Roderick Long on the Plight of the Worker

In response to my Nickel and Dimed posts, my old friend Roderick Long referred me to his original review of the book.  Highlights of Rod’s review:

Ehrenreich went “undercover” to document the lives of the working poor and the Kafkaesque maze of obstacles they face: the grindingly low wages; the desperate scramble to make ends meet; the perpetual uncertainty; the surreal, pseudo-scientific job application process; the arbitrary and humiliating petty chickenshit tyrannies of employers; the techniques of intimidation and normalisation; the mandatory time-wasting; the indifference to employee health; the unpredictably changing work schedules, making it impossible to hold a second job; etc., etc.

None of this was news to me; I’ve lived the life she describes, and she captures it quite well. But it might well be news to those on the right who heroise the managerial class and imagine that the main causes of poverty are laziness and welfare.

Of course the book has its flaws…

But Ehrenreich’s misguided diagnoses and prescriptions occupy at most a tenth of the book. The bulk of the book is devoted to a description of the problems, and there’s nothing sneerworthy about that. And libertarians will win few supporters so long as they continue to give the impression of regarding the problems Ehrenreich describes as unimportant or non-existent. If you’re desperately ill, and Physician A offers a snake-oil remedy while Physician B merely snaps, “stop whining!” and offers nothing, Physician A will win every time.

Rod’s solutions:

First: eliminate state intervention, which predictably works to benefit the politically-connected, not the poor. As I like to say, libertarianism is the proletarian revolution. Without all the taxes, fees, licenses, and regulations that disproportionately burden the poor, it would be much easier for them to start their own businesses rather than working for others. As for those who do still work for others, in the dynamically expanding economy that a rollback of state violence would bring, employers would have to compete much more vigorously for workers, thus making it much harder for employers to treat workers like crap…

Second: build worker solidarity. On the one hand, this means formal organisation, including unionisation – but I’m not talking about the prevailing model of “business unions,” conspiring to exclude lower-wage workers and jockeying for partnership with the corporate/government elite, but real unions, the old-fashioned kind, committed to the working class and not just union members, and interested in worker autonomy, not government patronage.

I’ve had similar debates with Rod before, but I still can’t resist responding.  Verily, I do “heroise” the managerial class.  And at least in the First World, I do think that irresponsible behavior (partly fueled by the welfare state) is the main cause of severe poverty.  Specifically:

1. Management quality is vital for productivity – and measured management quality really is high in First World countries.  Contrary to stereotypes, poor countries have very little big business. Instead, their economies are dominated by “informality” and self-employment.  So yes, I am most grateful to managers for doing their jobs – especially given all the abuse that intellectuals and activists have heaped upon them.

2. In rich countries, non-work is the main cause of severe poverty.  A small percentage of non-workers are seriously disabled or genuinely can’t find a job.  The overwhelming reason for non-work, though, is behavior that intuitively seems highly irresponsible.  Such as?  Not searching for a job.  Not showing up for work on time – or at all.  Having impulsive sex.  Committing crimes.   Sloth (“laziness”) is one poverty-inducing vice, but don’t forget lust and wrath.

3. There are, of course, many full-time workers who – like Ehrenreich and most of her co-workers – end up moderately poor.  How is this possible?  I endorse the standard economic explanation: low-paid workers are, on average, low-skilled.  Since they aren’t very productive, employers don’t bid much for their services.

4. Why, though, do low-skilled workers endure such unpleasant working conditions?  Again, I endorse the standard economic explanation: making work more pleasant costs money – and low-income workers don’t want to take a pay cut to get more pleasant working conditions.

5. Rod apparently rejects both textbook stories.  Instead, he blames the government for using “taxes, fees, licenses, and regulations” to prevent the poor from “starting their own businesses rather than working for others.”  While I would be happy to see “taxes, fees, licenses, and regulations” go away, I’m afraid there’s little reason to think this would sharply increase the poor’s rates of self-employment or small business ownership.  Why not?  Because  it’s far from clear that regulation on net penalizes small businesses relative to big businesses.  Yes, some regulations impose fixed costs, which discourage small business and self-employment.  However, many regulations specifically exempt small business.  Furthermore, it is much easier for small business to evade regulation.  I wouldn’t be shocked if self-employment and small business became somewhat bigger under laissez-faire, but Rod’s confidence that this effect would be big is wishful thinking.

6. I totally agree with Rod’s view that government hurts the poor by suppressing economic growth.  Because government hurts almost everyone by suppressing economic growth.

7. I’m honestly puzzled by Rod’s desire to see the poor start their own businesses.  Romantic thinking aside, most people lack the competence for self-employment. With or without regulation, it’s incredibly hard.  I get that Rod has seen the ugly side of low-skilled employment first-hand.  But what about the ugly side of low-skilled self-employment?  Instead of bosses mistreating you, you’re mistreated directly by customers.  If you can actually get some customers, which is like pulling teeth.  Imagine how bleak Ehrenreich’s book would have been if, instead of trying to find a bunch of low-skilled jobs, she tried to found a bunch of low-skilled businesses!  Without her savings, she probably would have ended up homeless.

8. I’m even more puzzled by Rod’s desire to “build worker solidarity” and support for unions.  The standard economic story says that unions are labor cartels; they improve wages and working conditions for members at the expense of other workers and the rest of society.  While I’ll defend the legality of unions on libertarian grounds, they’re nothing to celebrate.  The best I can say is that without government help, very few people will belong to unions.  Indeed, even with hefty pro-union regulations on their side, private sector unions have almost disappeared in the U.S.  But isn’t solidarity nice?  Not solidarity with large, unselective groups like “workers” – and not when you build solidarity by scapegoating employers as exploiters and managers as bullies.

9. General observation: If you know a little social science and a lot of libertarianism, Rod Long’s story sounds great.  If you want to sell libertarianism to leftists, his approach is plausibly more persuasive than mine.  Alas, if you take the time to learn more social science, Rod’s story isn’t tenable.

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Negroes With Guns: The Untold History of Black NRA Gun Clubs and the Civil Rights Movement

Black NRA Gun Clubs

With the violent crime rate increasing disproportionately in urban communities, it’s no surprise that a recent phone survey of black voters found that 80 percent felt gun violence was an “extremely serious” problem. However, it seems this surge in violence actually has many in the black community changing their views on gun ownership.

In 1993, 74 percent of African-Americans favored gun control. Fast forward to 2018, and a Crime Prevention Research Center report found that concealed carry permits are on the rise – especially among minorities. In Texas alone, the number of blacks with permits has grown by almost 140 percent since 2012. Overall, this growth in the number of permits for blacks is happening 20 percent faster than for whites.

This increasingly positive attitude toward firearms might not be a new paradigm, but rather a return to form.

In this three-part series on militias in America, Early American Militias: The Forgotten History of Freedmen Militias from 1776 until the Civil War and American Militias after the Civil War: From Black Codes to the Black Panthers and Beyond provide detailed looks at the history of militias in early and post-Civil-War America. This guide takes a final look at how militias played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement, an important piece of America that’s missing from our history books.

Robert F. Williams and Armed Black Self-Defense

Few are aware that weapons played a pivotal part in the American Civil Rights Movement, specifically through Robert F. Williams. A curious figure in American history, Libertarians are quick to lionize him and his radical approach to black self-defense, but they’ll quickly cool when they learn of his longstanding association with leftist totalitarian politics and governments. Conservatives likewise might initially find themselves infatuated with a man who did not wait for “big government” to deliver his people, but rather leveraged the Second Amendment. Liberals, for their part, might find something to admire in Williams’ notion of liberation, but will recoil in horror when learning that his preferred vehicles for change were the NAACP (great!) and the NRA (terrible!).

Williams was many things, but chief among them was a harbinger of things that would come long after he had fled the United States for what he considered greener pastures in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. He stands across the divide, separating the non-violent, electoral, protest-oriented phase of the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s from the later, more militant and direct-action-oriented phase that would arise in the mid-to-late 1960s as the movement became more frustrated (particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King).

Born in North Carolina in 1925, Williams’ experience mirrors that of many African-Americans of his generation. He moved to Detroit as part of the Second Great Migration, where he was privy to race rioting over jobs. He served in the then-segregated United States Marine Corps for a year and a half after being drafted in 1944. Upon returning to his North Carolina hometown, Williams found a moribund chapter of the NAACP. With only six members and little opposition, he used his USMC training to commandeer the local branch and turn it in a decidedly more military direction. The local chapter soon had over 200 members under Williams’ leadership. If nothing else, his leadership was effective at building the movement from the ground up.

Black NRA Gun Clubs KKKAn early incident is particularly instructive in how effective these new tactics were. The KKK was very active in Monroe, with an estimated 7,500 members in a town of 12,000. After hearing rumors that the Klan intended to attack NAACP chapter Vice President Dr. Albert Perry’s house, Williams and members of the Black Armed Guard surrounded the doctor’s house with sandbags and showed up with rifles. Klansman fired on the house from a moving vehicle and the Guard returned fire. Soon after, the Klan required a special permit from the city’s police chief to meet. One incident of self-defense did more to move the goalposts than all previous legislative pressure had.

Monroe’s Black Armed Guard wasn’t a subsidiary of the Communist Party, nor an independent organization like the Black Panther Party that would use similar tactics of arming their members later. In fact, “Black Armed Guard” was nothing more than a fancy name for an officially chartered National Rifle Association chapter.

His 1962 book, Negroes With Guns, was prophetic for the Black Power movement to come later on in the decade. But Williams is noteworthy for his lack of revolutionary fervor, at least early on. Williams was cautious to always maintain that the Black Armed Guard was not an insurrectionary organization, but one dedicated to providing defense to a group of people who were under attack and lacking in normal legal remedies:

To us there was no Constitution, no such thing as ‘moral persuasion’ – the only thing left was the bullet…I advocated violent self-defense because I don’t really think you can have a defense against violent racists and against terrorists unless you are prepared to meet violence with violence, and my policy was to meet violence with violence.

Robert Williams

Williams himself is an odd figure, not easily boxed into conventional political labels. While often lauded, for example in a PBS Independent Lens hagiography, it’s worth noting that Williams spent a number of years operating Radio Free Dixie, a radio station broadcast from Communist Cuba that regularly denounced the American government. He urged black soldiers to revolt during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Williams personally praised the Watts riots in 1966, simultaneously invoking “the spirit of ‘76.” Radio Free Dixie ceased operations in 1965, when Williams relocated to Red China at the personal request of Chairman Mao Zedong (hardly a proponent of freedom). Williams happily accepted, and this is where he remained for the rest of his exile from the United States – avoiding dubious charges of kidnapping white activists, Williams claimed he was defending from Klan attacks.

However, it’s not entirely fair to brand Williams a pliant, party-line Communist, either. Even while hobnobbing with the elite of the Chinese Communist Party, Williams regularly denounced the U.S. Communist Party as “Gus Hall’s idiots.” To some degree, this reflects internal divisions in the international Communist movement at the time, with national parties and internal factions lining up between Moscow and Beijing. But he also refused to rule out any sort of deal between himself and the federal government – or the far right, for that matter – on the grounds that he would do anything to avoid prison. He gave speeches in China denouncing the United States, including one where he associated Robert Kennedy with an alleged system of international white supremacy.

Upon returning to the United States, Williams was put on trial for the alleged kidnapping and was extradited to North Carolina from Michigan. By the time his case went to trial in 1975, it was a cause celebre among the American far left and the charges were soon dropped. His later years were marked by a lack of political activity. He received a grant from the Ford Foundation to work in the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. He seemed to have little interest in leading the more militant, Black Power incarnation of the Civil Rights Movement that had emerged in his exile. The title of his New York Times obituary is rather telling: “Outspoken and Feared but Largely Forgotten.”

Williams is a confusing figure, one that’s hard to figure out and even harder for people of any political persuasion to take a hard line in favor of. An iconoclast and a malcontent, he was simultaneously capable of self-sacrifice, exiling himself from his homeland, as well as blatant (and almost certainly appropriate) self-interest, ready to cut any kind of a deal to keep himself out of jail. No matter what your opinion is of Robert F. Williams and his role in bringing together blacks and guns, one thing’s for sure – we won’t be seeing him on the front of dollar bills any time soon.

Continue reading Negroes With Guns: The Untold History of the Black NRA Gun Clubs and the Civil Rights Movement at Ammo.com.

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The Down Side of Impeachment

Unless there’s some dramatic change in the political landscape over the next month or so, I believe that the US House of Representatives will impeach President Donald Trump.

Unless there’s some dramatic change in the political landscape between now and Trump’s trial in the US Senate, I don’t believe the Senate will vote, by the necessary 2/3 majority, to convict him.

Taken together, those two outcomes constitute a bad thing. Here’s why:

If I’m correct on the first count, Donald Trump will become the third US president to be impeached by the House (the first two were Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998).

If I’m correct on the second count, Donald Trump will become the third US president to be acquitted by the Senate.

When Johnson and Clinton were impeached, no reasonable doubt remained that they were guilty of at least some of the charges laid in their articles of impeachment. Johnson had indeed dismissed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from office after the Senate had voted not to concur with his dismissal. Clinton had indeed lied under oath concerning his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

If Donald Trump is impeached, he will likewise be charged with one or more things which he, beyond a reasonable doubt, actually did.

In theory, the House’s job is to decide whether or not an act is worthy of impeachment, and the Senate’s job is only to determine whether or not the president actually committed that act.

In real life, this will make three times out of three that the Senate engages in a form of jury nullification. At least 34 Senators will vote, in the face of facts plainly demonstrating guilt, to acquit.

Blame partisan bias if you like.

Or, if you prefer, accept some Senators’ claims that they disagree that the acts in question, though proven, rise to the level of treason, bribery, or “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Either way, a three for three record of acquittals sends a message to every future president:

So long as your party can whip 34 Senators into line to vote against conviction, anything goes.

Fans of the separation of powers envisioned in the Constitution have bemoaned “the imperial presidency” since the 1960s.

Trump has openly and routinely hacked away at that fraying separation. Impeachment and acquittal would be an injection of steroids in his sword arm.

Absent conviction, impeachment isn’t just useless, it’s catastrophic.

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American Gun Ownership: The Positive Impacts of Law-Abiding Citizens Owning Firearms

It’s no secret that mainstream press coverage of gun ownership in the United States tends to be in favor of gun control – especially when those reporting on the topic are not firearm owners themselves. Journalists focus on how many people are killed by guns, how many children get their hands on improperly stored firearms, and how many deranged individuals go on shooting sprees.

This anti-gun news bias is widespread among the “urban elite” who have very little personal experience with guns and yet write for influential newspapers like The New York TimesWashington Post, etc. Despite this bias, law-abiding private citizens owning guns does have positive impacts on American society that often go unreported – many of which are significant.

Criminals and the Armed Citizen

Perhaps the most notable impact of gun ownership on American society is how it influences the behavior of criminals.

The fact is, criminals fear armed citizens more than they do the police. There’s many reasons for this, but here are the most prominent:

  • Police are rarely onsite during a crime.
  • Police are bound by policy and procedures, and are trained to only use their firearms if it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Civilians are also less trained.

In a research study sponsored by the United States Department of Justice, James Wright and Peter Rossi interviewed over 1,800 incarcerated felons, asking how they felt about civilians and gun ownership. Thirty-three percent of these criminals admitted to being scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by a gun-owning victim. Sixty-nine percent of them knew at least one other criminal who had similar experiences. Nearly 80 percent of felons also claimed that they intentionally avoid victims and homes that they believe may be armed.

This shows that at least one in three criminals has been deterred because of an armed citizen, and that four out five avoid victimizing people that have guns.

Law-Abiding Gun Owners & Defensive Gun Use

Advocates of civilian disarmament tend to scoff at the capabilities of everyday gun owners. Many believe that guns in the hands of normal people are crimes waiting to happen. However, thanks to the research of individuals such as John Lott, we now have evidence showing that gun owners are some of the most law-abiding segments of the American population.

Lott drew the example of concealed license holders when compared to law enforcement:

Concealed-handgun permit holders are also much more law-abiding than the rest of the population. In fact, they are convicted at an even lower rate than police officers. According to a study in Police Quarterly, from 2005 to 2007, police committed 703 crimes annually on average. Of those, there were 113 firearms violations on average.

With 683,396 full-time law enforcement employees nationwide in 2006, we can infer that there were about 102 crimes by police per 100,000 officers. Among the U.S. population as a whole, the crime rate was 37 times higher than the police crime rate over those years – 3,813 per 100,000 people.

Not only are gun owners very law-abiding, they are also quite capable of defending themselves against criminals. Criminologists Dr. Gary Kleck and Dr. Marc Gertz carried out a study that found 2.2 to 2.5 million cases of defensive gun use (DGU). Around 1.5 to 1.9 million of these cases involved handguns. There is reason to believe that DGU numbers completely overshadow the criminal use cases of guns.

However, in today’s era of outrage politics, many incidents of DGU go under the radar because of their lack of shock appeal that does not make for good headlines.

A Sense of Security

Most people realize that law enforcement cannot be everywhere, yet so many rely on nothing but a 911 call to protect both their home and those inside it. For those who live in remote areas, it can take an hour or more for first responders to arrive after an emergency call, but in most cases, even five minutes is too long. But when a homeowner is armed and trained, the sense of security increases.

Thanks to modern psychology, we know that people need this sense of security in order to grow and develop into healthy adults. Not surprisingly, privately owned guns provide that. Sixty-three percent of Americans now believe that having a gun in the house increases safety. While some may dismiss the importance of feeling secure and safe, or claim that another person’s desire for safety makes them feel unsafe, it is by far the most basic of human needs. And without it, people are left feeling frightened, angry, and defensive – often unable to reach, or even focus on, higher goals.

Continue reading American Gun Ownership: The Positive Impacts of Law-Abiding Citizens Owning Firearms at Ammo.com.

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Competing Political Gangs and Their Territories

I took a walk recently, just to the bank. It turns out that’s 1.1 miles, one way. On this walk, I crossed a state border. Twice.

Strange. I felt no difference when I crossed, but suddenly a whole new collection of crimes was possible, while other activities suddenly became non-crimes. Just from crossing that imaginary line. Going both ways.

On one side I could have legally been carrying a bowie knife, a sword, or a switchblade. On the other side I’m fairly sure a switchblade would have been punishable– less sure about the Bowie knife. (The political gangs probably frown on me not knowing or caring much about their opinions.)

On one side of the line Cannabis is legal for medicinal use– and may be legal for recreational use before long. On the other side, the state and local political bullies are digging in their heels to keep from being dragged into the 21st Century.

The state line corresponds to a county line (obviously) and a line between towns. On one side of the line, in one town, people can keep chickens and other livestock. On the side of the line, where my house is, the political bullies forbid such responsible behavior.

Arbitrary rules based on nothing more than on which side of an imaginary line I happen to be standing, even though I can easily cross back and forth. Absurdity.

Political borders and the “laws” which go with them are total hogwash.

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The Not-So-Just World Hypothesis

I’ve long been skeptical of what psychologists call the Just World Hypothesis.  A standard statement:

[T]he just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to—or expect consequences as the result of—a universal force that restores moral balance. This belief generally implies the existence of cosmic justice, destiny, divine providence, desert, stability, and/or order, and is often associated with a variety of fundamental fallacies, especially in regards to rationalizing people’s suffering on the grounds that they “deserve” it.

One of the main forms of (alleged) evidence in favor of the Just World Hypothesis is that people derogate and blame the victims of crimes.  But I’ve simply never noticed this in real life.  All I’ve seen, rather, is that people claim that other people derogate and blame the victims of crimes.

To explore these doubts, I ran three Twitter polls.  Yes, I know this is far from decisive evidence.  But I still trust it more than many of the studies that got the Just World Hypothesis off the ground.

I started with two paired survey questions:

Responses match my expectations.  Virtually no one thinks that crime victims are “highly” or even “somewhat” blameworthy.  Almost everyone thinks that crime perpetrators are “highly” or at least “somewhat” culpable.

My last survey zoomed out to the Big Question:

Well look at that!  Disbelievers in the Just World Hypothesis outnumber believers by over 2:1.  Only 3% of respondents think the world is “Very just.”

Are my respondents atypical?  Indubitably.  Nevertheless, I have much more confidence that my results will replicate on a national representative sample than the published academic work on this topic.  If anyone wants to try, feel free to use my questions!

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