Monday, July 05, 2010

Thought for the day 

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.” -- Robert Heinlein




By Anonymous swiftone, at Mon Jul 05, 10:30:00 AM:

Could that be true? I do recall in some place that I lived, the dominant expression was, "the nail that sticks up gets pounded." It was used as a warning against innovation.

What an amazing culture we have that says, "try it, you may be able to sell it, promote it and live well from it." Do we still tolerate our eccentrics enough?  

By Anonymous Dr. Mercury, at Mon Jul 05, 01:04:00 PM:


Well, er, okay.

"Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man"

If it's the "normal" condition of man, then it's not "poverty". It's just the normal condition of man. "Poverty" would be something else.

So, what else was there to discuss?

(Maggie says hi. Bird Dog linked over here so I thought I'd visit and make the usual pest of myself. Sorry to ruin that nice Mr. Heinlein's quote. I'm sure he meant well.)  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Mon Jul 05, 01:27:00 PM:

Any one who doubts that Poverty (defined by us) is the normal condition of man has but to visit the Caribbean, Africa, India, China, Russia....you get my drift.

The American "experiment" is indeed exceptional.

It certainly was great while it lasted.

Now, we have "Hope and Change" and all the Orwellian misery that goes along with it.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Mon Jul 05, 01:40:00 PM:

Great quote, Ayn Rand in a sentence.

Yeah, swiftone, this is still the wonderful USA, I think. What is happening now ought to be the dying gasp of Carterism-Obamaism, that form of leftism that effectively forsakes the less priviledged whatever their rhetoric and would be ever increasingly leftist-government-totalitarian within the structurs of democracy (via control of the public's wealth). Obamanomics is a foil proving Reaganomics and W-nomics worked (wealth trickled down in the 80s and 90s and 00s, individuals saw real incomes rise 10% and everyone had a job). Democracy requires experimentation to figure things out on both sides of the debate(s) and this combination permitting leftist empowerment is intensely that. While we suffer, we learn, like most forms of education.

Dr. Mercury ... no. If the king (or tribal leader) has $5M and the best mating partners and 99% of the people have $1 and may not breed practically, that is poverty being the normal condition of man.

And poverty does mean substantive misery even by definition: 1. The state of being poor; lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts. 2. Deficiency in amount; scantiness.
3. Unproductiveness; infertility.
4. Renunciation made by a member of a religious order of the right to own property. [Am. Herit. Dict.]

That is a typical leftism, i.e., that relative lack of wealth is incorrectly labeled poverty. And Heinlen is right, it's thanks to the elite (not the elitist) that the masses that hate them have a job-at-a-decent-wage, roof, food, water, and the best things in life for free. Hard-working, lawful, and socially ethical poverty has been virtually elimitated from the USA; where actual poverty remains it is because of the Democratic Party's policies.

Why those USA elite remain allied with those masses is a wonder ... and for how long.

Heinlen is off on one point ... it's not called "bad luck" typically, it's blamed on those very same hard-working minority elite. For example, this crisis is not the fault of "Wall Street," even if it is the fault in part of some people who work there. It is greed on the part of borrowers, lenders, and government politicians, who created this warped lending environment that made borrowing too easy ... none of whom is doing what it takes to change that presently.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 05, 02:07:00 PM:

This about says it all:


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 05, 02:50:00 PM:

What you produce is not yours but rather goes into a vast pool of resources that must be apportioned out evenly by a handful of concerned experts, each of whom is compensated lavishly.


By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Mon Jul 05, 06:22:00 PM:

I read an awful lot of Heinlein as a twelve year old.

I'm persuaded I could profitably reread him.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Mon Jul 05, 06:51:00 PM:

Heinlein makes many astute observations including the following:
"I made a very important discovery at Camp Currie. Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more."  

By Anonymous Lycidas, at Tue Jul 06, 12:27:00 AM:

I think what he says is silly, if not offensive.

Silly because it denies the idea of human progress.

Offensive because progress is made by developing institutions in human history that alleviate fear, war, poverty, disease, famine. The march of human history has been a march toward that end. It is not a march without set backs, but for that march to work one has to credit the contributions of levels upon levels of people who devote themselves to their simple jobs and living within the institutions in which they work.

It is also dangerous to credit a small group of people with advances. Rather it is a culture that makes it possible for people to recognize those advances in the human condition; and that culture is about those both "great" and "small."

I am of course a populist. TH and Greenspan are of course Randians.

There was an interesting study on one dimension of this issue (about talent and its importance to humanity). The study found that not only was there not a positive correlation between parenting and intelligence/success, but in fact the best parents tended to be of modest means. I noted this in my grandmother, whose emotional IQ was extremely high (something I was able to see when I was older, but blind to when younger). Her side of the family reminds me of Tolstoy's "All families that are happy are happy in more or less the same way; families that are unhappy in their own unique way." Her family is a happy one, and happy, well-adjusted people tend to help breed others.

I think this Randian notion of a super-elite dominating whether history is good or bad is akin to the Marxist notion that all is determined by economics. It has a sliver of truth but misses so much of what life is really about.

*thumbs down* for Heinlein, except on the humorous last line.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Tue Jul 06, 12:53:00 AM:

Lycidas: You miss the point; what enables the masses to succeed is the catalyst and example of the innovative elite. Most people would obey Hitler rather than be tortured or die for the USA way. The institutions are created and developed by the elite and for the most part participated in by the masses. Look at the Nazis/USSR/Maoists; an elite created them and mass oppression, misery, and murder ensued. The same is true of the USA; an elite created and a worker's paradise now exists. The culture is the great and small, but exists because, disproportionately, because of the great.

Does your grandmother seem the type to voluntarily fight in battle for justice or be content with quiet submission, whatever her parenting qualities?  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Tue Jul 06, 02:49:00 AM:

You know, Lycidas, even Marx said "From each according to his ability ..." So regardless of what else he got wrong (nearly everything) even he at least recognized that different people have different abilities.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Tue Jul 06, 09:32:00 AM:

"Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty."

I agree with Lycidas -- this is silly. Who gets credited as being in the "tiny minority" is at best judged afterwards -- it can't be determined ab initio. Often the biggest advances come from unorthodox quarters. We all build upon what's come before.

Thinking that there is a "tiny minority" that you can define beforehand -- and that they're especially entitled -- smacks of fascism/totalitarianism. Oddly, Obama-Axelrod would agree with this -- to them it's just a question of which faction is in the driver's seat.

The other danger is that those in the "tiny minority" start to think that they walk on water. Witness Alan Greenspan.


"The American "experiment" is indeed exceptional."

I'm a big believer in the "frontier theory" of American exceptionalism. The frontier we explore has changed over the years. Over the years, having a "frontier" has given the US the comparative advantage of being more open to change than most other societies. We may be losing this advantage.

Lefties like Obama are actually reactionaries. They want stasis. In practice, they'd actually harden class barriers.

We're in a rut right now, but that can change. The seeds of our computer/telecom revolution were actually sown in the depths of our 1970s stagflation.

We're aging as a society which is an underlying issue. Our youth need to achieve class consciousness and vote in their own collective interest. The Republican party may blow this opportunity.

Regulatory structures can get in the way of progress. For example, we're not doing what we should to develop new kinds of energy like thorium reactors. If you created such an innovation, there's no form at the DMV-like Department of Energy for it. Instead, we're plowing lots of money into technologies we should know will never be cost effective.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Tue Jul 06, 11:41:00 AM:

Really the point is this, arguably. Leftists think the USA is a horribly injust place where the rich exploit the poor. I think it's the opposite, the hard working elite, in business, academia, in the military, etc., are taking care of the remaining 90-95%, even those working 45 hours a week at low to middle incomes. My view is that but for that top 5% through the last 250 years of USA history (going back to 1750 would be great), those same 90-95% would be picking rotten potatoes out of the dirt. The elite create the institutions and the culture, and the masses, so busy with their personal predelictions, really don't care where life or limb ... or 60+/week studying in HS, college, grad school, and professionally ... are involved.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Tue Jul 06, 01:14:00 PM:

"the hard working elite - 5-10%" isn't the same as Heinlein's "tiny minority". The latter suggests only geniuses need apply, or an Ann Rand uberman -- when it's two to three million Americans who are the big drivers of things. That's a lot of "ordinary people" ... a great thing actually.

"High earners" doesn't correlate exactly with "rich", although Obama thinks it does.

We already tax "high earners" a lot. It's in the cards that these tax rates will go even higher still. Experience shows that marginal rates over 50% are counter-productive.

Obama is on record as saying he wants to spread the wealth around -- but there won't be any.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Tue Jul 06, 04:00:00 PM:

This small minority of innovators are not necessarily geniuses, they are the few and weird people who have “There oughta be…” as a motto. The Neolithic farmer out in his field saying “There oughta be a way to put a sharp rock on the end of this stick to dig out weeds better.” The Engineer who said “Steam engines blow up too often, there ought to be a way to bleed off the pressure when it gets too high.” The Chemist who says ‘There ought to be a way to make Nitroglycerine easier to handle.” The Surgeon who says “There ought to be a way to replace hearts or kidneys or knees when they wear out or get broken.” Or the future hero who will say “There ought to be a way to exceed the speed of light…”

Motivation varies from the lazy person who just does not want to do as much work (like me), to the idealist who sees the good their invention will do in lives saved or pollution prevented, to the entrepreneur who sees $$$ in that new gadget or gizmo, or some combination of the three. So taking away the dollar reward for innovation will not destroy innovation. But it will most certainly drive it away from our country at the time we need it most.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Tue Jul 06, 04:53:00 PM:

This is broader than just "high earners."

I know an NYPD cop who back in the crazed late 80s - early 90s was the Babe Ruth of armed felon arrests. Working out of the Bronx 46, for a few years running he arrested more guys who were packing than many entire precincts. This started before Giuliani got into office.

He got no bonuses for this. If you asked him why he did it -- he'd tell you he was an adrenaline junkie.

We'll underperform as a nation if we unduly discourage or hinder these folks.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed Jul 07, 03:27:00 AM:

"Most people would obey Hitler"


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 07, 05:27:00 AM:

Stolen from elsewhere:

Everybody in Holland wants to see a Holland v. Germany final because of the unpleasantries surrounding 1940-1945. One of the favorite Dutch cheers is "Ik wil mijn fiets terug!" -- "I want my bike back!"  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Wed Jul 07, 03:50:00 PM:

Great conversation!

Gary Rosen: Absurd of you, proving my point.

I noted you did not disagree with my point that most people would obey Hitler. Who amongst us, athiest, gentile, or Jew, would stand up to Hitler in 1938, remembering his totalitarian control of everything including state-violence and the media? Or Stalin in 1938? Or Mao in 1952? The Allied powers did not in 1935 and they had overwhelming military superiority and the right by treaty to do so. Here is forum for you to claim you would have, Mr. Rosen, rather than watch and wait for whatever harm he would cause you and your family [I don't know if you are Jewish but it would seem so]. For my part, I don't know if I would have fought him, how and when, were I born in Germany and a citizen there in the 20s and 30s; and I am grateful I did not have to decide. My courage is a spastic one at the very least.

And for the record Hitler did not "first come for the Jews." First he came for his political opponents, many Christian martyrs. The Jews in Germany, too, obeyed Hitler from '33 onward, very few suffering physically at first for their ethnicity while he consolidated his power by putting in camps or killing brave variously disposed threats to his power (that tiny minority in Heinlen's quote capable of fighting him once better aware of his capacity to attain power and wield it violently and determined to fight him I would suggest) in concentration camps. German Jews were a vast minority of the Germans exterminated. You can check but it was about 250,000 German Jews. 2,000,000-2,500,000 German Christians were exterminated in those camps. Most 5,000,000-5,500,000 Jews killed in the camps were Polish or otherwise non-German nationals.

Ignoramous ... good points. Cool. You've helped me adjust my thoughts in more detail. I think it's the top 25,000 elite who are the MVPs. They have the talent to influence society more than others. Then it's in the low millions in the USA who are also hyper-effective, including with my heart-felt appreciation that NYPD cop. The substance of Heinlen's quote is that it's the famous innovators who maximize the other 5-10% I've identified who are hated by the sneering masses. Those 5-10% are wonderful anonymously so no one hates them. So, I'd incorporate what you wrote into my view.

But all of this is too personally considered. It's impersonal capital that powers an economy and trickles down welfare to the masses in ways ignored by them because it's not a paycheck. Capital ought not to be unfettered, but also requires respect. Tax it either punitively or unduly for the purpose redistribution and it will leave one way or another ... on-strike, uninspired, or departed elsewhere to a more welcoming and appreciative place.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Wed Jul 07, 05:03:00 PM:


You're cool, too.


Adding to your point, those few and weird want to discover things indeed for free ... inspired by the urge to discover alone. Agreed. They are going to tinker in whatever field interests them for the love in inventing ... frontiersmen of the mind. Yet, they might invent the next big thing or at least one that might work once tried; but without capital to risk, they are faced with an obstacle, more oftten now than ever. Today, the discoveries almost always require expensive experimentation, refinement, etc. The few and weird require capital in the 21st century. That is my point; it's capital that works so well less fettered and free to find the next big thing. Gates had IBM. Venture capital, hedge funds, universities and governments, too, however more or less effectively are looking for those few and weird and vica-versa. The USA way rewards the poorest and most miserable among us if anything more than it does the rich and famous for they are the most better off relative to 1000 or 2000 years ago.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Wed Jul 07, 05:12:00 PM:

I don't get it ... "I want my bike back!" Is that a Pee Wee Herman joke? Or some historical reference regarding the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands?  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Thu Jul 08, 03:24:00 AM:

"proving my point"

What is your point, other than "dam jooos whining about the holocaust"?

" The Jews in Germany, too, obeyed Hitler from '33 onward, very few suffering physically at first for their ethnicity"

The Nazis immediately began persecuting Jews upon taking power, and passed the Nuremberg Laws in 1935.

"250,000 German Jews. 2,000,000-2,500,000 German Christians were exterminated in those camps."

What is your evidence that that many "German Christians" were exterminated by the Nazis? Even if the number is true, it is very disproportionate since Jews were only about 1% of the German population. It is true though that around 3 million *Polish* Christians were exterminated by the Nazis, representing about 10% of the Polish Catholic population (the 3 million Polish Jews killed were *90* % of Polish Jewry. That is why the word "genocide" was invented).

"Most 5,000,000-5,500,000 Jews killed in the camps were Polish or otherwise non-German nationals."

No biggie, I guess. Apparently you're unconcerned about the murder of Poles, Jewish or otherwise.

"I don't know if you are Jewish but it would seem so"

Yes I am. Why does it "seem" so? And what of it?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 08, 07:37:00 AM:

"historical reference regarding the Nazi occupation"

The Dutch actually chant "I want my bike back" when they play Germany. Not to be on Sunday.

I gather the Nazis confiscated a lot of bikes, as they were favored by the Dutch resistance  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 08, 07:43:00 AM:

Whenever I hear disputes over Holocaust statistics I think of a relative of mine through marriage. Mickey fought in Patton's Army, and helped liberate a concentration camp along the way. Mickey never really got over that, and other things.

Patton forced all the local Germans to take a tour.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Fri Jul 09, 01:19:00 PM:

We should have listened to Patton.

Gary Rosen:

You wrote "ironic" which was a weak attempt at offending me and accuse me of being anti-Semetic which I am not. Anyone rational reading my posts would realize I am not, but one attempting to analyze earth's conflicts with the perspective of both sides within the limits of my capacities to do so.

My point is that the Jews obeyed Hitler, too; and they had all the notice they could want that the "bell tolled for them. Thus, I was confirming my point that most people would have obeyed Hitler, atheist, gentile, or Jew, and that society depends on Heinlen's elite 0.25-0.5% more or less to determine it's constitution, i.e., whether liberal or fascist whatever forms are pretended.

And, to further point out that I think had you been in Regensburg, for instance, in 1933-1940, you would have obeyed Hitler every step of the way. So, contemplate that in your seeming hysterical and weak attempts to slander me a racist in this forum.

It seemed you were Jewish because of your devotion to Zionism simply. I was right. The point of confirming you are Jewish was to defend myself against your hysterical however subtle slander ["ironic"] by pointing out that you scream about why others did nothing to prevent the Holocaust when I suspects you would not have either.

The rest you wrote is inapt.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Fri Jul 09, 03:14:00 PM:

I wrote suffering physically, i.e., violently. The Nuremburg Laws of 1935 were closer to apartheid than violence per se, to my understanding.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sat Jul 10, 02:03:00 AM:

"The point of confirming you are Jewish was to defend myself ..."

What does my being Jewish have to do with whether I or especially you are right or wrong? And what does Zionism have to do with anything on this thread which had no mention of Israel? You have some obvious fixations.

"others did nothing to prevent the Holocaust when I suspects you would not have either"

I'm not sure what I would have done but you certainly do not have the slightest clue - you know nothing about me other than a few posts on TH's blog. You are only making yourself look like a fool.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Sat Jul 10, 01:08:00 PM:

Well, why don't you explain why you wrote your post quoting me when I said "most people would have obeyed Hitler" and then writing "ironic" afterward, then. That would go far to determine who started this topic off, the logic of what I wrote afterward and why, and who is the fool. I'll check back.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sat Jul 10, 04:52:00 PM:

If it was unfair of me to imply you were antisemitic, then it was unfair regardless of whether or not I'm Jewish. By obsessing on me being Jewish you are proving my point. Thanks. You could have answered me without wondering whether I was Jewish or what I would have done in 1939. But you didn't.  

By Anonymous Lycidas, at Sat Jul 10, 10:26:00 PM:

@PD: I think you miss the point. Life is not one dimensional. Think about it. Then think about Ayn Rand.

Note that neither Rand nor Heinlein had children.

Typical of a narcissistic attitude and a tortured view of what matters in life.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Sun Jul 11, 12:33:00 AM:

I thought this thread was getting played out, until the last post.

My standard joke about Ayn Rand has been that I'd hate to get between her and a New York taxi at rush hour.  

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