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American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930) 
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 American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.



Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:38 pm
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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Wow, that was a wild ride through the laissez-faire era, roughly 1870-1900. It was remarkable that the courts responded to gross exploitation of workers by ruling that to disallow such labor practices would harm the liberty of workers to make contracts! That was actually a neat way to avoid admitting that the idea was to protect the interests of the wealthy industrialists.The point is well made, by the end of this section, that laissez-faire made the market less free by the dominance of a few oligopolies.

I wonder at times if Woodard is altogether fair to "nations" other than his own (I assume he's from Yankeedom). He mentions Wilson's racism but not T. Roosevelt's, for example. He also may tend to assume that any effort a president made to create a federal agency was enlightened. But was that necessarily so? He does show us the extreme side of collectivism in the restriction of freedoms in the WW I era, but he seems to view that over-control as an aberration rather than a feature of the communtarian ethos. But he shows that the nation learned the dangers of laissez-faire so that, when conservatives like Coolidge and Hoover came in, they were more mildly laissez-faire than their predecessors. They believed in the federal presence in the lives of Americans. They appeared to accept the judgment of sociologist Lester Ward, who wrote that an active and healthy collective was needed to keep individuals free. Maybe Ward gives the best short summary of Woodard's message in the book.



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Wed Oct 09, 2019 10:29 pm
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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Chapter Five, Laissez Faire, presents a remarkable contrast to the work of President Lincoln described in Chapter Four. Lincoln was a real statesman, with a strategic vision recognising that institutions of government require resources to build an effective nation. But maintaining such a principled stance proved impossible under the sustained assault of venal capital.

Then we get this astounding thievery by corporate crooks in the railway era, with the shocking collusion of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt to establish the oil monopoly by predatory pricing, and by the Chicago meatworks barons to prevent investment in Iowa.

It makes me wonder what it really means to make America great again. Trump is just a flat-out moron, advocating hillbilly policies that will make America destitute. His core constituency is backwaters like the Ozarks. A mad king is no path to greatness. The key to greatness is coordination, seeing principled policies that serve national interests, as Lincoln did. But Trump seems to regard robber barons as great, back to the gilded age while gulling the vulnerable poor.
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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Mon Oct 21, 2019 3:38 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Robert Tulip wrote:
Chapter Five, Laissez Faire, presents a remarkable contrast to the work of President Lincoln described in Chapter Four. Lincoln was a real statesman, with a strategic vision recognising that institutions of government require resources to build an effective nation. But maintaining such a principled stance proved impossible under the sustained assault of venal capital.

Then we get this astounding thievery by corporate crooks in the railway era, with the shocking collusion of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt to establish the oil monopoly by predatory pricing, and by the Chicago meatworks barons to prevent investment in Iowa.


When we look at these events in history it is clear that even the most perfectly written constitution and Bill of Rights cannot protect all citizens from the creative ways that some will find to exploit others. DWill's thread above of the courts willing to defend the industrialists in their exploitation of workers and children is but one other example.

The insightful Alexis de Tocqueville understood how this possibility could occur. Back in chapter 1, Woodard quotes him from Democracy in America :" I am convinced that the most advantageous situation and the best possible laws cannot maintain a constitution in spite of the customs of the country; while the latter may turn to some advantage the most unfavorable positions and the worst laws. So seriously do I insist upon this head that, if I have hitherto failed in making the reader feel the importance of the practical experience, the habits, the opinion and in short, of the customs of the Americans upon the maintenance of their institutions, I have failed in the principal object of my work".

Woodard says it best when he quotes John Stuart Mill: "The paradox of broad individual freedom is that it requires individuals to act altruistically and the successful to be willing to 'pay it forward' to support the institutional and cultural achievements that made their own ascent possible".



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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
I haven’t read the book but I think it’s time for me to get a copy and see for myself Woodard’s work.

What I’m getting from you guys so far confirms my take on the parallel of the 19th century and what we are witnessing today.

Question for LevV and Robert: Do you agree to the parallels and do you see these as issues confronting your own countries?, also...if these parallels exist in your home countries, do you agree that there is a problem that needs push back? I see a global trend or is this unique to the USA?.



Mon Oct 21, 2019 4:38 pm
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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Taylor wrote:
I haven’t read the book but I think it’s time for me to get a copy and see for myself Woodard’s work. What I’m getting from you guys so far confirms my take on the parallel of the 19th century and what we are witnessing today. Question for LevV and Robert: Do you agree to the parallels and do you see these as issues confronting your own countries?, also...if these parallels exist in your home countries, do you agree that there is a problem that needs push back? I see a global trend or is this unique to the USA?.

Hi Taylor, Woodard’s chapter on laissez-faire is really disturbing, beginning with a Foxite rendition of the wonders of a world without tax, and then explaining exactly why there was such an extreme backlash to that absence of government with Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-trust movement.

The parallels are very strong with what is happening today with the insanity of Republican politics. The higher level of education and information today offer much better potential to overcome gross material corruption, but the right is also highly sophisticated.

The tech sector don’t have the potential to corrupt politics to the extent that oil and railways did in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As for the Koch menace, and Trump, I honestly think they are crazed throwbacks to an earlier culture of gross inequality that is superbly depicted by Woodard in this chapter.

Seeing how the US Supreme Court was a tool of capital, like putty in the hands of the wealthy, offers powerful cautionary lessons. Trump is not making America great, he is making America a laughing-stock. I think there is an extreme danger in the context of climate change that Trump’s denial will lead to a collapse analogous to 1929.

The political centre in Australia and most other countries is well to the left of the balance point in the USA. That means there is less oxygen here for extreme political insanity.


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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
You guys are awesome :clap: .

In a mere four posts it has been shown that the worst of history easily repeats itself.

It is a new era for the robber baron, in this new era they should be known as deniers.

The new robber barons pounce on the idea that life is not fair, then deny their own culpability and use bought and paid for libertarian influenced politicians to throw their hands in the air and proclaim that the regulation and restriction of laissez-faire in even the remotest sense is tantamount to full-on socialism or communism. This is bellowed from the mountain top and who’s the first to hear the message? :) its those Appalachians. :yes:

These new age politicians deny the necessity to regulate and tax laissez-faire.



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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Robert Tulip wrote:
The parallels are very strong with what is happening today with the insanity of Republican politics. The higher level of education and information today offer much better potential to overcome gross material corruption, but the right is also highly sophisticated.
There are some striking differences from the time of the Robber Barons. Roosevelt and Taft considered themselves part of a cultivated, educated elite who naturally had the right to advance their own interests but were unable to resist the monopoly power of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan and the others. The courts were resistant to the "communism" of organized labor. By contrast with William Jennings Bryan and the populists of the Democratic Party, the Progressives saw themselves continuing the forward-looking politics of the Whigs and Radical Republicans, empowering Main Street against abusive oligarchic power.

The highly sophisticated among today's Republicans are much more cynical. They openly acknowledge donors as their "real base". They expect to be able to manipulate the individualist impulses of the less-educated through Fox News, Facebook and the Breitbart crowd. In order to do so they have talked themselves into abandoning any ideals, one after another, until they now stand for nothing except the interests of the donors and their own ability to stay in office. The party of Bill Barr is just Roy Cohn cloned.



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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Listening this week to a remarkable interview with American journalist Ray Bonner made me think of this chapter. Bonner exposed the moral culpability of the Reagan administration in Latin America in front page articles in the New York Times, and found himself isolated as a result.

But the specific point he made that struck me was that his decision to migrate from California to Australia was mainly because of Proposition 13, the forced budget cuts due to tax referendums. It meant there is an array of public goods that he had enjoyed in his youth which simply no longer exist in the USA, due to the mean and stupid laissez-faire attitude that individuals can always spend their money more effectively than the government can.

There is an optimal size for the state, and when it is forced to wither by greed there will be numerous adverse impacts on community flourishing. Investment in social infrastructure has high economic rate of return when well managed. It is amazing that the USA has seemingly forgotten this basic observation.


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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
The Bonner interview is interesting; Prop 13 was a conservative republican initiative during Reagan’s influence in politics. It’s libertarianism front and center but Bonner fails to call that aspect out. It is that failure of “calling out” that has me wondering if it’s because people are quietly in favor of these tax schemes or are people just blind to the obvious. Where does a 22 trillion dollar debt come from?.



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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Taylor wrote:
The Bonner interview is interesting; Prop 13 was a conservative republican initiative during Reagan’s influence in politics. It’s libertarianism front and center but Bonner fails to call that aspect out. It is that failure of “calling out” that has me wondering if it’s because people are quietly in favor of these tax schemes or are people just blind to the obvious. Where does a 22 trillion dollar debt come from?.

Could the answer to your question be that wealthy interests are successful in persuading the rest of us that we are overtaxed, when in reality we are not, compared to almost any other affluent country? When we rebel against taxation, we aid the 1%, who may think they don't need the services that taxes buy, anyway. But the super rich gain a lot more money, compared to the piddling amounts we save.

A 22 trillion dollar debt comes from many sources, but you're right that a big one is granting tax cuts based on wishful thinking that the economy will be stimulated, leading to more tax revenue.



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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
DWill, I think that it is more than wealth persuasion but that is certainly a part of the problem. I think that there is also pure ideological desire as well. I see it as a paranoia towards the government, a position that can easily be embraced by any individual. I think that it is a self-fulfulling prophecy of anarchy. Tax rebellion is an easy way to rile the masses to no certain outcome other than massive debt, which would be one way of overwhelming a powerful authority like the government. What better way is there within our system to require austerity. This clearly plays into the hands of libertarian Social Darwinist such as those so ably described by the author.



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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
Taylor wrote:
there is also pure ideological desire as well. I see it as a paranoia towards the government, a position that can easily be embraced by any individual.
I’ve been pondering the emotional psychological attraction of laissez-faire capitalism. There is an exhilarating thrill associated with individual freedom, and a sense of moral toughness associated with relying on your personal skill and talent to succeed in the world. On the other side, relying on others seems like an admission of failure, a dull conformity, a trap that lets us fall into the anonymous crowd.

This reminds me of the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger that I studied for my Masters thesis. Heidegger defined authenticity in terms of the existential individual having resolute anticipation of the future in the moment of freedom, while he condemned inauthentic life as involving surrender to collective thinking, accepting gossip, shallow curiosity and ambiguity as moral values.

This existential mentality focused on personal achievement against the inertia of the world creates an image of the Ayn Rand hero John Galt as an inspiring figure, the entrepreneurial inventor who can save the world. That obviously has a lot of merit to inspire startup companies whose products and services can transform the world.

But laissez-faire thinking also has a dark side, an emotional fantasy, more Walter Mitty than John Galt, that sees the crushing of public services as morally purgative, harsh medicine that forces people to become self-reliant for their own good.

Such moral political reasoning has a resonance far beyond the wealthy elite who benefit from it by cutting taxes on the rich. Many people just see the moral compass as requiring a shift toward responsibilities and away from rights, toward what we do as individuals and away from what we do as a collective, which is seen to justify the perverse results of the Trump Presidency and similar authoritarian populist demagogues around the world.

Looking back at Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech in support of Barry Goldwater, it has so many points that chime with these deceptive sentimental arguments.
Ronald Reagan wrote:
This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
But if we compare this with Abraham Lincoln’s argument cited by Woodard that there are in fact many things that government can do that are fully worthwhile and necessary, it is clear the US pendulum has swung too far away from the ability to constructively cooperate through government systems.


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Post Re: American Character - Ch. 5: The Rise and Fall of Laissez-Faire (1877-1930)
President Reagan wrote:
This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

Note the propaganda regarding self-government. Although our slave owning founders spoke of the "unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," we understand they actually referred to a national elite of white property owning males. The founders could not accept that as propaganda - it took two amendments to the Constitution to correct it.

I found this chapter particularly upsetting as I believed in Libertarianism many decades ago. One of their tenets at that time was laissez-faire capitalism has never been implemented in a pure form, so it has never been tested. Ayn Rand / Objectivists have even argued that fire suppression regulations are not warranted, stating workers should move to factories that offer safe practices. That logic was destroyed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 3/25/1911. This chapter destroyed the rest of that "logic."



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