Wrong-Way Friedman

An Interview with Doug Casey, by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator

[Skype rings. It’s Doug calling. Sounds like he’s got a fistful of papers he’s waving around in agitation.]

L: Hola, Doug — what’s on your mind?

Doug: Well, you know I try not to read much in the popular press. It’s mentally unsanitary. But occasionally, a few things catch my notice. For example, I’ve got an article I tore out of the September 3 Wall Street Journal — it’s been in a stack of papers for a couple of months, and I just uncovered it. I couldn’t decide, when I first tore it out, whether it was simply beneath contempt or worth commenting on. It’s an absolutely shocking indictment of the depth to which the moral and intellectual character of what was once America has descended. The title is How to Turn in Your Neighbor to the IRS. The author’s theme is that the IRS is offering big rewards to people who turn in tax cheats — but there are catches. As though the depravity of denouncing your neighbors to a ruthless, brutal, and predatory government bureaucracy were a good thing, as long as one is careful in going about it.

The person who wrote the article, one Laura Saunders — probably the kind of creature who’s angling for a cabinet post in the Department of the Treasury at some point — starts off by writing: “Maybe it’s your brother-in-law, who has a new Mercedes and likes to quip that only fools pay all their taxes.” The article then goes on to list other sorts of people who the envious losers and assorted sociopaths of the world may want to use the IRS to punish for being what they are.

[Sounds of paper being crumpled violently, followed by the sound of a toppling wastebasket, knocked over by said crumpled papers]

L: Better take it easy crumpling papers by the microphone, or people might think you’re trying to sound like Rush Limbaugh.

Doug: Anything but that. There’s another sign of the decay of the US. Limbaugh has done great harm to the cause of free-market thinking. He was actually quite funny back when he was making fun of Clinton. One might have thought, hating the Clintons as he did, that he was a friend of liberty. But the enemy of your enemy isn’t necessarily your friend. As it turned out, he was just a Republican lickspittle. It’s especially rich that he advocated the execution of drug users and then went and got himself busted for being an Oxycontin junkie. I despise hypocrites. I have many vices of my own, most of which I rather enjoy. But I’d hate to be called a hypocrite… Anyway, another journal out of New York that I read is the New York Review of Books. It’s a sort of in-house publication for left-wing intellectuals and the literati. It’s a house organ for concerned, socially active, overeducated liberals in New York. I’ve nonetheless subscribed to it for over 20 years.

L: [Chuckles]

Doug: The reason I do is that I like to know what’s going on in these people’s bent minds. It’s a kind of early warning system to see what they talk about amongst themselves. But that’s hardly enough to justify $60 per annum, or whatever I pay. Forgetting their politics and economics, they frequently have excellent articles and obviously, reviews of books on the sciences, ancient literature, and various odd areas of intellectual arcana I’m interested in.

L: And it’ll confuse the Thought Police when they go through your garbage.

Doug: That’s always a good thing. At any rate, a case in point is a review of a new book by Thomas L. Friedman, who is the intellectual Wrong-Way Corrigan of our day. He’s a professional busybody who’s ethically and economically on the wrong side of everything. Now, I have to say that I haven’t read the book, called That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, partly because I don’t want a single penny of my money going into his pocket, and partly because this is one of the reasons I subscribe to NYRB. However, I’ve read enough by him in the past to understand his thinking; and the book review itself, which is written by a highly sympathetic foreign policy wonk — these people all review each others’ books, it’s quite incestuous — is worth commenting on.

My friend Bill Bonner of The Daily Reckoning and I tend to agree on most everything. We have a laugh riot whenever we talk about a Friedman editorial, although it’s a black kind of comedy.

As a professional busybody, Friedman has the answer for how to improve everything — how we can all make our lives better, if we’d only do as he says… which almost always involves giving the government more power to enforce his prescriptions.

L: So, what are these prescriptions that will save us all?

Doug: The reviewer summarizes the book, saying Friedman describes four challenges America faces. First is the expansion of globalism.

L: Ah yes, that evil force that is raising the standard of living of some of the poorest people across the planet, because now they can compete for jobs with laborers in richer countries.

Doug: [Chuckles]. Yes, that’s the one. Because everyone knows that Americans deserve to get paid more for the exact same work that others will do for less. It says so in the Constitution. Or the Bible. Somewhere. That’s the natural order of things, so naturally, we can’t even consider eliminating minimum wage laws, mandatory insurance and retirement plans, and fat benefits packages extracted and accreted by labor unions over the years. That’d make it possible for Americans to compete for jobs on a level playing field. That obviously just wouldn’t do, having some overfed gender-studies graduate competing with an Indian engineering major. We must have government tame the evil force of globalization with more regulations, fees and fines, or what-have-you.

L: It’d be funny if it weren’t tragic, how quickly people come to regard historically recent social arrangements, like so-called Social Security, as though they were carved in stone at the time of Moses.

Doug: Indeed. The next challenge is education, which in the Information Age must be upgraded to enable Americans to compete with all the smart, hardworking people globalization is empowering. This, of course, according to Friedman, will require much more government spending and involvement in education — the very thing that has led to such dismal educational levels in the US now. State-provided “free” education (ignore the man behind the curtain and the taxes you must pay, whether you have children in school or not) is the primary reason for the appalling level of ignorance in the US today.

Although schools in the US have become little more than babysitting centers, indoctrination institutes, or juvenile prisons, it’s obvious to any right-thinking person they can be made better simply by throwing more money at them.

L: Of course! By the way, when we’re out and about and my children — who are homeschooled — see a school bus, they like to shout out: “Prisoner Transport!” I was just talking to a sports coach, and he was telling me that schoolteachers are increasingly not allowed to fail anyone. Might hurt their feelings. He’s got the problem of not being able to allow students to advance without actually achieving the results necessary to advance, or they can get hurt. But the children are increasingly unprepared to work hard or endure any discomfort, because in school everyone passes regardless of effort. Everyone is wonderful regardless of results. All the system needs is more money — and maybe sedatives, which will surely teach the kids not to do drugs — and all will be well.

Doug: This is typical of the statist mind-set: People like Friedman never saw a bureaucracy they didn’t like, and if the bureaucracy fails in any way, it’s not the fault of the bureaucrats or stupid regulations and laws. It’s because they need more money and power to do the job right… Anyway, the third challenge is debt. Now, I’d have to agree that debt levels are in urgent need of addressing. But true to form, Friedman looks at it completely backwards. He says: “Our habit of not raising enough money through taxation to pay for what the federal government spends, and then borrowing to bridge the gap…” This is typical of Friedman. He never even considers the possibility of not spending so much money to start with. It’s not even a logical possibility in his mind.

L: Isn’t it peculiar that in the US — which is thought of around the world as a capitalist society — the idea of actually cutting government spending in any significant and meaningful way is a total non-starter? It’s not even an option on the table in Washington, D.C. But in Europe — long a bastion of more openly socialist public policy — the EU is actually demanding austerity measures of its more profligate members, including actual cuts in government spending.

Doug: Yes. But that is the bright side of all these governments going bankrupt; they will be forced to dump many of their cherished projects and programs. That won’t be because they believe in free markets, but simply because it simply won’t be possible to keep the Ponzi schemes going.

L: And the fourth challenge?

Doug: You’re going to love this: It’s the threat of fossil fuels to the planet’s biosphere. Now, I have to be careful here, because I’m not a climatologist nor an expert in any of the many technical fields one would really have to master in order to come to a truly, fully well-informed opinion about anthropogenic global warming.

L: Sure, but I’d guess Friedman isn’t either, and that doesn’t stop him from pronouncing his sage advice on the topic.

Doug: Of course not. On the other hand, I am somebody who makes it his business to read a lot of scientific publications and I try to understand the basic theory, as well as keep abreast of current scientific developments. As we’ve discussed, I’ve actually done a lot of digging into the subject, trying to sort through the hysteria and highly politicized coverage.

I’ve got to say that it makes me very uncomfortable that US Republicans generally come down against the notion of anthropogenic global warming, because they tend to be scientifically ignorant and wrong-headed. I almost wish they were on the other side on this one, because I feel very uncomfortable being on the same side with them — it’s rather like making an argument for states’ rights and then finding yourself in the company of KKK members making the same argument.

L: Ouch.

Doug: But it is what it is… At any rate, global warming is Friedman’s fourth big challenge, and the reviewer says that Friedman asserts that all four “require a collective response.”

L: Can’t rely on the private sector when you believe it takes a village.

Doug: Or a mob. Never mind that a collective has never discovered or invented anything. It was individual geniuses who brought cheap light and heat to give us comfort and productivity in what was once the cold, dark night. Friedman seems to sincerely think that Congress is wise. He really believes that if our wise leaders would only say, “Make it so,” then the peons could go out and collectively create the millennium.

I hate to be in effect reviewing a book without reading it, but I have a lot of confidence in the NYRB to present something they agree with accurately. That said, I see this more as an opportunity to review Friedman who, although an excellent writer, is even more shallow than he is earnest — and he’s very earnest. He’ll probably sell some books, since shallow isn’t a problem when marketing to Boobus Americanus, and the public is anxious for easy solutions. They also love certainty, which is something he radiates. Unfortunately, Friedman not only comes up with bogus challenges, but foolish solutions to the problems he fabricates.

L: I’m looking on Amazon.com, and the book is currently ranked 415th on its best-sellers list. Nowhere near the top, but still getting some sales.

Doug: Friedman desperately wants the ruling classes to take him seriously. And they do — because they’re cut from the same cloth. Politicians love ideas that can serve to increase their relevance and power. Friedman is a point man for those who believe that there actually should be a public-private partnership between the state and businesses. For example, he goes on about the need for government support for basic research.

L: Well, Al Gore invented the Internet. Don’t you remember?

Doug: [Chuckles] Ah, yes. I forgot about that. And I’m sure at this point that Al would like to forget about it as well… although he’ll likely be best known as an inventor of global warming. But back to Friedman. He’s one of the most popular journalists in the US, and the vision he’s promulgating is for more taxes, more regulation, and more government generally, to “help” the US recover.

L: From its addiction to too much government?

Doug: Right. And then the reviewer goes on to say that, “as Paul Krugman reminds us” —

L: [Laughs] The guy who thinks fear of space aliens would be good for the economy.

Doug: Yes, him. You can tell where the author and reviewer are coming from. Krugman is almost certainly the most embarrassing choice they’ve ever made for the Nobel Economics prize; he’s not even an economist. He’s only a political apologist and an intellectual clone of Friedman. But, to give credit where it’s due, I will say that Friedman says in the book that he regrets his support for the war in Iraq.

L: Well, at least he didn’t wait 30 years like McNamara did.

Doug: Yes. I think I’ve mentioned that one of the things I most regret not having done in my life is related to Robert “the Strange” McNamara.

On the other hand, I don’t want to give Friedman too much credit, because after what seems like a duplicitous neglect to mention the role of public education in producing ignorant and ill-trained workers, he just calls for more government spending to provide training. And at the same time, he advocates more corporate welfare, to help with “research” and “job creation.”

Without the wise direction of the state, individuals wouldn’t have the sense to educate themselves. Without state money — which was originally taken from them — corporations couldn’t afford to do R&D.

L: Clear as day. He doesn’t see that when government pays companies to create jobs, they get jobs that don’t need doing — otherwise the market would have met the demand. And the money they extract from the economy to do these things is taken from more productive uses, weakening the economy.

Doug: Friedman is clearly a fascist, believing that the government should splurge even more on welfare — not only to those at the bottom but to the big companies at the top.

L: Note to readers who don’t know Doug well: He’s not just calling names — a cornerstone of Mussolini’s fascist vision for Italy was a public-private partnership.

Doug: Hitler’s too, for that matter. So, it’s no surprise that two of the worst presidents from a libertarian view are Friedman’s favorites: FDR and LBJ. Why? Because they “exploited crises,” in the forms of the Great Depression and the assassination of JFK, to ram through “bold and daring” government programs. Anyway, fascism isn’t essentially about jackboots, mass rallies, and starting wars — although it always winds up with those things. It’s about meshing the state with large corporations. Unlike socialism, it’s about allowing corporations to be privately owned, so thoughtless people easily conflate it with capitalism. Then favored classes can become wealthy, through fat salaries, bonuses, and share options. But corporations are state controlled — through regulation, taxation, and directed spending.

L: Friedman is like an anti-Doug. So Doug, if you were to shake hands with him, would you both cease to exist, like matter and antimatter colliding?

Doug: It’d be an interesting experiment… but I’ve shaken hands with Castro and Clinton and I’m still here. But perhaps it was partly fear of a matter-antimatter flash that kept me from shaking Cheney’s hand.

L: [Laughs]

Doug: That’s probably just about enough on this subject, but there is one more thing I’d like to comment on. The reviewer goes on to say: “At a time when Tea Party enthusiasts, determined to oppose, discredit, and ultimately defeat the first black president of our country…” as though Obama’s race was even an issue for most Tea Party members, and more so than his blatant socialist philosophy.

L: If the reviewer is making it about race, then he’s actually the one acting as a racist, because such decisions should be made on merit, not skin color.

Doug: Exactly. And people like this are archetypes among the chattering class who control the mainstream media in the US. They never hesitate to support and praise people like Thomas Friedman, no matter how ill-informed and destructive his ideas are, because like them, Friedman wants to see more government control of our lives. These people all slop at the trough of the state. At the same time, they do their best not to even acknowledge the existence of people like Ron Paul, who’s trying to do the opposite.

More nails the in the coffin of the place that was once America.

L: Investment implications?

Doug: More of the same: rig for stormy weather. Buy gold, build cash, diversify yourself internationally, look for opportunity in crisis.

L: Which people can read all about in The Casey Report. Okay then, thanks for another interesting — if not exactly cheerful — conversation.

Doug: My pleasure, as always.

Louis James and Doug Casey,
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning