Kulaks

I’ve been haunted by the ghosts of the Kulaks recently.

Under Lenin and Stalin the Soviet Socialists had a strange policy in a history of strange policies: “Death to the Kulaks!” Death to the rich peasants. Rich peasants? Why is a revolution for the proletariat – the poor – attacking peasants? Perhaps a couple of million were killed under Lenin. More under Stalin

Kulak is a meaning-free word that communicates extreme disapproval. Like the union term “scab” it really just expresses hate. Or rather the conotation of extreme dislike is elevated over the denotation of non-union worker. Kulak is from the word for fist. Perhaps because they were tight-fisted with their money and property. Kulaks were farmers who owned their own property. And with their small farms they could earn a little money and have an employee or two. Although what the Soviet Socialist state called their employees were usually their wives and children. These were the people to whom Aristotle referred when he said “Democracy is the rule of men of modest means.” These were the Russian version of the yeoman farmers of whom Thomas Jefferson rhapsodized.

I used to make an ill-considered joke: I said I was Marxist enough to believe everyone should own the means of production. It is true that Marxists are obsessed by the mechanical means of production and that it is prudent to own tools or farm lands or professional knowledge. It is false, though, in that such means of production are forbidden to the people. Upon pain of death. The Kulaks and factory owners had what the State claimed only for itself in the name of the people as a whole. [Nota bene, under Marxist theory the “people” never refers to a person. It is an intellectual construct which can only be invoked by the aristocracy.] Under Lenin the Soviet Socialists “collectivized agriculture.” They stole the land and parceled it out again for use as government property. This did involve under Lenin, the Good Dictator, killing about 2,500,000 Kulaks. So few because Lenin stroked out before he got things really running. Stalin killed more.

Why is this coming to mind? For years the Democrat Party has been fulminating against millionaires. OK. John Kerry in his run for the presidency defined millionaires as those who made $250,000 gross because they would eventually be millionaires. Last year Mr. Obama tried to make the very rich those with a gross income of $150,000 per year. This triggered consternation because it includes pretty much every small businessman. An independent trucker owns a $150,000 truck. With fuel, insurance, truck loan and expenses such a person makes over the newest limit in gross income. Net income is more like $40,000. Small farmers own land. Large mortgages, seed costs, farm equipment…. Almost every farmer is now considered rich, what was aimed at millionaires, while barely scraping by. A few years of inflation and this would classify every poor independent businessman as wealthy. These are the American kulaks.

Now American socialists are attacking our own kulaks? What is it with socialists and small business owners and farmers? Were they really concerned about wealth the Democrats would target wealth. Idle rich. Bill Gates. The Heinz fortune. But wealth is not taxed, just gross income.

The Most Unusual Medical Advice I Ever Received

Did I ever tell you about the most unusual medical advice I ever received? After a round of antibiotics I wanted to restore the bacterial suite in my gut. Probiotics contain one to three strains of bacteria. Generally Lactobacillus and Acidophilus. But your body contains hundreds of types. This is important. Most of the digestion in your body is not done by you but by these symbiotes. Humans interpret health as attractiveness, and health is largely determined by the function of your digestive tract. Alas, these bacteria are fragile and must be frequently replaced. But how do you replace them. And how do you decide which bacteria you need? It turns out the answer is shockingly simple. There are really only about three ways to get new bacteria. One is exceedingly distasteful. Probiotics are a tiny sample of types guaranteed to be a suboptimal bacterial suite. The bacteria that are proper to your environment are those that lead to the best health. The most common way of exchanging bacteria from person to person in western civilization [outside of Washington DC ] is kissing. So what was the advice to replace my bacteria after antibiotics? “Kiss the pretty girls.”

Nice-Sounding Things With Which I Disagree: Unu

All my life I have heard idealistic folk quoting John Kennedy.

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask rather what you can do for your country!

This offends me. Our forefathers were not idolaters making a god to which they could prostrate themselves. They were flinty revolutionaries who wished to craft a tool. They knew there were things which were beyond the ability of individuals to do in their time. They knew a government was needed to provide disinterested law courts. They knew an army had to be run in an effective manner. Our forefathers had considerable experience in armies. And the tool they crafted was a government. In short the only measure of a tool or a government is what it can do for you and yours. If the tool does nothing then it is an expensive door-stop and should be repaired or replaced.

Clubs

Amanda and Johnathan,

Have you ever considered what a club is? Years ago it was simply a membership list, a magazine, a rationale, and a reputation. Among the English influenced folk there was often a club house. A club is very inexpensive to run. The major cost was the magazine to keep a living community. Now with websites and desktop publishing, the cost of running a club is dirt cheap. There are two basic types: Those which are for their members and those which are set up to enrich the founders. [ By the way some have become rich that way.] The ones set up to extract money from the members often have marvelous gift shops with great profit margins.

I once belonged to a well-known club. One had to have a rather high IQ. [Caveat: IQ is no more intelligence than money is.] It was splendid. Very democratic in an odd way. Smart people willing to talk about anything. Nobody offended by taboos. And the best thing: You could say or ask anything and NOBODY would say “Are you stupid?” There were different groups: Flirting, drinking, cooking, and such.

One year the office staff changed and the offices moved from Brooklyn to Texas. The dues went up from nominal to many times the cost of running the club. In short the club transitioned from inclusive to extractive. The membership underwent an interesting change. Those who were wealthy enough not to notice or status conscious stayed in the club. Many others felt a cognitive dissonance of belonging to a club for high IQ while being dumb enough to pay dues to enrich a shadowy group.

Were the get-togethers worth the cost? It doesn’t matter to me; the feeling of being used wrecked it for me.

This comes to mind every election year. We often hear it said, “Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.” True. But the level of taxes determines whether we belong to an inclusive club and family or are being used by a political elite. That book “The Hunger Games” shows an extractive government in a dramatic manner. Most governments are extractive. Just not to that extent.

It has been suggested that there are two types of groups: inclusive and extractive. I wish to refine it a touch more. I suggest three categories:
People freely paying to do that which cannot be done easily individually.
Sheep to be sheared by those in charge.
A population to be harvested regardless of harm or damage.

Groups will migrate through these categories. Is there any doubt that North Korea is anything but a factory to produce wealth for a small aristocracy at any cost to the starving masses? This is not even sustainable farming. When the tax rates in France were set to exceed 90% a few months ago, people started seeking to change their citizenship to Belgium, Britain, and Russia. Does Depardieu think he is in a mutually inclusive relationship? Or does he think he a sucker being sheared for the benefit of those who do not care for him or count him as kin?

I think Charles once told me of a group that would take over condominium associations and enrich themselves. If the Condominium Association starts a lawsuit you cannot easily sell your house. Other tasks become difficult and involved. They may even be paid to resign the Association and go away, You might ask him.

Speaking of clubs. If you can stand it, starting a club can be a great summer job. A club now only requires a website and conferencing software. Imagine a group with a broad base. Perhaps “Beer Drinkers of the Central Valley.” Encourage them. Establish an esprit du corps with message boards and some inexpensive services. Encourage the rating of products and establishments. If you can get ten thousand people to send you three dollars a month, well then you’ve just become a successful entrepreneur. I am not being silly. Some people recently started a political website and did just that. Oh. The founders also became modestly famous.

Just a thought that’s been going through my mind.

Yours,
Your Uncle

The Wages of Inflexibility

Amanda,

I maintain that our current problems are not a usual inflation/deflation. Here is a real inflation. Have you ever heard of the five hundred-year inflation that lead to the Opium Wars?

In the Middle Ages Europe was at its poorest and most ignorant. Some say that it was needed to end the violence and cruelty of the Classical times. In any case it was a true Dark Age. A dark age may be when people don’t just forget how to do things; they forget that they once could do them. So in the Middle ages Europeans had nothing to offer. But they had many things they needed and wanted. But the whole world hadn’t fallen. [ This is an argument against globalization.] The House of Islam was stagnant but brighter than Europe. China however was active and alive. China – and for a while India – wanted nothing from the rest of the world. They had plentiful food, better manufactures, silk, spices, tea, fine sailing ships. All they were greedy for were gold, silver, and jade. The Europeans didn’t understand jade – a missed opportunity. For over five centuries the Chinese exported silk and other things, but accepted only gold and silver. This lead to a serious inflation. The shortage of silver and gold made anything imported even more expensive. What was more, the Europeans didn’t even know where these things came from. These things came through Moslem middlemen. Costs grew so high that they contributed to growth. Marco Polo wasn’t believed, but he seems to have actually traveled to China. The Portuguese started to travel around Africa. People searched for their ancient knowledge. Largely in books from the Greeks and Romans that had been preserved by the Moslems. People were eager enough for lower prices that they even financed a crackpot like Columbus. By 1600 the Europeans were ahead of everyone but the Chinese. What is more, they began to accomplish things for the first time that the ancients hadn’t achieved. But still all their silver flowed to China. The vast treasuries of the Aztecs and Incas largely ended up in the Orient. Wealth increased, but the supply of precious metals by which wealth was measured decreased. America and Australia were settled. The Europeans developed things which had never been seen before. Calculating tools, weapons, ships, interchangeable parts, refrigeration, canning of foods…. England ruled India.

Then an odd thing happened. In India – more the part that is Afghanistan today – the British found Chinese buying things! For silver! Furtive Chinese were crossing the border to buy opium and smuggling it back. Now everyone knew opium was bad stuff. But it was legal throughout most of the world. We hadn’t yet found ways of making people so compliant to taxes and rules. If someone wanted to poison himself, well that was his business. In China however people were the Emperor’s property. He minded if his slaves didn’t work and enrich him. A triangle trade developed. People – especially British – sold opium to Chinese smugglers for silver. The silver was used to buy silk and tea for the home markets. Which raised money to buy the opium. Selling opium was evil. But the profit was so high because the Chinese had – inadvertently – made it so. Every tea drinker contributed to the drug trade. Also to the free market and the undermining of the Chinese Dictator.

It couldn’t last. The Chinese officials started punishing Europeans and Americans for things other Europeans had done. Neither side backed down and war ensued. The outcome was telling. Four centuries of stagnation had lead the most advanced people on Earth to the point were they were humiliated by people who five centuries before were beneath consideration. The British stole tea plants and found that they grew well in Darjeeling, India. The French found how to grow Mulberry trees and silk. And the Chinese government collapsed. Messy. Seldom taught because no one looks good. As Charley Brown said,” There’s a moral in there somewhere.”

There’s a good lecture you can download from the Gresham University website A professor named Kathleen Burk. [http://podcast.streamingwizard.com/gresham/2006/Jan06/Conflict_over_china.mp4]

That’s all I know, Amanda.

Yours,

David

“A friend is someone to whom you can say any dam fool thing that comes into your mind and not worry.”