Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Moss-Covered Rolling Stone

Suppose someone buttonholed you on the street, a fellow wearing an aluminum pyramid for a hat, a blue jumpsuit with numerous pockets even on the pants legs, and L.L. Bean hiking boots, and who had intense, glazed-over eyes that sent a zing of fear up your spine but which invited you to enter his realm of demons and jins and unicorns. He begins spouting that the world is flat, that the moon is just a big mottled silver disk in the sky which if you stare at out of focus long enough you'd see the face of God smiling down at you, and that the stars were but pinholes filtering through the light of an alternate universe.

You know this fellow is more than a crackpot and that not much of the real universe is filtering through to his mind. You might listen to him for a while, more from pity than from anything else. You would throw glances around at passersby, wanting to communicate in embarrassment that you're not really with this fellow, but you don't want to tell him to buzz off, and please let go of the lapel of your jacket, because he just might have a gun or a knife in one of those pockets and not granola bars and packets of Trail Mix on which he seems to have been subsisting. You listen to him with effort, with a patient courtesy that is costing you sweat and physical strength because you're also restraining a desire to laugh in his face.

To make the experience endurable, you imagine you're Cary Grant, tied to a chair in the movie Arsenic and Old Lace, and that your seemingly lucid captor is Raymond Massey, an escaped lunatic from a mental asylum for the criminally insane who's claiming he's a master murderer….

That's how I felt when a friend recently forwarded to me an article from Rolling Stone, dated January 3rd, 2014, by Jesse A. Myerson. The headline itself made me blink in disbelief: "Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For: Guaranteed jobs, universal basic incomes, public finance and more." Haven't these ideas been repudiated and discredited? I don't voluntarily read the Rolling Stone or the Village Voice or any other publication that seems to be published by aging hippies still celebrating Woodstock and the Weathermen. Myerson's article was news to me. I learned that it had been the subject of numerous clucking tongued critiques by fellow travelers and episodes of raspberries and roiling laughter from Left and Right alike. I was a newcomer to the piece. Better late than never.

The name, Jesse A. Myerson, meant nothing to me, until I searched for his name on the Internet and discovered that he was one of the "geniuses" – a "media coordinator" – behind Occupy Wall Street, that Marxist movement which drew tens of thousands to American cities several years ago. It petered out when reality intervened and the "occupiers," out of a sense of self-preservation, drifted back to warm homes and sanitary conditions and possibly even gainful employment. I wrote several columns about OWS, and won’t reprise their conclusions here.

For example, Sean Davis at the Federalist wrote:

But what makes Myerson’s article so precious is that either he’s too dumb to know what the Soviet Union stood for (or too lazy to have done a quick Google search prior to clicking “Publish”), or he thinks his readers are too dumb to discern that he’s actually pushing for a return to Soviet-style communism. In his defense, he published his Marxist mash note at Rolling Stone — a site run by a seemingly drug-addled 23-year-old nepot — so maybe he has a point about the collective IQ of his readers.

"Dumb" is the operative term, together with cognitively-challenged and delusional. It is measurably easier to critique Myerson than it is to freeze-frame and examine every non sequitur of the mental gymnastics of someone like Nobelist in economics Paul Krugman.

Noel Sheppard at News Busters had some fairly simple questions to ask Myerson:

2. Social Security for All

But let's think even bigger. Because as much as unemployment blows, so do jobs. What if people didn't have to work to survive? Enter the jaw-droppingly simple idea of a universal basic income, in which the government would just add a sum sufficient for subsistence to everyone's bank account every month...A universal basic income, combined with a job guarantee and other social programs, could make participation in the labor force truly voluntary, thereby enabling people to get a life.

So why would we need to guarantee everyone a job with a good wage if folks didn't have to work as a result of a universal basic income?

And if people didn't have to work, who would produce the goods and services necessary for life on this planet?

And if no goods and services were being produced, where would the money come from to fund this universal basic income?

At the risk of offending Star Trek fans, Myerson writes as though he were cadging the elements of the communist society whose identity trickled through in the series, especially in the "Next Generation" seasons and as articulated by Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise. He once told a survivor from the 20th century to "improve himself." This was after the character realizes that his capitalist fortune is no more and that he would not be permitted to amass another. Apparently, the government provides everyone with "room and board" and a chance to become a "useful" member of society – "voluntarily." Things like restaurants and vineyards and quilt tatting are mere personal "hobbies." Someone at the Science Fiction and Fantasy site had the sense to observe:

A big clue into their form of government is that fact that they have no monetary policy. They have no money [except "Federation credits"], which means they have no taxes, no expenditures, and no GDP. That raises the question, how do they finance their government? Regardless of what form that government takes, it needs resources to maintain itself.

Given the peace-oriented nature of the Federation, one would assume that those resources are given to the government voluntarily, including human resources in the form of political leadership. People volunteer their leadership in order to be accepted, rejected, or passively allowed, all in a non-forceful manner.

That's going to where no economist has gone before, except perhaps Paul Krugman.

To distance himself from those old fuddy-duddies Marx, Engels, and Proudhon (all property is theft, you know) – whose works he has likely never read from cover to cover – Myerson tries to sound hip and "with it" by writing in a grungy, sophomoric style and by pretending he's advancing a radically new political/economic system without once mentioning Communism, Stalin, and tyranny. He uses the slang term "blow" five times in the article. This blows, that blows, everything "blows." But obviously, no typhoons howl through Myerson's mind.  For example, in his prefatory paragraphs, Myerson proclaims:

Millennials have been especially hard-hit by the downturn, which is probably why so many people in this generation (like myself) regard capitalism with a level of suspicion that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. (Italics mine)

Myerson seems oblivious to the fact that previous generations of young people have maintained high, vociferous levels of "suspicion" against capitalism, not just his own. He might have overlooked the fact that a previous generation now owns the corridors of political power, and is attempting to ram their own "five" reforms down the country's throat (David Axelrod, Bill Ayers, et al.). And they were all on the same "thinkable" page. Suspicion? Say, rather, hostility.

Under his "Guaranteed Work for Everybody" subtopic, Myerson writes:

There are millions of people who want to work, and there's a ton of work that needs doing – it's a no-brainer. And this idea isn't as radical as it might sound: It's similar to what the federal Works Progress Administration made possible during Roosevelt's New Deal…

Myerson gives Roosevelt a pat on the back. I think that's as far back in time he can go. But how long would it take one to persuade him that programs like the WPA helped to delay the country's recovery from a government-caused Depression, because all the money being redirected to it and other grandiose programs was confiscated private wealth that could have helped correct government-caused economic dislocations. But, perhaps because Myerson's grasp of causo-connections is so tenuous – in point of fact, virtually imaginary – the learning exercise would likely be futile. How many Flat Earthers are impervious to ample evidence that the world is round?

Under the same subtopic, Myerson assured us that:

A job guarantee that paid a living wage would anchor prices, drive up conditions for workers at megacorporations like Walmart and McDonald's, and target employment for the poor and long-term unemployed – people to whom conventional stimulus money rarely trickles all the way down. The program would automatically expand during private-sector downturns and contract during private-sector upswings, balancing out the business cycle and sending people from job to job, rather than job to unemployment, when times got tough.

Try to make the pinball machine connections between "living wages," "anchored prices," and escalating worker conditions at Walmart and McDonald's. Myerson may as well have written: Apples plus Oranges Multiplied by Bananas Equals Cumquats. Notice how he stresses that his program would "expand during private-sector downturns" but "contract during private-sector upswings." Is he confessing that he would allow any private sector to exist?

News flash to Myerson: If actually implemented, his program would automatically absorb a "down-turned" private sector, guaranteeing that there would never be an "upswing" in it ever again. Observe the progress of Venezuela toward poverty under an aggressive socialist régime that is absorbing private sectors by the dozen. The only "upswinging" entity in that country is the government's fist.

And, besides, how could such a perfect socio-economic paradise, one which incorporated all five programs plus ones Myerson hasn't even imagined, generate or even experience "tough times"? Isn't such a program designed to prevent "tough times"? Isn't a "pure" communist economy supposed to be immune to business cycles, because ideally, there would be no businesses to cycle?

The silence is deafening, except for the gunshots and screams one might hear in Venezuela and other places undergoing a descent into destruction.

To elaborate on Noel Sheppard's News Busters critique, under "Social Security for All," Myerson poses the question:

What if people didn't have to work to survive? Enter the jaw-droppingly simple idea of a universal basic income, in which the government would just add a sum sufficient for subsistence to everyone's bank account every month. (Bolding Myerson's)

Then some synapses must have crackled in his mind. If no one needed to work, who or what would produce the things an idle population could purchase with that "free" money? And where would that money come from, because if no one was producing anything, and if the means of production had been expropriated from the producers, there would be no tax revenue, either, to deposit in all those bank accounts. The government would need to tax itself. No, wait, that wouldn't work. It wouldn't happen, either. What would happen to Duke University Professor Kathi Weeks's idea of creating "time to cultivate new needs for pleasures, activities, senses, passions, affects, and socialities that exceed the options of working and saving, producing and accumulating"?

The synapses crackled faintly once more, and died.

Put another way: A universal basic income, combined with a job guarantee and other social programs, could make participation in the labor force truly voluntary, thereby enabling people to get a life. (Bolding Myerson's)

And if you don’t "volunteer" to participate, the government will seize your bank account, send you to a rehab camp in Death Valley where you can get your mind right, and subject you to a lobotomy to remove the last shred of independence you might have had.

In conclusion, Jesse Myerson subscribes to an ideology which, over many decades, has been oft refuted by thinkers like Thomas Sowell (Marxism: Philosophy and Economics),has been repudiated by individuals who endured and survived its depredations, and has demonstrated its intrinsic destructiveness wherever it has been tried. It is truly astonishing – to me, at least – that the ideology still has the power to fasten itself to anyone's mind and maintain an unshakable grip.

But, I shouldn't be so astonished, because without the unarticulated wish for the unearned and an effortless existence, the ideology would have no appeal and no chance of becoming encrusted in anyone's mind – encrusted, undigested, and deadening. 

Myerson – together with the publication that was clueless or careless enough to publish his juvenile screed – is a rolling stone that does indeed gather the musty dead moss of Marxism.