Anniversary of D-Day. Both my father and Chrissy’s father landed at Normandy. Although neither took part in the first assaults, both got purple hearts later in the war.  

My father rarely talked about his war experience and I am sad to say that I did not ask very much. He got seven battle stars, i.e. participated in the major battles in the European theater and got that purple heart at the Battle of the Bulge. I did ask about that, and my father told me that he had just cut himself while drunk and they gave him the purple heart. He always minimized his service.  

The problem is that we do not ask our parents about their lives until it is too late. I think it is because we lack the context to want to know until we get older. When we are young, we just cannot perceive that our parents were ever young like us. It is only when we are old as they were that we appreciate their youth, and by then it is too late.   I probably talked to Chrissy’s father more about his war experience than I did my own. He was more willing to talk. He was a tank driver and mechanic. He got his purple heart when his tank was destroyed and he was hit by debris from it. He was evidently outside the tank when it happened. His colleagues were killed. I do not know more details. My fault. My first picture is my father in his uniform and after that is Chrissy’s. Last is my father on the job at Medusa Cement. People like our fathers risked their lives to save our country and then went on to build it for us.  

If I can share a couple of funny follow ups about my father’s story.   My father had a “Milwaukee accent” the likes of which no longer exist and it must have been even more pronounced when he was young. It was related to the immigrants who had some trouble pronouncing the “th” sound.   As a result, his military records say he lived on “Port Street”. His parents house was on 4th Street. I imagine when he was asked, he told them 4th street, but pronounced it something like “vote” but with a little more f sound at the start. The guy listening thought he said Port and that was the record.   My father was among the first to be discharged at the end of the war. They had some kind of point system, where you got credit for campaigns etc. With his seven battle stars, he was near the top.

They dropped him in Chicago. You can imagine what it must have been like at the end of the war, seeing your first hero come home. Anyway, he got a lot of free drinks, and for the rest of his life thought Chicago was the friendliest town in the world. He told me that all you needed do was show up in bar, talk to people and they would buy you free drinks. That has not been my experience.   One more. My father had no souvenirs of the war, not even his own uniform, which he said he lost in a crap game. That may have been accurate.   My uncles had all sorts of stuff – German helmets, bayonets, all sorts of patches. One of my uncles has an SS hat and even weapons. I saw a Lugar and a rife, I think it was called a Mauser. The Lugar was evidently a big deal. It is amazing how they got all that stuff home and were allowed to bring it.   Mauser was one of the things my father called “good” cats, so I am not sure if I recall correctly.  

There is no such thing as society

Margret Thatcher is sometimes praised and often criticized for saying that there is no such thing as society.

This is the whole of what she said, and she was right – “There is no such thing as society. There is [a] living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us [is] prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

I have been reading a lot about emergence and society. Humans are an immensely social species. We are cooperative in ways no other animals are, while (so far) avoiding the tyranny termites, ants and bees. Our conflicts about cooperation are about how much, not if it is going to happen.

Those of us who believe in free market democracy are often accused by progressives and always by socialists of being somehow in favor of a cruel competition. In fact, my views are much closer to a true interactive community than most progressives and all socialists. Community presupposes interactions and reciprocal help and obligations among all members, as Mrs. Thatcher says. Contrary to socialism (or worse) that rely on centralize planning, command and control, free market democracies rely on the people and their emerging cooperation based mostly on free associations among individuals to guide societal change.

Barack Obama drew the ire of many, me included, when he chided successful people by saying “you didn’t build that.” He was actually correct in what he said, but wrong in why he said. it. None of us is independent and almost nobody really wants to be. We live with the accumulated wealth, wisdom and (yes) mistakes of humans who came before us and those that currently share our planet. This is like the fish not knowing he is in water. It does not preclude individual free will, but rather supports it. It also supports our freedom and autonomy. We are in the tapestry and cannot escape, but within that we have choices that make life better or worse for us and for others. We choose. We are not carried along like a cork in a stream, but the most effective decisions are informed by understandings of currents and possibilities.

Some things come easily to us humans. We usually think of those are “natural.” We can easily determine nuances in languages, verbal and non-verbal, that we cannot teach to our most sophisticated computers. Others are harder for us. The math problems that computers can solve in nanoseconds, befuddle most of us. These are learnable, but “unnatural”. And some things we just cannot have, no matter how much we want them. (I always thought that quotation “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” was inspirational until you thought about it and saw it was just claptrap) Distinguishing among these things, preferentially choosing natural paths when possible, pushing through the less natural when necessary and avoiding things we cannot have, even if we really want them, is what makes life for individuals and societies better or worse.

So nobody is an island, entire of themselves, but we all have autonomy (if we choose to take it) and we all have contributions to make and enjoy. However, only those who choose the somewhat more difficult path of looking to what they can contribute, rather than what they can have, looking to responsibilities as well as rights, can have the chance of being complete human beings.

I know I make a value judgement here and I am indeed saying that we are not all equal in what we do and the outcomes we seek. I am not saying I always know the right, but I am saying that it is incumbent on all of us to seek it.

Canadian Provinces

I attended “The Premiers’ Perspective: A Canada-U.S. Relations Outlook for the New Decade” at Wilson Center on February 7, 2020.  It was advertised as “a conversation with the Honourable Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan and the Honourable Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta. The Premiers will speak on how provincial interests play a role in Canada’s vision and presence on the global stage and how topics such as trade, energy, and innovation will shape Canada-U.S. relations in 2020 and beyond” and that was what it was.  “Politico” co-sponsored the event and so Luiza Savage Executive Director at “Politico” joined Jane Harman President & CEO, The Wilson Center in welcoming the guests and Lauren Gardner Reporter from “Politico Pro Canada” moderated the discussion. The program lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Jane Harman introduced Chris Sands as the new director of the Canada Institute.
 Notes are below.

The funniest part of the “Premiers’ Perspective: A Canada-U.S. Relations Outlook for the New Decade” came when Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan seemed to say he disagreed with everything Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney said, after they agreed on everything else up to that point.  What he had in fact that is that “I would JUST agree …”  Kenny asked right away, and Moe cleared it up on the spot.  Goes to show how misunderstandings happen.
Besides what would have been big news, but wasn’t, there was probably little that surprised people familiar with the two leaders, but there was a lot of useful insights and explanations.  Saskatchewan & Alberta are especially tightly integrated into the North American market, so it was no surprise that both premiers strongly endorse USMCA.  They foresaw no problems getting the agreement ratified by the Federal Parliament and reported that the premiers of all the provinces had come out strongly for the agreement. Jason Kenny said that it was especially important to get ensconced in the North American zone, as there are growing concerns about protectionism in the USA and around the world.
Both agreed that the new USMCA was an improvement over NAFTA, although they did not voice complaints about NAFTA.  When asked about concerns about specific products, they mentioned forestry, aluminum and dairy.  Softwood lumber exports are important in both provinces.  Detailed adjustments can be made within the treaty, so the sooner they get in the better to start the detailed work.
Defer to the Federal Government in international affairs
Both premiers made a point of emphasizing while they want to make the concerns of their own provinces well-known, it is the Federal Government that runs foreign policy and trade negotiations.  Jason Kenny added that this is especially important to recall now, given the challenge of China.  They don’t want to give the Chinese the impression that they can divide Canadians.
Huawei dispute hurts
Western Canada has been hurt by the Huawei extradition dispute.  When the USA and China have disputes, Canada suffers collateral damage.  Scott Moe mentioned harm done to potash exports from his province, as well as general agricultural products.  Beef and pork restrictions have also hurt, but the thorniest problem might be the canola ban.  They did not explain.
Speaking about China tensions, Jason Kenny said that there was more than two Canadians (Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor) imprisoned related to diplomatic dispute surrounding the Huawei extradition.  He made special mention of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen and former Uighur activist who has been imprisoned in China for 13 years.
Both provinces are producers of raw materials and especially energy and this is the biggest bone of contention between these provincial and the Federal authorities.  Some of it has to do with the provinces thinking that they pay too much to the Federal Government, but more of it is related to policies that restrict, or at least do not encourage, energy exploration and transportation.
Pipelines and transporting energy
Scott Moe characterized their concerns “the three Ts”: taxes, trade and transportation.  Jason Kenny said that he must assume that the Trudeau government is in favor of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, since the Canada Development Investment Corporation (CDIC), accountable to the Canadian Parliament, acquired the responsibly in 2018.  He explained that Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal cleared the way by ruling against challenges from First Nations groups concerned about the environmental impacts of the project.  [The Trans Mountain expansion would add more than 600 miles to the pipeline and increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000.]  The government has a duty to consult indigenous people, but this does not imply their power to veto a project.
Kenny regretted the Obama decision to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and implicated the new (at the time) Trudeau government.  He suspected the there was at least a tacit agreement by Trudeau not to kick up a fuss.  Kenny believed that the veto violated the spirit if not the letter of NAFTA.
Scott Moe went on to explain the importance of pipelines.  No form of energy exploration or transport is risk-free but moving oil by pipeline is by far the safest, compared with alternatives such as rail and trucks.  Beyond that, moving oil by rail gets in the way of other commodities, such as potash, timber and other agricultural products.
The Keystone XL pipeline is beneficial for international interests, Jason Kenny added.  It will produce billions in revenues, create jobs and enhance closer relationships between the USA in Canada.  It also creates jobs in the USA as far away as the Gulf Coast, where refiners are tooled to refine heavy crude, no longer so easily available from Venezuela.
North American energy
Scott Moe pointed out that North American energy is important for geopolitical as well as straight economic reasons.  We are transitioning from oil to renewable or other non-fossil forms of energy. This transition will take some time, but when it happens much of the world’s oil will become a stranded resource.  It is better if the last useful barrels of oil come from North America and that if the resource is stranded, better it be stranded elsewhere.  Until then, current demand will be satisfied from somewhere. North American energy is more secure and extracted in more ecologically friendly ways than in places where environmental protection is viewed with somewhat less enthusiasm.
Science-based regulation
Both premiers advocated a science-based regulation process.  Kenny pointed to his province’s $30/ton tax on industrial carbon tax as part of his government’s commitment weaning the world off fossil fuels. [The tax went into effect on January 1, 2020 and is the centerpiece of Premier Jason Kenney’s climate strategy. The tax could increase in future years to keep pace with the federal government’s climate plan for industry. Alberta’s oil sands are included in the tax.]
Don’t mock the people: the rise of populism
In response to questions, the premiers talked about the rise of populism. This factor in all advanced Western countries. Kenny thought that Canada was less affect by this malady (my word) and he credited Canada’s better immigration policies as well as the Canadian energy industry.  Canada’s skill-based immigration system matches potential immigrants with Canada’s needs.  They integrate much easier into society and are more easily welcomed by Canadians, since they provide useful skills.  The other factor, the energy industry, is less direct, but Kenny explained that semi-skilled workers in downsizing industries could move into the booming energy industries, and their related functions.  Many have moved some distance from declining eastern areas to the booming prairie provinces.
Kenny recommended former Prime Minister Stephen Harpers 2018 book, “Right Here, Right Now,” that addressed the root causes of populism.  When political elites dismiss the concerns of ordinary people or even mock them, they react with populism.
Addressing the “Wexit” issue, calls for Alberta to leave the Federation, Kenny said that concerns are genuine and serious, and he would not want it to develop further, but it is mostly talk. Still, polls show that 25-30% of the Alberta population supports Wexit, but that 75-80% understand the concerns.
Canadians first
Both Kenny & Moe emphasized that they thought it important to be Canadians first.  They emphasized that it was important that the Federal government run foreign policy and trade negotiations.  They singled out Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for special praise two separate times and praised the work of Canadian diplomats in Washington.  They also referenced section 92 of the Canadian 1867 Constitution that gives significant power to provinces to develop and manage natural resources.  Good balance.
Moe and Kenny agreed on most things, in fact it seemed on all things discussed at the Wilson Center meeting, so much so that there was little need to differentiate.  Besides getting along very well, they gave the impression of being practical and competent leaders.
A complete video of the program is attached.


The anniversary of the introduction of slavery to the English colonies in North America inspired me to think a little more about how and why it was abolished. This is a more interesting question. Slavery in some form was universal until it suddenly (in terms long history) it was largely abolished in the course of a few generations.

You cannot get far talking about abolition w/o considering William Wilberforce. The Wikipedia entry featured a paragraph I found especially interesting.

“In the 1940s, the role of Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect in abolition was downplayed by historian Eric Williams, who argued that abolition was motivated not by humanitarianism but by economics, as the West Indian sugar industry was in decline.Williams’ approach strongly influenced historians for much of the latter part of the 20th century. “

I see no contradiction here. Economics, the great enrichment and the market revolution, enabled the implementation of the moral revolution pushed by leaders like Wilberforce.
Moral leaders in many past societies inveighed against forced labor, but never succeeded over large areas of for long periods of time. Maybe they failed not only because they could not convince enough people of the righteousness of their cause, but also for the practical reason that the world – all the world – was too poor and poorly coordinated to allow it.
We take for granted the wealth and capacity for progress we now enjoy. We often are unaware of the quantum change humanity experienced from around the middle of the 17th Century. The leap is ongoing and accelerating, but a lot of the basic ingredients came into being in the roughly two centuries from abound 1650-1850.

Reasonable people might disagree about the precise time period, but this encompasses the establishment of the scientific, democratic & market revolutions. We can point to individuals like Issac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Adam Smith, David Hume, John Locke, and many more, but the remarkable things was the combination. Ideas passed from science to society to morality to philosophy to politics.

These sorts of ideas created the United States and it was in the USA that many of them best developed in a practical sense.

In 1550, abolishing forced labor was just beyond that capacity of any society because of their lack of wealth in all senses. They had not developed the technologies of production (engines, mills, precision techniques) to make stuff. They had not developed the technologies of the mind (differential calculus, scientific theory) to allow what we call progress, had not yet developed the technologies of administration (statistics, limited liability corporations, communications) to allow modern economies or the technologies of governance that allowed countries to put it all together.

All these things enabled a higher morality. Our ancestors, the people of the past could produce wonderful structures, great literature and impressive philosophy, but their physical and intellectual technologies did not permit them to take the steps we can and that our more recent ancestors could and did.

A note on Wilberforce. He should be better remembered.

en.wikipedia.org   William Wilberforce – Wikipedia William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833)[1] was a British…       3

Man's inhumanity

I was in Poland in the early-middle 1990s, which meant that I was there for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, of the liberation of Auschwitz (near where I lived), of various lesser known tragedies and of the Warsaw uprising.
I attended lots of commemorations, both in my official duties and as an individual interested in history. It was a very interesting time, although one that raised lots of questions about humanity.

Human capacity to do harm is usually matched by our capacity to endure. I came to wonder about the virtue of perseverance and even bravery, never resolved the issue. Existential struggles bring out the best and the worse in people, often in the same person.

In my discussions with young people (and I almost fit in that group back then), I would often hear harsh judgements of people of the past. “Had I been there, I would have …” was a common refrain.

What would I have done? I like to think I would have been always heroic and selfless, which probably would have meant I would not have survived the war. In fact, I think the best we can hope for is that we would be heroic and selfless in situations where it made a practical difference.

I was competitive swimmer, but nothing compared to a guy like Michael Phelps, winner of 28 Olympic gold metals, but there is a way that he is no better than me – neither of us can swim from California to Hawaii. This is not a trivial thing. There are things beyond human possibilities, but that does not let us off the hook for being better.

I learned a lot about tragedies and pondered human nature. I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, and I met dozens of people who had endured things I could not imagine. I felt very privileged to talk to many of them at length, including Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, maybe the most impressive soul I have ever encountered.

The thing that impressed me most also surprised me profoundly. These people who had suffered so horribly were very often joyful and had transcended hatred and vengefulness. They did not minimize the suffering and evil; they had just (sorry to use the word again but I can think of none better) transcended it. This made them no less committed to fighting evil and in many ways made them much more effective.

People who fought in the Warsaw uprising were mostly civilians, some children. The Nazis were especially brutal in their suppression of the uprising. Of the combatants that survived, many did so my wading through filth in the sewer system.

There is a coda, a tragic one. For many Poles who fought the Nazis the war did not end in 1945. The communist government did not treat them as heroes. On the contrary, many were persecuted and some executed. The new communist order did not easily tolerate vestiges of the old and personal heroism was especially suspect in their world view.


 It is the idea of dynamism and change that is hard to understand. America is dynamic. We can become “more perfect” but nothing on earth is perfect. American genius was that our founders recognized that perfection was a process and not a destination.

My job for more than thirty years was to explain the United States to people around the world. Try to explain. That was also a process not a destination. I progressed from knowing not much to knowing not enough, but I couldn’t stop looking. It is a big country and one in perpetual state of becoming something new. That is how I started all my talks with foreign audiences, some variation of that. I must have given the talk hundreds of times and it was never the same twice, like the USA.

I wanted to be able to add personal color, so I made an effort to get out “into America”. We drove across the USA at least six times, depending exactly on how you count. We took the train once from California to Chicago. That was good. And I tried to talk to people along the way.

The more you talk to ordinary people, the more you come to respect ordinary people and understand that nobody is ordinary.

State Department (and USIA) had programs where diplomats could volunteer to talk around the country. I did that and arranged some of my own. Sometimes State Department gave talking points. I tended not to use them. They were too simple. One time I gave a talk about economics and trade to an audience in Amarillo, Texas using my fancy pants talking points. The audience knew a lot more than I did. I talked about international trade; they did it. I learned two things at that encounter: I learned about trade in agricultural products and I learned not to underestimate guys with cowboy hats and faded blue jeans. I got this sort of lesson over-and-over. I knew lots of general things; they knew lots of useful ones.
I know my country is not perfect and never will be. But I know it will always be getting better. We can see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants. It is easy to disparage them, for their lack of vision, but maybe we should just be grateful for the boost they gave us.

Pete Buttigieg

Met Pete Buttigieg today. I read his book and was impressed by his intellect.

I am not impressed when politicians present detailed plans. Everybody should know that the detailed plans will always fail, as the conditions presidents face will be different from those they imagine. What I liked about Buttigieg is that instead of detailed plans, he talks about the intellectual process that we reach goals. It might seems a subtle difference, but it is important. During his brief talk today, he said that the best thing we can do is envision the future we want and then work to figure out how to get there. He didn’t say it, but I think it implied the iterative approach that is best for addressing complex problems.

He didn’t engage in that anger you too often hear on the campaign trail. He was critical of the “current president” but specifically showed respect for those who voted for him. He said that the election was not the cause but the result of frustration. Some people voted for a candidate that they did not love because they wanted change.

Asked about foreign policy, he supported our network of alliances, adding that American values are important in the world and that we had the responsibility to advocate for them in our deeds and our words.

I literally got an elevator speech with Pete. After the talk, there was the usual milling around and I thought I there was nothing more for me to see, so I went to the elevator. Just about the time it arrive, Buttigieg and his entourage showed up. I offered to take the next one, but he invited me in. I told him that I had read his book. He said that he wrote to book to show the kind of guy he was, rather than just a long political advert. I said that I was impressed, but it might be that he is too intellectual to play well with much of the electorate. He responded that problems were nuanced and required nuanced solutions. I agree. He said that he got along alright with the people in Indiana and thought that people could understand the complexity if properly presented.

Seemed a good guy. Let’s see how it does.

My first picture is the standard photo with the candidate. Next is the Capitol. It was very pleasant day. Extraordinarily fresh for middle June. Last is part of the green roof at the building where we met.

The Senkaku paradox: Risking great power war over small stakes

The Senkaku paradox refers to something unimportant causing a major war, as all sides escalate until it all gets out of hand. That is the World War I scenario. Nobody got what they thought, much less what they wanted.

I rode down to see Michael O’Hanlon talk about this paradox. The Senakaku Islands are totally unimportant. Nobody lives there. Nobody goes there. Their total land area is only seven square kilometers. They don’t even qualify as islands under the law of the sea. But China has begun to talk about claiming them. They are currently “administered” by Japan, but not even claimed by the Japanese. How can these piles of rocks constitute a risk?
The Chinese are using this as a provocation. It is a matter of pride and principle. This is what happens when there is no practical value and it makes negotiations harder, since nobody can trade concessions.

The “islands” are covered by the USA-Japan defense treaty, so if the Chinese make a move on them, the USA is bound to help Japan. Failing that would harm the alliance. Doing it would risk a war over something nobody cares about. This is the paradox.
O’Hanlon also talked about Putin. China is a rising power, and rising powers are dangerous to the established order. Russia is a declining power, and declining powers are even worse. Consider that World War I was provoked to a large extent by a declining power, Austria-Hungary, trying to hold on to its fading glory.

Putin wants to weaken NATO. What if he made some “small” aggression into a Baltic country, something too small to fight about but big enough to endanger the alliance if left untended?

O’Hanlon suggests sanctions aimed very precisely against Russian gas and oil. This is better deployed as a threat than a response.

Putin can be put on notice if the Europeans build more ports for liquefied natural gas. Putin would know that we COULD be serious about cutting off his markets. W/o energy sales, Russia is just a 3rd world country.

Fracking has greatly weaken lots of bad guys, chiefly Putin and the Iranians.
Anyway, good talk and worth the time going down.

I have a personal story about Michael O’Hanlon. Back in 2007 I ran State Department Worldwide Speaker Program. I noticed that too many of our speakers were Bush supporters. I was myself a Bush supporter, but our mandate was to represent all the diversity of American opinion and I respect the principle, so I checked into it.
I learned that some programmers were avoiding “controversial” speakers, and by controversial they meant possible Bush opponents. The irony is that most of the programmers were liberal Democrats. They feared the reaction, even if there had never been one. They believed those intolerant myths.

I reiterated our long-standing policy of representing all of America and told everybody that if there were any complaints to send them my way. Among the people I asked our programmers to recruit was O’Hanlon. He had written lots of good articles. They were often critical of Bush but thoughtful. I don’t recall if he ever traveled for us, but he was contacted, as were many other thoughtful liberals.

We got only one complaint. A couple colleagues showed up in my office looking scared. They said there had been a complaint that one of our speakers was critical of Bush. I determined that the complaint was unjustified and then asked who complained. I assumed that no experienced diplomat would lodge such complaint. Still, I was relieved to find out it was nobody important, some pissant junior officer who had yet to learn not to antagonize his betters. We could safely do nothing and nothing is what we did. I told my guys not even to answer the guy. So ended a tempest in a teapot.

Let’s hope that other small things like that end w/o even whimper. It is too easy to make little things big when you think small.

The Senkaku paradox: Risking great power war over small stakes1

Protocols of the Elders of Zion

It was the deadliest and one of the most persistent hoaxes in history. You probably have not heard of it & if you did you probably did not believe it, but millions did know about it, did believe it AND acted on their beliefs. Millions more were affected.

Alex and I went to a lecture on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Considering this document is instructive from so many angles. It is obviously a study in hate, but it is perhaps more pragmatically a study in how hoaxes, credulity and the desire to believe in conspiracy shapes events.

Sure, it is all wrong, but it is still all true
The Protocols were debunked almost immediately after they were promulgated in 1902/3. It just made no sense. Supposedly, the protocols recorded a meeting of Jewish leaders sometime around 1897, where they laid out a plan for world domination. From the beginning, the facts just did not make sense. For example, the event is said to take place AROUND 1897. There was no precise date. Where the meeting took place was also left unclear, as well as who attended or how they got there. Presumably, a large meeting of international leaders would be a logistical feat attracting some attention. Nobody ever came forward to claim to have been at the meeting or seen the meeting.

None of this seemed to matter. Some believers just assumed that Jews were so crafty that they could cover their trail so that nobody could find it. More surprisingly, many other believers admitted that the facts were all wrong, but that they somehow represented a greater truth. Sure, it is all wrong, but it is still all true.

Weaponizing lies for an international audience
The Protocols had a long lasting and malicious legacy. It was created to be weaponized as a tool of hate and it worked. Ralph Nurnberger said that this was the single most damaging antisemitic document in history, worse even than “Mein Kampf.” The Protocols built on a long tradition, but they made antisemitism international and gave it the rationale we recognize today. They had a big impact in the Islamic world, where Jews had lived in relative harmony since the Islamic conquests, and in places that did not have any, or many, Jews at all, such as in Japan. It persists in these places. Nurnberger mentioned a recent Cairo bookfair the featured multiple edition of the “Protocols.” When Israeli diplomats complained, they were told that they did not have to attend.

The more facts you bring to debunk, the more we think it is true
As I mentioned above, the “Protocols” were debunked right away and continued to be debunked as different editions showed up in different places. When the “Protocols” came to the USA, the “New York Times” wrote a full-page article pointing out the various problems with the “Protocols.” The “Times of London” has done this earlier. This, ironically, this debunking confirmed the belief for true believers, since the “Protocols” warned that Jews controlled the media and for the believers that fact of the debunking just proved the truth.

This is one reason why conspiracy theories are so persistent. They include within them the antibodies against truth. In fact, the more facts come out against them, the more it confirms the belief.

The “Protocols” are now in their second century. Unfortunately, they are not just history.
This event was sold out and every chair was taken. Good to know that enough people have the intellectual curiosity to be attracted to such events.

Civil society – the third pillar

These are the best of times
Unemployment is near historical lows, while median income is pushing historical highs. Our air and water are cleaner than any time in living memory. Cancer rates have been dropping for three decades. Crime is down in the same period. Gun violence is down. Even the poor have access to wonderful technologies that the world’s richest people could not have a generation past.

Is everybody happy yet?
Well … no. Despite all this wonderful news, people are dissatisfied and angry. We can dismiss some of this to simple ignorance. Not everybody knows about the low unemployment rates, and most people you ask probably think problems like cancer are on the rise. But it goes well beyond that, because despite the gains in material well-being, many Americans have lost something very valuable. They have lost their places in communities.

The third sector
I went to see Raghuram Rajan talk about his new book, “The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind” (Penguin Press, 2019). I finished the audio-book version during my drives down to the tree farms, so I was primed and interested. In fact, I was primed way before. When I studied for my MBA at University of Minnesota, they had a whole department called “business, government and society” to talk about the interactions. Supporting civil society – the third sector – was a big program goal in my work in post-communist Poland. In Krakow, we sponsored a series of talks called “Habits of the Heart,” explaining that democracy was a lot more than just voting. Civil society, community and habits were like the lubricants in an engine. W/o this, the whole machine would sputter to a halt. One reason I am troubled by apparent decline of community in America is that I believe what we told our Polish friends.

Not new but worth repeating with new variations
What Dr. Rajan said was not new, but I think it needs to be restated. He talked about the three big components of society – the state, the market & community. Of course, you could argue for more divisions, but you must keep it manageable. Each of these sectors complements and balances the others. Government makes rules and exercises power. It needs to be balanced by the power of the market, which is balanced by government and both are balanced and complemented by community.

The book went into a lot of history about how each developed. Suffice it to say that community has been ceding power & responsibility to government and the market. This was not always or even usually bad. Community can be great, nurturing and enabling, but it can also be stifling in excluding. The balance from the government and markets was a good thing. Government could reach in and protect oppressed. Markets could give opportunities to go beyond what your parents had or did.

In recent decades, however, community has been atrophying more than is healthy, as both government and the market usurp its functions. Big government and big business are sometimes rivals, but often collaborators. When one gets big, the other does too. What gets squeezed is community. The small and the local are run over by the big and the national. This is Walmart pushing out small hardware stores, or Federal programs displacing local charities. Large banks absorb community bankers.

Why is small & local better?
The answer is that they not always are better. Most goods and services can be better provided by larger or more centrally organized enterprises. Walmart pushes out local stores because it can provide better products at lower prices. Sometimes it is less “fair” than offering lower prices or better services. Regulations like Dodd-Frank helped big banks knock out community banks, since the big guys could more efficiently cope with regulations and reporting requirements. A community banker might base a loan decision on subjective local knowledge and relationship. A report that justifies an action with, “Because I knew the situation” does not do well with Federal regulators.

Small and local has advantages in that it is often more attuned to local nuances. But the biggest advantages might be less evident and paradoxical. The small & local is often less efficient and it might be better for society in the long run precisely because of this fault. It gives more people a “valuable place” and makes our societal interface more human. I know this is intangible and maybe even illogical, but it is human.

I prefer to drink beer that is locally produced – or at least has a local story – even though I cannot tell the taste difference and the local brew often costs more than something more mass produced. I also prefer to drink at a restaurant or brew-pub, even though for a fraction of the cost I can buy a similar quality brew to drink at home. I am celebrating inefficiency, or maybe trading efficiency for community, perceived or real.

Maybe we have become efficient enough
We have largely escaped the poverty trap that ensnared ever generation of humanity until only a few generations ago. We have so much more stuff than they had, but we have lost some of the community that enriched their lives. We are richer in things and poorer in spirit. Can’t we choose to have both more stuff and robust community?

We can all listen to Taylor Swift
We all want to best we can get. It used to be that the best was just okay, to be less charitable we used to be content with mediocrity.

Rajan cites the examples of Elizabeth Billington and Taylor Swift. Elizabeth Billington was the most celebrated singer of her age, the early 19th Century. She made the big bucks, or the prime pounds, since she earned her money in Britain. In 1801, she earned the princely sum of £15,000. This was about $1 million in today’s dollars. Big money. Taylor Swift earns more. She grossed $250 million on a single tour a couple years ago. Does Taylor Swift sing more than 250 times better than Billington?

The difference is technology. Billington could reach only a few hundred people for each performance and she had to show personally in order to be heard. This meant that her fan base was limited by her reach. Only a very small number of people actually heard Billington sing. Most Americans, even those who are not fans, have heard Taylor Swift. She can make money from people how have never shared a concert hall with her and supported by video and amplification she can reach a lot more people per venue.

Superstars displace the ordinary. There used to be a much bigger market for people of medium talent and attractiveness. People are less likely today to pay extra for someone singing one of Taylor Swift’s songs, when for less cash they can listen to a recording of Swift herself.

Superstar hogging = inequality
Superstars hog the work of thousands, maybe millions, and they are compensated vastly for this. They effectively duplicate themselves millions of times, putting no additional time or effort into each rendition after the first. This is the root of inequality.
It gets worse. Superstars also hog the gigs outside their own field of expertise. I heard Oprah narrating a nature show, got information about credit cards from Alec Baldwin and Jenifer Aniston told me what water to drink.

he superstars hollow out the middle. People who are very talented and well-known but not the very top find themselves out of work. It doesn’t do much good to be in the top-hundred or even the top ten. It is much like the Olympics. We know the winner of the gold, might pay some attention to silver, treat the bronze as a bit player and have no idea about anybody below that.

The center cannot hold (a job)
This superstar hogging is not limited to celebrities. They are just easier to see. The same goes for CEOs, investors and even skilled workers. Anything where tech expands reach.
Rajan mentioned accounting. We no longer hire ordinary guys to do our taxes, since Turbo Tax or other programs “know” all the routine things. Superstar accountants do better than ever, and the guys who move paper are still there. The places in the middle are gone.
Inequality affects community, but in a round about way. Inequality does not cause the breakdown of mixed communities, but rather what causes inequality also breaks down mixed community.

Rajan places a lot of the motivation to create communities of like-minded people on the quality of schools. Parents want the best schools possible for their kids because they know that little differences in kind will produce big differences in outcomes, as above. What is important in school is NOT how much money is spent or the quality of teaching, although both these things go with good schools. The key factor are the students themselves and their parents. Kids are trained, socialized and motivated by their peers. Not only are you judged by the company you keep, you are also shaped by your friends. Parents are pushing this for their kids.

I was waiting to hear about possible solution to the dilemma of community. There was no “silver bullet” in this case. Community is about relationships and relationships take effort to build and sustain. So, the solutions are that it takes work and constant attention. We need to encourage civil society and community when the opportunity arises. This is not satisfying.

In the book, where Rajan has more space to expound than he did in a short talk, he talks about inclusive localism and dispersing authority to lower levels. I do not recall him using the term subsidiarity (might have missed it) but that is clearly what he is talking about. I kept on thinking that he was reinventing the ideal of Tocqueville’s America. We have a lot to work with. Our land grant universities did a great job of elevating American. Our community colleges today can help in that role. It might be good to have some sort of national service. That is a great equalizer. America adapted before and we will again. That is vague, but I do think it is true.

The third pillar: ‘Inclusive localism’ as the key to rebuilding American communities – AEI2