By John Horst
On June 3, 1831, while visiting America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a letter to his father in France. He noted the need for an entire volume to discuss all of the remarkable things he was discovering about America. His perspective on the balance between concern for everyday commerce on the one hand, and politics on the other, speaks powerfully to where we are today. He observed:
“…that nature provides so well for human industry that there is no class of theoretical speculators. Everyone works, and the vein is still so rich that all who work it succeed rapidly in gaining the wherewithal to achieve contentment…Wealth is the common lure, and a thousand roads lead to it. Politics therefore occupies only a small corner of the canvas. I have no doubt that it does more stirring up in the most ostensibly peaceful European state than in the entire American confederation. No newspaper, among those we read every day, devotes as much space to matters of general import affecting government as to the price of cotton. What space remains is monopolized by discussions of local interest, which feed public curiosity without in any way causing social turmoil.”
In light of current events and the 24/7 political news cycle, the task before us is to ask — without giving in to the temptation of cheap nostalgia — exactly what has happened to us?
First, note de Tocqueville’s contrast between those who “work” and the “class of theoretical speculators.” President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned us about this. But it wasn’t the “military-industrial complex” part of his speech where we find this warning. After expressing that concern, Eisenhower went on to warn of a day when public policy would be hijacked by a “scientific-technological elite.” We have seen this now in full flower with progressives hijacking the scientific community in their “March for Science.”
In the America observed by de Tocqueville, the authority to govern arose from the consent of the governed. And that consent was not hard to obtain. Everyone worked and there were a thousand roads to wealth. Public policy was made by the same people who were busy creating wealth, and therefore it was made by those who had what Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to as “skin in the game.” When everyone has skin in the game, consensus is not hard to find, and therefore politics recedes from the news.
Compare that to today: In the minds of progressives, the authority to govern arises from the data, or from “science.” As a data systems professional, when I hear someone enter the public policy arena and start talking about “data-driven” decisions, my BS antenna pops up and starts spinning wildly. If a special interest wants to bend public policy in their preferred direction, they hire a person like me to make the data sing their preferred song, and then go on to propagandize the electorate by labeling their propositions as “science.”
There is important science to do, and there is a proper and respected place for the lettered scientist. The authority to govern, however, does not come with the Ph.D.
Nowhere is the damage done by the “class of theoretical speculators” (Taleb entertainingly calls them the “IYI” class — intellectuals, yet idiots) more profound than among academic economists. MIT economist Jonathan Gruber exposed the discipline once and for all as an effort to subvert the consent of the governed by explaining how the “stupidity of the American voter” was the key to passing Obamacare. The curtain in the Wizard of Oz was finally pulled back, and we saw academic economics for what it really is. And today we watch as the Federal Reserve pleads its “independence” in a desperate effort to draw the curtain once again around monetary policy lest Dorothy discover what is really going on.
Peggy Noonan has probably captured the result best in describing the current political climate as the “unprotected class” fighting back against the “protected class.” The fight, though, runs deeper even than Noonan perceived. It is a fight to return governance to the consent of the governed. It is a fight to put science back in its proper “descriptive” place — revoking its arrogant claim to the authority to “prescribe” economic and social outcomes.
But perhaps most of all, it is a fight to recover what it means to create wealth so we can all get back to doing just that. When we were too busy creating wealth — musing over things like the price of cotton — we were too busy to be herded into ideological corners by grievance merchants. They have transformed our politics from being that means by which we petition government for redress of our grievances to the means by which they merely seek to monetize them.
On the right we have been taught for decades to genuflect at the altar of free trade and to trust the experts when they tell us swapping manufacturing jobs for service sector jobs is an equal exchange. They are also among the intellectual, yet idiot class who have either forgotten, or more likely never learned, that wealth is created — and service sector jobs with it — when people use those two things God gave us called “hands” to take the raw materials of the earth and make things people need or want. The farmer grows the coffee, the potter makes the coffee mug, and now the barista has a job.
Our social contract is in tatters; and no, it was not Donald Trump who tore it up. It began to unravel in the 1960’s when we decided to fight an unfunded war and build the Great Society at the same time. The resulting debt forced the dollar off the gold standard. Where once we had confidence in what today’s dollar would buy tomorrow, now we watch our savings silently stolen by housing and rents which are rising at twice the rate of wages.
This state of affairs has been propped up by the establishment class of intellectuals, yet idiots — both parties included. And so here we are, $20 trillion in debt. It was de Toqueville’s class of theoretical speculators with no skin in the game, and no concept of how wealth is actually created, who have left us with an economy of mansions, butlers and maids.
Donald Trump, in all his crassness and boorish tweets, is simply the mirror the electorate has decided to hold up in front of the IYI class so we can deploy the lawn chair, pop some popcorn, and grab a beer as we watch them have to look at themselves for eight glorious years. Fortunately, many of them cannot stomach that and have decided to resign. The old guard is passing (and none too soon); a new guard is taking their place. President Trump will be remembered as an historic iconoclast who set in motion America’s return to the country Alexis de Tocqueville once marveled at.
John Horst is a longtime community volunteer, chairman of the Mira Mesa Community Planning Group and a Republican candidate for Congress in the 52nd Distrct.
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