The Grasshopper Generation

Walter Williams rightly condemns the so-called “Greatest Generation”:

There is a distinct group of Americans who bear a large burden for today’s runaway government. You ask, “Who are they?” It’s the so-called “greatest generation.” When those Americans were born, federal spending as a percentage of GDP was about 3 percent, as it was from 1787 to 1920, except during war. No one denies the sacrifices made and the true greatness of a generation of Americans who suffered through our worse depression, conquered the meanest tyrants during World War II and later managed to produce a level of wealth and prosperity heretofore unknown to mankind.

But this generation of Americans also laid the political foundation for the greatest betrayal of our nation’s core founding principle: limited federal government exercising only constitutionally enumerated powers. It was on their watch that the foundation was laid for today’s massive federal spending that tops 25 percent of GDP.

As much as I despise the Baby Boomers, it has to be admitted that they did not spring into being ex nihilo. They were created, they were permitted to become what they became, by the generation that preceded them. This means that the so-called “Greatest Generation” failed at their secondary role, that of raising up the succeeding generation.

And it can even be convincingly argued that they failed at their primary role as well. For while the “Greatest Generation” provided the cannon fodder for World War II, it was not their generation that was responsible for any of the decisions involved in fighting it. It would have been impossible for the USA to lose the war given its massive industrial advantage, manpower advantage, air superiority and naval supremacy. The only real question concerned the U.S. decision to involve itself in European affairs, and once the decision to go from passive support of Britain and the Soviet Union to active involvement was made, the fate of the Axis was sealed.

It doesn’t take anything away from the bravery or the sacrifice of the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima to recognize that there was no way the Axis forces could possibly have withstood the combined might of the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

So, the “Greatest Generation” not only wasn’t primarily responsible for its one historically significant achievement, but in its failure to keep faith with the U.S. Constitution, failed in its primary responsibility of preserving the strength and stability of the nation for the generations to follow. In keeping with this verdict, it suddenly occurs to me that neither set of my grandparents left so much as one single dime to any of their children. So, it seems to me that it is much more accurate to describe that generation as “Grasshopper” than “Greatest”

All are fallible

Even intellectual giants.

“As the idea of contract enters the Law of Marriage, it breaks the rule of the male, and makes the wife a partner with equal rights. From a one-sided relationship resting on force, marriage thus becomes a mutual agreement.”
– Ludwig von Mises, Socialism

Yeah, that really hasn’t worked out so well in either practical demographic or theoretical libertarian terms.

Well, Hitler was from Austria….

Oh sweet Mises, even Krugman at his most obstinately ignorant hasn’t descended to these depths regarding the Austrian School of Economics:

Ever wonder how one of the most educated and advanced nation in Europe ended up with Hitler as a leader in 1933? Well, you have thank Austrian Economics for that- at least partially. You see, after ww1 the allies made Germans pay exorbitant and ruinous reparations. The only way to escape these compensations was through hyperinflation- wiemar style.

But here is the fun part.. after a few years of such hyperinflation they decided to cool down and “normalize” the economy- using the advice of people like Friedrich von Hayek and his “Austrian” School Of Economics. The guy who led this effort, Heinrich Brüning, whose austerity measures resulted in a massive increase in unemployment- from 15% to over 30% in less than two years.

No, you really don’t. At all. The Austrian School of economics had as much to do with the rise of the National Socialists to power in Germany as Victoria’s Secret or My Pretty Pony did. First, as anyone who has ever read The Economic Consequences of the Peace will know, hyperinflation was not only a predictable consequence of the war reparations, but could not be utilized to reduce the German debt because it was subject to recalculations that were completely under the control of the Allied commission. Inflating their way out of the debt was never an option for the Germans; there was no escape except default. This was already obvious to everyone back in 1929, which is why the Young plan reduced the reparations payments and was followed by a moratorium in 1931. Note that the Young plan went into effect three months before Brüning even took office for the first time. Second, Austrian economics had no influence on German politics, which was dominated by socialism of varying stripes. In fact, the very name “Austrian” was given as a deprecating insult to the school by the empiricists of the dominant German Historical School during the Methodenstreit at the end of the 19th century.

Third, Heinrich Brüning’s attempt to rein in the Weimar hyperinflation was not based on Friedrich von Hayek’s advice. Hayek and the Austrians were hardly the first to notice the pernicious effects of inflation and Hayek didn’t even publish his first book until 1929. Moreover, he was in London at the London School of Economics while Brüning was Chancellor of the Weimar Republic. The ironic thing is that this inept Advocatus Diaboli appears to think that Brüning should have pursued a Keynesian approach, nowithstanding the fact that the the German edition of The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Mony was not published until September 1936, four years after Brüning left office. Keynes’s own words on the German economic tradition during the period that included the Weimar years are also somewhat pertinent to the subject:

“The orthodox tradition, which ruled in nineteenth century England, never took so firm a hold of German thought. There have always existed important schools of economists in Germany who have strongly disputed the adequacy of the classical theory for the analysis of contemporary events. The Manchester School and Marxism both derive ultimately from Ricardo, a conclusion which is only superficially surprising. But in Germany there has always existed a large section of opinion which has adhered neither to the one nor to the other. It can scarcely be claimed, however, that this school of thought has erected a rival theoretical construction; or has even attempted to do so. It has been sceptical, realistic, content with historical and empirical methods and results, which discard formal analysis…. Thus Germany, quite contrary to her habit in most of the sciences, has been content for a whole century to do without any formal theory of economics which was predominant and generally accepted.”

Keynes is describing the importance of the Historical School here, the same German Historical School that gave the name to its provincial theoretical rivals. Attempting to blame the end of Weimar hyperinflation, much less the rise of Adolf Hitler, on the Austrian school or even the slightly more plausible Manchester school reveals a near-complete ignorance of economic history.

Inherit the Science

Smarmy evolutionists and socially handicapped atheists almost invariably bring up the Scopes trial when confronting religious individuals or anyone skeptical about the theory of evolution by (probably) natural selection. Of course, as is reliably the case, they know next to nothing about it, it is merely a social marker upon which they’ve learned to place importance in the course of their cultural indoctrination. Jonah Goldberg brings to our attention a few of the more interesting aspects of the science that the defenders of the secular faith still deem so vital to teach in public schools:

“The Races of Man. – At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest race type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America….

Improvement of Man. – If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.

Eugenics. – When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.”

The Remedy. – If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.
– George William Hunter, A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems (New York, 1914): pp. 193-196, 253-254, 261-263.

So, the next time someone smirks and brings up Scopes, the monkey trial, or Inherit the Wind in an attempt to assume a posture of scientific superiority, don’t forget to ask them which aspect of elementary biology they deem the most important to teach to American schoolchildren, the mechanism of natural selection, the moral imperative of artificial selection, the criminalization of unfit breeding, the forcible placement of the inferior in asylums, or the supremacy of the white race.

An Irish Hitler?

Economist Barry Eichengreen reconsiders the European Union:

It pains me to say this. I’m probably the most pro-euro economist on my side of the Atlantic. Not because I think the euro area is the perfect monetary union, but because I have always thought that a Europe of scores of national currencies would be even less stable. I’m also a believer in the larger European project. But given this abject failure of European and German leadership, I am going to have to rethink my position.

The Irish “program” solves exactly nothing – it simply kicks the can down the road. A public debt that will now top out at around 130 per cent of GDP has not been reduced by a single cent. The interest payments that the Irish sovereign will have to make have not been reduced by a single cent, given the rate of 5.8% on the international loan. After a couple of years, not just interest but also principal is supposed to begin to be repaid. Ireland will be transferring nearly 10 per cent of its national income as reparations to the bondholders, year after painful year.

This is not politically sustainable, as anyone who remembers Germany’s own experience with World War I reparations should know.

I like Eichengreen’s work, but he is incorrect. The failure of the European Union is not a failure of French and German leadership, it is the structural failure of yet another European experiment in authoritarian, anti-democratic, centralized empire. Now, I tend to doubt that Ireland is going to develop into the 21st century version of National Socialist Germany for numerous reasons, chief among them the fact that it is an island without a navy. But given the harsh burden being imposed on the Irish people by their European and Irish governments for the foreseeable future, one can see where The Economic Consequences of the Peace might make for a timely read right about now.

Mailvox: Hollywood history

Hitler was not the German National Socialist Workers Party. Nor was the converse true. Imprecision in language often leads to needless confusion, which is why DJ felt it necessary to ask for clarification regarding an apparent historical contradiction:

In your book The Irrational Atheist, you mentioned that Hitler received 95% of the vote at one time. On Bill Maher’s show Mr Reiner mentioned that he never received 33% of the vote, which is correct?

In general, if there is a discrepancy between something I have written and something that a Hollywood figure assserts on Bill Maher’s show, I suggest it is entirely safe to assume that the Hollywood figure is incorrect. It never hurts to check, of course, but seriously…. In this particular case, Mr. Reiner happens to be wrong, and wrong on no less than three levels. The Weimar Republic was a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, so the German electorate was not voting for Hitler in the national elections to which Mr. Reiner is clearly referring; they were voting for National Socialist parliamentarians. That’s a mere technicality and would not normally justify comment except that Mr. Reiner’s statement is more than a little misleading given the American context of his remarks; keep in mind that Margaret Thatcher, (or more precisely, the parliamentarians of the Conservative Party, a group which included Mrs. Thatcher), only won 35.8% of the vote in the 1979 UK election.

Moreover, the statement also happens to be factually wrong. The National Socialists won 43.9% of the popular vote in the March 5, 1933 election, taking 288 of the 647 seats (44.5%) in the Reichstag. And that 1933 election was actually the third straight one in which the National Socialists won more than 33% of the popular vote, as they had won 37.3% and 33.1% in the previous two national elections. There was nothing democratically illegitimate about the National Socialists; the hitherto dominant Social Democrats (SDP) never controlled more than the 39% of the parliamentary seats that they won at the peak of their electoral strength in 1919.

As for my statement, I was not referring to the general elections, but rather to the four post-1933 national plebiscites that retroactively combined the offices of Reich Chancellor and Reich President and transferred the joint authority of the combined office to Adolf Hitler, approved the Austrian Anschluss, undsoweiter.

“What’s staggering about Hitler’s democratic appeal is not that he managed to win an average of 95.9 percent of the vote in the four plebiscites, but that he did so with 95.5 percent of the registered voters showing up to vote. That’s a serious democratic mandate!”
– The Irrational Atheist, p. 188

Mailvox: fixing historical illiteracy

BN inquires on where to start:

I was wondering if you’d be kind enough to suggest a starting point for a person like myself who has become more and more interested in fixing my historical illiteracy problem. I’m looking for both advice on what to read in terms of a decent survey of world history and also what particular portions of human history are worth diving into and reading up on in finer-grained detail than the survey level. I’m not even sure where to start because it seems like drinking from a fire hose with all the possible resources out there. Any advice?

I would start by dividing up world history into sections and deciding where to go from there. Here is how I tend to think of them.

Ancients: Greeks, Romans, Egyptians.
Medieval: England, Crusades, France, Germany
Renaissance: England, Italy, Netherlands
Generals: Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon
Asian: China, Japan, Post-WWII
American: Colonial, 19th Century, Civil War, 20th Century

While one could argue in favor of the Khmer kings or the Mayan empire, if you are up on those six general topics, you will at least be much more historically literate than nearly anyone you will encounter in casual conversation. For a brief overview, I would start with something like The Columbia History of the World. Then pick whatever topic looks most interesting at the moment and select two books/series for each of the subsections that I listed above, one historical and one original.

For example, if you picked Ancients, an excellent start would be Plutarch’s Lives, which pairs the lives of famous Greeks with famouse Romans. Then, for an original document, I would suggest reading Caesar’s Commentaries on the Conquest of Gaul and the Civil Wars. More to come….