Weekend Long Read

An excerpt from Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America (Regnery), published August 20.

America, the Racist

Writing in the December 1991 issue of Academic Questions, Fred Siegel, associate professor of history at Cooper Union and a self-described liberal and Democrat, bemoaned a fashionable trend in history writing. The “New Historians,” he quipped, saw American life as “a story of defeat, despair, and domination. American history became a tragedy in three acts: what we did to the Indians, what we did to the African-Americans, and what we did to everyone else.”

That’s a pretty fair description of A People’s History of the United States. Howard Zinn winds up Act 1 of his book on the oppression of Indians and women only to launch into Act 2 on slavery—beginning with an eight-line description from J. Saunders Redding’s 1950 They Came in Chains of the ship carrying the first slaves to the colonies in 1619: “a strange ship, indeed, by all accounts, a frightening ship, a ship of mystery . . . . through her bulwarks black-mouthed cannon yawned. The flag she flew was Dutch; her crew a motley. Her port of call, an English settlement, Jamestown, in the colony of Virginia . . . . her cargo? Twenty slaves.”

They Came in Chains was the work not of an historian, but of a Hampton Institute English professor. Arna Bontemps, in Saturday Review, described it as “a deeply felt, sometimes impassioned account,” “a fever chart of rising and falling hopes.” Zinn quotes from this dramatic description to set up his own contention that “there is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States. And the problem of ‘the color line,’ as W.E.B. Du Bois, put it, is still with us.” In light of America’s uniquely horrible racism, Zinn wonders, “Is it possible for whites and blacks to live together without hatred?”

The Lure of Romanticism

As usual, capitalism is the culprit. Zinn plays fast and loose with numbers and sources in his effort to prove that capitalism is at the root of racism. He misreports and distorts the slaves’ truly horrific suffering for his own purposes. For example, he claims that “perhaps one of every three blacks transported overseas died”—allowing the “perhaps” to do a lot of work. In fact, according to the best quantitative evidence, 12 to 13 percent of slaves died in transit from Africa to the Americas during the history of the Middle Passage. Sometimes a larger percentage of the slave ship’s crew died on the voyage. In the Dutch slave trade, one in five crewmen died at sea. But it suits Zinn’s purpose to exaggerate the true numbers and to ignore the historical context of a time and place when life was more perilous for all.

Zinn acknowledges that slavery existed in Africa—where, in fact, it predated the discovery of America—but presents it as a kinder, gentler kind of slavery: “Slavery existed in the African states, and it was sometimes used by Europeans to justify their own slave trade. But…the ‘slaves’ of Africa were more like the serfs of Europe—in other words, like most of the population of Europe.” The difference was the still-powerful “tribal life” of Africa: “Africa had a kind of feudalism, like Europe based on agriculture, and with hierarchies of lords and vassals. But African feudalism did not come, as did Europe’s, out of the slave societies of Greece and Rome, which had destroyed ancient tribal life. In Africa, tribal life was still powerful, and some of its better features—a communal spirit, more kindness in law and punishment—still existed. And because the lords did not have the weapons that European lords had, they could not command obedience as easily.”

Here Zinn is simply romanticizing life in pre-colonial Africa—just as he romanticized life in pre-colonial America. “Tribal life,” as Zinn presents it, was “communal” and gentle in “law and punishment.” In contrast, “American slavery” is categorically “the most cruel form of slavery in history.” For his account of slavery and the Middle Passage, Zinn relies on Basil Davidson’s 1961 The African Slave Trade. Davidson did do groundbreaking work in the field of pre-colonial African history. But by 1971, well before Zinn published his People’s History in 1980, many of his generalizations were coming under fire from specialists in African history. Zinn didn’t care enough to keep up with the literature. It might have interfered with his desire to indict capitalism: “African slavery is hardly to be praised,” Zinn concedes. But it lacked “the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave.” The real problem between blacks and whites in America wasn’t so much slavery itself—owning other human beings as chattels—but “class exploitation.”

Thus, the Civil War was a tragic missed opportunity. If only it had been fought to overthrow the capitalist system that undergirded the particularly cruel American form of slavery, it might have ended racism (not to mention, presumably, ushering in a worker’s paradise). But sadly, the Civil War, as Zinn presents it, was fought “to retain the enormous national territory and market and resources.”

Histories in the Soviet Union airbrushed certain facts, as they did certain personages from photographs. Howard Zinn does the same thing, airbrushing out evidence that contradicts his claims.

So why did such an evil, capitalist system fight a bloody war to end slavery? After all, within the capitalist system, slavery was profitable: it “remained a profitable investment at the time it was abolished regardless of country,” write Robert Paquette and Mark M. Smith. So there was something beyond the profit motive that ended slavery in the West. Yes, within the capitalist country that Zinn condemns, slavery was killed for moral reasons. As early as the American Revolution, the fight for liberty inspired debates about slavery. Then, by the early nineteenth century, the slave trade had been abolished in England and the United States and the American abolitionist movement was in full swing. Abolitionists were arguing against slavery from Christian and Enlightenment principles (and some, wrongly, on economic grounds). Yet, in 1842, when the Sultan of Morocco was asked by the British consul-general what his country was doing to abolish slavery or to reduce its trade, he replied that he was “not aware of its being prohibited by the laws of any sect.” Indeed, the question was absurd to him. Why would anyone even ask such a thing? The sultan thought that the rightness of slavery “needed no more demonstration than the light of day.”

In fact, the campaign to abolish slavery was a Western thing and a relatively new thing at the time. As the late great Orientalist historian Bernard Lewis put it, “The institution of slavery had . . . been practiced from time immemorial. It existed in all the ancient civilizations of Asia, Africa, Europe, and pre-Columbian America. It had been accepted and even endorsed by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as other religions of the world.” And it was not only African peoples who were enslaved. Slavery was “a ubiquitous institution” in the early modern period, writes Allan Gallay. “Contemporary to the rise of African slavery in the Americas, millions of non-African peoples were enslaved.” These included “over a million Europeans . . . in North Africa, and perhaps more in the Ottoman Empire,” as well as the European settlers taken in captivity in the New World by Indians—not to mention the enslavement of Indians by Indians of other tribes.

The Civil War not only led to the emancipation of American slaves but inspired leaders in the slave-holding nations of Cuba and Brazil to take steps to end slavery and avoid a similar outcome. The Civil War also had an impact in Europe, where it brought “the issue of slavery sharply before European opinion.” It “coincided with a renewed and determined British effort, by both diplomatic and naval action, to induce Muslim rulers in Turkey, Arabia, and elsewhere to ban, and indeed suppress, the slave trade,” writes Lewis.

As If Nobody Understood the Evils of Slavery

A People’s History does not provide such a historical and global context. Instead, Zinn’s reader gets the impression that American capitalism produced the cruelest slavery in the world—and that Americans invented racism. Zinn blames “the new World” for the development of racial hatred, which he pretends did not exist before the discovery of America. “Slavery,” he claims, “developed quickly into a regular institution, into the normal labor relation of blacks to whites in the New World. With it developed that special racial feeling—whether hatred, or contempt, or pity, or patronization—that accompanied the inferior position of blacks in America for the next 350 years—that combination of inferior status and derogatory thought we call racism.”

In fact, racism is not an invention of Western culture. Let’s consider Zinn’s pseudo-philosophical claim: “This unequal treatment, this developing combination of contempt and oppression, feeling and action, which we call ‘racism’—was this the result of a ‘natural’ antipathy of white against black?” This is a rhetorical question. Zinn suggests that if “racism can’t be shown to be natural, then it is the result of certain conditions, and we are impelled to eliminate those conditions.” So, Zinn claims, “All the conditions for black and white in 17h-century America were . . . powerfully directed toward antagonism and mistreatment.”

These “conditions” have everything to do with capitalism and class. Zinn tells us, “There is evidence that where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals.” He cites Kenneth Stampp’s claim that “Negro and white servants of the seventeenth century were ‘remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences.’ Black and white worked together, fraternized together. The very fact that laws had to be passed after a while to forbid such relations indicates the strength of that tendency.” So once the proletariat—black and white—unite again, racism will be eliminated.

Histories in the Soviet Union airbrushed certain facts, as they did certain personages from photographs. Zinn does the same thing, airbrushing out evidence that contradicts his claims. But the facts show that racism has existed all over the world, not only in the West, and that it was not only in the West that blacks were singled out for slavery of the most demeaning kind. Nor was racism only directed against those with darker skins.

The Muslim role in slavery and the slave trade is ignored by Zinn, but, in fact, it was “through the Moslem countries of North Africa” that “black slaves were imported into Europe during the Middle Ages.” By “the end of the eighteenth century,” the Islamic Middle East held “the majority of the world’s white chattel slaves.” Whites to the north and blacks to the south were both seen as inferior and therefore legitimate slave material. As Bernard Lewis points out, “The literature and folklore of the Middle East reveal a sadly normal range of traditional and stereotypical accusations against people seen as alien and, more especially, inferior. The most frequent are those commonly directed against slaves and hence against the races from which slaves are drawn—that they are stupid; that they are vicious, untruthful, and dishonest; that they are dirty in their personal habits and emit an evil smell.”

VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

The Arabs, like many in the West, held stereotypes about black men and women as highly sexed. When blacks appear in Islamic illustrations of “court life, domestic life, and various outdoor scenes,” they are depicted doing the lowly tasks assigned to them—“carrying a tray, pushing a broom, leading a horse, wielding a spade, pulling an oar or a rope, or discharging some other subordinate or menial task.” Slaves had limited rights under Islamic law, but it did not mean that they had equal opportunities—even within the institution of slavery itself.

When white slaves were available—before the Russians put up barriers—black slaves usually held positions below them. The Ottoman Empire had at first acquired slaves from Central and Eastern Europe and by raiding “the Caucasians—the Georgians, Circassians, and related people.” These sources dried up when Russia annexed Crimea in 1783 (a shipping off point for the slaves) and conquered the Caucasus in the early nineteenth century. The Ottomans then went to Africa, and by the nineteenth century that continent provided “the overwhelming majority of slaves used in Muslim countries from Morocco to Asia.” Once white slaves were no longer available, black slaves sometimes “were given tasks and positions which were previously the preserve of whites.”

Some of the worst suffering came when Arab slave traders transported slaves, as Thomas Sowell notes in Ethnic America: A History. The “massive commercial sales of Negro slaves began after the conquest of northern Africa by the Arabs in the eighth century,” when “Arab slave traders penetrated down into the center of Africa and on the east coast.” With the “cooperation” of local tribes, “they captured or purchased slaves to take back with them across the Sahara Desert, which eventually became strewn with the skeletons of Negroes who died on the long march. . . .” Sowell comments, “The Arabs were notable as the most cruel of all slave masters.”

The suffering continued into the 19th century as slave traders went into more remote areas as “scrutiny” by the Ottoman Empire and European powers increased. In 1849, sixteen hundred black slaves died of thirst as they were driven from Bornu to southern Libya.

In the 19th century, it was Africa that provided highly prized slave eunuchs. Between 100 to 200 boys between the ages of 8 and 10 were castrated “every year at Abu Tig in Upper Egypt, on the slave caravan route from the Sudan to Cairo.” The castrated boys could be sold at twice the normal price. As Louis Frank wrote in 1802, “it is this increase in price which determines the owners, or rather usurpers, to have some of these wretches mutilated.” These atrocities took place thousands of miles from American shores.

Muslim nations’ adherence to Islamic law, which sanctions slavery (except of free Muslims), made it more difficult to eliminate. As Bernard Lewis explains, “From a Muslim point of view, to forbid what God permits is almost as great an offense as to permit what God forbids—and slavery was authorized and regulated by the holy law.” Most Muslim states did not enact slavery abolition until the years between the World Wars. Yemen did so only when it became a “newly established republican regime” in 1962; that same year, Saudi Araba did, as well, “by royal decree.” The last Muslim country to abolish slavery was Mauritania in the year Zinn’s book came out, 1980.

Zinn chose not to include such information, but instead limited his discussion to earlier centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. He does admit that slaves were captured “in the interior” of Africa—frequently by blacks. Yet the African slave traders are absolved of responsibility. They were “caught up in the [Atlantic] slave trade themselves.” And yet, Bernard Lewis quotes a ninth-century writer who observed that “the black kings sell blacks without pretext and without war.”

Far from being hapless victims lured into a new kind of commerce, the Africans’ legal system actually “fueled the Atlantic slave trade,” according to Boston University professor John Kelly Thornton in Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1680, published by Cambridge University Press. And while slaves in America and Europe “typically had difficult, demanding, and degrading work, and they were often mistreated by exploitative masters who were anxious to maximize profits,” in Africa a slave could be arbitrarily sacrificed on an altar.

Although the English colonies, and then the United States, accounted for a relatively small percentage of the purchases of African slaves in the New World, they “held the largest number of slaves of any country in the Western hemisphere—more than a third of all the slaves in the hemisphere—in 1825.” The reason was that it was “the only country in which the slave population reproduced itself and grew by natural increase. In the rest of the hemisphere, the death rate was so high and the birthrate so low that continuous replacements were imported from Africa.”

An American Distinction

The life of a slave was full of uncertainty, subject to the owner’s whims and circumstances, to be sure. Cruel punishment was meted out arbitrarily and family members could be sold without warning, as Thomas Sowell acknowledges. Yet he also states that conditions were “generally more brutal in other countries” than in the United States (in contrast to Zinn’s claim of the opposite). Thornton provides some sample cases—including the Ridgley estate in mid-seventeenth-century Maryland—where slaves could raise crops on a portion of the estate and sell them in exchange for some of the profits. Virginia slave John Graweere raised pigs and sold them for “one half the increase.”

American slaves were sometimes given their legal freedom or partial freedom, such as the “half freedom” of Dutch areas. “In these situations, clearly, slaves had some mobility and could form families and socialize their children. That they might not choose to forget their African background is revealed in the fact that one of the most successful of these small-holding former slaves, Anthony Johnson, named his farm ‘Angola,’” according to Thornton. Their culture was changed, to be sure, partly because slaves from various African cultures were thrown together. There is evidence that even on slave ships and during the Middle Passage new cultural relationships were formed between Africans of different societies. The result was a new culture, with “the many and varied African cultures” serving as “building blocks” and European culture providing “linking materials.”

Many slaves adopted the ideals of Western culture, including Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist. Zinn quotes Douglass several times—but as is to be expected, selectively. The discussion of Douglass’s autobiography comes on the heels of that of another black abolitionist, David Walker, the “son of a slave” from whose pamphlet, Walker’s Appeal, Zinn quotes extensively, adding his own comment, “There was no slavery in history, even that of the Israelites in Egypt, worse than the slavery of the black man in America, Walker said.” While we might sympathize with Walker’s cause, we should also remember that he was writing not history, but polemic.

Douglass’s autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave first published in 1845, and My Bondage and My Freedom from ten years later, offer not only an account of a firsthand experience of being a slave, but also a more nuanced investigation of the institution. Zinn’s discussion of this classic begins, “Some born in slavery acted out the unfulfilled desire of millions. Frederick Douglass, a slave, sent to Baltimore to work as a servant and as a laborer in the shipyard, somehow learned to read and write, and at twenty-one, in the year 1838, escaped to the North, where he became the most famous black man of his time, as lecturer, newspaper editor, writer.” Douglass also described the differences between the treatment of slaves in urban areas and on isolated plantations, where the slave owner was far enough from his neighbors that they did not hear “the cries of his lacerated slave” or see how ill-fed or clothed he was.

Zinn presents anything short of immediate utopian results as evidence of hypocrisy and greed. Any suggestion that injustices should be cured by changes that are gradual, and lawful—and safe—is taken as evidence of insincerity.

In the first edition of the Narrative, Douglass, clearly hoping to inspire antislavery sentiment, described the beatings and hunger he and others endured, the abandonment of his aged grandmother as the property was divided up upon the death of the original owner, and men selling off the children they had fathered with slave women. Douglass was also careful to explain how the institution of slavery transformed inherently good people, like his mistress, who changed for the worse after her husband pressured her to treat the eight-year-old Douglass like a slave, in a dehumanizing manner. The “poison of irresponsible power,” Douglass wrote, “commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage. . . .” In his writings and his speeches, Douglass appealed, against the institution of slavery, to the ideals of the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. He repeatedly pointed to the inconsistency between the treatment of slaves and the precepts of Christian charity and the American ideals of liberty and equality. These principles were irrelevant, of course, to the Sultan of Morocco around that same time.

The climactic moment of the Narrative comes when the 16-year-old Douglass fights back against Edward Covey. After enduring weekly beatings for six months and facing more punishment for having fainted from overwork, Douglass fought off Covey and an assistant as the infamously cruel “breaker” of slaves was attempting to tie him up. Douglass described the “battle” as the “turning-point in my career as a slave,” because it “rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood.”

This kind of spirit was not unusual among slaves. Douglass showed incredible will, but many slaves practiced other forms of resistance, with “work slowdowns, sabotage, and running away,” depending upon the circumstances, which varied. As the 1960s and 1970s brought greater interest in black history, scholars such as Edgar McManus, in his A History of Negro Slavery in New York, countered the stereotype of “Negroes as a passive mass, harnessed and driven by a white elite.” McManus pointed out that in New Netherland, prejudice was more religious than racial in nature. While Jews could not “own realty” or join the militia, “Negroes could.” Some even “owned white indentured servants” and “intermarried with whites.” Although slaves engaged in domestic and farm work, they were also employed as skilled workers—goldsmiths, naval carpenters, coopers, tanners, and masons.

As Lorena Walsh points out, the discussions about liberty in the years leading up to and during the War of Independence affected slave owners and slaves. It also affected slave status. Loyalists and Patriots vied for slaves’ allegiance by promising them freedom and had their own authority compromised when they employed slaves. Over four thousand blacks “served in the Continental Army, and thousands more in the local militia.” Those serving from New York State enjoyed the prospect of freedom, thanks to a law passed by the New York State Assembly in 1781. Nearly all the Revolutionary War leaders were inspired to condemn slavery. In fact, “Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a sweeping condemnation of the slave trade and England’s refusal to allow legislation ‘to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.’” Washington, Jefferson, and Madison—all slaveholders—expressed support of “gradual emancipation.”

Zinn acknowledges this passage in the original Declaration, but then casts suspicion upon Jefferson’s motives: “This seemed to express moral indignation against slavery and the slave trade (Jefferson’s personal distaste for slavery must be put alongside the fact that he owned hundreds of slaves to the day he died.)” And Zinn suggests a possible self-serving motive: the fear of slave insurrections. “Because slaveholders themselves disagreed about the desirability of ending the slave trade,” Zinn writes, “Jefferson’s paragraph was removed.” Zinn concludes with dripping sarcasm, “So even that gesture toward the black slave was omitted in the great manifesto of freedom of the American Revolution.”

As usual, Zinn presents anything short of immediate utopian results as evidence of hypocrisy and greed. Any suggestion that injustices should be cured by changes that are gradual, and lawful—and safe—is taken as evidence of insincerity. No credit is given to such American Founders as John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Philip Schuyler for their roles in the newly formed New York Manumission Society, organized in 1785, which became the “working organization of the antislavery movement,” keeping the pressure up “on state officials” and “the issue before the public”—and that ultimately succeeded in phasing out slavery in New York State.

Full abolition was achieved in 1827.

Realities, Then and Now

There is still slavery in Africa to this day. “[A]n estimated 9.2 million” Africans “live in servitude without the choice to do so” at “the highest rate. . . . in the world,” according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index. Slavery is “especially prevalent” in Eritrea and Mauritania, countries noted for the collusion of the government in the practice. In Eritrea, the “one-party state of president Isaias Afwerki has overseen a notorious national conscription service” for forced labor. In Mauritania, “the world’s last country to abolish slavery,” “the situation is more acute,” with the “black Haratin group” inheriting its slave status.

In 2018, photojournalist Seif Kousmate traveled to Mauritania, where he was imprisoned for a time. His photos of the Haratine in Mauritania, published at the Guardian, are images of abject poverty and misery. Mauritania is a place where “up to 20 [percent] of the population is enslaved, with one in two Haratines forced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.” And contrary to Zinn’s assertion that racism is a uniquely American trait, Kousmate writes, “For centuries, Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, resulting in a rigid caste system that still exists . . . with darker-skinned inhabitants beholden to their lighter-skinned ‘masters.’” Many of the subjugated can conceive of no other system and accept their status. The government, however, “denies that slavery exists,” and “prais[es] itself for eradicating the practice.”

As Zinn was writing A People’s History, Mauritania had not yet made slavery officially illegal. Yet, Zinn obscures the practice of slavery in other parts of the world besides America—in the past and in his present—and focuses on American slavery, falsely presenting American slavery as the most cruel, and America as the most racist. He preemptively discounts statistical evidence to the contrary. For example, he writes, “Economists or cliometricians (statistical historians) have tried to assess slavery by estimating how much money was spent on slaves for food and medical care.” But then, to keep the reader from paying any attention to this evidence, Zinn immediately asks, “But can this describe the reality of slavery as it was to a human being who lived inside it? Are the conditions of slavery as important as the existence of slavery [emphasis in the original]?” The suggestion that they’re not, however, contradicts Zinn’s earlier excuse-making for African slavery, when he argued that the conditions of slavery there under their pre-capitalist society—“tribal life,” “a communal spirit”—made the existence of slavery not so bad.

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Zinn’s aim is to present all American slave owners as wicked Simon Legree. So, he brings up the whipping of slaves “in 1840–1842 on the Barrow plantation in Louisiana with two hundred slaves.” Zinn quotes from Time on the Cross by Robert William Fogel and Stanley Engerman: “The records show that over the course of two years a total of 160 whippings were administered, an average of 0.7 whippings per hand per year. About half the hands were not whipped at all during the period.” Zinn adds an editorial note: “One could also say: ‘Half of all slaves were whipped.’ That has a different ring.” Zinn also points out that though “whipping was infrequent for any individual,” nonetheless “once every four or five days, some slave was whipped [emphasis in the original].”

Zinn claims that the amount of cruel physical punishment on Barrow’s plantation was typical because “Barrow as a plantation owner, according to his biographer, was no worse than the average.” But do we know what “average” is? Zinn has presented only one isolated case.

In another case of selective reporting, Zinn tells his readers, “A record of deaths kept in a plantation journal (now in the University of North Carolina Archives) lists the ages and cause of death of all those who died on the plantation between 1850 and 1855.” Zinn doesn’t tell his reader what plantation these numbers are from, but he does report the ages: “Of the thirty-two who died in that period, only four reached the age of sixty, four reached the age of fifty, seven died in their forties, seven died in their twenties or thirties, and nine died before they were five years old.” Those certainly seem like young ages, but they are records from only one plantation—which for all we know was chosen by Zinn precisely for the short life-spans of slaves there.

Comparative statistics tell a very different story. Nobel Prize-winning economic historian Robert William Fogel has shown that American slaves were better nourished than many other groups, including “most European workers, during the nineteenth century.” At that time, “all of the working classes . . . probably suffered some degree of malnutrition,” in comparison to modern standards. The malnutrition of American slaves was not “as severe as that experienced by . . . Italian conscripts, or the illiterate French conscript,” he writes. Height is an indicator of nutrition, and slaves born in the United States were “about an inch shorter than U.S.-born whites in the Union Army,” but “taller than French and Italian conscripts, British town artisans, and British Royal Marines.” No wonder Zinn wants his reader to disregard the findings of “[e]conomists and cliometricians.” It better serves his purpose to discount and rely on isolated, misleading examples, instead.

Consider the sources provided by Zinn: a diary kept by a plantation owner identified only by last name and state, and an unidentified plantation journal in the “archives” at the University of North Carolina. Can we find a grosser violation of the American Historical Association’s standards for evidence? As if this weren’t bad enough, Zinn then refers to “two northern liberal historians” who he says authored the “1932 edition of a best-selling textbook.” That unnamed book by unnamed authors allegedly excuses slavery “as perhaps the Negro’s ‘necessary transition to civilization.’” Who are the straw men who are supposed to have made this appalling observation? We have no way of knowing, so we can’t check Zinn’s accusations.

Zinn switches back and forth from presenting untraceable isolated incidents, to discounting rigorous statistics, to posing leading questions: “But can statistics record what it meant for families to be torn apart, when a master, for profit, sold a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter? In 1858, a slave named Abream Scriven was sold by his master, and wrote to his wife: ‘Give my love to my father and mother and tell them good Bye for me, and if we Shall not meet in this world I hope to meet in heaven.’” In the face of such human suffering, which was very real, only a heartless cliometrician could be interested in actual data—so let’s not worry about the documented facts.

Such forced family break-ups did happen to an estimated third of slave families—as conservative historians have acknowledged—and they were horrific. Abolitionist writers, including Frederick Douglass, pointed to such inhumane practices to appeal for abolition, and Americans came to see slavery as wrong.

The arguments that persuaded Americans to end slavery are grossly distorted by Zinn. Take Frederick Douglass’s July 5, 1852, speech in Rochester, New York: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Zinn quotes from the early part of the speech which was intended to arouse the emotions of the audience, to make them empathize and understand the hypocrisy of celebrating the Declaration of Independence in a nation that denies freedom to slaves. But, not surprisingly, he ignores the patriotic climax of the speech. Thus, the only idea that Zinn takes away from it is that the “whole nation” was “complicit” in the “shame of slavery.” Zinn spares readers the passage in which Douglass expresses faith in the Constitution, calling it a “glorious liberty document.” Those caps are in the original speech by Frederick Douglass, who had actually broken with fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison over Garrison’s abandonment of faith in the Constitution and the American system. At the climactic moment of the speech, Douglass declared, “I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanctions of the hateful thing [for slavery, that is, in the Constitution]; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.” Contrary to Zinn’s representation, Douglass’s speech expressed his optimistic faith in America. “I do not despair of this country,” Douglass proclaimed, expressing confidence that “the doom of slavery is certain.” His “spirit” was “cheered” by “drawing encouragement from the principles of the Declaration of Independence . . . and the genius of American Institutions. . . .”

Zinn quotes Douglass at length, though always selectively, but he says nothing about Douglass’s role in the Civil War—the war that Zinn casts as simply a means to perpetuate a racist capitalistic state. In fact, Douglass served as a recruiter of black troops—Douglass’s own sons served in the war—and as an adviser to President Lincoln. Zinn also fails to mention the appointment of this stalwart Republican to political office as federal marshal (1877–1881), recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia (1881–1886), and chargé d’affaires for Santa Domingo and minister to Haiti (1889–1891).

Zinn ignores Douglass’s relationship with Lincoln so that he can portray the president as a cowardly racist politician beholden to powerful money interests. To Zinn, Abraham Lincoln “combined perfectly the needs of business, the political ambition of the new Republican party, and the rhetoric of humanitarianism.” Lincoln used abolition for political advancement. It was only “close enough to the top” of his “list of priorities” that “it could be pushed there temporarily by abolitionist pressures and by practical political advantage.” Zinn contrasts Lincoln’s statement “that the institution of slavery is founded on injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends to increase rather than abate its evils” with “Frederick Douglass’s statement on struggle, or Garrison’s ‘Sir, slavery will not be overthrown without excitement. . . .’”

But Zinn does not tell the reader where the Lincoln quotation is from: a resolution that the future Great Emancipator made when he was a twenty-eight-year-old state house representative. It can be found in one of Zinn’s favorite sources, Richard Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition, from which Zinn purloins not only quotations, but also Hofstadter’s jaundiced view of Lincoln, whom Zinn excoriates for being concerned about public opinion (imagine that, in an elected official!) and for following the Constitution (!) The only kind of abolitionist Zinn approves of is a violent abolitionist like John Brown, whose “last written statement, in prison, before he was hanged” for the raid on Harper’s Ferry, as Zinn approvingly notes, declared, that “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

Zinn ignores the fact that Brown’s raid led to the deaths of ten in his party, including two of Brown’s sons, as well as several civilians, including two slaves and a free black man. This was after Brown and his band of men had killed five settlers in Kansas, where the issue of slavery was being contested. The method was to drag “the man of the house from his house and butche[r] him as his family screamed in horror.” These victims were not even slave owners, just settlers who believed in allowing slavery into the territory. Brown succeeded only in sowing fear and mistrust in the South, in the opinion of Thomas Woods. Zinn naturally approves of purging injustices “with blood,” so John Brown is a hallowed martyr to him. A People’s History expresses Zinn’s disappointment that “it was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, not John Brown.”

Lincoln’s original hope to eliminate slavery gradually by beginning to outlaw it in the territories while keeping the nation together is not good enough for Zinn. He prefers Brown’s vigilante terrorism. As Zinn tells the story, Southern states seceded from the Union after Lincoln’s election not because of slavery, but out of “a long series of policy clashes between South and North.”

The clash was not over slavery as a moral institution—most northerners did not care enough about slavery to make sacrifices for it, certainly not the sacrifice of war. It was not a clash of peoples (most northern whites were not economically favored, not politically powerful; most southern whites were poor farmers, not decisionmakers) but of elites. The northern elite wanted economic expansion—free land, free labor, a free market, a high protective tariff for manufacturers, a bank of the United States. The slave interests opposed all that; they saw Lincoln and the Republicans as making continuation of their pleasant and prosperous way of life impossible in the future.

Zinn ignores a little fact: that Lincoln had been elected on an antislavery ticket. The “decisionmakers” were the voters. The “clash” which had been building up for years before his election was over slavery. As one textbook notes, “The causes of secession, as they appeared to its protagonists, were plainly expressed by the state conventions [of the Deep South]. ‘The people of the Northern states,’ declared Mississippi, ‘have assumed a revolutionary position towards Southern states.’ ‘They have enticed our slaves from us,’ and obstructed their rendition under the fugitive slave law. They claim the right ‘to exclude slavery from their territories,’ and from any state henceforth admitted to the Union.”

The North was charged with “‘a hostile invasion of a Southern state to excite insurrection, murder and rapine’. . . . South Carolina added, ‘They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them’ of abolition societies, and ‘have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.’” The textbook authors conclude:

On their own showing, then, the states of the Lower South seceded as the result of a long series of dissatisfactions respecting the Northern attitude toward slavery. There was no mention in their manifestoes or in their leaders’ writings and speeches of any other cause. Protection figured as a ‘cause’ in the Confederate propaganda abroad and in Southern apologetics since; but there was no contemporary mention of it because most of the Southern congressmen, including the entire South Carolina delegation, had voted for the tariff of 1857, and because the Congress of the Confederacy reenacted it. . . . or was any allusion made to states [sic] rights apart from slavery; on the contrary, the Northern states were reproached for sheltering themselves under states [sic] rights against the fugitive slave laws and the Dred Scott decision.

The new constitution of the Confederacy stated, “‘Our new Government is founded . . . upon the great truth that the negro is not the equal of the white man. That slavery—subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.’”

Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Suddenly, the Left Accepts Confederate Premises

But in Zinn’s history, “Lincoln initiated hostilities.” Oh, really? In fact, Confederate forces fired the first shot of the war. When Confederate forces took over Fort Sumter, Lincoln notified them that he would be sending supplies only, leaving the ball in the court of the Confederates. On April 6, Lincoln notified the governor of South Carolina “to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumpter [sic] with provisions only; and that, if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition will be made, without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the Fort.’” On April 12, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter.

Zinn is engaging in a kind mental gymnastics. The fact is, Zinn will do anything to make America look bad; he simply cannot allow his reader to give the first Republican elected president credit for freeing the slaves—and for going about it in a principled and prudent manner. That would mean giving the American people credit for abolishing slavery, and it would undermine Zinn’s picture of America as a uniquely racist country.

So, Zinn has to make out that Lincoln’s actions always fall short.

Even the Emancipation Proclamation did not arise out of a sincere desire to free the slaves, but only from political and military expediency: “When in September 1862, Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, it was a military move, giving the South four months to stop rebelling, threatening to emancipate their slaves if they continued to fight, promising to leave slavery untouched in states that came over to the North.” The Proclamation made the Union Army open to blacks—but that was just for propaganda purposes: “And the more blacks entered the war, the more it appeared a war for their liberation.”

Was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation a cynical move? Was it issued only for military advantage and public relations? To the contrary, in issuing the Proclamation, Lincoln put his military powers as commander-in-chief at the service of his moral convictions. That was the only way Lincoln could issue the proclamation. As James Oakes explains:

Lincoln was freeing slaves by virtue of the power vested in the president as commander in chief of the army and navy “in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing rebellion”. . . . Except in time of war or insurrection the Constitution forbade the federal government from directly interfering with slavery in the states where it existed. Military necessity was the only constitutional ground on which Lincoln could justify federal “interference” with a state institution.

James McPherson believes that Lincoln may have been influenced by a pamphlet by William Whiting, a leading lawyer and abolitionist in Boston. In The War Powers of the President, and the Legislative Powers of Congress in Relation to Rebellion, Treason, and Slavery, Whiting had argued “that the laws of war ‘give the President full belligerent’ right as commander in chief to seize enemy property (in this case slaves) being used to wage war against the United States. . . .”

But, as McPherson also points out, Lincoln “recognized with regret that white racism was a stumbling block to emancipation.” Thus, in the months leading up to the Proclamation, he advanced “the colonization of freed slaves abroad.” It was “a way of defusing white fears of an influx into the North of freedpeople.” So, Lincoln met with “five black men from Washington” on August 14, 1862, to “urg[e] them to consider the idea of emigration.”

Zinn ignores Lincoln’s reasons for seeking to send freed blacks to Africa, charging that Lincoln “opposed slavery, but could not see blacks as equals, so a constant theme in his approach was to free the slaves and to send them back to Africa.” He also ignores many efforts to end slavery short of war, claiming, “It was only as the war grew more bitter, the casualties mounted, desperation to win heightened, and the criticism of the abolitionists threatened to unravel the tattered coalition behind Lincoln that he began to act against slavery.” This is false. Lincoln had supported outlawing slavery in the new territories, hoping that that would lead to gradual abolition. And he gave the border states multiple opportunities to accept compensated abolition.

Zinn, who quotes Hofstadter’s claim that the Emancipation Proclamation “had all the grandeur of a bill of lading,” either misses or purposely obscures Lincoln’s intentions and his political genius in promulgating it—for example, in his reply to Horace Greeley’s open letter accusing Lincoln of deferring to “Rebel Slavery.” James McPherson calls Lincoln’s presidential letter a “stroke of genius” in “preparing public opinion” for the Proclamation. McPherson explains that “to conservatives who insisted that preservation of the Union must be the sole purpose of the war, Lincoln said that such was his purpose. To radicals who wanted him to proclaim emancipation in order to save the Union, he hinted that he might do so. To everyone he made it clear that partial or even total emancipation might become necessary . . . to accomplish the purpose to which they all agreed.”

Howard Zinn claims that Lincoln, in his efforts to eliminate slavery, was simply reacting to “abolitionist pressures” and angling for “practical political advantage.” In fact, Lincoln was putting pressure on radical abolitionists—and on opponents of abolition, too—to win the war, preserve the Union, and free the slaves. To achieve those worthy goals, he had to take political risks and exercise his formidable political skills. As Debra Sheffer writes, “Lincoln believed predictions that the proclamation would seriously hurt the Republican Party in the [1862] elections, but he forged ahead with the plan in order to win the war and save the Union. The Republican Party did indeed suffer losses as a result of the proclamation, but the damage was minimal, with Republicans still holding a majority in both the Senate and the House.” Lincoln’s annual address to Congress in December included “one final plea for the Border States to consider emancipation.”

Zinn the Iconoclast

But Howard Zinn is unimpressed. Zinn is determined to knock Lincoln off his pedestal. He wants to replace “Lincoln freed the slaves”—a true fact of history, learned by generations of Americans for a century—with the notion that Lincoln was a small-minded political operator who “skillfully” blended “the interests of the very rich and the interests of the black” and “link[ed ] these two with a growing section of Americans, the white, up-and-coming, economically ambitious, politically active middle class.”In other words, the Civil War didn’t so much free the slaves as enable bourgeois oppression. Only Zinn could present Lincoln—the American president with the humblest background, a man who worked his way up from poverty and was often ridiculed by the elites—as a member of the elite ruling class. Zinn simply cannot give Abraham Lincoln—and thus the American people who elected him and fought to win the Civil War—credit for ending slavery.

Frederick Douglass saw it differently. In 1876, more than a decade after the president had been assassinated for his anti-slavery position, Douglass said, “Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States.”

Of course, that estimate of Lincoln is not included in A People’s History. And of course, Zinn neither quotes nor even refers to Douglass’s 1865 speech, “What the Black Man Wants”:

What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. . . . everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!

For Howard Zinn, it was not a good thing to simply treat former slaves as men, to leave them free to run their own lives. He was unwilling to acknowledge Douglass’s accomplishments in national affairs, preferring to present Douglass as a pitiful and angry militant waiting for a revolutionary leader, and the Civil War as a tragic missed opportunity for a leftist social revolution against the “deeply entrenched system” of capitalism.

For Zinn, the very real horrors of slavery are simply more fodder for his war against America and Western civilization. The nearly three-quarters of a million dead in the Civil War are just casualties of a military machine, and blacks are no better off than they were under slavery. The irony is that, as historian Robert Paquette, a specialist in the history of slavery, has remarked in his criticism of the use of Zinn’s history as a text in high school classrooms:

An assessment in a classroom of, say, the history of slavery— the peculiar institution—by a professional historian should take into consideration the fact that the institution was not peculiar at all in the sense of being uncommon, and that it had existed from time immemorial on all habitable continents. In fact, at one time or another, all the world’s great religions had stamped slavery with their authoritative approval. Only at a particular historical moment—and only in the West—did an evolving understanding of personal freedom, influenced by evangelical Christianity, emerge to assert as a universal that the enslavement of human beings was a moral wrong for anyone, anywhere.

Or as President Lincoln reminded the nation at the dedication of the new cemetery at Gettysburg: the dead had “not died in vain” because “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” would “endure.”

Weekend Long Read

Henry Fielding, a Man for This Season

The great 18th-century English jurist and author of Tom Jones has much to teach 21st-century Americans about criminal justice. 

No one speaks of a century’s first decade as “the aughts.” Few of us speak of the second decade as “the teens.” But by the time the third decade comes around, we seem to have gotten used to the charming fact that we’re in a new chapter of history. Our shouts of “It’s the 21st century!” (or, even better, “It’s a new millennium!”) become shrugs; all that enthusiasm is “so last year.” With the third, the decades start acquiring names.

We will soon be in “the twenties.” A hundred years ago, that word became inseparable from a certain adjective. It was “the Roaring Twenties,” the era of Prohibition, fast cars, and “flaming youth”; of flappers, hip flasks, and raccoon coats; of bootleggers and Tommy guns. Brazen gangsters like Al Capone and daring aviators like Charles Lindbergh vied to capture the public’s imagination. And it all came to a glorious end when the stock market crashed in 1929.

I grew to manhood in another uproarious decade, one so lurid that it doesn’t even need an adjective: “the Sixties.”

It started out with JFK and the New Frontier, ended up awash in war, riots, and assassinations, yet still managed to put a man on the moon. Beatlemania gave way to manias of every kind. “The Great Society” was going to wipe out poverty. “The pill” was going liberate womankind. “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll” (or, more succinctly, “Peace, Love, Dope”) became the watchword for millions. A popular beer commercial advised us to “grab for all the gusto you can get.” Nothing, it seemed, stood between us and all the earthly delights we had come to consider our birthright.

But peace and prosperity proved elusive. Prosperity? We soon would be mired in the “malaise” of which President Jimmy Carter complained (though not using precisely that word). As for peace, humanity apparently finds it boring. We kept finding new and bloodier ways of disturbing it.

Worst of all the 1960s’ changes: Crime shot through the roof. Long after that decade passed into history, the crime wave it ushered in kept going and going and going. Per-capita crime rates doubled, tripled, quadrupled and even quintupled. For a time, deranged killers (Charles Whitman in Texas, Richard Speck in Illinois, Charles Manson in California) were household names. Then mass murder grew so common that crimes with multiple fatalities started being reported on the inside pages of the newspaper. Today, even with the Internet and a 24/7 television news cycle, and despite the crime wave’s having ebbed considerably, few can recall the latest perps’ names.

I grew up fairly oblivious to this mayhem. I read about it in the papers and saw it on TV, but it hadn’t entered my life, and the received opinion of the day was that it was a small matter, something of interest only to “reactionaries,” bigots, and other fearmongers. Only mean people, I was told, were angry about crime.

Eventually, the crime wave started touching people I knew and cared about, but even then I remained under the bien-pensants’ spell—until I came across two voices who gave the lie to that P.C. line about “mean people.”

One voice belonged to Will Rogers, who held surprisingly “hang ’em high” views. The other belonged to the great 18th-century English author and jurist, Henry Fielding.

United Artists/Getty Images

One of the happier events of the Sixties was the production of the 1963 British movie “Tom Jones,” based on Fielding’s 1749 novel of the same name. It won Academy Awards for best picture, director, musical score, and adapted screenplay. In my opinion, “Jones” is one of the most spirited and entertaining films ever made. My love for it is partly due to the fact that its lead actress, Susannah York, resembles my high school sweetheart. But I challenge anyone to watch the picture without enjoying it immensely.

Back in those days, you couldn’t just slap a disc of your favorite movie into the DVD player and watch it as much as you pleased. You might catch it on re-release, and once it gained the dusty status of a “classic,” you might find it turning up at a college-town revival house. But since I couldn’t get enough “Tom Jones” that way I bought an annotated copy of Fielding’s book and read it.

So, here I was, all set for another innocent romp through the bushes with Tom and his ladies, when I came across something I didn’t expect. In the book, Fielding describes how a rich old woman, out of silly vanity, once refused to press charges against a robber who had complimented her looks while stealing her jewelry. Underneath the passage, in the notes, I found this quotation from another Fielding work, An Enquiry Into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers (1751): 

Robbery is an offence not only against the party robbed, but against the public, who are therefore entitled to prosecution, and he who prevents or stifles such the prosecution is no longer an innocent man, but guilty of a high offence against the public good.

When I first read this in 1975, the United States Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren and his successors had just spent several years preventing and stifling the prosecution of countless crimes all over the nation, to the consternation of police officers everywhere, but to the unanimous hosannas of the liberal establishment. And here was one of the heroes of English literature, calling that out as a high offense against the public good!

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Added to my reading of Will Rogers and to my increasing personal experience of left-wing fallibility, this went a long way toward making me a conservative. I had volunteered for liberal Democrat Eugene McCarthy. I had cast my first vote for the even more liberal George McGovern. Nevertheless, within a few years, I was firmly on the Republican side. In 1980, like “Clean Gene” himself, I supported Ronald Reagan, and—despite perpetual disappointment with the GOP’s performance on crime—I stayed Republican from then on.

But back to Fielding. Having read that note, I immediately acquired a copy of his Enquiry. What follows is a survey of some of the highlights of that work, which I present here as much for our readers’ entertainment as for their edification. Fielding, after all, was a very talented writer.

The book begins like so:

The great increase of robberies within these few years is an evil which to me appears to deserve some attention; and the rather as it seems (though already become so flagrant) not yet to have arrived to that height of which it is capable, and which it is likely to attain; for diseases in the political, as in the natural body, seldom fail going on to their crisis, especially when nourished and encouraged by faults in the constitution. . . .

For my own part, I cannot help regarding these depredations in a most serious light; nor can I help wondering that a nation so jealous of her liberties, that from the slightest cause, and often without any cause at all, we are always murmuring at our superiors, should tamely and quietly support the invasion of her properties by a few of the lowest and vilest among us.

Doth not this situation in reality level us with the most enslaved countries? If I am to be assaulted, and pillaged, and plundered; if I can neither sleep in my own house, nor walk the streets, nor travel in safety; is not my condition almost equally bad whether a licensed or unlicensed rogue, a dragoon or a robber, be the person who assaults and plunders me? The only difference which I can perceive is that the latter evil appears to be more easy to remove.

Again, Fielding as much as says, “In your face, liberals!” Unlike the Warren Court and its acolytes, he shows no indifference to crime nor reluctance to battle it even if that means correcting certain “faults in the constitution.” Quite the contrary. Of the justice-thwarting “technicalities” which so often let culprits walk free (and which the Warren Court multiplied and magnified, falsely claiming its work flowed necessarily from constitutional requirements), Fielding expresses his disgust:

The villain, contrary to the opinion and almost direct knowledge of all present, is triumphantly acquitted, laughs at the court, scorns the law, vows revenge against his prosecutors, and returns to his trade with a great increase of confidence, and commonly of cruelty.

Rarely has liberalism’s senseless softness on crime received so eloquent a rebuke.

Liberals may be pleased to know that Fielding was something of a “root causer”; he believed the social conditions that give rise to crime are the first point of attack. But unlike today’s “root causers,” he had nothing against vigorous law enforcement while social improvement is pending. And his views on what constitutes “root causes” were decidedly moralistic.

In Fielding’s assessment of those causes, it will become apparent that he never got the memo about all men being created equal. He takes for granted the existence of England’s class hierarchy, which is understandable since Thomas Jefferson and friends wouldn’t challenge that hierarchy for another quarter-century. Anyway, America’s Declaration of Independence doesn’t deny the existence of upper, middle, and lower classes, only their divinely ordained immutability.

And Fielding’s acceptance of the class system was hardly absolute, as we shall see: 

First, then, I think that the vast torrent of luxury, which of late years hath poured itself into this nation, hath greatly contributed to produce, among many others, the mischief I here complain of. 

I am not here to satirise the great, among whom luxury is probably rather a moral than a political evil. But vices no more than diseases will stop with them; for bad habits are as infectious by example, as the plague itself by contact. In free countries, at least, it is a branch of liberty claimed by the people to be as wicked and as profligate as their superiors. 

Thus while the nobleman will emulate the grandeur of a prince, and the gentleman will aspire to the proper state of the nobleman, the tradesman steps from behind his counter into the vacant place of the gentleman. Nor doth the confusion end here; it reaches the very dregs of the people, who aspiring still to a degree beyond that which belongs to them, and not being able by the fruits of honest labour to support the state which they affect, they disdain the wages to which their industry would entitle them; and abandoning themselves to idleness, the more simple and poor-spirited betake themselves to a state of starving and beggary, while those of more art and courage become thieves, sharpers, and robbers.

Could luxury be confined to the palaces of the great, the society would not, perhaps, be much affected with it; at least, the mischiefs which I am now intending to obviate can never be the consequence. . . . For the loss of thousands, or of a great estate, is not to be relieved or supplied by any means of common theft or robbery. With regard to such evils, therefore, the legislature might be justified in leaving the punishment, as well as the pernicious consequence, to end in the misery, distress, and sometimes utter ruin of a private family. 

But when this vice descends downward to the tradesman, the mechanic, and the labourer, it is certain to engender many political mischiefs, and among the rest it is most evidently the parent of theft and robbery. . . . In this case, therefore, the public becomes interested, and consequently the legislature is obliged to interpose.

Zeroing in on one particular type of luxury, Fielding goes after the gambling industry, and his mockery thereof is enough to make our Las Vegas grandees, our state lottery commissioners, and even our casino-building Fearless Leader squirm:

I come now to the last great evil which arises from the luxury of the vulgar; and this is gaming; a school in which most highwaymen of great eminence have been bred. This vice is the more dangerous as it is deceitful, and, contrary to every other species of luxury, flatters its votaries with the hopes of increasing their wealth; so that avarice itself is so far from securing us against its temptations, that it often betrays the more thoughtless and giddy part of mankind into them; promising riches without bounds, and those to be acquired by the most sudden as well as easy and indeed pleasant means.

And here I must again remind the reader that I have only the inferior part of mankind under my consideration. I am not so ill-bred as to disturb the company at a polite assembly, nor so ignorant of our constitution as to imagine that there is a sufficient energy in the executive part to control the economy of the great, who are beyond the reach of any, unless capital laws. Fashion, under whose guidance they are, and which created the evil, can alone cure it.

With patience therefore must we wait, till this notable mistress of the few shall, in her good time, accomplish so desirable a change; in fact, till great men become wiser or better; till the prevalence of some laudable taste shall teach them a worthier manner of employing their time; till they have sense enough to be reasoned, modesty enough to be laughed, or conscience enough to be frightened, out of a silly, a shameful, and a sinful profligacy, attended with horrid waste of time, and the cruel destruction of the families of others, or of their own.

Fielding also notes the debilitating effects of welfare dependency, which he thought can be counteracted by what we might call “workfare”:

It must be matter of astonishment to any man to reflect, that in a country where the poor are, beyond all comparison, more liberally provided for than in any other part of the habitable globe, there should be found more beggars, more distressed and miserable objects, than are to be seen throughout all the states of Europe. . . .

To say the truth, this affair of finding a universal employment for the industrious poor is of great difficulty, and requires talents not very bountifully scattered by nature among the whole human species. And yet, difficult as it is, it is not, I hope, impracticable, seeing that it is of such infinite concern to the good of the community. Hands for the work are already supposed, and surely trade and manufacture are not come to so low an ebb, that we should not be able to find work for the hands. The method of adapting only seems to be wanting. And though this may not be easy to discover, it is a task surely not above the reach of the British Parliament, when they shall think proper to apply themselves to it. 

Having made his recommendations for mitigating crime’s root causes, Fielding turns to look for a means of eliminating the encouragement offered to criminals by lax law enforcement:

In serious truth, if proper care should be taken to provide for the present poor, and to prevent their increase by laying some effectual restraints on the extravagance of the lower sort of people, the remaining part of this treatise would be rendered of little consequence; since few persons, I believe, have made their exits at Tyburn who have not owed their fate to some of the causes before mentioned. 

But as I am not too sanguine in my expectations on this head, I shall now proceed to consider of some methods to obviate the frequency of robberies, which, if less efficacious, are perhaps much easier than those already proposed. And if we will not remove the temptation, at least we ought to take away all encouragement to robbery.

Prominent among those methods was the death penalty. In words I quoted in my first article for American Greatness, Fielding argues for its inexorable enforcement:

To speak out fairly and honestly, though mercy may appear more amiable in a magistrate, severity is a more wholesome virtue. . . . The passions of the man are to give way to the principles of the magistrate. Those may lament the criminal, but these must condemn him. . . .

The danger and certainty of destruction are very different objects, and strike the mind with different degrees of force. It is of the very nature of hope to be sanguine, and it will derive more encouragement from one pardon than diffidence from twenty executions. . . . If therefore the terror of this example is removed (as it certainly is by frequent pardons) the design of the law is rendered totally ineffectual; the lives of the persons executed are thrown away, and sacrificed rather to the vengeance than to the good of the public, which receives no other advantage than by getting rid of a thief, whose place will immediately be supplied by another.

To those honest folks who still shrank from sending England’s criminals to Tyburn Tree, he made this appeal:

To desire to save these wolves in society may arise from benevolence, but it must be the benevolence of a child or a fool, who, from want of sufficient reason, mistakes the true objects of his passion, as a child doth when a bugbear appears to him to be the object of fear. Such tender-heartedness is indeed barbarity, and resembles the meek spirit of him who would not assist in blowing up his neighbour’s house to save a whole city from the flames. . . .

Here likewise is the life of a man concerned; but of what man? Why, of one who, being too lazy to get his bread by labour, or too voluptuous to content himself with the produce of that labour, declares war against the properties, and often against the persons, of his fellow-subjects; who deprives his countrymen of the pleasure of travelling with safety, and of the liberty of carrying their money or their ordinary conveniences with them; by whom the innocent are put in terror, affronted and alarmed with threats and execrations, endangered with loaded pistols, beat with bludgeons, and hacked with cutlasses, of which the loss of health, of limbs, and often of life, is the consequence; and all this without any respect to age, or dignity, or sex.

Let the good-natured man, who hath any understanding, place this picture before his eyes, and then see what figure in it will be the object of his compassion.

Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

The reference to blowing up houses reflects the fact that urban wildfires such as the great London fire of 1666 and the San Francisco fire of 1906 were fought that way.  They’d create a firebreak with explosives, just as they do now with chainsaws and bulldozers in fighting forest fires.

Fielding wrapped up his treatise by considering the manner in which executions should be carried out. Here he differs from those who today would argue for hanging criminals on live television, the better to deter their fellows yet at large:

If every hope which I have mentioned fails the thief, if he should be discovered, apprehended, prosecuted, convicted, and refused a pardon, what is his situation then? Surely most gloomy and dreadful, without any hope and without any comfort.

This is, perhaps, the case with the less practised, less spirited, and less dangerous rogues; but with those of a different constitution it is far otherwise. No hero sees death as the alternative which may attend his undertaking with less terror, nor meets it in the field with more imaginary glory. Pride, which is commonly the uppermost passion in both, is in both treated with equal satisfaction. The day appointed by law for the thief’s shame is the day of glory in his own opinion. His procession to Tyburn, and his last moments there, are all triumphant; attended with the compassion of the meek and tender-hearted, and with the applause, admiration, and envy of all the bold and hardened.

His behaviour in his present condition, not the crimes, how atrocious soever, which brought him to it, are the subject of contemplation. And if he hath sense enough to temper his boldness with any degree of decency, his death is spoken of by many with honour, by most with pity, and by all with approbation. . . .

How far such an example is from being an object of terror, especially to those for whose use it is principally intended, I leave to the consideration of every rational man; whether such examples as I have described are proper to be exhibited must be submitted to our superiors.

In Fielding’s view, the condemned should be hanged behind closed doors, their deaths observed only by those who had sentenced them. This, he believed, would cost the gallows none of its deterrent value:

The thief who is hanged today hath learnt his intrepidity from the example of his hanged predecessors, as others are now taught to despise death, and to bear it hereafter with boldness from what they see today. . . .

The mind of man is so much more capable of magnifying than his eye, that I question whether every object is not lessened by being looked upon: and this more especially when the passions are concerned: for these are ever apt to fancy much more satisfaction in those objects which they affect, and much more of mischief in those which they abhor, than are really to be found in either.

If executions therefore were so contrived that few could be present at them, they would be much more shocking and terrible to the crowd without doors than at present, as well as much more dreadful to the criminals themselves, who would thus die in the presence only of their enemies, and where the boldest of them would find no cordial to keep up his spirits, nor any breath to flatter his ambition.

But by all means, Fielding wanted executions to be prompt:

The great business is to raise . . . an object of terror, and at the same time, as much as possible, to strip it of all pity and all admiration. To effect this, it seems that the execution should be as soon as possible after the commission and conviction of the crime; for if this be of an atrocious kind, the resentment of mankind being warm, would pursue the criminal to his last end, and all pity for the offender would be lost in detestation of the offence. Whereas, when executions are delayed so long as they sometimes are, the punishment and not the crime is considered; and no good mind can avoid compassionating a set of wretches who are put to death we know not why, unless, as it almost appears, to make a holiday for, and to entertain, the mob.

One can only imagine what Fielding would have said about today’s state of affairs, in which the interval between sentencing and execution can stretch across decades. 

Finally, here is Fielding’s bottom line:

Suppose then that the court at the Old Bailey was, at the end of the trials, to be adjourned during four days; that against the adjournment day a gallows was erected in the area before the court; that the criminals were all brought down on that day to receive sentence; and that this was executed the very moment after it was pronounced, in the sight and presence of the judges.

Nothing can, I think, be imagined (not even torture, which I am an enemy to the very thought of admitting) more terrible than such an execution; and I leave it to any man to resolve himself upon reflection, whether such a day at the Old Bailey or a holiday at Tyburn would make the strongest impression on the minds of everyone. . .

Upon the whole, something should be, nay must be done, or much worse consequences than have hitherto happened, are very soon to be apprehended. Nay, as the matter now stands, not only care for the public safety, but common humanity, exacts our concern on this occasion; for that many cart-loads of our fellow creatures are once in six weeks carried to slaughter, is a dreadful consideration; and this is greatly heightened by reflecting that, with proper care and proper regulations, much the greater part of these wretches might have been made not only happy in themselves, but very useful members of the society which they now so greatly dishonour in the sight of all Christendom.

In the years before the great American crime wave took off, the people who stood guard against it were not voiceless. Unlike Fielding, however, those who spoke up did not escape the obloquy of the Left. Prominent among the “bigots and fearmongers” calling for law and order was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, one of the Left’s favorite villains. Hoover had been battling crime, and making a lot of noise doing it, for more than 40 years. “Crime,” he had told the University of Maryland’s class of 1936, “is a dangerous, cancerous condition which, if not curbed and beaten down, will soon eat at the very vitals of the country.”

Those words are true as true can be, regardless of what one may think of the man who spoke them. People like Hoover haven’t been invited to speak on college campuses for a long time, more’s the pity. But even those of us who have no use for Hoover should pay heed to Fielding, and to Rogers, and to modern voices against crime such as Heather Mac Donald, the late James Q. Wilson, and even President Donald J. Trump.

We should take heed, for while the crime cancer may be in remission now, with Democrats like New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren deriding and demonizing law enforcement and promoting the very policies that sent crime soaring a half-century ago, our prognosis is darkening.

Weekend Long Read

The Density Delusion

America has plenty of room to grow. To solve our unaffordable housing problem, let’s reject policies that impose artificial scarcity and build, baby, build.

For decades, American workers have watched as their ability to enjoy middle-class lifestyles erodes away. Conventional explanations abound. American industry in the immediate aftermath of World War II was uniquely unscathed, and with a near-monopoly on global manufacturing, it was able to pass much of the ample profits on to workers. It wasn’t until the 1970s that American manufacturers confronted serious foreign competition, and ever since, the competition has only become more intense.

By the 1990s, the electronic movement of capital along with trade agreements such as NAFTA turned national labor forces into commodities. And at the same time, American industry was going international, America’s laws were changed to favor mass immigration of unskilled workers who competed for jobs with native workers, driving down wages. These immigrants were also far more dependent on government services compared to previous generations of immigrants, putting stress on government budgets.

Export jobs. Import welfare recipients. No wonder America’s middle class is withering away.

But this conventional explanation, however accurate, is only part of the story. Yes, for whatever reason, average Americans work harder and earn less today than their predecessors. And the process has been relentless. Every decade since the 1950s has seen an American workforce making less than they made during the preceding decade. But they are not just making less money—goods and services are costing more.

At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. Not everything costs more. Using the consumer price index (CPI) as a yardstick, and adjusting for performance—a modern flat-screen television offers far more viewing amenities than a state-of-the-art black and white television circa 1955, yet it costs less in constant dollars. For almost every consumer good, from home appliances to McDonald’s Happy Meals, that’s true.

But it isn’t the cost of appliances and fast food that is breaking family finances today in America; it’s the cost of housing and healthcare. And in these two critical areas, neither of which is adequately reflected in the CPI, the cost-of-living in America has never been higher.

The causes of rising healthcare costs are complex and defy obvious solutions. But the national conversation Americans are having to address the challenge of healthcare is ongoing. This conversation about American healthcare solutions includes expert participants offering all perspectives and reflects diverse ideological roots. While it is impossible to predict whether or not America’s national search for optimal healthcare policies will end well, the dialog is transparent, none of the fundamental issues are being ignored, and nothing is beyond debate.

On the question of unaffordable housing, however, the opposite is true. Unlike the healthy debate being waged across America on the topic of healthcare, the debate over housing solutions—if one even wants to call it a debate—is decidedly unhealthy. Basic premises go unchallenged. Basic assumptions and options are off the table, considered beyond debate. If the debate over housing policy remains a stunted facsimile of genuine debate, Americans will not only be condemned to purchase barely affordable housing, but their new housing options will be almost exclusively limited to homes on ever-smaller lots—or apartments—in increasingly crowded cities.

The unchallenged premise that lies at the heart of unaffordable housing in America is that there is no room for more suburbs. That single-family dwellings on spacious lots are an unsustainable extravagance that must be stopped. That detached homes in new suburbs are unhealthy for people and the planet, and that the only responsible way to build new homes is via “infill” of multi-family dwellings within the footprint of existing urban areas.

This unchallenged premise might be termed “the density delusion.” If it hasn’t arrived yet in your state, beware. It’s on its way and no political party—including Republicans—has organized to oppose this agenda.

The density delusion now informs public housing policy in nearly every blue state, certainly including the entire Left Coast states of California, Oregon, Washington. As we’ll see, there are other reasons housing is so expensive in these states, but even if all of the other misplaced policies that drive up home prices were reformed overnight, the density delusion, unchecked, would be enough all by itself to render housing unaffordable.

It is impossible to restore a reasonable, affordable price equilibrium to housing if all housing development is confined to the footprint of existing cities.

The Density Delusion Relies on the Myth of Vanishing Open Space

A fascinating article published last year by Bloomberg entitled “Here’s How America Uses Its Land” offers several graphics of America’s Lower 48, including the map depicted below. Notice how “Cow pasture/range” is by far the most extensive category of land use in the United States.

If you review the source data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as expressed in the pie chart below, it turns out that only 3.7 percent of the lower 48 states are urbanized. The largest category of land is grassland, at 35 percent, followed by forests at 29 percent. Farmland only consumes 21 percent of land in the lower 48.

The unasked question that challenges the density delusion should be obvious from these land-use facts: Why are Americans unwilling to expand suburbs if grasslands, typically used for cattle ranching, occupy 10 times as much space as all of America’s existing cities, suburbs, and industrial areas?

Notwithstanding the fact that there are plenty of private landowners who would voluntarily convert their cattle ranches to housing subdivisions for the right price, overall trends in production and consumption of beef in the United States suggest less land may be required in the future.

According to the USDA, the beef cow inventory in the United States peaked in 1978 at just over 45 million head, and as of 2018 barely exceeded 30 million, a one-third decline despite the American population increasing nearly 60 percent, from 207 million to 327 million. Corroborating this is another USDA report showing per capita red meat consumption peaking at 150 pounds in 1971, dropping to an estimated 110 pounds in 2019. It is likely that cultural trends favoring healthier food will lead to further reductions in per capita demand for beef in America. Why not build homes on some of that land?

The Epicenter of the Density Delusion Has Abundant Land

If America’s lower 48 is only 3.7 percent urbanized, which suggests that doubling the national urban footprint would still leave 93.6 percent of the nation unsullied with subdivisions, what about California? How would doubling California’s urban footprint affect the big picture in that state with respect to land use?

A quick look at a map depicting California’s agricultural land shows the vast expanse of irrigated farmland in California’s Central Valley. But surrounding this vital resource is an even larger expanse of “dryland farming and grazing land.” This area, over 40,000 square miles, is not vital to California’s agricultural industry. Also clearly evident on this map is the relatively minute percentage of California’s total land area that is urbanized.

What is clear from viewing the map of California’s farmland is made explicit on the pie chart below. Using data drawn from 2017 USDA data, only 5.3 percent of California’s whopping 164,000 square mile area is given over to residential, commercial, and industrial use. The contrasts are striking. The area consumed by California’s military bases, 6,148 square miles, is comparable to the area of California’s urbanized land, 8,280 square miles. California has 19.7 percent of its land, 30,661 square miles, set aside as protected wilderness,—that’s nearly four times its entire urban footprint. As for the 25,420 square miles classified as “unprotected wilderness,” this consists primarily of desert and “bare rock”— i.e., the inherently undevelopable granite peaks of the High Sierra. Meanwhile, 42,498 square miles of California is considered “grassland,” with more than half of that given over to cattle ranching and dryland farming. To develop a mere 20 percent of this grassland would allow California’s urban footprint to double.

What About the Rest of the World?

If America remains a vast, relatively underpopulated continent, with a sizable percentage of arable land, what about other places? What about India, China, and Africa? The table below, drawn from United Nations data and various academic studies, calculates farm resources based on 2050 population estimates for these key regions of the world.

As can be seen in the far right column on the first row of data “World,” “pop per m2 farm” (population per square mile of arable land) it is estimated that in 2050 there will be 10 billion people living on earth, and that for every square mile of farmland worldwide, there will be 833 people. This is an encouraging finding.

Based on population trends already well established in nearly every region on earth (sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East are the only exceptions), the global population is already stabilizing. Most experts estimate that by 2050 the global population will have peaked, and 10 billion represents the midrange scenario. While the U.N. continues to predict an eventual peak of 11 billion by 2100, an increasing number of demographers predict a peak of around 9 billion, with a slow decline beginning as early as 2040.

The productive capacity of conventional modern agriculture is to feed roughly one person per acre. While a square mile is only 640 acres, not 833, there are several mitigating factors that clearly predict a future of universal food security. Modern agricultural techniques continue to advance and the commercialized upper end of crop productivity is far higher. In China, for example, year-round polycultures of trees, crops, and aquacultures result in productivity ranging between feeding four people per acre to as high as 20 people per acre.

Worldwide, intensive land-based agriculture using modern and traditional techniques offer proven methods to easily feed 10 billion humans on 12 million square miles of farmland, but the future of agriculture may be indoors instead of outdoors. Developments in modern indoor farming promise to not only merely supplement land-based agricultural production but to displace it entirely by offering food that is cheaper and healthier.

It is possible that using hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics, industrial agriculture operations sited within urban areas can produce enough food to feed the inhabitants, making it unnecessary to import food from farming regions. The high-tech future of agriculture, combined with the stabilization of human population, means there is never going to be a shortage of farmland worldwide, nor will there ever be insufficient space for humans who wish to live in detached homes on spacious private lots.

This point, that there will always be room for suburbs filled with single-family dwellings, is underscored by the calculations in column four of the above table, “urban area m2 (000)” (total square miles of urbanized areas). The total urban area worldwide as depicted on this table, 1.9 million square miles (3.8 percent of all land excluding Antarctica), is a hypothetical number. It is based on 10 billion people living in four-person households that are each on quarter-acre lots, with an equivalent amount of space allotted for commercial and industrial use. This equates to a population density of 5,210 people per square mile. Actual estimates of worldwide urbanization as of 2018 are only 2.7 percent of global land area excluding Antarctica, and some analysts believe this estimate is grossly overstated.

In reality, major urban centers have far higher population densities. For example, the population density of New York City is 27,000 per square mile. On the opposite coast, San Francisco has a population density of over 18,000 per square mile. On every continent, the population in these urban cores will continue to grow to absorb hundreds of millions of new residents. For most, the decision to live in these dense urban environments will be voluntary, as the amenities of big city life are a compelling allure. But for those who prefer the tranquility of a suburb or a rural environment, that choice should not be rendered unaffordable because of misguided policies. Even worldwide, there is plenty of land.

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Debunking the Climate Change Argument Against Suburbs

The most powerful argument fueling the density delusion is the existential boogeyman of climate change. But even if one accepts the fundamental premise of the climate change activists, that human-produced “greenhouse gas” constitutes an imminent threat to human civilization and the planet, that does not justify the current policy assault on low-density suburbs.

Even the “scientific studies” (of which there are surprisingly few) that are used to attack suburban “sprawl” are themselves riddled with ambiguities. An influential 2014 study coming out of UC Berkeley provides examples. An article produced by UC Berkeley’s media relations department, summarizing the work, writes “A key finding of the UC Berkeley study is that suburbs account for half of all household greenhouse gas emissions, even though they account for less than half the U.S. population.” But data from a 2018 study cited by CityLab claims that 52 percent of Americans live in suburbs. While the measurement criteria used by the UC Berkeley scholars to define who lives in suburbs was obviously different than CityLab’s, it is likely that the “less than half” was only slightly less than half, rendering this “key finding” statistically unimpressive.

The Berkeley study also found that “the primary drivers of carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership, and home size, all of which are considerably higher in suburbs. Other important factors include population density, the carbon intensity of electricity production, energy prices and weather.” The climate activist take-away from this quote, “all of which are considerably higher in suburbs,” ignores the variability of the other factors cited as causes. Higher-income people have bigger homes. That’s true whether this home is an 8,000-square-foot penthouse in downtown Los Angeles, or an 8,000-square-foot McMansion on a half-acre lot in Palos Verdes. And what about the “carbon intensity of electricity production”?

This points to the biggest fallacy in all studies linking suburbs to excessive belching of “greenhouse gas,” which is this: what if bigger homes and more driving was not linked to higher greenhouse gas emissions? What happens when all cars are gas-electric hybrids that only rely on gasoline for long-range excursions, but handle even lengthy daily commutes relying only on battery power? What happens when electric power is not carbon-intensive, thanks to renewables, or nuclear power, or fusion power, or satellite solar power stations, or direct synthesis of transportation fuels from CO2 removed from the atmosphere, or other innovations we can’t yet foresee? Would there still be a concern about suburbanites logging excessive transportation mileage, if vehicles and the fuel they use is harmless even by their standards?

The UC Berkeley study, despite its headline, is filled with such ambiguities. They write: “Surprisingly, population-dense suburbs have significantly higher carbon footprints than less dense suburbs, due largely to higher incomes and resulting consumption,” but don’t go on to explain why less dense suburbs aren’t, therefore, more desirable than suburbs that are densified with infill. Instead, the authors say, “Population dense suburbs also tend to create their own suburbs, which is bad news for the climate.” But why, if the dense suburbs have higher carbon footprints, wouldn’t it be desirable for them to spawn less dense suburbs that have lower carbon footprints?

In the concluding paragraphs of the media summary of the UC Berkeley study, they write “Suburbs are excellent candidates for a combination of solar photovoltaic systems, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient technologies.” OK. So why in the name of climate change mitigation are we expected to ban the development of new suburbs, and destroy existing suburbs through densification?

Another authoritative study supposedly linking sprawl to higher greenhouse gas emissions was published in 2008 by a research team at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman School for State and Local Government. Titled “The Greenness of Cities: Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Urban Development,” this study has been cited in 766 “scholarly articles,” according to Google. In the abstract, the money line goes like this: “Cities generally have significantly lower emissions than suburban areas, and the city-suburb gap is particularly large in older areas, like New York.” The “city-suburb gap.”

For most climate activists, advocates of densification, and activist journalists, that’s as far as they’ll need to read, and they’ll have their source, and they’ll have their link. But if you wade through this 45-page paper, you find what seems to define most scholarly studies on the “city-suburb gap,” namely, an unmanageable degree of complexity that the authors smooth over by adopting an unacceptable degree of subjective assumptions and oversimplifications, which are then crammed into impenetrable equations.

While the study’s authors are clearly making a diligent attempt to determine what variables define the per capita “carbon footprint” of low-density suburbs versus high-density cities, their very transparency in explaining their methodology calls their methodology into question. Here’s just one example:

For a standardized household, we predict this household’s residential emissions and emissions from transportation use. We look at emissions associated with gasoline consumption, public transportation, home heating (fuel oil and natural gas) and electricity usage. We use data from the 2001 National Household Travel Survey to measure gasoline consumption. We use year 2000 household level data from the Census of Population and Housing to measure household electricity, natural gas and fuel oil consumption. To aggregate gasoline, fuel oil and natural gas into a single carbon dioxide emissions index, we use conversion factors. To determine the carbon dioxide impact of electricity consumption in different major cities, we use regional average power plant emissions factors, which reflect the fact that some regions’ power is generated by dirtier fuels such as coal while other regions rely more on renewable energy sources. We distinguish between the emissions of an area’s average house and the emissions of a marginal house by looking particularly at homes built in the last twenty years.

Good luck with that.

For the skeptic, an unanticipated value of the Harvard study is the insight it provides into what is a burgeoning new field of bureaucratic skimming, namely, “carbon accounting.” For those readers with a background in accounting, maybe even tax accounting or government accounting, try this on for size, from page 8:

Unlike the place-specific energy tax, the zoning tax does not impact energy use directly, but it does reduce the number of people in location one. Specifically: “aN1/aZ1 = -1/[1/Qb1 x k” (N1/Qb1) + 1/Qb2 x k” (N2/Qb2) – 1/Qf1 x f” (N1/Qf1) – 1/Qf2 f” (N2/Qf2)] > 0

And then:

The overall impact of zoning on social welfare is (E2 – E1)(NC'(NE) – t) +Z1)aN/oz, which is positive as long as (E1 – E2)(NC'(NE)-t) > Z1.

Got that? Of course not. And now you know why consulting firms are billing government agencies countless millions of dollars to come up with “science-based” policies for carbon mitigation. It’s full employment for Ph.Ds.

It is interesting to highlight just how dispassionate the Harvard researchers are when it comes to the impact their theories may have on real people. Consider this:

One natural concern with our approach is that households in areas that spend more on energy have less income to spend on other things that also involve greenhouse gas emissions. If people in Texas are spending a lot on air conditioning and gas at the pump, then perhaps they are spending less on other things that are equally environmentally harmful. We cannot fully address this concern, since it would require a complete energy accounting for every form of consumption, but we do not believe our omissions fatally compromise our empirical exercise.

Note how the researchers acknowledged “households in areas that spend more on energy have less income to spend on other things,” but rather than admit that perhaps that could mean carbon taxes—i.e., punitively priced energy—are regressive and harm low- and middle-income families, the researchers sped quickly onward to observe, “then perhaps they are spending less on other things that are equally environmentally harmful.”

The risk here? Not that artificially high energy costs might cause hardship. Only that the money these hypothetical consumers wasted on overpriced gasoline might have been paying for other equally “carbon-intensive” activities. Such analytical uncertainty! The paragraph concludes by suggesting that only a “complete energy accounting for every form of consumption” would enable a proper analysis of this risk.

Bring on the funding. Hire more consultants.

In the light of day, the analytical tools planners use to justify urban densification may be similar in some ways to the computer models climate researchers developed to perform global climate simulations. They are attempting to reduce extreme complexity to a set of equations and variables that guarantee a desired conclusion. And with respect to the studies that are used to justify densification, there are common sense rebuttals to the conclusion that densification results in lower greenhouse gas emissions:

  • Cars of the future will not emit greenhouse gas.
  • Energy sources in the future will not emit greenhouse gas.
  • Upgraded freeways and smart cars will eliminate or greatly reduce traffic congestion.
  • Smart cars, share cars, and drones will reduce the percentage of impermeable heat-conducting surfaces (roads and parking lots).
  • Single-family dwellings use far less per unit energy in construction than high rise apartments.
  • Low-density suburbs have more (and larger) trees and other greenery per capita.
  • Employers and jobs will migrate, creating new jobs close to new homes.
  • Low-density suburbs have a lower per capita “heat island” effect.
  • Increasing percentages of wage earners will telecommute.

If and when a reputable, unbiased study is released that takes these variables into account, the conclusion will likely refute the conventional wisdom. Low-density suburbs do not increase greenhouse gases. Nor, for that matter, do they consume an unsustainable amount of open land.

An article published last year in Planetizen reviews the book, The Urban Fix: Resilient Cities in the War against Climate Change, Heat Islands and Overpopulation, by Doug Kelbaugh. The title of the review—and how many people only read the titles?—is “The Problems With Suburbs Are Numerous. Is a Change of Course Possible?” But consider this excerpt from Kelbaugh’s book that was generously included in the review:

Drone deliveries, ride-sharing, car-sharing, AVs that park themselves and connect to house lights and thermostats will be commonplace, as will up to a 50 percent reduction in paved area. Less hardscape won’t be difficult, given the absurdly wide streets in contemporary subdivisions.

Kelbaugh is not making a case here to abandon low density. If streets and parking lots are too expansive and too hot, then allow the revolution in smart cars, share cars, and drones to facilitate narrower streets and smaller parking lots. If homes in the suburbs are “soulless,” as Kelbaugh alleges, then build homes with soul.

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The Hidden Agenda That Fuels the Density Delusion

If the only political force pushing the density delusion were misanthropic or misguided environmentalist nonprofits and their army of plaintiff attorneys, the consequent Left Coast policies of “infill,” “smart growth,” and “urban containment” would roll east against the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges and fall back onto the Pacific Coast. But the environmentalist lobby, while formidable, is not formidable enough on its own to cram Americans into overpriced apartments and unaffordable homes on nonexistent lots. The density delusion is promoted by a powerful assortment of special interests.

It doesn’t require a degree in economics to understand the hidden agenda behind the density delusion, one merely needs to understand the law of supply and demand. When the supply of housing is artificially constrained by putting a wall around every existing urban area, and prohibiting or severely restricting any construction outside the wall, the price of homes inside the wall goes up. This is especially true if the population in these regions is increasing, which increases the demand for homes.

Between 1980, when the pioneering concept of enforcing “greenbelts” began to find expression in actual zoning policies, and 2018, the population of California went from 23.7 million to an estimated 40 million; Oregon, from 2.6 million to 4.2 million; Washington, from 4.1 million to 7.7 million. To be sure, urban containment wasn’t well established in these states until recent years, but today the density delusion informs policy in every state capital and every major city on the Left Coast. Demand increases constantly, supply is restricted and cannot keep up.

California has passed dozens of laws discouraging development. Notable among them are Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, passed in 2008, which has made it nearly impossible to build housing outside the “urban service boundary.” Two other significant environmentalist laws are the landmark 1970 California Environmental Quality Act, and the precedent-setting Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, along with numerous others at the state and local level. These laws make it nearly impossible for Californians to build affordable homes, develop energy, or construct reservoirs, aqueducts, desalination plants, nuclear power plants, pipelines, freeways, or any other essential enabling infrastructure.

Oregon and Washington are not far behind California. According to a 2015 report in CityLab, Seattle has been fighting “sprawl” for over 20 years. The goal, to channel growth into “urban villages.” These are high density, mixed-use developments (known as “transit villages” in California) sited along light rail or bus routes. The impact of Seattle’s experiment in densification and urban containment on real estate prices is unambiguous. The median home price in the entire Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metro region is $490,300, compared to the U.S. median of $226,000.

Oregon’s state legislature, late to the party but determined to outdo the competition, just passed House Bill 2001, which would “eliminate single-family zoning around the state. In cities with more than 25,000 residents, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and ‘cottage clusters’ would be allowed on parcels that are currently reserved for single-family houses; in cities of least 10,000, duplexes would be allowed in single-family zones.” Democratic Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign this legislation. The median price of a home in Portland is already $419,700. It shall be interesting to see how this new law will affect the price of a single-family home.

What California, Oregon, and Washington policymakers are doing is driving up the cost of single-family detached homes by discouraging, if not outright prohibiting, construction of homes outside the existing urban boundaries.

The median price of a home in Los Angeles is $686,700; in San Jose, an astronomical $1,022,300. In Oregon’s case, the supply of detached homes may actually decrease, as existing homes are demolished to make way for apartments. But what happens when more people are forced to live within the boundaries of existing cities, and, unless they want to migrate to a red state, forced to pay prices far beyond what would apply in a normal market? Who benefits?

When politically contrived artificial scarcity is imposed on a market, an asset bubble is formed. As long as the scarcity can be maintained, the bubble will expand. The beneficiaries of a real estate bubble are public entities, which not only collect property taxes from more assessed properties, thanks to densification but also collect based on higher assessments, thanks to the inflated values. Public sector pension funds also benefit, because their real estate portfolios benefit from the asset appreciation. But the imposition of artificial scarcity is not confined to housing. And to understand the strategic value of artificial scarcity to the American oligarchy, it is necessary to explain what made this squeeze on ordinary Americans not only incredibly profitable but necessary.

The Financialization of the American Economy

The ongoing destruction of America’s middle class began with the financialization of the American economy, a process that began in the 1970s. Greta Krippner, an economic sociologist at the University of Michigan, defines financialization as “a pattern of accumulation in which profit-making occurs increasingly through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production.”

Financialization is a threat that has no ideology. The left tends to blame economic challenges on the excessive power, influence, and greed of oligarchs. The libertarian right tends to blame economic challenges on excessive regulations emanating from oversized government. But they’re both right. Financialization has further empowered the oligarchs who have turned the American worker into a commodity. And financialization is the toxic remedy that has, for a time, enabled oversized government.

A Time magazine article published in 2016, entitled “American Capitalism’s Great Crisis,” quotes Krippner’s deeper explanation of how financialization began:

The changes were driven by the fact that in the 1970s, the growth that America had enjoyed following World War II began to slow. Rather than make tough decisions about how to bolster it, politicians decided to pass that responsibility to the financial markets. The Carter-era deregulation of interest rates—something that was, in an echo of today’s overlapping left-and right-wing populism, supported by an assortment of odd political bedfellows from Ralph Nader to Walter Wriston, then head of Citibank—opened the door to a spate of financial “innovations” and a shift in bank function from lending to trading. Reaganomics famously led to a number of other economic policies that favored Wall Street. Clinton-era deregulation, which seemed a path out of the economic doldrums of the late 1980s, continued the trend. Loose monetary policy from the Alan Greenspan era onward created an environment in which easy money papered over underlying problems in the economy, so much so that it is now chronically dependent on near-zero interest rates to keep from falling back into recession.

Carter. Reagan. Clinton. It’s important to document the bipartisan emergence of financialization. It can’t be unwound, or even discussed accurately, simply by referring to conventional ideological schisms.

The impact of financialization in America has been to enable private households and government agencies to spend more than they take in, and to make up the difference by borrowing more than they can ever hope to pay back. And through it all, for more than 40 years, the financial sector has extended the credit, accumulating more power and profit every step of the way. Ideology and partisanship provided the justifications and the means, but they came from the right and the left.

Estimates vary as to how much corporate profit now accrues to the financial sector in the United States, but they range generally between 25 percent and 40 percent. By comparison, in Germany, the financial sector earns about 6 percent of corporate profits. America’s overbuilt financial sector attracts the brightest college graduates. Math majors who might have gone into applied physics, engineering, chemistry, now migrate to Manhattan and work for hedge funds.

Closer to home, here’s how financialization has harmed ordinary Americans:

  • Created an incentive through low interest rates and tax law for people to borrow instead of save,
  • Rendered housing and college tuition unaffordable, thanks to low interest rates inducing borrowers to bid up prices,
  • Destroyed the ability of thrifty households to save, because only risky investments offer adequate returns,
  •  The emphasis on shareholder value above all else has depressed wages and driven jobs overseas,
  • Attracted brilliant innovators to work for financial firms (which produce nothing) instead of actual industries that create jobs and national wealth.

There’s more—and this is the least discussed but perhaps the most significant consequence of financialization. It expands the public sector, and it helps public-sector unions. Here’s how:

  • Governments can expand beyond the capacity of their tax revenues by borrowing at low interest rates,
  •  Government unions can negotiate over-market pay and benefits, relying on borrowing to cover deficits,
  • Government pension funds can make risky investments with the taxpayers backing them up,
  • As financialization drives middle-class citizens into poverty, the government expands its aid programs.

The connection between government unions and the financial oligarchs who currently run both political party establishments may be abstruse, but it isn’t trivial. They have a common interest in a financialized economy; a common interest in seeing what is now the biggest credit bubble (as a percentage of GDP) in American history get even bigger. This is explicitly contrary to the interests of ordinary Americans. The awakening grassroots resistance to the financialization of America help explains the sharp rise of populism starting in 2016, and it’s just begun.

The Scarcity Profiteers

Where there is credit, there is collateral. When consumers borrow, home equity is the collateral. And if America’s nearly four-decade borrowing binge is to continue uninterrupted, collateral values need to climb. Restricting new housing construction to infill causes the value of all real estate within the approved zones to soar. Investors get rich. Speculators get rich. Meanwhile, ordinary homeowners, caught in a spiral of debt accumulation because they spend more than they make, sink further into financial servitude.

But as their property values climb, they borrow more, they spend more, and America’s financialized economy keeps spinning. If and when this unsustainable debt binge hits the wall, America’s oligarchs will have taken all the money off the table. They are a macroscopic version of the Romneyesque private equity sharks—raid a company and acquire a controlling interest, load it up with debt, collect bonuses, declare bankruptcy, sell the assets, walk away.

Similar profiteering opportunism underscores the renewables mania. Not only do high tech companies capitalize on fantastic opportunities to sell gadgets to create a panopticon of energy surveillance à la the “internet of things,” where every home appliance is wired and monitored by the utilities. At the same time, the highly regulated public utilities are offered spectacular new avenues for higher profits, because while their profit percentages are fixed, and the units of energy they can generate are fixed, when they sell expensive renewable energy to the consumer instead of inexpensive natural gas or nuclear power, they can still double their revenues and profits.

The scarcity profiteers operate not in collusion or conspiracy, but merely as a collection of special interests whose interests all converge on the same goal: make water, energy, transportation, and housing as expensive as possible. Increase regulations and unleash an avalanche of lawsuits so only the biggest, most resilient corporations survive, and emerging competitors are crushed.

In California, and increasingly in other states, a punitively high cost of living is the result of conscious political choices, and the primary force behind these choices is not a desire to protect the environment; it is greed. The people who profit by artificial, contrived scarcity, don’t want anything to change. They are the utility companies, the trial lawyers, the Silicon Valley “green” entrepreneurs, and billionaires who already own the artificially limited supplies of land and housing.

If “carbon emissions auctions” trading ever takes hold nationally, it will launch the biggest skim operation in the history of the world. Every molecule of carbon embodied in every joule of energy will be accounted for, using a preposterous, byzantine, corruptible if not fraudulent financial alchemy. These carbon units will be tracked, so that the rights to emit them can be traded on an exchange, where the bookies of Wall Street will get a cut.

All of this would be implemented and operated at stupefying expense. Trillions of dollars in annual transactions would have to pass through this gauntlet.

iStock/Getty Images

Ending the Density Delusion, Restoring Sanity to Housing Markets

Well-intentioned but misguided policies to make housing affordable include rent control, which would just take away the incentives to maintain properties or invest in new income property. Another misguided solution is to offer government subsidies, which leads to accepting overpriced construction bids from the favored contractors without solving the underlying problems of punitive fees and unacceptable delays in permitting. But the most misguided policy of all is mandating densification instead of making it easier to build entire new cities on open land.

The density delusion exemplifies the power of a good value, environmentalism, taken too far and causing more harm than good. Defenders of densification dismiss the concerns of community groups that don’t want to see their neighborhoods destroyed. But it isn’t the wealthiest neighborhoods where densification policies will result in rent-subsidized fourplexes dropped onto a lot on a street otherwise filled with single-family dwellings. Residents of wealthy neighborhoods will hire attorneys and stop projects like that, driving the investors and developers into the middle class and lower middle-class neighborhoods, where hiring an attorney to fight city hall is not an option.

Which brings up the ultimate issue surrounding densification, artificial scarcity, and a politically contrived high cost of living. It is not protecting the environment to engage in these policies. It is class warfare prosecuted by the rich against the poor. It is the unifying populist issue of our time, currently overshadowed by identity politics as a useful and very divisive distraction. But the fixation of America’s electorate on identity politics is precariously maintained. The reality in American politics is this: identity politics is a distraction from, and extreme environmentalism is a false justification for, a massive transfer of wealth from the have nots to the haves.

America’s elites, to the extent they wish to invite hundreds of millions of unskilled immigrants from all over the world to move to this nation at the same time as they insist that everyone—native-born and new arrivals alike—stack themselves into existing urban areas, are betraying their fellow citizens. They are creating scarcity ostensibly to save the planet, but in reality, this scarcity creates asset bubbles that collateralize an economy running on debt accumulation.

Restoring sanity to housing markets will require wrenching economic policy adjustments. Public-sector reform—pension reform, in particular—combined with sweeping reform of overreaching environmentalist regulations, will allow public money to be redirected into enabling infrastructure: energy, water, and transportation. Eliminating or rolling back additional excessive environmental regulations, along with streamlining the permitting process and slashing building fees, will enable private developers to construct entire new cities on open land served by new infrastructure, dramatically lowering the price of housing everywhere.

With these changes, Americans would have a future where affordable abundance is the result of competitive development of housing and infrastructure, and financial surpluses would be used to build hyperlanes instead of paying pension funds, or to build next-generation nuclear power plants instead of purchasing carbon emission credits. For homeowners, it would mean being able to afford to take a vacation on the moon, because their mortgage payments were manageable.

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Weekend Long Read

America’s Homeless Industrial Complex

An alliance of special interests and government bureaucracies has acquired money and power by presiding over a problem that has only gotten worse, year after year. The worse the problem has gotten, the more money and power they have acquired. Creative solutions exist, and only await a critical mass of networked citizens and conscientious policymakers to insist on change.

In his final speech from the White House in January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the nation that the military had joined with the arms industry and had acquired unwarranted influence over American politics. His term for this alliance was the “military-industrial complex.”

Since that time, Eisenhower’s term has been co-opted by other critics of special interests pooling their resources to exercise a dangerous influence on America’s democracy; one example would be the so-called “homeless industrial complex.”

This label has been around awhile, and has bipartisan origins. In 2012 a guest editorial appeared in the liberal Washington Post entitled “Dismantling the social services industrial complex.” In it, the author explains “an odd mirror image of this huge complex has emerged in the very ‘industry’ that seeks to feed, clothe and otherwise meet the needs of the poor and vulnerable in our society. It’s a social services-industrial complex, if you will, one that could prove even more difficult to subdue than its military counterpart.”

In 2013, writing for Poverty Insights, author John Roberts asked: “Is There a Homeless Industrial Complex That Perpetuates Homelessness?” And in January 2017, a former homeless activist published in the ultra-liberal Huffington Post an article entitled “The Homeless Industrial Complex Problem.”

The alliance of special interests that constitutes what has now become the Homeless Industrial Complex includes government bureaucracies, homeless advocacy groups operating through nonprofit entities, and large government contractors, especially construction companies and land development firms.

Here’s how the process works: Developers accept public money to build projects to house the homeless—either “bridge housing,” or “permanent supportive housing.” Cities and counties collect building fees and hire bureaucrats for oversight. The projects are then handed off to nonprofits with long term contracts to run them.

That may not sound so bad, but the problem is the price tag. Developers don’t just build housing projects, they build ridiculously overpriced, overbuilt housing projects. Cities and counties create massive bureaucracies. The nonprofits don’t just run these projects—the actual people staffing these shelters aren’t overpaid—they operate huge bureaucratic empires with overhead, marketing budgets, and executive salaries that do nothing for the homeless.

None of these dynamics are terribly unique. Government-funded programs are rarely considered bargains. And despite prodigious waste, America’s military is nonetheless the most fearsome in the world. Similarly, despite mismanaging literally billions in proceeds from bonds and taxes collected to help the homeless, in absolute numbers America’s population of homeless may actually have declined over the past 10 years.

How Many Homeless Are There in America?

This surprises a lot of people, but there’s a lot more to that story. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in 2007 there were 647,000 homeless people in the United States, but by the time the most recent count was released in 2018, that number had declined to 543,000.

Why, if so much money is being wasted, and the homeless crisis seems to be more acute than ever, are the absolute numbers of homeless actually falling? First of all, the numbers may be incorrect. These counts may be grossly understated.

CityLab in March published an illuminating critique of how HUD’s “point-in-time” homeless count may be understating the numbers. Author Alastair Boone participated in an official count, covering a section of Oakland, California, in the early hours of January 30 this year. HUD requires cities and counties to complete the count on this day every two years in order to receive federal funding for homeless programs. But canvassing the streets of any city during the pre-dawn hours during the coldest month of the year (even in California) is bound to miss a lot of people.

“The count is during the winter early in the morning, when it’s harder to actually find folks because they’re seeking some sort of refuge,” Boone writes. “They want to stay out of sight in general for their own safety.”

Knowing just how many Americans are homeless is further complicated by competing definitions of homelessness. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) claimed in a 2015 report that 1.3 million K-12 students were homeless in that year. But NCES defines the homeless as not only those who are unsheltered or in homeless shelters, but those sharing housing due to loss of their own home, or living in hotels or motels.

Even in California, a state where homelessness is now a crisis célèbre for state legislators in Sacramento, and a cautionary horror story for conservative critics of California politics, at first glance, the overall numbers suggest the problem is overblown. On the map depicted below, using HUD data, the state by state homeless trend is shown for the 10 years from 2007 to 2017. California’s total homeless population actually dropped by 3.4 percent.

But reports from around the state dispute the HUD assessment. According to a June 2019 article published in the New York Times, “in Alameda County, the number of homeless residents jumped 43 percent over the past two years. In Orange County, that number was 42 percent. Kern County volunteers surveying the region’s homeless population found a 50 percent increase over 2018. San Francisco notched a 17 percent increase since 2017. When Los Angeles officials released the results of their most recent count, homelessness was up by 12 percent over last year in the county and up 16 percent in the City of Los Angeles.”

Nobody seems to know whether these flaws and ambiguities in how the homeless are counted mean that the crisis is, in fact, worse now than ever, despite official numbers showing a decline. But total numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. How the homeless are treated, and where the homeless are concentrated, has changed a great deal in the past ten years. This is the real reason the homeless crisis today is worse than ever.

The next map, below, using data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, shows 2018 estimates of the total homeless population by state. Viewed in this context, the states where homelessness increased dramatically over the past ten years, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, nonetheless confront a relatively insignificant challenge. As of 2018, the estimated homeless population of all three of those states combined totaled only 2,340 people.

Most homeless, on the other hand, are concentrated in states that share one or more of three characteristics; a mild winter climate, large urban centers, and liberal politics. New York, with the nation’s second-largest homeless population, fulfills two of those three criteria. Sunny California, in first place with an estimated homeless population exceeding 129,000 in 2018, fulfills all three.

Whether the numbers of homeless people are up or down in California is only half the story. How California’s homelessness has worsened over the past ten years represents a qualitative change. The mismanagement of California’s homeless can be attributed to the Homeless Industrial Complex, but other policy failures are also to blame. All in all, California’s response to homelessness is a textbook example of how to get almost everything wrong.

Policies That Made California’s Homeless Crisis Worse

An assortment of policy failures can be directly linked to why homelessness in California is a bigger problem than ever, even in the unlikely event the numbers of homeless have not dramatically increased. These policy failures have taken the form of overzealous court rulings, citizen approved ballot measures that wreaked havoc in their unintended consequences and flawed legislation.

Court Decisions: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, unsurprisingly, is the author of at least three rulings that have tied the hands of law enforcement in dealing with the homeless. The first of these is Jones v. the City of Los Angeles, decided in 2006, that ruled that law enforcement and city officials can no longer enforce the ban on sleeping on sidewalks anywhere within the Los Angeles city limits until a sufficient amount of permanent supportive housing could be built. Subsequent to the Jones ruling, activist attorneys have repeatedly sued cities and counties to force them to define “permanent supportive housing” with specifications that make it far more difficult and expensive to get anything built.

An analysis published by Washington State-based municipal law attorney Oskar Rey in June 2019 describes similar cases in other states. The Jones ruling was reinforced in September 2018, quoting from Rey, “in the case of Martin v City of Boise, where the 9th circuit found that the City of Boise’s enforcement of ordinances prohibiting camping, sleeping, or lying in public violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment if an individual does not have a meaningful alternative (such as space in a shelter or a legal place to camp).”

Rey continues:

A different Ninth Circuit case, Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, decided in 2012, addresses a related issue—due process requirements for the removal of unauthorized encampments on public property. Prior to clearing encampments, local governments must provide notice to camp resident (72-hour minimum notice is common). It is also important to have outreach personnel present during encampment removal, whose job it is to help individuals in an encampment identify shelter options or alternative locations to go to. Personal property found during the encampment removal must be held for a certain amount of time so that it can be claimed by the owner.

The practical impact of these cases is to create private space wherever a homeless person camps on publicly owned property. Apart from trying—often ineffectively—to prevent the homeless from blocking passage on roads and sidewalks, if a homeless person wants to camp in a public space, they cannot be removed.

State Ballot Initiatives: In 2014 California voters approved Proposition 47, which downgraded drug and property crimes. Prop. 47 has led to what police derisively refer to as “catch and release,” because suspects are only issued citations with a court date, and let go. With respect to the homeless, the passage of this initiative has made it a waste of time for police to arrest anyone for openly using illegal drugs or for petty theft. Only very serious crimes are still investigated. Prop. 47 has enabled anarchy among the homeless and in the neighborhoods where the homeless are concentrated.

In 2016, California voters approved Prop. 57, intended to make individuals convicted of nonviolent felony crimes eligible for parole. About 7,000 inmates became immediately eligible, and as of early 2016, there were about 25,000 nonviolent state felons who could seek early release and parole under Proposition 57. One can hope most of these released inmates reintegrated successfully into society. But those among this at-risk population who did not reintegrate joined California’s homeless.

State Legislation: Flawed legislation by California lawmakers would include AB 109, passed in 2011, which released tens of thousands of “non-violent” criminals out of county jails due to overcrowding without providing adequate means to monitor and assist their transition back into society. Thousands of these inmates were coping with drug addiction and mental illness, and they have found their way onto California’s streets and parks. Many of them are “non-violent” drug dealers or convicted thieves. As with Prop. 57, AB 109 has changed the character of California’s homeless population.

And then there’s the infamous AB 953, a ridiculous bit of legislation that epitomizes the mentality of California’s utopian leftist politicians. As if there weren’t enough laws and court rulings tying the hands of law enforcement, AB 953, the “The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015” makes it even harder. This law, supposedly intended to address dubious claims, especially in California, of discriminatory policing, requires police departments to submit to the State of California an annual report of their “stop data.” The following table, drawn from this report, shows the “Officer Reporting Requirements.”

When it comes to the practical effect of AB 953, it’s hard to find anything good. Every single time they interact with a citizen, officers have to input 17 variables into a form that is either paper (four pages, requiring reentry into a database), or onto a tablet, cell phone, or in-car laptop. The mere fact that this is a time-consuming process will prevent a police officer from making as many stops during a normal shift, and may deter them from even making some stops. Worse, the data collected is designed either to prove or disprove that officers in any given police department are stopping a disproportionate number of citizens who are members of “protected status groups.” Needless to say, officers, and their departments, may become reluctant to exceed their “quotas,” and as a result have an incentive to not make stops when stops are warranted.

No summary of counterproductive state legislation would be complete without mentioning the laws that make it nearly impossible to get treatment for mentally ill homeless people. According to a report published by CalMatters, this problem began way back in 1967 in California with “a law signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. Aimed at safeguarding the civil rights of one of society’s most vulnerable populations, the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act put an end to the inappropriate and often indefinite institutionalization of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.”

Ever since, and especially in recent years as the percentage of homeless who suffer from mental illness has increased, attempts to reform the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act have been resisted tenaciously by the ACLU and other homeless advocacy groups. As reported by San Francisco’s public radio station KQED, during 2018 three laws were introduced by California legislators that would “attempt to change conservatorship rules to allow city health workers to help homeless people with substance abuse and mental health problems by legally and temporarily stepping in to force a mentally ill person into treatment.” Only one, SB 1045, became law, and the final version was so watered down that San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed, a liberal Democrat, claimed “As drafted, SB 1045 would allow us to help fewer than five individuals.” There are an estimated 7,000 homeless living on the streets of San Francisco.

Most of these court rulings and laws, nearly all of them passed or decided in the last decade, have made it far more difficult to manage California’s homeless population. Their effect has been to increase the proportion of mentally ill, drug addicts, and criminals as a percentage of the homeless, at the same time as police and social service workers have far less ability to detain, relocate, or even offer help to the homeless.

A New Threat of Medieval Disease Epidemics

Notwithstanding the many passed or proposed state laws that attempt to create more housing, or throw additional billions at the Homeless Industrial Complex only to be largely squandered, another set of state laws—either proposed or already passed—threaten to turn California’s homeless epidemic into a serious disease epidemic. In 2014 the California Legislature passed AB 2657, banning rat poison that uses anticoagulants. The reason for this legislation was to protect endangered species who feed on the poisoned rats and themselves become poisoned. While the law didn’t explicitly prohibit use of the poison within inner cities, the City of Los Angeles has stopped relying on the poison and instead is setting traps and considering bringing in “working cats” to control the rodent population. It’s not working. An even more restrictive ban on effective rodenticides, AB 2422, is currently moving through California’s state legislature and is expected to pass.

Most people agree that using poisons this potent should be restricted in suburban areas bordering wildlife habitat. But the consequences of denying its use in the downtown core of Los Angeles could be catastrophic to the human population. And the mountains of trash that create rat habitat are not just coming from homeless people, they are a product of a disastrous decision by the Los Angeles City Council that has led to mountains of uncollected trash from businesses and residences.

In 2017, the Los Angeles City Council began to implement the “RecycLA” program, where they gave seven companies the exclusive right to collect trash. Putting small haulers out of business in the name of saving the streets from excessive traffic, the measure was sold as a way to create economies of scale. Instead, these companies were unable to manage a smooth absorption of the additional work, at the same time as in many cases they doubled or tripled their collection fees. The consequences of these failed schemes are that Los Angeles now has two sources contributing to the mountains of trash in the city—homeless encampments, but also illegal dumping by disgruntled businesses and residences.

Where there’s trash, there are rats, and where there are rats, there are disease-carrying fleas. Dr. Drew Pinsky, an outspoken celebrity doctor and Los Angeles native, was recently quoted on Fox News, saying: “Rats have taken over the city. We’re the only city in the country, Los Angeles, without a rodent control program. We have multiple rodent-borne, flea-borne illnesses, plague, typhus. We’re going to have louse-borne illness. Measles could break into that population. We have tuberculosis exploding.”

All of this is easily confirmed. Los Angeles has already had outbreaks of typhus, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, as have other cities in California. Shigella, a communicable form of diarrhea, is now common among the homeless. There have even been outbreaks of trench fever, spread by lice. As reported by the Atlantic earlier this year “Medieval Diseases Are Infecting California’s Homeless.”

To date, except for those people living and working in proximity to the many encampments, the homeless crisis in America has been an abstraction. But now there is a possibility that this perfect storm of neglect, indulgence, and corruption may lead to disease outbreaks on a scale not seen in this country for over a century. The homeless problem has become a timebomb.

Homelessness Around the United States

When it comes to mismanaging the homeless, California may be the leader of the pack, but other major urban centers are not far behind. The following table shows which American cities have the largest homeless populations. While four out of the top ten—Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco—are in California, it is New York City that has the most homeless. An estimated 78,000 homeless are living on the streets of the Big Apple. As usual with numbers, however, there’s more to this story. According to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York City has one of the lowest levels of unsheltered homeless at 5 percent, while in Los Angeles, 75 percent of people were found in unsheltered locations. Overall, over half of all homeless people live in one of the country’s 50 largest cities. In fact, nearly a quarter of all people sleeping unsheltered did so in either New York or Los Angeles.

But how is it that New York City manages to get 95 percent of their homeless into overnight shelters, whereas Los Angeles only gets 25 percent of their homeless into shelters? An interesting analysis published in Medium in May 2018 explains how New Yorkers addressed the problem of homelessness. The approach was first to simply build more shelter beds. The correlation between the number of available shelter beds and the number of sheltered homeless is high across the nation, as the graphic below illustrates.

What New York City did was to prioritize getting people under a roof for the night. In other cities where this has been tried, such as Columbus, Ohio, the number of unsheltered homeless has been brought under control. But New York City has gone a step further, offering reasonable conditions and incentives to their sheltered population even at this most basic first step of assistance. Quoting from Medium:

In New York, shelters have common areas and guests are allowed during certain hours. People can leave during the day—they are expected to look for a job if they’re able to work, and they receive assistance in that pursuit—but must come back by 10 p.m. in most cases, unless they receive a job-related exemption. All facilities have access to laundry and showers, and residents receive 3 meals a day. New York shelters provide a small platform from which people can rebuild their lives, but are also affordable enough to be able to scale to meet the city’s immense problem.

As the next chart shows, New York City’s nearly 800 shelters with an overnight capacity of over 62,000 individuals gives them a rate of unsheltered homeless of only 45 per 100,000 residents. San Francisco and Los Angeles, by contrast, have a rate of unsheltered homeless ten times higher; Seattle, five times higher. What’s different in these cities?

Part of it is New York’s legacy of providing assistance to the homeless dating back to the Great Depression of the 1930s. New York’s network of overnight shelters was acquired over decades, meaning New Yorkers today are able to allocate a higher percentage of the nearly $1.7 billion in city, state and federal money on caseworkers and shelter subsidies, and relatively less on the acquisition of new shelter capacity. And because New York City prioritizes providing immediate shelter over the far more expensive “permanent supportive housing,” what seems like a prodigious amount budgeted to help the homeless comes out to only around $21,000 per homeless person.

One obvious challenge facing cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other West Coast cities facing a homeless crisis is the high cost of housing. But other policies have helped cause the problem, and are making the problem worse. As described, state and local laws, court rulings and citizen initiatives have all made California’s homeless crisis much harder to manage. Not only is it harder to compel the homeless to seek shelter, or get them into treatment for addiction and mental illness, or prosecute them for criminal offenses, but the emphasis on permanent supportive housing takes money away from funds that could be used for overnight shelters. Up north, Seattle faces similar policy failures.

Four articles published in City Journal over the past six months by Christopher Rufo, a research fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Wealth and Poverty, offer a blistering critique of Seattle’s inept response to homelessness, and the growing backlash from residents. For starters, the Seattle metro area spends more than $1 billion fighting homelessness every year. That equates to nearly $100,000 per homeless individual living in Seattle, nearly five times as much as New York City spends. And yet, as previously shown, Seattle’s rate of unsheltered homeless is five times greater than New York City. By these measures, New York City is twenty-five times more efficient at battling homelessness than Seattle.

Why is it that Seattle, the “Emerald City,” home to what is arguably the second biggest high-tech nexus on earth, a locus for fabulous wealth and a place of dazzling scenic beauty, with per capita income 50 percent higher than New York City, can’t begin to manage their homeless problem?

Rufo attributes the root cause of Seattle’s failure to what he calls “unlimited compassion,” and calls for a complete rethink of the assumptions that guide policies towards the homeless. It would not be much of an overstatement to characterize Rufo’s lengthy first article, from Fall 2018, titled “Seattle Under Siege,” as a seminal manifesto challenging the entire ideological framework of the “compassion brigades” that dominate Seattle politics. This ideology is not unique to Seattle. It informs failed homeless policies across the country, especially in blue states, and especially on the West Coast.

The Ideology That Fails to Help the Homeless

What Rufo identifies as the “four ideological power centers” that frame the homeless debate in Seattle (and elsewhere) are “the socialists, the compassion brigades, the addiction evangelists, and the homeless-industrial complex.” The first three fit nicely into a Socialist/Liberal ideology. The last of Rufo’s categories, his shared concern about the “homeless industrial complex,” is a bit more complicated, and motivated not by ideology but by desire for power and profit. More on that later.

An interesting fact about the urban centers on the West Coast is that their high-tech driven wealth is highly correlated with higher wealth inequality, along with higher home prices and higher rents. And where the rich and poor live elbow to elbow at the same time as the cost-of-living soars, socialists come out of the woodwork, offering indignant soundbites and instant solutions. In Seattle, along with San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, avowed socialists sit on the city councils, offering a political agenda that’s guaranteed to make everything worse for the people it is supposed to help.

In Seattle, the “Socialist Alternative” city council member is Kashama Sawant, who along with Adrienne Quinn, the new boss of the homeless activist group “All Home,” promotes an agenda that is all too familiar for anyone watching urban politics in cities controlled by liberals. For Sawant, that agenda includes rent control, public housing, minimum-wage hikes, and punitive corporate taxation. As for Quinn, Rufo writes: “In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, she lays out her plan to ‘address the root causes of homelessness’ by solving ‘racism,’ ‘wage inequity,’ ‘climate change,’ ‘housing costs,’ ‘public transportation,’ ‘green building,’ ‘sanctuary cities,’ the ‘child-welfare system,’ ‘brain injuries,’ and ‘mental-health and addiction services.’”

Needless to say, this socialist agenda will never solve the problem of homelessness. Rent control discourages investment in housing; public housing is rarely built cost-effectively, especially in blue cities with extreme environmentalist building codes and costly labor laws, minimum wage hikes are job killers, and punitive corporate taxes send corporations packing for Texas. The most ironic thing about the socialist agenda in 21st-century America is that it is inevitably co-opted by the corporate Left. The only thing these two special interests have in common, ultimately, is a vested interest in never seeing lasting solutions to any of the problems they’re supposedly fighting to solve. Lasting solutions would end their revenue streams.

Compassion brigades, as Rufo puts it, “are the moral crusaders of homelessness policy, the activists who put signs on their lawns that read: ‘In this house, we believe black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal,’ and so on. They see compassion as the highest virtue; all else must be subordinated to it.”

What Rufo refers to is expanded on by the idea of six universal moral foundations, first expressed in 2004 by Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia. These virtues (and their opposites) are: “Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation, and Liberty/oppression.” Needless to say, Haidt’s paradigm is fodder for ideologues of all stripes. Liberals are accused by conservatives of possessing only two of these virtues—Care (compassion), and Fairness. As an aside, conservatives accuse Libertarians of only possessing one of these virtues, Liberty. For themselves, conservatives familiar with Haidt’s work rather immodestly consider themselves to possess all six universal virtues.

But regardless of what social psychologists theorize, or how those theories are latched onto by various ideologues, Rufo’s assertion that the “compassion brigades” ascribe inordinate emphasis to compassion, at the expense of other moral considerations, is evidence-based. And understanding this moral weakness in the moral arguments of liberal advocates for the homeless is a prerequisite to developing counter-arguments that offer equivalent moral worth.

Which brings us to Rufo’s third ideological power center, the “addiction evangelists,” who he describes as the intellectual heirs of the 1960’s counterculture. This time, the counterculture wants to “elevate addicts and street people to a protected class.” Rufo identifies Seattle’s proponents of this ethos, but they’re found everywhere. One primary justification for the pro-addiction movement is “harm reduction” by providing clean needles, and safe injection sites. But providing addiction infrastructure has the predictable consequence of attracting addicts, and the more addiction infrastructure is provided, the more addicts are attracted.

In all of these ideological movements—socialism, compassion, addiction evangelism—Rufo documents how the unintended consequence has been to increase the number of homeless people and the number of drug addicts on the streets of Seattle. Another consequence has been to invite a growing backlash from residents who have had enough. But progress is slow, especially when the will of the people isn’t enough. When over 70,000 Seattle residents submitted a ballot measure to ban safe injection sites, it was thrown out in court. Apparently “public health policy is not subject to veto by citizen initiative.”

The Homeless Industrial Complex

As is usually the case with leftist movements in America, public policies would not embrace the movement unless powerful special interests saw an economic benefit in the status quo. In the case of the homeless, this economic benefit has grown over time. Litigation and legislation, as described, have increased the cost of providing shelter for the homeless. These costs have also increased because the character of the homeless population has changed due to a variety of causes, making it more costly to effectively help them: permissive drug laws combined with easier access to harder drugs such as opiates, mass release of nonviolent prison inmates, and laws restricting the ability to compel treatment for addiction or mental illness.

At the same time as per capita costs have risen, public awareness has led to massive increases in funding to provide assistance. Institutions have arisen that benefit from perverse incentives. If the problem gets worse, they get more money. Seattle provides dramatic examples of this. Again, from Christopher Rufo:

It wasn’t always this way. When I spoke with Eleanor Owen, one of the original co-founders of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center, she explained that the organization’s mission has shifted over the years from helping the homeless to securing government contracts, maintaining a $112 million real-estate portfolio, and paying a staff of nearly 900. ‘It’s disgraceful,’ she said. ‘When we started, we kept our costs low and helped people get back on their feet. Now the question is: How can I collect another city contract? How can I collect more Medicaid dollars? How can I collect more federal matching funds? It’s more important to keep the staff paid than to actually help the poor become self-sufficient.’

Nowhere, however, is the mismanagement of homeless more acute than in the deep blue state of California, where land values and anti-development legislation, along with a host of other laws and court rulings as previously described, combined with the most forgiving winter weather in America, have combined to make it America’s homeless capital.

California’s homeless are estimated to number over 130,000, living on sidewalks, parks and parking lots, vacant lots and on the beach. In Los Angeles County, the most recent count puts the number of homeless at 59,000. And in greater Los Angeles, there is plenty of money available to help the homeless. In 2016, Los Angeles voters approved Measure HHH, allocating $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 units to house the homeless. Since then, Los Angeles voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase, also to help the homeless. Additional hundreds of millions are coming from the state to help the homeless.

Every major city in California is spending tens of millions or more on programs for the homeless. But most of the money is being wasted. Why? Because there is a Homeless Industrial Complex that is getting rich, wasting the money, while the homeless population swells.

A disgraceful example of wasteful spending can be found in the homeless shelter being built in Venice Beach, where a permanent population of over 1,000 homeless have taken over virtually every public venue, including the beach. Because their tents are now protected by law as private space, they not only serve as housing, but as pop-up drug retailers and brothels. To get these folks off the streets and off the beach, a 154-bed shelter has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council. It will be a “wet” shelter, meaning druggies and drunkards will be able to come and go as they please. The estimated cost for this shelter so far is at least $8 million, which equates to over $50,000 per bed.

These costs, grossly inflated and far too expensive to offer a solution scaled to the overall problem, are nonetheless unsurprising if you consider the cost of any new construction in exorbitant California. But this isn’t new construction, it’s “temporary” construction of very large tents on three acres of land. Eight million dollars (or more), to put up some large tents and plumbing for bathrooms and a kitchen. As a “wet” shelter, it will become a hotel for freeloading partiers as much as a refuge for the truly needy. Not only is it only capable of housing a small fraction of the 1,000+ homeless already in Venice, but it will also attract more homeless people to relocate to Venice.

The story gets worse. This property, owned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit District and located on some of the most precious real estate on earth, could have been sold to private investors to generate tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Why wasn’t that choice made? Why, for that matter, aren’t homeless shelters being built in Pacific Palisades, or Brentwood, or Beverly Hills, or the other tony enclaves of LA’s super rich? The answer speaks to the hypocrisy of the proponents of these “solutions” as much as it nurtures the cynicism of its critics. Because as with all boondoggles that destroy neighborhoods in the name of compassion, the Homeless Industrial Complex knows better than to foul their own nests.

The Homeless Industrial Complex’s expensive maltreatment of Venice Beach in particular, and taxpayers in general, is an example of how “bridge housing” projects are co-opted and corrupted. But even more horrendous waste is exemplified by the efforts to construct “permanent supportive housing.”

According to an NPR report from June 2018, “when voters passed Measure HHH, they were told that new ‘permanent supportive housing’ would cost about $140,000 a unit. But average per unit costs are now more than triple that. The PATH Ventures project in East Hollywood has an estimated per-unit cost of $440,000.”

A privately funded development company, Flyaway Homes, has debuted in Los Angeles with the mission of rapidly providing housing for the homeless. Using retrofitted shipping containers, the company’s modular approach to apartment building construction is purported to streamline the approval process and cut costs. But the two projects they’ve got underway are too expensive ever to offer a solution to more than fraction of the homeless.

Their 82nd Street Development will cost $4.5 million to house 32 “clients” in 16 two-bedroom, 480 square foot apartments. That’s $281,250 per two-bedroom apartment. The firm’s 820 W. Colden Ave. property will cost $3.6 million to house 32 clients in eight four-bedroom apartments. That’s $450,000 per apartment.

These costs are utterly unsustainable. But the Homeless Industrial Complex has grown into a juggernaut, crushing the opposition. At community hearings across California, “homeless advocates,” who are often bused in from other areas expressly to shout down local opposition, demand action, because “no one deserves to live on a sidewalk.”

Money is squandered, and the population of homeless people multiplies.

The “Transformation” vs. “Containment” Approaches to the Homeless

San Diego has the fourth-highest number of homeless of any city in American—more than 8,500. According to Paul Webster, operator of a privately funded homeless shelter in San Diego, there are two ways to treat the homeless, the “transformational model” and the “containment” model. The transformation model works to identify homeless individuals who are able to transition back to self-sufficiency and gives them the training and services to accomplish that. The containment model emphasizes getting shelter for the homeless before offering additional services. Webster is critical of a relatively recent federal law, the 2009 Hearth Act, that bureaucratized the process of getting public money to combat homelessness at the same time as it made it harder to secure funding for transformational programs.

Since 2009, all organizations set up to help the homeless have to submit applications through regional quasi-government organizations called “continuums of care.” The applications have to be “evidence-based” and reliant on data such as the HUD “point in time” counts. All grant requests as well have to include “homelessness management information systems” that facilitate “coordinated entry” of the homeless into supportive care.

The new guidelines, enforced by HUD, also incorporated “low barrier entry” requirements in order to “reach the most vulnerable.” This meant applicants could not prohibit drug use, they can’t require work, and they cannot require program compliance. Applicants for state and local grants have to adhere to these same HUD guidelines.

Webster’s organization, Solutions for Change, requires no drug use, work, they have roommate restrictions, partying restrictions, and they do drug testing. This means that they can’t accept federal funds and they also aren’t eligible for state funds because of the “housing first” rule, meaning that housing has to be provided before providing any other solutions to homelessness.

The implications of the Hearth Act on how the homeless are treated go well beyond determining who gets funds. It has created an incentive for homeless organizations to prioritize helping drug addicts, because one of the ways to attract benefits to help the homeless is by getting Social Security Disability income. The so-called “housing navigators” who help qualify people for SSDI know it is easier to secure this benefit if the person is afflicted with drug addiction.

Webster says there are three types of homeless. The “cannots” who are mentally ill or disabled; these comprise about 15 percent of the homeless. Then there are the “have nots” who could succeed if they were trained to acquire new skills and had access to services. The have-nots are often not counted; they live doubled up in homes, with friends, in cars, many of them are single mothers who want to avoid living on the street. These have-nots are about 42 percent of the homeless. The third group are the “will nots” who do not want to change. Most of these are drug addicts or alcoholics. These are the most problematic of the three.

The will-nots know they have safe havens on the street, where they can get drugs cheaply and readily. The will-nots become very sophisticated at getting things for nothing—the government doesn’t make a distinction between the unwilling and the unable—as a result the unwilling will always have the ability to crowd out the unable. The result of laws aimed at helping the homeless, the Federal Hearth Act, or at criminal justice reform, California’s Prop. 47 and AB 953, are that the will-nots generally receive the bulk of the services aimed at helping the homeless, despite the fact that their treatment is invariably more expensive, and the likelihood they will ever change is much lower. Left behind are the cannots and the have-nots. Also left behind, at least when it comes to funding, are organizations that work on permanent transformation, instead of mere containment.

Solutions to America’s Homeless Crisis

To state the obvious, all of this must change. Here are some ways to make that happen.

Pick Up the Trash: With Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and other cities already facing the imminent threat of a breakout disease epidemic, this measure comes before all others. It ought to be easy, America’s cities in the second half of the 20th century were not inundated with tons of uncollected trash on the streets. In the case of Los Angeles, if their recently launched “RecycLA” program is truly the corruption-riddled, ineffective, price gouging, trash neglecting disaster it appears to be, then cancel the program and go back to what worked in the past.

The failure of large urban cities even to pick up their trash points to larger shifts in culture and governance that have to be addressed. Some cities, notably New York City, still manage to fulfill most of these basic obligations of local government. To the extent that piled up trash remains a problem after waste management contracts are restructured and the system of garbage collection works again, these larger structural issues have to be addressed—starting with the homeless encampments.

Time could be running out. If rodent populations aren’t brought under control—perhaps also by temporarily permitting application of otherwise problematic rodenticides in infested urban settings—large numbers of innocent people may become afflicted with deadly diseases. If this does happen, it will be something that was totally avoidable. Look for an avalanche of lawsuits and possible criminal prosecutions against negligent local politicians.

Lower the Cost of New Housing: This is a monster topic, but cannot be excluded from any discussion of the homeless crisis. In some respects, it is an excuse, since with other policy revisions it would be possible to shelter the homeless without having to engage in ridiculously expensive housing solutions. But the cost of housing, especially in blue states that are dominated by extreme environmentalists and labor unions (in that order), is artificially high as a result of policies that must change if costs are to come down.

California, ever the cautionary example, needs to eliminate or dramatically reduce the scope of extreme environmentalist inspired mandates, starting with the California Environmental Quality Act. This law, passed in 1970, has been abused by opportunistic attorneys and state bureaucrats to stop most housing developments in their tracks. It takes years, if not decades, to approve housing projects that in other states would take weeks or months to get approval. CEQA and similar California laws are the reason why the median price of a home in California is $547,700, whereas in Texas it’s $196,100.

Also afflicting blue states is what might be termed the “density delusion,” that is, the delusional conventional wisdom among liberal policymakers that the only environmentally correct way to permit housing construction is to engage in “infill” within the borders of existing urbanized areas. Somehow, the theory goes, if everyone lives in tightly packed cities, “greenhouse gas” emissions will be reduced. That, and preservation of “open space,” are the moral arguments for high-density housing. But these arguments are flawed.

The “climate” argument for high-density housing ignores the extra fuel burned as more and more commuter vehicles idle on a finite allocation of congested roads. It ignores the fact that jobs move to the urban periphery when new homes are constructed out there, relieving rush-hour congestion. It also ignores the fact that high rise housing costs far more per unit, because of the massive quantities of cement and steel required for any construction over three stories. And it is cruelly indifferent to the destruction of established suburban neighborhoods as apartments are seeded onto lots right next to single-family dwellings. America is less than 4 percent urbanized. There is plenty of extra “open space,” and it is futile to expect infill alone to enable housing supply to increase enough to lower prices.

Politically contrived housing scarcity creates a real-estate bubble, something that is in the economic interests of wealthy investors and speculators, pension portfolio managers, and local governments who collect higher property tax revenue. It also increases profits to those mega-development firms that have the financial clout to push their projects through the approval process. This is perhaps the true motivation for “smart growth.” Reversing these policies will not solve the homeless crisis, but it will make it less likely for the hard-working “have nots” (roughly 40 percent of the homeless population) to lose their homes and rentals, and it will make it easier for them to afford housing once they get back on their feet.

Quit Blaming Homelessness on Prejudice and Privilege: According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, African Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but more than 40 percent of the homeless population. Similarly, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and people who identify as two or more races make up a disproportionate share of the homeless population. Clearly, minority communities are disproportionately represented among the homeless.

While these statistics are probably accurate, they are used to reinforce the liberal catechism that finds all disparities by race to be the result of white racism. Accepting this catechism results in policies that are ineffective, expensive, and divisive. Rather than granting preferences and entitlements to people based on their alleged status as victims of racism, it would be far more productive to identify the more likely cause of individual criminality, addiction, unemployability, which is the parental status of the homes they grew up in.

The next table, below, shows parental status by race for children under 18. As shown, 57 percent of black children in 2014 were being raised by single mothers, compared to only 18 percent of white children. Note the remarkable degree of correlation between the proportions of homeless by race, and the proportions of single parent households by race.

It’s easy, and plays well to the crowd, to attribute minority homelessness to racism. But a growing body of evidence suggests that intact families are the prevailing indicator of individual success in life. Until that evidence is confronted by the communities affected by it, other suggested causes for minorities being disproportionately represented among the homeless lack authenticity, and smack of opportunism.

Untie Hands of Law Enforcement: The theory of “Broken Windows,” or “order maintenance” policing argues that “tolerating too much local disorder created a climate in which criminal behavior, including serious crimes, would become more likely, since criminals would sense that public norms and vigilance were weak.” Broken Windows policing, whereby police crack down on low-level crimes, was begun in the 1990s in New York City and is often credited with greatly reducing crime rates.

At the other extreme is the near lawlessness that prevails on the streets of Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities experiencing a homeless crisis. In California, as described, well-intentioned citizen approved ballot measures and ill-conceived legislation have tied the hands of law enforcement. Public intoxication, petty crime, and vagrancy are all either decriminalized or have been downgraded to the point where offenders have to be released almost immediately after apprehension. California’s legislature has even passed laws supposedly necessary to prevent “racial profiling” which in practice make police hesitant to make stops both because of possible repercussions and because of the time consuming new reporting requirements.

The consequences of tying the hands of law enforcement are obvious. It is preposterous that criminals, drunks, drug addicts, and insane people are permitted to take over entire sections of cities and neighborhoods, but that’s exactly what’s happened. It is important to stress that while a little over 40 percent of the homeless are so-called “have nots,” these people almost all find shelter, often with friends or family. The remainder, the “cannots” and the “will nots,” are the ones found living on the streets. Virtually all of these “cannots” and “will nots” are either mentally ill, alcoholics, or drug addicts; many of them are criminals.

In every state where they’ve been enacted, measures that tie the hands of police have to be overturned by voters or repealed by the legislature. The police need to be allowed to do their jobs.

Make it Easier to Incarcerate the Mentally Ill: It’s worth wondering how anyone can think it is compassionate to allow a raving schizophrenic, terrified by their own thoughts, to roam unmedicated on crowded city streets. But that’s exactly what’s been happening in the purported interest of protecting their human rights. Certainly it is important to avoid overreach, but at this point laws available to compel the mentally ill into treatment are inadequate. Often the afflicted have family members who have the means to help, and are desperate to get their relatives into treatment, but the laws prevent them.

Approximately 15 percent of the homeless are mentally ill; arguably, the alcoholics and drug addicts are also suffering from a form of mental illness. Together these cohorts constitute well over half of all homeless, and nearly all of the unsheltered homeless seen on the streets. Families, caseworkers, and mental health professionals need to be given the legal tools to help these people.

Overturn Jones vs Los Angeles and similar court rulings: Starting over a decade ago with the 2006 decision in the case Jones vs the City of Los Angeles, homeless cannot be prohibited from sleeping on the street unless “permanent supportive housing” is available. Similar rulings have been issued in Idaho and Washington State. The impact of these rulings, combined with the other constraints on law enforcement, make it nearly impossible to clear the streets of homeless encampments. The problem has been exacerbated by subsequent lawsuits to enforce the Jones decision which have defined “permanent supportive housing” in ways that make it more expensive. The practical impact of the Jones case has been to make it financially infeasible to ever deliver adequate housing alternatives to the homeless. A major city with the financial wherewithal to pay for a sustained legal battle needs to challenge the Jones decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the objective being a ruling that will permit less elaborate, more cost-effective housing and shelter solutions to be allowable.

Set Limits on Costs: In Los Angeles today, a temporary shelter (designed to last three years) is being constructed at a cost of over $50,000 per bed, and “permanent supportive housing” units are being constructed for, on average, over $400,000 each. Los Angeles is also planning to deploy mobile toilets for the homeless to use, with the expected cost per unit of $339,000 per year. In Seattle, the cost for existing programs to help the homeless is approximately $100,000 per homeless person per year. Given the number of unsheltered homeless in Seattle, this spending is totally ineffective. These costs are absurd. Designing solutions that cost less, but offer shelter to 100 percent of the homeless, is vastly preferable to solutions that cost so much that only a fraction of the homeless get assistance.

Creative solutions exist that cost far less. Off the shelf tents, sheds, prefab “tiny homes,” and prefab homes made from shipping containers are all less costly options. Relocating the homeless to repurposed industrial or retail sites that are already built out and not on premium real estate would cut costs. Putting shelters in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate on earth not only squanders finite available funds, but when the unused property is government-owned, the chance is lost to sell that property and invest the proceeds in less expensive locations. Somehow, pressure needs to come to bear on politicians so they will recognize that costs are out of control and act accordingly.

Assert the Moral Argument for a New Approach: Most citizens who live in neighborhoods or commercial centers overrun with homeless people feel a justifiable anger at the failure of civic leaders to get the problem under control. But no serious conversation about solutions should fail to acknowledge the fact that the homeless are people who deserve compassion. For every predator, opportunist, or slacker, there are far more who have simply lost their way. Who knows what happened in the life of an inmate just thrown back onto the streets, or a teenager who just aged out of foster care?

When discussing new policies to manage the problem of homelessness, the importance of compassion can remain first among equals when considered along with other moral virtues; fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, liberty. When offering new solutions, practical solutions, solutions that work for everyone affected by homelessness, reformers have to emphasize the moral worth of their ideas. They may have to shout this over the well-orchestrated objections coming from the compassion brigades. But fighting the compassion brigades does not require one to lack compassion.

The culture of normalizing drug use, protecting the rights of the mentally ill to their detriment, insisting on prohibitively expensive accommodations for the homeless—these are all morally flawed arguments. The deterrent value of strictly enforced laws against vagrancy has moral worth, because individuals—specifically, the “will nots”—will not be enabled more easily to choose a life of idle indulgence. Compelling the mentally ill to submit to treatment is a humane policy, not oppression. Similarly, compelling addicts and alcoholics into treatment facilities where they can detox and work productively is often the only way to offer them a chance to recover their dignity and regain control of their lives.

Part of this moral conversation must examine the wisdom of the “housing first” policy of containment that is now a condition of receiving federal funds for homeless programs. Proponents of new approaches to helping the homeless should consider the success of transformational programs, which offer job training, counseling, and sobriety programs in addition to shelter.

When discussing the moral worth of a new approach to combating homelessness, perhaps the most urgent area to demand reform is to put an end to the waste and corruption that infests the entire process as it is today. The absurd costs of any sort of construction, the myriad parties to the process, all with their hands out, all of them hiding behind righteous rhetoric. The Homeless Industrial Complex has spawned far too many charlatans and opportunists. They must be exposed and expelled.

America’s Homeless Industrial Complex has acquired money and power by presiding over a problem that has only gotten worse, year after year. The worse the problem has gotten, the more money and power they have acquired. Creative solutions exist, and only await a critical mass of networked citizens and conscientious policymakers to insist on change.

Weekend Long Read

How We Will Stop China’s Long March to Rule Earth and Space

Over the past two weeks, the streets of Hong Kong have been racked with protests on a scale rarely seen. By some accounts, more than 2 million people participated, over a quarter of Hong Kong’s population of 7 million.

The cause of the massive unrest was a proposed law that would allow accused criminals to be extradited to China. Protesters knew what that meant. Anyone in Hong Kong who was critical of the Chinese regime would end up in Chinese prison camps, instead of having a chance at what remains of due process within Hong Kong.

On the surface, China’s response to the protests in Hong Kong has been mild. This should come as no surprise. The regime knows that sending in the tanks, the way it did after losing patience with the occupiers of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, would not work in Hong Kong. Over 150 years of British rule gave Hong Kong residents a familiarity with democracy and respect for individual rights—and an intolerance for tyranny. When Hong Kong was turned back over to China in 1997, the expectation was that these rights would be preserved under the concept of “one nation, two systems.” But as ever, the Chinese are playing the long game.

Beijing has operatives embedded in Hong Kong’s police and security services. They have control over local gangsters. They have installed pervasive surveillance technology. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, is a puppet of the Chinese regime, and while her political career may not survive the current unrest, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is full of Chinese puppets. Slowly but relentlessly, China’s regime will identify and silence dissidents in Hong Kong. It may take decades, but China has implacable resolve. The goal is to turn Hong Kong into just another Chinese city.

So what does it mean to be Chinese in the 21st century?

For most of the second half of the 20th century, China was asleep. Under Maoist Communism, the people were enslaved and the Chinese economy was stagnant. But starting in the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese Communist Party slowly introduced economic reforms. “Special economic zones” were authorized, starting in 1980 in the southern city of Shenzhen, where the regime could experiment with more flexible market policies. In 1990, the Shanghai Stock Exchange was opened. In 1996, China allowed the Yuan (Renminbi) to be convertible with foreign currency, enabling the growth of its export industry. In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization. The rest is history.

Today, China’s potential is being realized. To be Chinese today is to be part of an irresistible collective, a rising hyperpower, destined to rule the earth and the heavens. China’s population has soared to more than 1.4 billion; it is the world’s second-largest economy, and the world’s top exporter. In 2017, China’s exports totaled $2.4 trillion, and its trade surplus was $873 billion.

China is wide awake, and moving the world. But is China ready to move the world?

In a word, no.

For all its demographic clout and economic dynamism, China fails to meet basic standards of international civility and internal stability. It is a rogue mercantile nation, an expansionist superpower, a racist ethnostate, and a human rights hellhole. The United States does not face a cold war with China, it is already in a cold war with China. How that cold war ends—hot like 1939, or peacefully like 1989—and who wins, may define the destiny of humanity for centuries to come.

China is no longer Communist, nor have the Chinese become capitalists. They are fascists. Capitalist financial incentives now motivate their entrepreneurs, but the Chinese regime exercises top-down absolute power.

The virtue of fascism, if you want to call it that, is the elimination of gridlock. In less than 10 years, the Chinese regime built the Three Gorges Dam, which now turns the hydropower of the fabled Yangtze River into 22 gigawatts of electricity. For a large dam to be built in America today, 10 years wouldn’t be enough time to do a feasibility study, much less acquire permits, settle lawsuits, and begin construction.

But is gridlock the price of America’s freedom? Is tyranny the prerequisite for China’s national resolve? And which system will prove stronger; which will attract the rest of the world?

From the safe haven of liberty and prosperity that America remains despite the wails of its excitable Left, it is easy to forget just how different life is in police state China. To put the comparison into stark perspective, imagine if one of China’s biggest movie stars, say, Deng Chao, in his first remarks to the audience at the Golden Rooster Awards (mainland China’s equivalent of the Oscars), were to say “f— Xi,” and then, after a brief pause, were to say “it’s no longer ‘down with Xi,’ it’s f— Xi.” Or imagine if the news anchors on CCTV (mainland China’s preeminent news network) were to engage in news coverage of President Xi that was “93 percent negative.”

In China, how long would that last? Yet American superstar actor Robert De Niro, along with dozens of his counterparts, can fearlessly taunt the American president with obscenities, and it’s just another publicity stunt doubling as a political statement. Cable news juggernaut CNN, along with nearly every other major media property, can spend years spewing nonstop slander about the American president, and it’s just business as usual.

The fact that such behavior is the norm in the United States is rightly condemned by Americans who don’t agree with Hollywood group-think, or leftist media bias. But it is vastly preferable to the reality in China, where if Deng Chao, or any other Chinese celebrity, or news anchors on CCTV, or commentators on any other Chinese media property, were to engage in criticism so caustic, or so relentlessly biased against the regime, they would be silenced immediately and forever.

American tolerance for dissent, and capacity to absorb polarized opinions, is utterly foreign to China. This fundamental weakness is one big reason that the more China attempts to spread its growing influence, the more the nations of the world will resist.

China may be a burgeoning superpower, but nobody wants to live under its political system. And at the same time as China’s soft power is ineffective, due to their intolerant culture and tyrannical regime, China is actively using its financial and military power to alienate virtually every nation on earth. A quick gallop around the globe offers evidence aplenty.

Tension with Neighboring Nations

Among China’s neighbors, their only reliable ally is North Korea, a 46,540-square-mile dungeon housing 25 million slaves. North Korea, as a client state of China, only serves to make China’s problematic relationship with other Asian nations even worse, as its military lobs missiles into the Sea of Japan and digs tunnels under the demilitarized zone.

Someday, with or without regime change, North Korea may break away from China and embrace South Korea and the West. In the meantime, whatever enlightened wishes its ruling thugocracy might harbor are suppressed beneath the shadow of Chinese hegemony.

Every nation on China’s perimeter has had to cope with Chinese territorial aggression. A giant chunk of northeast Kashmir has been lopped off and annexed by China, as the Indian and Chinese military face-off across the glaciers. Across India’s northeast frontier, in the Indian state of Assam, China has crossed over the Himalayan peaks supposedly dividing the territories of the two nations to lop off the northern region of Arunachal Pradesh. The tensions from the war India fought in 1962 with China to defend its territory still simmer. China has even recently begun calling Arunachal Pradesh “South Tibet.”

Vietnam has also had to contend with Chinese aggression, most recently in the war the Vietnamese fought against China in 1979 to defend their northern border. If anyone thinks tensions between Vietnam and China have calmed down, consider the situation today in the South China Sea, where both nations claim the Spratly Islands. The South China Sea is an expanse of ocean over 1.4 million square miles in area, bordered by the mainland nations of China to the north and Vietnam to the west, and at sea, surrounded by the island nations (clockwise from north) of Taiwan, the Philippines, the portion of Malaysia on the northern shore of the island of Borneo, and Indonesia. Every one of these nations objects to China’s claim that nearly the entire South China Sea is Chinese territorial waters. A glance at the map illustrates the preposterous nature of China’s claim.

Despite being overruled in international courts for the past 20 years, China has moved steadily to occupy and militarize the South China Sea. The Chinese have blasted apart coral reefs and dredged the relatively shallow waters around them to build island fortresses, where they are now positioning military assets including ships, planes, and missile batteries. They have also deployed thousands of paramilitary “fishermen” that patrol and intimidate the commercial and naval forces of all these nations. China’s actions in the South China Sea have alienated every bordering nation, with no end in sight.

What about Japan? First of all, the Japanese harbor no illusions regarding China’s memory of the Japanese occupation of their territory that began in 1931 and didn’t end until Japan’s defeat in 1945. But China’s announcement of an air defense identification zone over expanses of the East China Sea that include Japanese territory in the Senkaku Islands didn’t send a message of reconciliation. Neither did North Korea’s 2017 test launches of missiles that ended up splashing down in the Sea of Japan; in two cases, the flight path took the missiles directly over Japanese territory, landing in the ocean just east of their northern island of Hokkaido.

Even if China were to behave itself today, its history of conflict with its neighbors would put it at a disadvantage. In the battle between China and the West for Asian hearts and minds, it’s interesting what language is overwhelmingly accepted as the lingua franca for dialogue between these nations: English.

Ah, but what about Russia, that colossal nation to the north that even in its post-Soviet truncated state still covers 6.6 million square miles, or one-eighth of the world’s land surface? Russia has aligned itself with China these days, but simmering border disputes linger. In 1969, these border tensions exploded into war, with a formal treaty not signed until 1991. But another conflict may be inevitable.

Between 1840 and 1911, during what China still calls its “century of humiliation,” China lost control over vast chunks of territory along its northern border. From Central Asia to outer Mongolia, to outer Manchuria, lands controlled by China that were neither indigenous to the Chinese nor to the Russians were annexed by Russia. With this dubious claim to ownership, the Russian Far East is particularly vulnerable today, with only 7 million Russian inhabitants, facing hundreds of millions of Chinese immediately to the south.

For now, the partnership between the Russians and the Chinese in the Far East seems to be working. By some estimates, nearly a half-million Chinese now live in Russia, leasing farms, laboring in mines and lumber operations, or building infrastructure—largely with Chinese financing. Russia exports primarily natural resources to China, while China exports to Russia manufactured goods.

But is this sustainable? At what point will Russians become alarmed by growing Chinese influence in their eastern provinces? At what point will the Chinese drop the pretense of respecting Russian sovereignty in lands they deem were taken from them during a time of weakness, then scarcely populated by Russians? One telling anecdote is the ascendance of Chinese Triads in Vladivostok, seizing the reins of organized crime from the Russians.

Erasing Other Nations Within China

Within China’s borders, entire separate and independent nations ought to exist, but don’t. Most notably, Tibet, East Turkestan, and Inner Mongolia. Together, these three occupied nations cover nearly 1.6 million square miles of northern and eastern China. Their story offers the world ample evidence of how China would behave were it ever to become a global hegemon.

What is today known as Xinjiang in China’s northeast, used to be the Uyghur Kingdom of East Turkestan. This 642,000-square-mile nation was independent until the Chinese Empire conquered it in 1884 after eight years of brutal conflict. According to the Uyghur American Association, since 1949 when the Communists took control of mainland China, the deliberate transmigration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang has reduced the proportion of native Uyghurs from 94 percent of the population to barely 60 percent. At the same time, there has been increasingly harsh “repression of political dissent and any expression, however peaceful, of their distinct identity.”

You can say that again. Xinjiang, a land of rivers, grasslands, forests, deserts, and high mountains, is now used by the Chinese for nuclear testing, military bases, and prison labor camps. Very little information about human rights abuses makes its way out of Xinjiang. The suppression of the Uyghur language, culture, and religion has provoked a predictable backlash, but the Chinese regime has no qualms about upping the ante.

An April 2019 New York Times “interactive” article headlined, “How China Turned a City Into a Prison” describes the pervasive repression imposed on the Uyghurs. The authors toured Kashgar, an oasis city of more than 500,000 residents in the far western part of Xinjiang. Located on the ancient Silk Road, and integral to China’s new “Belt and Road Initiative,” the Chinese regime has implemented pervasive surveillance. The Times reports:

Every hundred yards or so, the police stand at checkpoints with guns, shields, and clubs. At big checkpoints, they lift their chins while a machine takes their photos, and wait to be notified if they can go on. The police sometimes take Uyghur’s phones and check to make sure they have installed compulsory software that monitors calls and messages. Neighborhood monitors are assigned to watch over groups of families. And army of millions of police and official monitors can question Uyghurs and search their homes. They grade residents for reliability. A low grade brings more visits, maybe detention. Surveillance cameras are everywhere.

This same Times report claimed there are 13 “indoctrination camps” just in the city of Kashgar, covering over 1 million square meters (about 250 acres). Just one of these camps houses more than 20,000 people. Incarceration can occur for offenses that Americans would not consider remotely criminal, such as reading the Koran.

The situation in Kashgar is not unique. According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese have now sent more than 1.5 million Uyghurs—over 10 percent of the population—to re-education camps in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. Most of these inmates have committed no crime, but have been accused of harboring “strong religious views” or “politically incorrect” ideas. An October 2018 report by the BBC provides satellite photos of this burgeoning network of prisons. China is building concentration camps; its own gulag archipelago.

Estimates of the number of Uyghurs imprisoned in China range as high as 2 million. According to Business Insider, to further their control over the population, the Chinese authorities are collecting DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, blood types, and voice samples from every Xinjiang resident between 12 and 65. Xinjiang is a testing ground for surveillance technologies being introduced throughout China.

Tibet’s story is better known than Xinjiang’s (or East Turkestan), and just as tragic. Tibet’s existence as a unified nation dates back to the 7th century, maintaining its culture and independence despite encroachments by Mongols, Chinese, Nepalese, and Europeans. In 1949, the same year the Chinese Communists took control of China (and Xinjiang), Mao Zedong threatened Tibet with “liberation.” Over the next 10 years, China slowly increased its control over Tibet, eventually provoking an uprising by the Tibetans in 1959. Following the Chinese suppression of the revolt, the Dalai Lama fled to India along with around 80,000 other Tibetans.

China’s strategy in Tibet is the same as in Xinjiang, flooding the nation with Han Chinese. Tibetan exiles allege the population of native Tibetans has fallen to 50 percent, and accuse the Chinese regime of understating the figure because the migrants are not officially registered residents. The Dalai Lama has said China’s migration policy is  “demographic aggression,” and will result in “cultural genocide” in Tibet.

Tibet may be the rooftop of the world, a stunning wonderland of Himalayan peaks and magical plateaus covering nearly a half-million square miles, but how the Chinese are treating the Tibetans today is ugly. A 2017 report by Human Rights Watch included a “glossary of repression,” that “explains and illustrates a dozen terms that appear benign or even positive but are in fact used to ensure total compliance and surveillance by officials of ordinary Tibetan people. The glossary includes terms that relate to political and social control, such as ‘comprehensive rectification,’ ‘no cracks, no shadows, no gaps left,’ and ‘every village a fortress, everyone a watchman.’ ‘Orwell himself would be hard-pressed to invent a better vocabulary of totalitarian management,’ said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. ‘But ultimately the message of the Chinese authorities’ terms for Tibetans is clear: political nonconformity will be punished, severely.’”

The U.S. State Department issued a human rights report on Tibet in 2017 that claimed the situation is deteriorating. The report notes that “ethnic Chinese CCP members hold the overwhelming majority of top party, government, police, and military positions” in Tibet, and goes on to describe “disappearances; torture by government authorities; arbitrary detentions, including political prisoners; and government curtailment of the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement.”

If the would-be nations of Tibet and East Turkestan are the primary and well-publicized victims of Chinese repression, that doesn’t mean Inner Mongolia doesn’t belong on the list. Denied in 1949 the right to unify with their northern neighbor, the independent nation of (outer) Mongolia, the southern Mongolians have begun to clamor for the rights of “autonomy” that the Chinese regime supposedly grants to their province.

Inner Mongolia, like Xinjiang and Tibet, is big. Over 450,000 square miles, it contains an estimated 25 percent of the world’s coal reserves, and nearly 80 percent of the world’s total reserves of rare earth metals. China isn’t about to loosen its control over this rich province, and the development of its resources is fueling rising resentment. As reported by CBS in 2015, “Over the last decade, many Mongolian-language schools have been shuttered; nomadic herders have been driven off their land; and government policies have continued to encourage Han Chinese immigration. Rampant mining has ravaged the grassland environment.”

Unlike Xinjiang and Tibet, Mongolians are already a minority in their homeland, now numbering only 20 percent of the population of 23 million. One Mongolian activist, a writer named Hada who was imprisoned by the Chinese for 15 years and is now under house arrest, has accused the Chinese of decades of ethnic cleansing. According to Radio Free Asia, earlier this year, one of the few remaining Mongolian language schools in Inner Mongolia raised a stir when it hung up the national flag of Mongolia.

Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet consume 1.6 million square miles but have a combined population of only 50 million people. They represent only 3.7 percent of China’s population, yet they occupy a whopping 42 percent of China’s land. China’s claim to govern these three provinces is of questionable legitimacy, based on events within the living memory of millions of people. In response to the aspirations of these distinct peoples for self-governance, the Chinese regime has cracked down. They have employed the tactics used by invaders since the beginning of history—ethnic cleansing and mass incarceration—married with the most invasive surveillance techniques modern technology can deliver.

The 1.3 Billion-Man Prison Camp
China’s expansionist tensions with neighboring nations and Borglike assimilation of the occupied nations within its borders should provide clues to how it treats all its citizens. China’s population is 92 percent comprised of the Han ethnic group, and they are probably the most surveilled, micromanaged population on earth. Any dissent that deviates from the collective is suppressed immediately.

For a while, there was reason to hope that with increasing prosperity, human rights and press freedom would also expand in China. In 2007, a CIA report titled “The Chinese Media: More Autonomous and Diverse–Within Limits,” described how during the previous two decades China’s print and broadcast media had expanded, diversified, and commercialized. The report listed “a general decline in the influence of political ideologies and systems of belief; growing Chinese popular skepticism toward authority; increased contact with the West; greater competition in the media market; ebbing government resources; improved professional training for journalists; and new communication technologies.”

Today, hopes for a free press in China have been dashed. As reported in China Journal, “China’s authoritarian regime has become increasingly repressive in recent years. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tightening its control over the media, online speech, religious groups, and civil society associations while undermining already modest rule-of-law reforms. The CCP leader and state president, Xi Jinping, is consolidating personal power to a degree not seen in China for decades.”

The consequences of China’s government-controlled press extend well beyond suppression of dissident journalists covering the independence movements in Tibet, East Turkestan (Xinjiang), and Inner Mongolia. China’s abysmal fouling of its land, air and water, devastated wildlife, and poisoned citizens are also forbidden topics. As are any unsanctioned criticisms of its internal or foreign policies—any of them. Radio Free Asia reports, “News and information providers who don’t toe the official line are increasingly subjected to censorship, surveillance, arrest, and arbitrary detention. Many detainees are mistreated and some are tortured.”

The intensifying crackdown on religion offers examples of just how pervasive and intolerant China’s police state has become. A recent and wide-ranging interview in the Daily Signal with China scholar Olivia Enos characterized China’s new policy towards religion as “sinicization,” or making religion serve the Chinese Communist Party’s ends. This policy expresses itself in ways unimaginable to a Westerner. Christian churches are being closed down, Bibles are burned, pastors are imprisoned. For China’s Tibetan Buddhists and East Turkestan’s Muslims, in addition to these tactics, there is a “grid-style” social management, with surveillance everywhere, extending to the point where Chinese Communist Party officials are moving into the homes of individual families.

Even China’s homegrown Falun Gong, a variant of Buddhism with Taoist influences, became the target of repression after it grew to attract over 70 million adherents. China’s persecution of the Falun Gong has reached the point where critics not only allege that thousands of practitioners have been executed, but as reported by CNN and others in 2014, internal organs have been harvested from the victims and sold for transplants.

Whether or not the Chinese still harvest organs from their executed criminals and dissidents, China’s government executes more people each year than every other nation in the world combined. Estimates range from 2,000 official executions in 2016 to more than 12,000 people killed in 2002. According to Amnesty International, the “true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret.”

The regime of Xi Jinping has turned China into the world’s biggest prison camp, with nearly 1.4 billion inmates. Law enforcement extends well beyond criminal behavior to “social behavior,” where not just what you do, but what you say, what you think, and how you worship are strictly regulated. By now, most anyone watching China has heard of the “social credit score” the government tracks for all citizens. To create these scores, as reported in Forbes, “In China, government agencies and private companies are collecting enormous amounts of data about e.g. an individual’s finances, social media activities, credit history, health records, online purchases, tax payments, legal matters, and people you associate with in, addition to images gathered from China’s 200 million surveillance cameras and facial recognition software.”

Supposedly, China’s rollout of a social credit score for all citizens is a way to “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” as if that weren’t bad enough. In practice, it represents astonishing intrusions on individual freedom and dignity. According to the New York Times, “In some cities, billboard-size displays show the faces of jaywalkers and list the names of people who don’t pay their debts. Facial recognition scanners guard the entrances to housing complexes. Such efforts supplement other systems that track internet use and communications, hotel stays, train and plane trips and even car travel in some places.”

Behind the scenes, developing the enabling artificial intelligence technologies is a top priority for the Chinese government, either through state-funded “start-ups” within China, or via whatever they can purchase or steal from the West. Bitter Winter, a magazine covering religious liberty and human rights in China, summed up China’s high-tech surveillance state accurately, calling it “digital despotism.”

Economic Aggression: China vs. the World

The escalating trade war between China and the United States has been a prominent news story over the past year or so, but this trade war has been going on for decades, and is just one part of China’s undeclared war against America.

An excellent summary of how China has engaged in economic aggression against the United States was provided by none other than Steve Bannon in a Washington Post op-ed on May 6. Bannon correctly asserts that China has been “waging economic war against industrial democracies ever since China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.” Bannon explains how this economic war is being waged, taking the form of “forced technology transfers; intellectual property theft; cyber-intrusions into business networks; currency manipulation; high tariff and nontariff barriers; and unfair subsidies to state-owned enterprises.”

China’s economic war with the United States has been unrelenting. Over the past 25 years, the cumulative U.S. trade deficit with China is a staggering $4.9 trillion. China retains some of its trade surplus with the U.S. in the form of T-Bills, to the tune of $1.2 trillion. The other $3.7 trillion? That’s been used to purchase American assets.

Changing China’s state-sponsored mercantilism is probably impossible. Options are limited. America’s manufacturers compete domestically with Chinese imports that are cheaper because of state subsidies, an artificially low value for China’s currency, and in the case of high-tech products, less amortized costs for research and development because the technology was stolen or even just given away. U.S. exporters are required to turn over their intellectual property to the Chinese in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

This economic aggression is well documented and points to an unavoidable conclusion; China is not going to play by the rules that govern members of the World Trade Organization and as a result, nations that do business with China are systematically going to be robbed of their technological edge and their financial stability. China is simply too big not to constitute such a threat. According to Fortune, one in five corporations say China has stolen their intellectual property in the past year. Estimates of how much this costs the U.S. economy range as high as $600 billion annually.

A recent report describes how the Chinese steal American industrial secrets: In some cases, China bribes engineers working for American companies to turn over proprietary data. In other cases, Chinese nationals (that is, spies) have broken into American manufacturing plants and stolen material. Sometimes, Chinese agents steal industrial secrets during legitimate visits to American labs. Chinese agents are continuously attempting to steal American technology via cyberhacking.

Another way China is expanding its economic reach and influence in the world is through the “Belt and Road Initiative,” a modern version of the ancient Silk Road connecting East to West. In theory, this is a laudable series of infrastructure projects linking China with trading partners across Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond with a series of highways, railroads, and modernized seaports. But participating nations are realizing that Chinese investment carries a high price.

The motivations for China promoting a 21st-century Silk Road are logical enough. It provides additional avenues for them to export products, including cement and steel for the infrastructure projects, which their factories are now overproducing. It channels the excess savings generated by China’s trade surplus. The land-based road and rail connections bypass maritime routes over which American and other Western navies might potentially hinder traffic. Finally, these physical connections, controlled by China, will further China’s eventual goal to see global trade conducted using the Chinese renminbi, instead of the American dollar.

The way China intends to control the railroads and seaports being built across this new Silk Road is by using the so-called debt trap. This is a practice whereby China lends billions of dollars to an economically weaker country to build vital infrastructure. Chinese firms then pour in materials and labor to build the project, which means the Chinese loan funds are repatriated right back into Chinese hands. Then when the debtor nation can’t afford to pay back the loan, the Chinese seize ownership of the project as collateral. Voilà! Strategic railroads and seaports, owned by China, are established around the world.

The Washington Post recently published an extensive list of nations already victimized by China’s infrastructure debt trap. They include Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Montenegro, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. Some of these projects involve debt nearly equal to the entire GDP of the host nations. In many cases, Chinese-only gated communities are constructed, sometimes entire cities, swarming with Chinese security forces.

China’s economic imperialism is also reflected in its global buying binge. Using the savings generated from its huge trade surplus, China is buying companies and real estate all over the world. The United States is one of the only nations in the world that allows foreign companies to purchase controlling interests in U.S. companies, and China has taken full advantage of that. Michele Nash-Hoff, writing on this topic last year for Industry Week, posed this question: “Did we let the USSR buy our companies during the Cold War? No, we didn’t! We realized that we would be helping our enemy. This was pretty simple, common sense, but we don’t seem to have this same common sense when dealing with China.”

Probably the most dramatic manifestation of China’s global buying binge is its drive to acquire and exploit natural resources, anywhere on earth, and do so in a manner heedless of its environmental impact. China has an insatiable appetite for iron, manganese, gold, aluminum, copper, other minerals, along with fish, cattle, soybeans, and other farm commodities, along with oil, gas, and coal. To secure a supply for these vital commodities, China is scouring the globe to identify sources and buy them, investing hundreds of billions in these strategic investments, and, quoting from Mining.com, “assuming a position of world dominance in the commodities markets.”

China’s economic aggression is characterized by a strategic focus that eludes its competitors, unparalleled access to cash because of its trade surplus, combined with an unrelenting determination to ignore the rules that have governed international trade for more than 70 years.

Military AggressionThe Long March to World Domination

Sanguine observers are fond of pointing out that the U.S. military budget, $649 billion, is more than the next seven countries combined, $609 billion. This ignores currency disparities and the cost of labor. A more sobering assessment conducted by Breaking Defense uses purchasing power parity analysis to peg China’s defense spending at $434 billion, more than two-thirds that of the United States. By this measure, China’s military spending approaches parity with the U.S.

There’s more. The U.S. defense budget currently supports the permanent deployment of over 150,000 service personnel on over 800 overseas military bases in more than 70 countries. In addition, the United States is involved in ongoing, costly conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria/Iraq, along with expensive counter-terrorism and containment missions all over the world. To be sure, China’s military is no match at this time for the United States, but our military is spread thin across the entire planet, whereas China’s military, land-based and behind interior lines, can be fully utilized to achieve specific regional objectives.

Their objective, above all others, is to conquer the island of Taiwan, the “breakaway province” that China’s nationalist armies retreated to after the Communist victory on the mainland in 1949. Taiwan, with 24 million people living on a relatively small island of 14,000 square miles, is one of the most prosperous nations in Asia, with a vibrant democracy and thriving economy. But China considers Taiwan its own, and “reunification” is one of the top priorities of the Chinese regime.

The Taiwanese, however, are well aware of how China’s “one country, two systems” promise to the people of Hong Kong 22 years ago is being slowly, systematically broken. They are not inclined to “reunify.” As reported by the New York Times, an August 2018 poll found that only 3 percent of the Taiwanese wanted unification with China. Nonetheless, in a January 2019 speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the people of Taiwan have to accept that their nation “must and will be” reunited with China.

Taiwan will not make reunification easy for the Chinese. An excellent summary of how a Chinese invasion attempt could fail is found in Foreign Policy, arguing that it would be virtually impossible for the Chinese to mount a surprise attack, which means the Taiwanese would have time to “move much of their command and control infrastructure into hardened mountain tunnels, move their fleet out of vulnerable ports, detain suspected agents and intelligence operatives, litter the ocean with sea mines, disperse and camouflage army units across the country, put the economy on war footing, and distribute weapons to Taiwan’s 2.5 million reservists.”

The challenges China would face if it invaded Taiwan underscore many disadvantages they face as they attempt to become the regional hegemon. Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea all possess modern, high-tech militaries. Presumably, in a conflict with China they would be playing defense, which requires fewer resources than offense. And it is extremely unlikely Taiwan would face China alone. The United States would support Taiwan, and other likely allies would include Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

This same challenge faces the Chinese everywhere they operate. The island fortresses the Chinese have constructed in the South China Sea have offended every nation it borders. And the paramilitary aggression it has conducted with Chinese “fishermen” harassing, for example, their Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indonesian counterparts has increased tensions with those nations.

Despite being outgunned, for now, and despite tensions with most of their neighbors which could create a united front against them, the Chinese are undaunted. They are playing the long game. China is able to focus its military spending on cutting edge technologies, without the tremendous costs of labor, worldwide deployments, and ongoing conflicts that drain U.S. resources.

Confrontation Is Inevitable

In every area—trade, competition for resources, human rights, territorial disputes—China challenges the United States. Areas of concern are so numerous as to defy description. The battle for 5G leadership, where China’s state-supported Huawei competes against America’s Qualcomm. The scourge of Fentanyl, where Chinese labs continue to ship this deadly drug to criminal distributors in America despite government promises to crack down. The undermining of the academic independence of universities throughout the West, as China funds these institutions in exchange for their quiescence. China’s even got its sights on the moon.

Not content with occupying the 1.3-million-square-mile South China Sea, or calling itself a “near-Arctic nation” in order to claim a share of mineral rights on the top of the world, China is in the thick of the race to establish the first permanent moon base. The moon is now aptly called “the eighth continent,” and it’s more accessible than the continents of the New World were 500 years ago. Those paying attention know that the Moon now offers humanity 14.6 million square miles of resource-rich high ground.

In January, China landed an unmanned craft on the moon’s far side. It is possible the Chinese will send astronauts to the moon before the United States manages to return. With only around a half-million acre-feet of frozen water discovered so far on the lunar surface, mass colonization may never occur. But these water-rich craters in the polar regions of the moon are now strategic targets because they could support military bases and mining colonies.

When you’re playing the long game, the mineral wealth of the near-earth terrestrial objects—the moon, Mars, and the asteroids—is tantalizing beyond description. Within the lifetime of people born today, they will be commercially exploited. The nation to win that race could win the world. The Chinese see this clearly. Most Americans do not.

Some of those who diminish the threat of China do so on the basis of its demographics. They point out that the “population pyramid” of China is inverted as a result of its “one-child” policy, which lasted from 1979 until 2015. This argument ignores important factors, starting with the fact that China, with a population of 1.4 billion, will always have plenty of working-age citizens despite having a higher percentage of older people. It ignores the rising irrelevance of human labor in favor of robots and artificial intelligence, a trend China will embrace without ethical constraints. It ignores the possibility that in a crisis, China would sacrifice its nonproductive citizens, certainly including the aged, without batting an eye.

Most chilling, it ignores the fact that China is a nation that will, without any ethical inhibitions whatsoever, develop and implement transhuman technology as part of its drive to dominate the world. Wars of the future will not be fought by humans. They will be fought by robots and drones running on AI, they will be fought in cyberspace and outer space, and to the extent humans are involved, they will probably be enhanced. China will not hesitate to genetically engineer humans to have superior intelligence, nor will it hesitate to use cyborg technology to augment them physically.

The Clash of Civilizations

Chinese fascism, fully realized and ruthlessly applied, provides more than a reality check to the “anti-fascist” ideologues who claim America is under an imminent threat of itself becoming a fascist regime. Because not only is America’s mainstream, traditional culture the precise opposite of fascist, but it is the anti-fascists themselves, and their broader community of American leftists, who are the ones becoming fascist. Across almost every segment of American life, this reality plays out.

The fascist essence of the American Left finds expression in the proliferation of rules throughout society regarding what topics are acceptable for debate, what subjects are permitted to be humorous, and what terms must be used or avoided when describing race or gender. The scope of their ambition is terrifying. For the American Left, every significant issue of our time has a correct position and a forbidden one—from climate change and energy policies to immigration and affirmative action. Despite the seismic consequences of getting these policies wrong, debate is not only stifled, but dissenters are despised, silenced and banished.

If the American Left were a fringe element, its agenda would be laughable. But America’s sleek and smiling equivalent of China’s surveillance state is a cartel of communications corporations—Google, Disney, Comcast, Fox, Facebook, Viacom, CBS—who control virtually all public dialogue. The ability of these corporations, online and offline, to mold public opinion—and silence public dissent—is stronger today than it ever has been. And on the toughest challenges facing America, these corporations are firmly aligned with the Left.

This weakens America at a critical time. The Left’s inexplicable embrace of “free trade” has damaged the American economy while it furthered the globalist, and very short-term, profit-taking on the part of multinational corporations. The Left’s moral insistence on mass immigration of unskilled workers has stressed our social welfare system, but it has furthered the profit-taking ambitions of multinational corporations who want to drive down the cost of labor. The foreign investment stimulated by trade deficits, combined with the mass migration of additional millions of new residents pushes property values into bubble territory, furthering the profit-taking goals of wealthy investors.

Whether it’s a cynical, eyes wide open symbiosis, or an unwitting, catastrophic error, America’s Left today is firmly allied with America’s wealthiest multinational corporate elites. The result is a hollowing out of America’s middle class, its manufacturing base, its technological edge, its financial strength, and its cultural unity. At a time when Americans need to unite and confront a genuine clash of civilizations, which is China’s long march towards global domination, America’s left has manufactured a clash of civilizations within America itself. Some have called it a cold civil war. If so, the timing could not be much worse.

What the American Left offers, if it weren’t so extreme, is a vision of a world where all peoples, wherever they’re from, are able to achieve whatever dream they’re willing to work for, free of discrimination based on their national, ethnic, gender, or religious identity. The Left’s vision also includes a world where the environment is protected no matter what the cost, where people and wildlife are free from harmful pollution, and ecosystems are healthy and managed sustainably. While the American Left has gone too far in its policies and its rhetoric, the Left’s loudly proclaimed good intentions are attractive to the peoples of the world.

What the American Right offers, notwithstanding the handful of extremists the American Left uses to discredit traditional America’s entire historical legacy and contemporary society, is a vision of the world where every person is judged on their individual merit. A world where, notwithstanding the unavoidable hazards and rewards of luck and caprice, any person with sufficient talent and resolve can achieve their dreams and a decent life is possible for all. While the American Right is as concerned about the environment as anyone, they understand that cheap energy remains the surest path to global peace and prosperity. This vision is equally appealing to everyone in the world.

One of America’s greatest strengths and greatest appeals is its capacity peacefully to process the tension between Left and Right, and tolerate diverse viewpoints and political agendas. The growing political intolerance in America, coming mostly from the Left, may eventually undermine that appeal. But conversely, China’s inability to tolerate diverse viewpoints and political agendas is its greatest weakness. It alienates the world.

Americans today are more polarized than usual, but from afar America remains a place with an irresistible culture—music, food, fashion, art, sports, television, movies—from lowbrow to highbrow, that captivates the world. The American people are not seen as Right or Left by the people of the world. They’re seen as Americans: fearless, honest, spontaneous, almost childlike in their enthusiasms, likable, fair-minded, gregarious, accessible, down-to-earth, optimistic; dreamers, inventors, eccentrics, leaders, creators. This is the American soft power that is undiminished and indescribably potent. It is a power that China cannot hope to match; not today, not a hundred years from now.

Nonetheless, the danger is great. The Chinese people have not yet experienced the suicidal paroxysms of nationalism that, for example, caused Germany to turn out the lights in Europe twice in the 20th century. What if over the next few decades they succumb en masse and without reservations to the tribal, racist, expansionist exhortations of their despotic leaders and become a unified, fanatical collective? What if at the same time, the segregationist, divisive tribalism of America’s Left succeeds in completely fragmenting our culture?

What if other powerful nations join China in a drive to break American power, out of fear, pragmatism, or because their people are experiencing a similar tribal frenzy? Because China’s soft power is as tone-deaf as its foreign policy is alienating, a global populist alliance of nations favoring China is unlikely. But in the face of American external weakness and internal conflict, it is not unthinkable.

For this reason, even the most high-minded pacifism of the American Left, which didn’t stop the USSR in the 1980s, will not stop China in this century. In 1991, it wasn’t the leftist mantra of fewer weapons, more welfare, and a “nuclear freeze” that dismantled the USSR. It was the fact that during those waning years of the Cold War, America’s navy was too powerful to be challenged in the open ocean. It was because our F-18s could shoot anything out of the sky. It was because Pershing II missiles and a few squadrons of A-10 Warthogs could have turned Soviet Armor in the Fulda Gap into smoldering piles of scrap metal. The Chinese know those stories and are investing accordingly. Are we?

Today’s cold war pits us against a stronger adversary, and America’s extreme Left is far more powerful than it was during the last Cold War. To effectively cope, American nationalism, patriotism, whatever you want to call it, requires an attenuated version of Leftist idealism to merge with an uncompromising but compassionate version of right-wing realism. That synthesis already exists in the cooler heads in Washington, as does a growing consensus that China could become the most significant threat America has ever faced. To contain China, America—most definitely including its corporate elites—must support and adapt to a permanent trade war, redouble investments in strategic military technology, pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and restrict most immigration to new arrivals who will add valuable technical and scientific skills to the workforce.

The good news: Today, the Chinese regime is feared and distrusted by virtually everyone on earth. The nations they’ve exploited economically, the neighboring nations whose land and maritime borders they’ve encroached upon, the nations within their borders they’ve illegitimately occupied, and their own restive, captive people.

China is big. China is awake. But China is not bigger than the rest of the world. It is most likely that in the ongoing battle to contain China, apart from a handful of rogue nations ruled by despots, the entire world is on America’s side.

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Weekend Long Read

Economic Headwinds Came Long Before Trump’s Presidency

After the unexpected election of President Donald Trump, something else unexpected happened. The stock market soared.

In the final week before the 2016 election, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 17,888, an unimpressive level, since it had reached that same point nearly two years earlier in December 2014. But following Trump’s victory, the Dow went wild. By the time he took office in January 2017, it had already jumped over 12 percent, to 20,094. By January 2018, it peaked at 26,616, then edged upwards to 26,828 on October 3, 2018. In less than two years, the Dow Jones Index grew by an astounding 50 percent.

Since then, however, the Dow, along with the other major U.S. indexes, have been tumbling. By Christmas Eve, the Dow was 19 percent off its high, down to 21,792. What had been called the “Trump Bump” is now being called the “Trump Slump.”

While President Trump has been criticized for taking credit for the stock market rise, Barack Obama also got into that action, claiming in October 2018 that “the booming started on his watch.” But today’s economy, and especially the stock market, are reacting to longer-term trends for which neither president deserves full credit or blame.

Depicted on the chart below is the performance of the Dow from 1995 when the markets began first showing signs of “irrational exuberance,” to the extremely exuberant present day. On clear display are the past two bubbles, the internet bubble of 2000, the housing bubble of 2007, and what we may call the “super bubble” or “everything bubble” of 2018.

Dow Jones Industrial Average—1995-2019

It doesn’t take an economist to notice a pattern. The Dow, which tracks closely with all publicly traded equities in the United States, more than doubled in the four-year heady runup to its January 2000 peak, then went into decline for nearly four years, before doubling again between 2004 and 2007. Then, when the housing bubble popped, the Dow went off a cliff, dropping to half its 2007 peak in a little over a year. In past 10 years, the Dow has exploded again, tripling to a high of 26,828 in October. What now? Visually, at least, another correction appears logical.

There are all kinds of economic reasons why what is visually indicated on the above graph should happen. At best, we may hope for stocks to correct but not crash, which is sort of what happened after the internet bubble popped. But what’s different this time?

One key difference this time around is that dramatically lowering interest rates is not an option. In January 2000, the Federal Funds Rate was 5.5 percent. By June 2003, it had dropped to 1 percent. When interest rates drop, stocks become relatively better investments than fixed-rate investments. Lower interest rates also induce more people to borrow, creating liquidity, stimulating consumer spending, which helps corporate earnings which drive up stock prices. The cause and effect is reflected in the stock market history—by 2003, after lowering interest rates by 4.5 percent, the stock market finally began to recover.

In October 2006, the rate had risen to 5.25 percent. In September 2007, as home sales were starting to drop, it was lowered to 4.75 percent. When the housing bubble popped, and the stock market crashed, the Federal Reserve responded by steadily lowering the Federal Funds Rate. By December 2016, it had dropped to 0.25 percent, the lowest rate possible.

What should be of concern, is that the rate today, 2.5 percent, is only half as high as it was during the past peaks. During the previous two bull markets, the Federal Reserve was able to bounce the rate up to around 5 percent before the bears came calling. This time, assuming we’ve hit the peak, only half that increase, to 2.5 percent, was achievable.

Debt Accumulation Isn’t a Sustainable Way to Stimulate Growth

A consequence of low interest rates is more borrowing, which can be a good thing if that borrowing stimulates economic growth that translates into investments in productivity. But today, borrowing has not been used to stimulate productive investments. Instead, much of the corporate borrowing over the past decade has been used to finance stock buy-backs. This is a dangerous strategy, causing short-term growth in earnings per share, but loading debt onto corporate balance sheets that will have to be refinanced at increasingly high interest rates, at the same time as investment in research and modernizing plants and equipment has been neglected.

In recent years, federal, state, and local governments have also over-borrowed. Federal borrowing accelerated in mid-2008 and hasn’t slowed since—climbing to more than $21 trillion by the third quarter of 2018. As interest rates rise, servicing this debt will become far more difficult. Meanwhile, all U.S. credit market debt—government, corporate, and consumer—has continued to increase. After dipping slightly to $54 trillion in the wake of the burst housing bubble, it was up to a new high of $68 trillion by the end of 2017.

When interest rates fall, not only is the stock market stimulated. Bonds make payments at fixed rates, so when the market rate drops, the price of these bonds increases, since they can be sold for whatever price will give the buyer the same return as the current market rate. Interest rate reductions also cause housing prices to rise, since when interest rates are low, people can afford bigger mortgages as they make lower monthly payments. The opposite is also true, which is unfortunate for investors. All else held equal, rising interest rates means lower prices for bonds and housing.

If the super bubble pops and crashes this time, all assets—equities, bonds, and real estate—will drop in value. Even if extraordinary measures are taken to stop the decline—such as the fed purchasing corporate bonds—there will be nowhere to run.

Focusing on Helping America, Not Wall Street

Unwinding the debt accumulated during a credit binge lasting decades will impact all sectors of the economy. In the short run, federal budget deficits are structurally impossible to eliminate. But what can be changed is how the money is being spent. Here, the policies of President Trump reflect a canny awareness of costs and benefits. For example:

  • Investing $20 billion in border security may significantly reduce the cost of illegal immigration which has been estimated well over $100 billion per year.
  • Pressuring wealthy nations to pay more for their own security will allow the Pentagon to redirect military spending towards research and development and modern weapons that will maintain deterrence.
  • Renegotiating trade agreements will reduce trade deficits, which in turn will create jobs and slow foreign acquisition of American assets.
  • Bringing jobs back to the United States will create millions of new jobs, with the boost in consumer spending power more than offsetting the increased prices for goods.
  • Enforcing tariffs on strategic commodities such as aluminum and steel help keep and expand these vital production capacities onshore.
  • Holding nations such as China accountable for theft of intellectual property helps preserve America’s competitive advantage in the technologies of the future.
  • Rolling back regulations across all business sectors has already greatly improved America’s business climate, stimulating investment and creating jobs.
  • Pushing for new public/private investment in infrastructure, neglected for decades, can create jobs, improve safety and resiliency, and enhance quality of life.

The United States has significant economic advantages that Trump, unlike his predecessors, is using to benefit ordinary Americans, and it’s about time. America can engage in the tactics just described because the American currency remains unchallenged as both the global reserve currency and the global transaction currency. As long as America’s economy is healthier (or less afflicted) than other major national economies, America’s currency will remain strong even as the U.S. Treasury continues to issue hundreds of billions in new T-Bills to cover deficits.

The only currencies that might challenge the U.S. dollar are those of China or the European Union, but these economies face debt overhangs as severe as America’s. And unlike the United States, China and the EU confront an array of challenges, including an aging population, less diverse economies, fewer domestic supplies of energy, less agricultural capacity, less internal stability, and less military power. Until there is a serious competitor to the U.S. dollar, Americans have time to get their federal budget deficits under control.

When Trump called attention to the soaring stock market and raved about increasing economic growth, he was doing what a president should do—be America’s greatest cheerleader. But the reality is that Trump has inherited an economy that survived the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 by even more borrowing. It is an economy in which stock values rose because corporations took advantage of low interest rates to borrow cash to buy-back their own stock; an economy where consumers resumed borrowing to buy cheap imported goods and pay punitively overpriced tuition to send their children to college; an economy where infrastructure spending and strategic military investments were deferred in order to fund more domestic entitlements and fight endless police actions overseas.

A correction to the stock market is inevitable. The relentlessly hostile political and media establishment will blame the correction on Trump. But Trump’s economic policies are appropriate for the times in which we live. They are designed to restore America’s strength and security, and to minimize the degree to which the problems on Wall Street spread to Main Street.

Weekend Long Read

How Globalism Is the Real Authoritarianism

Compassion for a child in distress is automatic. You do everything you can for that child. You use all the resources you can muster. But what if an entire continent is in distress? What if billions of children are in distress?

This is the question for which there are no easy answers. Because across the developing world, billions of people still endure political violence and extreme poverty. The most afflicted nations are almost always the nations experiencing rapid population increase. And the solutions being proposed, mass immigration and rapid transition to renewable clean energy, require authoritarian, global governance that will rob the people of the developed world of their freedom and prosperity, at the same time as it does little or nothing to help the people living in the developing world. But it is the path of least resistance.

The reason for pursuing flawed solutions has more to do with where the global elites mean to apply authoritarian pressure than with whether or not more lives will be improved, or the planet’s climate will be preserved.

Before exploring alternative solutions, the scope of the challenge should be quantified. The best way to do this is by reviewing trends in global population and energy consumption. The figures to be presented draw on two sources, the World Bank Population Estimates and Projections, and the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Global Population Trends

The two pie charts below depict projected global population by region in 2020, and 30 years hence, in 2050. They are sliced by region, with the categories as defined by British Petroleum in their annual energy review. The “Russosphere” refers to the nations of the former Soviet Union that have not joined NATO. The other categories are fairly self-explanatory.

As can be seen, more than half of the world’s 7.7 billion people—4.2 billion—live in the Asia/Pacific region, including the demographic heavyweights of China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. As can be seen, five of the other six regions have between 0.3 and 0.5 billion people each. The exception is Africa, with a projected 2020 population of 1.3 billion.

What happens between 2020 and 2050 is extremely significant. First, note the diameter of the second pie chart. The increase in area is exactly proportional to the projected increase in global population between 2020 and 2050. As can be seen, in terms of people inhabiting planet earth, the footprint doesn’t get all that much larger. The world’s population will grow by 25 percent. But where will this growth occur?

The projected population in the Asia/Pacific region will grow by a half-billion, and the population of the six other regions excluding Africa will increase from a total of 2.2 billion in 2020 to 2.5 billion in 2050. Africa, by contrast, will roughly double in population, from 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion. That is, over the three decades between 2020 and 2050, Africa will add 1.2 billion people to its population, whereas the rest of the world combined will add another 0.8 billion.

If projected population growth were spread evenly among nations over the next 30 years, that would pose a different set of challenges. But the problem we face is that between now and 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population growth will occur on the most undeveloped, poverty-stricken continent on earth.

Global Energy Trends

To understand just how inadequate current globalist policies are with respect to immigration and energy, especially when facing an exploding population among the most undeveloped nations on earth, global energy trends offer clarity. The next chart shows per capita energy use by region last year. To make the data as intelligible as possible, all energy use—from wood burning to nuclear power—is normalized and expressed in terms of gallons of oil. The differences between regions are profound.

As shown, the average North American—that includes citizens of Canada and Mexico, along with the United States—consumed energy last year equivalent to 1,662 gallons of oil. That’s nearly twice that of the other relatively heavy energy consumers in Europe, the Russosphere, and the Middle East, and it’s nearly four times more than in Central or South America, or in the Asia-Pacific. But take a look at Africa.

The per capita energy consumption by Africans in 2017 was equivalent to 101 gallons of oil. Less than one-sixteenth the amount of energy North Americans consume.

The next chart shows projected global energy use by region in 2020. It is derived from the data shown on the previous pie chart depicting global population by region in 2020, multiplied by per capita energy use by region. The units expressed are “billion tons of oil equivalents,” that is, they depict how much all worldwide energy use would be, if the energy used were exclusively oil.

By the way, for the uninitiated, this is a common practice among energy economists in order to show the relative proportions of energy production and consumption in normalized units. A gallon of gas contains within it 120,429 British Thermal Units, or BTUs, of energy; one kilowatt-hour contains 3,412 BTUs. You can convert all types of energy to, to name a few common examples, BTUs, or joules, or metric tons of oil. Take your pick.

It is obvious from looking at this chart that North America and Europe use far more energy than the global average. Equally obvious is just how small Africa’s slice of global energy consumption is currently, only 3.3 percent of the total despite representing 17.4 percent of global population.

So how will this same chart look in 2050?

Global Energy Production Needs to Double

Below is a pie chart showing one scenario for global energy consumption by region in 2050. First consider the area of the chart, which is exactly twice that of the pie chart for 2020. For the purposes of this analysis, imagine that total energy consumption worldwide will double by 2050. Further, suppose that the per capita consumption of energy worldwide will be allocated equally to every human on earth. The implications of these assumptions provide useful insights.

For starters, if energy were consumed equally everywhere, and the total amount consumed were doubled, that would require North Americans to reduce their per capita energy use by 50 percent. In reality, Americans, who consume more energy per capita than Canadians or Mexicans, would have to reduce their per capita energy use by more than 50 percent.

This bears repeating: If global energy consumption doubled, the per capita energy available worldwide would be less than half of what Americans currently consume.

This isn’t a value judgment. It’s just basic algebra.

Next, note the African slice of this energy consumption pie for 2050. At the energy equivalent of 6.9 billion tons of oil, for the Africans in 2050 to enjoy less than half as much energy as Americans currently enjoy, they would consume a quantity of energy equal to half of all energy consumed worldwide today. And to accomplish this by 2050, energy consumption in Africa would have to increase by a factor of 36. These are mind-boggling statistics. Yet they perfectly illustrate the magnitude of the development challenges facing Africa, insofar as access to affordable energy is one of the prerequisites to reducing poverty.

Renewables vs. All of the Above

It is into the granite face of these immutable demographic and economic facts that the agenda of the renewables lobby collides. Global population and energy trends indicate that the production of energy will need roughly to double in the next 30 years in order to better assure a peaceful evolution of the most economically and politically fragile regions in the world.

The next pie chart, resized down to the 2020 projected total global energy consumption equivalent to 14.4 billion tons of oil, depicts renewables as producing a 0.8 billion-ton-oil equivalent of the total, or 5.6 percent. This 2020 projection, by the way, relies on continued rapid growth of renewables over the next few years, based on the increase of 16.6 percent between 2016 and 2017. In 2017, renewables only provided 3.6 percent of total global energy. These 2020 projections are a best-case scenario.

Now imagine this pie chart again doubled in size. Imagine renewables providing 100 percent of this total—the equivalent of 26.7 billion tons of oil. Does that sound ridiculous? Maybe it does, but going “100 percent carbon-free” by 2045 is the goal of recent legislation in California. To do this worldwide between 2020 and 2050 would require renewables to increase by a factor of 34 (from 2017 levels, 55).

Imagine wherever you see one windmill, there are 50. Imagine wherever you see a stretch of open space covered with photovoltaics, you see 50 times that much area so covered. Imagine the footprint of these devices, their cradle-to-grave environmental impact. Their contribution to the heat-island effect. Their contribution to avian slaughter, their consumption of land and air. Imagine the ecological impact of producing, maintaining, and reprocessing batteries capable of storing tens of thousands of gigawatts, all over the world. Imagine the cost.

Fact is, we are not going to run out of fossil fuels. At current rates of consumption, proven reserves of oil will last another 179 years; natural gas, 54 years; coal, 505 years. Over the past several years, these reserve ratios, reported on the basis of proven, economically recoverable reserves of fossil fuel resources, have been increasing, not decreasing. “Proven” reserves of conventional fossil fuel will continue to increase into the foreseeable future, without even accounting for vast deposits of so-called unconventional reserves such as methane hydrates. Doubling energy production worldwide within 30 years is a daunting challenge. It is impossible quickly to achieve that goal without fossil fuel, and concern about running out is unfounded.

No Solutions Are Easy

It goes beyond the scope of this analysis thoroughly to assess the cost and environmental impact of installing wind and solar systems, along with grid upgrades and mega-storage. Suffice here to say their environmental impact, their scalability, their sustainability, their practicality, and their cost are all problematic.

Similarly, it goes beyond the scope of this analysis properly to debunk the climate hysteria that is used as cover for this astonishingly flawed approach to delivering adequate energy worldwide. But given the incendiary nature of any flirtation with climate change “denial,” here are links to a few noteworthy climate contrarians: Jo Nova, Judith Curry, Roger Pielke Jr., Marc Morano, the Heritage Foundation’s Environment website, JunkScience.com, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Watts Up With That, and Bjorn Lomborg. Please note: these websites range from blatantly insouciant to eminently measured, but all of them offer valuable information.

It is necessary, however, to connect climate alarmism not only to flawed energy policies but also to futile immigration policies.

The argument goes something like this: Because imperialist Western nations rapaciously exploited resources in the developing world, they impoverished these nations. At the same time, the Western nations burned fossil fuel, which created droughts and extreme weather in the developing nations, which further worsened their plight. For these reasons, Western nations must admit refugees from developing nations, because if the West had left these countries alone and if the West had not ruined their climates, these nations would be thriving. At the same time, and for the same reasons, Western nations must pay reparations to developing nations, in order for them to recover from the damage caused by the West.

There are two mind-numbingly obvious flaws to this argument, even if you agree with its premises. First, the West cannot possibly absorb hundreds of millions of immigrants. Second, “reparations” in the form of foreign aid, at least to-date, are the real reason the populations in these nations continues to explode. But to propose alternatives, an uncomfortable fact has to be confronted. Africa is a welfare continent, and welfare for Africa has failed.

Africa: The Welfare Continent

Most evidence gathered over the past 60 years suggests that Africa is a welfare continent in some of the worst connotations of that term. For example, the average number of children in Somalia in 1960 was 7.3, but by the year 2000 that average had actually climbed to 7.6, suggesting that Western food aid and Western medicine lowered the death rate, and lowered infant mortality, but accomplished little in terms of female emancipation, or nurturing indigenous prosperity that correlates with lower birthrates. Somalia is typical.

Burgeoning Nigeria, a nation projected to have 410 million citizens by 2050, saw average fertility decline only slightly, from 6.4 in 1960 to 6.1 in 2000. Fertility in Ethiopia, destined to have nearly 200 million inhabitants by 2050, went from 6.9 in 1960 to 6.5 in 2000. Average fertility in tiny Uganda, where more than 105 million people are expected to reside by 2050, went from 7.0 in 1960 to 6.9 in 2000. Estimates for 2020 are just that: estimates. There is no hard evidence that the population rate of increase in sub-Saharan Africa will slow sufficiently for Africa’s projected population in 2050 to “only” reach 2.5 billion.

The ironic reality is that Africa quite likely would have been better off if no foreign aid, at least as it was formulated, had reached its shores after 1960. Not only did foreign aid play a vital role in enabling Africa’s population to have already more than quintupled since then and now, but to the extent that foreign aid was feeding people in nations that should have been developing their own rich agricultural potential, or providing medical treatment to people in nations that as a consequence had less incentive to train their own doctors, the aid instead went into the pockets of corrupt dictators who had no interest to invest in a brighter future for their nations.

Rethinking Foreign Aid, Foreign Investment, and Energy Policies

The hard choice comes down to how the powerful Western nations want to apply their wealth and influence to help humanity and heal the planet.

The path we’re on requires shoveling billions in food aid and medical aid to developing nations, with the utterly unsustainable result being exploding populations in societies that don’t evolve and advance internally because they don’t have to.

The path we’re on requires a parallel campaign to import as many refugees as possible from these developing nations, with the only result being increasing economic burdens on the host nations, and increasing political and cultural conflict in the host nations, with negligible quantitative impact on the destitute and expanding populations of the source nations.

The path we’re on demands a preposterous renunciation of fossil fuel, despite fossil fuel currently providing 85 percent of all global energy, despite the fact that fossil fuel will remain cheap and abundant for at least another generation, if not much longer, and despite the fact that global energy production needs to double in the next 30 years, and nobody has any idea how else that can be accomplished.

Globalism, which underlies these supranational strategies, especially in the context of climate change and immigration, has become a particularly malevolent version of imperialism turned inward. It is an authoritarian response to challenges that are indeed existential—exploding populations of destitute nations, an insatiable global appetite for more energy, and environmental degradation. But it is precisely the wrong response. What happened?

The reason globalism has turned against the populations of developed nations is that it’s the path of least resistance. To intervene in Africa, or Honduras, for that matter, with solutions that would work, would revive accusations of imperialism, while simultaneously enraging environmentalists. It is easier for Western elites to blame their own societies for the misery in the developing world. It is easier to import people from the developing world, saturating them with anti-West, redistributionist propaganda, and to bring enough of them in to change the political equation in those nations forever. This strategy is the easiest path towards granting the Western elites carte blanche to continue down the path we’re on. But it’s the wrong path.

The effect of these policies, already well underway, is to exploit the populations of the developed nations, artificially inflating the prices they pay for everything; energy, water, transportation, housing, land, in the name of social equity and saving the planet. The benefit to the elites who own the artificially constrained productive assets is more profit—as costs remain flat and competitive supplies are restricted, profits go up. That is happening today.

The entire scheme is dangerously untenable. Eventually, people in the developed nations will rebel—both against the engineered scarcity and against each other in a needlessly fractured culture. And eventually, people in developing nations will starve by the millions, if not billions, as Western food and medical aid cannot keep pace with rampant population growth.

Those worried about the climate consequences of the alternative strategy—competitive abundance—should ask themselves what’s worse: a climate that may warm incrementally, possibly due in part to burning of fossil fuel, or another 2 billion people, desperate and destitute, stripping the rainforests for fuel, and wiping out the last great remnants of wild game for the protein.

Western elites must support responsible but competitive and accelerated development of all natural resources, instead of pretending that scarcity will further the goals of social equity and environmentalism. The prosperity that ensues will lead to lower birthrates and urbanization, taking pressure off wildernesses. The increased wealth will fund environmental mitigation.

Western elites must accept the inaccurate but virulent moral opprobrium that will accompany actually investing in places like Africa, as opposed to merely sending food and medical aid. They must embrace compassionate nationalism. They must accept alternatives to the de facto nihilism of mass immigration.

Throughout the developing world, and especially in Africa, Western elites must invest in clean fossil fuel, electricity grids, nuclear power, hydroelectric power, inter-basin water transfers, heavy industry, aquaculture, mega-cities, and universities. To protect their investments, they may have to negotiate charter cities or charter regions with the host nations, where Western laws will be enforceable by Western nations. Achieving stability in these areas won’t be easy. It will invite accusations of imperialism. It may also enable a bright future for not millions, but billions of children.

And maybe it won’t work. But it’s better than the path we’re on.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

Environment • Immigration • Post • Progressivism • Weekend Long Read

Alternatives to the Nihilistic Futility of Mass Immigration

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In 1968, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. Ehrlich predicted mass-starvation by the mid-1970s due to an exploding human population outstripping agricultural capacity. Global population in 1968 was 3.5 billion. Today there are 7.6 billion people living on planet earth. Clearly, Ehrlich’s dire predictions were wrong, but the book was a huge bestseller.

In 1987, author and commentator Ben Wattenberg published The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies? In this prescient book, Wattenberg correctly identified the early signs of what is now widely understood—in every developed nation on earth, birthrates are well below replacement levels. Wattenberg’s book didn’t sell nearly as well as Erlich’s.

The truth is, Ehrlich wasn’t entirely wrong. Throughout most of the so-called “developing world,” birth rates remain well above replacement levels.

To illustrate his point, Ehrlich made frequent reference to the “doubling time” of a population. It’s an apt concept because it refutes the argument that human innovation and enterprise can accommodate limitless population growth. In a public lecture at Stanford in the 1970s, Ehrlich drew a grim laugh when he explained that eventually unchecked human population growth would result in a solid sphere of human flesh expanding into the universe at the speed of light.

The fact that population growth rates vary among nations, with extremes at both ends, is not sufficiently acknowledged. It is central to discussions of immigration and refugee policies, environmental health, economic models, and the fate of nations and cultures. Yet despite its centrality, exploring practical solutions on this topic invites accusations of racism, ethno-nationalism, even neo-colonialism.

Studies in Contrast: Somalia and Japan
To explain why this discussion cannot be avoided, Ehrlich’s concepts are useful. And alongside exploring the implications of a population’s doubling time, the implications of a population’s “halving time” shall also be included. To provide an example from each extreme, the following cases use data from Somalia for the high-growth scenario, and Japan for the negative growth scenario.

Somalia currently has a population of 11.3 million. On average, women have 6.2 children. Infant mortality is 8 percent. Life expectancy is 55. Their population is projected to increase to 27 million by 2050, a doubling time of under 30 years. At this rate, in just 800 years there would be a Somali standing on every square foot of land area on Earth including Antarctica. In other words, there would be 1.5 trillion Somalis. Can human innovation accommodate this? Perhaps. With high-rise cities and colonies throughout the solar system, why not? But where does this end?

It has to end somewhere. Using Ehrlich’s approach, to visualize what a doubling time of 30 years means, and taking into account the average human body consumes two-cubic feet, within 3,000 years, there would be a solid ball of Somali flesh extending to just beyond the orbit of Jupiter, nearly a billion miles in diameter. In 5,000 years this cosmic flesh ball would exceed the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy. And within 10,000 years—a span of time that is neatly symmetric with recorded human history—there would be a solid ball of human protoplasm expanding at the speed of light in all directions, on track to absorb the entire known universe.

Japan’s shrinking population trends yield a sharp contrast. Japan currently has a population of 126.2 million. On average, women have 1.4 children. Infant mortality is 0.2 percent. Life expectancy is 84, the highest in the world. Japan’s population is projected to decline to 104 million by 2050.

Based on Japan’s projected population pyramid in 2050, where the population of Japanese aged 75-79 is expected to be more than twice as numerous as those under the age of five, Japan’s population will drop by 50 percent every 70 years. This means that in less than 2,000 years there will be only one Japanese person left in the world. And to extend the metaphor, in less than 5,000 years, what is left of the Japanese people will occupy the volume of one human ovum. The Japanese will disappear into nothingness.

How Japan Copes With Population Decline
These comparisons, while mathematically accurate, are hypothetical to the point of absurdity. But the consequences of these trends are relevant now. How these demographic realities are dealt with in the coming decades will, perhaps more than anything else, define the type of global civilization we leave our children and grandchildren. Examining the policy response by the Japanese to their population decline is useful since Japan is the only nation on earth with both a homogenous population and a strict policy against mass immigration.

The Japanese have countered their population decline by becoming world leaders in robotics. Their economy, while superficially considered weak due to the country’s debt and monetary deflation, is actually quite robust by other standards. Despite recent setbacks, the Japanese have a history of trade surpluses, meaning their debt is primarily held internally. And because their population is in slow decline, their housing and infrastructure spending is limited to maintenance and upgrades. Their productivity and innovation remain among the highest in the world.

Japan is pioneering an economic model that adapts to a stable, declining population. While this is not necessarily something all nations must accept, it offers important tips for the future. Moderate population growth probably can continue indefinitely, as humanity continues to urbanize and begins to harvest resources elsewhere in the solar system. What is unsustainable and unacceptable, however, is for human populations, anywhere, to continue to double every 30 years.

Somalia’s Population Continues to Explode
How Somalia’s population continues to increase at its current rate is instructive, since it applies more generally to dozens of much larger developing nations across mostly Africa and the Middle East. In the context of a GDP of $7.1 billion, Somalia has an annual trade deficit of $2.1 billion. They receive foreign aid equivalent to 27 percent of GDP, along with remittances sent from Somalis living overseas equivalent to 22 percent of GDP. Nearly half of all Somalis, 46 percent of the population, are “food insecure.”

According to the CIA, “Somalia scores very low for most humanitarian indicators, suffering from poor governance, protracted internal conflict, underdevelopment, economic decline, poverty, social and gender inequality, and environmental degradation. Despite civil war and famine raising its mortality rate, Somalia’s high fertility rate and large proportion of people of reproductive age maintain rapid population growth, with each generation being larger than the prior one. More than 60 percent of Somalia’s population is younger than 25, and the fertility rate is among the world’s highest at almost 6 children per woman—a rate that has decreased little since the 1970s.”

With rare exceptions, Somalia’s situation is mirrored across the continent. Africa’s population has exploded as a result of foreign aid in the form of medicine and food, without commensurate advancements in governance, infrastructure, the rule of law, advanced literacy, technical capacity, individual freedom and internal stability, or any of the other hallmarks of developed nations.

Africa is a welfare continent. In 1960, when most African nations achieved independence, the population of the entire continent was a mere 285 million. Today there are 1.3 billion Africans, and by 2050 Africa’s population is estimated to exceed 2.5 billion.

How Cultures are Altered by Foreign Aid and Welfare
Why the Japanese choose to reduce their population, and why the Somalis choose to increase their population so rapidly, cuts to the heart of cultural issues as much as economic ones. As median income rises, birth rates fall. In a nutshell, that explains the declining populations of developed nations.

But what if instead of affluence, guaranteed subsistence is offered? This describes the impact of foreign aid in Africa, and the result is a sustained population explosion. And as aid falters or is interrupted by war and instability, as the efficacy of aid becomes precarious in direct proportion to the additional hundreds of millions each decade who depend on it, the inevitable result is mass migrations. Which is equally problematic.

In developed nations, a comprehensive system of welfare awaits the migrant. This is completely unlike the challenge of indentured servitude, or at the least, freedom devoid of government assistance, which greeted immigrants to America prior to the 1960s. The result is predictable; a population explosion enabled by welfare, and an immigrant culture where entrepreneurial talent makes the logical choice to work in the informal economy to avoid losing the welfare benefits.

Without indulging in conspiratorial fantasies, the incentives to perpetuate mass migrations are obvious. Immigrant communities that depend on government benefits will vote for Democrats. Somali immigrant Ilhan Omar, recently elected to represent Minnesota’s 5th district, adds to the far-left wing of congressional Democrats. Omar, along with far-left Democrat Keith Ellison who narrowly won election as Minnesota’s new attorney general, were elected with overwhelming support from Minnesota’s burgeoning Somali population. Similar patterns are observable from California to Texas to Florida, and everywhere in between. In America, immigrants from developing countries are turning red states blue, and they are turning blue states bluer.

Current Welfare and Foreign Aid policies are Unsustainable
None of this is sustainable. Socialism, whether through foreign aid to developing nations, or through more government benefits approved with the swing voters coming from developed nations, eventually collapses. Productive citizens, outvoted, overtaxed, and disenfranchised in their own nations, lose their incentives to work hard. This leads to several inevitable conclusions.

First, it is beyond the capacity of developed nations to accommodate ongoing migrations from the developing world. Just the increase in Africa’s population each decade exceeds the entire current population of the United States or Western Europe.

Second, current foreign aid policies are completely unsustainable, because they facilitate this population increase without improving any of the other “humanitarian indicators” that might lead to a cultural shift towards lower birth rates.

Third, while it is possible to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, the more people there are, the harder that gets. The environmental impact of Africa’s population quadrupling in the last 60 years, and doubling yet again in the next 30 years, is nothing short of catastrophic.

Solutions Exist, But They Won’t Be Easy
French President Emmanuel Macron has been refreshingly blunt about Africa’s challenges. Speaking in Lagos earlier this year, he said, “I am sorry; if you have seven or eight children per woman, even when economic growth is 5 percent, you will never end the fight against poverty. In Europe, centuries ago we had such large families, but ask the women today. If it is their free choice then I am fine but when this situation is due to forced marriage and no education, it is crazy.”

Paul Ehrlich devoted chapters of The Population Bomb to his ideas for how to lower population growth. None of them anticipated the fact that in developed nations, it turned out that affluence was all it took for birth rates to fall voluntarily. Ehrlich’s prescription for the developing world was harsh. He suggested “triage” where nations on a clear path to self-sufficiency would continue to receive food aid, and nations failing this test would have food aid eliminated. But despite its progressive brutality, Ehrlich was recognizing that foreign aid, just like welfare, is unsustainable when the ratio of payers to recipients is relentlessly narrowing.

What can be done?

One controversial idea that deserves development and discussion is the concept of international charter cities. This would involve a nation or coalition of nations being invited into, say, Mogadishu, to set up a zone administered by the visiting nations, subject to their laws and law enforcement. The resulting stability would encourage foreign investment. Over time, these charter cities could become charter regions, where it is conceivable that migrations could be reversed. For example, Somali expatriates, from St. Paul to Sweden, might welcome the chance to return to their homelands to live and work in an area where economic growth and political stability offer them a return to the land and culture they cherish, without sacrificing the safety they found abroad.

Another idea, equally controversial, would be to use foreign aid funds to instead co-invest with private partners in big infrastructure in Africa. For example, within the security of charter regions, constructing nuclear power plants. Or throughout Africa, to invest in economically beneficial infrastructure projects that violate some environmentalist wishes while fulfilling others. An example of such a tradeoff would be an aqueduct to divert water from the Ubangi River to Lake Chad. Just a small percentage of runoff from the mighty Ubangi would restore Lake Chad, enriching the economy and the ecosystems across the Sahel.

Industrializing Africa might actually save the environment, because with economic development, not only are smaller families a welcome consequence so is a cleaner environment. Another demonstrated result of prosperity is the voluntary migration of people from rural areas into cities. With urbanization, economic growth can reduce the footprint of humanity on Africa’s great wildernesses.

The course currently plotted for humanity is alarming. Mass migrations from the developing world will eventually turn developed nations into socialist police states with diminished economies and shattered dreams. Meanwhile, unchecked population growth in the developing world will create political, economic and environmental havoc. It is time for new approaches and clear thinking.

Photo Credit: Sosthene Kambibi/AFP/Getty Images

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