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20141228 The Chosen Few

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MAIN IDEA:

This is research based on economic and demographic data that tries to explain reasons for unusual behavioral and vocational traits of Jewish population of the world. The explanation seems to be found in specific features of Jewish religion that are based on literacy and numeracy as religious duty even if it is costly and economically unjustified, except for psychological satisfaction that some individuals experience from process of learning and ideological discussions. The point is made that such individuals choose to remain Jews while other individuals who did not experienced comparable psychological returns choose to convert to other, less demanding religions. Consequently on the long run over period of hundreds of years this choice made Jews into self-selected group based on propensity to learn and therefore well prepared for explosion of market for high cognitive demand professions, successful and prosperous, but highly dependent on this market.

DETAILS:

CHAPTER 1:70 CE to 1492: How Many Jews Were There, and Where and How Did They Live? From Jesus to Muhammad (1 CE-622): A World of Farmers; From Muhammad to Hulagu Khan (622-1258): Farmers to Merchants; From Hulagu Khan to Tomas de Torquemada (1258 – 1492): The End of the Golden Age Jewish History 7o CE-1492: Puzzles;

The first chapter gives overview of Jewish history and provides a list of relevant factors:

  • The destruction of Jewish temple and war did not dramatically decrease Jewish population of Land of Israel. However afterward for the next 500 years it dropped by some 90%. At the same time the number of non-Jews grew with total population decreasing by much smaller percentage.
  • However total Jewish population of the world decreased too, but much less with only about a half justified by massacres and general decline. At the same time the center of Jewish life moved from Land of Israel where Jews were farmers to Mesopotamia where they were artisans, traders, and members of other profession with higher level of demand for cognitive abilities. These professions where also in high demand in Muslim caliphates that were prosperous at the time
  • After destruction of caliphates by Mongol invasions the need in such professions fall dramatically and so did Jewish population of these areas with center of Jewish life moving to Western Europe.

CHAPTER 2: Were the Jews a Persecuted Minority? Restrictions on Jewish Economic Activities; Taxation Discrimination; Physical versus Portable Human Capital; Self-Segregated Religious Minority; The Economics of Small Minorities

Contrary to the common understanding, Jews for the main part of their history were not restricted in their economic activities except for participation in government bureaucracies. The typical Jewish trend to go into high cognitive demand fields was an individual choice of majority of individuals. Author reviews various theories of why it happens either due to exogenous or endogenous factors and concludes that none of theories provide satisfactory explanation of known historical facts.

CHAPTER 3: The People of the Book, 200 BCE-200 CE; The Two Pillars of Judaism from Ezra to Hillel (500 to 50 BCE): The Temple and the Torah; The Lever of Judaism: Education as a Religious Norm; The Destruction of the Second Temple: From Ritual Sacrifices to Torah Reading and Study; The Legacy of Rabbinic Judaism: The Mishna and Universal Primary Education, 10 CE – 200; Judaism and Education: The Unique Link in the Worm of the Mishna

This is a story of how Jewish religion becomes tightly connected to literacy and how education becomes a religious duty. It starts with Judaism loosing one of its two pillars – the temple and putting everything on the second one – Torah. The learning of Torah become a standard requirement for all Jews of land of Israel regardless of their wealth or lack thereof. There were multiple sects, which had various other ways of survival one of them being Christianity. However only one put everything on education and this one maintained Jewish specificity afterword. This tradition did not limit itself to Torah. It produced 6 volumes of Mishna completed about 200 AD. The new religious tradition made emphasis on reading Torah in Hebrew, rather then in regular language of environment, cementing Jewish specificity and continuation.

CHAFFER 4. The Economics of Hebrew Literacy in a World of Farmers; Heterogeneity and the Choices Facing Jewish Farmers circa 200; The Economic Theory: Basic Setup; The Economic Theory: Predictions; Life in a Village in the Galilee circa 200 through the Lens of the Theory; Annex 4.A: Formal Model of Education and Conversion of Farmers;

This is review of economic circumstances in land of Israel after temple destruction with emphasis on economic costs of continuing Jewish tradition of education with no return in sight for a long time. For farming community that Jews were at the time this continuing education was nothing more then costly ritual maintained only by a relatively small minority for whom intangible psychological benefits of education, discussion, and belonging were significant enough to stay within this weird tradition. Being an economist author provides mathematical analysis of these ideas.

CHAPTER 5: Jews in the Talmud Era, 200-650: The Chosen Few; An Increasingly Literate Farming Society; Conversions of Jewish Farmers; Summary.

This is a continuation of economic analysis of consequences of Jewish tradition to period from 200 to 650 when it still remained a costly religious duty with no visible benefits outside of psychological satisfaction. It accompanied by analysis of dynamics of Jewish population provided as support to the idea that since only minority of people could find strong enough psychological benefit of education for its own sake, it should be continuing decline in numbers of Jewish population due to conversions rather then extermination. A very interesting analysis is conducted based on material traces of Jewish population distribution such as synagogues buildings. This analysis points to much higher rate of decrease of rural population of Jews comparatively with city dwellers. It also points to legal limitations on Jewish attempts to stop mass conversions to Christianity.

CHAPTER 6: From Farmers to Merchants, 750-1150; The Economics of Hebrew Literacy in a World of Merchants; The Golden Age of Literate Jews in the Muslim Caliphates; Summary. Annex 6.4: Formal Model of Education and Conversion of Merchants

This chapter reviews period from 750 to 1150 when Jewish dedication to education unexpectedly started to produce great economic returns in form of white color jobs abundance of which was produced by development of great Muslim Caliphates in Mesopotamia. The point is made that it was not only education, but also legal notions and ideas, contract enforcement, and dispute resolution mechanisms developed within Jewish tradition that provided Jews with competitive advantages in areas of intellectual activities required by economies of bureaucratic states. This chapter also provides mathematical analysis of rate of conversion for different groups in relation to different methods of taxation with inference that proportion of merchants among Jews should grow by proportions consistent with actual historical data.

CHAPTER 7: Educated Wandering Jews, 800 -1250; Wandering Jews before Marco Polo; Jewish Migration within the Muslim Caliphates; Migration of Byzantine Jewry; Jewish Migration to and within Christian Europe; Migration of the Jewish Religious Center; Summary

This chapter is about prosperous Jewish traders who used their literacy and numeracy to provide services necessary for international trade all around the known world especially in Muslim Caliphates of Middle East and Europe. Special attention allocated to European Jews. Even if Jews moved to Italy, France, and Germany back at the period of Roman Empire, the bulk of Jewish population of Europe came from different sources and much later. They were seems to be attracted by need of multiple small kingdoms in qualified services of merchants, money managers, and artisans that Jews specialized in. With continuously changing forces of pull and push they were moved throughout the Europe eventually creating multiple small, specialized communities just about elsewhere without mixing that much with local population. Genetic research of Ashkenazi Jews shows their close relationship with people living in Middle East and North Africa rather then with French or German population of Europe.

CHAPTER 8: Segregation or Choice: From Merchants to Moneylenders I000-1500; The Economics of Money and Credit in Medieval Europe; Jewish Prominence in Moneylending: Hypotheses; The Dynamics of Jewish Moneylending in Medieval Europe; Jewish Moneylending in Medieval Italy: A Detailed Analysis; Attitudes toward Moneylending; Facts and Competing Hypotheses; From Merchants to Moneylenders: Comparative Advantage in Complex intermediation; Annex 8.4: The Charter to the Jews of Vienna

This chapter analyses the most pronounced Jewish specialty – moneylending. The point is made that it was not a business activity forced on Jews by religious restrictions on other population, but rather a choice that allowed most effective use of specifically Jewish skills developed via religious practice of education. Moreover data provided that Jewish participation in credit market was relatively small amounting to not more than 10-20% of market share. Also here are provided very specific data on types of loans, borrowers, and collateral used based on historical records in Italy.

CHAPTER 9: The Mongol Shock: Can Judaism Survive When Trade and Urban Economies Collapse? The Mongol Conquest of the Muslim Middle East; Socioeconomic Conditions in the Middle East under the Mongols; Jewish Demography under Mongol and Mamluks Rule: An Experiment; Why Judaism Cannot Survive When Trade and Urban Economies Collapse; Summary

This chapter is about Mongol conquest and destruction of sophisticate urban caliphates that eliminated need in type of professional services provided by Jews and following collapse of Jewish demographics in this area.

CHAPTER 10: 1492 to Today: Open Questions; Portrait of World Jewry circa 1492; Jewish History, 7o CE-1492: Epilogue; Trajectory of the Jewish People over the Past 500 Years; Persistence of Jewish Occupational Structure

The final chapter briefly restates the Jewish history traced in this book until 1492 and adds snapshot of changing demographics and locations of Jewish population of the world. It is specifically stresses continuity of Jewish vocational profile and prominence achieved by Jews in all intellectual areas. This prominence and its source in the contemporary world when intellectual profession became the most important and competition in traditional Jewish vocational areas is high are posed as questions for the next installment of this research related to periods from 1492 until now.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find this book and its ideas very intriguing and having high explanatory value. If typical count of generations for humans is about 25 years, then period from destruction of temple to opening of opportunities in Muslim caliphates in 650 had about 25 generations: more than enough for genetic selection. At the same time contemporary world demonstrates that practical disappearance of religious tradition of Jewish learning combined with prosperity, and security of young Jews dramatically decreased their intellectual ability to analyze and appreciate facts and ideas, while leaving intact their seemingly inherited joy of participation in all things ideological, making them into fodder of all kinds of ideological movements from eastern religions to weird cults of environmental extremism, and even to far left anti-Semitism.

20141221 Governing the Commons

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MAIN IDEA:

Traditional approach to use, maintenance, and allocation common pool resources (CPR) is not sufficient to describe successfully existing arrangements known in multiple societies. It is also usually fails to fully explain failures of CPR use that very often occurs. The detailed analysis of multiple real life cases allowed author identify common features of successes as well as failures and develop a workable framework for creation institutions necessary for successful management of CPR.

DETAILS:

CHAPTER 1 REFLECTIONS ON THE COMMONS

The book is a reflection on common use of resources and has 3 objectives: critic existing foundation of political analysis of commons, provide empirical example of successful resolution of the problem, and develop tools for understanding self-governing mechanisms for use of common resources.

Three influential models: The tragedy of the commons; the prisoner’s dilemma game; the logic of collective action: The free traditional models reviewed are: tragedy of commons when lack of responsibility leads to degradation of common resource, prisoner’s dilemma when one uses commons at the expense of another, and Olson’s logic of collective action when effective use of commons is possible only by using coercion against individuals who fail to act in common interest.

The metaphorical use of models: These 3 models and their variations routinely used by politicians as metaphors to justify some policy in regard to such resources as fisheries or logging areas when direct control is difficult.

Current policy prescriptions: Leviathan as the “only way”; Privatization as the “only way”; the “only” way? An alternative solution; an empirical alternative; Policy prescriptions as metaphors; Policies based on metaphors can be harmful: the political prescriptions usually one-sided promoting either leviathan option (centralized control) or privatization (decentralized control) as the only way to solve the problem. The first one encounters problem of cost and effectiveness of control, while the second had difficulty to overcome complexity of resource division. Author believes that there is another better way than these polar options. This way is provided by empirical evidence of real societies managing commons.

A challenge: to develop theory of human organization based on reality of human abilities and limitation rather than on metaphorical ideas. The key approach to organization as self-organizing entity with limitations being: common pool resources (CPR) should be renewable, scarce, and situations when user can harm each other. Based on empirical research presented in the bulk of the book, author provides some conjectures about ways to meet this challenge.

CHAPTER 2 AN INSTITUTIONAL APPROACH TO THE STUDY OF SELF- ORGANIZATION AND SELF-GOVERNANCE IN CPR SITUATIONS

The approach is based on study of small scale CPRs with self-organization of group of principals who successfully managed beneficial use of resources and prevented such downsides as free riding and shirking.

The CPR situation: CPRs and resource units; Rational appropriators in complex and uncertain situations

Here author defines detailed meaning of CPR, resource system, resource units, and other key notions of this research.

Interdependence, independent action, and collective action: The theory of the firm; the theory of the state

This part is review of different types of actions that individuals could use in relation to CPR with special attention to interdependency of actions by all individual appropriators of CPR benefits. Author reviews and compares firms as voluntary contractual organizations with state as involuntary organization based on ability of some individuals punish others.

Three puzzles: supply, commitment, and monitoring: The problem of supply; the problem of credible commitment; the problem of mutual monitoring

This is a brief review of literature on problems of supply of institutions, making commitments, and monitoring actions of individuals in relation to CPR.

Framing inquiry: Appropriation and provision problems; multiple levels of analysis

The main feature of this inquiry is that it has multilayer character rejecting usual limitation of prisoner’s dilemma. The main interest here assigned to CPR management when PD is not applicable. Appropriation problem is related to how participants allocate fixed and time-independent quantities of resource to avoid its dissipation and conflict. It relates to assignment of spatial and/or temporal access to resource. The problem of provision relates to investment into creation and maintenance of CPR. It reviewed from both supply and demand sides of the issue. The levels of analysis include institutions, which defined as set of rules that includes subsets of rules about changing the rules (constitutional rules), collective choice rules, and operational rules. Additional division is into formal and informal rules at all levels.

Studying institutions in field settings

Here author provide rationality for selection of objects for studies presented in chapters 3, 4, and 5.

CHAPTER 3 ANALYZING LONG-ENDURING SELF-ORGANIZED AND

SELF-GOVERNED CPRs

The key parameters for selection were: 1. Appropriators devised their own rules and implemented their own control, mechanisms 2. CPR and rules survived for a long time.

Cases reviewed: Communal tenure in high mountain meadows and forests: Törbel Switzerland, Hirano, Nagaike, and Yamanoka villages in Japan; Huerta irrigation institutions: Valencia, Murcia and Orihuela, Alicante; Zaniera irrigation communities in the Philippines

Similarities among enduring, self-governing CPR institutions:

They all include the following 8 principles:

  1. Clearly defined boundaries;
  2. Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions;
  3. Collective-choice arrangements;
  4. Monitoring;
  5. Graduated sanctions;
  6. Conflict-resolution mechanisms;
  7. Minimal recognition of rights to organize;
  8. Nested enterprises

The chapter provides detailed discussion based on reviewed cases for each principle of successful CPR control by community.

 CHAPTER 4 ANALYZING INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

If chapter 3 analyzed existing long-term institution, this chapter is an analysis of the process of creation of such institutions. The case reviewed is CA water distribution between different areas. The analysis is conducted as multilayered review of different “games” played by participants in the process of setting up institution for control of appropriation of CPR of water:

The competitive pumping race: The setting, the logic of the water-rights game

The litigation game: The Raymond Basin negotiations; The West Basin negotiations; The Central Basin litigation; Conformance of parties to negotiated settlements; The entrepreneurship game: Reasons for forming a district to include both basins; Reasons against forming a district to include both basins; The polycentric public-enterprise game;

The totality of these games and their outcome led to establishment of robust institution that author believes would last for a long time.

The analysis of institutional supply: the supply of institution included creation of new private associations, extensive litigation, legislation and creation of new taxable entities. Overall these activities demanded very high allocation of resources for collection of information, development of detailed CPR knowledge, and complex negotiations.

Incremental, sequential, and self-transforming institutional change in a facilitative political regime: As result of analysis author stresses an incremental process of institution development within framework of self-rule facilitated but not fully controlled by political regime.

Reformulating the analysis of institutional change:

The result of analysis provides some rules of thumb for development of an institution such as need to ask two question at every step of development: 1. Is this action (outcome) required? 2. Is this action (outcome) forbidden? Finally author discusses difference between institution creation and institution change as two different types of activities requiring qualitatively different amounts of effort and resources.

CHAPTER 5 ANALYZING INSTITUTIONAL FAILURES AND FRAGILITIES

This chapter reviews a number of cases when CPR institutions failed.

Two Turkish inshore fisheries with continuing CPR problems; California groundwater basins with continuing CPR problems; A Sri Lankan fishery

Irrigation development projects in Sri Lanka; The fragility of Nova Scotian inshore fisheries;

Interestingly enough all reviewed cases of failure involved massive participation of government.

Lessons to be learned from comparing the cases in this study

Author divides causes of failure into 2 groups: faulty use of 8 design principles described in chapter 3 and situational and regime characteristics that effected capacity of individuals to change their institutions.

CHAPTER 6 A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS OF SELF-ORGANIZING AND

SELF-GOVERNING CPRs

Traditional models such as tragedy of commons, prisoners’ dilemma, and collective actions all are not applicable to reviewed real life cases. These models are not wrong, but they would work only in case when assumptions are fulfilled, which is not necessary case in real life. Based on reviewed cases author identifies specific rules for applied in successful use of CPR and develops framework for analysis of similar situations

The problems of supply, credible commitment, and mutual monitoring

The rules for CPR success are:

  • Defined set of appropriators of CPR
  • Rules are directly related to specific attributes of CPR
  • Rules designed by appropriators themselves
  • Individuals who are accountable to appropriators monitor compliance
  • Rules include predefined and graduated punitive sanctions

A framework for analyzing institutional choice: Evaluating benefits; evaluating costs; Evaluating shared norms and other opportunities; the process of institutional change; predicting institutional change

Author also provides a detailed framework for analyzing institutions for both types: constitutional choice and collective choice. The framework includes complex configuration of variables that should be included in order to achieve successful outcome.

A challenge to scholarship in the social sciences

Author identifies deficiency of typical analysis as use of rigid models that lead to predefined conclusion about necessity to increase centralization, often at expense of eliminating previously existing institution. The recommendation is to be more cautious with models and rely more on existing ideological and analytical framework of western civilization created by individuals like Hobbs, Hume, Adam Smith, American founding fathers, and other thinkers.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a very interesting book in which economist goes beyond simple ideas of tragedy of commons versus private ownership and proposes well justified and based on empirical research framework of cooperative management of CPRs based on voluntary participation. For me this is the key ingredient of not only economic, but also moral success because in this case coercion used minimally and only to enforce previously agreed upon rules. I also find this research extremely useful for future designers of institutions of cooperation for CPR use and maintenance that we’ll have to develop sometime in the future when dead end of society based on government coercion become obvious for majority and multitude of new institutions for voluntary cooperation will be required to substitute old non-working bureaucratic arrangements of contemporary world.

20141214 Mindwise

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is somewhat trivial: it is very important to understand other people in order to interact and cooperate with them. Author reviews wide body of research demonstrating how exactly it happens in real life not only with other people, but also internally: ability to understand individual’s own mind and what to do to expand self-knowledge. Another aspect reviewed is people interaction with ideas about others either in form of dehumanization of other or humanization of non-existing entities like spirits and such. The final conclusion is that in order to understand other people one has to listen to them and observe their behavior rather then try to pick up some mini signals.

DETAILS:

PREFACE Your Real Sixth Sense

The real sixth sense is ability to understand others and us themselves. This sense is absolutely necessary for cooperation and sometimes it works and sometimes it does not work and that’s what this book is about. It starts with description of experiment to demonstrate difference between humans and chimps. The comparison was between chimps and kids at earlier levels of development when both groups were equally successful in solving simple physical problems. Kids, however, were dramatically better in social tests in which success required ability to understand mind of other.

 PART 1 (MIS) READING MINDS

1 An Overconfident Sense

This chapter starts with an example of president Bush who misread mind of foreign leaders. After that it goes to analysis of humans ability to understand what other people think about them. The result was pretty good ability to understand what is overall impression one has on a group, but really poor ability to read mind of the specific individual. People also cannot predict what impressions would produce their photo on other people: whether they are considered attractive or not. Another research shows that ability to recognize lies is barely above random coin toss. Probably the most interesting finding is that people are not really good in reading their close friends and relatives: average accuracy of mind reading is 35% for close associates and 20% for strangers. Better results were demonstrated for married couple’s ability to evaluate levels of self-worth for the partner: 44%, but self-estimate of accuracy was 82% nearly double actual.

2 What You Can and Cannot Know About Your Own Mind

This starts with another interesting finding related to racism in USA in 1920s. When asked over the phone to accommodate Asian person 90% of clerks in hotels refused to do it. However when Asian individuals actually come in person the accommodation was refused only once out of 251 attempts. Similar experiment in our time demonstrated another version of the same result: vast majority of individuals predicted that they would be outraged by racist joke if told in their presence. In reality when it did happen overwhelming majority did nothing and expressed no discomfort. Author also recounts the famous Milgram research on obedience when people consistently cannot predict how far they would go in compliance with clearly cruel and inhumane orders. More benign form of this poor self-knowledge is our usual inability to correctly estimate how long it would take to accomplish a task. From here author provides key analogy for complex structure of our mind that contains huge amount of unconscious processing and much smaller amount of conscious: house where what we see is our conscious perception of house, but much bigger part of house: foundation, plumbing, wiring and such is invisible. The brain is constantly at work to generate finished product for consciousness from chaotic bits and pieces of information provided by senses. This subconscious process really drives our actions for which we come up with logical explanations afterword. One of manifestation of this is human ability filter out facts that are not consistent with their believes whether these are political, religious, or any other strongly help believes.

 PART 2 DOES IT HAVE A MIND?

3 How We Dehumanize

As it could be expected, the chapter on dehumanizing starts with story of American Indians and then moves to civil rights protests with signs “I am a man”. Then it goes to statement that distance makes other people remote and insignificant preventing our ability to sense their minds. However two triggers: physical sense and cognitive inferences could prevent the dehumanizing. Author provides example of physical sense trigger overriding dehumanizing environment by referring to the fact that majority of US soldiers in WWII did not really fired their weapons. The cognitive inference trigger demonstrated by referring to different parts of brain being activated when person observes other person’s pain than when person is in pain. Characteristically neither of these parts of brain activated when one looks at dehumanized objects. Another finding is that there are different degrees of dehumanizing so it could be said that it applied to everybody with various intensity. Author provides example from business and military to demonstrate levels of misunderstanding of other people due to refusal to assign to them the types of motivation as one claims for self.

4 How We Anthropomorphize

This chapter describes and provides quite a few of interesting example of human ability to assign intention and planning similar to humans in situations where there are no agency, but rather random events. Human mind designed to make sense from events and situations. An interesting point is made about our relations with machines. As long as they function as expected we take them for granted and see no intentionality. However as soon as machine either car, or computer, or some other device fails we assign agency to this device and try negotiating with it however funny it looks from outside. It also relates to things like billiard balls and such that move along not easily predicted trajectories.

 PART 3 WHAT STATE IS ANOTHER MIND IN?

5 The Trouble of Getting Over Yourself

This chapter is about neck problem: inability of people to look at issue from point of view different than their own. Example provided of experiment screen shelves with boxes open or closed differently from one side to another so one person has different picture then another. When asked to provide instruction to move things in boxes people often make mistake of not taking into account that other person does not see what they see. The errors level for adult is about 25% and children all the way up to 50%. This also related to overestimate of one’s importance and attention received from other people. This also related to evaluation of commonality of knowledge one possesses. For example people normally assume in conversation that vocabulary is common for all participants, while it may not be a case.

6 The Uses and Abuses of Stereotypes

We live in the world of stereotypes, which nearly always are not completely correct, but “good enough” shortcuts for everyday activities. As example a research on attitude to inequality was provided. Republicans do prefer inequality over equal distribution, but only by 3.5% more, than democrats. Another experiment is with circles: decide whether single circle included in picture with multiple circles. People usually wrong, but they are wrong consistently. Overall conclusion is that use of stereotypes is complex process with multiple feedback loops when stereotyped people for example unconsciously adjust their behavior to stereotype. A very important point however is that people easily drop stereotypes when they are dealing with individuals like in “All politicians are crooks, but my congressman is a good guy”.

 7 How Actions Can Mislead

This chapter is about behavior that could be perceived completely differently than it is. Example provided of person with heart attack in crowded mall that was perceived as drunk. Contextual forces play a huge role in such situation. This is used to control people’s behavior as it discussed in book “Nudge”. Author discusses different problems such as environment, obesity, and school performance and how to create context in which people would do what he considers the right thing.

PART 4 THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS

8 How, and How Not, to Be a Better Mind Reader

Author describes the typical approach to understanding other people as either picking up their involuntary body signals or attempt to put oneself into other person’s shoes. He claims that both approaches are not supported by scientific evidence. As evidence of ineffectiveness of picking up bodily micro movements he provides failure of airport screenings. As to effectiveness of point of view placement the main problem is that people usually do not understand other persons’ point of view, does not know facts or falsehoods this view is based on, and have little understanding of cultural environment in which other person developed his/her personality. The final inference is that the only way to understand other people is to ask them, listen to whatever they have to say on their own, and observe their actions in real life. The main problem however is the difficulty of creating such environment that people would not be afraid to express what they really think. Another problem is that people often do not really know themselves good enough.

 AFTERWORD Being Mindwise

The final note is on importance of understanding. It is discussed using Caribbean Crisis of 1962 when misunderstanding nearly led to nuclear war.

MY TAKE ON IT:

While I am quite familiar with many of experiments presented in this book, nevertheless it was an interesting point of view on human understanding of themselves and others and ability to communicate. I fully agree that the best way to understand people is to ask, listen, and observe action, only I would rely more on actions observation then on anything else because it is not unusual for people to misrepresent their situation and intentions. However I would take wider view on understanding people starting with the issue author does not include in this book: philosophical setup of individual under review. I do not think it is possible to understand anybody including oneself without looking first on background of the person, environment in which person grew up, and what is considered right and wrong in this environment. For example a person who grew up in environment where “You shell not kill” relate only to people of his tribe, while commandment in relation to people from other tribes is “You shell kill” should be perceived based on knowledge of this background rather than personal characteristics of this person if one want to select right behavior in any encounter with such individual.

20141207 Forgotten History: Progressive Empire

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DETAILS CONTINUE VOLUME III:

The 17th President: Andrew Johnson: ABOLITIONIST INFIDEL DEMAGOGUE;

PRESIDENTIAL vs. CONGRESSIONAL RECONSTRUCTION; Black Codes; Joint Committee on Reconstruction; Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil Rights Act; Racial Violence; Conquered Provinces; The Reconstruction Amendments; Impeachment; Congressional Reconstruction and a Missed Opportunity; FOREIGN POLICY: Alaska; THE RISE OF THE TYCOONS; A WHOLE NEW WORLD:

The accidental president who was the only one democrat in senate remaining on the side of Union, Andrew Jonson was nevertheless convinced supporter of slavery and Southerner. The main issue of his presidency was after war settlement between South and North that initially failed leading to virtual continuation of civil war as relatively low intensity conflict. Despite Johnson’s resistance and vetoes civil act and reconstruction amendments 13th, 14th, and 15th become laws, but their real implementation was put on hold by resistance of Southern states that were able pretty much restore pre-war power structure. While the South continued its struggle, the North moved on to open the great era of economic and technological growth.

The 18th President: Ulysses Grant: THE NEW PRESIDENT; FOREIGN POLICY: Cuba; The Alabama; The Caribbean and the Pacific; THE SPOILS SYSTEM, GRANTISM, and CRONY CAPITALISM; The Rise of Political Entrepreneurs; Black Friday; Other Scandals; LAND FOR RAILROADS; The High Cost of Free; Prewar Land Grant Railroads; The Pacific Railroad Acts; Binding the Nation; Credit Mobilier; The Panic of 1873; New Philadelphia; WAR IN THE WEST; Treaties; Comancheria; The Southern Plains and the Red River War; Minnesota; The Northern Plains and Red Cloud’s War; The Desert and the Apache Wars; The Irony; RECONSTRUCTION: Racial Violence and Terrorism; CENTENNIAL ELECTION; Scott Plan, Wormley Agreement, and Compromise of 1877

The presidency of U.S. Grant had 3 main developments. The first and probably most important was development of contemporary system of crony capitalism when government provides support and lots of free staff to business owners close to government. At the time it was mainly railroads that were given huge amount of land either unpopulated or taken away from Indians. Inevitably it resulted in a number of Indian wars that eventually brought in annihilation of significant part of Indian population and push of its remnants into reservations. Formation of crony capitalism system also resulted in multiple scandals when various schemas of transferring public wealth into private coffers were implemented. Another significant development was intensification of civil war with South to the point when it was military occupied and white southerners were deprived of civil rights in order to assure civil rights for black. This war of attrition ended as many future similar low intensity wars of USA when will of more military powerful side was discounted to nothing by stronger will of materially weaker side leading to defeat of North under disguise of compromise. In this case southern whites got back their political power and successfully substituted slavery with new system of racial segregation.

19th President: Rutherford Hayes: A MORAL PRESIDENT; Carlisle Indian Industrial School; THE GRFAT RAILROAD STRIKE OF 1877; CURRENCY REFORM; FOREIGN POLICY; RECONSTRUCTION and THE FREEDMAN; Slave Narratives; W. E. B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass; Penal Slavery; Free Labor; Micro-Banking; Legacy of War and Reconstruction; A NEW ERA; CHICAGO CONVENTION:

In order to elect Hayes Republicans struck the deal for ending military occupation of South. It virtually put civil war to end leaving white Democrats of South to establish new order on the base of segregation. Hayes also tried to bring end to Indian wars and bring Indians into western civilization by educating their children in government schools. The new area of conflict start developing due to economic expansion: labor versus management. The biggest symptom was railroad strike of 1877. At this point government was firmly on the side of owners and management using force to suppress labor during violent outbursts. Author provides quite a bit of details about condition of former slaves and new forms of suppression used as substitute of slavery. At the North economic expansion included a huge doses of crony capitalism, political patronage, and spoils system, but it still was very successful. Part of this success was acceptance of hard money (gold) that assured financial stability for decades.

 The 20th President: James Garfield

Hayes accepted nomination on condition of one term only so Garfield was next republican in line, however assassination cut his presidency short.

 The 21st President: Chester Arthur: ON THE JOB; Civil Service Reform; Budget Surplus; FOREIGN POLICY; IMMIGRATION and POLITICAL PARTIES; The Farmers Movement; ENTREPRENEURS: Edison; Carnegie; Rockefeller; INFORMATION REVOLUTION; Charles Darwin; Henry George; ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN; A Part of the Flow of History; Immigrants Choose Sides; Multiple Divides; Washington Gladden and the Social Gospel; LEGACY

Author presents Chester Author as effective and successful promoter of American ideas. He curbed a bit of crony capitalism by promoting civil service reform and cutting down traditional source of government largesse: non existing postal routs. In short it was nice and mainly uneventful presidency when prosperity ruled and future sides of new ideological battles where at inception not causing too much trouble.

 The 22nd President: Grover Cleveland: BOURBON DEMOCRATS and MUGWUMPS; INAUGURAL ADDRESS; DOMESTIC POLICY: Tariffs; Bimetallism; Help For Farmers; INDIAN POLICY; The Dawes Act; FOREIGN POLICY; WESTERN RAILROADS; The Inertia of Institutions; A Tale of Two States; Weather Science and the Era of the Cowboy; Cartels; CALIFORNIA and the OCTOPUS; The Rise of the Octopus; The Fall of the Octopus; THE INTERSTATE COMMERCE ACT; Guilds in the Wake; THE LABOR MOVEMENT; The Great Southwest Railroad Strike; Haymarket Riot; THE CAMPAIGN OF 1888;

Grover Cleveland was the first democrat to become president since before the civil war and as such he was pretty much in Jacksonian mold. Unusually he did not make money on political office that made his career very successful in prevailing anti graft mood. All in all he was pretty much a traditional liberal called at the time Bourbon Democrats, which means low taxes, individual freedom, non-intervention in economy. Nevertheless it was period of growth of monopolies supported by Congress through multiple legislative initiatives. It was also time of continuing growth of labor movement that was becoming more militant. In elections of 1888 Cleveland won popular vote, but lost in Electoral College to Harrison partly because of his support for free trade and low tariffs that was not popular with people.

The 23rd President: Benjamin Harrison: INAUGURAL ADDRESS; THE BILLION DOLLAR CONGRESS; The McKinley Tariff; The Sherman Silver Purchase Act; The Sherman Antitrust Act; THE GREAT SIOUX RESERVATION and SIX NEW STATES; BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE; Opening the Indian Territory; Helping the Sioux; A Prophet in the West; FOREIGN POLICY: Hawaii and Samoa; Elsewhere; HOMESTEAD STRIKE; Frick versus Amalgamated Steelworkers; SOCIAL GOSPEL and CHRISTIAN SOCIALISM; 1885. Josiah Strong: Our Country; Edward Bellamy: Looking Backward; 1889. Jane Addams: Hull House; 1890. Jacob Riis: How the Other Half Lives; 1890. George Herron: The Message of Jesus to Men of Wealth; 1892. Francis Bellamy: The Pledge of Allegiance; Walter Rauschenbusch: Brotherhood of the Kingdom; The Social Triumphant, The Gospel Irrelevant;

This was the second case of somewhat inherited presidency: Benjamin was a grand son of William, the 9th president. The main issues again were tariffs and government spending. At this point republicans were for it and democrats against both tariffs and special interests feeding. With being initially in control of legislature republicans passed quite a few laws beneficial to their main constituency- businesses: Silver repurchase act and Antitrust Laws, which were designed pretty much to protect established companies especially railroads from competition. Harrison’s administration mainly completed 300 years long process of dispossession of Indians by opening Indian territories for settlement. It caused the last significant fight at Wounded Knee. Probably the most important ideological development of the time in America was continuing growth of labor movement with such outbreaks as Homestead strike accompanied by expansion of ideology of Christian Socialism. Harrison also continued American play with colonialism by annexing Hawaii.

The 24th President: Grover Cleveland: THE PANIC OF 1893; Tale of Two Railways; Eugene Debs and the A.R.U.; The Pullman Strike; The Rise of the Banks; FIXING THE ECONOMY: GOLD, TARIFFS, and an INCOME TAX; FOREIGN POLICY: Hawaii; Cuba and Spain; Richard Olnev and the Venezuela Crisis CARING FOR OTHERS: Fraternalism; Immigrants, Minorities, and Women; Medical Insurance; Advantages of Lodge Programs; Fraternalism to Paternalism; Other Historians; JURY NULLIFICATION; THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION OF 1896; Cross-of Gold:

After one term Harrison’s presidency democrats and Cleveland were back. However Cleveland’s small government attitude was going out of fashion giving way to massive government intervention in economy. Author provides a very interesting comparison between two railroads: one, Northern Pacific run by political entrepreneurs with financing using lots of government support was driven into the ground and another Great Northern run by business entrepreneurs with little to none government involvement was prosperous. Author, however, makes case against fairy tales libertarian interpretation of this case. He stresses that in both cases managers were eager to use all government help they could get and appropriate all government money they could get. The difference was that for business entrepreneurs the objective was to build railroad and make money by selling its services with government resources being a mainly a source of cost savings. For political entrepreneurs the objective was to make money by appropriating as much government resources as possible using railroad just as justification for resource transfer with very little interest if any in selling its services. Other issue was continuing growth of militant labor movement while in all confrontations government was still firmly on the side of property owners. At the same time many issues related to labor wellbeing such as medical and other forms of insurance, pensions and disabilities, education were resolved using voluntary organizations without government intervention. Finally the monetary issues of Gold versus bimetallism start getting to forefront of Democratic politics where they remained for next 20 years with passions of William Jennings Bryan keeping them out of power.

The 25th President: William McKinley: TWO McKINLEYS; THE ECONOMY FIRST, JIM CROW AT THE END OF THE CENTURY: Black Labor Suppressed; The Birth of Sundown Towns; THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR; The Cuban War of Independence; The Real Reasons; Retroactive Reasons: Burdens of the Victor; A Foreign Polio, Triumvirate: Roosevelt, Mahan, and Lodge; The Explosion of the Maine and Declaration of War; A Pacific Empire; Cuba; A Caribbean Empire; THE PHILIPPINE-AMERICAN WAR; Military Quagmire, Moral Quagmire; William Graham Sumner and the Anti-Imperialist League; ELECTION of 1900; Republican Party and The March of the Flag; Democratic Party; ASSASSINATION; LEGACY:

Author discusses two images of McKinley. One is maintained by majority of historians who see him as weak man under control of his top adviser Mark Hanna, and another one maintained by minority that he himself was a controller masterfully managing people and events. There was a new twist of long going saga of tariffs: some added flexibility to combine tariffs and protectionism with free trade trying to find the best accommodation for internal and external forces. Monetary policy remained firmly in support of gold standard and overall business interests. Anti-trust laws were used sparingly, while overall prosperity somewhat subdued labor problems. Internationally McKinley moved to Empire building with big investments in Navy, Spanish war, and American territorial expansion in Pacific. All these policies were good enough for relatively easy reelection, although it did required bringing Teddy Roosevelt to the ticket to assure votes in his New York bastion.

Author completes his Libertarian history of America at this point just before American move to progressivism that meant pretty much the end to the American Republic of limited government and nearly unlimited freedom and the beginning of the American republic of nearly unlimited government and limited freedom.

MY TAKE ON IT:

From my point of view the attempt made in this series of books to reassess American history from libertarian point of view is mainly successful, even if not complete. Too much of narrative is dedicated to American imperialist sins, but too little to American libertarian roots and how they withered under pressures of industrialization and phasing away of independent farmers way of life. The line of Hamiltonian republic versus Jeffersonian republic started strongly in first book, but later all but disappeared. I would also like to see a lot more of historical analysis of tensions and struggles between political and business entrepreneurs, including a very interesting and very American group of slave owners who clearly were political entrepreneurs whose business could not exists without violent structures of government to suppress freedom of slaves. Other than that it is clearly a great addition to Paul Johnson’s conservative history and Howard Zinn’s socialist histories of America.

20141130 Forgotten History: Rapture

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DETAILS CONTINUE VOLUME II:

CHAPTER ONE: The 5tt President: James Monroe

JAMES MONROE: Monroe was the only president after Washington who actually fought in revolution from 1775 when he was 18. 1817 was the year when the new generation came to power. It was not only in Monroe in White House, but also Calhoun and Clay who become Speaker even earlier in 1812.

The main events and people of Monroe’s era included:

TRANSPORTATION REVOLUTION: The transportation revolution came with expansion of road building and most important with steamboats. There is an interesting story about initial Fulton’s monopoly granted by government for 30 years that slowed down development of steamboats until in 1817 it was legally broken and Vanderbilt created cheap and effective transportation network. Author stresses that technology was not enough and only free market opened way for new technology.

European Wars; John Quincy Adams; Henry Clay; John Calhoun; Andrew Jackson; Taking Florida: Here author reviews 4 other important players of the period and history of Florida acquisition mainly due to decisive actions of Andrew Jackson and despite Monroe undecidedness and Henry Clay’s attack in Congress and accusations in monarchical tendencies.

NATIONAL BANKING and THE PANIC OF 1819: Just before Monroe become president there was an explosion in number of banks from 117 in 1812 to about 250 in 1815. It was result of suspension of demand for exchange notes for species in 1814 to finance war. This suspension was lifted in 1817 causing move back to gold. It improved economy and provided for next bout of banks number explosion supported by the Second Bank of US. As usual it caused boom/busts cycle of 1819.

JOHN MARSHALL: McCulloch v. Maryland: This is review of a few cases establishing precedents under Marshall promoting Hamiltonian vision. Especially important was McCulloch in which Marshall established dominance of Federal government by rejecting Maryland’s attempt to tax local branch of the Second Bank of US. It was done by appealing to the power of people who established federal government as superior to power of states. It was initial successful attempt to deny relevancy of 10th amendment.

THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE: Unexpected Crisis and Compromise; Second Crisis, Second Compromise: The crisis started with Missouri petitioning for statehood as slave state. Since it would change balance of power, Maine was admitted as Free State to compensate. The compromise eventually included line to the Pacific dividing future territory into free north and slave owning south. At this point no civil war was conceivable because everybody accepted state’s cessation as constitutional right.

TOO DANGEROUS FOR WORDS: Tariff of 1816; Tariff of 1824: More contentions than slavery was issue of tariffs. In 1816 new tariffs were supported by Middle States, opposed by South and had mixed approach from New England where merchants wanted low tariffs and manufacturers high. By 1824 the tariffs champion Clay managed to raise them to 35% and start pushing “American system” of government support for infrastructure.

FOREIGN POLICY: Monsters to Destroy; the Monroe Doctrine: Foreign policy generally was not a big issue, but it still played role mainly in form of Monroe doctrine that demonstrated sufficient power of US to warn European powers to stay away from Latin America that at the time was in process of revolutions. Author also stresses the second part of doctrine, which is now completely forgotten: American would stay away from any conflicts in Europe.

CHAPTER TWO: The 6th President: John Quincy Adams: THE CORRUPT BARGAIN; LIKE FATHER LIKE SON; THE SPIRIT OF IMPROVEMENT; THE ERIE CANAL; Specific Gains, Theoretical Losses; PANAMA, MEXICO, TEXAS, CUBA;

PAYBACK FOR ’24

Adam’s presidency started with Henry Clay using Congress to give Adams presidency even if Jackson won the election. This “corrupt bargain” doomed Adams’ presidency. Adams big government pushed for “improvements”, which inevitably led to corruption and waist. The main program of improvements at the time was construction of canals. Internationally there was Panama congress initiated by Bolivar in attempt to create Pan American space for free trade and cooperation. The idea did not work out due to resistance to any alliances.

Martin Van Buren: The Tariff of Abominations; Election of 1828:

Author dedicated quite a bit of space to Van Buren whom he considers an outstanding Jeffersonian with preference to small and effective government. The top issue was a tariff increase that was demanded by Northern manufacturers, accepted by West, and opposed by South with its export-oriented economy. Van Buren managed to convince all sides that Jackson is with them. Campaign was dirty as usual with all kind of sexual and religious accusations and ended with Jackson’s clear victory.

CHAPTER THREE: The 7th President: Andrew Jackson

THE PEOPLE’S PRESIDENT; The Petticoat War; This is a story of small semi-political war between loyalty and society opinion, Jackson’s loyalty to his men and society’s attack against wife of one of his men. Result was an initial trouble for Jackson’s presidency.

REFORM, RETRENCHMENT, and ECONOMY: The Maysville Road; TRAIL OF TEARS: The first attack against big government was to rain in corruption that was done by cutting out quite a few bureaucrats. Jackson’s mantra was: Constitution should be obeyed, States rights assured, Union preserved, debt paid, and direct taxes avoided. At the same time as repugnant as it was for Jackson he compromised on a number of government financed infrastructure improvements such as the Maysville road. Jackson also pushed through Indian removal. As cruel as it was it is hard to imagine how else it would be possible to prevent genocide that was continuously occurring in clashes between Indians and settlers.

KNELL OF THE UNION: Nat Turner and the Slavery Debate in the South; David Walker and William Lloyd Garrison: The slavery issue was getting worse day by day with loud abolitionist movement getting more and more power and Southern tranquility disturbed by Nat Turner insurrection. There is reference to internal southern debate about abolition of slavery. It demonstrated understanding that slavery will inevitably lead to restriction of freedom for people who are not slaves and it was obviously coming.

KING ANDREW THE FIRST: Cabinet Massacre; Power of the Presidency; NULLIFICATION and THE TARIFF OF 1832: The South Carolina Exposition; Calhoun Resigns; Webster-Hayne Debates; Aversion to Manufacture; Compromise Tariff and the Force Bill: The tariffs war continue divide country and achieved such level of intensity that South Carolina moved to nullification of federal laws. Jackson used combination of threats of force and compromise to resolve this crisis successfully, but issue did not go away.

THE BANK WAR: Suffolk Bank; Mandate; Pet Banks: The final and most important struggle of Jackson presidency was fight with the Bank and victory over it. A very interesting narrative about successful Suffolk bank that fulfilled clearing functions without federal government intervention supports an idea that government control over money supply is not such a necessity.

ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS: A New Jerusalem: The Jackson presidency was also a time of Great Awakening leading to religious resurgence in America, creation of new denominations and expansion of religious activism.

LEGACY: Author compares Jackson with Cornelius Sulla who destroyed Rome in order to save it. Jackson defended republic by using non-republican methods and therefore created precedent that was later used for destruction of original American republic.

 CHAPTER FOUR: The 8th President: Martin Van Buren; ELECTION OF 1836; Jackson’s Third Term? Beyond Those Limits I Shall Never Pass: Author praises Van Buren as one of the most libertarian presidents. As the closest ally of Jackson he practically inherited popular presidency, however author does not agree with the view that it was Jackson’s third term. The point is made that it was Van Buren who to the great extent was behind Jackson policies and he maybe even prevented Jackson going to war with France over unpaid reparations. The huge merit of Van Buren was a strict adherence to constitution that author interprets as neutrality in foreign affairs.

RECESSION: The Panics of 1837 and 1839; Suffolk Bank and New England; THE INDEPENDENT TREASURY: The recession started soon after recession in 1837 when bank stopped redeeming paper with species, but after brief downturn come miniboom in 1838 followed by more serious downturn in 1839. Author credit recession to states excessive borrowing for various project especially Erie Canal. Van Buren rejected idea of federal assumption of state’s debt causing economic pain, but instilling some discipline in states. The bright spot was New England where Suffolk bank successfully controlled money supply preventing boom bust cycles in this area. The main economic efforts of Van Buren were directed to establishment of independent treasury and overall separation of economy from the state. Van Buren succeeded in creating Independent treasury that lasted until civil war and one thing dramatically different in narrative of this author from usual history is that he claims recession being relatively mild with overall losses of bank notes holders not exceeding levels equal to 2% inflation. The whole nearly 30 years period afterword author claims to be economically successful, while typical history claims to be period of chaos. Actual economic statistics seems to be supportive of this position: GDP growth was 3.9 from 1814 to 1840 and 4.9 from 1840 to 1860.

THE SLAVERY DEBATE: Petitions; Gag; Amistad: Issue of slavery keep getting more difficult with abolitionist movement expanding and the South responding by limiting free speech and expelling them, while North by physical attacks against blacks and abolitionists by the mobs. However both parties avoided raising the issue because both were active in North and in South so divide about the issue was within parties.

INDIAN REMOVAL: Second Seminole War; Trail of Tears: Van Buren continued Jackson’s policy of removing Indians out of way of American settlements expansion. There was Seminole war from 1836 to 1842 with nearly complete extermination of this tribe and at least 1500 loses by regular army.

SAM HOUSTON; TEXAS; President Houston: This period also included beginning of Texas problems with declaration of Texas independence in 1835. Both Jackson and then Van Buran rejected acceptance of Texas on constitutional grounds and to avoid war with Mexico.

MAY ALL HER PATHS BE PEACE: The Caroline Affair; Aroostook War: There were still issues with Canada related to clashes on the border from time to time and the borderline definition. Van Buren successfully avoided outgrowing of these issues into a war.

LEGACY: Author sees Van Buren as defender of Jeffersonian revolution promoter of limited state and individual freedom.

 CHAPTER FIVE: The 9th President: William Henry Harrison

Harrison was big government Wig and Hamiltonian. He won election by thoroughly avoiding declaring his principles and blaming Van Buren for recession. It also helped that bank supporting and wealth-seeking democrats moved away from Van Buren. However since he died one month after inauguration, the return to Hamiltonian big government policies had to wait.

CHAPTER SIX: The 10th President: John Tyler: THE BANK AGAIN; TARIFFS and DISTRIBUTION; TEXAS and A THIRD PARTY: An English Monkey Wrench; John Calhoun; LEGACY

Tyler inherited presidency from Harrison and at the time it was unclear if he is president or just a placeholder until next election. He managed to assert himself as full pledged president setting up a precedent that was later confirmed by 25th Amendment in 1967. The main issues were the same: bank, tariffs, and Texas. Tyler believed Bank was unconstitutional, but being a Whig was inclined to compromise. Clay, on other hand was not and pushed to full restoration of bank. As result Tyler vetoed bank restoration, but agreed to raise tariffs. An interesting dynamic developed with Texas. There was a problem admitting it in Union as slave state, but there was also a problem of leaving it independent. That was because Britain started moving close to Texas as its protector causing planters’ fear of future push of British abolitionists. This situation resulted in Southern champion Calhoun moving ahead with annexation. Overall Tyler turned out to be protector of Van Buren legacy of mainly Jeffersonian Union.

 CHAPTER SEVEN: The 11th President: James Polk: INAUGURAL; CABINET

MARK OF GREATNESS: Tariffs; Independent Treasury; Great Contradiction; Oregon; California;

Born after revolution in 1795 Polk was mainly political looser, but luckily for him stronger candidates Clay and Van Buren both declared against annexation of Texas going against strong popular will and by doing so removing themselves from competition. Polk was unusual president because he managed to make real everything he promised to do: lower tariffs, reestablish independent treasury, and annex territories from Mexico. Polk also was a clear supporter of slavery and author sees it as contradiction that Southern Jeffersonian freedom lovers were also supporters of slavery. Polk moved aggressively against Britain in question of Oregon getting to the brink of war, but then settling at 49 parallel.

THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR: First Shot; Match-ups; Matamoros; New Mexico, California, and Northern Mexico; Quagmire; Secession; Wilmot Proviso;

All Mexico; On To Mexico City; Legacy of the War; Henry David Thoreau and Karl Marx; The Way Not Taken: Lysander Spooner; JAMES POLK’S LEGACY

It was different with Mexico where events developed in regular war. Author ‘s interpretation of this war is that despite it being wrong ideologically for republic, America with its democracy, relatively low level of corruption proved to be much more effective military than corrupted Mexican government and army despite Mexico’s numeric and moral superiority of defending their land. The new territories brought in by successful war proved to be a challenge to existing North-South compromise. The struggle exploded around Wilmont’s proviso that would forbid slavery on newly acquired territories. The proviso did not pass, but it did opened new fight between South and North. Eventually it destroyed old Whigs and opened way for creation of Republican Party.

Author also goes into philosophy bringing in Marx and Henry Thoreau: one proponent of nonviolence and another ideologically based violence mainly because both happen to publish their manifestos in 1848. Another writer he brings in is Lysander Spooner who wrote “The Unconstitutionality of Slavery” and argued that slavery could be removed without any amendment to Constitution. Obviously it was non starter with Southern elite since slaves where their main economic assets.

CHAPTER EIGHT: The 12th President: Zachary Taylor: THE LOST DECADES; THE IRONY AND THE TRAGEDY; ZACHARY TAYOR; FOREIGN POLICY: EXPANSION OR NEUTRALITY? DOMESTIC POLICY: FREE OR SLAVE? No Morbid Sympathy for the Slave; Statehood Crisis

Author views American 30 years of American history before civil war as solidification of Jeffersonian vision of America. These years saw tremendous economic and technological development, but it occurred mainly at the North. Taylor came from planter background, but spent most of his life in military fighting Indians. As a military man he new and did not like war, consequently stopping potential expansion into Cuba. He defended status quo on slavery even if he believed that slavery is wrong. Author contrast behavior of human slave-owners such as Taylor and Jefferson Davis with racial hate of many abolitionists who often proclaimed this hate and saw abolition as a way to protect white lower classes against black labor. Taylor died in the middle of his term in 1850 just when statehood crisis started with Western states applying for entry as free states breaking down Missouri compromise and Southerners responding to this with cessation movement.

 CHAPTER NINE: The 13th President: Millard Fillmore: PLUMES AND SABERS;

THE CROSS; MILLARD FILLMORE; THE COMPROMISE OF 1850; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slave and Freeman, North and South; Jury Nullification

ECONOMIC POLICY: NOT MUCH; FOREIGN POLICY: OPENING JAPAN; ELECTION OF 1852

Fillmore did not want and did not expect to be president, but that’s what happened. He, however, was a pretty good administrator so he managed country with minimal disturbance: no wars, no economic changes. He was not able to avoid issue of slavery and it start unraveling on his watch with the Fugitive slave act of 1850. The problem was that without North returning run away slaves Southern planters could not keep their thinking and walking property from running away. On other hand the act clearly violated rights of Northerners to speak and publish what they want, associate with whomever they want and so on. In short Southern slave owners had to invade Northern lives to save slavery in South.

 CHAPTER TEN: The 14th President: Franklin Pierce: CABINET; OSTEND MANIFESTO; THE ROAD TO SECESSION; TRANS-CONTINENTAL RAILROAD:

Stephen Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act; Jefferson Davis and the Gadsden Purchase; Abraham Lincoln Returns to Politics; Whigs Implode; Reborn As Republicans; DRED SCOTT and ROGER TANEY: Dred Scott; The Decision; ELECTION OF 1856

Pierce was a democrat politician with no special distinction. The main reason he won election was that he was Northerner and vague about slavery issue while his opponent was clearly anti-slavery. In foreign affairs Pierce wanted empire starting with annexation of Hawaii and Cuba. This was clearly stated in Ostend Manifesto of American diplomats on diplomatic conference in Belgium.

But of course the most important issue remained slavery. Author sees it more as a symptom than the cause of the coming clash. In his view it was clash of two cultures Cavaliers culture of the South with Puritans culture of the North. Both sides were fighting for freedom: North for free labor and the South for free trade. North wanted high tariffs to protect its business elite and internal improvements to provide business with public investment in infrastructure, while the South wanted low tariffs because it would lead to trade war in which their source of wealth – cotton trade would suffer. The fuel to this clash was added by dispute over which way to build transcontinental railroad and Kansas-Nebraska act that eliminated Missouri compromise. All these issues become red hot during Pierce presidency and he had no way to manage it.

 CHAPTER ELEVEN: The 15th President: James Buchanan: PANIC OF 1857

THE FORGOTTEN SECESSION; BLEEDING KANSAS; LINCOLN RISES: THE ELECTION OF 1860; WAR OR PEACE: The Riddle of Calhoun; Secession; War of Tariffs: The next president another Democrat – James Buchanan also was not capable to put Jeannie of sectional economic and political divide back into the bottle. He actually had another cessation to deal with: Mormons, but it was successfully dealt with using compromise since Mormons did not really posed threat to any of main fractions of American public. They just wanted to have their way of life and they were let alone delaying the resolution of most contention issue of polygamy until 1890.

A lot worse was situation with bleeding Kansas and dramatic polarization of the country that ended in election of Lincoln – the candidate absolutely not acceptable to the South. Author believes that in reality slavery issue was just a bogus and Northern business elite was ready to let the South to separate as long as it would agree to maintain high tariffs. The free trade on other hand was not acceptable. That’s why election of Lincoln who by no means was an abolitionist, but was a corporate lawyer absolutely adamant about high tariffs, made war inevitable.

 CHAPTER TWELVE-A: The 1st President: Jefferson Davis

CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA: Constitution; Second Wave: It is highly unusual to include CSA as part of American history, but it makes a lot of sense. After all confederates were also Americans and they fought to defend their country that is the states they lived in. Author divides cessation into two separate waves. The first one was 6 Deep South states that decided to leave union because of slavery and tariffs. They model their constitution on US with only one significant difference: clear support for institution of slavery. However states of northern part of South joined only after Lincoln started war by refusing to accept separation and evacuate Fort Sumter. The following events that lead to war were considered by these states as Northern aggression.

GOVERNING THE CONFEDERACY: Cotton Communism; Conscription; Class Conflict within the Confederacy; FIGHTING THE WAR: Black Soldiers; Tears Spoiled Their Aim: What is interesting is practical rejection of American traditions in CSA when nearly all industries were nationalized, central planning implemented, military conscription implemented in much more severe form than it was on the North, individual freedoms also were suppressed much more severely. In short the civil war clearly demonstrated that seeds of future socialist shift were planted in American culture on both sides of divide.

 CHAPTER TWELVE-B: The 16th President: Abraham Lincoln

INAUGURAL ADDRESS: TARIFFS OR ANGELS? THE QUESTION OF WAR: Fort Sumter; Blockade; Militia Call-up and Second Secession; Stemming the Tide

Author makes quite convincing case that Lincoln’s objectives were not that much related to slavery as to assure high tariffs protecting wealth of Northern businesses that believed that they couldn’t compete against cheap foreign goods. These interests clearly override for him constitutionality of secession, protection of individual rights, separation of powers, as well as just about everything else in Constitution. In short author’s position is that the causes of war inalienably linked to sources of income and prosperity for ruling classes: slavery and free trade for southern planters and government protection of their businesses against competition for northern manufacturers.

THREE NEEDS OF OFFENSIVE WAR: THE FIRST NEED: MONEY: Control of the Money Supply; Income tax; THE SECOND NEED: SUPPRESSION OF RIGHTS: John Merryman and Roger Taney; Clement Vallandigham; THE THIRD NEED: CONSCRIPTION: Economic Elites and America’s First Drafts; THE WAR: Death and Destruction; Mid-Term Elections; Pope Doctrine: Collective Responsibility; another Pope Doctrine; Utter Extermination; THE WAR SHIFTS TO A HIGHER PLANE: Emancipation Proclamation; Gettysburg Address: Poetry, not logic; Second Inaugural Address: The history of civil war in this libertarian presentation narrates not that much about battles, offensives, and defensives as about violation of American constitution by Lincoln’s administration in all conceivable areas: nationalization of money supply, separation of powers, and individual rights. It also narrates about people who stand up to these violations and suffered imprisonments, financial ruin, and sometimes death. The point author makes is that if any of these two sides were really defending itself against aggression it would be no need for conscription and suppression

LEGACY: Author sees the main Lincoln’s legacy not in what actually happened, but in what he prevented from happening. He believes that if Lincoln allowed 6 Southern states to leave union, it would lead to free trade of South forcing the same on North and resulting in faster and better economic development. At the same time absence of fugitive slave laws would make slavery at the South unsustainable so reunion with slavery eliminated would be the most probable outcome.

20141123 Forgotten History: Foundations

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this series of books is to review American history from different angle than it is usually done. Author wrote this book from libertarian point of view in contrast to leftist narrative of “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn and to conservative narrative of “A history of the American people” by Paul Johnson. The key idea of this book is the idea that American history is continuing struggle between Hamiltonian idea of mercantilist state and Jeffersonian idea of libertarian state. The first one is generally idea of big and powerful government that controls everything, interfere everywhere, and assure general wellbeing. The second one is the idea of small government limited to a few specific functions and weak enough not to interfere with Americans’ pursuit of happiness with free market providing for general wellbeing.

DETAILS FOR PART I:

Series Preface: America’s Forgotten History Preface to Part One: Foundations

Part I covers period from earliest colonies through the presidency of James Madison in 1816. It goes through discussion of people who started future United States, culture and traditions they brought in from Europe, and legal arrangements they created after wining the revolutionary war. It also covers first four presidencies until 1816.

CHAPTER ONE: Prelude To America

REVOLUTIONS

The revolutions usually fail, but American Revolution was different. It came not from people striving for power they do not have, but from American colonists – people with lots of personal power who were feeling they are loosing this power to the king’s encroachment. In essence it was a conservative revolution to defend status quo.

JAMESTOWN and PLYMOUTH: Two original colonies represented two different strains of Americans. One- started by Virginia Company was formed by profit seeking aristocratic investors and individuals attracted by opportunities in the new land regardless of initial wealth or nobility; another one started by puritans seeking religious salvation in the new land and believing in theocracy and government enforcement of right behavior. Both colonies tried communal arrangements of production and both failed in it miserably moving to private ownership of the land.

PURITANS and CAVALIERS: Newly founded colonies also had huge difference in culture of individuals populated them. The difference came from the British civil wars. In Jamestown it was cavaliers who brought in prevailing cultural attitude and they quickly started develop aristocratic utopian society with slaves at the bottom providing manpower for production. In Plymouth however, it was puritans’ culture and attitudes that prevailed causing development in direction of bourgeois utopian City on the Hill.

ENGLISH ROOTS; ENGLISH CIVIL WAR; THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION; The Dark Side: Central Banking, Collusion, and War: This is a very short retelling of English history preceding transfer of these people to America.

FIVE MIGRATIONS SEED AMERICA

These are:

  1. Puritans 1630s from urban East Anglia to Massachusetts,
  2. Cavaliers 1640s from rural western Sussex and Wessex to Virginia,
  3. Quakers 1675 from Wales, Holland, Ireland, and Germany to Pennsylvania,
  4. Scotch-Irish and other borders in 1715 to Carolinas and later Appalachian.
  5. American Indians who actually got there first, long before anybody else and constituted important part of the mix.

Both Cavaliers of South and Puritans of North conducted involuntary migration of African slaves. The final or actually

THREE EMPIRES BATTLE FOR A CONTINENT: The Tiny Spark; Monongahela, The Northern War; William Pitt; The Tide Turns; Pontiac’s War: This is quite detailed narrative of 7 years war as it was conducted in America. The most important thing: Anglo-Americans had significant numeric superiority over Franco-Canadians resulted from French being mainly trade oriented while British were land oriented. Obviously agricultural settlements in moderate climate produce much more people and resources then trade posts in areas with cold climate. Side effect was that British-American agriculturists pushed American Indians out of their areas while French did not consequently causing Pontiac’s war that temporarily pushed frontier back east.

TOWARDS REVOLUTION: From libertarian point of view the causes of all revolutions are similar: government plundering going beyond of what people agree to accept. In case of Colonial America it was the key issues were:

  1. Fiat Money: America experienced growth and there were shortages of money, but British Tories were not about to promote inflation while Congress would happily do just that. The fiat money issue remained in the center of American political struggle ever since then with Hamiltonians supporting fiat and Jeffersonians objecting.
  2. Order, Mercantilism, and Taxes: In addition to money other issues start boiling over between colonists and Britain such as: political scramble between royal governors and colonial assemblies, unresolvable contradiction between colonial’s wish for unlimited land grabbing and British wish to accommodate Indians by limiting westward expansion that would require constant military expenses to defend colonials, and unwillingness of colonials to be on receiving side of British mercantilism, that restricted business development in America to promote British manufacturing.
  3. Taxation Without Representation: Eventually all these tensions exploded under philosophical ideas of ineligibility of taxation without representation. It was definitely a funny reason, but it worked. 

CHAPTER TWO: What Kind of Government?

This chapter is about formation of American constitutional order and government that was based on key concept of natural rights. It briefly goes through revolutionary war, key points of constitution and modern views on it. Here are key points: of the narrative:

MYTHS OF MILITIA: Both sides were driven by ideals: Americans by idea of natural rights of British and Hessians by honor. Militia was generally not ineffective, but it was dependent on circumstance of fight: good defending home, not very good away from home. In both cases good military training is precondition for effectiveness anywhere.

REVOLUTION: The Baffle For New York, Turning Point, Saratoga and Alliance With France, The Southern Strategy: A very short restatement of history of revolutionary war with no points made that would be different from traditional narrative.

AMERICA’S FIRST CONSTITUTION: Perpetual Union, Life Under the Articles, Annapolis Convention and Shays Rebellion: This part is somewhat unusual in attention paid to Articles of Confederation that was the first American Constitution approved by Continental Congress in 1778. It become law in 1781 and lasted until 1789. It was based on assumption that only small states can be democratic, therefore the Union should have little central power to avoid despotism. Significant attention assigned to discussion about perpetuity of the union. The point is made that at the time perpetuity of union was a hope not imperative and Civil War to keep the Union would be inconceivable for contemporaries. There is also discussion about Annapolis convention of 1786 that cleared way for Philadelphia Constitutional Convention next year and Shays rebellion that prompted wide believe that new constitution is a necessity.

GATHERING IN PHILADELPHIA: James Madison; Alexander Hamilton; States Rights vs. the Philosophy of Large Systems; Checks and Balances; Slavery;

Religion; Defense; The Executive; The Law of Nations; Commerce; The Bill of Rights: This is review of personalities who played major role in convention and where pushing in two directions: confederation of local democracies with minimal central power vs. benevolent central power embracing local democracies in firm grip. The downgrading of local democracies to provinces was not feasible at the time. An interesting discussion on checks and balances is related to this. It pertains to checks and balances not only vertically between branches of power, but also horizontally when power of federal government was balanced by power of the states as separate and competitive centers of all-important solutions. No important solution should be initiated at the federal level. Everything was supposed to be tested at the state level and then move up to the center when enough states joined the solution. Other parts of constitutional discussion concentrate on how far away practice mode from original ideas in every area discussed.

MODERN THOUGHT (3 types):

The Cynical View: The Constitution is document created by bunch of slave-owners to protect and defend their position in society.

Freedom or Democracy: Constitution was designed to elevate friction between freedom and democracy, which is by definition suppression of freedom for minority. Contemporary development went way too far in promoting democracy while giving too much power to the central state that automatically means decrease in individual freedom.

A Living Constitution: This intellectual idea basically degrades meaning of the Constitution to text open to infinite modification by just interpreting its worlds to whatever meaning an interpreter is looking for. For example modern interpretation of “general welfare” makes enumeration of federal government powers absolutely meaningless because it gives power to do whatever president and Congress want to do without any limitations.

CHAPTER THREE: The First President: George Washington: HAMILTON GETS TO WORK; THE GREAT DEBATE COMMENCES; PARTY POLITICS; WASHINGTON’S MIDDLE WAY; ENGLAND OR FRANCE? THE LAST ACT

The first president presented here as mainly pragmatically inclined man who did not bother himself with politics and ideas too much. Generally his presidency was on the side of Hamiltonians creating Bank of USA, siding with speculators in revolutionary debt issue, and generally supporting active and powerful federal government.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Second President: John Adams: HISTORY RECAPITULATED IN THE MAN; VICE PRESIDENT ADAMS; PRESIDENT ADAMS;

This is description of Adams personality, presidency and its most noticeable events:

THE XYZ AFFAIR: The story of French demanding bribes just for opening door for negotiations about attacks of French navy on American shipping. Instead of bribes Adams start building ships and armed merchants.

THE ALIEN AND SEDITION ACTS: These were 4 laws intended to limit immigration and naturalization especially for French and Irish who were bringing in ideas of French revolution. It also imposed restrictions on freedom of speech in order to prop up government power. Several dozens of authors and publishers were imprisoned.

Jury Nullification: Here authors goes into details of Jury notification he considers very important right that was slowly suppressed. The meaning is that jury makes judgment not only on guilt or innocence, but also on legality of law itself. While it still formally exists as check on judicial power in reality it was neutralized by judge’s instructions.

The Trial of Matthew Lyon: Lyon was a congressman accused for publishing seditious letters. While being in prison he was reelected and used the privilege to continue write letters against power.

Return To Monarchy? This is story of Hamiltonians attempt to move to neo-monarchy by changing constitution to make president serve for life. The secret Rose Bill was intended to do this and also create a standing army. It also included provision for Congress to appoint 13-man commission to review validity of votes giving party in power control over election results. The attempt failed due to exposes published from underground.

State Nullification: Kentucky, and Virginia Resolutions: The first years of republic demonstrated that vertical checks and balances are not working and states start quickly loose power to federal government. In response Kentucky and Virginia asserted states’ nullification rights in resolutions.

PEACE: Adams decided to make peace with France despite opposition from about everybody.

THE ELECTION OF 1800: It was the most difficult, dangerous, and important election ever. It proved to be the test of America’s ability to survive as constitutional republic with regular and peaceful change of powers.

JOHN MARSHALL: He was creator of powerful Supreme Court. According to constitution the power of court was limited to the expression of legal opinion. Marshal managed to convert it into power to overwrite any legislative or executive action by declaring it unconstitutional. Eventually it made Supreme Court into unelected final arbiter of decisions capable to put break on any actions ideologically repugnant to majority of its members.

CHAPTER FIVE: The 3rd President: Thomas Jefferson

THE SUM OF GOOD GOVERNMENT: The main point was reconciliation: need to accept both republican principles and federal government. No need for standing army since people defend their power, no sedition acts: freedom of speech includes freedom of error, government should restrain people from injuring one another, but leave them alone otherwise,

THE BARBARY PIRATES: A Presidential War; Preble’s Boys; To the Shores of Tripoli; What America Accomplished: This narrative of story of this mini war against Barbary pirates is somewhat different then usual. It is not triumphal expedition, but rather story of half-hearted action with extensive use of adventurers and locals who were later betrayed and damped. There was also no victory that would stop attacks and/or payment to barbarians. In 1807 pirates started again attack ship and USA quietly resumed paying tribute to prevent attacks. It lasted until end of Napoleonic war in 1815.

The Louisiana Purchase; The Black Napoleon; Constitutional Concerns: Louisiana was a very nice accomplishment, even if unconstitutional. An interesting event stressed here, which usually not mentioned that much, is revolution on Haiti and its success in repulsion of Napoleon’s army there. This event convinced Napoleon that he does not have enough resources and it better to get money in exchange for formality. It is quite possible that if Napoleonic war ended differently, the Louisiana purchase would be considered a blunder of providing help to aggressor who got stronger as result and then come to take back what he “sold”.

FIRST TERM ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Practically elimination of internal taxes, decrease in size and power of government, enforcement of free speech and rejection of sedition laws.

THE GODS OF FORTUNE: All above gave boost to prosperity, plus Jefferson managed to somewhat successfully avoid entanglement in Europe’s Napoleonic wars.

DESCENT INTO TYRANNY: Threat, Confusion, and Anguish; Embargo; Improving the Nation; SECESSION and NULLIFICATION: However he was not able to stay completely out. The reason was British huge Navy expansion for which they needed sailors and Americans’ impression was a good source. On other hand, widely trading American merchant fleet also needed sailors and guys who escaped British Navy also were a good source. Eventually tensions with Britain grew to the point when British stop respecting neutrality on the sees and Jefferson responded with embargo, which pretty much caused more harm to America and led to a slight push for nullification and even secession in Northern states. It failed, causing practical disappearance of Federalist’s party.

THE ELECTION OF 1808: Jefferson selected Madison to inherit his as a president and election was quite easy

HISTORY OF HISTORIES: At the end author reviews historians’ attitude to Jefferson and concludes that Jefferson usually got negative rap from historians mainly because ideologically they typically are lovers of big centralized government, while Jefferson moved country to decentralized government structure, some would even say he moved it in libertarian direction.

CHAPTER SIX: The 4th President: James Madison

THE FIRMIST BULWARK OF REPUBLICS: Madison came up with 16 core believes for his administration that allowed him to establish goals in all main areas:

  • Internationally: no intervention into others’ business and rejection of intervention into ours;
  • Relationship with states strictly within constitution with use of enumerated powers, but everything else left to states;
  • Strict adherence to individual rights especially first amendment;
  • Fiscal responsibility: low taxes and no government debt;
  • Military: limited army and preference for militia for defense;
  • General wellbeing, roads, science and such: promote within limited powers;
  • Indians: help them to move to civilization.

THE NEW CABINET: Except for Gallatin and Monroe, Madison allowed congress to define cabinet leading to internal squabbles.

WEST FLORIDA: In between Napoleon and Spain Florida become ungoverned and declared independence that quickly followed by request to join USA, which Madison obliged without any constitutional authority, same way as it was with Louisiana.

BUILD-UP TO WAR: Taking A Friendly Nap; Assassination; Tecumseh; The New Generation: The tensions with Britain over sailors increased. An interesting fact was that 1/3 of all American sailors actually were British so it is quite understandable that British raided American ship to capture sailors. At this point author stresses his disagreement with traditional interpretation of prewar period. He believes that Madison and Jefferson embargo worked as intended and British merchants put pressure on government to such extent that it explains assassination of prime minister. Also somewhat unusual is attention allocated to Tecumseh war. It presented not as insurrection, but rather as an attempt to create massive coalition of Indian tribes to fight European Americans invasion of their homelands. Eventually it failed due to technological and population advantages of Americans. Another interesting interpretation of events is that America moved to preparation for the war 1812 as aggressor in search of conquest of Canada. Obviously as aggressors American leadership was not that qualified since there were no significant investment into military preparation.

THE WAR OF 1812: Conquering Canada; Michigan and Tecumseh; Redemption at Sea; The War For the Lakes; Andrew Jackson and the Creek War; The Empire Strikes Back; The Battle of New Orleans; The Hartford Convention; The War’s First Lesson: The description of war of 1812 is also not exactly conventional. First of all the credit for saving Canada from American invasion goes to Tecumseh. The naval victories on the lakes presented as key to the following successful defense of American North against British and Indian counter invasion. Especially stressed is disarray and incompetence of American generals. The success came when incompetents were weeded out and substituted by middle level officers. On the South war theater Andrew Jackson successfully destroyed Creek Indians and fortified Mobil and Pensacola making British movement against New Orleans quite complicated. The British success in taking and burning Washington is presents as of little military but huge political and moral consequence. It inflamed American fears of going into prolonged fight against British Empire and even loosing independence therefore greatly increasing willingness to fight. At the same time with not enough forces to take fort Henry and move into Baltimore and farther inland it caused no serious danger. Quite a bit of attention given to the fact that American started to fight for real only when they felt they are under attack from aggressor. From this point of view the American anthem, born then and there, is reflecting American creed of military defense as fight of free militiamen (not conscripts) to protect their land and way of life. The battle of New Orleans presented as important factor making peace treatment to stick and stopping New England noises of secession produced at Hartford Convention. Author challenges traditional interpretation of the war as demonstration of ineffectiveness of American believes in defense by small professional army augmented by militia and need in big standing army. He claims that militia did good when it was well trained and used in defensive situation. Its ineffectiveness in many engagements was caused either aggressive character of war in initial actions against Canada or just poor equipment and training.

FINAL DAYS: The Bank of the United States; Internal Improvements:

The end of Madison presidency presented move away from Jeffersonian ideas with authorization of The Second Bank of United States and significant move of resources into government controlled “improvements” of roads, communications, and canals. This was the last presidency of revolutionary generation leaders: Washington. John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. The next was generation of children of revolution Jeffersonians: Monroe, Jackson, and Calhoun; and Hamiltonians: John Quincy Adams, Webster, and Clay.

20141114 Kidding Ourselves

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is nicely expressed in introduction: It is about power of deception and/or self-deception, placebos, and similar things. The most important inference from this collection of cases and experiments is that power deception is not just inherent part of human nature, but that it is often has a positive character helping to handle complexity of life on a “good enough” basis by maintaining illusion that we are in control even if we are really not.

DETAILS:

PART I. THE POWER OF NOTHING: Placebos, Mass Hysteria, and Fatal Delusions

The Medicine of Imagination

The chapter starts with history of Mesmer who mesmerized audiences providing treatments from everything until special commission with participation of Ben Franklin. As usual this paragon of American common sense easily disproved power of mesmerism with experiment, but nevertheless the case clearly demonstrated power of believe. This reference to history follows by report on contemporary experiments with placebo that demonstrated high power of believes. Another interesting observation is impact of psychological condition of person on perception of pain. It presented using example of soldiers who were severely wounded, but were nearly painless from excitement and happiness because the wound meant a ticket home and end of war for them. In 1956 Dr. Beecher published research, which demonstrated that pain has meaning and its severity depends on psychological condition.

The Human Stampede

This chapter discusses human herd behavior when people feel and see thing not because they exists, but because other people do the same. It starts with the case of town of Mattoon Illinois where in 1944 epidemics of smelling strange smell occurred. Then it goes to discussion of monkeying behavior such as contiguous yawing and higher level of susceptibility to such things among females. At the end chapter demonstrates that herd behavior could extend even to the level of copycat suicides as it did happened after death of Marilyn Monroe.

Fatal Instincts

This chapter presents a number of cases when people dying for psychological reasons only. It includes broken heart when something happens that makes life meaningless for the person such as death of long-term partner, curse by some magician that person believes in: like “boning”, brainwashing, and learned helplessness observed in experiments with animals and in humans in real life. Martin Seligman extensively researched it.

 PART II. THE EYE OFTHE BEHOLDER: Perception, Expectation, and the Lure of Superstition

Dial E for Expectation

This is about selective perception and change in performance based on expectations. In short people see what they expect / want and do not see what they do not expect and do not want. The cases provided are from literature, but more interesting cases are from test result which varied depending on priming. Students primed as “gifted” produced better test results. For selective perception cases from sport competition, experiment with gorilla on the field, and medical diagnosis is provided. The very interesting case of career made on false analysis and political correctness provided using Steven Gould and his famous career making book “The Mismeasure of man” in which he rejected skull measurement results of Samuel Morton in regard to size of skulls depending on race. Original finding was that size is different with interpretation of this as evidence of superiority / inferiority of races. Gould’s build career on falsely rejecting measurement results using statistical methods in order to prove that races are equal. The repeated measurement 30 years later proved that Morton was right and skulls are different. It is a great example of politicized pseudo science. The superiority / inferiority idea was proved wrong by 100 years of human history which produced outstanding individuals of all races, while use of skull size as proxy for intelligence is incredibly naïve, but at least in XIX century they did not falsify measurement to fit ideological doctrines.

True Believers

This is more detailed look at works of mind of true believer, how it processes information, and how it manipulate facts to fit into preset system of believes. Examples are from medical treatment by bleeding that probably killed more people than any other method of medical help, logically similar economic stimulus of Keynesian economists (take money from productive people to give in to unproductive government works very similar to letting out blood from striving organism). It also includes case of people believing that taxes are too high despite marginal rate going down (author obviously has hard time understanding that 40% income tax that one forced to pay is a lot higher then 91% nominal tax with lots of loopholes that nobody really pays). Another case of author’s political views interfering with analysis is statement that people do not see benefits they get from government and claim self-dependency while getting social security or Medicare. Author seems to have problem to understand that if these people worked long enough they were forced prepay for all government benefits and in such way they would not necessary agree with. On other hand all this is a good confirmation of blindness due to believes.

Control Freaks

This chapter is discussion of very good observation that normally people want to be in control, even if it is seldom possible. The cases he provides are non-working buttons to close doors in elevators (actually they usually work), money spent on supplements, vitamins, diets, and financial advisors (these usually do not work). Also an experiment with young students visiting old people in nursing house provided interesting results. The conditions of old people visibly improved when they were in control of these visits. This follows by other results confirming that being in control of situation makes people to be healthier and live better and longer. Obviously it could not be without mentioning the famous study of British civil workers whose wellbeing strongly correlated with their place in hierarchy: the higher one in hierarchy, the healthier he/she is.

Lucky Charms

This chapter is about different ways to obtain control over situations that are not really controllable such as religions and superstitions. As far as it is known, nobody excluded from attempts to control live with lucky charms and things like that. I guess everybody who ever had difficult exam or was involved in military fight, or had any other experience in important and difficult situation with unknown outcome can confirm that signs, lucky charms, and things like that are used extensively regardless of people religious believes or lack thereof.

 PART III. DELUSIONS OF SUCCESS: Power, Money, and Risk

Drunk with Power

Being a liberal, author chose to use Gingrich as an example of a person who was dramatically changed by power to the worse. Obviously much more recent and more disgusting example is Obama who went power crazy to the point of stepping all over constitution. Needless to say that any research that was ever conducted confirms a common knowledge that power makes people over confident, neglectful to other people opinions and wellbeing, and prone to illusion of great overestimation of their power and abilities. An interesting find comes from research of use of power priming in negotiations. Individuals primed to feel powerful paid a lot less attention to reputation of other side than people who were primed to feel powerless.

It Can’t Happen to Me

This chapter is about tendency of successful people to overestimate their ability to control events and as result become prone to spectacular failure coming from excess of optimism and underestimation of risk. The chapter includes a charming statement from Amos Tversky: “People study artificial intelligence while behavior economics studies human natural stupidity”. Examples of overconfidence here include: doctors not washing hands, individuals prone to sexually transmitted diseases, funds manager making high risk decisions, and women who fail protect from unwanted pregnancy.

Enduring the Blizzard

The last chapter looks at the issue under a different angle. It states that all these illusions and self-deceptions are quite possibly a very useful tool developed by evolution. Overestimate of possible rewards makes people to work harder, take more risk, and eventually strive to obtain low probability high value results. It comes down to research confirming triviality that moderately unreasonable positive attitude make people healthier, wealthier, and more satisfied with their lives. Big help also is mental rewriting of expectations when results fall below original expectation. Good example of premed woman in 30s who due to depression failed to complete studies and become just a housewife. Asked about disappointment 50 years later she stated that she never wanted to be a doctor so there was no disappointment. The final example in this chapter relates to sexual selection when 100% is looking for above average and 100% find somebody good enough to pair at least for a while.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is quite valuable presentation of various cases of disconnect between human perception of reality and actual reality. It is impossible to deny that all variations from power of placebo to statistics and math denying believes do in fact take place in real life and goad behavior of lots of people. What is interesting however that in vast majority of cases individuals have and apply these believes in areas that are not main areas of their activity or do not impact this activity per se. I guess my point is that in areas of professional involvement people have no choice, but to learn what is reality and how accommodate to it while in areas that are new for them people implement heuristics at the “good enough” principle because they do not have time and opportunity to experiment in order to find out what reality is. In short behavioral economists, economic psychologists and so on overestimate impact of such self-deceiving patterns on real life. The vast majority of people who actually do things from growing food to making steel, to programming computers actually have no such luxury because if farmer gets convinced that he can plant seeds in the winter, steelmaker that steel could be produced at low temperature, and programmer that whatever is output it is what it should be we’ll have no food, no steal, and programs would not work. The triumph of science means that areas of false believes is getting smaller and smaller all the time and necessity to put on these believes the label of science, therefore opening them to demand for falsification statement makes it more and more difficult to promote. Good example of this difficulty is denial of genetics by “Progressive Soviet Science” in 1950s and promotion of catastrophic global warming by “Progressive Western Science” in 2010s. In both cases government financed scientific establishment put lipstick of science on the pig, but could not convince that it is a beauty.