Kevin Williamson to Working/Middle Class: Go Die in a Fire

Saw this excerpted at Hot Air earlier today and I was astounded by it. I wanted to get the whole article from National Review, but something was screwy with the website and it wouldn’t take my 25 cent payment for it, so I have to go on what is quoted rather than being able to read the entire article. At all events, Kevin Williamson over at National Review has this to say of the sort of people who are backing Trump – and how they view the world:

It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.

Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

If you want to live, get out of Garbutt.

I don’t know quite where to begin with this from a man who, to this point, has been one of the more intelligent observers of politics. Garbutt, for those who don’t know, is a small town in upstate New York. It’s main product in the past was gypsum – a material used in such things as plaster and drywall boards. Williamson’s point is that it is the fault of the people of places like Garbutt that their lives are miserable. They were morons who didn’t realize you can’t make a living out of gypsum and so should have just moved somewhere else and learned a new trade…like, I guess, moving to New York City and becoming investment bankers, art critics or, well, writers for major national publications. Here’s the thing, though: China produced 132,000,000 metric tons of gypsum in 2015. I have a guess that China would not produce that much gypsum if there wasn’t a market for it. Meanwhile, the United States produced a mere 11,000,000 metric tons of the stuff in 2015…but there lies the tiny town of Garbutt, sitting atop a mountain of gypsum and no one is mining it. Garbutt could be a fine, prosperous community based upon gypsum mining but for some reason we just don’t mine it there any more.

The exact why of it all is beyond my immediate knowledge. I’m sure it was a slow decline of the industry over time and a host of factors provided the reasons for the decline. Could have been bad business practices. Maybe labor troubles played their role. The mining companies might not have installed the latest and most efficient means of mining. Wouldn’t be at all surprised if taxes and regulations made it increasingly difficult to mine at a profit. But I’ll also bet that our various “free trade” agreements opened up our gypsum market to foreigners who sweat their labor and don’t give a darn about worker safety or environmental concerns. But whatever the reasons for the cessation of mining in Garbutt, we should be working to restore it – we use gigantic amounts of gypsum in the United States every year and as we clearly have lots of gypsum in our soil, it is pure idiocy to not take advantage of what we have. Why send our wealth to China for something we can obtain right here at home? And don’t try to lay on me a bunch of globalist nonsense about how China’s gypsum has to be cheaper and it is the mere workings of the free market which dictate gypsum comes from China and Garbutt becomes a dead town. It isn’t the blind hand of market economics which makes this happen – but the warping of economic life by government policy that does it; and warping which is often as not done at the behest of big business which isn’t at all interested in wise policy but in just getting a slightly larger profit.

Because we do, as a matter of fact, produce gypsum in the United States. Nevada produced just under 2.3 million metric tons of the stuff in 2014, representing a 40% increase over the year before. Clearly, good profits are available within the United States in gypsum mining. The conditions which allowed Nevada to produce that much gypsum could obviously be duplicated in New York – but they aren’t. Those jobs are gone, boys, and they ain’t coming back – so goes the old Springsteen song and so go plenty of people in the United States…curiously enough, it is always people who don’t do the jobs that ain’t coming back who assert in forthright terms they ain’t coming back. I wonder if we advised Mr. Williamson that his job is being sent to a guy in China who will do it for 40% of Williamson’s wages how he’d feel about it? After all, I’m sure we can get plenty of Chinese who are just as willing to tell large swaths of the American population they are just miserable failures. It’s just economics, Williamson – the blind hand of a completely free market, you dig?

But what about the immorality Williamson notes? True, our moral failures are all our own. We are created by God with free will and everyone is ultimately responsible for their own choices in life. But it wasn’t the people of places like Garbutt who demanded sex, drugs and rock and roll. That demand was created in places like New York City and Los Angeles by bored, rich people who wanted to spice up their dead, empty lives – and woe to anyone in Garbutt who even made a peep about not wanting it in their community. It is a curious thing we’ve seen for well more than a century – the least eccentricity of the rich must become a requirement among the poor. The rich wanted to live in Babylon, and so everyone must live in Babylon as well. Can’t have some rich guy being held up to moral censure, right? So, the vices a rich man can afford because of his wealth must also become vices among those who can’t afford them, at all. Think of it – the Hollywood producer who puts out pop culture garbage which glorifies bad choices can afford to send his drug addicted son to rehab and bail him out of jail time and again…but the poor slob in some small burg? Can’t do it – his son dies of a drug overdose, or becomes a serial jail bird. But let’s not have any nonsense about calling the purveyors of popular culture to account. After all, no one will want to censor it – but it’s not even that; we can’t even call it wrong to do…that would make people feel bad and, worse, it could lead to a drop off in sales of popular culture products. That, of course would be the worst possible thing – a lowering of profits in the corporations making the product.

Understand this – the support for Trump is precisely among those who have been victimized by a system they don’t control. No, there isn’t a Conspiracy making it happen – just rank immorality, as is always the case when things in human life go wrong. A host of factors have all played their role in destroying communities both economically and morally – and our job is not to arrogantly say, “too bad, so sad” but to identify where we went wrong and then fix it. It is not stupid to want small and mid-sized communities of hard working people. It is the only thing a Conservative should want, for crying out loud. What the heck does Williamson want to conserve? Manhattan? Sweated labor and bribery in the People’s Republic of China? What? Trump is, as I’ve said again and again, no answer to anyone’s problem but he or someone like him will continue to garner support as long as people who should have answers don’t provide them. And as 2016 has gone on, I’ve come more and more to the conclusion that a very large number of people on the alleged right don’t even want to try for an answer – they’ve got swell lives as it is and don’t want to rock the systemic boat which allows them to maintain their swell lives. But grab a clue – there are many, many more millions of people who are shut out than doing well…their numbers grow. Many of them have been suckered into voting Democrat because at least the Democrats say they care…but even that is wearing thin. Trump likely won’t get anywhere, even if he did manage to win the White House but if we on the right don’t start thinking about how to fix this broken nation then mark my words, some sort of authortarian dictator who says he or she will fix the problem will gain majority support in the United States.

And fixing this broken nation means, precisely, finding dignified, profitable work for people who are now out in the cold…and not just in dead mining communities like Garbutt, but in the hollowed out cities like Detroit. People don’t want to live without hope – either we give them real hope, or a tyrant will give them false hope. You can say all you want that the feeling of betrayal by Trumpsters and BLM people is based upon falsehood. It doesn’t matter – it is what they believe. And, truth be told, even if the over-arching narrative such people have is false on many points, it is based upon a true enough situation. A working or middle class African-American man can easily feel that the system is against him; that the cops are unfairly targeting him; that he can’t get out from underneath a byzantine set of laws. A working or middle class white man can also feel that the system is against him; that his job was sent to China for no good reason; that Corporate and government bosses are living high while he’s left with scraps. The two men live it, every day – telling them they are wrong to even think that way just insults them.

I think our best bet is to go to people where they are – listen to them, acknowledge their grief and propose solutions to the problems they think they have. I was out and about among the people today – just regular folks at the swap meet. Working people; people with families to support. If I’d been taking a poll, I bet I would have found two men who would be spoken of most highly among these people: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Neither Trump nor Sanders are what these people need – but they are what these people are going for, because no one else is even giving them the time of day. What’ll it be, folks: leave these people to demagogues who will use their rage as the path to personal power, or will we step up and provide them something better? It’s our choice, for now. Very soon, if we do nothing, it will be taken forever out of our hands and we’ll just have to endure what is chosen with no reference to us. One thing is certain in my view, if we just yell about how stupid they are for believing as they do, we’re going to lose.

UPDATE: After I had written this and pondered it for a while, it occurred to me just what I was trying in my very poor way to say – and then I recalled where I had read it before. Below the fold you’ll find it:

Here, it may be said, my book ends just where it ought to begin. I have said that the strong centers of modern English property must swiftly or slowly be broken up, if even the idea of property is to remain among Englishmen. There are two ways in which it could be done, a cold administration by quite detached officials, which is called Collectivism, or a personal distribution, so as to produce what is called Peasant Proprietorship. I think the latter solution the finer and more fully human, because it makes each man as somebody blamed somebody for saying of the Pope, a sort of small god. A man on his own turf tastes eternity or, in other words, will give ten minutes more work than is required. But I believe I am justified in shutting the door on this vista of argument, instead of opening it. For this book is not designed to prove the case for Peasant Proprietorship, but to prove the case against modern sages who turn reform to a routine. The whole of this book has been a rambling and elaborate urging of one purely ethical fact. And if by any chance it should happen that there are still some who do not quite see what that point is, I will end with one plain parable, which is none the worse for being also a fact.

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short. I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls, but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice. Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion. It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman’s daughter ought, if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister’s daughter. I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not. But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty. Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him, the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his little girl’s hair, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl’s hair. But he does not count.

Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological doctor drives gayly ahead. When a crapulous tyranny crushes men down into the dirt, so that their very hair is dirty, the scientific course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads of the tyrants; it is easier to cut off the hair of the slaves. In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children, screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or artistic gentleman, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor; if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him. But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor can walk into the house of a free man, whose daughter’s hair may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to cut it off. It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of lice in the slums is the wrongness of slums, not the wrongness of hair. Hair is, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Its enemy sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions like hair that we can test passing institutions like empires. If a house is so built as to knock a man’s head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.

The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, “Let them eat grass,” might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian. Those great scissors of science that would snip off the curls of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots. It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head. It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your hair on.

Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

It is most emphatically not we, the people who must adjust ourselves to society but society which must be adjusted to suit we, the people. First things first.

11 thoughts on “Kevin Williamson to Working/Middle Class: Go Die in a Fire

  1. Amazona March 13, 2016 / 9:59 pm

    I read the same thing and had a completely different take on it. For one thing, he never suggested that anyone “die in a fire”, nor did he say people should die at all. I read it as simply acknowledging that when a community was formed, or developed, around a specific industry or crop or activity and the reason for its formation is now gone, it is not necessary to struggle to keep the community alive.

    Some communities transition well into different industries or crops or whatever, and some do not. For example, I knew people who lived in a small town where at one time most of the people were involved in vermiculite mining and processing and shipping. When the big environmental tragedy developed in Libby, Montana (where it turned out that the vermiculite was in a matrix that included asbestos, and people were dying at an alarming rate till they figured it out) the bottom fell out of the vermiculite market. By the time the whole thing had been investigated and people learned to test the soil for asbestos, too many people had been freaked out by vermiculite, and the market never came back. In that case, the townspeople who loved it there recognized their choices—find a different way to make the town viable, or move. They were lucky in that their area was one of natural beauty, and they worked very hard to develop tourism, boutique organic farms and so on.

    But there is no reason to fight to keep a community alive if there is nothing to support it. Yes, people have to make hard choices sometimes. But there is a natural flow to society, and I see no obligation to sacrifice to keep a community intact if the reason for it being there in the first place isn’t there any more. The West has plenty of ghost towns to attest to the fact that sometimes when the world moves on, communities are left behind.

    Of course ” It is not stupid to want small and mid-sized communities of hard working people…” but it is foolish to think that such communities can be artificially sustained just because of a feeling that they should be. And the government has no responsibility for making sure than dying industries are replaced with something else. That is not the role of government, at least not of the federal government. It is fine for states and counties to do what they can, but the role of the federal government is finite and clear, and it has nothing to do with stepping in to try to alter or manipulate the natural flow of society.

    I have lived this, by the way. If we had not moved to a larger town, there would have been seven in my graduating class. At a recent wedding reception some of us were lamenting the loss of the local school, which had all 12 grades in one building. But the small farming communities recognized that they could not justify separate schools or post offices, and they consolidated to build a larger school that served them all. The communities themselves are still there, but as bedroom communities for the larger nearby town and for many retired farmers whose children have taken over the farms but who don’t want to leave the area.

    And even with the decline of neighborhoods in big cities, it is up to the states to figure out what went wrong and try to reverse it. As for Garbutt, their problems might be due to cheap imports, but there might be other factors as well. As one who has driven past Gypsum, Colorado, many times and seen it maintain itself and even grow, I know that China has not destroyed the gypsum market. Maybe the weather is better than in upstate New York so they can operate more days of the year. I don’t know.

    But I am really getting tired of people complaining about things that can be traced back to their own stupid decisions, such as voting for Progressives who then quite predictably damage or destroy the economy, and then instead of actually trying to understand what happened just latch onto the first snake oil salesman to come along who promises a SHAZAAM !!! presidency in which he, the master of all, will by the sheer force of his incredible wonderfulness make all the bad go away so it will all be so beautiful and everyone will be happy.

    What with all the nonstop “analysis” of why supposedly smart people are for Trump, it all comes down to lazy people wanting easy answers to difficult problems, done by someone else if they just put him in charge.

    • M. Noonan March 13, 2016 / 11:39 pm

      It was a little extreme, that title – but my position is that the small and mid-sized towns are not dead because of immutable laws of economics, but precisely because of stupid decisions…and, sure enough, some of those decisions originate right in the small and mid-sized towns. But it the town mentioned could well live and prosper off of gypsum…its not like it is a town built on whale oil, which is no longer needed, at all…it was built on gypsum, which we use in the tens of millions of metric tons per year. I had mentioned the town of Ione in the other post – that town is dead (and fascinating to visit, if you’ve got a lot of time and don’t mind going to the middle of nowhere for a while…its like a time capsule circa 1910…) because the valuable product it was built around ran out. To try and keep that town alive would be silly…it is on no major trade corridor and it has nothing of great value either on or under the ground. But for Garbutt the valuable product is still there. And, as I noted, it is possible to mine that product at a good profit in the United States as Nevada mines buckets of it every year…and it is also clear that Nevada doesn’t mine nearly enough to meet America’s needs (let alone the needs of the world). As it is a valuable product and it is still there and the technology exists to extract it at a profit, there is zero good reason for Garbutt to be dead…it should be thriving. Our job, in my view, is to identify why it isn’t being mined and then change whatever it is that is preventing the mining.

      And it is also in our best interest, as Conservatives, to figure this sort of thing out and correct it. Our nation cannot live without making things. I’ve run across plenty of people who think we can keep 317 million people fed by consulting and doing finance. It can’t be done. And I further don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be the world leader in every single sort of human effort – unless a particular product is simply not available in the United States, then our production of said product should be the most efficient and cost-effective in the world…and if it isn’t, then the thing to do is not throw up our hands, but find out what we’re doing wrong and correct it. And in addition to the basic health of the United States, there is also the basic health of the body politic to consider…a nation which does not produce – which does not, that is, find useful work for that vast swath of humanity which cannot or will not consult or run a bank – is a nation which will not ever be Conservative. It is only hard working, sober families which can make a nation Conservative…all the theory in the world isn’t worth a nickle if there’s no one it actually applies to.

      • Amazona March 14, 2016 / 9:59 am

        I agree that the nation must manufacture and sell goods to be economically viable. However, I think the role of the federal government must be general—its job is to create and preserve an economic climate in which people can thrive. But if another nation can compete with us because of its own economic climate—low wages or more natural resources, for example—our government can’t step in and try to tinker with that.

        High tariffs are a good example. As we learned in the 30s, if we jack up our tariffs on imported goods to try to force people to buy domestically produced goods, we are very likely to see retaliation such as we saw then, with other nations slapping high tariffs on goods from the United States. That seemingly good idea resulted in sharply reducing our exports and affecting the balance of trade, having the opposite effect on industry than what was the goal.

        We are a mess because we try to use government to advance both social and economic agendas, not realizing that every act is likely to have its own Unintended Consequences. The only thing the federal government should do is do less. That is, remove excessive regulations, reduce taxes so there is more incentive to produce, and stop subsidizing failure.

      • M. Noonan March 14, 2016 / 11:31 pm

        Oh, I’ll bet 90% of our industrial decline has been the result of unintended consequences. Take taxation – we want taxes to pay for the cornucopia of liberal goods, but after a while the tax burden becomes so large it kills the goose which was laying the golden eggs…but try to explain that to a Prog!

        I start with the ideal – and the ideal is that if it can be made in the United States, it should be. Now, if it isn’t being made here, my view is we must discover why. Perhaps after study we will find there are profound issues which we can’t get around – but I’ll bet that in most cases, we’ll find that we were just being variously stupid and just a few fixes to taxes, regulations and trade treaties would give us a fair shot at it.

      • Amazona March 15, 2016 / 12:38 pm

        I am not arguing here, but asking. Sometimes a question is just a search for an answer.

        What happened to the steel industry? Was it union dominance that made the production of steel non-competitive? When I look at the lack of American-made small tools such as hammers, I wonder if that is related to the inability to find or buy top-grade steel here in the United States.The thing is, we’re not getting top-grade steel in our imported tools, either.

        We’ve seen the impact of union corruption and extravagance on the American auto industry and though it is recovering a good American pickup now costs in the range of $50,000-70,000 while quality has not gone up enough to justify the price. How much of this is due to unions, how much to federal interference? (I have repeatedly been told that the Ford fiasco of their 6.0 diesel is because they were too rushed to try to meet federal restrictions to do enough engineering and testing, resulting in an engine that if properly cleaned would make a good boat anchor. If you don’t believe me, come buy mine. No one else will.)

        We can see the impact of politics on the energy providers, with the coal industry taking a massive hit putting many out of work and communities refusing to allow fracking (while eager to welcome the dollars earned by people who work in the petroleum industry which is supported by fracking).

        BTW, though I can see (I think) some of what Williamson is trying to get at, I think it was a very poorly thought-out article and unnecessarily inflammatory, It struck me as a knee-jerk response to something that bothered him, and I wish he had not written it, as it is not productive and if anything is harmful as it is considered to be written by one of those callous, hard-hearted “conservatives”.

      • M. Noonan March 15, 2016 / 6:40 pm

        And I admit that some of what I wrote in response was knee-jerk!

        I think the primary culprit in the decline of American heavy industry is that we sat on our hands. Remember, in 1945 most of the industrial capacity of the world had been blown to pieces by World War Two. Germany and Japan, especially, were cratered waste lands. If you wanted something manufactured, you pretty much had to turn to the United States – and, of course, our domestic demand was starting to skyrocket as kids were born and people started spending the money they had saved in the booming defense industries during war time (rationing and lack of consumer goods had meant a fabulous savings rate for Americans during the war). We didn’t have to seriously innovate in the way we did things – the Germans and the Japanese did for the simple reasons that what they had before was blown up and even with American aid, financing was difficult to come by. It was even worse, by the way, for the United Kingdom – while they had suffered much damage during the war, they weren’t nearly as blown to bits as Germany and Japan but their industrial plant was even more out of date than ours…and they made no move to correct it (I can still remember the news stories from the late 1970’s which showed British textile mills using machinery which had been installed in the late 19th century!). It took about 20 years for the world to rebuild itself and it was around the mid-60’s that American heavy industry started to feel a real pinch from foreign competition…but that was masked a bit by the way we were spending on the Vietnam War, NASA and other big-ticket, industry-dependent items. The gas crisis of the 70’s ripped the mask off…but rather than gather our strength and invest in new industrial technologies, we started to print up money to buy what we needed from cheap-labor economies. It’s all been a downward spiral since then.

        And, to be sure, taxes, regulations, labor unions and a host of other factors played their role – but the bottom line for me is that when faced with the real problem, we turned away and went for less painful solutions.

      • Bob Eisenhower March 15, 2016 / 1:30 pm


        I’m with you, we need to make and mine and whatnot.

        The fact is, there are still people who own that dead gypsum mine. They are stuck with it and would love it if they could mine profitably, so clearly they cannot.

        I do not agree 90% of costs are taxes and etc. In any business, other than cost of goods, payroll is the biggest expense. If the Chinese pay 90% less that is paid in the US, you simply cannot compete. Even adding in shipping cost, which is minimal per-unit due to scale.

        What tax code changes or otherwise can you describe that overcomes competing against someone whose biggest expense is discounted by 90%?

        Until we enslave workers those jobs ain’t coming back.

        Oh, and all hail President Trump.

      • M. Noonan March 15, 2016 / 6:50 pm

        Chinese labor costs are increasing and Chinese workers are no where nearly as productive as American workers. It is true that we can’t in absolute terms beat China in labor costs, but we can certainly do better than we have been doing…there are vast additional costs which we have blithely set upon American industry which may be reduced or eliminated. We do have some remarkable advantages over China, after all – not just that our workers are more productive, but also in things like our energy costs, which are lower than China’s and could be vastly lower if Obama hadn’t spent the last 8 years doing his best to hamstring American oil and natural gas (and shutting down cheap coal power when there isn’t any alternative available). I’ve read about some manufacturing returning to the United States from China, after all – because our infrastructure is better; because doing business in China requires a byzantine navigation of an arbitrary, bribe-demanding government; because our energy costs are lower; because the materials needed for manufacturing can be found more cheaply in the United States (it does astonish me how such a large nation as China can be so resource-poor…but, there it is…they don’t have much. Their coal is pure crap; they can’t grow the best sorts of cotton; they have no large domestic oil or natural gas reserves…).

        As I’ve said, it might be that once we’ve really looked hard at a situation that we can’t do a particular thing – but I’d like us to take that look and see what can be done. To get back to gypsum – we know we have a lot of that in our soil; we know it can be mined at a profit…but why are we not producing even a 10th of the Chinese amount? It’s simply got to be that we’re not trying – that we’re not setting the table in a way which makes it attractive. And I suspect that a lot of the reason is that it’s not economically sexy…gypsum mining! Booooring! I mean, like, for sure…who wants to mine gypsum? Dude, it is soooo old fashioned! That, seriously, I what I think the attitude of our elites is about such things. Investment banking; think-tanking, writing…that is where the fun, cool people make their living! And, so, we’d better grease the skids for them…and those who work in gypsum mining? Well, it’s not like you’re going to run into them at Martha’s Vineyard, right?

      • Amazona March 15, 2016 / 3:37 pm

        I agree, payroll is the biggest single expense for most businesses, but that goes back to what outside influences impact payroll.

        “The following states have a Right to Work law:

        Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

        Under federal labor law and the state’s Right to Work law, you have the right to resign from membership in a union at any time. If you resign from membership, you may not be able to participate in union elections or meetings, vote in collective bargaining ratification elections, or participate in other “internal” union activities. If you resign, you cannot be disciplined by the union for any post-resignation conduct.

        I am surprised—I thought Colorado was a RTW state. We don’t have a really strong union presence here. Clearly, any union requirements for wages, benefits, etc. are going to affect the bottom line of a company, and in an industry with a slim profit margin, as I suspect gypsum mining to be, this could be the make-or-break element.

        Then there are regulations. As an example: for decades some solitary types eked out modest livings by mining small gold and silver claims in the Rockies. Then the government imposed the same regulations on any mine, of any size, which put these tiny businesses out of business. I was never aware of any cave-ins or other accidents in these little mines, which were worked by only one person or at the most two people. That’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other are bigger businesses having to deal with Obamacare and other government regulations.

        Ever try to fire someone? It is basically like strapping on a target and standing in front of a firing line. We had someone who just didn’t show up for work, without calling in, without any notice, who then applied for unemployment. In the hearing he admitted that no one told him he was fired, but because a friend had been he thought he might be so he just quit coming to work. And he still got unemployment. I have held onto employees who were not good for my business because of fears of lawsuits. A friend who is wealthy had to pay out a seven figure sum to get out of a lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by another employee—not even by the boss— toward an employee who was fired. There was not only no evidence, there was ample evidence and testimony that she had been coming on to the alleged perpetrator, who rejected her advances and avoided being alone with her, but the tone of the judicial system where my friend lived had her terrified of going to court and losing even more money. That’s a cost of doing business for more and more people.

        So “payroll” is more than just paying out what someone has agreed to work for, and in many cases is an area that could be cut by strategies such as reducing regulations and reforming the judicial system, which has absolutely nothing to do with justice.

        Try getting a loan to start a new business. It can’t be done. If you can’t self-finance, you are SOL. That is due to regulations on lending institutions.

      • Bob Eisenhower March 15, 2016 / 4:07 pm


        All your points are valid but even if you somehow stripped away all the onerous costs of American labor – taxes, unions, etc. – you are not going to get labor costs lower than slavery. As long as the Chinese (and other nations) practice large-scale de facto slavery, civilized nations cannot compete.

      • Bob Eisenhower March 15, 2016 / 6:17 pm

        They have suicide nets at the factories that build iPhones and the American worker is to compete with that? Cause that’s what it would take to build an iPhone in America at current market rates.

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