Yearnings for a wiser ruler
May 03, 2016

I Want a President Who Can Teach Us to Accept Capitalism

by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

In last week’s foreign policy speech Donald Trump had this to say about jobs:

NAFTA, as an example, has been a total disaster for the U.S. and has emptied our states of our manufacturing and our jobs. Never again. Only the reverse will happen. We will keep our jobs and bring in new ones. Their [sic] will be consequences for companies that leave the U.S. only to exploit it later.

OK, I get it: you are running for president, Mr. Trump, and I get that you can’t say that, of course, NAFTA has hurt some people, because after all capitalism is creative destruction, but on balance NAFTA has benefited the US, Canada and Mexico. And I know that you can’t tell the American people that no job is forever, because no technology, no market, no corporation, no nothing is forever. The last thing a president is allowed to do is tell us that life is tough and we just have to pick ourselves up and try something else when the market leaves us high and dry.

People insist on thinking that capitalism is accumulation. I wrote a long blog series on that Frenchie, Thomas Piketty and his often bought but seldom read Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century, where he makes the stupid point that the return on capital is greater than the growth rate. Of course it is. You can make money on lending money to another guy so he can buy a diamond for his mistress, and it does nothing for growth.

Capitalism is not about accumulating gold coins in a sack by stealing bread from the poor; it is about innovation. According to George Gilder it is surprise; according to Deirdre McCloskey it is “trade-tested betterment.” And the net result of innovation, trade-tested betterment, and surprise over the last 200 years has been an increase in per-capita income from $3 per day to $100 per day. That’s on top of an increase in world population from about 1 billion to 7 billion humans. There has been nothing like it, ever.

But the dirty little secret of capitalism is that it can only work its magic and raise up the poor from indigence if you let it destroy the commanding heights of today’s economy with surprise, with innovation, with trade-tested betterment.

Never mind all those those hand-loom weavers thrown out of work by power looms. What about the keypunch operators of 1970 thrown out of work by floppy disks? What about the guys that used to earn good money calculating paper spreadsheets using ten-key adders? In the1970s, I remember my employer buying a 50 megabyte disk drive that was the size of a washing machine and cost $15,000 or more. Today I have a 32GB chip in my $100 Android smartphone that starts playing my tunes the moment I start my car. Bully for me, but what about all those skilled disk-drive workers along Route 128 in Boston?

Usually, writes Joel Mokyr in The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy, the established interests down the ages have managed to smother in its cradle any innovation or surprise or trade-tested betterment that threatened their good life, and so for century after century things went on in the good old ways for the established interests and nothing changed. The astonishing thing is that the last 200 years has allowed any technological change to disrupt the establishment and its comforts.

But I have a dream, that one day this planet will have a cultural and political elite that accepts capitalism’s constant innovation and surprise and trade-tested betterment as the logical, epistemological and moral foundation of the raising up of the poor. And they would not be too shy to remold our culture, with traditional elite condescension and conceit, to ease the torments of change and teach the American people to regard with acceptance, rather than distemper, the disruptive changes that might afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

Instead we have a vile and contemptible “clerisy” of thinkers, popularizers, activists, and politicians that cruelly scratch the wounds of the afflicted. They marinate them in their tribal hatreds, trap them in dependency, tax and their wages and then play the Lady Bountiful giving it back years later, and teach them to hate the culture that has raised them, or will raise their children. out of Malthusian oblivion.

It’s great that Donald Trump wants to Make America Great Again. But what made America great was that for a season, the elite lacked the power to “keep our jobs” against some nobody with a crazy idea to demolish the status quo and surprise the world with an unlooked for invention, a trade-tested betterment, and the result was the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years.

And it really is about time that presidential candidates could dare to tell us that.

January 03, 2017

I Want a President Who Loves America: Pre-Inaugural Edition

Two years ago in this space I wrote that “I Want a President Who Loves America.” I started out by telling how I fell in love with America 51 years ago on my first trip to the US over Christmas 1965.  MORE...

December 06, 2016

I Want a President Who Tells Us His Sense of the World

Why is the US in Syria? Why is the US in Yemen? What was the point of dumping Khadafi in Libya? Do you have a clue what is going on? I don’t have a clue about any of that either.  MORE...

November 01, 2016

I Want a President that Loves America, Part Trois

Back in January of 2015 I wrote my first piece in the “I Want a President” series and the title was simply “I Want a President Who Loves America.” I wrote simply about my love for America and how, in the Obama years, I longed for a president that loved America like I did. And now I see that an African American, “Gloria,” agrees with me.  MORE...

October 04, 2016

I Want a President Who Will End Victimism

Great news! The Obama administration is proposing a new race category. It’s for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent — MENA for those in the know. Why? It’s obvious when you go to USA Today and read the blather about how the new race category could solve all kinds of problems with community identity and private-sector discrimination. In other words, liberals are going full-speed ahead to square up Muslims as another victim group for their victim politics.  MORE...

September 06, 2016

I Want a President to Lift Government Off the Brow of Labor

Back in the 19th century William Jennings Bryan spoke for working men everywhere when he declared:  MORE...

August 02, 2016

I Want a President That Won’t Stiff the Opposition

So Hillary Clinton has been nominated as the candidate for President of the United States, the first woman ever so nominated by a major party.  MORE...

July 05, 2016

I Want a President Born on the Fourth of July. Really

Eighteen months ago I started this I Want a President series with “I Want a President Who Loves America.” I wrote of my love for America and how I’d like a president that loved America as much as I did.  MORE...

June 07, 2016

I Want a President Who Can Tame America’s Lefty Rioters

There they go again. In San Jose last week, lefty demonstrators rioted against typical Americans leaving a Donald Trump rally, and the mayor of San Jose blamed Donald Trump for the violence. In the 21st century, in a democratic republic where “the people rule,” what is going on?  MORE...

April 05, 2016

I Want a President to Teach Liberals a Lesson

The eternal frustration of every conservative is the way the public square is skewed in favor of liberals. “Right-wing extremism” is said to be a problem, but left-wing street riots are nothing but “peaceful protest.” We are to understand that anything less than a flat-out denunciation of loser David Duke and the pathetic remnants of the Ku Klux Klan is disqualifying while the accomplished racist agitator, Reverend Al Sharpton, gets White House invitations and fawning profiles in Vanity Fair.  MORE...

March 01, 2016

I Want a President Who is My Kind of Con-man

Many conservative pundits and principled Republicans are recoiling from Donald Trump on the grounds that he is a con-man, a confidence trickster. To which my retort is: So?  MORE...

February 02, 2016

I Want a President for Americans that Follow the Rules, Go to Work, and Obey the Law

It’s true! The pundits have just discovered that Republicans and Democrats really are different, after all. First, there’s the Kaiser Family Foundation poll that shows that Democrats want specifics from politicians and Republicans want principles. Then there’s the MSNBC campaign switch, reported by young Ezra Klein. He quotes Benjy Sarlin:  MORE...

January 05, 2016

I Want a President That Loves America. Again

It was just a year ago that I floated my dearest political wish upon the waters: “I Want a President Who Loves America.” It really wasn’t asking much. Since then, I’ve written again and again about what I want in a president.  MORE...

December 08, 2015

I Want a President Who Understands the Value of the Nation State

President Obama’s Oval Office address on Sunday night was par for the course: steady as she goes, and don’t let’s be beastly to the Muslims.  MORE...

November 03, 2015

I Want a President That Demonstrates Strategic Vision

Now that President Obama has sent boots on the ground into Syria, the question is: What’s the strategy? We know the president’s strategy on domestic policy; he wants to expand government-by-experts to the utter limit. And he wants to keep today’s hyphenated Americans by dividing them from “typical Americans” using Frankfurt School and Alinsky techniques to keep them hived off in identity silos. But what is the famed Lightworker’s strategy for the Middle East?  MORE...

October 06, 2015

I Want a President Who's "Unteachable." But Not Like Obama

Back in the glorious days of the Reagan administration Democratic wise man Clark Clifford opined that Reagan was an “amiable dunce.” That is Eighties-speak for today’s complaint that President Obama is “unteachable.”  MORE...

September 08, 2015

I Want a President That is a "Strong Leader." Not!

Last week, as I was practicing my French with DuoLingo, I heard Rush Limbaugh making a penetrating point about the 2016 election. It’s like 2008, he said, only this time it is conservatives that are investing all their hopes in an untried candidate and assuming he agrees with them.  MORE...

August 06, 2015

I Want a President Who Will Encourage the Millennials

If there’s one group in America that’s hurting worse than the African Americans in Prince George’s County looking at $300,000 mortgages on their $150,000 homes, it’s got to be the Millennials.  MORE...

July 07, 2015

I Want a President Born on the Fourth of July

Just in time for the fireworks, Gallup reports that the share of Americans that are “extremely proud” of America is down to 54%. It was 58% when America elected its First Black President (H/T PJMedia).  MORE...

June 02, 2015

I Want a President Who Cares About People Like Me

It is, I think, scandalous that Barack Obama won the “cares about people like me” sweepstakes over Mitt Romney by 81%-18% in 2012. The New York Post reported that it wasn’t an accident:  MORE...

May 05, 2015

I Want a President That "Gets" the Economy

Oh well, another day, another dollar, as the Obama economy continues to disappoint with a 0.2 percent growth rate for GDP in the first quarter for 2015.  MORE...

March 31, 2015

I Want a President Who Plays by the Rules

If you are a politician, why bother to play by the rules? Or if you are a citizen, why should you care whether the political leaders on your team play by the rules? (It goes without saying that we all care when the Other Guys break the rules.)  MORE...

March 03, 2015

I Want a President Who'll Dump the Stupid FCC

It was the Progressive Era that invented independent regulatory agencies. We needed an Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate those railroads. The noble idea was that we needed independent experts to protect the helpless farmer from the greed of the railroad barons. We needed a watchdog that was free of both of partisan taint and political patronage and also free from influence by corporate power.  MORE...

December 30, 2014

I Want a President That Loves America

I first fell in love with America 49 years ago. I flew from the UK to Denver visit my parents in Christmas 1965, and it was love at first sight. I fell in love with America, the land; I fell in love with America, the people. And I fell in love with the American way of life, the unconsciously optimistic approach to life and work and the future.  MORE...