Review of “This my Story” by Louis Francis Budenz

August 31, 2011

Budenz was Communist and became an anti-Communist and this book is his memoirs.

When I think of former-Communist memoirs, I think of Witness. The story in Witness is much simpler. Chambers was a Soviet agent and he became a Conservative. That’s a narrative that both sides can easily comprehend.

Budenz’s story will make you more uncomfortable. His political ideology doesn’t seem to change at all as he moves from Catholicism to Communism (as a Soviet agent) and then back to Catholicism (as an active anti-Communist). Communism for him, is completely synonymous with the positions of the Soviet Union. Eventually he leaves "Communism" and becomes a Catholic. Again, at no point do any of his political opinions seem to change – if they did, he apparently didn’t think it worth mentioning in his memoirs.

Frankly, the memoir isn’t that good. It’s somewhat jumbled and much of it is about his Catholic beliefs, which are not extraordinary. It’s the whole "working for the Soviets" bit that’s interesting. He’s somewhat cagey on these details. So, instead of trying to make sense of his writings, I’ll just summarize the interesting anecdotes.

Budenz starts his political career in the labor movement. He uses "labor movement" and "progressive movement" interchangeably and notes that this movement was dominated by Communists in the ’30s and ’40s, by which he means paid agents of the Soviets. He’s shocked during this time to find out the whole labor movement is basically a front for Soviet interests. This fact is discussed openly by Earl Browder, who is the first person Budenz encounters who is really open about the Communist agenda.

There’s a funny story in the book about Budenz using the "Don’t Tread on me Flag" as part of labor movement propaganda. The Communists at the time eventually latched on to it as well, along with the slogan "Communism is Twentieth-Century Americanism." Good stuff.

Anyway, here’s how Budenz characterizes the various socialist movements of the early ’30s:

The Norman Thomas Socialists were moving toward the extreme Left, which embraces a sort of pacifism. The Social Democrat Federation, more realistic and serviceable to labor – although more set in its methods – had abandoned independent political expression as a party. The Debs Socialists, who were ever inclined to their own peculiar "American" way of talking and acting, were moving into the Democratic Party."

The actual policies of "Communism" – remember Budenz uses the term as synonymous with the policies of the Soviets – is changing constantly throughout this time period. Budenz moves into it as it doesn’t work against what he believes the US should be doing and moves out of it as it appears to solely advance Stalin’s goals. For example, Budenz gets excited when the Communists relax their opposition to uniquely American forms of socialism (for lack of a better world). Budenz wants to unite "forward-looking groups" regardless of national origin and nation differences. When the Communists get too-pro-Soviet, he balks.

One of Budenz favorite themes as a Communist writer was to compare Communists to Abolitionists. One of his favorite pieces was an editorial written on this subject on the anniversary of John Brown’s death in 1935. I can’t find the article, but I bet it’s worth a read.

When Budenz was editor of the Midwest Daily Record – a Communist newspaper – he was particularly happy that Harry Hopkins and Adolph Sabath were subscribers and admirers. He seemed to have had lots of conversations with "friends of Harry Hopkins" and his views seemed to show up later in statements and actions by FDR. I’m sure this is purely coincidental though.

There’s an interesting paragraph in the book in which Budenz’s spy ring is informed of Truman’s attitude to the Soviets. They begin by noting that Truman plays card with Harley Kilgore and Senator Wallgren, both of whom were "considered friends of the Soviet Union." It was also taken as a given that Hugh De Lacy (or here – for a very different description) could influence Wallgren "in the right, pro-Soviet direction." In the end however, these promising signs didn’t pan out. The best they could conclude was that Truman "is uncertain, wishy-washy and can only be frightened into pro-Soviet action by charging that he is not doing what Roosevelt would have done." Heh, the methods of the bureaucracy don’t seem to have changed much since the ’40s.

There’s also some interesting discussion of the Soviet efforts to get General MacArthur removed. Of course, MacArthur was eventually removed by Truman, but this is also surely coincidental.

Budenz never comes across as sympathetic in any way. He doesn’t seem repentant for any of his activities (maybe briefly for his involvement in the Trotsky’s killing, but it’s hard to say). Frankly, by the end of the book, I was glad it was over – he was making me uncomfortable.

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Randoms

August 31, 2011

"When you live in the ghetto, this stuff happens" – Marion Barry

Mangan on Greg Clark on the ruling class.

Is this re-de-segregation?

Did we put al Qaeda in charge in Libya?


It ain’t the ’30s anymore

August 31, 2011

As best I can tell, all of the most prominent economists who (we’re assured) know how to get us out of the current recession, are experts on the Great Depression.

Let’s stipulate for argument’s sake that these guys are experts on the Great Depression and that if we were magically transported back in time to the America of the ’30s they could centrally plan our way out of an economic crisis.

Did I say centrally plan? I meant to say centrally bank, sorry. When you spend lots of time reading old books, you get your euphemisms confused.

Many people have observed that the current economic crisis is not identical to the Great Depression in important ways. Many of these observations are true and many are not, but they’re all boring and beside the point.

The modern central banking framework is designed to solve the Great Depression. Unfortunately for modern economists, America of the 2010s is not America of the 1930s in lots of important ways.

I’d like to start with an anecdote, since modern economists don’t like them. I have an uncle who was a cabinet-maker for the last 20+ years. He was laid off when the housing bubble collapsed. Let’s compare the ’30s version of my uncle with the modern version.

In the ’30s if a cabinet-maker was laid off, he was qualified for approximately 90% of the jobs in the US economy (I made up that number, but I doubt it’s off by too much). In today’s economy, he’s qualified for approximately 50% of the jobs in the US economy. However, this misses the bigger picture which is that many of the jobs that he’s qualified for today are vastly inferior to his old job (in reality, I’d argue, but in his opinion for sure). Being a waiter or a cashier just isn’t the same a building cabinets.

Central bank stimulus today then will not spur hiring in the same way that it would have in the ’30s, as modern labor is no where near as interchangeable as it was in the ’30s.

My uncle spent a few years being re-educated so that he could work in the healthcare sector. His new job was in no way created by the fact that interest rates were low, perhaps besides the fact that it may have made it cheaper for him to go back to school. He thanks the taxpayers for all the money they gave him while he was being re-educated though.

It gets worse. The Fed can’t control which sectors of the economy will be spurred by lower interest rates. In the ’30s, this didn’t matter too much because almost all sectors were relatively labor-intensive compared to today’s economy. Today, low rates are more likely to spur innovative sectors of the economy (see all the stories on the rise of a new tech bubble). These sectors employ virtually no one like my uncle.

The US economy has not been short on cheap, low-skilled labor for a long time. The areas of the economy that would employ moderately-skilled guys like my uncle don’t really have room to expand at this point. The same thing may be happening with housing. At this point, if low interest rates were going to make you buy a house, you would have done so sometime since interest rates were historically low starting in 2002. There are no decent homebuyers left who haven’t already bought a house. They’ve all bought homes. Similarly, there may be no new good industries that will employ lots of low-skilled workers that haven’t already started – low-skilled labor has been prevalent and cheap for a long time and interest rates have been low for ages.

Low interest rates may actually discourage this sort of job creation, as in today’s economy low interest rates may encourage firms to buy expensive machinery that replace actual human laborers.

I can’t help but mention increased low-skilled immigration and increased free trade as contributors to this problem as well. The US has been actively exporting low-skilled work overseas (this is the point of free trade). This policy may be good if you have a population of static abilities and skills, but the US has also actively been importing more un-skilled laborers (effectively open immigration). So we’re simultaneously importing more competition for the type of jobs we’re having trouble creating and exporting more of the supply of the sort of jobs that we want to create.

The problem of employed, frankly, dumb people is not going away. In fact, it will get worse over time. We’re not allowed to talk about this and this, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not happening.

The aspect of the economy that’s more difficult to control is the habits of savers. If you saved money in the ’30s you basically had to put it in a bank – the government can use monetary policy to control what happens to money in banks. Today, savers have much more control over what they invest in. Inflation therefore, won’t make me spend my savings today like it would have in the ’30s – now I can buy gold and other currencies too easily.


Red pills for Ferd

August 29, 2011

I enjoy Ferdinand’s writing (here and here), but a few of his recent posts are badly mistaken, IMHO.

First, in this post, he argues that we need a guaranteed minimum income. Here’s the meat of his argument:

A guaranteed minimum income, funded by radically progressive income and wealth taxes, and replacing all other existing government entitlement programs, is the only way to keep the economy from collapsing. It will also be more efficient and more fair than the existing welfare state, which is why that well-known Marxist radical Milton Friedman was a proponent of it. Production without consumption is as worthless as a mouth without an anus, and with automation destroying more jobs than are being created, options for maintaining balance are running out.

Production without consumption may or may not be worthless, but my money is on Kipling:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;

But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don’t work you die."

Anyway, there are two theories about the effects of massive welfare programs, and they are as follows:

Blue Pill: Welfare programs help the poor and reduce social strife.

Red Pill: Welfare programs keep the poor in poverty and purchase the political support of the poor and allow the elites to use the poor to ensure the elite’s policies are implemented.

While Ferdinand makes fun of libertarians, conservatives and liberals, it’s worth pointing out that all mainstream members of each group believe in the blue pill version of the effects of welfare. Only fringe elements of conservatism and libertarianism (both descendents of the Old Right) believe that welfare is specifically designed to purchase political support from and impoverish it’s recipients. These elements have been completely marginalized for the last 50+ years.

In addition, if you understand HBD, you understand that such a massive welfare program in a diverse country, is a recipe for increased strife, not less strife. A guaranteed income program in a diverse nation is a program under which certain racial groups will – for all intents and purposes – be guaranteeing the incomes of people in other racial groups. This is not a recipe for stability.

This point brings us to Ferd’s other piece that I have a problem with. Here’s the meat of this post:

The fact of the matter is is that if you really, truly have accepted the reality of human biodiversity and IQ, you have to support some kind of welfare state. How big a welfare state is debatable, but if you aren’t simply parroting hereditarian viewpoints because you want to be edgy and shock your parents, you have to think about this carefully. An effective government is the only tool capable of keeping morons from doing moronic things and impacting the lives of us non-morons.

Again, as I just wrote, this is nearly perfectly wrong. In a diverse society, stability is not achieved by taking money from one racial group and transferring it to another – which, if you accept HBD, is the likely outcome of Ferd’s policy. Here’s another dose of reality:

Blue Pill: in a diverse society, stability is achieved by programs designed to promote equality

Red Pill: in a diverse society, efforts to promote equality will backfire due to innate differences across groups, thus stability can only be achieved through strong but small government

A strong government and free-markets are not incompatible. In fact, a non-welfare state, a strong government, and mostly free markets may be the only way to achieve stable government in a diverse society:

The state’s attitude can be simply put: being poor here is your own fault. Citizens are obliged to save for the future, rely on their families and not expect any handouts from the government unless they hit rock bottom. The emphasis on family extends into old age: retired parents can sue children who fail to support them. In government circles “welfare” remains a dirty word, cousin to sloth and waste. Singapore may be a nanny state, but it is by no means an indulgent nanny.

Do read the whole article. In Singapore, if the Chinese had to subsidize the Malays on an ongoing basis, the results would not be pretty.


Randoms

August 29, 2011

"One day climate change skeptics will be seen in the same negative light as racists, or so says former Vice President Al Gore." Here. I think he’s probably right.

Here are two completely unrelated headlines:

1) Buffett To Co-Host Obama Fundraiser In NYC

2) Buffett to Invest $5 Billion in Shaky Bank of America

I really can’t stress how un-related the headlines are.

For alternative perspectives, here’s Bronte Capital on Bank of America. And here’s Carlyle:

Great is Bankruptcy: the great bottomless gulf into which all Faslehoods, public and private, do sink, disappearing; whither, from the first origin of them, they were all doomed. For Nature is true and not a lie. No lie you can speak or act but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a Bill drawn on Nature’s Reality, and be presented there for payment,–with the answer, No effects. Pity only that it often had so long a circulation: that the original forger were so seldom he who bore the final smart of it! Lies, and the burden of evil they bring, are passed on; shifted from back to back, and from rank to rank; and so land ultimately on the dumb lowest rank, who with spade and mattock, with sore heart and empty wallet, daily come in contact with reality, and can pass the cheat no further.

Samson’s Jawbone on modern sexuality: "We *told* people this would happen. What can you say when you tell people, and tell people, and tell people, and they don’t listen, and then it happens just like you saw it was going to?"

This video is fake, right? Someone, please, tell me that this video is fake.

On male bonding. The best male bonding is manual labor.

"Margaret Thatcher: The Most Useful of Idiots" – an interesting argument


The Brahmins Dalits and Helot alliance and the London riots

August 29, 2011

The London riots are a great way to understand the Brahmins, Dalits and Helot alliance.

Sonic Charmer does a nice job giving an overview. Jim also has related thoughts. So does AMcGuinn.

More or less, the alliance works with the elites (Brahmins) importing an underclass. Violence by the underclass can then be used to force the elite’s policies on the country. The elites don’t like austerity, for example, and they us the Dalits and Helots to ensure that there isn’t any austerity. After all, if there is austerity, there will be riots. What do you expect?


Randoms

August 27, 2011

"And no one can say that John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were a worse danger to the Republic than the omnipresent bureaucracy that rules in the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower." ~ Frank Meyer

Scotch – “it’s as good as life used to be.”

Top 5, baby

A short history of the enlightenment.

Dalrymple on the riots.

Lord Sacks on the London rioters (h/t Kalim Kassam):

The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.

What has happened morally in the West is what has happened financially as well. Good and otherwise sensible people were persuaded that you could spend more than you earn, incur debt at unprecedented levels and consume the world’s resources without thinking about who will pay the bill and when. It has been the culture of the free lunch in a world where there are no free lunches.

OneSTDV on the riots.

"British prime minister David Cameron has said he wants to get advice from authorities in the United States on how to deal with runaway mob violence." (from here). He’s gonna be pissed when he finds out that the US has no idea how to control riots. The whole reason we imported an underclass was so that subject the population to the constant possibility of riots.

Mark Steyn: "In Britain, everything is policed except crime"

From the WSJ: "The Obama administration is now launching a pilot program giving local housing authorities wide discretion to pay higher rent subsidies to allow Section 8 beneficiaries to move into even more affluent zip codes." Surely, this will finally close the gap.

Game and reaction

I’ve said before that the free trade absolutists refuse to admit that economic growth is path dependent. Here’s an example of what I was referring to.

Vox links to a nice video of Keynes talking about how prices won’t rise once there’s no more gold standard (wasn’t that the whole point of going off the gold standard?). I remember reading a debate about going off the gold standard in the US. The debate was about whether gold would ever rise about $35/oz. The anti-gold standard people were sure that gold would never get about that price. Oops.

Reason number 20394823 why I don’t understand Robin Hanson. If that’s bias, may your life be filled with bias.

Chuck on guaranteed income. I don’t understand how this idea isn’t just a reform to good, old-fashioned slavery. The government is now your master and it would be required to provide you some basic services. Let’s just call it what it is and stop bullshitting ourselves.

The CRB is only about three years behind Steve Sailer:

In sum, though the only evidence available is circumstantial, Barack Obama, Jr.’s mother, father, stepfather, grandmother, and grandfather seem to have been well connected, body and soul, with the U.S. government’s then extensive and well-financed trans-public-private influence operations.

A reasonably good article in the CRB on ’60s radicalism:

The transitive properties of the "No enemies to the Left" rule meant that respectable liberals couldn’t bring themselves to criticize the tame activists, who couldn’t bring themselves to dissociate from the fierce ones. They were all so disposed because the historicism of American progressive thought provides no basis for drawing lines in the sand. The American republic had an unfolding destiny rather than an essence; progressivism’s raison d’être was to discern and build that destiny, to take us beyond our "political and governmental phase of democracy," in Dewey’s words, to the next, higher phase of human and social development. Thus, liberals had always looked to radicals for their "vision" of "secular transcendence," the leftist historian Michael Kazin wrote in Liberalism for a New Century (2007), a collection of essays. Having lost confidence in their own technocratic vision—justifiably, since McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara personified it—the liberals of the 1960s could find no basis to reject the idea that the "idealistic" young had the surer grasp of America’s destiny, even when the idealism degenerated into irrationality and violence.

Uh oh. "Careful now, the initial entry sounded like you were channeling Mencius for a moment."

Blacks and gays. I can’t seem to find out if the cops that refused to help were black, but I’d be willing to make a wager.

"A gentleman is only interested in lost causes" ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Winterspeak on Scott Sumner: "Scott Sumner is great because he’s extremely logical and impervious to facts. This makes him the go-to source for the nonsense that is Monetarism, because he will happily make the baldly ridiculous statements." . . . "’Unconventional monetary policy’ means the Fed targets some level of nominal GDP and keeps buying things until that level is met. . . .Scott argues that the Fed can buy other things, like road repair services, bridge building services, etc. etc. and therefore hit any NGDP target it chooses." Obviously, this is wildly outside the Fed’s legal authority, but I don’t suppose that matters at this point.

It’s nice to live in DC. Even though all the men are pansies.

Ilkka: "Isn’t it funny how the fact that, say, the American black people are poorer than American white people undeniably proves that the black people are oppressed, but then the fact that the Swedes are poorer than Americans by practically the same dollar amount does not "prove" that the Swedes are oppressed by the Swedish system?"

Daphne: "If your political preference trends towards a tight blend of tea-party populism sprinkled with a heavy dose of neo-con bullshit, Rick’s your man. Nothing significant will change if he’s elected, but you’ll feel better about the inevitable decay nonetheless." While I agree with this diagnosis, I’d be tempted to vote for the guy because of these awesome pictures.

On Noah Webster and the people.

Someone needs to explain liquidity transformation to Matthew Yglesias.

Alternate history.

An early victory for austerity?