Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge

Since I do judge books by their covers, I almost didn't read The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. For some reason, the cover turned me off. But, I'm glad I did. 

I think I heard this book advertised some time ago as a "third way" and an innovative attempt to revolutionize our current government. It was that to some extent. It was interesting and introduced me to people and ideas I had not previously considered.

They wrote the book because they believe, "The main political challenge of the next decade will be fixing government." The irony is that as government has grown ever larger to satisfy ever growing demands, it increasingly invites the voters ire for working so badly. We, ourselves, have created an over-inflated and over-burdened government in desperate need of reform. In fact, they state, "At the moment, democracy sometimes looks as if it were digging its own grave."

Why "The Fourth Revolution?" What were the first three? They believe it began with Hobbes and his ideas about Nation States in Leviathan. This paved the way for John Stuart Mill and the Liberal State, which began with the Glorious Revolution and was perfected in the American Revolution. Followed by Beatrice Webb with the creation of the Welfare State, and the "enforced minimum for a civilized life". Milton Friedman and those influenced by him like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher constitute an unfinished half revolution. Each sought to answer the question, "What is the state for?"The ever-growing state was first challenged in Europe by economists like Ludwig von MIses and his pupil Friedrich Hayek. Freidman brought these ideas to America, believing, "there was a direct correlation between government intervention and national decline." Seeing societal breakdown, neoconservatives began to make the case that, "Far from knowing best what the poor needed, bureaucrats and experts often got it spectacularly wrong." While this group won the argument, they did not win the reality, the leviathan did not wither, hence the designation as a "half-revolution."

They point to California as the perfect analogy to all that is wrong with current government. California has, according to their count, engaged in seven deadly sins and one virtue. Sin number 1: it is out of date. "The last time it got a full makeover was in 1879." Its second sin is acquiescing to Baumol's disease - the idea that government cannot take advantage of technological innovation to become more efficient and productive because its realm lies in labor-intensive areas. Its third sin involves Olson's Law which states that it is far easier for a special interest group to get and maintain power than it is for a group opposed to that interest. Fourth is the overactive state which invariable leads to more taxation. "California is constantly inventing new ways of raising taxes and then new ways of letting favored groups off those taxes." The fifth is the use of fuzzy math used to lie about numbers and use numbers to lie. The sixth sin is the cascading of spending towards the relatively well-off middle class. Finally, there is the hyper-partisanship as both parties veered further to the right and the left. Who's to blame for all of this? Us. "Democracy is being disfigured by unrealistic expectations and contradictory demands." Yep, it's what the Founders feared: too much democracy. California's one virtue? It might be slowly beginning to change.

So what is the alternative? They point to Asia, specifically Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, as having much to teach the West. He ruled in Singapore from 1959 to his recent death. Now his son rules. He originally favored a welfare state but moved to the right by the 70's and became a great Anglophile. He then took his country on the opposite path of the rest of the world. Rather than increasing democracy and the welfare state, he ran an autocratic, stingy government. It has worked rather well. Other countries in Asia have implemented similar programs, believing that the West does not have all the answers and a strong government is necessary to compete in the global economy. 

Downplaying democracy sounds heretical to our Western ears, yet as Lee says, "The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions." [See: California] He has also kept the state very small, consuming less than 3.3% GDP. He eschewed the welfare state, and gave the citizens the opportunity to provide for themselves. They pay 20% of their income, and employers contribute another 15.5%, to the Central Provident Fund. They can withdraw this account for welfare, housing, pensions, health care and education. Imagine that! You can fund your life with your own money if you are forced to save! A small safety net helps those unable to self-fund. 

There are also other components of the Asian Alternative. They discuss the mixed record of state-sponsored capitalism, which is not a new idea in America. Alexander Hamilton proposed it from the beginning to help the fledgling nation. In addition, countries like China operate as strict meritocracies. These "educated mandarins" can address systemic problems politicians can't or won't touch. This has freed them from the "short-termerism" that has infected Western democracies. Although the ideas may not all work, the authors give Asia credit for trying and not remaining sclerotic like the West. 

The Nordic countries also provide a place to look for solutions for one simple reason: they ran out of cash before we did. Bankruptcy focuses the mind and so they have been able to implement reforms unthinkable in the rest of the Western world. "The Nordic countries provide strong evidence... that it is possible to contain government while improving its performance." One reason is that they have used technology to their advantage in ways we could learn from.  

We in the West have made four terrible assumptions that made sense 60 years ago, but no longer do. The first is that everything must be done "in-house." The second is to centralize decision making. The third is to make uniformity the rule. The fourth is to view change with horror - everything is bureaucratized and nothing is done "for the first time." Each of these assumptions must be challenged, and that is starting to happen. Bring back an old idea - liberty. This is becoming the spirit of the age and politicians would do well to listen. The glutenous state must be relegated to the dust bin. 

The three areas they suggest we start with are: "selling things the state has no business owning by reviving privatization...;second, cutting the subsidies that flow to the rich and well connected...; and third, reforming entitlements to make sure that they are targeted to people who need them and sustainable in the long term."

All good ideas. But how? This is the problem. Americans have no stomach for these kind of changes. Not yet anyhow. 

Overall, the book was good at defining the problem. OK at describing a small number of countries that have worked on the problems. It offered very little as far as actual solutions right here in America. At this point "The Fourth Revolution" seems a bit grandiose of a title. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates

I read Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates because another mom recommended it based on her love of the Myers-Briggs methodology. She said it explained SO MUCH! Since I almost always read recommended books, I put it on my list.

It was actually interesting to be able to see the different personality types and how each relates to the world. The point of the book is to realize that people are different and there is no point or even reason to trying to change someone. I was especially interested in the section on education. It is noteworthy that all kids do not react to formal education in the same way. (Duh!) It is also of interest to see what might best work to excite a child who has no interest in school. It turned out to me much more interesting than I thought it would be.

They first have you identify yourself. I am an ISTJ ( Introvert, Sensation, Thinking, Judging) I had previously tested as an INTJ, but after reading this book, I’m pretty sure that ISTJ is a much better fit. She then takes the 32 variations possible and narrows them down to four basic personality types using other historical attempts to classify people. 

First is the Dionysian Temperament. (ISTP, ESTP, ISFP, ESFP [38% of population]) These SPs must be free! “To do as he wishes when he wishes, that’s the ideal. To wait, to save, to store, to prepare, to live for tomorrow -- that is not the way... Today must be enjoyed, for tomorrow never comes.”

Next is the Epimethean Temperament (ISFJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ESTJ [also 38% of the population]) These SJs (me) “must belong, and this belonging has to be earned. Here is no freeloader, urging his dependency upon the donor... The SJ feels guilty for his dependency... Moreover, he must be the giver, not the receiver; the caretaker, not the cared for.” The are the “good, responsible, rule-following, tradition-loving” people.

Since this is me, I add more so I can have insight into myself! “The SJ has a keen sense for detecting ingratitude and lack of appreciation, dealing as he does in giving, service, and care. Strangely though, he cannot ask for gratitude or appreciation because it is his duty to give, serve, and care for. He feels obligated, responsible, and burdened, and wants to feel that way. to feel otherwise is to be useless and not belong.” SJs clean up after the party an SJ threw. 

“The SJ is society’s natural historian, and it is the historian who learns, for society, the lessons of history... [and] history’s most important lesson is the reciprocity of freedom and equality... Unfortunately, this lesson of history is not learned by most... the SJ instinctively knows it., seeing in inequality (hierarchy) the only way to freedom... Just as history should govern what we do in the future, so there are fundamentals which should serve as foundations for what and how we build and how we maintain our edifices and our institutions.” Preach it!

Third is the PrometheanTemperament (INTP, ENTP, INTJ, ENTJ [12% of the population]) The NTs have a strong desire for knowledge and competence. They are highly self-critical and have a high standard for themselves. He is the mirror opposite of the free-spirited SP. He never quite believes that he is good enough or accomplished enough and therefore always feels he is on the edge of failure and so pushes himself even more. He also comes off as arrogant in that his expectations of others is both that they will fail because they do not have his standards, and yet he is disappointed by other’s failure. He has a serious passion for knowledge and focus on the future. These would be the socially odd, probably very smart, “nerds” who have trouble relating to others. 

Finally, there is the Apollonian Temperament (INFJ, ENFJ, INFP, ENFP [ 12% of the population]) “‘How can I become the person I really am?’ asks the NF. He hungers for self-actualization, to be and to become real. To be what he is meant to be and to have an identity which is uniquely his. His endless search most often causes him guild, believing that his real self is somehow less than it ought to be. And so he wanders...” These NFs spend their lives searching for meaning and purpose. Some find it and are happy, others spend their lives miserable. 

Then the authors break down how the different type act in different areas of life. I focus on my SJ personality here. 

As to Mating, it seems that most people are attracted to their opposite, although that many not necessarily be the best choice. SJs like their time structured and rarely waste time. They do not mind demands on their time by family as long as it seems sensible. They enjoy routine and are seldom bored. They both nurture and criticize their families and believe in passing onto children The Right Way to do something. 

As children, SJs are usually the perfect student. In fact most teachers are SJs and the system is built for SJs. School “focus on responsibilities, on the development of good study habits, on the development of proper social attitudes, on the completion of well-structured tasks executed in an approved fashion.” All of this appeals to SJs. 

This is a book I’ll be returning to when I get my own classroom! In fact, they provided this handy-dandy chart!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I absolutely loved the book Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin about Lincoln and his cabinet. She gives such in-depth portraits of each man that by the end of the book, you feel like you know them personally. This is the best kind of history!

She begins by reviewing the men up for the Republication nomination in 1860. Four men felt it was their due and that the odds of being nominated were very good. 

Most prominent among them was William Seward. He was so popular in his native Auburn, NY, that even the Democratic paper declared "He is beloved by all classes of people, irrespective of partisan predilections." He had spent years in public service, and while he had made a few enemies with his radical reputation, by and large he was honored and respected. 

Governor of Ohio, Salmon Chase also wanted the job. However, in personality he was nothing like Seward. He neither drank nor smoked and considered novels and the theater a waste of time. He did however have one great asset, his beautiful daughter Kate. After the death of his wives, she ran his household and his political life. He had been introduced to the anti-slavery movement when he stood in the doorway and blocked a mob intent on tar and feathering an abolitionist publisher. His blunt manner won him few friends.  

Judge Edward Bates of Missouri had been persuaded to throw his name into the ring by his supporters, most notably the powerful, conservative Blair family. He was a loyal family man who enjoyed nothing more than to be at home with his wife and 8 surviving children. "O! it is a pleasure to work for such a family, to enjoy with them the blessings that God so freely gives," he declared. Politics was not his first love, but he was so respected and of such good character, he was the first choice of many.

None of these three considered Abraham Lincoln a serious contender. Although each was familiar with him, the lawyer from Springfield Illinois "scarcely had a national reputation, certainly nothing to equal any of the other three, who had served but a single term in Congress, twice lost bids for the Senate, and had no administrative experience whatsoever..." He was the darkest of horses, yet he would become "the greatest historical figure of the nineteenth century."

One thing that proved Lincoln's greatness was his decision to incorporate all three of his former rivals into his cabinet, as well as others that had opposed him. In fact, "every member of [his] administration was better known, better educated, and more experienced in public life than Lincoln... It soon became clear, however, that Abraham Lincoln would emerge the undisputed captain of this most unusual cabinet, truly a team of rivals. The powerful competitors who had originally disdained Lincoln became colleagues who helped him steer the country through its darkest days."

Seward was the man most felt would become the nominee. He felt he deserved it and was devastated by his loss to Lincoln. Lincoln knew to offer him anything other than the prestigious Secretary of State position would immediately be turned down. After a face-saving dance, Seward agreed and became Lincoln's closest confidant and friend. In fact, many thought Seward actually ran the show and Lincoln was the puppet. This was absolutely false because even Seward came to see Lincoln's greatness. He never lost his faith in Lincoln, even in the worst of the Union defeats. Seward's home would become a welcome respite, "where he was assured of good conversation and much-needed relaxation."

Chase was a no-nonsense, cantankerous man, raised with a hard childhood. He was the most tin-eared of all Lincoln's cabinet members, even trying to run for the nomination in 1864 while still serving as Secretary of the Treasury. Lincoln was constantly putting out fires where Chase was concerned, but he treasured and respected his secretary so much he put up with a lot. When it finally became too much and Lincoln had to ask for his resignation, he made sure to promise Chase a future as a judge. He kept that promise when the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court became available. Lincoln showed again and again a magnanimity that would earn him everlasting loyalty even when the other was defeated.  

Bates, who after leaving politics and devoting himself to family, was not impressed with Lincoln at first. But because of his experience as a judge, Lincoln tasked him with the job of Attorney General. This position required someone with absolute devotion to the causes and issues Lincoln proposed because so many fell in a legal gray area. He needed an attorney who could make Lincoln's actions Constitutional. It did not take long for Bates to fall under Lincoln's spell, although at times he could be in cahoots with Chase. 

Lincoln had encountered Edwin Stanton as a young lawyer. They were to work together on a case, with Stanton in the lead. A mix-up led to a great embarrassment for Lincoln. Despite this, Lincoln tapped Stanton as Secretary of War six years later. "Despite his initial contempt for the 'long armed Ape,' he would not only accept the offer but come to respect and love Lincoln more than any person outside of [Lincoln's] immediate family." After Lincoln's death, Stanton was inconsolable for weeks. 

All had come out in one form or another opposed to slavery. This is what made them Republicans. However, just being a Republican did not ensure unity. The Republicans had managed to sweep up all the "not-Democrats," including the old Whigs, the Know-Nothings, Free-Soilers, and the Radical abolitionists, as well as Democrats opposed to slavery. This rag-tag collection, then as now, was a big tent and some faction always needed pacifying. They ranged from the radical, war-mongering northern abolitionists, to the southern Conservatives who, although opposed to slavery, valued the union above all. Lincoln was the perfect man to bring them together. He could see all sides, even the secessionist position. Yet his firm belief in the idea that slavery must somehow end and in the constancy of the Union guided his every action. 

Lincoln needed a strong cabinet to weather the storm he inherited. Succession was declared by several states immediately upon Lincoln winning the presidency. The decision to try to hold onto Fort Sumpter in North Carolina led the South to fire the first shots in "a war... that no one imagined would last four years and cost greater than six hundred thousand lives. .. The devastation and sacrifice would reach into every community, into almost every family, in a nation of 31.5 million."

Despite enormous, unimaginable pressure, Lincoln held fast to his core beliefs. While he desired to end slavery, he knew the Constitution sanctioned it. He also knew that he could not legally end it without a Constitutional amendment, and if the South successfully succeeded, the amendment would have no effect there. Therefore, maintaining the Union took initial precedence. He stated, "I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is into an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves." The Founders knew our form of republican government was always an unprecedented experiment. Lincoln would not let that experiment fail on his watch. 

"More than any other cabinet member, Seward appreciated Lincoln's peerless skill in balancing factions both within his administration and in the country at large. While radicals considered Seward a conservative influence on the president, in truth, he and the president were engaged in the same task of finding a middle position between the two extremes -- the radical Republicans, who believed that freeing the slaves should be the primary goal of the war, and the conservative Democrats, who resisted any change in the status of the slaves and fought solely for the restoration of the Union."

With astonishing political skills, Lincoln waited for a long-delayed Union victory to declare his Emancipation Proclamation. He argued, that as war-making property of the South, the Union had the right to confiscate and free the southern slaves. Legally, this could not apply to the slave-holding border states not in rebellion. He did it with the motivation of ending the war quicker and pacifying the abolitionists as well as satisfying his own moral indignation concerning slavery. It was a brilliant piece of legal maneuvering, yet it was only a stopgap until the war ended. Shrewdly, he managed to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, at the tail end of the war when it was clear the South would lose and would therefore be back in the Union and could stop the amendment's ratification.  

Remarking on the secret of Lincoln's wonderful political skills, "John Forney of the Washington daily Chronicle... observed, that Lincoln was 'the most truly progressive man of the age, because he always moves in conjunction with propitious circumstances, not waiting to be dragged by the force of events or wasting strength in premature struggles with them.'" I cannot imagine a politician like this today. Undoubtedly, he would be hated by all sides.

Speaking at his death, Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, noted that while everyone was there, Abraham Lincoln was not. "All felt this." Goodwin goes on to state, "None felt that absence more keenly than the members of his cabinet, the remarkable group of rivals whom Lincoln had brought into his official family. They had fiercely opposed one another and often contested their chief on important questions, but, as Seward later remarked, 'a Cabinet which should agree at once on every such question would be no better or safer than one counsellor.' By calling these men to his side, Lincoln had afforded them an opportunity to exercise their talents to the fullest and to share in the labor and the glory of the struggle that would reunite and transform their country and secure their own places in posterity."

Goodwin goes into so much detail in the lives of all the men and women included in book. It was actually overwhelming. I wish I could include it all in this summary because its fascinating stuff. However, now that I have a sense of who these people are, it would be fun to go back and reread it. But at 754 pages, that seems unlikely!