Category Archives: History

NPL in North Dakota (cont.)


Last Thanksgiving, Tony produced a short post on the Nonpartisan League. Think of this as an update. I happen to think the history of the NPL is important because it shows how effective a movement can be if they have a workable agenda. Instead of running against parties and personalities, an agenda-driven party wins because they are FOR something. Even better, an agenda usually outlives even the best supporters. And the State Bank of North Dakota is arguably the best political idea Progressives ever had—the signal accomplishment that lives on to this day.

WHEN NORTH DAKOTA FARMERS BLEW UP PARTISAN POLITICS

By Focusing on Economic Cooperation, Early 20th-Century Small Landowners Pushed Back Against Crony Capitalism

by MICHAEL J. LANSING | MAY 18, 2018

In a nation that envisions innovation as the domain of Silicon Valley start-ups, most dismiss North Dakota as flyover country. Yet the state’s history shows it deserves more credit as an innovator. A little more than 100 years ago, North Dakota’s farmers, challenged by economic hardship and indifferent politicians, invented a nonpartisan approach to elections that was as elegant and powerful as it was novel.

Today, Americans politics are partisan and polarized. But as a political movement made up of lower-middle-class farmers, the Nonpartisan League (NPL) took advantage of the direct primary—a new innovation at the time—to bypass entrenched politicians and parties.

During the early years of the 20th century, a broad impulse for popular government transformed election law—particularly primaries—in many northern and western states, but North Dakota took it further than some. Rejecting the notion that politics belonged only to professionals, citizens put themselves in the thick of things—replacing the mediating force of a political party with a self-organized polity. Parties, which had formerly controlled candidate selection, remained powerful, but voters could now challenge the establishment players who often used backroom deals and convention shenanigans to stay in power

From the start, the movement backed anyone who supported farm-friendly economic policies, regardless of that candidate’s party affiliation. Later this alternative to politics-as-usual famously established state-run industries, but also—as a correspondent in The Nation noted in 1923—ensured that “a sentiment and point of view had been established in the minds of hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers.” By empowering regular citizens across the West and Midwest to see themselves and their society anew, it created a resurgence of “We the People” government that sits at the heart of the nation’s best democratic traditions.

North Dakota was especially ready for political reform because of its history. Established in 1889, it had an almost entirely agricultural economy, giving the outsiders who transported and processed the crops it grew outsized political influence. Talk of cronyism and the indirect control of state politics by Minneapolis-based companies defined life in the capital, Bismarck, from the start.

Agitators for change found a ready audience for basic political reforms, but few imagined that the state’s farmers could transcend their many differences to organize the way they did. The farmers were far from homogeneous, but included Icelanders, Czechs, Germans from Russia, Norwegians, Irish, Ukrainians, Swedes, Germans, Danes, Hungarians, native-born Americans, and a handful of African Americans. They were all settled on land that had been taken from Native Americans. In some rural districts, distinct congregations of Protestants and Roman Catholics and Jews jostled up against each other, while outside Ross, North Dakota, a small community of Syrians practiced Islam. In fact, census data show that North Dakota had the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any state in the country before World War II.

Despite their differences, by the early 1910s, farmers across the vast wheat belt of western Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and eastern Montana all faced a common problem: the overwhelming economic clout of the Minneapolis-based flour millers and wheat traders who dominated agricultural commodities markets. Grain farmers who shipped their products to Minneapolis for processing—nearly all of them—saw little of the profit that their wheat ultimately produced. Crop prices, controlled by milling and transportation companies, were low. Transportation costs, set by railroad companies, were exorbitant. The combination left farmers cash-strapped. As the rest of rural America experienced an agricultural boom, failed mortgages and hard times defined farm life on the Northern Plains.

Abhorring electoral politics, which they saw as sullied by corruption and power, wheat farmers in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana responded to their economic plight by organizing themselves into cooperatives, attempting to build power without getting involved in politics. They hoped that cooperatives might create a more equitable marketplace, one in which farmers might hold even odds to support their families. Their Equity Cooperative Exchange brought smallholders together to create democratically-run, customer-owned grain elevators across the Northern Plains. Farmer-owners made sure that more of the profits from wheat stayed in farmers’ pockets.

But in the 1910s the Exchange, realizing local organizing had its limits, tried to expand its reach by establishing a large terminal grain elevator to compete with those run by large corporations. Minneapolis-based companies responded by refusing to permit the Equity Cooperative Exchange to trade in that city’s wheat market. So, in 1915, the group’s leaders turned their attention from economic cooperation to state-level politics. Public policy, however flawed, seemed to offer the only avenue for change.

In North Dakota—and soon thereafter, in other states—wheat farmers used the Equity Cooperative Exchange as the foundation for a new political organization: the Nonpartisan League. The NPL built on existing relationships to encourage farmers to prioritize shared economic self-interest over ethnic, cultural, and religious divides. It also pushed farmers directly into electoral politics. Members canvassed door-to-door to recruit, ensure turnout at political rallies, and create an audience for the NPL newspaper. During election seasons, NPL people held their own members-only precinct caucus meetings and identified citizen-candidates to run for office. They quickly began to see themselves as political actors.

Platform-oriented rather than candidate-based, the NPL endorsed farmers for state offices, and supported the creation of a state-owned bank, grain elevator, and flour mill. And seeing their concerns reflected in electoral politics ensured that North Dakotan farmers responded enthusiastically at the polls. In 1916, NPL candidates won the governor’s race, the contest for attorney general, and the majority of seats in North Dakota’s House of Representatives. By 1918, they held those state-wide offices and seized a majority of seats in the state Senate as well.

Finally empowered to make their platform real, the newly elected farmers moved quickly to sidestep the large millers and traders in Minneapolis. They established a state-run terminal grain elevator and matched it with a state-run flour mill, keeping more profits from processed wheat in North Dakota. Leaguers also created a state-owned bank that allowed local lenders to reject financing from out-of-state interests. After taking hold of North Dakota’s state government in 1918, the NPL spread to twelve other states in the West and Midwest, and two Canadian provinces.

Misunderstood—then and now—as socialists, the NPL farmers remained avowedly nonpartisan. They held no ideological commitment to big or small government. They just saw government as the means to represent and institute the people’s will, rather than the interests of the powerful.

Too often belittled, this vision of citizens as more than just voters lies at the heart of a wide range of American movements for change—from 19th-century Grangers and Populists, to labor organizing in the 1930s, to the Black Freedom Movements of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a tradition that encourages regular people to work across their differences to solve common problems.

In North Dakota, the NPL’s successes inspired broader change. Initially, for example, the group ignored farm women, who sought agency in their private and public lives, but its insistence on a participatory civic culture inspired women to organize NPL auxiliaries that engaged in fund-raising and civic education. One woman in Montana reported that “we are not going to talk about recipes for rhubarb conserve” but instead would discuss “the great battles for human rights so that we can vote straight when the time comes.”

After 1920, the women’s votes became more important than ever, as corporations in Minneapolis and established politicians began pushing back against the NPL, rightly seeing it as a threat.

Establishment foes attacked the League and its members at every turn, declaring it to be anti-war, and thus anti-patriotic—a serious charge after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Though many Leaguers opposed the potential for war-profiteering and heavy casualties, they consistently did their patriotic duty. Nonetheless, in Minnesota, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, and Idaho, Leaguers remained suspect and faced direct challenges to their civil liberties. Local law enforcement denied the NPL the right to hold public meetings. Organizers were seized by mobs, tarred, and feathered.

In the meantime, in North Dakota, where the NPL-controlled statehouse ensured that local law enforcement would not engage in unconstitutional activities, autocratic League leaders made poor decisions that led to internal dissent. The head of the Nonpartisan League, a former farmer named Arthur Townley, alienated opponents and League members by proposing controversial business schemes that went beyond the organization’s stated aims. Put off by such behavior and new policies they saw as overreach, some NPL farmers turned against the movement—and as a result, in 1921, North Dakota held the nation’s first recall election. Many NPL officials, including the state’s citizen-farmer governor Lynn Frazier, lost their seats.

Never again would the League run the state. Yet its influence remained. A year after his recall, Frazier, still representing the NPL, was elected to the U.S. Senate. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nonpartisan League persisted as a wing of the Republican Party. In 1956, it merged with North Dakota’s Democratic Party, still known today as the D-NPL. North Dakota’s state-owned bank, flour mill, and grain elevator continue to thrive. Soon marking their centennial, these institutions stand as a concrete testament to the Nonpartisan League and its lasting—and innovative—vision of nonpartisan, cooperatively organized, citizen-centered politics. more

James Hansen 30 years on




I remember James Hansen's 1988 testimony in front of the Senate as if it were yesterday—has it really been 30 years? Hit me like a lightening bolt. Most importantly, Hansen had instant credibility with me because I knew his backstory. We who live in the world powered by our land-grant universities like to tout the contributions of these revered institutions. James Hansen was one of us. He was the fifth child of dirt-poor tenant farmers in Iowa. But because of public schools like the University of Iowa he would graduate as a world-class scientist. In fact, he became one of James van Allen's fair-haired boys. Yes the guy who got his name on the Van Allen Belts was an astrophysics professor at Iowa. (NOW do you see why folks around here get touchy about insults to the land-grant university?)

Hansen must lead a miserable existence. He knows that while there are variations on the outcome of climate change, none are good. And as it gets increasingly worse with nothing more interesting happening than agreements to try to do better, it must get cripplingly frustrating. Compared to the problem, this is about on the same level as calling for prayer meetings. But as his frustration has grown over the years, he has engaged in symbolic actions like getting arrested at the White House. Don't blame the man but climate change is not a matter addressed with the tactics of Gandhi's Salt March.

My take is that climate change is a problem that lives at the intersection of technology and economics. Hansen is a true scientist and sometimes we forget that this is a different occupation from Progressive economist, industrial designer, or civil engineer. His revelations on climate change were sourced in his investigations of the atmosphere of Venus. World-class science. For this, Hansen is forever forgiven for tactics born of frustration. I just wish that once in a while, he would sound a bit more like that other towering intellect from Iowa, Henry Wallace.

Ex-Nasa scientist: 30 years on, world is failing 'miserably’ to address climate change


James Hansen, who gave a climate warning in 1988 Senate testimony, says real hoax is by leaders claiming to take action

Oliver Milman in New York 19 Jun 2018

Thirty years after a former Nasa scientist sounded the alarm for the general public about climate change and human activity, the expert issued a fresh warning that the world is failing “miserably” to deal with the worsening dangers.

While Donald Trump and many conservatives like to argue that climate change is a hoax, James Hansen, the 77-year-old former Nasa climate scientist, said in an interview at his home in New York that the relevant hoax today is perpetrated by those leaders claiming to be addressing the problem.


Hansen provided what’s considered the first warning to a mass audience about global warming when, in 1988, he told a US congressional hearing he could declare “with 99% confidence” that a recent sharp rise in temperatures was a result of human activity.

Since this time, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have mushroomed despite repeated, increasingly frantic warnings about civilization-shaking catastrophe, from scientists amassing reams of evidence in Hansen’s wake.

“All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” Hansen told the Guardian. “We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.”

Hansen’s long list of culprits for this inertia are both familiar – the nefarious lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – and surprising. Jerry Brown, the progressive governor of California, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are “both pretending to be solving the problem” while being unambitious and shunning low-carbon nuclear power, Hansen argues.

There is particular scorn for Barack Obama. Hansen says in a scathing upcoming book that the former president “failed miserably” on climate change and oversaw policies that were “late, ineffectual and partisan”.

Hansen even accuses Obama of passing up the opportunity to thwart Donald Trump’s destruction of US climate action, by declining to settle a lawsuit the scientist, his granddaughter and 20 other young people are waging against the government, accusing it of unconstitutionally causing peril to their living environment.

“Near the end of his administration the US said it would reduce emissions 80% by 2050,” Hansen said.

“Our lawsuit demands a reduction of 6% a year so I thought, ‘That’s close enough, let’s settle the lawsuit.’ We got through to Obama’s office but he decided against it. It was a tremendous opportunity. This was after Trump’s election, so if we’d settled it quickly the US legally wouldn’t be able to do the absurd things Trump is doing now by opening up all sorts of fossil fuel sources.”

Hansen’s frustrations temper any satisfaction at largely being vindicated for his testimony, delivered to lawmakers on 23 June 1988.

Wearing a cream-coloured suit, the soft-spoken son of Iowan tenant farmers hunched over the microphone in Washington to explain that humans had entered a confronting new era. “The greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now,” he said.

Afterwards, Hansen told reporters: “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” He brandished new research that forecast that 1988 was set to be the warmest year on record, as well as projections for future heat under three different emissions scenarios. The world has dutifully followed Hansen’s “scenario B” – we are “smack on it” it, Hansen said last week – with global temperatures jumping by around 1C (1.8F) over the past century.

These findings hadn’t occurred in a vacuum, of course – the Irish physicist John Tyndall confirmed that carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas in the 1850s. A 1985 scientific conference in Villach, Austria, concluded the temperature rise in the 21st century would be “greater than in any man’s history”. The changes in motion would “affect life on Earth for centuries to come”, the New York Times warned the morning after Hansen’s testimony.

Three decades of diplomacy has blossomed into an international consensus, albeit rattled by Trump, that the temperature rise must be curbed to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times. But in this time emissions have soared (in 1988, 20bn tons of carbon dioxide was emitted – by 2017 it was 32bn tons) with promised cuts insufficient for the 2C goal. Despite the notable growth of renewable energy such as solar and wind, Hansen believes there is no pathway to salvation without a tax on carbon-producing fuels.

“The solution isn’t complicated, it’s not rocket science,” Hansen said. “Emissions aren’t going to go down if the cost of fossil fuels isn’t honest. Economists are very clear on this. We need a steadily increasing fee that is then distributed to the public.”

Hansen faced opposition even before his testimony – he recalls a Nasa colleague telling him on the morning of his presentation “no respectable scientist” would claim the world is warming – and faced subsequent meddling and censorship from George HW Bush’s administration.

He eventually retired from Nasa in 2013 and promptly reinvented himself as an activist who was arrested, wearing his trademark hat, outside the White House while protesting against the Keystone oil pipeline.

The dawdling global response to warming temperatures means runaway climate change now looms. The aspirational 1.5C (2.7F) warming target set in Paris could be surpassed by 2040. Huge amounts of ice from western Antarctica are crashing into the ocean, redrawing forecasts for sea level rise. Some low-lying islands fear extinction.
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“It’s not too late,” Hansen stressed. “There is a rate of reduction that’s feasible to stay well below 2C. But you just need that price on carbon.”

John Holdren, who was Obama’s chief science adviser, told the Guardian that the Paris agreement achieved what was possible without support from Congress and that legally binding lawsuits would be “problematic”.

However, he added that while he had reservations about Hansen’s policy ideas he was one of the “true giants” of climate science.

“Poor Jim Hansen. He’s a tragic hero,” said Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard academic who studies the history of science. “The Cassandra aspect of his life is that he’s cursed to understand and diagnose what’s going on but unable to persuade people to do something about it. We are all raised to believe knowledge is power but Hansen proves the untruth of that slogan. Power is power.”

That power has been most aggressively wielded by fossil fuel companies such as Exxon and Shell which, despite being well aware of the dangers of climate change decades before Hansen’s touchstone moment in 1988, funded a network of groups that ridiculed the science and funded sympathetic politicians. Later, they were to be joined by the bulk of the US Republican party, which now recoils from any action on climate change as heresy.

“Obama was committed to action but couldn’t do much with the Congress he had,” Oreskes said. “To blame the Democrats and Obama is to misunderstand the political context. There was a huge, organized network that put forward a message of confusion and doubt.”

Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who testified at the same 1988 hearing about sea level rise, said the struggle to confront climate change has been “discouraging”.

“The nasty anti-science movement ramped up and now we are way behind.”

“I’m convinced we will deal with the problem,” he said. “[But] not before there is an amount of suffering that is unconscionable and should’ve been avoided.” more

HAWB 1816-1834 – West Point Foundry and Steam Power for the Navy


How America Was Built

HAWB 1816-1834 - West Point Foundry and Steam Power for the Navy

The following is an excerpt from my book Admiral Benjamin Franklin Isherwood and the Scientific Study of Steam Power (which will hopefully be published later this year), detailing how the U.S. government helped create a private enterprise in 1816, how that enterprise became a leading center of metal working and steam engine building, and how 18 years later the national government turned to that company to help the Navy adopt the new technology of steam propulsion. This is not the mythical laissez faire, "free market" capitalism that supposedly built the United States. It is a deliberate policy of nation building, originated by first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, and carried out by his successors. 

By the early 1830s, there were some people beginning to worry about the more rapid development of naval steam power in Britain, but not much was done. Some Navy Secretaries briefly summarized known developments in the Royal Navy their annual reports, but Congress was not inclined to act on the matter.[1] Things began to change in July 1834, when U.S. Senator from New Jersey Mahlon Dickerson was appointed Secretary of the Navy. Dickerson had been chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Manufactures for the 16th through 18th Congresses and the Senate Committee on Manufactures from the 19th through 22nd Congresses, and no doubt was familiar with the state of steam engine design and manufacture in the country. The Board of Navy Commissioners was already in contact with engine builders, and was trying to obtain plans from the West Point Foundry.[2] In June 1835, President Andrew Jackson ordered Navy Secretary Dickerson to direct the Board of Naval Commissioners to actually begin building a steam battery. This would become the 181-foot, 1,200-ton Fulton II, based on Humphreys’ plans of 1831, with an additional 41 feet of length.


But the Navy had not a single officer or sailor with a solid knowledge of the design and operation of steam engines.... by the end of the year the Board was forced to admit it simply did not have the knowledge and expertise to carry it into effect. In a remarkable letter to Secretary Dickerson, dated December 30, 1835, the Commissioners frankly confessed “their ignorance upon the subject of steam engines” and doubted they would be able to even provide “necessary information to enable persons to make proper offers” to design and build the engines. “They [the Commissioners] are satisfied that they are incompetent themselves, and have no person under their direction who could furnish them with the necessary information to form a contract for steam engines that may secure the United States from imposition, disappointment, and loss…”[3]

Fully aware that they lacked the expertise to make any decisions regarding procurement of steam engines, the Board of Commissioners, requested assistance from Gouverneur Kemble, president of the West Point Foundry, at the time perhaps the largest iron foundry and engine builder in the country. The West Point Foundry was established in 1816 at one of four strategic locations selected by Secretary of War James Monroe and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander J. Dallas for the construction of iron foundries to produce cannon and shot for the Army and Navy. It was located in Cold Spring, New York, on the Hudson River opposite West Point. (The other foundry sites were Georgetown, D.C., Richmond, Va., and Pittsburgh, Penn.) To begin construction, $25,000 in direct funding was given to Gouverneur Kemble, a New York businessman “who had served Commodore Stephen Decatur's fleet as an assistant navy agent in Cadiz, Spain during the Barbary War in 1814,” and who therefore was “no stranger to the Navy Department's method of procuring supplies or doing business.”[4] 

The foundry’s first engine for a steamboat was built in 1823 for the James Kent. It was a very successful design, securing the company a leading reputation for building engines and other machinery. Over the next two decades the foundry built engines for a number of other boats, including Victory (1827), DeWitt Clinton (1828), Erie (1832), Champlain (1832), Highlander (1835), Swallow (1836), Rochester (1836), Utica (1837), and Troy (1841).[5] Beginning in 1830, West Point Foundry built three of the first four steam railroad locomotives made in the United States. The first, Tom Thumb, was designed, built, and operated by Peter Cooper, and was only an experimental machine, intended not for revenue service, but to convince the directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that steam was a viable source of power for railroads (it must be recalled that at the time, there were widespread doubts about the feasibility of applying power to iron wheels on iron rails, especially up a grade.) The next three locomotives built in the U.S. were all intended for revenue service, and all were built by the West Point Foundry: Best Friend of Charleston (1830), and West Point (1831), both for the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company, followed in 1831 by the DeWitt Clinton, for the Mohawk & Hudson Railway. These was followed a few years later by the locomotives Phoenix and Experiment, the last reportedly capable of reaching 80 miles per hour.[6]

It must be noted—especially now, when the economic role of government is under constant attack as dangerous “statism”—that the shift by a government-funded establishment into a leading role in new technologies was entirely in accord with the intent of first President George Washington, and his Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and their plans to have the new government actively foster and promote economic development. In his 1791 Report on Manufactures, Hamilton wrote:

To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted…. Experience teaches, that men are often so much governed by what they are accustomed to see and practise, that the simplest and most obvious improvements, in the most ordinary occupations, are adopted with hesitation, reluctance, and by slow gradations…. To produce the desirable changes as early as may be expedient may therefore require the incitement and patronage of government… it is of importance that the confidence of cautious, sagacious capitalists, both citizens and foreigners, should be excited. And to inspire this description of persons with confidence, it is essential that they should be made to see in any project which is new—and for that reason alone, if for no other, precarious—the prospect of such a degree of countenance and support from government, as may be capable of overcoming the obstacles inseparable from first experiments.[7]

When the Navy Board of Commissioners requested his assistance, Kemble in turn sought the advice of Robert L. Stevens, son of the builder of the first steam battery in 1814. He had helped his father design and build the steamboats Phoenix (1807) and Julianna (1811), and mastered them on the Delaware River, servicing Philadelphia. The Phoenix had been built in Hoboken, New Jersey, and her transit from thence to Philadelphia in June 1809 made her the first steamboat to sail the open ocean. Robert Stevens had also traveled to Britain to examine railroads and locomotives there, and had brought the locomotive John Bull to the U.S. in 1831 to operate on the Camden and Amboy Railroad, of which Stevens was president.

When Kemble’s brother, William—who was West Point Foundry’ agent in New York City and presumably was dealing with Stevens—sent drawings for engines to Navy Commissioner John Rodgers in January 1834, he included a note stating “Robert Stevens feels the engines above 30 inches cylinder should not be vertical due to wear in the underside and in vessels because of the length taken up by the engine.”[8]

The plans and accompanying explanations must have further perplexed the board. In June 1835, the Board requested it be allowed to again contact Stevens, plus others who had designed and commanded steam vessels. Secretary Dickerson readily agreed. Three board commissioners traveled to New York, and began gathering information. At some point, they concluded that the Navy simply needed to secure the services of someone with the training and skills required to supervise the acquisition and building of steam engines, and installing them in a hull. In July 1836, the Commissioners accepted the offer of Charles H. Haswell, a skilled worker at the West Point Foundry, to design a steam engine and supervise its construction. Haswell had been schooled in the classics, but in 1828, at the age of 19, he began working at the New York City engine works of James P. Allaire, one of the first major builders of steam engines and boilers in the United States. The brass hardware and fittings for the engine of Robert Fulton’s North River / Clermont were built by Allaire.

At first, Haswell was a temporary employee of the Navy Board of Commissioners, but it quickly became apparent that his lack of rank was a serious disadvantage in dealing with naval officers, so Haswell was given the official title of “Chief Engineer” of the Fulton II. This had little actual effect; obstruction and delays continued; and the steam battery was not ready for launch until May 1837.

With the hiring of Haswell, the virtuous economic circle designed by Alexander Hamilton was completed. The government had “cherished and stimulated the activity of the human mind,” and “multiplied the objects of enterprise,” and now was harvesting the wealth of mechanical knowledge which had thereby been promoted. The national government had provided direct funding for the creation of West Point Foundry, and within two decades it had become a center of the nation’s most advanced metalworking and machine-making capabilities. Now the government was reaching out to enlist the skills and capabilities of the Foundry to help the nation’s Navy transit into the modern era of mechanized power. 


[1] Sprout, Harold and Margaret, The Rise of American Naval Power, Princeton, NJ, 1966, Princeton University Press, pp. 112-113.

[2] Tomblin, Barbara, From Sail to Steam: The Development of Steam Technology in the United States Navy, 1838-1903 (unpublished History PhD dissertation, Rutgers University, 1988, pp. 14-15.

[3] Bennett, Frank M., The Steam Navy of the United States; A History of the Growth of the Steam Vessel of War in the U.S. Navy, and of the Naval Engineer Corps, Press of W. T. Nicholson, Pittsburgh, Penn., 1896, p. 18.

[4] Tomblin, pp. 15-17.

[5] Buckman, David Lear, Old Steamboat Days on the Hudson River; tales and reminiscences of the stirring times that followed the introduction of steam navigation, New York, 1907, The Grafton Press, pp. 137-138.

[6] “Archaeological Research at West Point Foundry Preserve,” http://www.scenichudson.org/land_pres/wpfp_research.htm, accessed November 7, 2017.

[7] Hamilton, Alexander, Report on Manufactures, Communicated to the House of Representatives, December 5, 1791.

[8] Tomblin, p. 21.

Protectionism in the age of solar cells, Part 2



When the Trump administration announced last week that it was imposing tariffs on solar cell panels mostly coming from South Korea and China, it appears that the progressive blogosphere was almost unanimous in condemning the action as an attack on solar energy.

I was dismayed that the neoliberal lies about free trade had apparently been accepted by so many. As Jon Larson wrote on Real Economics, “In certain corners of the economic world, this is a major story—mostly because it flies in the face of neoliberalism's first commandment—Thou shall not condone protectionism!”

The tariffs should be attacked, but not because they are tariffs, not because they are protectionist, not because they may lead to less imports of panels and therefore the loss of jobs of people installing them.

The tariffs should be attacked because they are not accompanied by a robust industrial policy that will help USA manufacturers replace panels no longer being imported, by panels of domestic manufacture.

Protectionism is an issue on which the Democratic Party and the left in general are very vulnerable. Basically, they have forgotten the actual history of industrial development: every single country that successfully industrialized did so behind trade barriers. Many readers may not believe me, but it is historical fact. For a relatively short but full explication of the fact that protectionism works, I point you to James Fallows’ December 1993 article in The Atlantic, “How the World Works.” For an entire book on this topic, the best is probably South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang's 2007 book, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, available as a large pdf file here. An excellent review of Chang’s book, by Chalmers Johnson, is here.

For a brief discussion of how this history was purposefully and deliberately eradicated from American universities and economics courses a century ago, read “Prophet of Prosperity” in a recent issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette of the University of Pennsylvania. The motive? “...landlords and other rentiers were reclassified as capitalists, just ones who invested in land and raw assets rather than machinery, and thereby earned “the increments of value attaching to land,” thus removing the social opprobrium of being exploiters, parasites and usurers. And, more importantly, to allow “money to make money.”

We like to taunt our conservative and libertarian opponents that you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Well, the same applies on this issue, and to the neoliberals amongst us: you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts. The facts are clear that historically, countries that successfully industrialized did so behind trade barriers that protected their infant industries, and protected the earning power of their working people. The facts are equally clear that since the imposition of economic neoliberalism and free trade on developing countries, and their enforcement by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international NGOs, not to mention the USA government and others, the growth rate of the national economies of developing countries has been LESS than it was before neoliberalism and free trade. Those are the facts, and all the crap you were taught in college economics courses will not change them.

But protectionism alone does not work. There must be a national industrial policy to promote and encourage the development and growth of new industries. As originally developed by George Washington and his Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and later in the 19th century by Henry Clay, Henry Carey, Abraham Lincoln (on Lincoln, see one of the best overlooked books on historical political economy, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, by Gabor S. Borit, Memphis State University Press, 1978)., and others, protectionism was one pillar of a three-part program for national economic development. The other two were a national banking system, and internal improvements (what we today call infrastructure).




Also, American economic thought — outside the oligarchical slave south — in the 19th century was dominated by the now forgotten Doctrine of High Wages. According to this doctrine, there was a virtuous circle in which paying labor high wages allowed labor to avoid penury and the bodily and mental exhaustion that accompanies it, making labor more productive and thus generating the ability to pay labor high wages. It was explicitly recognized that to force Americans to compete against the poorly paid labor of the British empire (in the dreadful conditions of industrial Birmingham and London as well as the wretched poverty of India and other colonies) was crazy. In the Conclusion to his 1851 book, The Harmony of Interests: Agricultural, Manufacturing & Commercial, Carey wrote that the British system of free trade "looks to pauperism, ignorance, depopulation, and barbarism," while protectionism and the American School of political economy aims "to increasing wealth, comfort, intelligence, combination of action, and civilization."

The history of a national banking system is now obscured by Jackson's demolition of it during the 1830s fight over the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States. But the key point was that financial activity must be steered toward productive investment and away from mere speculation and "stock jobbing." Hamilton set down a firm and concise test in The Federalist Papers number 15: "Is private credit the friend and patron of industry?"

Today, that would mean a severe crackdown on the over $5 trillion a day of trading in stock, bond, futures, options, and foreign exchange markets, as well as seizing the estimated $50 trillion in hot money sitting in tax havens around the world. A tax on trading in the financial markets would go a long way to eliminate much of the speculative trading, and shift the socially harmful short term outlook of financial markets to a more long term outlook more attuned to the real economy ordinary people experience day to day. High frequency trading in particular, since it serves no economically productive or socially useful purpose whatsoever, needs to be eradicated.

Internal improvements were carried into effect by dozens and dozens of government programs and projects, beginning with the building of lighthouses under the direction of Treasury Secretary Hamilton. Even Hamilton's political enemy, Jefferson, engaged in internal improvements — sending out the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery to explore and map the northwest, followed by similar Army expeditions — almost completely forgotten today — to the southwest, to explore the Platte, Arkansas, Canadian, Red, and upper Rio Grande Rivers of the lower Great Plains. Army officers leading these expeditions included Stephen H. Long and Zebulon Pike. Altogether, over 40 Army expeditions would be sent out over the first half of the 19th century, and the information they returned with enabled the vast overland migrations to California and Oregon. In the 1850s, Army engineers led survey expeditions to select the route for transcontinental railroads.

There were many other government programs besides these Army expeditions. There were Navy expeditions to the South seas and the Antarctic, which brought back specimens which formed the basis for creating the Smithsonian Institution. There were programs to build roads and canals, harbor improvements, and improvements to river navigation. There were clean water and sanitation projects carried out by state and municipal governments. There was direct funding of Samuel Morse to build the telegraph, and direct Navy funding of experiments to determine the most efficient designs of steam engines. There were state and national programs to study problems of agriculture, and to find, introduce, and develop new animal and crop breeds more resistant to the pests and germs of North America. There were deliberate policies to spread the new technologies and capabilities of metalworking machine tools from the national armories where they were first designed and developed, to general industry.

In short, there was ACTIVE government promotion of economic development that complemented trade protectionism to encourage the creation and growth of new industries and new transportation capabilities, while at the same time (in the North at least), ensuring that American workers were the highest paid and most productive in the world. (It must be noted that this record of nationalist economic achievement is easily obscured by focusing only on the "peculiar institution" of slavery in the South, or on the emergence of a new class of Gilded Age robber barons who consciously modeled their tastes, biases, and social outlook on British oligarchs.)

Without these two other two pillars — national progressive banking, and massive infrastructure programs — and a discontinuation of the war on the wages and benefits of American workers, then Trump's protectionist attempts to reverse the deindustrialization of the USA economy will be largely ineffective.

There also remains the problem of avoiding a trade war. There are too many brainwashed so-called progressives who aggressively characterize critics of free trade as “isolationists” and jingoistic “economic nationalists.” Again, they may have their own opinions, but they may not have their own facts. And one important fact going forward is that the world desperately needs $100 trillion in new investment to build energy and transportation systems that run on renewable energy sources alone.

The present world trade regime was designed mostly by people working for multinational corporations, and is designed to take advantage of sources of cheap labor that can be exploited to make cheap, increasingly shoddy consumer goods, and to avoid taxes on the resulting high profits. Proponents of this trade regime claim it has helped lift millions of people in developing countries into the middle class. Why then has so little progress been made in areas such as providing access to clean drinking water, waste disposal and treatment, and public mass transit? Why are growth rates for most developing countries slower under this regime than they were before it?

The present world trade regime must be discarded, and replaced with a world trade system which promotes national economic development of the industry, agriculture, and infrastructure of all nations. This must include strict limits on speculative and hot money capital flows. This means negotiating with countries like Algeria — not to open up their markets to speculators and usurers, but to assist them in acquiring and developing the scientific and technological knowledge to build their own fresh water systems, renewable energy systems, and transportation grids. Algeria wants to build its own automobiles and eliminate imports. This desire should not be attacked and disparaged as contrary to free trade, but encouraged as a solid way of providing high paying jobs for Algerians. And it should also be encouraged to be steered in such ways as to move beyond internal combustion engines as quickly as possible, to electric vehicles.

There are hundreds of millions of people across the globe without access to clean water, without indoor plumbing, without heating or cooling. How many steel plants and plastics plants are there in Africa that produce pipe? How many factories are there in Africa to produce valves, faucets, gaskets, grommets, nuts and bolts? If there are not any, rich countries like USA have a moral obligation to help establish them, and get them running. And NOT for exporting all this new pipe, valves, and faucets back to USA or other already developed markets.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 percent of people live with no access to electricity. Yet there is enough solar energy hitting one square kilometer of desert in Africa to supply all the electricity needed -- in all of Europe as well as Africa. Deploy enough photovoltaics, and Africa has a huge surplus of energy it can export to Europe. There is no reason that these solar cells can’t be built by countries in Africa. No reason except plain racism, and blind ideological faith in free trade.

We need a new world trade system based on actual national development of industries and domestic markets in the less developed countries. Free your mind of its free trade lies!

The hidden truth about Christmas


One of the peculiarities of my childhood was that I was raised in a home where we were taught that lying about Santa Claus to children was a sin. However, we were also coached not to tell our friends that Santa was just a hoax. In other words, we were taught that Santa was a lie but instructed to keep the lie alive in homes where it was taught. Considering how important "sin" was to our worldview, this contradiction was stunning.

Below, Lee Camp gives an absolutely hilarious explanation for this contradiction, and argues pretty persuasively that the Santa lies are FAR from harmless.



I loved this because it really did remind me of my childhood. And yes, massive lying to children is probably a serious drag on their mental and cultural development. However, in my case I tend to think the Santa lie was condemned by the religious types mostly because it distracted people from the stories they were telling. I won't even get into the debate of whether the flying toy-giver or the birth-by-virgin tale has caused more social damage.

Merry Christmas