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AOC and the Culture Wars

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a product of our culture. That should scare us all.

By Will Offensicht  |  June 3, 2019

Those who have been following this series should know that it was inspired by the ongoing palaver about how our eduction system should work.  In principle, learning should be pretty non-controversial, but in modern America it's anything but.

There are lawsuits about Ivy League college admissions, Mayor DeBlasio is trying to water down the best-performing high schools in New York City, there is weeping and wailing about accumulated student debt, teachers are going on strike for more pay, nobody can agree whether boys should be able to compete with girls in athletic events or share facilities, we're debating how to adjudicate arguments between men and women about hookups while at college where they're supposed to be concentrating on academics, our students' achievement is far behind that of other countries, nobody can agree on the purpose of education, and on and on.

What's more, the public school emphasis on rescuing lagging students ("No Child Left Behind!") at the expense of advancing the gifted means that highly educated non-wealthy parents are put in a bind.  Unlike the rich who can afford to send their children to effective but often outlandishly expensive private schools which challenge them, they either must put their children in public school where they'll be bored to distraction or give up one parent's income to homeschool them.

You might think there's nothing we can agree on, but you'd be wrong: pretty much nobody is happy with our current education system.  Everybody agrees that's broken, but there is vehement disagreement on the solutions.

The emotional and financial cost to get a child productive is so high that middle-class people often don't want to undertake it.  We see that educated women in Japan, Korea, Europe, and the United States are choosing not to have enough children to maintain their cultures because the financial sacrifice and general effort of raising each one to their desired standard is simply too much.  Since the basic purpose of educating the young is to preserve culture, making it impossible for so many families to do this is cultural suicide.

We started out discussing the ideas of Baron Macaulay who served in the British government of India because managing education was as fraught a topic in his day as in ours and we saw lessons in his experiences.  He argued forcefully that the Indian education system should use English to make all the world's scientific and technical literature available to Indians.

His view prevailed.  As we reported earlier, the 127-year period of British rule left Indian society capable of maintaining and extending their railroad system, electric grid, roads, sewers, and other infrastructure which had been built with British help.  It's true that the British East India company made a great deal of money through commercial activities in India, many of which were less than savory even for the time; but in return, Indian society was gifted with a modern infrastructure, education system, and enough trained workers to maintain and extend the technical underpinnings of their society.

British merchants later turned English into the world-wide "money and technology" language by including much of the world in the British Empire as trade followed the flag.  It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire - which saying wags extended with, "because not even God could trust the British in the dark!"

America started out with the same linguistic advantage which the British gave India.  To this day, most of the world's scientific and engineering research is reported in the English language, although the Chinese are making Mandarin a close second.  Indeed, since the Chinese population is four times ours, it's been estimated that there are more web pages in Mandarin than in English.

Since it is far, far harder for an American technologist to learn enough Mandarin to read Chinese research than for a Chinese to learn English, the Chinese have an inherent linguistic advantage in the coming clash between the Chinese and American ways of life.  We hope that Google Translate can process technical Mandarin intelligibly.

As we were wrapping up the Macaulay series, we took a side trip into analyzing the ideas so vividly espoused by our newly-elected Democrat representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  We feel that she is far from being as stupid as many of our fellow conservatives believe her to be.  On the contrary, we think that she's an intelligent person who's been sadly defrauded by our debased, liberal-run K-16 education system.  She recognizes problems that bother us too, showing her intelligence, but thanks to her gross mis-education, the solutions she proposes are ludicrously impractical and unworkable.

The problems is that, as we've shown, her ideas are solidly based on the misinformation she's been fed by government-run schools.  Since we'd discussed the entire issue of what a school system should teach in the early part of our Baron Macaulay series, we thought it worthwhile to write a series of essays illustrating specific areas of misinformation which illuminate AOC's ideas and the ideas of her cohort.

She's making an honest attempt to meet the desires of her fellow millennials, which as an elected representative is not fundamentally wrong even if those voters' sincere desires are fundamentally mistaken and her proposed solutions even more so.

Alas, it's not possible to deny the realities of physics, at least not for an extended period of time.  AOC's Green New Deal and her vehement anti-business views will produce economic disaster, and, as usual, low-income people will be harmed the most.  We're sure that isn't what AOC wants, but that's where her planetary nostrums will take us.

How do we persuade her and her cohort that they're crusin' for a brusin' and that we'd rather not let them take our economy down with them?  The lessons of Baron Macaulay suggest that this problem of persuasion will not be easy to solve.

Anti-Capitalist Tools

For all of human history until the last five minutes, absolute poverty has been the natural, expected, normal, and all but universal human condition.  Just about everybody no matter how apparently successful could, at any time, lose everything, begin starving in the gutter, and be dead in a week or two.  And, just about everybody almost was already in such an unpleasant position, preventing actual death by starvation only by backbreaking manual labor sunup to sundown, or, as our New England ancestors put it, from can't see to can't see.

Only since the combination of the managerial invention of capitalism and the technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution has anything better been achievable for normal people.  The wealth of the world, and the average wealth of people in it, is so immeasurably vaster today than it was in, say, 1700, that a graph becomes almost meaningless.

Indeed, even today's stereotypically most impoverished people - those in Haiti or sub-Saharan Africa, say - are noticeably far better off than they were back then, simply by virtue of the modern world's charity, cast-off technology, antibiotics, and tourism.

The centuries of capitalist innovations have led to the greatest increase of human wealth, comfort, and happiness that the world has ever seen.  Yet, somehow, in the very heart of the Western world, large numbers of people and a majority of our youth are wanting not merely to voluntarily give up this vast wealth, but force it to be ripped from the hands of others who created it and want to keep it.

At the height of the Cold War between the Capitalist West and the Communist / Socialist / Collectivist East, could anyone have imagined that a majority of today's young adults would prefer to live under the society we defeated back then?  Or that a duly elected Congressional representative, supported widely by her fellow representatives, would even think of a plan to literally outlaw hamburgers and air travel for ordinary Americans?  We've grown accustomed to liberals wanting to outlaw guns, but hamburgers?

As we've seen in the previous articles in this series, we have reached this sorry point due to a century-long concerted effort by the Left to take over our educational institutions.  Gifted with a monopoly over our children for twelve years by law and an additional four by custom, is it any wonder that most of America's children believe the lies they are force-fed each and every day for just about all of their young lives?

We see this vividly illustrated in New York City's recent popular rejection of Amazon's new HQ which its politicians can't manage to reverse despite their sorrow at losing another opportunity to extort money from a big firm in return for favors.  There are many reasons not to like Amazon either as a business or as the powerful, and often harmful, influence of its boss Jeff Bezos, but who ever heard of a city saying "no thanks" to tens of thousands of clean, high-paying, taxable jobs and a giant corporation which would pay a net $27 billion in taxes over the next decades?

The rejection of Amazon is the result of decades of our educrats portraying profit-making business itself as fundamentally evil.  If profits are based solely on evil greed, and all for-profit economic activity is therefore evil, who would want a huge business to come to your city no matter how much financial benefit would also come?  This idea that New York City should not welcome Amazon denies the detailed economic history of the world since 1945 which shows that greed-driven economic systems produce far more material wealth and well being than government-managed economies, but our young people have been taught the exact opposite.

Prostituting Capitalism

In addition to promoting hostility to businesses, progressives have labored to change the rules under which businesses operate.  In his seminal Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith pointed out that greedy businessmen would greatly increase national wealth and the wellbeing of everyone if and only if the laws were structured so that the only way to get seriously rich was to provide goods or services that people voluntarily chose to buy.

As our tax rates have risen and the federal government has acquired more power and money, people who in times past would have had to provide quality goods at competitive prices found that they could persuade government officials to make things harder for their competitors and easier for them by passing laws and writing rules.  The practice of persuading government to hobble competitors so the incumbents can raise prices has become so common that the term "rent seeking" was coined to describe it.

Elon Musk is an amazingly creative product promoter who is also skilled at picking subordinates who can implement his dreams, but he spends considerable energy persuading governments to subsidize his products.  He has promoted tax credits for everyone who buys one of his Tesla electric cars or his Solar City roofs, for example.  How much better could his products have been if he'd devoted the time, talent, and treasure he expended lobbying to engineering instead?

Until Mr. Trump's tax cut, American corporate taxes were the highest in the world; our government still claims the right to tax earnings from abroad, which almost no other nation does.  As could have easily been predicted, American businesses were being bought by foreign companies so that earnings outside America would no longer be subject to American taxes.  When the American company Burger King bought the Canadian Tim Horton's chain, the resulting firm Restaurant Brands International was headquartered in Canada so that the headquarters employees pay income tax to the Canadian government.  To do otherwise would have subjected all the Tim Horton's profits earned in Canada to American taxes.

Outcome of the Culture Wars

There is an inherent conflict between maintaining culture, maintaining technology, and teaching the young to appreciate and contribute to both.  It takes many years of study to understand either our culture or our technology well enough to participate meaningfully in either one.  It's time to summarize our contentious dilemma: the centuries-old clash between culture and technology.

Back in 19th-century British India, learning enough English and enough technology to be able to maintain the electric grid, the railroad system, the water supply, or the road network is sufficiently demanding that there wasn't a lot of time left over to study Sanskrit literature or any other topic which had little immediate economic value.  Indeed, Baron Macaulay reported in 1835 that graduates of the Sanskrit college had petitioned for government stipends because, although they had studied Sanskrit and its literature for 10 or 12 years, they couldn't find jobs.  We had thought that the invention of worthless degrees was a modern fluke, but it happened nearly 200 years ago!

What's truly amazing is that the students who requested government welfare upon finding themselves unemployed after graduation had been paid a monthly stipend for attending classes!  So much for Bernie's "Free College" meme!  Some degrees aren't worth earning even if you're paid to study the material!

That's pretty much what happened to AOC.  She has an honors degree in economics from Boston University, but continues to agitate for higher minimum wages, even though increased labor costs helped put the bar where she worked out of business.  Supply and demand is economics 1.01 - she's clearly disregarded whatever she was taught about economics in favor of liberal notions about redistribution of wealth leading to more wealth.

Or more likely, as we've argued, she was never taught it at all.  Her working-class parents scrimped and sacrificed to get their daughter what they thought was a first-class education which ought to have enabled her to be successful in life; instead, until she worked at a low-paying, low-status job until she entered politics.  Educational malpractice is part of "The Democrat War on the Poor"; most people suffering from it don't have the luck that AOC did in ascending to non-merit-based political heights.

Check Out The Return on Investment

Economics graduate AOC also argued that New York shouldn't "write a check" to Amazon for 3 billion dollars, not realizing that the $3B represented a 10% reduction in the $30 billion Amazon was expected to pay in New York taxes over the next decades.  In theory, an economics degree should be a good foundation for success in business, but AOC's start-up failed and she ended up tending bar like so many Starbucks baristas who majored in XX-studies and other topics of little or no economic value.

AOC isn't the only millennial with a shaky grasp of economics even though profit and loss formulas are built into spread sheet programs such as excel.  Students aren't being taught that a college education is an investment of four years during which the student doesn't earn much, on top of the cost of going there.

There are many published lists of degrees which show what they pay the average graduate.  There is no excuse for someone majoring in a degree that doesn't pay enough to pay back the loans needed to earn the degree, but return on investment calculations seem to be beyond most high school students.

US News list of worst-paying degrees
Child Development and Psychology $35,457
Work and Family Studies $35,858
Culinary Arts $36,200
Social Work $36,483
Theological and Ministerial Studies $36,791
Gerontology $37,700
Education $38,083
Parks, Recreation and Leisure Studies $38,138
Animal Science $38,148
Biblical Studies $38,170 has a list of poorly-paid majors which also explains how they calculated return on investment.  Their rankings broadly agree with US News and their methodology applies to petty much any investment in college.  The Forbes list of uneconomical degrees starts with Anthropology and Archeology paying $28,000, which is less than the worst degree on the US News list.

With a few of these degrees, there may be some other reason: for ones relating to God, for example, those indulging in them may have a faith-based reason to expect rewards from Him at some future time.  For anything else, though, why would anyone not a trust-fund kid waste their time and life?

This is particularly inexplicable when alternatives are so readily available and well-described!  To name but one resource, offers a list of the best-paying jobs.  Some of these jobs require a bachelor's degree, but others merely require certificates, some of which can be earned without paying any tuition.  They state, for example, that web developers earn an average of $34.09 an hour, or $70,907 per year.

Most famously, Free Code Camp claims that they can get you such a job if you spend between 2,000 and 4,000 hours studying their lessons.  There are about 2,000 work-hours in a year, so even at the high end, you're earning good money in half the time it would take to get a bachelor's degree.  That site is supported by donations so they don't charge tuition.

The Death of Curiosity

Finding these numbers took less than 5 minutes of Googling; this is no secret.  For a high-school student to want to Google, however, he or she would have to understand that return on investment in college is a concern which is worthy of investigation.  Students aren't being encouraged to identify issues and questions that will affect their lives and do the research.  They're being fed pre-canned opinions and anyone who questions orthodoxy is criticized and shunned.

We saw the effect of schools killing curiosity when we looked at AOC's Green New Deal.  Her ideas sound wonderful but are utterly impractical given the state of our technology.  Even if we could implement the GND, it would have no effect due to the political realities of what other nations have to do in order to avoid regime change.  Again, finding out the facts which render the GND irrelevant took very little time, but we were motivated to do it through a combination of curiosity in general and a desire to show how AOC's ideas are divorced from reality.

Baron Macaulay's unemployable Sanskrit college graduates illustrate the difficulty.  Sanskrit has centuries of literary tradition, just like English which goes back to Chaucer and before. Learning such a vast body of knowledge well enough to contribute to Sanskrit scholarship takes so much time that there isn't much time left to learn a money-making skill.

There may be those who wish that Sanskrit scholarship paid a living wage, just as there are those that wish XX-studies were useful and beneficial.  Wishing doesn't change reality, though; any investment in useless studies are a net drain on the economy.  If individuals have their own private sources of funding like a trust fund, they have a perfect right to study whatever they please no matter how useless; but why on earth would a sane society subsidize them through government loans and the like?

Baron Macaulay recognized the lunacy of this approach and stopped subsidizing Sanscrit; India was better for it.  And guess what - there are still Sanskrit scholars around, just fewer of them, and largely at someone else's expense.

In AOC's case, studying economics, which is not numbered among the low-paying professions, didn't pay off in terms of employment.  We suspect that this is because what she was taught favored political correctness over intellectual rigor, rendering it non-useful for earning a living.

The most appalling symptom we see of her debauched "education" is her lack of curiosity.  She makes definitive statements without doing any research to back them up even though she can call on the taxpayer-funded research services which are available to Representatives to answer any question she may have.

When she's challenged on the facts, she claims that being morally correct is more important than being factually correct.  We suspect that her disdain for facts is shared widely in her cohort.

As we see it, that's the real tragedy of dumbing down our education system.  To be fair to Thomas Dewey, our civilization has become far more complicated than in his day.  It's possible that relatively ill-educated people could have maintained the infrastructure Dewey knew, but as we've pointed out, if if our education system can no longer support our very high-tech agricultural system, half our population will starve.

That's the true source of our horror at the AOC phenomenon of smart people being kept ignorant on purpose.  We've become a fact-free polity, and you can't fool mother nature, at least not for very long.  We've shown that societies collapse when government costs more than the society can afford.  AOC has shown that society will collapse when we don't have enough people who know how to maintain it.

Neither prospect is particularly inviting.