Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog


with 13 comments

I’ve been looking at the comments this morning and wondering first and foremost if it’s REALLY necessary to go through all this again. 

But it looks like I’m not going to be able to avoid it, so let me give it a shot.

Nobody has so far hijacked the blog.

Nobody needs to apologize to me for the contents of their comments as they have existed from the last post.

“Hijacking the blog” concerns ONE circumstance and ONE circumstance only. 

That is when people jump in and try to “defend” science fiction and/or fantasy from what they THINK is something nasty I’ve said. 

I have maintained to this point and continue to mainstain that these dust ups have been entirely paranoic.  I’ve said nothing derogatory about either, ever.

In an attempt to avoid these idiocies, I have been trying to be very careful never to say anything at all about either genre or any of their writers. 

It turns out that it’s either that or censoring the comments.  I don’t, in the end, want to censor the comments.

Therefore, since NOTHING I say will stop people from doing this, I am censoring myself.

The heckler’s veto has succeeded.  I have been permanently and globally shut up on anything involving that particular subject.

But comments like this latest thing I absolutely love.  They’ve been very interesting.  I wish they happened much more often. 

And, interestingly enough, they dovetail with the subject of this post, which is the third book I’ve read so far this year.

3) C. Northcote Parkinson.  The Evolution of Political Thought. 

This book was published in 1958, and I’m willing to bet it’s out of print.  A friend sent it to me in a very nice used copy, and for a while I didn’t pay much attention to it because I’d read another book by the same author, and that book had been humorous. 

I’ll read humourous books sometimes, I wasn’t really up for one just then.

This was especially true because I had just finished the Sayers, which is definitely light reading.  I tend to like to vary the tone and genres of what I read, so the idea of going from light reading to light reading–even of different kinds–didn’t appeal to me.

Still, I kept circling around this one. 

I finally picked it up, and started reading, and then I ran into another problem.

For the first 30 pages or so, this book is very, very dull. 

It isn’t even interesting on the conceptual level.  which many books can be.

And then, something started to happen.  I’m having a hard time figuring out what. 

This is one of those times when I’m very glad I have a strict rule to finish any book I start.  If I hadn’t had that rule, I wouldn’t have finished this one.

I’m not sure I bought all of it, and some of the propositions put forward are marked by the fact that this book was written in 1958 and not last week. 

The fundamental idea is this:  there is no such thing as a linear progress from bad to good in governments.  Rather, there is a cycle that goes from monarchies to oligarchies to democracies to dictatorships and back around again.

Under monarchies, Parkinson would include everything from Egypt in the Pharoanic age to Queen Victoria.  Under oligarchies he would include both the plutocracies of classical age Athens and the governments-by-bureaucrat of the present.

In other words, he classifies governments by what they actually do and not by the rhetoric they use to justify themselves.  Under theocracies, therefore, he places both those Egyptian pharoahs and the Soviet Union from at least the death of Lenin on.

The reason I think this book speaks to the discussion on the comments is this:  he presents democracy as being inherently unstable, and everywhere and always for the same reason.

Democracies, he says, suffer from this fatal flaw:  in any society in which it is possible for some people to vote themselves the property of others, they’ll do it.

All democracies start in a sort of Benthamite environment of free trade and individual liberty, and all democracies end in socialism–with socialism, again, being defined by what it does and not what it says about themselves.

For Parkinson, Social Security and unemployment benefits are social just as surely as government ownership of the banks.

We just don’t say so in this country because we’ve got a phobia about the word.

Anyway, according to Parkinson, once socialism starts there are only two places for it to end, and it will get to both:  the destruction of personal liberty, and the destruction of the economy.

The destruction of personal liberty comes with the rise of the oligarchic bureaucratic state, the nattering regulation of more and more aspects of private life.

These regulations are often justified as a matter of cost effectiveness–obesity costs us X trillion dollars a year!  How are we going to keep health care costs down if you don’t take off the flab?

The destruction of the economy is a lot more complicated, because it involves a lot of unintended but also a lot of unconscious decisions and motivations.

And here is where I really wished this guy had been around to do an update at, say, 1990. 

Because we’ve added a few wrinkles to the destroy-the-economy scenario that didn’t exist before.

Parkinson starts the beginning of the end with the minimum wage and goes from there.  The minimum wage raises the cost of the lowest skilled labor.  It therefore becomes to the advantage of employers to to without as much of such labor as they can manage.

Of course, there always was a certain incentive to that that anyway, but the minimum wage vastly increased that incentive and made mechanization not only desirable but increasingly necessary for sheer survival.

With each mandate–unemployment insurance, half the social security contribution, now health care–the cost of employing an actual human being goes up.

Eventually, it begins to affect the feasibility of employing the middle class. 

If an employer wants to take on one full time worker at $40,000 a year, his actual cost is almost half again that much, even BEFORE you consider things like anti-discrimination law.

And antidiscrimination law drives the cost of hiring in firm of 50 or more employees right through the roof.

The big problem here is that the standards are squishy–they are a matter of interpretation.  So Firm A engaging in Practice Y may get hit with tens of thousands of dollars in fines for being in “noncompliance” with anti-discrimination regulations, while Firm B engaging in the same Practice Y may be judged to be perfectly in compliance and charged nothing at all.

To the extent that these decisions are made by regulators themselves at their own person discretion, operating a business becomes more a matter of who you know than what you know.

If you’re in with the incrowd, everything’s fine.  If you’re not, you could be hit with business-bankrupting decisions at any time on the basis of anything at all.  You cannot anticipate these things, because they are not written down.  They exist in the heads of individual regulators and nowhere else.  They are entirely subjective.

Martha Stewart goes to jail for eight months because she tells her board of directors and her stockbrokers that she will be found not guilty of insider training–and that happens even though she’s right.  She IS found guilty of insider trading.

So why does she go to jail?  Because telling her stockholders she would be found not guilty amounted to trying to deceive them.

Why was it tring to deceive them if she was in fact found not guilty?

Well, because the judge thought so, because the regulations are written in such a way that they have no objective meaning, only a subjective one to be determined at the time of trial or hearing.

A country of men and not laws.

That’s what that is.

But there’s another reason why all these regulations reduce the number of jobs available–they’re expensive. 

I don’t mean that businesses have to pay government money.  I mean that they amount to thousands of man hours of work added on top of whatever work needs to be done to actually run the business.

No new car company has arisen in the US in decades up decades–do you know why? 

Because it takes over 16,000 man hours of work to do the paperwork to comply with the regulations to start one. 

People used to start car companies in their garages.  These days, between the zoning, the environmental regs, the labor regs, the health and safety regs and on ad infinitum, nobody could.

This does 2 things:  it protects the existing car companies from competition, and it makes it certain that when a new car company arises, it will not be here.

Notice how, when new companies start here these days, they are largely the ones in industry that haven’t yet been highly regulated or that are in areas that have never existed before and that nobody has yet thought of.

Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer in his garage.  You couldn’t do that now.

But all this regulation does something else–it makes running a business (especially a SMALL business) and  hiring workers more and more expensive by the minute.

The average number of man hours expected to be necessary to comply with the paperwork and other requirements of Obamacare is expected to be around 14,000–now divide that by 40 hour weeks plus the expense of the SS contribution plus all the rest of it, and suddenly your cost per worker gets more and more astronomical.

If you’re General Motors, you don’t give a damn–and besides, you’ve got friends, so you’re at least partially protected.

If you’re the little guy on Main Street, you’re trying desperately to keep your workforce under 50 with as many of t hose as possible working less than 29 hours a week.

Would you think a robot was worth it?  I would.

If you’re sitting there thinking that this would all be all right if we could just “get money out of politics”–forget it.

Once government by men instead of law is in place, the corruption is inevitable.  Up the number of regulations and you’ll just make the “top 1%” more and more secure–except it’s not the top 1%.  It’s the top .01%.

All you’re doing when you yell about the top 1% is displacing the focus from people like Dick Fuld and Jamie Diamond and letting it fall on local lawyers and surgeons who are certainl well paid, but just as likely to be killed by the prevailing trends as anybody underneath them.

Get rid of the government of men and not of laws and you have Harry Truman taking a lone to move back home after being in the White House. 

I’m not in the least worried about robots.  I am worried about living in a country that actively discourages job growth, job creation, and general competition.

And that is being enabled in its course by people yelling income inequality! when the necessary long term result of anything done to address the problem from that direction is more of what we’ve got, and not less.

It’s late.

I’m going to go see what’s going on in the rest of the house.


Written by janeh

January 14th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

13 Responses to 'Northcote'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Northcote'.

  1. Parkinson is always worth reading–and sometimes at his most insightful when being humorous. Someone might want to re-read the “Plans and Plants” section of PARKINSON’S LAW, for instance, which argues that the perfect building comes when an institution enters stasis, to be followed by decline and death. Google some pictures of the new Department of Homeland Security building when you do so–or the rebuilt Pentagon. I understand the new CIA building is quite impressive too.

    Onward. I’d make one hedge: the insistance that a worker MUST be paid X or given Y in benefits regardless of work done (if any) is pretty clearly socialism as Parkinson understood it. So would our sharp rise in SSSI “disability” payments unrelated to physical symptoms, or, as you mentioned earlier, our practice of paying families to ensure their child reads at least three years below his grade level. Some of the EEOC requirements, and ALL the paperwork making sure the auto companies don’t have domestic competition comes from a corrupt bureaucracy run amok, not necessarily a democracy. You can find state protection of private monopolies as easily under the Tudors or Stuarts.

    Updating Parkinson? If Parkinson is right, we’re headed for monarchy, whatever it might call itself. When he was born (1908) not a single United States coin bore the head of an individual. None ever had. By the time he published POLITICAL THOUGHT, every coin bore the image of a president, except the 50 cent piece (Franklin) and the nearly-defunct silver dollar. The next ten years would see the Eisenhower Dollar and the JFK 50 cent piece. (Does anyone collect the new dollar coins, by the way? They’re minting one for each President.) When Parkinson published, battleships were named after states, and aircraft carriers after ships and victories. Individual sailors and marines–usually Medal of Honor men and Admirals–got frigates and destroyers at most. We are now in the process of retiring the USS ENTERPRISE and adding the USS GEORGE H. W. BUSH to the carrier fleet, which about completes a change to individuals–mostly politicians–throughout. Should I mention that recent presidents have asserted their right to make war without consent of Congress, detain persons indefinitely without trial and kill American citizens based on a decision-making system which, for security reasons, they cannot share with us? We need only the singing of hymns to the new President by school children (2009) to complete the process.

    I understand when Robert Conquest was asked to write an introduction to the revised edition or THE GREAT TERROR he wanted to say “I told you idiots so, but you wouldn’t listen.” That should serve nicely here.


    14 Jan 13 at 5:38 pm

  2. Good points Robert but I’ve been thinking in terms of the Roman Empire. Bread and circuses with the bread being an entitlement and the circuses paid for by the rich.

    And looking at Europe’s problem with Muslim immigrants and the US problem of illegal immigrants reminds me of Rome and the Goths.

    The parallels are too close for comfort.


    14 Jan 13 at 6:26 pm

  3. The book fairy delivered my copy of Parkinson’s “The Evolution of Political Thought” just last week – a hardcover copy in very good condition “withdrawn” from the “Free Public Library” in Sharon, PA. Their loss is my game. It cost me all of about $2.50-ish. Even with $18.00 or so postage it is still a bargain if it is as good as you and Robert (?) say it is. As it’s now top of my reorganised Mt TBR, I’m about to find out.

    As for changing the genre and tone of books read, by last book read was “Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943” by Bruce Gamble – an excellent account of the first, bloody phase of the war in the Western Pacific. Parkinson’s book will be a dramatic change of pace.


    14 Jan 13 at 8:27 pm

  4. Genre and tone: current three are Charles Williams FIGURE OF BEATRICE–I’m only reading the Divine Comedy sections–Barbara Hambly BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD and I got sucked back into Jennifer Crusie STRANGE BEDPERSONS. SPANISH ARMY IN THE NAPOLEONIC WARS is on deck.


    14 Jan 13 at 11:05 pm

  5. Since I live on the far edge of yonder surrounded by Bible belt thumpers and and the only book stores are Christian based ( which is fine for those who believe ) … how do y’all know about all these books that you mention in your posts ?


    15 Jan 13 at 10:01 am

  6. Amazon and various e-readers and e-sources of books are a great advantage especially if you live in a centre in which your choice is limited. I live in a small city now with small choice in real bookstores, but I spent a lot of my time in places with no bookstores at all, and today with all the online stuff, I have more choices than ever.

    As for learning about books, I find that I get suggestions for more titles than I can ever read by word-of-mouth and word-of blog.

    At the moment I have on the go two biographies (Newton and Luther) and a commentary on New Testament letters by Wright. I just finished Nation (Pratchett) and the newest Butcher, but neglected to finish “Stealing with Style” before the library deleted it because it was due back.


    15 Jan 13 at 10:22 am

  7. Texas, I don’t think your Bible thumpers will have any trouble finding you a copy of the Divine Comedy or of Charles Williams’ commentary on it. I read books written by seculars: you might find Christians have something to say.
    Mique knew about Parkinson because I mentioned him on this Blog last week or the week before. Jane mentions a steady stream of titles. I picked up my first Crusie in a Wal-Mart. Do they have those in yonder? Thrift shops usually have a few paperbacks, too. And does yonder have a library?
    If none of those work for you, there are people who are paid to find books you might like. Wander over to Real Clear Books or take a look at Amazon’s recommendations and reviews. Often when someone doesn’t like a book, he’ll mention one he likes better, and there are links to lists.
    My problem isn’t titles to read: it’s years in which to read them.


    15 Jan 13 at 10:25 am

  8. Thanks for all the suggestions ! Jane and Louise Penny are two of my favorite authors since I love the mystery genre.
    I was recently diagnosed with lung cancer ( biopsy next week ) and won’t know prognosis for awhile.
    Meanwhile, my youngest son is buying me a Kindle Fire and apparently there are tons of books in the public domain which can be downloaded for free.
    I want to keep my brain active !
    I think I will preview past posts on Jane’s blog and make a list of books that y’all mention.
    Yes, I have access to a local libray but public libraries tend to cater to computer users and with budget cuts, book purchses seem to be in the vampire genre :) The only vampire with whom I am aquainted was Bela Lugosi on Saturday afternoon tv creature feature.


    15 Jan 13 at 11:01 am

  9. Texas, sorry to hear of your health problems. Everything crossed for you for a good outcome.

    As for books, Jane, her blog and its denizens have been the source of a large-ish bookcase full of previously unknown treasures that have been steadily educating me after decades of blissful ignorance. Through them I have discovered Parkinson, Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray and a host of others that are loaded on my Kindle for very little cost.

    A good guide to occasional Kindle freebies and/or quite cheapies is Pixel of Ink ( http://www.PixelofInk.com ) which sends out a daily newsletter. I’ve picked up some great stuff there. Look in the Kindle store at amazon.com for literally thousands of freebies, or go to Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/) . Riches await.

    Once again, all the best.


    15 Jan 13 at 4:40 pm

  10. Thanks, Mique ! I discovered the Gutenberg website several years ago and would read books until my fanny became numb :)


    15 Jan 13 at 6:16 pm

  11. I just ordered C. Northcote Parkinson. The Evolution of Political Thought , from Amazon.

    So starts the further education of Martha ( better known as Texas Purl ).


    15 Jan 13 at 7:58 pm

  12. I ordered it also. A used copy of the hardback. Ths shipping cost to Australia is more than the cost of the book! No luck finding a Kindle copy.


    15 Jan 13 at 8:36 pm

  13. I’m up to page 33 (real life interrupted my reading time). I haven’t noticed the same lack of direction or whatever it was that Jane noticed, but no doubt that is due to my relative ignorance of the topic.

    It’s looking good.


    15 Jan 13 at 9:28 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 240 access attempts in the last 7 days.