THE MYTHS WE LIVE BY:

Economic and Political Myths that have Misguided Policy

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 3, No. 9, 9/1/01.

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 Authoritative myths of the 20th century:

 

Many of the authorities have been wrong most of the time.

 

The debunking of authoritative myths is one of the most vital aspects of FUTURECASTS online magazine's coverage.

 

Reality will continue to perversely fail to conform to ideological expectations.

   Economic and political myths will continue to play a major roll in determining policy during the 21st century.
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  That so many "authorities" are wrong most of the time has been one of history's most consistent lessons. The 20th century has certainly been no exception to this rule.
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  This is not just because of shear stupidity. Many intellectuals - all too many - actually consider it their duty to create authoritative myths - to lie to the public - in furtherance of some cause. Indeed, they generally take considerable pride in this activity.
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  The public thus has every reason to distrust its intellectual community and treat authoritative assertions with substantial levels of skepticism. "Question Authority!" is a counterculture slogan that deserves widespread adoption.
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  Indeed,  these authoritative myths are more than just amusing. If you would understand the present - and gain some insight into future probabilities - you have to clear your mind of the authoritative myths of the past and the present that always comprise an important part of the conventional wisdom of any period. Reality will continue to perversely fail to conform to ideological expectations.
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    Thus, the debunking of authoritative myths is one of the most vital aspects of the coverage of FUTURECASTS online magazine.
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  Herein are provided some prime examples of the authoritative myths established among various segments of the public for varying periods during the 20th century. These myths gained wide acceptance among the credulous and the followers of these spokesmen - becoming the "authoritative myths" of their time - with disastrous affects on government policy.
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Economic authorities have had a particularly bad century.

 

 Economic authorities first gave us the Great Depression, and then drove us into the national bankruptcy of inflation.

 

 

 

The continuous elaboration of the "process that is due" has undermined our legal system.

 

Educational reforms have destroyed many of our public schools.

 

Our "best and brightest" decided to fight the battle of Verdun all over again - in Asia.

 

 

 

Our energy warriors fought to make the energy crisis permanent.

 

 

 

Congress maintains a tax system that is more destructive than a host of saboteurs.

 

 

 

Authorities usually become authorities more by reason of who they know, and please, than what they know.

 

The media is all-too-often merely a conduit for authoritative misinformation.
  Our economic authorities, in particular, have had an extraordinarily bad century, as related in Economic myths,
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  Post WW I policies in support of heavy reparations and war debt obligations, protectionist trade wars, and agricultural subsidies, laid the groundwork for the Great Depression. The primary myth was that individual nations could go it alone - that they could become economically self sufficient and could prosper in isolation. The isolationist and protectionist myths both proved disastrous.
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  During the 1930s, New Deal economic authorities tried massive expansion of the money supply - budgetary deficits - price and wage controls - and other efforts at economic management. The New Deal not only failed to end the Great Depression, it obviously made it much worse and extended it much longer than it otherwise would have been. Not until the myths and the policies that they supported were shattered by the reality of continued Depression and the arrival of WW II was prosperity regained.
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  Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, Keynesian economists ignored over 2000 years of economic history and implemented policies that bankrupted the strongest financial power in the history of the world. The inflation of the 1970s was basically a form of national bankruptcy: Those holding assets denominated in a fixed amount of dollars got back only a fraction of the previous value of their investments. The myths of John Maynard Keynes and the "modern economic theory" economists proved disastrous.
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  Other authorities did little better during this century.
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  Our legal authorities destroyed much of the utility of our criminal law during the 1960s and 1970s. By the time some sanity was restored in the 1980s, our criminal law was so impotent that it could no longer even perform its most basic, essential task: protecting the persons and property of productive citizens. The continuous elaboration of "the process that is due" has permitted attorneys to tie up both criminal law and civil law proceedings in interminable and expensive procedural knots. Due process now all too frequently means interminable process and no substantive justice.
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  Our public schools have been influenced by a wide variety of authorities, with results that have been all-too-often disastrous. Public school educational capabilities - especially in the poorer school districts - were frequently destroyed. The middle class frequently abandoned public schools in the cities for schools in the suburbs that they could control, and the city schools increasingly failed to provide the practical academic and vocational training needed by the poor.
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  The nation's "best and brightest" foreign policy authorities blithely proceeded during the 1960s to ignore all the bloody teachings of WW I. They decided to re-fight the battle of Verdun - the most stupidly conceived battle of the most incompetently fought war in history - a battle of "attrition" - in an Asian setting. They involved the nation in a war of attrition in a densely populated, war hardened Asian region. And that was just the beginning of that particular piece of authoritative stupidity.
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  Then there were the "energy warriors." In the 1970s, we had a decade during which a host of authorities belabored us with the lunatic notion that - in a universe literally drenched in energy - the nation would have to initiate massive governmental programs to deal with an energy shortage. It is obvious that only government regulations and government inflation of the money supply can prevent the nation's capitalist economy from assuring adequate supplies of energy now and in the future.
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  With rent controls and the destruction of landlord property rights, urban planning authorities destroyed the low income rental housing market in several localities during the post WW II period.
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  Tax authorities, with their constant efforts to make the tax system conform to abstract concepts of "fairness" - or to shield favored economic segments from taxation - or to engage in various exercises in social engineering - have increasingly complicated the tax system, and have created an unfair monstrosity that is more destructive to our economy and social fabric than a host of saboteurs.
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  There are many reasons why the authorities are wrong so often. Unfortunately, the contemporary limits of human understanding are the least significant of those reasons.
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  Authorities usually become authorities more by reason of who they know - and please - than what they know. Politics - the party line - the "spin" of the moment - ideology - professional or egotistical commitment to erroneous views - the need to conform to the conventional wisdom - fear of offending powerful interests - and the need to reduce arguments to a slogan or 20 second sound bite - are some of the factors that always reduce the reliability of the authoritative word.
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  The media is all-too-often merely a conduit for authoritative misinformation; those contrary views that do get aired are all-too-often from alternative authorities suffering from similar disabilities.
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  The lesson is obvious: we must always be skeptical of - and question - authority.
 

 The importance of checks and balances, and federalism:
   The United States has a unique albeit imperfect shield against the errors of its authorities. Our federal system has constitutional checks and balances that sometimes prevent or limit authoritative actions or force authorities to restrict their experiments to one state or locality at a time.
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  Only federal authorities make their mistakes from sea to shining sea.
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 Only federal authorities make their mistakes from sea to shining sea.
  Thus, the rental housing industry continued to thrive in many localities even as it was being destroyed in others, and many of our public schools escaped the destructive policies let loose in recent years. However, the entire nation suffered from the federal government's energy policies and economic mismanagement during the 1960s and 1970s, and from federal Supreme Court alteration of constitutional concepts of criminal law due process. Federal taxation imposes powerful noxious incentives that adversely distort our economy everywhere.
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  Now, the federal government is becoming increasingly involved in "reforming" our failing schools. Inevitably, attempts will be made to impose national standards twisted to serve the dominant ideology of the day. The "dumbing down" of school curricula and standardized tests continues. If you don't like the message, kill the messenger. 
 

21st century myths:

 

Federalism can sometimes force authorities to make their mistakes in one state at a time.

   Some of the 20th century's authoritative myths have been sufficiently exposed by events to be consigned to the trash heap of history. However, many others still receive considerable support and will certainly be invoked in the policy debates of the 21st century. For many authorities, the first rule is to never let the facts disturb your theories.
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  It is vital that, to the greatest extent possible, we force our authorities to make their mistakes in one state at a time - that we prevent them from instantly spreading their mistakes from sea to shining sea. 

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  Copyright 2001 Dan Blatt