Sunday, March 03, 2013

Confessions of an Ex-Liberal- Socialist-Progressive-Democrat from Berkeley

Many of my followers have expressed interest in my transformation from Liberal Socialist Progressive Democrat in Berkeley to Pro-Capitalist Conservative Libertarian Republican.  Here then is my story.
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I was born and raised in Berkeley, California during the famous (or infamous) 1960’s and 70’s.  Although I was never particularly politically active, I was more or less completely immersed in the reigning ideology of the time and place. Sympathetic to communism, I believed that businessmen as a class were greedy, corporations were evil and that capitalism was a system of exploitation of the poor by the rich. I saw America as an imperial power, a danger to the world. I loathed the military and during the 1980’s I hated Ronald Reagan – passionately. If Barack Obama had been elected President thirty years ago, I would have been right at home, as close as family with the administration’s agenda and cast of characters.
Even so, there were seeds of doubt in my world view planted early on that would combine with others to bear fruit many years later. The earliest of these that I remember was nobel laureate Milton Friedman’s 1980 PBS television series Free to Choose. Dr. Friedman presented an amazing explanation of economics, how the price system compels millions of people to collaborate in the production of goods as simple as pencils and as complex as computers, and he had the gall to defended capitalism as a system of voluntary cooperation among free people that results in the greatest prosperity for the greatest number. I was not converted overnight (far from it), but the first significant seed had been planted.
I was philosophically inclined to a socialist worldview, yet I had an open mind and intellectual honesty that I had learned from my father, Earl Hyde, a respected research scientist and administrator at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory; I was willing to apply logic and principles to the analysis of facts.
In my early twenties, I spent 4 years living as a marginally legal immigrant and bohemian artist/musician in an immigrant (North African Muslim) neighborhood in Paris, France. It was a wonderful cultural experience for a young man and I made many rich friendships. I subscribed to the daily newspaper Liberation, a leftist paper founded by the former students who had almost burned Paris to the ground in 1968.  Echoes of Berkeley; birds of a feather find each other.
Even so, I can safely say today that the French economic model is nothing for us to emulate, whether in Europe or in America. I remember very well waiting on the narrow spiral staircase of a run-down apartment building along with 25 other people, for my chance to see a studio apartment for rent in that rent-controlled city. What we call a crisis in America, with double-digit unemployment, they call ‘business as usual’. The unemployment rate is always double-digits there.  Yes, they have a broad social safety net.  But I have seen enough drunken homelessness and despair in the Metro subway and on the streets to tell you that that net has holes in it. The poorest and most corrupt regions in North America are Louisiana, Quebec and Haiti, all former French colonies.

Several years later I would take my first and only formal economics course in the MBA program here at Woodbury University in Burbank.  Very early in the textbook, after the basic principles of Supply and Demand and their intersecting curves were laid out, the author explained, simply and convincingly how government-imposed wage and price controls must inevitably lead to shortages or unsellable surpluses. Rent control makes it difficult or impossible to find an appartment because it makes offering apartments for rent a losing proposition. Minimum wage laws, rather than lifting all boats, aggravate unemployment of the least qualified and most vulnerable workers in the labor market. Milton Friedman and Larry Elder have argued earnestly that minimum wage laws are a racist policy, hurting black youth above all others.  Democrats love to talk about ‘disparate impact’ to justify meddling in free-market transactions such as mortgage lending, whether it’s ‘redlining’ on the one hand or ‘predatory lending’ on the other. Let them apply the disparate impact doctrine to minimum wage laws where there’s clear evidence of it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When I left France and came to Los Angeles in 1986 I almost had a heart attack from the culture shock of driving around and seeing all the ‘Apartment for Rent’ signs. “First Month Free!” “No Deposit!” “Move in Today!” I had to fight the urge to pull over immediately and run in to submit my application before the mob of competing renters showed up.  ‘How can they do this?’ I thought. In Paris, apartment rentals were buried in tiny entries in the classified newspaper ads, and in order to have a chance of getting one you had to show up at the indicated address approximately 1 hour BEFORE the paper hit the newsstand. It was insane (and to make matters worse, the ads were written in French)!  

Nevertheless, I settled into my extended bohemian artist-student lifestyle in LA, became a daily listener to KPFK Pacifica Radio (because PBS wasn’t Left enough for me), and occasionally donated portions of my paltry resources to the ACLU.

I was still committed to a leftist worldview learned in Berkeley and was eager to defend my ideas using facts, logic and principles. I studied and read widely, but as much as possible avoided conservative thinkers and publications.
But I wasn’t able to avoid reading Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource’, because it was required reading in a geography course at USC, and it blew the lid off of my illusions about environmental crises.
Simon catalogued and debunked over a hundred cases of environmental scare campaigns going back 200 years that all turned out to be just so much global hot air emitted by carbon-spewing leftist political activists with an agenda to grab power and earn frequent-flier miles. Simon systematically explained WHY objectively it must be so that all such scares end up being recognized as hoaxes (not that that ever deters the activists from inventing new ones with every generation, if not season). ‘The Ultimate Resource’ is the core of the nuclear warhead arsenal of the conservative and capitalist movements against radical environmentalist fraud.
Simon named his book ‘The Ultimate Resource’ to make the point that in the final analysis, physical assets like minerals, oil, gas, water, food and a host of others are only as good, as useful and as available as the PEOPLE who design the processes to mine, extract, cultivate, harvest, refine, market and distribute them. It is human ingenuity that takes icky gunk that oozes out of the ground and sickens your cows, and transforms it into black gold and energy. It is the entrepreneurial drive operating in a free market that responds to every shortage of natural resources and invents new ways to extract and produce more, to drill deeper under the ocean floor using only one tower where five were previously required, to design new industrial processes, to multiply crop yields, so that with every generation, in economic terms, these things are more abundant, cheaper and cleaner than ever. The Earth is NOT going to Hell in a handbasket; we are not running out of oil, coal, copper, food or even land, and we never will for as long as we remain a free-market, capitalist nation.
It is human beings living under liberty and the rule of law that are the most precious, scarce, productive and needed resource. In the short run, physical resources are of course finite; but in the long term, they are virtually unlimited, only constrained by human imagination, ingenuity, freedom and hard work.

It was Julian Simon’s thesis that pried open my brain to consider the positive power of the free market to solving human problems, including poverty, inequality and even racism.
After encountering Julian Simon I was open to consider more challenges to my received wisdom. And the challenges came. The Clarence Thomas supreme court confirmation hearings in 1991 opened my eyes to the fact that it was possible, even reasonable for a black man (indeed many black men, for there were several who testified on Thomas’ behalf) to be conservative, pro-capitalist, and Republican. Such a thought had been inconceivable to me before, in spite of the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. had been a Republican.  The Democratic party has been very successful in painting Republicans as the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan, in complete contradiction to historical fact.
I started reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Charles Murray’s book Losing Ground demonstrated the failures of LBJ’s Great Society welfare state in aggravating rather than improving poverty. I read George Guilder’s Wealth and Poverty, the classic The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith from 1776, and The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist and Nobel laureate.
These thinkers – plus eventually three attempts to open and operate a small business of my own – transformed my worldview. By 1991, I was open to consider the views of Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, and Larry Elder. In November 1988 I had voted the Democratic Ticket, with Michael Dukakis (Tank-Commander-in-Chief) at the top. In November 1992, I voted straight Republican and haven’t looked back, in spite of losing most of my former friends and being the subject of a good deal of tension within my extended family.
Republicans aren’t saints, they aren’t all alike, and they aren’t all principled or disciplined in their thinking. Some of them are unnecessarily hateful; others are too eager simply to be more competent managers of the bloated welfare state. But the Democratic party has gone over a harcore leftist cliff in the past generation, and they are hell-bent to take the country down with them. This must not stand.
Therefore my mission is to move the Republican party in a principled, libertarian direction. I have been disappointed and alarmed to hear some Republicans speak as reflexively as Democrats of, for example the need to raise taxes (or of the irresponsibility of cutting rates). This tells me that  among other things there’s a need to review the Laffer curve:
My opinion is that if the Republican Party is to stand for anything, it must first be limited, constitutional government that places individual liberty above the state and the treasury. The trouble with our economy is not that the government doesn’t have enough money. The problem is that the government takes too much of it from the people, flushes too much of it down the toilet, and engages in a host of other fraudulent tricks that would get you and me and Bernie Madoff incarcerated if we tried them.
George H. W. Bush never completely bought in to Reagan’s fiscal vision, which he had derided during the 1980 primary election season as ‘Voodoo economics’. As a result, this most honorable World War II veteran and hero surrendered to the Democrats Speaker of the House Tom Foley and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchel under pressure of no crisis, broke his ‘read my lips, no new taxes’ pledge, got no credit for his magnanimous bipartisan gesture and lost his 1992 re-election bid to Bill Clinton – in spite of enjoying MY vote, the first I ever cast for a Republican. Two more decorated and celebrated veterans would follow in Bush the Elder’s non-path to the White House: Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain. With respect, these honorable men didn’t get it. To put it more bluntly, quoting Rush Limbaugh during the 2008 presidential campaign: “You idiot! Get someone on your team who understands economics!”

Two men who understand economics better than most mortals are Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution, student of Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, and Ludwig von Mises, Austrian-American mentor and colleague of the nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek.  These men and their thought matter to you. Sowell’s book, Basic Economics, written in plain English, will innoculate you against all manner of stupidity and fashionable but bogus economic ideas. Understand what’s in this book and you will be light years ahead of the majority of our politicial leaders.
If I were empowered to dictate just one law, it would be that all public officials – legislators, mayors, governors, and presidents – should be required to read this book and pass a factual examination on its contents, whether they agree with its conclusions or not, as a condition of their serving.

More Health care reform resources on the Obamacare page.