poorer paying the richer back?
I keep these commandments in mind daily. That way what would have seemed absurd in my youth is now as natural as the sun rising.
Walter Russell Mead is one of my favorite thinkers and bloggers.
This article would be funny were it not so dangerous and our courts so capricious.
That is the theory of a legal process wending its way through the Iowa court system. A class action suit filed on behalf of African-Americans in the state alleges that an insidious pattern of unconscious racism led to whites being preferred over African-Americans in thousands of decisions over hiring and promotion.
The suit does not allege that the officials who made the hiring and promotion decisions were conscious racists or even that they had any intent to discriminate. No single act by a single person is cited as grounds for damages. Instead, the plaintiffs’ evidence comes from statistical assessments. Whites were chosen more frequently than Blacks with “similar” qualifications for interviews, hiring and promotion, according to the charts and graphs and studies brought to bear on the question.
At Via Meadia, we don’t doubt that unconscious preferences for ones own racial or ethnic group can affect human behavior and decisions. And we don’t doubt that minorities sometimes suffer unfairly as a result. We expect many will be unpleasantly surprised when the recording angel reveals our good and bad deeds at the end of time. But we also suspect that there are some truths too fine to be caught by statistical nets and perhaps even some wrongs for which no appropriate legal redress can be found.
A lawsuit like this one depends on the ability of courts to show that people equally qualified for particular jobs were treated differently based on the color of their skin. But that is not as easy to measure as it might appear. “Similar qualifications” is a loaded word. Does it mean people have the same degree? If so, what about the difference between people who have degrees in difficult subjects from tough colleges as opposed to those who majored in softer subjects at Pass ‘Em All U? One plaintiff named in the suit has the following story to tell:
Among those who joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff was Charles Zanders, of Urbandale, who was passed over for an interview for a position with the Iowa Communications Network in 2008 despite having worked 29 years in the telecommunications industry.
“I was very angry at that time and felt like I’d been stepped on,” Zanders, 60, said.
For all Via Meadia knows, Mr. Zanders may have it exactly right, and if so, he has our full sympathy. On the other hand, we know plenty of people who have worked for 30 years in a field that we wouldn’t hire on a bet. Seniority and experience can be excellent qualifications; they may also mean that someone has just gotten by with minimum effort in a bureaucratic institution.
The search of an “objective” set of qualifications that can replace the subjective factors in hiring raises hard questions. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly true that without some check on favoritism, discrimination and petty abuses of all kind will flourish in many workplaces. On the other hand, people with the same paper qualifications often have little in common, and those who specialize in accumulating paper qualifications and formal certificates can be (and, sadly, frequently are) much less good at many jobs than others. In academia, government and at many corporations, there is much too much formalism, empty procedural ritual and lawsuit-avoidance. This is one key reason for the poor performance of many American institutions and for the pervasive blight of mediocre formalism that blights so much of American society today.
The study on which this legal case rests reflects work by University of Washington professor Anthony Greenwald which claims to find that 80 percent of whites are biased against African-Americans. Greenwald, a well known and well respected scholar in his field, has developed the Implicit Association Test, which measured bias in whites. (VM is unaware if similar tests have been developed for other groups; at the least, the results would be interesting.)
If the Iowa plaintiffs win their case, expect similar lawsuits against governments, universities and private employers all over the country. Expect also yet another wave of deadening bureaucratic paperwork and “official qualifications” to descend on the already heavily burdened American workplace. That may be the price of a more racially just society, though I am not quite sure it is a price America can — or will — pay.
The problems of discrimination are real; so too, though, are the issues surrounding the best ways to fight it. Competence, honesty, energy, commitment: these qualities cannot be measured easily by objective yardsticks, but the ability of an organization to hire and promote based on them is the key to success. The way to fight discrimination while improving the performance of American institutions and enterprises is to make these qualities, wherever and in whomever they are found, the basis of personnel decisions.
The goal is surely to motivate employers to look more aggressively for talent and ability wherever it can be found. Smarter employers will discriminate less — the passion for quality and success that drives great businesses should drive them to overcome prejudice and develop methods to make sure that the applicants with the talents they so desperately need don’t slip through their fingers. No professional sports team would miss out on a prime draft prospect because the athlete came from the “wrong” ethnic group these days; no business should want to do the same either.
Fighting discrimination with intelligence, focus and a relentless concentration on quality and results isn’t easy to do, but as the global economic competition heats up, this will be the rationale that will keep the fight against prejudice healthy and alive in the American workplace. The more the cause of racial justice is tied up with cumbersome procedures, legalistic qualification categories and pro forma paperwork, the less success it will have as organizations of all kinds strive to become more competent and nimble.
The subject of higher education is much in the news these days because of the increasing costs and – at least apparently – decreasing outcomes of that education.
Recently, Alex Tabarrok, a Canadian-American economist, writer, scholar and Professor at George Mason University co-authored Launching the Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast. Here is one bit drawn from the book.
Educated people have higher wages and lower unemployment rates than the less educated so why are college students at Occupy Wall Street protests around the country demanding forgiveness for crushing student debt? The sluggish economy is tough on everyone but the students are also learning a hard lesson, going to college is not enough. You also have to study the right subjects. And American students are not studying the fields with the greatest economic potential.
Over the past 25 years the total number of students in college has increased by about 50 percent. But the number of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields) has remained more or less constant. Moreover, many of today’s STEM graduates are foreign born and are taking their knowledge and skills back to their native countries.
Consider computer technology. In 2009 the U.S. graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science. This is not bad, but we graduated more students with computer science degrees 25 years ago! The story is the same in other technology fields such as chemical engineering, math and statistics. Few fields have changed as much in recent years as microbiology, but in 2009 we graduated just 2,480 students with bachelor’s degrees in microbiology — about the same number as 25 years ago. Who will solve the problem of antibiotic resistance?
If students aren’t studying science, technology, engineering and math, what are they studying?
In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.
STEM fields are flat (declining for natives) while the visual and performing arts, psychology, and communication and journalism (!) are way up.
There is nothing wrong with the arts, psychology and journalism, but graduates in these fields have lower wages and are less likely to find work in their fields than graduates in science and math. Moreover, more than half of all humanities graduates end up in jobs that don’t require college degrees and these graduates don’t get a big college bonus.
Most importantly, graduates in the arts, psychology and journalism are less likely to create the kinds of innovations that drive economic growth. Economic growth is not a magic totem to which all else must bow, but it is one of the main reasons we subsidize higher education.
The potential wage gains for college graduates go to the graduates — that’s reason enough for students to pursue a college education. We add subsidies to the mix, however, because we believe that education has positive spillover benefits that flow to society. One of the biggest of these benefits is the increase in innovation that highly educated workers theoretically bring to the economy.
As a result, an argument can be made for subsidizing students in fields with potentially large spillovers, such as microbiology, chemical engineering, nuclear physics and computer science. There is little justification for subsidizing sociology, dance and English majors.
College has been oversold. It has been oversold to students who end up dropping out or graduating with degrees that don’t help them very much in the job market. It also has been oversold to the taxpayers, who foot the bill for these subsidies.
You might get the impression that I am a crusader on this issue, and you would be right to some degree. The recent blow-up over support for Planned Parenthood brought to mind an article which I had filed away some time ago that speaks to the current issue so forcefully.
At the Good Counsel shelters for homeless pregnant women in New York, yesterday was business as usual: pregnant moms getting ready to deliver, other mothers feeding their children, still others going off to school or training for new jobs
There is a striking fact about these women: most are African-American. “These moms are attracted to Good Counsel because they know they will be in an environment where their baby is considered as beautiful and as worthy of life as any other,” says Executive Director Chris Bell.
Yesterday was not business as usual at the 99th annual conference for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. For one thing, the first African-American to head the presidential ticket of a major party was on hand. Yet there was another interesting appearance that went mostly unmentioned. This was a protest by African-American pro-lifers – many NAACP members – who can’t understand why America’s most venerated civil rights organization turns a blind eye to what they say is the abortion industry’s practice of targeting poor minority neighborhoods.
These folks include the Rev. Clenard Childress, a New Jersey pastor who runs a Web site called blackgenocide.org – the same language the Rev. Jesse Jackson used before he threw in his lot with the Democratic Party. These folks include Day Gardner of the National Black Pro-Life Union, and Levon Yuille of the National Black Pro-Life Caucus. And these folks include Dr. Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King who says she knows what abortion does to a woman – because she had two of them before her change of heart.
“I remember when I was pregnant and considering a third abortion,” she says. “I went to Daddy King [her grandfather and Martin Luther King's father]. He told me, ‘that’s a baby, not a blob of tissue.’ Unfortunately, 14 million African-Americans are not here today because of legalized abortion. It’s as if a plague swept through America’s cities and towns and took one of every four of us.”
What Dr. King is alluding to is that abortion disproportionately affects African-Americans. A fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute puts it this way: “Black women are 4.8 times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to have an abortion.” The Centers for Disease Control further report what this means: While about one out of every five white pregnancies ends in abortion, it’s nearly one out of every two for African-Americans.
The debate can get uncomfortable. Pro-lifers point to Planned Parenthood’s origins in the eugenics movement. Indeed, these unpleasant associations recently resurfaced after pro-life students at UCLA hired actors to call up Planned Parenthood clinics posing as donors. In one call, the actor expressed his dislike of affirmative action, and said that he just felt that “the less black kids out there, the better.” The woman responded, “understandable, understandable” and went on to say she was “excited” about the donation. Other calls yielded similar embarrassing results.
On the other side, of course, are the maternity homes and Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Planned Parenthood and their allies accuse these centers of posing as medical clinics, offering religion instead of science, and of “traumatizing” pregnant women by showing them things like sonograms. It’s an odd complaint from a group that runs a Web site called Teenwire – which offers adolescents tips on everything from anal sex to a crude, animated condom game. Given that the overwhelming majority of women who have abortions are over age 20, showing one a sonogram or telling her “Jesus loves you” seems pretty tame stuff.
Planned Parenthood has every legal right to pursue its business. But if – as our pro-choice friends like to say – we really want a world where abortion is more rare, could not the NAACP help?
Just imagine if this institution used its voice and resources to ensure that, beside all those Planned Parenthood clinics located in our minority neighborhoods, African-American women could find another kind of place. A place not unlike Good Counsel – where a scared young pregnant woman could carry her baby to term, complete her education, train for a new job, and be treated with the love and respect that a mother needs and deserves.
In other words, could not the NAACP work for a society where pregnant African-Americans had two doors open to them? Planned Parenthood’s not going anywhere, so the first would still lead to America’s largest abortion provider, a business that has already eliminated millions from America’s population. But the other would lead to people whose business is of a vastly different order: welcoming these children into the world, and getting their moms the help they need to live lives of purpose and dignity.
Then again, that would give women a real choice.