In this issue

Volume 6, Number 150
20 November 2006

One Nation, Indivisible

by Jack Powelson

Dear Friends,

Is our Nation united or divided? Here are opposite suppositions:

  • The President should resign because he has violated the will of the people. But I have not heard of anyone clamoring for his resignation.
  • He should not resign because we have a constitution that cannot be changed every time we have an election. If we had a parliamentary system (like Britain), we would dump him. But we can't do that because we are American.

So, which is our ideology? Or do we have an ideology? Ideology is a belief (right or wrong) in how the world functions, plus our statement of how it ought to function.

My own ideology includes saying that "one" means "he or she" or "him or her." But if I were to refuse to speak to anyone not employing that usage, I would be an ideologue (abiding too strongly in my ideology), as well as lonely.

Now let me get on with my message:

Last night I showed the movie, Birth of a Nation, at my retirement home. This is a civil war film, made in 1915 to show the war from a southern viewpoint. The Director was the son of a confederate general who believed all films about the war lauded the North. Birth showed a Southern viewpoint.

Two people spoke to me immediately afterward. "It's absolutely untrue," roared one, outraged. "Thank you so much for showing the truth," said the next. Since then, I have been receiving phone calls, some outraged and some thankful. But none in my retirement home had lived in 1865 — we're not quite that old! — nor had they studied the history of the civil war (neither have I). A historian or scholar seeks the truth, whatever one's ideology may be. True scholars change their ideologies when they are proved wrong.

Trust and ideology

I believe President Bush has violated the trust of the people. The surprising point is that our ideology includes "trust." This is not found in many countries. I once wrote a book called Centuries of Economic Endeavor, which argued that a sense of trust among peoples led to economic development, and a lack of it is why most countries are today underdeveloped. The book went out of print, I think because economists cannot put a money value on "trust." It is not part of their equipment. But the entire text of the book is now on the web, renamed A History of Wealth and Poverty.

How do we establish such trust? It takes centuries, and no nation is all the way yet. All nations start their separate existences as tribes, which fight outsiders. When (after centuries) they discover that outsiders have items or skills that they want, they begin to trade with each other. More centuries, and they trust the outsiders, their former enemies. By working together, in farming, manufacturing, education, etc., they learn trust.

Mr. Bush does not know this, nor do most Americans. He believes that "outsiders" commit atrocities. (A few Americans, some of whom are called Quakers, may believe that we commit atrocities too, but most do not.) After more centuries, when behavior acceptable to all the tribes is similar, then those tribes become a nation.

Economic and political development

Only nations may become economically developed. Here is how it happens. First, let me not say "tribes" any more — rather, "groups" or "interest groups." A nation contains many groups, divided into hierarchical levels — bosses, underlings, etc. The groups (vertical alliances) ally themselves with other groups, below and above them in the hierarchy, in order to gain their ends (e.g., workers ally with bosses to get jobs). Sometimes they use leverage, or alliances with parallel groups, to confront someone of a higher level (e.g, unions of workers to confront bosses). By this means lower-level groups boost themselves up, and economic development occurs.

Sometimes nations try to force other nations to believe as they themselves do (e.g., United States forcing Iraq to be democratic.) This never works, because it confirms other nations in their original beliefs. For example, Mr. Bush and the Republicans have created an increase in "terror groups"(causing them to copy each other and proliferate) instead of "conquering" them. This has led the United States to elect Democrats in the most recent election, since most did not agree with the "Republican" war.

But it has not led all Americans to similar ideologies. Instead of uniting the nation, President Bush divided it, declaring (in effect) that those who did not agree with him were enemies of the people. But now we have a marvelous opportunity, in which the President might be forced to work with the opposition. That — if it happens — would truly be the way both to peace and economic development, just as the king, emperor or president was forced to do many times in Europe and Japan (see my book).

Sincerely your friend,

Jack Powelson

A History of Wealth & Poverty

The Quaker Economist is the proud publisher of an online eBook entitled A History of Wealth and Poverty: Why Some Nations are Rich and Many Poor, by Jack Powelson.

Originally published in 1994 by the University of Michigan Press as Centuries of Economic Endeavor, this new electronic edition is now available to the public at no cost. Click here to see the Table of Contents.

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Like the opposing viewpoints that were stimulated by the movie, Birth of a Nation, my perspective is different from yours. I believe that it is President Bush's true intention is to unite our Nation, while attempting to educate those who do not recognize the grave danger we face. I do not believe there is anything we can do to make the enemy we face desire to get along with us.

For just a moment, visualize today's "opposition" Democratic Party existing back in the days of WW II. Please tell me what you think the Democratic Party of today could have done differently to end the Second World War. Could we have won the war without invading Europe? Could we have won the war without the incendiary bombing of civilian population zones in Germany or Japan? Would today's opposition party have invaded Japan rather than utilizing nuclear weapons to bring about VE?

Today's opposition party has taken over Congress without telling us their plans for uniting America and getting our enemies to stop desiring to destroy us. That was the easy part of their mission. The sad part is that war has been declared on the America civilization and it is here to stay whether either party wants it or not.

If, as you say, Mr. Bush and the Republicans have created an increase in terror groups, who then created the enemy terror groups who attacked our interests before Bush and the Republican came into office? Was it the current "opposition" that has just been elected and the very party that you somehow believe will be our savior in this struggle?

You also suggested that President Bush has failed in "conquering" the enemies who wish to harm us. Was he wrong for trying?

Finally, you state that working with the Democratic Party (and by this, I assume you mean withdrawing from Iraq) would truly be the way both to peace and economic development.  If we do leave Iraq, do you really think forces who want to defeat us will stand down?

I admit that I am not fond of history and have avoided studying it throughout my life, but I do think I have a pretty decent understanding of the evil threat we face. I would however, appreciate hearing your "opposition perspective" answers to the questions I have raised. Maybe you will help me see where I am wrong.

— Michael J. Bower, Bloomsburg, PA.

A reader replies: It seems common knowledge on this side of the pond that Hitler came to power because of a failure to provide justice after World War I. That lesson was learned in Europe after World War II, giving us the stability we have enjoyed since in Europe. However a major injustice was allowed to happen in Palestine, where post-Hitler U.S. sympathy for the Jews led to injustice for Palestinians, felt emotionally by other Muslims who identified with them as brothers. This injustice became the seed that grew into the "Terrorism" which G.W. Bush fights.

Fighting wars doesn't generate peace; never has done and never will do. Only negotiation for justice can do that. Respect for one's former enemies is essential in that process, hence the advice to "Love your enemies." Then you may be able to negotiate peace and co-operation with them.

When we can apologise to the Muslim world and start a dialogue with them, and rein in the military excesses of Israel and the Bush/Blair warmongers, then we may begin to repair the world.

— Nick Bagnall, Claridge House, U.K.

A recent issue of The New Republic has a very interesting essay on impeachment. Notably it say that nine Presidents have been impeached (including Harry Truman for nationalizing the steel companies in the Korean War), but none have been removed from office by this process. Nevertheless, impeachment has been very effective in reigning in over-reaching presidents, and restoring the balance of power between the legislature and the administration.

If ever there was an over-reaching administration this is it. It is not just the President, but Gonzalez, Chaney, Rove, and the whole gang. Congress needs to use the impeachment provision to reign in the administration before it shreds the Constitution further. The Founding Fathers gave the Congress a right of redress, so we have no one to blame but ourselves if we fail to use it.

— Wilfred Candler, Annapolis, MD.

Good to have a letter from you, Jack. I was recently at an alumni event at Oglethorpe and saw a student from my economic development class of about 1998 or so. He was recalling in detail ideas from "that book we read in manuscript form." That has happened frequently with Centuries of Economic Endeavor, and almost no other book that I have used in any course. They all say it changed the way they thought about how change comes about in the world. The book may be out of print but it is not out of mind!

— William O. Shropshire.

Hi, Jack! Thanks for this splendid reminder of who we are and how we got here! I wish the whole country would read it.

— Norval Reece. 

Jack, I almost think we can take real comfort in the election results. The Bush people followed the script that had been successful in 2004. Concentrate on gay marriage. Use the race card where possible (as in the Ford campaign). Ignore reality. (Iraq is doing well. We are reducing the budet deficit. There is no climate problem. Using stem cells is unholy. The president is an honest man. He has a plan.) These and other self-evident fallacies were supported by huge expenditures to convince us that black is white. Anyone who disagrees with the administration about torture, surveillance, tax policy or immediate withdrawal from Iraq is both deluded and unpatriotic.

Despite the money, the Rove data bases and the efforts of the 35% among us who support Bush he lost. It was not in the headlines, but I believe seven million more voters supported democratic candidates. This is what I find encouraging. Although all of the instruments of right and left wing totalitarian governments other than secret arrests and violence were used our countrymen saw through the hype and spoke out for a change. If we have a 70th reunion, you can give a short seminar on the subject!

— Dick Wolf.

Found on the Web

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Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting.

Editor: Loren Cobb, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.

Editorial Board

  • Chuck Fager, Director, Quaker House, Fayetteville, NC.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
  • Valerie Ireland, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends.
  • Norval Reece, Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting.
  • William G. Rhoads, Germantown (PA) Monthly Meeting.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • John Spears, Princeton (NJ) Friends Meeting.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board do not necessarily endorse the contents of any issue of The Quaker Economist.

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