The narratives we live by

Since few of us can actually wade through and comprehend a federal budget (or even a 2,000-page “health care law,” as written), most political decisions are based on “narratives” — histories of how we got here, reduced to a few easy-to-remember sentences.

The problem is, if we get the “narrative” wrong, bad outcomes grow far more likely, since we’ll be working to “solve” the wrong problem, or even applying larger doses of the “medicine” that got us here in the first place.

Let’s review a few of the “narratives” now in circulation:

1) “It took George W. Bush eight years to create the current economic mess; obviously it’s going to take the Obama administration more than two years to get things fixed.”

The problem with this narrative isn’t that George W. Bush didn’t do economic harm. He did, if only by refusing on principle to go along with much of the unconstitutional guff Congress enacts, as has every president at least since Taft. The problem is that the narrative wrongly implies we are somehow now embarked on a policy OPPOSITE to that pursued by both parties in the period 2001-2008.

In fact, Barack Obama draws his economic advisors from the same ranks — largely Goldman-Sachs and the Federal Reserve Board of New York — as did Mr. Bush. The current “Bailout Era” began under Mr. Bush; Mr. Obama has merely extended the Great Recession by continuing the same brand of Keynesian interventions to prop up failed enterprises and prevent the purge of mal-investments — on steroids.

How should we expect a dramatic turnaround when essentially the same gang now recommend the same interventionist policies, only on a much grander scale, albeit it through a different “front man”?

Central state interventions in the economy were minimal, by today’s standards, through the early 1900s — the period of America’s most spectacular growth in wealth — with the result that most recessions were short-lived and self-correcting. The problems started when fractional-reserve banking (previously and properly considered a form of fraud) received an official government imprimatur, at the same time the power to print money and set its value in terms of gold and silver (today: zero) was transferred from Congress to a group of private banksters operating as the “Federal Reserve Board.”

That happened in 1913 — the same year our forebears launched the income tax, interestingly enough — followed (as the night follows day) by the divorce of the paper “dollar” from gold in 1933 and from silver in 1964.

When government is bound to redeem every “dollar note” in gold or silver on demand, they’re limited in the amount of paper they can print by the amount of bullion in the vaults. Remove that limit, and they will eventually print money till it’s worthless.

Although all the steps mentioned above came under Democratic presidents (Wilson, Saint Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson), plenty of Republicans went along. Tossing out Republicrats and installing Demopublicans seems to have little impact.

2) It’s widely asserted we need more collectivism, more redistribution, due to “the increased gap in wealth between America’s rich and poor.”

How does this hurt the non-rich?

The rich can’t eat their money. They have to invest it somewhere — usually creating new products, useful technologies, and new jobs. They don’t do this to be altruistic. They do this to earn more money — if nothing else, to leave it to their kids. So long as they’ll still get arrested should they commit fraud or sell poison labeled as candy, how does this hurt me?

The CEO of the corporation that employs you may enjoy a salary which is a greater multiple of yours than was the case for your great-grandfather and his boss. But grand-grandpa walked to work, while his boss had the service of a horse-drawn carriage, or early flivver with chauffeur.

Today, you drive a modest automobile with an automatic transmission. Even if your outfit’s CEO flies around in a corporate jet and owns cars much fancier than you’ll ever have, does this “increased gap” mean you’re worse off that your great-granddad? No. He was stuck paying the prices of the only store within walking distance, while your car — and your Internet connection — allow you to comparison shop all around the globe.

With central heating and indoor toilets and hot and cold running water and microwaves and refrigerators and flat-screen TVs and home computers, our lifestyles are fabulously more affluent than those of great-grandpa. How does it hurt us that this same system allows the CEO to make millions? It’s not as though we’re divvying up a permanently fixed pile of “wealth.”

A great source on this topic is the $15 paperback “It’s Getting Better All the Time / 100 Greatest Trends of the Last (sic) 100 Years,” by Stephen Moore and Julian L. Simon, full of reassuring graphs and charts on wealth, nutrition, environmental protection, even “the state of Poor Americans.”

Nor does it make much sense to whine that “Today, 20 percent of America’s children live in poverty” when they enjoy all the amenities described above, plus more, despite the fact the taxpayers subsidize the moms’ choice not to marry.

First, the government simply re-sets the “poverty line” each year, making sure (de facto) that 15 to 20 percent of families fall “below” it. Second, the value of their government “benefits” is rarely counted in the calculation of whether they live “in poverty.”

This explains why most of America’s “poor” enjoy a lifestyle which would place them among “the privileged” in most of the rest of the world.

On the other hand, we know how “punishing the rich” till they fled with their remaining wealth worked out for the Soviets from 1917 to 1991, for the North Koreans from 1945 until today, for the Cubans since 1959.

Do we really want to repeat the experiment here?

# # #

Though they weren’t the main topic of my column, I mentioned in passing last week that as a youth Barack Obama attended a Muslim school in Indonesia, and that his recent trip there and to India, hauling along an entourage of some 3,000 courtiers, cost an estimated “$200 million per day.”

A few readers complained these were “Republican lies.”

The source of the $200 million per day estimate for “security, stay and other aspects of the presidential visit” was “a top official of the Maharashtra government privy to the arrangements for the high-profile visit” as cited Nov. 3 in the Times of India, the paper of record thereabouts (

So far, most attempts I’ve seen to “debunk” this number have been limited to multiplying the standard cost of an Indian hotel room times 3,000 (I HAVE noticed every time I check into a Day’s Inn they now add the cost of a mid-air refueling for my escorting F-15s to my bill, haven’t you?)

The estimate does seem high. Many commentators have backed away from it, though much of the cost will have been for deployment of military assets for security, which makes the true figure elusive — you rarely want to take the “under” on a Pentagon expenditure. The main point, surely, is that traveling with an entourage of 3,000 courtiers and retainers is hardly a signal of frugality on the part of a government running huge deficits.

As for a reader’s assertion that young Obama did not attend “a Muslim school” in Indonesia because he attended “a public school,“ the writer may be under the impression that some version of our First Amendment provides a “separation of church and state” in Indonesia, which is not the case.

Aaron Klein dealt with the issue fairly well for WorldNetDaily in 2008 (

“Under the name Barry Soetoro … Obama was enrolled – as a Muslim, according to documents – in the Besuki Primary School, a public school in Jakarta,” wrote Klein, a well established reporter and TV commentator.

“The Loatze blog run by an American expatriate in Southeast Asia who visited the Besuki school, noted, ‘All Indonesian students are required to study religion at school and a young “Barry Soetoro” being a Muslim would have been required to study Islam daily in school. He would have been taught to read and write Arabic, to recite his prayers properly, to read and recite from the Quran and to study the laws of Islam.’ …

“The Indonesian media have been flooded with accounts of Obama’s childhood Islamic studies, some describing him as a religious Muslim,” Klein went on.

“Indeed, the Israel Insider online magazine points out in Obama’s autobiography, ‘Dreams From My Father,’ he acknowledges studying the Quran and describes the public school as ‘a Muslim school.’

“‘In the Muslim school, the teacher wrote to tell mother I made faces during Quranic studies,’ wrote Obama.”

So our source for the “Republican lie” that Barack Hussein Obama attended “a Muslim school” in Indonesia turns out to be … Barack Hussein Obama.

Leading to our final question of the day: Is that bad? Why deny it?

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