Liberals and Conservatives – Pt. 2

There’s an old saying:  “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”   I used to think that meant that I did not do something that I intended to do and maybe promised someone that I would do.  Then more recently I decided that it probably happens when I do something that I may have promised, but the action results in unintended consequences.  Politicians make a lot of promises to voters that they will do things to help them. But it’s hard to avoid unintended consequences.

When it comes to social issues, Liberals make lots of well-intended promises.  There is often more than one way to fulfill these promises.  But not understanding or thinking through the economic effects of how one addresses these social issues, often causes things that could be avoided.   Conservatives, on the other hand are frequently accused of not doing being motivated to do things that help people.  They want to do things that help the economy but are not specifically aimed at helping people who need help.  We would probably be better off if the two sides would work together.  Helping the economy may not always help the people who need help the most.  On the other hand, trying to help people without considering the economic effects often leads to unintended consequences.  And sometimes people just need to be motivated to help themselves.

Walter Williams who is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes a syndicated column, had a recent column in the local paper.  In it he goes through the  possible economic effects of raising the minimum wage from $10 per hour to $15 per hour.  He points out that a person making minimum wage of $10 per hour makes about $21,000 per year which is “no great shakes”.  But it’s an honest job above the poverty line in most areas, and requires a minimum of skills.  In today’s world many jobs can and are being replaced by automation, and he cites a few.  There is a good possibility that if the minimum wage was raised to $15 per hour that it would give company’s more incentive to automate the work, and the number of jobs would be fewer.  While some people would make more money, a lot would not have jobs at all.  So if some people are helped, but a lot of others hurt, how compassionate is that?  The supporter of a higher minimum wage may have the best of intentions, but it may not be the best way to improve the most lives.  The best way to help people have more money would be to have them qualified for more than a minimum skilled job.  And according to things I see in the news, a lot of companies are having trouble finding people with the skills they need.

In case you are wondering about his logic  (He’s dealing in micro-economics which my good friend and economics professor told me – several years ago – not as important as Macro – economics, but I took his course in Micro anyway and have used it much more than macro in nearly 40 years of work in industry.  But I haven’t been interviewed like he has by news media on actions by the Fed and congress.)  An article in the Wall Street Journal the first of July talked about Seattle, Washington which a few rears ago raise its minimum wage from $9.47 to $13 per hour as a first step to $15 per hour.  Since then, a Washington University study found that, on average, workers getting a raise in hourly dollars had their incomes fall by a net $125 per month because employers cut their work hours.  Another Wall Street Journal in last May, had a story about a steel mill being built in Ashland, Kentucky.  The average pay at the plant will start at $50,000 per year and average $70,000 per year – about twice the median house hold income in Ashland.  It is located in Ashland because labor is available and Kentucky is a “right-to-work” state – so they could not have unions and union rules.  A lot of people in these areas voted for Trump because he promised to get industry back in their area.  But union’s usually support Liberal Democrats because they want higher wages and more rules.  With this and new technology, it is expected to be competitive with international steel companies where most of the steel production has gone over the last several decades.  I don’t think that Trump should get any credit for this plant, but the well-intentioned union should not either.

Apparently a lot of people making minimum wage are working in the food industry.  In San Francisco a lot of restaurants went out of business when the minimum wage went up.  (As reported in the news) So this is not “greed” on the part of the business owner, it’s survival.  An article in the local paper last week said that although Americans like American products if asked, they will by foreign imports if they are cheaper.  They will buy lower priced products regardless of where they are made.  So if company is using a lot of minimum wage workers whose price went up, they would have to look for ways to cut costs to stay competitive.   It’s not necessarily “greed”, it’s “survival”, and low prices – and more jobs, help all of us.

A better way to help minimum wage workers would be to give them skills for a better paying job or make them more productive in the job they are in.  Industry – according to the news media – is having problems with finding skilled workers.  The answer is not necessarily more people attending college.  I heard a guy speak recently who is with a company that trains air plane mechanics.  The training takes some time, but the time and cost are much less than college costs and the Airlines have a shortage of mechanics.  The starting pay is $20 per hour (about $42,000 per year, which is probably comparable to a lot of college grads) and with some experience that can increase to $100,000 a year or higher .  If one’s intentions are to help people with low pay jobs, that sounds like a much better alternative to me.  But to get there would involve some discussions of both well-meaning conservatives who know something about economics and liberals interested in helping people do better.  It’s not so much a matter of wanting to help people, but which is the better alternative.  And we probably won’t get there, today or tomorrow, unless liberals and conservatives start talking to each other.

 

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Liberals and Conservatives – the Differences? (pt. 1)

There have been several opinion pieces lately that say we have become too tribal.  The tribes seem to be called “Democrats and Republicans”.   A lot of us do not fit very comfortably into either tribe.   But I think there are definitely two tribes and most of us are forced into identifying with one or the other.  On the one hand, tribes are a natural kind of thing because we are all most comfortable with people like us.  Groups of people who associate with each other and talk to each other eventually tend to think alike and draw the same conclusions.  This is true of people in the same professions, and have the same associates on a regular basis.  I once heard a manager of a news network say that people who reported Washington news inside the beltway tended to go to the same press conferences, but they also went to the same bars and the same restaurants.  In that environment, one starts to believe that everyone should think like you do.  After awhile they could not understand why anyone outside the beltway thought differently than they did.  In the 1970’s and early 80’s I saw the same thing with people working in the oil patch in the mid-continent area.  They could not understand why people on the East coast had different conclusions than they did – many of these folks had bumper stickers that read “Let the Bastards freeze in the dark”.

Most of the issues that we have today have no perfect solutions.  We need to understand the pluses and minuses of each potential solution.  To do this I think we need to listen and have open discussions with each other.  But who encourages us to do this?  Not the news media.  The front page stories and the lead stories on TV news are the sensational stories.  With most of  the political stories they do a pretty good job answering who? (said what), what? (did they say), when? and where? (did they say it).  But if it’s a political position the most important thing is why? (have they come to that conclusion).  “Why?” is usually a longer explanation than the news media has space and time for.  The op-ed page of the paper usually gets more in-depth.  But most columnist have a “tribe” and on most issues they have an opinion and they may say “why”.  However, with many, their emphasis is to convince the reader of their conclusions, so they only present stuff that supports their opinion.  There are a few syndicated columnist who have the knowledge and the desire to give the reader the pluses and minuses of both sides of a possible set of solutions and I try to find those, but on a lot of days there aren’t any.

In fairness to the news media, we need to recognize that they are in an incredibly competitive environment.  News papers seem to be going out of business and TV news channels have many competitors for the same advertising dollar.  Not only that, but the internet is a constant source of news stories.  In order to survive, news papers need people to buy their papers and pay for ads.  “If it bleeds, it leads” has been something I’ve heard from my newspaper friends for a long time.  Sensational stories help sell news papers.  And today, most papers that I see are, understandably, trying to save money.  Fewer pages in the paper, less ink, and fewer staff all effect their ability to survive.  Answering the “why” question takes time and space and will not often attract more readers.  Nightly TV news is only 30 minutes for most stations – 20 minutes with advertising.  That isn’t enough time for much more than headlines.  And the reporters no doubt spend the most of their time with each other, so they are probably a “tribe” of their own.

There was an op-ed piece in the paper today by a lady who is probably Democratic, but is usually pretty balanced.  Near the first of her piece she says that she thinks our country has slipped from our founding values of a democracy toward “authoritarianism  and mob rule”.  I was with her at this point.  But before she is done, she has taken more shots at the Conservative right than the Liberal left.  But the fact is we’re all in this together and we need to work together.  Taking shots at each other is not the answer.  She defines what she thinks are the social issues all Liberals believe in and what Conservatives don’t seem to support.  Interestingly,  she makes no mention of economic issues, but she does say that she thinks colleges have gone too far toward shutting down non-liberal speech to which they disagree.  She on the whole I think, has tried to be fair, but she seems to think that the term republicans is synonymous with conservatism and all democrats are part of the same liberal tribe.   I think this is an oversimplification.  Economic and social issues are often connected,  and we need to understood how they are or aren’t related.  I’ve thought about how I think Liberals and Conservatives differ, and they may not be as much as a lot of us think.

Several years ago I was sitting at diner with a man who asked, “Was I a Liberal or a Conservative?”  I told him that I did not like stereotypes but if he had an issue he would like to discuss, I would be happy to give him my opinion.  He asked again, “Are you a liberal or a Conservative?”.  I told him again that I really did not want to be stereotyped, but if he had an issue he wanted to discuss, I would be happy to tell him what I thought.  We never did get to an issue, but he said to me that he had some friends who said that they were conservative on economic issues, and liberal on social issues.  I have thought about that since then and I think that would fit a lot of us.  I don’t think many of my Liberal friends would be too upset if we managed to balance the Federal budget as long as we did not take help away from people who need it.  Most of the conservatives I know would like to help people who need it.  The majority of us may agree more than we think about a lot of things, but our emphasis is different.  Some think it’s more important to keep the economy in line, and some think it’s better to focus on social issues.  But the two things are inter-related in many ways and maybe we should look at both together.

The news media stereotypes people and our two political parties.  Stereotyping tends to drive people into tribes.  We believe that people in the opposite tribe are against us and so there is not much discussion.  The assumption is that people from the other tribe don’t care what we think – they won’t listen and understand.  But we are all in this together, and we need to listen to each other and understand “why” people may think what they think.  If we did, I believe we would end up with better alternatives and be closer together.

 

 

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The Racial Monument that Probably Should be Demolished

The South after the Civil War had an economic crisis.  The Plantations on which the Black Slaves were employed were pretty much destroyed by the war.  There were probably not enough other jobs to accommodate the population.  The white soldiers were pretty much treated as criminals and any money that was made was probably made by the carpet baggers.  Fortunately by the turn of the century, reconstruction was over and things had stabilized somewhat.  In the early 1900’s the automobile was invented.  The south was segregated by schools and living space, but Blacks were allowed to compete with Whites for jobs.  My Mother’s family moved from Knoxville, Tennessee to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1920. They still had relatives in Knoxville and they went back to visit some.  They had a car, but I remember her telling me that a lot of the highways were dirt roads and not good.  But the cars had brought a challenge to government to improve the infrastructure.  Roads needed to be paved for the automobiles.  That brought jobs for Black laborers – at least in the South – working for contractors who paved roads.

I was not really familiar with the Davis-Bacon act passed by the U. S. congress in 1931 until George Will had a piece on the Op. Ed. page of the local paper last week.  It appears that the Davis-Bacon act was passed in 1931 to protect Union Labor from Black Labor.  Will’s column says:

Davis-Bacon was enacted in 1931 to require construction contractors to pay “prevailing wages” on federal contracts.   Generally this means paying union wage scales.  It was enacted as domestic protectionism, largely to protect organized labor from Competition by African-Americans who often were excluded from union membership but who were successfully competing for jobs by being willing to work for lower wages.

It seems that US Rep.  Robert Bacon – a Long Island Republican was upset because in 1927 the low bidder for a construction project in his area was an Alabama contractor who used black labor.  The law was passed in 1931 with the support of the American Federation of Labor.  Will said that the congressional debate on the law is “replete with references to “unattached migratory workmen”, “itinerant labor”, “cheap bootleg labor”, and “labor lured from distant paces for competition with white labor throughout the country.”  Will also says that:

In 1931, the unemployment rate of blacks was approximately the same as the rate for the general population.  Davis-Bacon is one reason the rate for blacks began to deviate adversely .  In 1932 there were about 3,500 workers building what became Hoover Dam.  Never more than thirty were black.

The law is still in effect today and in 2011 a Heritage Foundation study estimated that the Davis-Bacon law would add about $11 billion to that year’s construction costs.  If we increase infrastructure spending in the next few years, it will add even more at a time we should be trying to decrease our deficit.  And it was apparently introduced by a Northerner for racially biased reasons.   That might be one historic monument that could be destroyed.  And who would have thought that a Northerner from Long Island would ever had any racial bias.  But in fact, we are all biased in some way, which is why there are numerous articles being written today saying that our society has become Tribal. We like to associate with people like us – either based on political thinking or race, or religion, etc.  We are in different “tribes” which can lead us to not get along.  But the way to getting along is not for one tribe to attack another, but to sit down with a “peace pipe” and to talk and understand each other.  Attacking people’s monuments and beliefs without understanding how they think or feel and why, will only lead to fighting.  I think we can learn a lot from each other.  If we understand each other and why we might believe as we do.  We might be able to distinguish fact from theory – what can be proved and what is only opinion.  And because a lot of things are based on theories, we might continue to disagree.  But we would still be friends.

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Secession from the Union of States is Legal?

One of my favorite syndicated columnist is Walter Williams who is a Black Economics Professor at George Mason University.  He apparently wrote a column several weeks ago on the dismantling of Confederate Monuments.  I was not in town to get the paper that ran the article, but apparently he is against the abolishment of the monuments.  In the past week he reported that his column generated quite a bit of mail.   Some of the responses apparently said that there “should not be statues honoring traitors such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis, who fought against the Union”.  In this week’s column he addresses the question, “Did the South have a right to secede from the Union?”.  If it did, he thinks that the confederate generals should not be labeled as traitors.

He presents a pretty good case for the Southern States having a right to secede, starting with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 which recognized the thirteen colonies as “independent states”.   Apparently at the Constitutional Convention there was a discussion about whether the states should be allowed to secede or not.  The result was not to write into the Union papers any prohibition against, or punishment for, secession.   The first threat of secession was apparently in 1803 by the New England States who were upset over the Louisiana Purchase.  A Massachusetts senator wrote that “The principles of our revolution point to the remedy – a separation”, and ” that the people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West.”  The call for secession was shared by other prominent Americans including John Quincy Adams.  On the eve of the Civil War in 1861 many unionist politicians saw secession as the right of states, and many Northern newspapers editorialized in favor the South’s right to secede.

Growing up in the South, I never heard some of the evidence he puts forth.  I guess I grew up thinking it’s legality was a question, but there was not a lot of discussion of that.  I had ancestors who fought in the war and who may not have owned saves (one became a Christian minister after the war).  I believe they were all thought, by those who knew them, as “good people”.  I don’t believe that they thought that the Confederate States did anything illegal by seceding.  And they, or their children, never saw themselves as traitors.  They were fighting for their homeland, and the right to solve their own problems.  But if Walter is right that secession was legal, then the Union must have started the war – not the South.  I always have heard that the war started in Charleston, S.C. when Confederate Troops fired on the Union Army in Ft. Sumter.  But if Walter Williams is right, then they had a right to do that because the Union should have vacated the Fort.

But growing up in the South, I believed that people were glad that we did not leave the Union.  The United States of America is a great country, and it would probably not have been so great if the states had not stayed together.  I had relatives who fought in the U.S. army in WWII and believed in their country even though their ancestors were Southerners who fought for the Confederacy.   As Walter Williams pointed out, history is written by the victors and often “does not reflect the facts”.  At least it’s not all the facts and it’s not always balanced.  And the ones that they remember are those that support their position.  Reconstruction tended to treat the people who fought for the South as Traitors and Criminals so I was brought up to believe.  The people who fought for the confederacy might have been wrong, but they were not criminals or traitors.  And I think Walter Williams is right, they did not think they were doing anything illegal.

A book review in this week’s Wall Street Journal there was a review of a new book about Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty).  The review was written by another writer of history – W. H. Hay.  Hay said that before the 1970’s, books on Jefferson “treated him with sympathy and celebrated his enlightenment ideals”.  Then in the mid – 1970’s a book by Fawn Brodie “changed Jefferson’s public image by highlighting his relationship with slave Sally Hemings”.  After that writers started characterizing  Jefferson differently.  Mostly as a “slave-owning elitist whose class interest as a Virginia Planter, trumped his egalitarian rhetoric.””  In the book under review, John Boles, a history professor at Rice University, offers a series of arguments, based on the  standards of Jefferson’s day, that he should be viewed differently.  In fact, much of what he did went against the accepted standards of the day.  What he did was bold for his time and he should be appreciated for much of what he did.  (P.S. Jefferson was also the President who made the Louisiana Purchase, which despite the fact that it was not liked by some of the Northerners helped make the U.S. what it is today)

History should be remembered with balance and in its entirety, and judgments should be made relative to the standards of the time – not today’s standards.  And at some point, you need to let the past go and move on.  I think the monuments should stand and it’s time to move on.

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Do you believe in our Political System? If not, why not?

Lee Hamilton, who is a senior adviser for Indiana University Center on Representative Government had an article on the Op Ed page of our local paper last week.  In the beginning paragraph of the article he said that he believes “that our country is divided into two political camps separated by a deep and uncomfortably wide gap.”   He says that he is talking about people who believe in our political system and those who don’t.  At this point it’s hard not to think of the Winston Churchill saying that although a democratic system is not perfect, it’s better than any other that has been tried.  The non-believers are, he says, mostly young people who are disheartened by political polarization and are convinced that people in power place their own interests ahead of the country’s.  Hamilton says that good politics means resolving our differences through dialogue and compromise.

Several years ago, I read a book and took a course by George Prince on creative problem solving.  The sub-title of his book was ‘A Manual for Dynamic Group Problem Solving”. His process started with the older idea of brainstorming which I was first introduced  to at a college seminar when I was still in High School.  Brain storming is a way to come up with new ideas from groups of people – the idea is to get people to think of ideas that might be different although maybe impractical.  Part of the process is that the group does not make any judgments of the ideas put on the table.  George Prince had a process that started with brainstorming but added a phase which would then take what seemed to be the better ideas and then make them practical through a process of group evaluation.  One of the keys to the process was that people would not get blamed for coming up with suggestions that were obviously impractical in the beginning.  This naturally took acceptance from the group and were not to be publicized by anyone in the group.  There would be no evaluation of ideas suggested in the “brainstorming” exercise.  Even though an idea might be impractical, the thought was that it might spur someone in the group to think of something that would not have come to them otherwise

A few years later I was in charge of a group that obviously needed some changes in its operation.  We had a “committee” of people from all parts of the organization that might be affected.  We wanted everybody that might be effected to be represented.  We were looking for solutions that Stephen Covey would call “win-win”.  This committee did not meet continuously, but maybe once per week until we got finished.  We had someone on the committee to take notes and do minutes so we could remember from week to week where we were in the process.  The group seemed to be working well and focused on coming up with a good set of solutions.  Then our note-taker showed up one week with a tape-recorder  which was put in the middle of the room so that everyone’s comments would be recorded.  She said she would not do anything to let anyone else hear the tapes, but it would help her write minutes that would only be seen by the committee.  I was impressed with how that simple step changed the tenor of the meetings.  Everyone got more guarded in their comments.  They knew they were being recorded and anyone who heard the tape would know who any of the ideas had come from.  The minutes had said only what the group had suggested and did not name anyone.  It was a learning experience for me, I would not have guessed that the introduction of a tape recorder by the minute taker who promised to erase the tapes would have made that much difference in how the guarded the group became on the chance that someone outside the group might hear the tapes and make judgments about them.

A few years later, as consultant,  I got a call from a lady in charge of a non-profit group who was doing work for a city outside of Tulsa and had a political problem because one of her board members had made some comments to a local news media reporter about the board.  The CEO wanted to get the other members of the board together to see if they could discuss the disparaging remarks made by the board member and decide how they should be handled.  But she thought the organization was subject to the open meeting laws and she might not be allowed to get the board together without publishing the meeting date and inviting the press and the public.  She wanted to get the other board members together by themselves to pull them together, have an open discussion and decide how they should handle the crises caused by the one board member’s comments to the press.  I understood perfectly well why the CEO wanted to do this and that it was probably a good idea.  But given the open meeting laws, I did not have a good solution for her.

Lee Hamilton cited our 240 years of history as evidence for our political effectiveness.  But it’s only been in the last 30 or 40 years that we have open meetings and live TV coverage of congress with every comment make by any of  participants judged.  And if anyone changes their mind on any subject, it’s reported as if they are not trustworthy.  It would seem in the last few years that some of the politicians have figured out ways to use these public open discussions to their advantage.  They use the news media for their political purposes in ways that are not helpful to problem solving, but may help them get re-elected.  With the politicians wanting to be re-elected, and having their every comment evaluated, they tend to make self-serving manipulative comments. And not being able to modify their thoughts or opinions without being criticized is not good for finding win-win solutions that every one can support.

One of our new state house members was asked by the local paper to list some things she learned in her first year in the Capitol.  Her first item was that “It’s not really a two-party system.  It’s a two-tribe system.”  She goes on to say that “the two tribes don’t really talk.  One doesn’t socialize with the other.  They don’t work in teams.  They are segregated.”  And “…there is little opportunity for civil discourse.  Yes, theoretically you work on committees together.  But make no mistake, the ruling tribe runs everything.”  Not exactly what our forefathers had in mind?

So it’s not surprising that we are not as effective as we were for the first 200 years and the young people are smart enough to figure that out.  I wish I had a good answer to our current situation.  Modern technology has both it’s good points and its bad points.  But don’t expect the news media to suggest changes.  It would seem they are one of the beneficiaries of this state of affairs..

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Slavery, Segregation, and Monuments

Today there seems to be some controversy over monuments in the south that remember the Confederate States of America and it’s leaders.  New Orleans recently took down a large monument near the middle of town.  And there have been some suggestions by people in the news that others should follow.  Before I go any further, let me say that I don’t believe that slavery was ever a good thing and segregation may have been even worse.  But Condoleezza Rice recently said to the news media that the monuments should be left up as a reminder of what happened in history.  (Rice was a former U.S. Secretary of state under President George W. Bush.  She is also a black woman born in Birmingham, Alabama.) I agree with Ms. Rice, but unfortunately there are a lot of people  who seem to believe that history started in 1860.

It started a long time before that.  And if it’s true that “those who don’t know history are likely to repeat it”, then we should remember that history started longer than 160 years ago. Slavery was in our world a long time ago – for example in Biblical times, Jews were slaves in Egypt.  H. G. Wells wrote a two-volume history of the world a few years ago.  Although it was not too well-regarded by historians, he did point out correctly that all the people of the world did not develop at the same rate or at the same time. I thought this was accurate and useful to remember.  All of us are capable of learning, but we don’t learn everything at the same time.  In biblical times, one of the most advanced nations was probably Egypt. And there was a time when the most advanced nation was China, and today we use Arabic numbers which were developed in the Middle East and are superior to what the Roman’s used.  In the sixteen or seventeen hundreds when the “new world” was discovered, the white Europeans were the most advanced and the most advanced have always had the upper hand. The people of the “New World” continents were not as advanced as the Europeans.  Nor were the central and southern Africans.  Slavery was not apparently considered a sin, so it was the White Europeans who started taking the black African Slaves to the New World.  The World traders could take black slaves out of Africa without paying for them and sell them in the New World where settlers needed manual labor.  In the U.S. a lot of these traders where seagoing traders out of the Northeast.  In the early days, there were no laws against slavery and people in most states – North and South owned slaves.  But the biggest market for slaves was in the South where the industry was farming.

In the 1800’s the world began to get a different perspective on the moral correctness of slave ownership.  In South Africa, the British outlawed slavery in the early 1800’s.  Doing so made enemies of the Dutch (Boers) who were the first ones into the country.  They had migrated inland, become farmers, and were much more dependent on the slaves than the English.  The Dutch had introduced slavery in 1657 – not using the people all ready in South Africa interestingly enough, but importing Negroid people from the areas further north.  In 1795, the British arrived and took control but did not abolish slavery until 1833.   The English, on the south coast were no doubt much less dependent on the slave labor, but slavery apparently didn’t bother them for the first 50 years that they were there.  In 1869 the English moved inland to mine gold and diamonds and there was no segregation so the Boers had to compete with the Blacks and Coloureds for employment in the mines.  When the National Party (primarily Boers?) came to power in 1948, the policy of Apartheid began.  There were 3 races identified in that policy – white, black & colored.  None of any the 3 races were allowed to integrate with each other.  Apartheid might have been a lot worse in many ways than slavery for the blacks.

I did not realize until I heard a black CEO of the new Smithsonian Black Museum building speak a few weeks ago, that there were many more people moved as slaves from Africa to other countries in the “new world” than were moved to the U.S.  But the 18th century saw almost all of these slaves freed – some peacefully, some not.  But apparently most were peaceful.

In the U.S., most of the slave population was in the South,  even though most of the importing of them from Africa was by trading sailors from the North.  But in the North all of the states were allowed to decide when and how they would outlaw slavery.  And I think it was all done peacefully.  In the 1800’s the U.S. was adding new states as it spread west.  In some of these there was controversy over whether or not they should allow slavery, but the decisions were left to them.  These were treated as “States Rights Decisions” even though there was interference by people outside the states in trying to influence public opinion.

But by the mid 1800’s slavery was on the way out in acceptance by Europe and the Western World.  There is a plaque in the yard of a hotel resort where we have stayed in Southwestern North Carolina to a man named Wade Hampton who it says was the “largest slave holder in the South, with over 4,000 slaves”.    The slaves worked on his plantations in Louisiana and South Carolina, and he freed them before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860.  It also says that “General Hampton” advocated the “abolishment of slave ownership in a speech to the South Carolina legislature in 1860.”   There are  a few things that I have wondered about that the writing on the plaque doesn’t address.  a)  What happened to his plantations?  Did he have to shut them down because the freed slaves all walked off?  b) Did he start paying them wages?  And, if so, did he start charging them money for the food and shelter he provided them?

My guess is that if many of them left he would have to shut down his plantations because there was no other source of labor to keep them open.  I would guess that they did not walk off because there were not going to be other jobs available and most were unskilled.  Slavery was not “free help” as we are told today by much of our media, because the owners would be required to provide food, shelter, a medical assistance if they were to keep them working productively.  So if he paid a wage to his “freed slaves”, did he also charge them for rent and food?  And if he did charge them, was it less than or equal to what he paid them?  (Their would have been no free market for either wages of unskilled farm works or the rent for the places they lived in.)

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems?  Thomas Fleming has written a recent book titled A Disease in the Public Mind in which he gives an account of some of the things that led up to the civil war.  He seems to think that war was inevitable because of  things that people did and that much inflammatory rhetoric was published that included things that were not accurate or true.  He also says that before the war, there were some skilled slaves, such as blacksmiths that ere allowed to work off the plantation for money which they could keep.  He thinks that we would have freed the slaves in the south without the war.  I think he makes a good case for that but who knows if and when it might have happened?

What do I think?  I don’t think there is much balance or understanding in some of our public figures today or the media that has any respect for the complexity of history or what people thought they were or might be facing at the time.  I believe that nothing (like this) is ever as simple as it seems.  And much of the rhetoric today is not helpful.  Fleming’s book title is a quote from U. S. President James Buchanan (The man is the office prior to Lincoln) about what he was hearing from people’s public comments.  We have much better relationships when we put things in context and understand where people are coming from.  We still may not agree with them but we understand better what the problems are.

So here is what I think:

  •  Slavery is bad.  But the worst part was taking people from their homes, friends and relatives in Africa and, generally, that was not done by the plantation slave owners in the South.
  • Slave ownership was not “free labor” because the plantation owners had to provide food and shelter, clothes, etc.
  • Farm labor is not skilled labor and if the unskilled slaves were freed, other jobs would not be available.  Thomas Jefferson thought that we should educate the slaves before we freed them.  I think that was a good idea that never happened.
  • Freeing the slaves would probably have happened without the war, but who knows how long it would have taken.   The world that we lived in was no longer accepting slavery, so it almost surely would have happened at some point.
  • Not all Southerners who fought for the South in the civil war were slave owners or even accepted slavery as OK.  The Carolina plaque contained the title “General” (Hampton) so I assume he fought in the Confederate army.
  • Other states had been allowed to solve their slavery problems themselves.  The upset to the society and economy in the South was going to be much worse than in the North. Without the war and “reconstruction” we might have avoided segregation and be better off today.  States rights were a “real issue” to many, if not most’ white people in the south.  Even people who did not believe in slavery wanted to be able to solve the problem themselves, and results are usually better when people solve their own problems.
  • Segregation was better than apartheid, but segregation did not really help the freed slaves.  And some of the results of that are still with us today.
  • I was told growing up in the South, that the worst thing that happened was not the war, but “reconstruction”.  The people in the South were treated as criminals, and the “carpet baggers’ – with nothing to lose came in and tried to capitalize at the expense of the southerners and then go back home.  It was also the opinion of many in the South that if Lincoln had not been killed, Reconstruction as it was done might not have happened.
  • The southerner’s who owned slaves were kinder to their people than were the slave traders from the north who are kindly remembered and not thought of as evil.
  • I agree with Condoleezza Rice that we should leave the monuments up as a reminder of history, but also because it is part of the past of the current southerners whose ancestors lived there and may not have ever owned slaves or thought they were fighting for anything other than their homeland.  There is probably only one perfect person who lived in the world, and if we are going to condemn people for slavery, there is a lot of  condemnation to go around in not only the Northern states of the USA, but also many in Western Europe and other parts of the new world.  We need to remember history, but we should begin before 1860 and keep things in perspective.  If we can do that, we’ll be much better off.

 

 

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In the Age of Speed, Good Judgement and Accountability Count

A few years ago (in the late 1980’s) I was in charge of what was then called MIS (Management Information Systems).  In the transition period between the “glass house” or large main frame data centers to where we are today with e-mail and instant messaging, we had distributed information systems running on “mid-frame computers built by companies mostly out of business today.  One of the first of its kind – certainly for my company was a system for our retail marketing division.  We had retail marketing store scattered around the country with the headquarters in Tulsa.  Our marketing operation had converted from old-time gas service stations to convenience stores like we have today.  In the old service stations we only petroleum products ( gas and oil).  In the new world we were stocking a lot of other stuff that drive in, grocery stores would carry. That complicated the marketing management operations and the retail marketing operation decided they needed a distributed computer system so that each store could send in information daily that would facilitate stocking and overall operations.  The stores had a lot of non petroleum products that added to the complexity and “snail mail” was not always working efficiently.

It took maybe the better part of a year to get the system installed.  But when we did, it worked well.  We were getting information from each store at headquarters daily, instead of weekly and if a problems arose that needed a decision we could get special reports and decision based that information daily as well.  To celebrate our new state of the art system, the VP of Marketing, his administrative manager and I decided to go for a drink at a private club after work one day.  We got our drink and I asked our VP of marketing how he liked the system.  He said that it worked fine and the only problem was that we had taken his “think time” away.  I was surprised by the response, so I asked what he meant.  It seems that in the old days someone would call into headquarters from the field and describe a problem that needed a decision.  Our VP would asked for a written report that had information and data that helped define the problem and when he got the report, he would make a decision.  Before our system, it took about a week to get the report to headquarters, so he would have time to think about the problem – maybe over dinner at night or in the shower in the morning.  With contemplation time he would often think of a good solution that he might not have thought of before.  With our new system, he would have the report the same day.  Once he got the report, he felt like he should go ahead and make the decision and so he would.  But without 2 or 3 days to reflect on the situation and think of alternatives, the decisions were quicker, but he wasn’t sure they  were better and maybe not as good.

Renzi Stone, a man who is now the CEO of a corporation in Oklahoma City.  In May of this year he spoke to the graduating class of the college of Journalism and Mass Communications at the university of Oklahoma.  (He is my son’s age and his father was in retail marketing when the above story happened.)  He wrote an article on the Op Ed page of our local Tulsa paper last week about what he said to the graduating class.  His article reminded me of the my experience.  Among other things he said that:

Our brains are sorting for order, yet order is elusive because of the speed that information flows to us.  at the intersection of truth and truthiness, it is difficult to decipher which direction to take when both paths look credible.  In the past, time allowed the proper amount of reflection and introspection.  Today, if action is not taken quickly, we risk being left behind – a dreaded state called FOMO (that’s fear of missing out).

It occurred to me when I read his article that things are much faster and there is much less organization to the information we get today than it was with our system in the late 1980’s.  If our VP was worried we were taking away his think time then, what would he think now? When he told me that I had “taken away his think time” I was surprised because what he said had never occurred to me.  But after he explained it, I thought he was right.  Getting information more quickly no doubt means quicker decisions but not necessarily better decisions.  As a manager, I decided that every decision had its time.  Some need to be made quickly and some can wait.  Waiting provides more information and more “think time” which often provides better decisions.

But as Renzi pointed out to the Journalism class, today we are in information overload.  There is not a lot of time for reflection and there is a temptation to react to opinion whether we know it’s credibility or not.  The information we get today comes in short blasts without a lot of explanation or (maybe) thought.  How we react to that is important.  Renzi’s advice to his Journalism class audience was to “become gatekeepers for the truth”. They have the responsibility to tell the truth and a complete story that others can understand and rely on.

I don’t think we are likely to go back to an age when we have a lot of time for reflection time.  But the Journalists telling the story need to understand what is true and what is only opinion.  The “Whys”  need to be told along with the opinion.  They are critical to our decisions on what we think and how we vote.  They (and we) need to have good judgement and accountability.

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