Sunday, October 05, 2014

Book Review: The Wilder Shores of Marx: Journeys in a Vanishing World

The Wilder Shores of Marx visits five countries which still labor under systems inspired by the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and other luminaries of the left.
The most decisive thing that’s happened in my political lifetime,’ said John Howard in a 2009 interview, ‘is the collapse of Soviet imperialism. It dwarfs anything else.’ This is significant from Howard, whose political life covers nearly half a century.
His observation, however, is lost on a generation of younger Australians. Certainly, oppressive regimes exist today but are fewer in number, while command and control economics have been trounced by liberal market capitalism and globalization. For anyone under forty the idea of growing up on a planet of rivaling superpowers with conflicting ideologies is no doubt strange.
Tearing around New Zealand on a recent trip I found time to wade through Theodore Dalrymple’s The Wilder Shores of Marx. Dalrymple first published this back in 1991 after visiting the heights and ruins of communism in Albania, North Korea, Romania, Vietnam and Cuba. With usual wit and insight, he elucidates both the absurdity and grimness of life under the banner of Marxist-Leninism.
The absurdities are endless. An Albanian phrase book, for example, reminds him of a 1986 visit to Soviet-influenced Somalia where the travel pages brimmed with useful phrases such as ‘pass me the Opera glasses please.’ Somalia was, at this time, in the throes of a cholera epidemic. Kim Jong Il sank eleven holes-in-one on his first day of golf and his birth was, supposedly, foretold by a swallow. Fidel Castro once rose for a toast when dining with guests in Havana and, ten hours later, finally took his seat.
With these comical accounts one can almost lose sight of an ideological system estimated to have killed 94 million people (some feel this estimate is too low). And the less exquisite details about communism, especially in the Soviet Union, weren't well-understood or broadcast until after the Cold War.
There were, however, some that knew of the deception and tyranny. Here, for example, is a telling extract from the historian Robert Conquest’s Wikipedia: In fact many leading ‘thinkers’ journeyed from the West to the Soviet Union and left excited and impressed. ‘For decades,’ writes Dalrymple, ‘they blinded themselves to the obvious.’ We can add to this list the Australian historian Manning Clarke.
After the opening up of the Soviet archives in 1991, detailed information was released that Conquest argued supported his conclusions. When Conquest’s publisher asked him to expand and revise The Great Terror, Conquest is famously said to have suggested the new version of the book be titled I Told You So, You Fucking Fools.
Today the horrors of communism are so tragic they’re hard to fathom, especially for a younger generation who have known slim alternatives to freedom and prosperity. Che Guevara shirts are sported with ignorance by some while, for others, the modern imperfections of representative democracy are comparable to life in Pyongyang.

Patrick Derocher – Can the GOP Win Over Hipsters?

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his home borough of Brooklyn are nothing if not shorthand for the policies espoused by the burgeoning populist wing of the Democratic Party. (Generally in a less than positive way.)

Separately, the same borough has become synonymous with hipster culture and its affinity for fixed-gear bicycles, obscure music, and putting birds on things. (The de Blasio – hipster connection has not gone unnoticed.) Intuitively, the link makes some sense; hipster enclaves like Chicago’s Wicker Park, Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties, and the entire city of Portland, Ore. represent some of the bluest and most culturally liberal parts of the country.

 But what if instead of treating hipsters with derision, Republicans embraced the trend? Although conservatives often chafe at the trappings of hipsterdom, including esoteric coffees, vintage and faux-vintage clothing, and $15 artisanal cocktails, the fact remains that every quirky brunch spot, every reclaimed furniture shop, and every combination coffee shop/craft beer bar is a business, many of them small, and all of them employing people. Moreover, these are all instances of individual entrepreneurs who saw a need in the market and in their community, and seized the opportunity to fill that need while employing others, growing the local economy, and, yes, turning a profit. These are values Republicans have espoused for years, and we should champion them wherever they provide benefit to communities. Regardless of the beards.

 Beyond individual businesses and their employees, the hipster ethic has the potential to transform entire neighborhoods and cities, and Brooklyn is perhaps the best example of this. Twenty years ago, the borough was a pariah, abandoned on the crime-ridden outskirts of New York City culture. Now, it represents the most sought-after brand in the city, and is the fastest-growing borough in terms of both population and economic strength. Though Brooklyn represents a somewhat extreme example of this shift, it exists on a much smaller scale: further upstate in New York, Ballston Spa has transformed from a case study in post-industrial economic stagnation to a thriving community of small, unique businesses and entrepreneurs who have poured their time, energy, and passions into rejuvenating their economy. (To be clear, this is no defense of the faux-entrepreneurs who spot an easy opportunity to co-opt hipness solely for their own gain). Moreover, there is reason to believe that Republican fiscal and regulatory policies can and will appeal to entrepreneurial 20- and 30-somethings.

For starters, more small business owners means more people with an incentive for lower taxes, and while this is not a uniformly Republican demographic, they are by and large more pragmatic in their politics and less likely to be straight-ticket voters. On a more micro level, GOP initiatives like the Uber petition serve to bring free-market solutions to immediately relatable problems that urban voters encounter on a daily basis. In the longer term, school choice has the potential to be strong selling point to a generation of individualist entrepreneurs getting ready to send their children off to school.

A hipster-inspired model of small-scale economic investments has the potential to be a template for economic growth in struggling cities across the country, and the Republican Party would be wise to encourage it.


About the Author: Patrick Derocher is a native Upstate New Yorker and graduate of Fordham University.  In his spare time, he enjoys bike rides, the more obscure fiction of C.S. Lewis, and all manner of trivia.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Case for Urban School Vouchers

Urban public schools are failing tremendously. The causes: a lack of school competition, a greater percentage of kids with learning disabilities, and insufficient parental supervision. It cannot only be poverty, the fallacy we have been trained to accept, because developing countries have well educated kids. The reality is: urban youth take a look around, and realize that their success cannot be measured by their surroundings, in turn; they do whatever seems necessary to change those surroundings, as fast as possible.

Some sell drugs. To those that do, it leads to a quick fix. The goal: make enough money to move out of the ghetto. This –despite however lucrative the trade is– is by its very nature a rather dangerous career choice. No more dangerous than joining the military or becoming a police officer –because you are surrounded by elements of extreme risk– but dangerous none the less.

Fixing urban schools is not an easy task. Democrats are ardent supporters of the public school system. In suburban areas, where population density is less stagnant, this makes sense. But In Urban school districts, where teachers become outnumbered by the demands of their students, “it’s retarded,” to borrow a phrase from urban vernacular. Instead of trying to fix the public school system, which has met with little to remote success, Republicans focus on giving urban youth a decent education through school choice.

School choice programs offer learning opportunities in a better, and more stable environment; an environment that can foster student growth, enhance achievement, and produce outcomes that parents can be proud of. When Democrats fight against school choice and voucher programs they are inevitably saying to urban youth, we will pay for you to get a bad education to ensure that we get re-elected. Republicans say, a good education is better than gold. Voucher programs give students the ability to attend schools outside of bad neighborhoods at an affordable price.

HHR Book Review: Dennis Kimbro on Black Wealth Creation

Dennis Kimbro, The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires, New York, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan

In 1955, when Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus boycott, there were only five Black millionaires in the United States. There are now 35,000. Dennis Kimbro has done a great service for those aspiring to similar heights in his latest book The Wealth Choice. These pages aren’t just for black Americans but anyone interested in sustaining the values for wealth creation and carving a path to prosperity.
In his years interviewing and profiling black millionaires Kimbro purposely avoided the ultra-rich – entertainers like Oprah and Jay-Z. Black Americans, he feels, need to emulate the everyday successes built away from the spotlight. And the economic stats on Black America suggest there hasn’t been a more crucial time to promote the message of wealth creation:
  • The median wealth of White households is 20 times that of Black households
  • Nearly one-third of White households own 401(k) or thrift savings accounts, compared with less than one-fifth of African American households
  • Approximately 35 percent of African Americans had no wealth or were in debt in 2009
  • Twenty-four percent of African Americans spend more than their income compared with only 14 percent of all Americans
Early in the book Kimbro emphasises that wealth isn’t about cold hard cash or mindless materialism. ‘Wealth and abundance are not measured in terms of possessions and money,’ he writes, ‘but in relationships, values, knowledge, and action; in what we do, not what we know.’

These are things that can obviously grow in the absence of money. ‘I was wealthy when I was dead broke,’ as one of Kimbro’s respondents said. ‘I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew I’d do it. It was only a matter of time.’

The importance of finding a passion is central to wealth. 70 percent of his respondents, for example, agreed with this adage: ‘Do what you love and the money will follow.’

And decent financial habits – prudent spending, limited extravagance and so forth – aren’t a part time gig but central to the millionaires Kimbro surveyed. ‘They don’t implement wealth-generating habits only when they feel the need to do so; rather, they habitually live in a state of wealth.’

When asked to list the keys to their success, millionaires rank hard work first, followed by education. The majority of those profiled, for example, rise at 5.30am and retire at 11pm. ‘Millionaires,’ Kimbro notes, ‘are five times more likely to say they are always available for business by e-mail or phone and three times more likely to admit that they regularly work evenings and weekends.’

Education doesn’t always consist of certificates or testamurs but means constantly growing and absorbing information. In fact, as Kimbro said in one interview, many millionaires only began their education once they finished university. This reminded me of Stephen Fry’s witty underscore that an education is what you get in the time between classrooms and tutorials.

Ideally, The Wealth Choice should be absorbed with some more practical financial tips, especially if you’re a young person. For example, when turning the pages I was reminded of Ramit Sethi’s advice, which promotes automating your savings and focusing on big wins rather than financially eeking your way through life.

Regardless, The Wealth Choice is a good philosophical building block and a recommended read for anyone.


About the Author: Sean Jacobs is an Australian and co-founder of New Guinea Commercea website he runs in his spare time which promotes good governance, economic growth and next generation leadership in the Indo-Pacific. He has previously worked as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development to Fiji, a consultant to the United Nations in Papua New Guinea and as a federal policy adviser in the area of national security. He currently lives in Brisbane, Australia.