Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FDR's Weakness at Yalta

When the leaders of the allied powers met at Yalta in 1945 - one of several such conferences, including Potsdam and Tehran - historians have noted a certain ease with which President Roosevelt made significant concessions to Stalin. Was this caused by his ill health, or by the presence of known Soviet spies within the U.S. government?

The Washington Times notes that
Given that State Department officer Alger Hiss was with the U.S. delegation, in a relatively minor role, suspicions have long lingered as to whether he had a hand in the concessions FDR made to Stalin. Based on the Soviet documents Mr. Plokhy obtained, the answer is “no.” Stalin, et al., seemed not even aware of Hiss.One explanation is that Hiss spied for the GRU, the intelligence service of the Red Army, whereas Yalta was under the purview of its rival, the NKVD.
S.M. Plokhy, a Harvard historian, is clear that Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent, but also that he probably had little or nothing to do with FDR's willingness to yield to Stalin's demands. Hiss was certainly guilty of undermining the U.S. government in various other situations, but not at Yalta. It turns out that there were other Soviet spies among the allied powers:
But intelligence gave the Soviets a clear advantage at Yalta. The infamous Cambridge Five spy ring - think Kim Philby - sent to Moscow papers concerning the British-American positions on Poland.The British traitor-diplomat Donald Maclean, stationed in Washington, kept Moscow apprised of U.S. bargaining strategies. As Mr. Plokhy writes, “His documents were often considered so important and time-sensitive that instead of being sent to Moscow by diplomatic mail they were coded and dispatched by cable.”
The Soviet agents kept their activities going long after Yalta, and these activities were not limited to destabilizing western democracies, and thereby endangering their freedoms: the activities included re-writing history:
The Soviet documents revealed a good deal of “rewriting of history,” always to Stalin’s advantage. For instance, although at Yalta Stalin was a staunch advocate of “dismemberment” of Germany after the war, he assigned blame to the West, not wishing to rile his East German subjects.
Initially enthusiastic about cooperation of the allied powers at Yalta (and at the other conferences, as well), American diplomats soon began to realize that they had been tricked:
Most of the American delegation left Yalta in exuberant moods. FDR confidant Harry Hopkins spoke of the “dawn of a new age we had all been praying for and talking about for so many years.” Secretary of State Edward Stettinius claimed that the Soviets “made greater concessions” than did the United States or Britain.
But a few months later, Averell Harriman, who had served as ambassador to Moscow, bluntly warned the new president, Harry S. Truman, that “Stalin is breaking his agreements,” and that there was a new “barbarian invasion of Europe.”
The Yalta conference, which could have laid the foundation for world peace and the expansion of international democratic liberties, instead was another step on the road toward the Cold War, and toward Stalin's domination of the war-ravaged nations in eastern Europe.

Divorce in America: Personal Pain, Political Principles

Just as an increasing divorce rate was one of many factors which destabilized the Roman Empire, so it is also causing political and economic problems in the United States. These problems have been accelerated by certain changes in the divorce laws in each of the fifty states.

Those who have sought to change these laws have often reasoned that a marriage, or the destruction of it, is a personal and private matter, and as such, has no effect on the body politic as a whole, and is therefore not properly an object of interest for the political process.

But they have reasoned wrongly: although a personal matter, divorce is not a private affair. It impacts society and economy. The effects touch many lives - people who knew neither husband nor wife in the case will bear some of the burden.

In an attempt which may have been well-intentioned, changes in divorce laws were introduced to make the process more humane. It was apparent that divorce proceedings in court were painful, complex, and sometimes ethically questionable. To this end, a series of laws were introduced under the heading of 'no-fault' divorce. The Washington Times reports:

One reason was that, in a fault system, a divorce required at least one spouse to prove that the other had committed adultery, abandonment or abuse. This meant hiring a private detective and/or collecting incriminating evidence for the court.

Or - and this happened far too often - couples who both wanted the divorce had to resort to manufacturing evidence - faking abandonment, for instance. This kind of fraud insulted the court, legal professionals complained.

And then there were the genuinely ugly divorces, in which both spouses hurled blame and evidence at each other. Everyone suffered, including the children.

Thus, the noble purpose of no-fault divorce was to remove the contentious, annoying legal requirement for couples to prove anything other than their desire to divorce. After all, the thinking went, if marriage was the union of two people, and one person wanted out, then the union was no longer viable.
Or so it seemed. But there were serious errors in this attempt to humanize the divorce process. First, there was an underlying assumption that it can be humanized; divorce is, in fact, a necessarily unpleasant thing. Even in those rare cases when it might be the morally correct thing to do, it cannot be anything but painful. On a deeply philosophical level, this corresponds to the notion that there is such a thing as a necessary evil. On a common-sense level, it is plain that any effort to re-arrange a family structure involves the disassembly of a human fabric, which is sorrowful, even if that fabric is to be eventually reconstructed into a better pattern.
Instead of making divorce humane - which it can never be - the batch of 'no-fault' divorce laws increased social disintegration and personal emotional pain by increasing the divorce rate:
“The key to understanding the problem is to recognize that the grounds for divorce did not go from fault to no-fault; they went from mutual consent to unilateral,” said Allen Parkman, University of New Mexico economics professor and author of books on divorce.

Under the fault system, “most divorces were negotiated and eventually [happened] based on mutual consent,” Mr. Parkman said. But once one person could legally end the marriage, “there was no longer any need for negotiations.”
Although divorce is a personal matter, it is not a private matter. The personal events have consequences for the entire community.
According to “Stolen Vows,” a 2002 book by Judy Parejko, the California lawmaker (James A. Hayes) who championed no-fault divorce was embroiled in a bitter divorce from his stay-at-home wife and mother of his four children. Removing fault didn’t help Mr. Hayes in his divorce, but it certainly crushed the “negotiating power” of other stay-at-home wives, Ms. Parejko wrote.

With the introduction of unilateral divorce proceedings, any incentive for a spouse to re-think his or her desire for a divorce was weakened. This leaves all spouses, and all marriages, in a riskier environment.
With marriages at risk, the economy is at risk, and with societal fabric lacking integration, the political process lacks integration. Just as divorce was one of many complex factors which weakened the Roman Empire, so it is also weakening America.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to Fix the Economy

The brilliant presidency of Gerald R. Ford is instructive: we can learn much by studying how one of America's best leaders did things. When confronted by economic problems in the form of inflation, Ford saw that the best course of action was for the government to do less: economies can and do heal themselves, as long as they are not hindered by regulations and other types of interventions. Historian Yanek Mieczkowski recounts that in his

anti-inflation program, Ford unveiled on of his little-known but lasting legacies in government retrenchment: deregulation. At the Conference on Inflation, some economists had urged the president to reduce onerous regulations to control inflation, so early in his administration Ford set out on this mission.

Like every president, he needed cooperation from Congress to enact some of his measures. This proved possible, because leaders from both parties

conceded that Ford was on to something. They worried that some regulatory agencies acted favorably toward industries - not consumers - and realized that Ford capitalized on a perception that developed after the Great Society and Watergate, that government tends to foul things up.

The Ford administration reviewed various federal agencies, and various industries, and drew up plans to phase in deregulation in industries from trucking to airlines:

Ford's tax force developed ambitious plans for deregulation, covering almost every conceivable industry: chemicals, automobiles, food processing, communication, finance, and more. Many of his plans were implemented after he left office.

During Ford's presidency in the 1970's, but also for more than a decade after it, both the Congress and later presidents

showed the bipartisan support for his ideas: the airlines were deregulated in 1978; trucking in 1980; cable television in 1996. This was one of the unsung successes of the Ford presidency; he envisioned an economic environment with more freedom and laid the groundwork for later deregulation.

In his state of the union message, he linked deregulation to lower taxes: taxes are, after all, a form of regulation, even if they are primarily merely a form of confiscation. He explained that

the way to a healthy, non-inflationary economy has become increasingly apparent. The government must stop borrowing so much of our money. More money must remain in private hands where it will do the most good. To hold down the cost of living we must hold down the cost of government.

To put this theory into action,

a tax cut emerged as the best policy alternative. It would avoid government pump priming, give consumers more money to spend, and provide a quicker jolt to the economy than government spending. Philosophically, a tax cut was compatible with Ford's belief in returning money to the people. He was also concerned with "tax drag." Inflation not only took money from Americans through higher prices, but also acted as a tax increase. Price rises outstripped the pace of salary and wage increases, so that while real income dropped, inflation nonetheless pushed wage earners into higher tax brackets, forcing them to pay a double penalty of higher prices and higher taxes.

Although it is tempting to give all the credit to Ford (and the blame to both Nixon and Carter, who dabbled in regulation and intervention), it must be remembered that Congress ultimately holds the purse strings. Deregulation and tax cuts need both the executive and legislative branches to succeed.

By reducing regulations - keeping the government from meddling with the economy's natural processes to heal itself and return to equilibrium - and lowering taxes, Ford removed the obstacles to prosperity, and laid the foundation in the 1970's that would be the basis for the strong and healthy economy of the 1980's. Ford's energizing of the economy would be temporarily dampened by Jimmy Carter, but like a healthy body returning itself to homeostasis, prosperity emerged after Carter left office.

Nixon's Biggest Mistake

Although the Watergate scandal was the incident which ultimately removed Richard Nixon from the presidency, it may not have been his worst blunder. While the scandal did damage the public psyche and created high levels of cynicism and distrust toward the government, he risked even greater damage to the country by means of certain economic policies. History professor John Robert Greene explains:

Virtually uninterested in economics, Richard Nixon nevertheless had reacted to the inflation of the early 1970's in a novel fashion. Acting on the advice of his secretary of treasury, John Connally, Nixon broke from the conservative laissez faire economics practiced by past Republican administrations, and on 15 August 1970 he froze wages, prices, and salaries for a period of ninety days. Renewing the freeze through April 1971 had helped little,

and it became clear that this type of interventionist policy was a failure. The cure for inflation, like any other economic malady, would prove to be an approach of simply letting the organism work itself out. Like a plant or an animal returning to homeostasis, a national economy returns eventually to equilibrium if allowed to do so. Any regulation by the government, at best, delays the return of prosperity, or at worst, prevents it entirely.