Skip to comments.Why we're a divided nation
Posted on 11/10/2004 3:40:26 AM PST by Tom D.
Why We're a Divided Nation
Walter E. Williams
November 10, 2004
Recent elections pointed to deepening divisions among American people, but has anyone given serious thought to just why? I have part of the answer, which starts off with a simple example.
Different Americans have different and intensive preferences for cars, food, clothing and entertainment. For example, some Americans love opera and hate rock and roll. Others have opposite preferences, loving rock and roll and hating opera. When's the last time you heard of rock-and-roll lovers in conflict with opera lovers? It seldom, if ever, happens. Why? Those who love operas get what they want, and those who love rock and roll get what they want, and both can live in peace with one another.
Suppose that instead of freedom in the music market, decisions on what kind of music people could listen to were made in the political arena. It would be either opera or rock and roll. Rock and rollers would be lined up against opera lovers. Why? It's simple. If the opera lovers win, rock and rollers would lose, and the reverse would happen if rock and rollers won. Conflict would emerge solely because the decision was made in the political arena.
The prime feature of political decision-making is that it's a zero-sum game. One person or group's gain is of necessity another person or group's loss. As such, political allocation of resources is conflict enhancing while market allocation is conflict reducing. The greater the number of decisions made in the political arena, the greater is the potential for conflict.
There are other implications of political decision-making. Throughout most of our history, we've lived in relative harmony. That's remarkable because just about every religion, racial and ethnic group in the world is represented in our country. These are the very racial/ethnic/religious groups that have for centuries been trying to slaughter one another in their home countries, among them: Turks and Armenians, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Jew, Croats and Serbs. While we haven't been a perfect nation, there have been no cases of the mass genocide and religious wars that have plagued the globe elsewhere. The closest we've come was the American Indian/European conflict, which pales by comparison.
The reason we've been able to live in relative harmony is that for most of our history government was small. There wasn't much pie to distribute politically.
When it's the political arena that determines who gets what goodies, the most effective coalitions are those with a proven record of being the most divisive -- those based on race, ethnicity, religion and region. As a matter of fact, our most costly conflict involved a coalition based upon region -- namely the War of 1861.
Many of the issues that divide us, aside from the Iraq war, are those best described as a zero-sum game, where one group's gain is of necessity another's loss. Examples are: racial preferences, Social Security, tax policy, trade restrictions, welfare and a host of other government policies that benefit one American at the expense of another American. You might be tempted to think that the brutal domestic conflict seen in other countries at other times can't happen here. That's nonsense. Americans are not super-humans; we possess the same frailties of other people in other places. If there were a severe economic calamity, I can imagine a political hustler exploiting those frailties here, just as Adolf Hitler did in Germany, blaming it on the Jews, the blacks, the East Coast, Catholics or free trade.
The best thing the president and Congress can do to heal our country is to reduce the impact of government on our lives. Doing so will not only produce a less divided country and greater economic efficiency but bear greater faith and allegiance to the vision of America held by our founders -- a country of limited government.
©2004 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Willie, if you'd be so kind as to use your ping list so that your fellow protectionists can do their best to beat down Williams' arguments. Oh and put fallujah-nuker on your ping list too. He's cut from the same cloth as y'all.
Then there are those that love the US, and those that hate it.
Common sense is rare these days. Thankfully we have Mr. Williams.
Smart man, Williams. Bout my age and raised not far from my diverse Philly hood. Maybe the black voters are beginning to read him too. I never thought of Walt as a Libertarian. I'll have to reread his bio.
Excellent article. What arguments would you want beaten down?
I am very much on the same ideological page of Professor Williams and do enjoy reading his columns.
Words of wisdom.
Free trade is good and should be encouraged.
But no trade is free anywhere in the world.
Every country regulates the hell out of agriculture, and subsidizes it.
Most subsidize in some fashion or other their chief industries. We certainly do, with all sorts of creative tax breaks and allowances for target industries.
Faced with the reality of pervasive government subsidies for all manners of goods and services, coming from everywhere around the globe, simply throwing open the door unquestioningly to the high concept of "free trade" is naive.
An example: goods coming from China are cheap. That is good. That makes life better for American consumers. But many of the cheapest consumer goods are made by slaves in prison camps. Catholics and Chinese democrats are barely fed and unpaid, and work their lives away in chains to produce export goods. Yes, we get to buy sweaters for $10 imstead of $30 from an American manufacture or European import, but that isn't really free trade making lives better. It is the illusion of free trade. What it really is, is the purchase of goods made artificially cheap by the Chinese government subsidy of forced slavery and the torment of millions.
Therefore, we must be cautious. We cannot simply drop trade restrictions, tarriffs, and a regulation. If we want all articles of clothing in America made by Chinese slaves, all we need to do is deregulate and take whatever they will send us as cheaply as possible. In addition to being wrong in the absolute sense (assuming that the enslavement of people simply for being Catholic is wrong), it will also unemploy a lot of Americans. It is not the case that they cannot compete. Rather, it is that the free market cannot compete with slave labor in ANY manufacturing industry.
Nor can the free market compete with massive government subsidies that will subsidize a loss year after year in order to gain market share.
A wiser approach is to have free trade with free countries on as many goods as are produced in the free market, and to have restrictions and tarriffs on those goods - like Chinese sweaters and massively subsidized European agricultural products - that are not produced by anything like a free market.
I feel compelled to disagree on some matters here. I do not believe that market openness has to be a reciprocal arrangement for benefits to be had - and to be had by all. While it would seem to make sense that it would be immoral to trade with countries that do not observe property & human rights, it just so happens that trade (a fundamental ingredient of capitalism) helps facilitate a move toward observing these rights. Cutting off trade does not do these "slaves" any favors. The idea behind using sanctions against rogue governments needs to be carefully considered. Rogue government isolation has given mixed results of success. I am one of those who believe that economic forces are less costly than military forces. And a little capitalist propaganda [used for the lack of a better word] doesn't hurt either.
Come on! The reason we are a divided nation is because the Republicans own the House, Senate and the Presidency. If the Democrats owned it all we could finally be united.
That so true AND funny; the Democrats don't realize how sad they are!
A Walter E. Williams sound wisdom ping!
Now that I can place you in a group that is for or against something opposite my feelings, I have very effectively divided America.
You will not run to fight beside me if we are attacked by a terrorist group! Why not? Because I have too many despicable traits that thrity years ago,l you would never have even considered to examine during a terrorist attack.
Here I am
the opposite of you in every catagory-American.
You have been quietly taught to hate me and you never realized what was happening during your re-education. You have been taught to support diversity, which serves only to show how we are differnt. It is not a reunification, a loving tactic. The only purpose is to DIVIDE AMEERICA into small groups because small groups will not automatically support each other until someone explain why we should support each other.
Look at this list and see all of our similar traits.
American-Lower poor class
American-2nd Amendment supporter
American-pro public school system
American-closed border supporter
and worst of all American-Democrat supporter
Big difference, huh? Place "American" first and all the others don't seem quite so important, do they?
Williams has it right. The more money in D.C., the more viscious the fight will be to control how it will be allocated.
Anytime you wish, you can put my name at the bottom of your views on free trade! We agree 100% so far. LOL
Subject: how the two parties were formed
Division of the human family into 2 distinct political groups began some
12,000 years ago. Humans existed as members of small bands of nomadic
hunter/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains in the summer &
would go to the beach & live on fish & lobster in winter.
The 2 most important events in all of history were the invention of beer
& the invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the
These were the foundation of modern civilization & together were the
catalyst for the splitting of humanity into 2 distinct subgroups:
Liberals & Conservatives.
When beer was discovered it required grain & that was the beginning of
agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented
yet, so while our early human ancestors were sitting around waiting for
them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how
villages were formed.
Some men spent their days tracking & killing animals to B-B-Q at night
while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known
as "the Conservative movement".
Other men who were weaker & less skilled at hunting learned to live off
the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q's & doing the
sewing, fetching & hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal
Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became
known as 'girleymen'.
Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats,
the trade union, the invention of group therapy & group hugs & the
concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat & beer
that conservatives provided.
Over the years conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most
powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are symbolized by
Modern liberals like white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw
fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, & French food are
standard liberal fare. Another interesting revolutionary side note: most
of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men.
Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, journalists, dreamers in
Hollywood & group therapists are liberals. Liberals invented the
designated hitter rule because it wasn't "fair" to make the pitcher also
Conservatives drink beer and whiskey and eat red meat & potatoes.
Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks,
construction workers, medical doctors, police officers, corporate
executives, soldiers, and athletes.
You got that right. There ain't no such thing as "free trade." How many pages in the NAFTA "free trade" agreement? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000?
Free trade is the movement of goods and services across borders without hindrance or let.
When a 10 year old kid trades three baseball cards for a CD, that's free trade. Kids naturally get "free trade" without even thinking about it, but I don't believe adults in government will ever understand it.
Ok, let's explore this a little further. But let's look at free interstate trade instead.
Now let's look at the federal prison system and divide it up into three categories: Enron white collar economic experts, Internet hackers, and low-skilled labor.
Alright, now let's look at the Constitution. The 13th Amendment permits the imposition of slavery as punishment for a crime.
So, now let's suppose that an enterprising Justice Department does three things.
First, it organizes the white collar criminals - highly trained folks - into a tightly supervised banking institution, and has these skilled folks start making loans from the federal treasury at 2 percent under the market rate. Since the skilled labor is free (the prisoners get early release if they do this sort of work), this "Prisoner's Bank" could undercut every other financial institution in America. Further, because the capital source is the government, the bank cannot go out of business.
What's wrong with that? Consumers will get cheap loans. Businesses will get cheap loans. Of course, Citibank and Goldman Sachs will go out of business, but so what.
Now just move that bank across a national border, and you have the same economic effect.
There is nothing magic about international trade vis a vis interstate trade. So if it's alright to import cheap goods and services from such practices abroad, it should be alright to get them right here.
Now let's look at the Internet hackers. Computer network services and software programming are big business. Hackers and intellectual property thieves are some of the best in the business. They are concentrated in the hands of the federal government, in the prison system. So, why doesn't the federal government collect all those hackers and incorporate them into a prison-wage competitive programming and internet service provider? The government can provide the services, gratis. The labor is free, and has an incentive to do a good job (early release). There are no training costs. Supervisory costs are a little higher. Now let's turn Prison Programmers, Inc. against Compaq and Optimum Online. The commercial providers are dead meat, because Prison Programmers gets its hardware free and its labor free. Oh, and the FCC can simply grant them bandwidth for free.
The free hardware and access and subsidized labor are features of software pirates abroad. Obviously domestic companies cannot compete with them. And there is no economic difference if you just move the subsidies within the US and make it a feature of interstate trade.
Finally, the low skilled labor. These folks can be trained as carpenters, plasterers, construction workers and assembly line workers in 6 months. And then the government can farm them out at a quarter the price of union labor. The prison system would pay for itself, and our cars and houses would be cheaper.
Of course in the long run government subsidized prison labor that directly competed with the private market might not be sustainable (but then again, it might be). But in the short run and the medium run, it would put the competition out of business. Unemployment checks and welfare benefits are expensive...and then there is the pesky problem of democracy: people will vote to change the rules if they feel they are being unfairly screwed.
That's why this sort of thing hasn't happened already within the US. Democracy doesn't allow unfair competition here. Now, moving across an international border doesn't change any of the economics of anything any more than a state border does.
So, what you say about free trade being good overall is, I think, right, but it cannot be unregulated free trade. Free enterprise cannot compete with slave labor, and pouring cash into the pockets of slave labor exporters is really pouring cash into the treasury of the Chinese government, where it will be used not to improve the lot of labor, but to build missiles to aim at us.
The freer the trade with Canada and Britain and France the better. But even there, the subsidy problems are dogged. One way free trade with China or Cuba or Iran is not a brilliant idea, ultimately for national security reasons.
Cheap Chinese goods made by slave labor are flooding Western markets.
It is true that plantation slavery in the South was not terribly profitable (though it was not the economic dog it is often depicted as either), but agriculture is limited by per acre crop yields, and since slaves could be bought or sold, and other Christian considerations limited what plantation owners could do, this was not comparable to China.
In China, the state makes no pretence of having to provide for the prisoner slaves cradle to grave. They are work units to be used. If they die, there are more prisoners. If they underproduce, they are starved. If this makes them underproduce more, they are allowed to starve to death as an example to the others. The work they do is manufacturing of low-tech stuff, so there is no natural limitation on output (such as the per-acre crop yield limitations in the Old South).
And the proof that this sort of slavery - where the slave is simply worked to death and replaced by another slave from a limitless population - is effective is the way that these cheap slave-made goods out of China are clobbering the competition.
Historically, one has to go all the way back to the Roman Empire to find a comparable situation. When the slave masters have no regard at all for the lives of their slaves, and have no compunction about killing them, starving them, torturing them, etc, simply as an example for other slaves, and where human life is so cheap and abundant that slaves are more easily replaced with another slave than nursed and repaired back to health when they are broken or get sick...you have the makings of a Roman or Chinese situation. Roman style slavery was effective. Unbelievably brutal, but effective. The proof is the sheer power of the Roman Empire, whose core areas were all a slave-based agricultural economy.
The modern proof is the competitive advantage China has in the export of small cheap widgets. China makes them for free, because as far as the Communist government is concerned, starving a laborer to death and tossing him in the rice paddy behind the prison (after harvesting his skin and corneas, of course) is free, and there are always more prisoners.
One cannot underprice manufacturers who can torture and kill their workers to mass produce simple widgets. And the incentive of being given FOOD for making a production quota, or being STARVED for missing it, has proven more than sufficient to keep the Chinese production lines moving.
In the South, Christianity imposed real limits on the slave owners. China ain't Christian. And no American widget manufacturer, or for that matter an Indonesian or Mexican one, has a hope in hell of competing with manufacturers who can chain their labor to the machines and use food as the incentive to work. China's ascendancy is built on bones. But it IS an ascendancy. And it will continue to be so unless LEGAL barriers are erected against Chinese goods made in this way. They will always be cheaper and abundant. There is no market force that can beat such goods. You simply have to ban them from entering the market, unless you want to have more slavery in China. They won't do it if they can't sell the goods.
Moving through the parts:
In the South, Christianity prevented the rise of public torture for entertainment. That is what the Roman Colosseum was. In the South, slave owners felt the need to Christianize their slaves, and they did. In the South, slaves were punished for disobedience, but were generally not murdered for the hell of it. There was a mental barrier against simply killing slaves because they pissed somebody off.
There was almost certainly a lot more death inflicted on Southern blacks in the era of lynching (c. 1880-1910) than in the slave era.
Are free people more productive? Generally, yes. Northern food farms were more productive than Southern slave plantations, for example. Free labor does tend to be more productive per acre. But that does not mean that it is competitive. In the Roman Empire, freehold farmers were squeezed out by the great slave plantations because the great landowners had the advantage of vast economies of scale. Yes, one acre of free land was more productive than an acre of slave land, but two acres of slave land are more productive than one acre of free land, and there is a natural limit to the number of acres that a single farmer can farm. He has to feed himself and his family, and maintain a certain standard of life. The slave could be - and generally was - kept nearly naked and fed enough to keep up his strength, but paid nothing.
Likewise in the States. In the Southern states, there was no freehold competition with the great slave plantations for export crops. Why? Not because it was illegal to set up a freehold farm and farm it with free labor. Because a slave plantation brings a lot more profit to the owner than a freehold plantation.
As to China, giving exact statistical proof of any assertion I made is impossible. China hides that it does this, dissembles about slave labor. Pretends that things are otherwise. It is impossible to gather the data, because it is illegal to collect it there, and the whole slave economy is hidden. We know about it from the survivors. The same was true of the Soviet Gulag and Nazi Germany.
I don't think that historically we would have been better off having a free trade regime with the Nazis or with the Soviets. But at the time that those regimes were in place, it was not possible to get objective data out of them, and it was always possible to deny that the places were really as bad as people said they were. One simply had to trust that survivors and refugees were telling the truth.
Now, I do trust that the survivors of Chinese slave camps are telling the truth, and that the reports, never very specific (and therefore never allowing definitive proof or quantization of the facts) that come out of China of millions of prison slaves making widgets for export is true. Maybe it's all calumnious lies by people with an axe to grind against the Chinese regime. I doubt it, but maybe.
Anyway, free labor is more productive, all things being equal. But that does not mean that free farms are more profitable to the owners. Look at society as a whole, and certainly the American North was more robust and prosperous than the American South before the War. But people do not live collectively but individually. And on an individual basis, the Southern slaveholding class was an aristocratic elite enjoying wealth and privilege unmatched within America, not just in absolute terms - wealthy plantation owners were on a par with certain Northern railroadmen and proto-industrialists, but in relative terms. No Northern industrialist had the power to whip his laborers, or to force himself upon their wives, to be bowed and scraped to, and to live like a Lord of the Manor, because the Northern industrialist was a rich guy, but the Southern plantation owner WAS the Lord of the Manor.
Was that good for Southern society as a whole?
Was it BETTER, for a sizeable chunk of Southern society, than any more egalitarian system?
Much. And it would have stayed that way too, absent a violent upheaval.
The House of Saud, or the apparatchiks of the Chinese Communist Party, live much better lives under the current regime than they will ever manage would those countries become free market democracies.
Now, over time, in the long run, the freer societies tend to win out. (Not always. France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg and Austria all lost to Germany, and England was on its way to losing too. But for foreign intervention, fascism or communism would have overwhelmed free market capitalism in Europe.) But that long run can take a long time, and we don't have an extended time period in history to look back across and see a true free market working anywhere to be able to gauge our models. We say, for example, that Britain was a free market state back in the 19th Century, but that's not true. Britain conquered its markets and didn't let anyone else sell there. Nor did Britain permit its colonies, like India, to produce goods that would compete with British industry. So yes, Britain allowed a great degree of free importation into Britain, from places like France and Germany and the US. But Britain did NOT allow the French to export into India, or the Americans to export into Kenya. Nor did the British let the Indians produce textiles to compete with their goods, nor let the Chinese opt to NOT import opium. The classic case study of the free market usually cited, the British Empire, was anything but.
I sound like I am arguing against the free market. But I am not. I am arguing that the free market is a good thing, but that it cannot be an unregulated free market.
In your well thought out response (with its parallels) you make the assertion that the government subsidies are free. While it's true enough that the resources come at zero cost to the industry being subsidized, it would be entirely inaccurate to claim that the resources that our collected & distributed by that government are "free". There are very real non-monetary costs associated with that kind of behavior. The operative acronym "TANSTAAFL" is always in play.
The intellectual property theft argument is a separate issue.
Great debate. To answer your question about the Chinese labor proportion that is prison/slave labor, the ratio is very low. I personally have knowledge regarding this and I don't have any links to provide as proof.
What I will tell you is that the Fortune 100 companies "outsourcing" manufacturing to China are very, very, very careful about this. The last thing they want is some "60 Minutes" expose that outs them as a slave labor manufacturer.