Monday, January 26, 2015

HAWB - Introduction - How America Was Built

We are, we believe (and hope) nearing completion of a historical chronology of government actions and programs to support and develop the economy of the United States. Our intent is to frontally attack the conservative, libertarian, and neo-liberal interpretations of USA economic history, which are so distorted by their focus on "private property" and "free enterprise" and their hostility to "statism" as to constitute a lie. Everyone is probably familiar with these conservative, libertarian, and neo-liberal memes, which are repeated literally everyday in the mass media:
  • The only thing government ever does is tax you
  • Government is the problem
  • Government never created a single job
  • Government workers are useless bureaucrats living high on the hog
The actual history of the USA economy shows that these are all rotten lies. It is not that there was no role played by free enterprise and the private sector: they were just as important as the role of government. It is just that the exclusion and derision of the government role has become so extreme that it becomes a lie in effect of application.

Here is just some of the highlights of the chronology:
  • 1783 Benjamin Franklin’s Reflections on the Augmentation of Wages, Which Will Be Occasioned in Europe by the American Revolution
  • Jefferson’s Land Ordinance of 1785
  • The Constitutional Convention - Bourgin's The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic
  • The Constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare
  • Charles Beard did not write what you think he wrote in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution
  • The Tariff and Tonnage Acts of 1789
  • Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton designs the USA economy
  • How early corporations were enjoined by their charters to promote the general welfare
  • On the question of aesthetics: L’Enfant’s 1791 Report on the Plan Intended for the Permanent Seat of Government and Jefferson's plans for the state capitol in Richmond and the University of Virginia
  • 1794-1816 The federal armories lay the foundation of modern industrial mass production
  • 1801–1806 Oliver Evans develops the high-pressure steam engine
  • The Coast Survey Act of 1807 and the discovery of a deep water channel into the port of New York City
  • 1804-1859 The Army Corps of Topographical Engineers explore and map the West
  • 1817 The Erie Canal
  • 1802-1835 The US Military Academy at West Point and its role in engineering and education
  • McCulloch v. Maryland 1819 - Powers are implied, not enumerated
  • The General Survey Act of 1824
  • The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1824
  • 1833 Associate Justice Joseph Story's Commentaries on the Constitution
  • 1835-1852 The Illinois-Michigan Canal and the creation of Chicago
  • 1838-1842 United States Exploring Expedition of the US Navy
  • 1843 Direct funding to Samuel Morse for development of the telegraph
  • 1850s Admiral Benjamin Franklin Isherwood and the development of steam power
  • Land Grant Act of 1850
  • Steamboat Act of 1852 and the power to regulate private property
  • 1859 Brig. Gen. Randolph B. Marcy's Prairie Traveler
  • Pacific Railroad Acts of 1861 and 1862
  • 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Colleges
  • 1862 Abraham Lincoln establishes the Department of Agriculture
  • 1867-1872 The United States Geological and Geographical Surveys of the plains and the west
  • 1870 Weather Bureau of the United States established
  • 1879 United States Geological Survey and the development of mining
  • Hatch Act of 1887 creates agricultural experiment stations
  • 1890s-1920s The Good Roads movement and government pavement of roads
  • 1907 U.S. Forest Service establishes Forest Products Laboratory at University of Wisconsin Madison
  • The Air Commerce Act of 1926
  • 1928 The National Bureau of Standards and the Cooperative Fuel Research engine
  • 1911 US Supreme Court breaks Rockefeller's Standard Oil monopoly
  • 1912 USDA botanist and plant pathologist Mark Carleton and the improvement of wheat
  • Smith–Lever Act of 1914 establishes a system of agricultural cooperative extension services
  • 1915 National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
  • 1917-1919 The US Navy and the development of radio
  • 1919 Nebraska State Legislature establishes Tractor Test Laboratory at University of Nebraska
  • 1919 Bank of North Dakota established by state legislature after Non-Partisan League sweeps state elections
  • 1920 USDA scientists Harry A. Allard and W.W. Garner discover photo-periodicity of plants
  • 1924 US Army Industrial College lays the foundation for the Arsenal of Democracy in World War 2
  • 1930s The Bonneville Power Authority, the Tennessee Valley Authority and rural electrification
  • The Norris-La Guardia Act of 1932 promotes organized labor unions
  • 1942 US military develops mass production of penicillin
  • 1943 National Resources Planning Board publishes plans for post-war demobilization of military personnel and reorientation of industry
  • 1943 Petroleum Administration for War sends Everette Lee DeGolyer to assess oil supplies in the Middle East
  • 1948-1965 USDA regional research laboratories and the frozen foods industry
  • Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill)
  • 1945 Vannevar Bush's report to Truman Science, The Endless Frontier argues the need for continued government support of science and engineering research and development
  • 1940s-1950s The origins of computers: Whirlwind and the SAGE air defense system
  • 1952-1957 US Air Force funded Boeing 707 brings us the jet age 
Each one of the historical economic landmarks listed above will eventually become a separate blog posting. Each will have the title "HAWB year - blank - How America Was Built" so that people can search for "HAWB" or  "How America Was Built" and find the entire series of posts up to that time. Our intent is that anyone so interested can quickly access this historical record and arm themselves with the truth to counter the landslide of lies propagated by zealots who would rather destroy the government, than allow its powers be used to promote the general welfare over private interests. At the same time, we plan to publish e-books that people may buy so that they can support our research and writing. There will also be PowerPoint presentations available, which we can email to people so that they may present these ideas to local groups.

We will use the year of the event in the title, instead of attempting to sequentially number each post. This will allow us to jump to a certain event in the chronology that may be pertinent to some current event. It will also allow us to include other events we may have overlooked in the first edition of the chronology. We fondly hope that our effort will attract enough attention that readers will begin suggesting other events to include that we have overlooked.

This historical chronology of the role of government in economic development is  the first part of a three-part program that we hope will come to dominate political debate going into the USA 2016 election. The second part reviews the USA economy since Reagan in a series of graphs, which dramatically show how the Reagan presidency was a disastrous turning point: the USA has been financialized, deindustrialized, decapitalized. Emphasis on that last word: decapitalized - with the explosive growth of financial market speculation, usury, and economic rent seeking since Reagan, the USA has become less capitalistic.

The third part presents a $100 trillion program for a rebuilding of the world’s economy to stop, and even reverse climate change.We have the technology, what we need is the political will to smash the usurers and speculators of Wall Street, the Chicago futures pits, and the City of London. Or, as The Onion wryly observed: "At press time, representatives from the world’s leading economies had signaled that they would continue to heavily rely on fossil fuels until they had something more than an overwhelming scientific consensus to go on."

We use the $100 trillion number for three reasons. First, and most importantly, it is what scientists and technology experts have calculated is required. It is their number, not ours. But it will become our number, because we will publicize it far and wide. We will ceaselessly agitate for adoption of a $100 trillion program until we succeed in making it the policy of this republic.

Second, $100 trillion program is an easy number to remember.

Third, it instantly establishes a litmus test with which to judge the ideas and beliefs of others, especially those who aspire to govern us. The 2008 USA stimulus program was $700 billion, and has been shown to be historically inadequate by the painfully slow climb out of the Great Recession. With a $100 trillion standard, the 2008 stimulus would have been immediately and clearly seen to be laughably inadequate. Again, it is our scientists and technology experts who have calculated that $100 trillion is required. Any politician who talks about a few billion or even a few hundred billion dollars in programs is clearly not serious about solving the immense problems we face.

Fourth, the inevitable question is asked: Is this a $100 trillion government program? Is the government going to spend $100 trillion? This question forces an examination of the interaction between government and the private sector in a national economy. No, this is not solely a government program. No, the government is not going to spend $100 trillion. But the government must create a regime of incentives and punishments that makes usury, speculation, and rent seeking behavior unattractive, if not entirely illegal, while making actual investment in the new technologies, new industries, and new companies required to go globally green the surest and easiest way to make a profit. In other words, government must give direction to the economy, then allow private initiative and free enterprise to pursue what ever profit opportunities are to be found in that new direction. This probably means imposing some level of transaction tax on all transactions in the financial markets, swiftly enforced and swiftly punished. It probably also means that requiring companies to conduct activities that promote the general welfare – a desideratum of early American business culture that was so strong that it did not have to be written into law – will have to be codified. At this point in the fight to save Spaceship Earth, any  conservative, libertarian, or neo-liberal who argues against the idea of government (of the people, by the people, for the people) setting a direction for national economic development should be understood and treated as a swinish and seditious enemy of democratic government. The massive scale of the $100 trillion program forces us to ask: How do we do it? Is socialism the best way? Or central planning? Or how does capitalism have to be controlled and regulated in such a way that the efforts of private enterprise are directed toward the general welfare?

Fifth, the $100 trillion number grabs attention. It jars the sensibilities, because it is so far removed from normal political discourse up to this time. And once a citizen begins to accept it, and the need for it, he or she is inevitably forced to confront a crucial economic issue: How is money and credit created and allocated? This requires a ruthless examination of Wall Street and the financial and banking systems.

Sixth, a $100 trillion program to entirely rebuild the world economy on a sustainable basis forces people to look at the real economy. Can we actually do it? Can we actually manufacture and build what is required? This demands a close look at the state of our manufacturing industries, the skills and aptitudes of our labor force, and how workers and employees are treated, trained, compensated, and cared for.

Seventh, we deliberately pose the $100 trillion program as a means of seizing and controlling the terms of political debate going into the 2016 USA election. We simply cannot afford  a national campaign that is again solely a contest between, on the one hand, a hopelessly anachronistic and pro-usury Republican Party not just blind, but openly hostile, to the need for wide-spread cooperative solutions to wide-spread problems that  affect every last living person, and on the other hand, a Democratic Party dominated by its corporatist rump, willing to mouth populist dissatisfaction but unwilling to confront the economic and financial powers that have transformed the United States from a republic to an oligarchy. Just as there was no hope of ever dissuading the southern slave-holders from their catastrophic policies of the 1850s, there is no hope of dissuading modern Republicans from their catastrophic policies of today. Indeed, too many Republicans, like Rich Perry, are so stupid and so venal as to actively harbor and promote neo-confederate ideas today. They should be understood and treated as swinish and seditious enemies of democratic government. But the possibility to transform the Democratic Party for the better still exists, especially at the local and state level. Which is quite unlike the Republican Party, which more likely to be pushed in an ever more reactionary direction by the Tea Party fanatics and extremists at the local and state level.

This three-part presentation is designed to educate activists, office-seekers, and office-holders. More importantly, it is designed to enable people like you, our readers, to present these ideas to others, to educate them, and to thus help begin to shape the terms of political discussion in this country. In this, we are deliberately setting out to replicate the system of lecturers the populist movement of the 1870s through 1890s used to build and strengthen itself. Many of the economic landmarks listed above came about only because of the political muscle of the populist movement. And never forget that most of the policies adopted during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal were first developed and elaborated by the populist movement.

The lecturing system of the populists resulted in a painfully slow and laborious gestation of two decades from which populism emerged. We do not have the luxury of two decades time today. But we do have the internet, and we cannot conceive of an instrument more perfectly suited for the rapid dissemination and assimilation of political and economic ideas.

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