What happens to the ‘Lifer’ blog

Leaving was never really an option. I stand by the blog’s tagline even now. There is no map to consult. Faced with choices A, B, C, and D, I’ve dropped the pencil, gotten up from the desk, and walked out. Leaving was never really option. Now I’ve done it anyway.

It has been heartening to read the messages of support. Nevertheless, this is a frustrating defeat. My personal effort to temper to party’s extremes, perhaps poorly conceived or even foolish from the outset, is now an official failure. There’s nothing left to accomplish here and no path to follow. Whatever comes next must be staked from the wilderness.

There have been achievements. Practice has turned me into a reasonably good short form writer. It may not have done the party any good, but those habits have lead to some quality communications at work. Seven years of constant research and writing have taught me a great deal. I’ve had opportunities to meet some fantastic people. And thanks to the outlet provided by the blog (which was my wife’s idea to start with), my wife doesn’t have to sit through endless political harangues.

Most of all, this blog has produced a unique little ecosystem. In the world of social media the term “comments section” has become a byword for bedlam. What you, the readers and commenters of this blog, have built here is the most remarkable achievement of these past seven years. I’ve been fascinated by what I’ve learned from the brilliant people who have made this space a home. You’ve tended this modest corner of the Internet, cultivated it, and shaped something impressive in a most unlikely environment.

Whatever comes next it should be informed by what failed and build on what worked at GOPLifer. There’s no sense in retaining a space under that title as anything other than an archive, but it will take time to make a transition. I’ve got a pretty intense day job to which I’m deeply committed. I have a very tolerant and supportive family who needs to see me on occasion. And I don’t have a clear plan yet. So the blog will be maintained for the coming months and I will be updating it.

Yesterday I took an important step, purchasing the domain name politicalorphans.com. It may not stick, but it feels right.

After a few days this wave of attention should pass and we’ll be back to the normal routine on the blog. We’ll all figure out what’s next as we go along. Leaving the party may have cut off some avenues of expression, but I won’t stop trying.

When I posted my resignation letter, Willie Nelson’s benediction seemed like a placid, conciliatory way out. It was not, however, the song that was playing in my head. Let me leave you with the anthem that won’t let me sleep.

Posted in Uncategorized

Resignation letter

Yesterday I resigned my position in the York Township Republican Committeemen’s Organization. Below is the letter I sent to the chairman explaining my decision.


Chairman Cuzzone:

We come together in political parties to magnify our influence. An organized representative institution can give weight to our will in ways we could not accomplish on our own. Working with others gives us power, but at the cost of constant, calculated compromise. No two people will agree on everything. There is no moral purity in politics.

If compromise is the key to healthy politics, how does one respond when compromise descends into complicity? To preserve a sense of our personal moral accountability we must each define boundaries. For those boundaries to have meaning we must have the courage to protect them, even when the cost is high.

Almost thirty years ago as a teenager in Texas, I attended my first county Republican convention. As a college student I met a young Rick Perry, fresh from his conversion to the GOP, as he was launching his first campaign for statewide office. Through Associated Republicans of Texas I contributed and volunteered for business-friendly Republican state and local candidates.

Here in DuPage County I’ve been a precinct committeeman since 2006. Door to door I’ve canvased my precinct in support of our candidates. Trudging through snow, using a drill to break the frozen ground, I posted signs for candidates on whom I pinned my hopes for better government. Among Illinois Republicans I found an organization that seemed to embody my hopes for the party nationally. Pragmatic, sensible, and focused on solid government, it seemed like a GOP Jurassic Park, where the sensible, reliable Republicans of old still roamed the landscape.

At the national level, the delusions necessary to sustain our Cold War coalition were becoming dangerous long before Donald Trump arrived. From tax policy to climate change, we have found ourselves less at odds with philosophical rivals than with the fundamentals of math, science and objective reality.

The Iraq War, the financial meltdown, the utter failure of supply-side theory, climate denial, and our strange pursuit of theocratic legislation have all been troubling. Yet it seemed that America’s party of commerce, trade, and pragmatism might still have time to sober up. Remaining engaged in the party implied a contribution to that renaissance, an investment in hope. Donald Trump has put an end to that hope.

From his fairy-tale wall to his schoolyard bullying and his flirtation with violent racists, Donald Trump offers America a singular narrative – a tale of cowards. Fearful people, convinced of our inadequacy, trembling before a world alight with imaginary threats, crave a demagogue. Neither party has ever elevated to this level a more toxic figure, one that calls forth the darkest elements of our national character.

With three decades invested in the Republican Party, there is a powerful temptation to shrug and soldier on. Despite the bold rhetoric, we all know Trump will lose. Why throw away a great personal investment over one bad nominee? Trump is not merely a poor candidate, but an indictment of our character. Preserving a party is not a morally defensible goal if that party has lost its legitimacy.

Watching Ronald Reagan as a boy, I recall how bold it was for him to declare ‘morning again’ in America. In a country menaced by Communism and burdened by a struggling economy, the audacity of Reagan’s optimism inspired a generation.

Fast-forward to our present leadership and the nature of our dilemma is clear. I watched Paul Ryan speak at Donald Trump’s convention the way a young child watches his father march off to prison. Thousands of Republican figures that loathe Donald Trump, understand the danger he represents, and privately hope he loses, are publicly declaring their support for him. In Illinois our local and state GOP organizations, faced with a choice, have decided on complicity.

Our leaders’ compromise preserves their personal capital at our collective cost. Their refusal to dissent robs all Republicans of moral cover. Evasion and cowardice has prevailed over conscience. We are now, and shall indefinitely remain, the Party of Donald Trump.

I will not contribute my name, my work, or my character to an utterly indefensible cause. No sensible adult demands moral purity from a political party, but conscience is meaningless without constraints. A party willing to lend its collective capital to Donald Trump has entered a compromise beyond any credible threshold of legitimacy. There is no redemption in being one of the “good Nazis.”

I hereby resign my position as a York Township Republican committeeman. My thirty-year tenure as a Republican is over.


Chris Ladd

Postscript – Needless to say, the response to the letter has been stunning and overwhelming. I want to express my gratitude to the people who have shared so many kind thoughts. It was my intention to reply to each of the emails I’ve received, but I was snowed under by late last night and they keep piling up.

Some of the warmest regards have come from right here in suburban Chicago. When I posted this letter I was prepared to face some anger here at home from fellow Republicans. Nothing of the kind has materialized. The only official response from the local GOP so far has been support, for which I am immensely grateful. It gives me hope. We may all come out of this debacle in better condition.


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Posted in Election 2016, Republican Party, Uncategorized

From Strom Thurmond to Donald Trump: How the GOP Rose and Fell


Strom Thurmond and his running mate Fielding Wright, nominees of the Dixiecrat Party in 1948

On Tuesday, the Party of Lincoln nominated for President a reality TV star with no government experience or policy platform who has been enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK and other white nationalist groups. Though an extreme outcome, this is not a departure. Republicans have been on this road for a long time. As this “Lifer” exits the party it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the journey that led us to this miserable place.

Perhaps the best starting point is Truman’s 1947 executive order desegregating the military. That move sparked a third-party challenge from Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond, which would blossom over time into a shift among Southerners toward the GOP. A glance at Thurmond’s speech accepting the Dixiecrats’ nomination in Houston reveals a style and themes that persist today among the Tea Party.

The First Tea Party Speech

In 1964, Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater pushed the GOP away from its traditional role as a proponent of Civil Rights legislation. Breaking from the rest of the party, Goldwater took a “principled” stand in opposition to the passage of the Civil Rights Acts on libertarian grounds. This was the beginning of a strange relationship between so-called libertarians and the counter-civil rights movement. Nixon in 1960 won a third of black votes. Goldwater earned 6%.

How Libertarianism Failed African Americans

The Tension Between Civil Rights and Limited Government

After Jim Crow was dismantled it took time for the counter-civil rights movement to find its feet. When they did, they would be standing under a new banner, cloaking their concerns behind new ‘culture war’ rhetoric.

Years later as the movement gained momentum analysts would point to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade as the spark that launched the religious right. That simply isn’t the case. Protestant religious conservatives who would form the backbone of the religious right were largely disinterested in abortion in the years after Roe v Wade.

How Protestant Evangelicals Shifted Their Abortion Stance

Southern conservatives defeated by the Civil Rights movement found a way back to power not through abortion activism, but thanks to a very different issue. In 1978 the Carter Administration signaled their intention to use federal power to desegregate the religious schools set up to evade busing. It was private school desegregation that would inspire Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich to found The Moral Majority in 1979. Abortion, porn, school prayer, and other “culture” issues became the lever behind which the losers in the battle over Jim Crow could push their way back into power.

Southern Baptists and Southern Politics

These Southerners, having lost their influence in the Democratic Party, found an empty Republican infrastructure in the South ripe for takeover. Nixon often gets undeserved credit for a “southern strategy” that swung the South toward the GOP, but he accomplished almost nothing on the ground. It was the organized, passionate work of the Moral Majority and similar culture warriors that later succeeded in building a Republican infrastructure in the South.

Myths and Realities of the Southern Strategy

New Republican converts were markedly more conservative than the Republicans who occupied positions of authority in the party. As early as the first years of the Reagan Administration this sparked tensions, as Jerry Falwell expressed frustration over the way Reagan officials treated religious activists.

Throughout the Reagan and Bush I years, the culture warriors would remain an eccentric fringe of the GOP. Reagan tolerated them, but kept his distance. He pointedly refused to make in-person appearances at anti-abortion events. Religious Right activists and the Dixiecrats who rallied around them were treated as useful idiots. All the while though, they were building influence on the ground in formerly Democratic Southern states.

In 1989, Al Gore’s campaign chairman in Texas would switch to the GOP to run for Agriculture Commissioner. Rick Perry would ride this eccentric fringe to the longest Gubernatorial career in Texas history.

With the 1994 wave election, those political oddballs were swept into positions of real power all up and down the ballot.

The Stockman Effect

Across the 90’s reform Republicans like Jack Kemp found themselves battling the Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson wings of the party and steadily losing ground.

My Favorite Republican

As the party grew more conservative and white, Republicans in urban areas and the North began peeling away. Just five years after Rick Perry switched to the GOP, Republican Elizabeth Warren became a Democrat.

The late 80’s and early 90’s also saw the rise of right-wing media. Led initially by characters like Morton Downey, other figures like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh pioneered a new form of political entertainment.

Ann Coulter is the Andy Kaufman of Politics

Fact free, obnoxious, and catering to their audiences’ cherished paranoia, they radicalized a slice of the white electorate frightened by their own perceived decline. With the arrival of Fox News, they would manufacture a media bubble that left America’s political right utterly dissociated from fact-based decision-making and insulated from the consequences of their intensifying extremism.

Why the Right Has Such Lousy Information

Blueprint for Republican Reform: Pundits

Running beneath these trends like water flowing underground was the decline of America’s social capital institutions. Their weakness, described in The Politics of Crazy, stripped the country of critical filters that once acted to mediate our political climate and squelch the influence of extremists.

The Politics of Crazy

With the election of George W. Bush, Kemp’s influence was entirely eclipsed. Religious kooks and racial dead-enders were ascendant. Whatever dissenting voices remained inside the GOP were either disciplined into compliance or dispatched to the outskirts. Figures like Bruce Bartlett and David Frum lost their jobs and were hounded out of the party. Political purges and a propaganda-driven media infrastructure meant no reasoned voices could be heard.

Rebuilding the GOP: Think Tanks

Unsurprisingly, the Second Bush Administration was an unmitigated catastrophe, starting with a disastrous war and culminating in a shattering economic collapse. John McCain who had challenged Bush in 2000 as a reformer, made a successful run for the 2008 nomination. Despite the difficulty of following the second George Bush, he might have won had he not been pressed into picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin was a dimwitted amateur who weighed down the campaign with gaffes and erratic behavior.

McCain lost and faded from influence. Palin, erratic, incoherent, and telegenic, became the poster child for a new era of unchecked right-wing stupidity defined and promoted by the Tea Party. Rocked by the disasters of the Bush presidency and robbed of any credible leadership the GOP had no means to fend off an insurgency. An astro-turfing project sponsored originally by one of the Koch Brothers’ organizations, the Tea Party was a monster that immediately turned on its handlers.

Since the Moral Majority, Republicans had been animating voters with coded appeals to racism. The rise of the Tea Party replaced an era of coded racism with a shift toward open racism. As the movement grew more powerful and extreme, it pushed the GOP toward an unprecedented white nationalism.

Can the GOP Survive as a White Nationalist Party?

By the summer of 2012 it was clear that the GOP was consolidating around a shrinking white, Southern base. Former Republican strongholds in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut had collapsed.

The Republican Dilemma on a Map

With Romney’s defeat came another, less noticed landmark. After the 2012 Elections, Republicans for the first time in our history held none of the mayor’s offices in the nation’s 10 largest cities.

Republicans Should Not Surrender the Cities

A Republican coalition once-centered around commerce, trade, and urban professionals was developing into an unrecognizable party of lower-income rural whites, mostly in the South.

How the GOP is Winning Among the Poor

This emerging party of the New South was borrowing a disturbing portion of its appeal from the Old South. As racist rhetoric became more overt during Obama’s second term, it became impossible to maintain even the most minimal outreach to minority communities.

Republican Minority Outreach Will Not be Easy

No one on either side of the aisle has shown any willingness yet to grapple with the tangible impact of pluralism on lower income white voters. That alienation, combined with a complete lack of a vision for the future, has fed a drift toward political extremism in middle America.

White Supremacy and the Shadow Welfare State

Results from the 2014 Election, touted as a Republican success story, demonstrated the party’s demographic collapse. All capacity to compete outside a hyper-conservative base in the South and rural west had disappeared. Inside the red states Republicans consolidated their hold. Everywhere else our capacity to remain relevant had ended. The White House was now permanently out of reach. The force that holds a party together in our system had vanished from Republican politics.

The Missing Story of the 2014 Election

Into this maelstrom marches a bigoted reality TV star with a lot of money. He swept through the 2016 primaries by rejecting the racist dog-whistle in favor of a racist bullhorn. No one could lay a glove on him, because Republicans are not allowed to talk about or acknowledge racism.

Why Republican Criticism of Trump Fails

This is now Donald Trump’s party. As such it is officially a party of white nationalists. His inevitable defeat in the fall won’t change the party’s orientation in the slightest. There is only one route back to relevance and that involves grappling with the party’s relationship to race. It will not be easy and frankly, it probably will not happen. For the first time more than 150 years one of our two parties may disappear from the national stage.

Whatever entity comes to occupy the space vacated by the modern GOP, it will have to find a successful response to America’s core racial dilemmas:

Middle Class Life in 1957

Race and the ‘Middle Class’

Sympathy for the (blue-eyed) Devil

Why I Live in a White Neighborhood

Reagan was able to assemble an unlikely coalition of commercial interests, Dixiecrats, and Northern blue collar voters on the strength of a single appeal – A radical new approach to fighting the Cold War. That’s the only interest that held these people together. When the Soviet Union collapsed, with it collapsed the logic beneath the Republican coalition. A quarter of a century later we have still not found a reason to exist in this new world. Our time appears to have run out.

Looking to the future, there is hope and there are challenges. The GOP as we know it is probably finished, but there are opportunities to rebuild from the wreckage.

America’s Parliamentary Future

Launching an Urban Republican Rebellion

Along with race, a new political movement will be asked to grapple with the demands of a changing economy and a shrinking world.

Beyond Jobs

With so many amazing improvements to our lives emerging from beyond the reach of government, it can be tempting to imagine that political dysfunction doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t be complacent.

A Warning From Flint

And in case Democrats are tempted to gloat, here’s a warning. The same cultural forces, described in The Politics of Crazy, that fed the demise of the GOP are nipping at your heels. Get ready for the rise of your own crazy politics.

Democratic Denial and the Politics of Crazy

Despite these frustrations, America today is more prosperous and powerful than it has ever been and our future remains bright.

A Golden Age



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Posted in Election 2016, Republican Party, Uncategorized

A True Son of the Alamo

Crockett“We’re fighting — not for one particular candidate or one campaign — but because each of us wants to be able to tell our kids and grandkids…that we did our best for their future, and for our country.”
– Ted Cruz

No major Republican leadership figure wants to see Donald Trump in the White House. Nevertheless, with only a handful of exceptions (most notably and honorably – John Kasich and Jeb Bush), they have either equivocated, lied, or skulked around the fringes of this humiliating circus of a convention trying to avoid being either too close or too far away from Cheeto Jesus.

Paul Ryan evaded an endorsement for weeks, then folded up his conscience, packed it away with the last tattered shreds of his dignity, and stood on stage at the convention to lead the nominating process. Marco Rubio has vacillated like a scared child, still not taking a definable position. The most sickening feature of this tawdry reality show has been the spectacle of grown men who imagine themselves powerful cowering in fear of a ridiculous bully.

Then Ted Cruz got on stage and exposed them all as a bunch of bed-wetting cowards. Like a true son of the Alamo, that unlovable bastard stood up there alone before a hostile crowd and delivered an uncompromising defense of his beliefs. He didn’t hide behind the teleprompter. He didn’t look away. He grinned that smarmy grin right at the New York delegation and told them where to shove it.

Cruz is not stupid. His move may channel the defiance of the Alamo, but it carries the strategic logic of San Jacinto. Commentators can tut all they want about the damage they think he’s done to his career. No modern nominee has won a smaller percentage of the primary vote. Ted Cruz just gave voice to the 55% of Republican primary voters who rejected Donald Trump and have been cringing through each night of this miserable Third World spectacle.

Five months from now everyone who wants to remain active in politics will be spinning their 2016 sound-bites into proof that they opposed Donald Trump. Everyone will have a story about the daring missions they carried out for the underground. Guess who will have proof that will shame them all.

If there is still a Republican Party next year, it will be Ted Cruz, not Paul Ryan, who leads it.

Tonight I find myself cheering for Ted Cruz, a frightening religious bigot for whom I would never cast a vote. November will find me stifling the urge to puke while casting my vote for a Clinton. Irony is overflowing everywhere, spilling over into muddy puddles of the absurd. Nevermind all that. Tonight I’m proud of Texas. I am proud that we produce the kind of defiant, spiteful, unbreakable courage that my political opponent displayed. The Lone Star State didn’t let me down. God bless Texas.

Posted in Uncategorized

Gonzo Republican Convention

robert costa twitterRepublicans yesterday took our first big step toward Making America a Banana Republic Again by launching a national party convention made for daytime TV. There was only one achievement worth noting – we got through a whole day and no one has been assaulted. Threatened, yes, but actually assaulted, not quite yet. Since these people never deliver on a promise, threats don’t really count.

Some notable events:

A soap opera actor speaking from the main stage contrasted Trump with Obama by explaining that Trump is someone who “shares my faith.” Afterward he explained that cryptic line by claiming that Obama is a Muslim.

Convention leadership steamrolled past a valid parliamentary motion to force a floor vote on the convention rules.

Colorado and Iowa delegations walked out after organizers ignored their petition for a floor vote. Both have returned, but hinted that more is coming.

There are 17 black delegates to the RNC. That’s 17 out of 2472. You have go deep back into the Jim Crow Era to find a major party convention with less minority participation. In 2004 African-Americans were almost 7% of the RNC’s delegate pool.

On a TV news panel, Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King went full racist, questioning whether any of “these sub-groups” had made contributions that compare to white Americans.

Somebody punked Melania Trump in an ugly way, inserting a couple of paragraphs lifted almost verbatim from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. This could have been passed off for what it was, a nasty prank by a speechwriter who has presumably now fled to Ecuador. Frankly, the whole thing might have made her seem more human and sympathetic. However the StormTrumpers, being a tribe of ugly trolls, have instead deflected, lied, contorted, and then lashed out, making this stupid low-rent incident the defining moment of day one. Incompetence magnified.

The building was largely empty for much of the night. The only semi-serious political figure slated to speak on Monday, Iowa Sen. Jodi Ernst, was relegated to a late spot addressing an abandoned convention hall.

Tonight Paul Ryan is supposed to preside over a state-by-state roll call to nominate Donald Trump. It’s the only event of the week that might be interesting in an un-ironic way.

This is a good time to revisit the collapse of the predecessor to the GOP, the Whigs. Here’s a review of the Whig’s last convention as a competitive party, in 1852.

Posted in Uncategorized

Link Roundup, 7/16/2016

From the LA Times: A full list of scheduled main stage speakers at the Trump convention. The list includes two soap opera actors, an obscure musician, a pro golfer, and the president of the UFC. Oh, and a black guy. They managed to get a black guy. So there’s no racism.

From the New York Times: Tim Tebow is the first of Trump’s C-list celebrities to pull his name from the above list.

From Politico: The RNC asked Sheldon Adelson to cover the $6m hole in the convention budget left by corporate walkouts.

From The Atlantic: Senator Tim Scott’s remarkably candid remarks about his experiences with capitol police have the potential to be game-changing. Are Republicans ready to listen?

From The Atlantic: More research is backing up the thesis of that old ‘gateway jobs’ post. Anyone who starts their career in one of the bottom-earning tiers is extremely unlikely ever to move up. Not every job is a ‘gateway job.’

From the GOPLifer archives: The Cruel Myth of the Gateway Job.

Posted in Uncategorized

Beyond jobs


The modern workplace

Does capitalism, with its accompanying technological disruptions create more jobs than it destroys?

Our conventional wisdom assumes that each new wave of innovation brings new jobs to more than replace those it displaces. Telegraph readers become telephone operators become call center representatives. No need to fret over, or more to the point – adapt around – changes to the workforce wrought by technology because new employment will magically replace the old. What has been always shall be.

Policy-makers and the public at large may be missing a massive transformation unfolding right beneath our feet because we are looking at the wrong data. Has capitalism always created an ever-expanding pool of jobs? Not exactly. Will it create enough new jobs in the future to support a social model based on mass employment? Almost certainly not.

Two logical flaws contribute to our myth of capitalist job creation. First, we conflate “jobs” with “work.” They are not the same thing. Capitalism created the concept of a job while steadily and relentlessly eliminating work. Mass employment is itself an innovation developed by capitalism. As technical sophistication advances, the work we replace becomes more sophisticated. This process eventually eats into job creation, as even the most uniquely human of work processes becomes vulnerable to automation.

We have already entered an era of declining employment that has been overlooked for decades. The decline in new job creation is only cushioned by low wages, fueling the growth of easily replaceable employment in low-skilled service jobs. The end of mass employment as a social force is already well-advanced. Though it poses a social challenge, it a promising development for cultures with the agility to adapt.

Capitalism, and the technical innovations it spawns, incrementally replaces returns on toil with returns on capital. In other words, capitalism delivers accelerating value by relentlessly eliminating work. In its early stages it created jobs where none existed before. Extend the process of eliminating work across a long enough time frame, and jobs begin to disappear as well.

Richard Arkwright’s water frame could simultaneously spin 128 threads. It could operate 24 hours a day, stopping only for intermittent repairs and resupply. By comparison, that work was previously performed as a cottage industry by skilled weavers who usually also engaged in other work. In the course of a full day working, a weaver might be able to accomplish six to eight hours of weaving, between cooking, cleaning, child care, farm labor, and so on. Workers were sometimes assembled into factories, but those factories were little more than a lot of people in the same place weaving by methods similar to cottagers. Cottagers performed work, but they did not have “jobs.”

A single day of operation by one of Arkwright’s early machines in the 1770’s could easily replace the work of a thousand cottagers. His first mill was five stories with several dozen machines. It employed about 200 workers, almost all of them children. It rendered the work of thousands of people redundant, but created 200 jobs where no formal employment had previously existed.

Downstream from the factories, new jobs would over time emerge in mercantile stores, distribution, machine assembly, factory management, business accounting, banking and other previously unheard of roles. Those new jobs would be far more lucrative and humane than the endless toil of farm or mine labor that had existed before. They would not, however, require anything approaching the amount of human work previously necessary. Conversion of endless subsistence labor to “employment” in a “job” would lead to a long term, though still temporary rise in the number of people engaged in formal employment as capitalism and innovation continued to replace human labor at a steadily accelerating pace.

As we eliminated work, we created entire new social institutions. With families freed from the endless drudgery of farm labor and cottaging, women started to become, for the first time in history, homemakers. As the elimination of work progressed, demand for (a social tolerance of) child labor declined. In the farm economy that dominated economic life in the 19th century, only a rare few women or children avoided dawn to dusk toil for subsistence. By 1920, only 21% of women were “gainfully employed.”

By the second half of the 19th century we began to imagine childhood as a promising development phase rather than just a period of dimmed human usefulness. In 1910 only 20% of American children were employed. That number dropped by more than half over the next decade. By the time the US finally outlawed child labor in 1938 it had already ceased to be economically relevant. We had eliminated so much work that children had been freed from labor. This pool of children no longer forced into mines or fields could develop themselves, preparing to perform higher value work later in life. The replacement of work created the nuclear family, childhood, mass education, retirement, and a knowledge economy.

Eliminating work gradually made the remaining jobs more and more lucrative. If we look closely, this process is evident in our employment and pay statistics. Our employment to population ratio peaked along with industrialization. As a moving average, that ratio remained flat for decades until it began a temporary rise in the late 1970’s. What happened then? At a social and political level we had, for the first time in our history, begun to allow women and minorities to participate in the workforce on more or less equal terms with white males.

Women had been sidelined from work starting in the 19th century. Along with Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities they had been marginalized in order to preserve the most lucrative of the emerging job opportunities for white men. By the 70’s both groups were gaining new access to the workforce.

For the next twenty-five years we saw a surge in the number of people participating in the workforce. It should come as no surprise that the entry of new workers into an already weakening jobs environment led to stalled wage growth.

By the late 90’s the moving average for employment to population plateaued. It has been declining ever since. Overall, liberalizing workforce participation and integrating the southern states into the national economy led to about a 9% temporary increase in the moving average for employment, which eventually settled back to about a two-percentage point increase, from which it has resumed its long term decline.

Statistical noise from the liberalization of the workforce in the late 20th century can be eliminated by examining workforce participation by the only group of people who had full access to the workforce– white males. The employment to population ratio for white males has been in decline for as long as we have measured it. In fact, it has dropped by almost a quarter over the past sixty years. The pace of the decline was fairly steady until the 90’s. Since then the rate of decline in employment to population for white males has doubled.

The numbers tell the tale. Capitalism is not creating new jobs. It hasn’t done so for a very long time. Capitalism is not an engine of job creation. Capitalism is an engine for generating returns to capital. Capitalism invented the concept of a “job” to solve a problem being experienced at a certain stage of industrial development. There is no reason to think that mass employment could not be innovated away as easily as the horse-drawn wagon. As automation and machine learning begin to cut into our demand for skilled human work, we can expect a new phase to emerge. The age of mass employment is coming to an end.

For generations we have cushioned the impact of technical innovation with social adaptations like the nuclear family, a 40-hour work-week, child labor laws, retirement, and the welfare state. As capitalism grows and its impact accelerates, our social evolution must keep pace. Our next step is probably some form of basic income, but more is needed.

A basic income would replace our economic dependence on mass employment, but it would do nothing to transform the social role of employment. Continuing to develop the power of innovation while easing its social impact will require us to rethink of the role of work and employment in our basic values.

A social order that gradually evolved around the concept of formal employment must evolve or be rendered irrelevant. Worse, it may become unstable. Those who want to slow or halt this process are missing the point. Eliminating work may eliminate jobs, but it does so by creating enormous new wealth. Halting that process may keep someone employed, but it also keeps all of us poorer. A vastly higher percentage of people were working far more hours in 1880 than are today. The replacement of that labor was a value to humanity. We want that process to continue.

Our challenge is not to stop people from losing jobs. Our challenge is to build a social framework that allows us to assign the rewards from innovation in a just manner without mass employment. Up to now we have granted nearly all of the value from new innovation to the people who perform the jobs in those field, or the people whose capital funded the effort. Value, not just in terms of income, but also in terms of status, respect, even health insurance, is distributed (mostly) via jobs. With far more value being created now by new, relatively jobless institutions, we need a new way to assign the value from that economy.

This is a matter than deserves far more thought and consideration. Needless to say, the Luddites railing against trade and innovation are contributing no more to this discussion than those who ignore the problem altogether.

How would you create value from your life if a job were no longer an option? Though it sounds revolutionary, our ancestors have been down a similar road. We already solved this problem when we set children loose from toil. We solved this problem when we allowed people to retire from jobs at an advanced age. Precedents are available to guide us.

Are we ready to replace “get a job” with “get a life?”

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Posted in Economics, Uncategorized

All lives will matter


From Ting Shen, Dallas Morning News

Anyone who has experienced childbirth can attest to this fact: no great change comes into the world without pain. From our earliest origins as a nation we have been torn by a fundamental contradiction between our ideals and our reality. With great pain, we are closing that gap, squaring that contradiction.

We hold these truths to be self-evident. Generations before us have borrowed pride from that lofty vision while falling short of its demands. After so many false starts, aspirations, partial payments, and bloodshed, we may be approaching a climax. Over the noise of shouting and gunfire and paid TV commentators, in quieter conversations happening all over the country in person and even in our much-reviled social media, we may be starting to understand one another.

Police represent us in a truer sense than any Congressman or Governor. While our political leaders describe our values in speeches and legislation, police officers express the reality of our values on the ground. When they murder innocent people, they do it in our name, on our moral ledger. When they are killed protecting us, we bear the moral cost of their sacrifice.

The highest of our collective failures, a cost that can never be repaid, is carried by the families and friends of the dead, blue or black. Our black citizens live every day with the worry that they might be next, that they might be asked to foot the bill for our unrealized vision. Our police and their families volunteer to carry the same burden on our behalf.

As we struggle to close that persistent gap between our self-evident truths and our persistent racial lies, police are absorbing friction from both sides. Police are the crucible for this climactic wave of change. That may be good news, because they have developed into one of our least-appreciated strengths as a culture.

Bigotry, racism, guns, fear, and hopelessness are boiling together into an ever more toxic brew. Police have been wrestling with these demons for decades. While high-profile incidents of violence have made them a symbol of our cultural failures, more quietly they have grown into one of our great cultural success stories. Just look at Dallas.

Progressive, intelligent, humane, a model of non-violence, the Dallas Police Department is among the most successful big city police in the country. In Dallas, a rally to protest police shootings that occurred elsewhere in the country was attended and aided by police. Then those protestors were defended by police as one of our other cultural symbols – the psycho mass shooter armed with an assault rifle – murdered officers. In Dallas, protestors and police have wept together. Dallas, of all places.

Our past few years have been defined by a series of pointless deaths and a political environment soaked in gonzo lunacy. We are an electorate struggling to find a common vision for our future. In public we are riven by paid cheerleaders for rage, yet quietly, on our neighborhood streets, hope is stronger than it has ever been.

Humane values are winning. Forget about the politicians and commentators. Look at what is happening on the ground. Look at Dallas, at both the bloodshed and the response.

A wider view shows the truer picture: this outpouring of hatred, fear, and outright lunacy is not our direction, it is a reaction to our direction. A world our ancestors dreamed of creating is being born around us in blood and pain.

This dramatic change is stirring latent poisons from our system, but we are growing stronger. Beneath the voices of outrage, new ties of understanding are being formed. Our best hope for the future is represented by the protestors and the police who were attacked in Dallas. They present a promising picture of a bright new era just coming into view.

We mourn officers killed while protecting others. We mourn civilians killed by police officers for their race. We learn to recognize that neither is an exception. Neither is an outlier. Both represent who we are as a people right now, in 2016. And we develop the determination to become better.

By finally wrestling with the dissonance between our vision and our present-day lives, we are becoming the Americans we always believed we could be. A nation in which “all lives matter” might soon cease to be an evasion and instead become an assumption. That America is within our reach.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Civil Rights, Uncategorized

Link Roundup, 7/8/2016

From The New York Times: June hiring surge continues long streak of growth.

From The Verge: While Google steals the headlines, Microsoft is quietly betting on AI.

From the NSIDC: New record low for June Arctic Sea Ice.

From Vanity Fair: Is it real or is it just the latest clickbait fad? The “sugar daddy” thing is getting a lot of attention lately.

From Gradient: Dr. O. Alan Noble penned a moving reflection on sports, celebrity, and community, inspired by Kevin Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City.

From the archives: As we mourn more senseless death, a reminder of why ‘Black Lives Matter’ even while we grieve lost officers.

Posted in Uncategorized

Do not stab the Nazis

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 2.47.20 PM

Ant-fascist counter-protest in Sacramento last week

When is it OK to attack a Nazi? This should be a dumb question, but the Trump campaign has awkwardly placed this moral conundrum at the center of our political system. After months spent encouraging his supporters (including many Neo-Nazis) to assault protesters at campaign events, the inevitable has happened. Opposition is becoming  organized and violent. People are showing up to stab the Nazis.

Rioting in Chicago in March was our first warning. At the end of April, Vox suspended its online editor, Emmett Rensin for encouraging protestors to riot at Trump rallies. Last week a group of Neo-Nazis in Sacramento staged a protest complaining of their treatment at Trump rallies. They were met by organized counter-protestors, resulting in a small riot and several stabbings. The genie is out of the bottle.

Until recently, the “is it okay to kill a Nazi” question would have been little more than an intellectual parlor game, a moral puzzle with only distant real world relevance. Ironically, the question “Would you kill baby Hitler” briefly became a campaign issue in our gonzo Republican primaries. It sounds dumb, but sitting beneath this goofy hypothetical is a revealing, and surprisingly complex ethical question. By what standard should we judge the morality of an act of violence?

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 3.48.14 PM

Former Vox editor Rensin was fired for advocating riots at Trump rallies.

In other words, should I stab a Nazi?

Donald Trump is challenging our simplistic public narrative on political violence, building an entire campaign inside its contradictions. Forces he has unleashed now require us to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the meaning and morality of political violence – quickly.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became an American civic saint for his categorical rejection of violence. Every year on his birthday we honor him by teaching schoolchildren that violence is morally wrong. He was, of course, murdered.

A few months later in June, we commemorate the D-Day landings. The carnage we unleashed in France was one of our finest moments as a civilization, an epic demonstration of courage, perseverance, and sacrifice for which we remain grateful and justifiably proud.

Violence is a moral outrage. Violence is the signal expression of our highest cultural values. Both statements are true, but neither is complete. They leave us with this conundrum: If it is OK for the US military to incinerate Hiroshima or Hamburg, then why isn’t it OK to stab a Nazi?

Civilization, one of our most vital evolutionary adaptations, is built on a logical fault line. At its simplest level, civilization is a social structure by which human beings harness formal, accountable, public violence toward the elimination of private violence. Civilization is designed to solve a human social problem – how do we live together in large groups without slaughtering each other? Adapting around that challenge in our social evolution creates an opportunity to more rapidly evolve technologically toward massive common benefit.

How do we leverage the enormous creative capabilities of a large community without allowing one or two people to simply steal it all or destroy our work? How do we capitalize on the power of a farm and an irrigation system without that work being ruined by marauders? How do we board a plane without yielding to our primal urge to club our way into first class?

The answer, paradoxically, is a combination of violence and non-violence. We use the powerful concept of legitimacy to create authority. We invest that authority with our collective powers of violence. Through those engines of legitimacy, whether based on heredity, ideology, religion, or a simple vote, we sacrifice a large portion of our agency.

In return for that theoretical transaction, we get to build a civilization. Instead of roaming the countryside eighteen hours a day searching for sustenance (and violently stealing it where we can), we get to live in permanent dwellings. We get to use technology to have better lives.

Boarding a plane looks like a triumph of non-violent human collaboration. It isn’t. Test the matter by violating one of the social norms governing that process. Take a place at the front of the 1st class line with your boarding pass marked “Boarding Group 4.” Set your watch. See how long it takes to experience legitimate violence meted out by the friendly security professionals who patrol the airport.

Everything we achieve through peaceful cooperation depends on our collective confidence that organized, legitimate violence will be available when we need it to enforce social and moral norms. Elevated by that understanding, we have developed cultural habits that make violence unnecessary in as many cases as possible. You can judge the sophistication and success of a civilization by how much public resource it takes to suppress private violence.

There was a genius to Dr. King’s campaign of non-violence which is seldom if ever noted. Without access to violence, King would have been killed far earlier, before his work had achieved any progress. By carefully restraining their resort to private violence, King’s movement created enormous pressure on our civilization to use public violence in defense of basic public norms and established laws. A disciplined restraint from unaccountable violence formed a successful moral appeal for intervention from disciplined, accountable forces.

King didn’t defeat segregation with non-violence. Jim Crow died at the sharp end of a bayonet. King’s genius was that he, and his followers, had the discipline, determination, and intelligence to refrain from wielding those bayonets themselves. That’s how he took his place as a latter-day Founding Father.


A victory for non-violence in Mississippi

Non-violence did not place James Meredith in a classroom at Ole Miss. Truckloads of US soldiers did that, deploying in overwhelming force to defeat resistance. Losing track of the violence that propelled the Civil Rights Movement to victory obscures its lessons.

As in King’s time, there is an accountable political structure currently in place charged with protecting us all from violence by Trump supporters, Trump opponents, or anyone else. Like in King’s time, that structure is struggling to adapt to the challenge posed by Trump’s unprecedented appeal to private violence. Just like the scenario King faced, a resort to private counter-violence will degrade the capacity of that central authority to do its job. Restraint will make the lines of demarcation clearer, allowing that central authority over time, to leverage violence as needed, if needed, to bring a just outcome.

Above the fray, the political process is slowly working to strangle the Trump phenomenon, pressing it to the margins toward political defeat. In short, the system is working. So-called “protestors” stabbing Nazis at rallies are not doing us any favors. They are just one more problem to be ultimately solved by law enforcement. Private violence will eventually yield to public violence if necessary in defense of order.

We hanged John Brown. Jefferson Davis was allowed to live. The reason is simple. Brown was leveraging violence outside of any negotiable structure. Brown was the rough modern equivalent of a terrorist. Think what you will about his purported cause, Brown was first and foremost a killer convinced he was taking orders from God. Like modern terrorists, John Brown’s politics were incidental to his violence. He could not inhabit a civilization.

Like the rebels who founded our democracy, Davis was operating inside of a reasonably accountable authority structure. His cause was abhorrent, but he and his compatriots pursued that cause through a channel that civilization could ultimately cope with, defeat, and tolerate. That structure granted one critical benefit to his enemies that Brown did not offer – negotiability.

Davis could be (and was) persuaded to terminate his violence through a combination of counter-violence and politics. His cause notwithstanding, Davis’ resort to political violence was less of a fundamental threat to civilization than John Brown’s. That accountability to a defined political structure meant that Davis’ violence could be contained and ended without necessarily killing him.

Davis didn’t commit any acts of violence after the war. No one was ever going to stop John Brown from killing, no matter what happened in the political realm.

Violence unleashed by amateurs in the streets, accountable to no one, cannot be contained through politics. The kind of people who will be rioting at Trump rallies over the next few months are not working toward a political goal. They are doing what they like to do. People who leverage this kind of violence, like Trump or Rensin, are a cancer on civilization.

Someday, under some circumstances, perhaps it might be necessary to kill a Nazi. If it is ever again done legitimately, that violence will be constrained by defined goals and a negotiable authority structure.

What happened in Sacramento is not politics, it’s just violence. That kind of violence always looms at the margins of civilization. Releasing it into our political bloodstream takes us in unpredictable, unwelcome directions.

Please refrain from stabbing the Nazis. Other people will do it better and more thoroughly than you should the need arise.

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Posted in Election 2016, Uncategorized

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