Monday, November 28, 2022

New Novel

Been asked why the Naked Dollar hasn't been posting lately. The reason is I've been busy working on novel #2. (Campusland, incidentally, is being made into a TV series.) 

The new novel will be called All the Lovely People. Here's a sample chapter, if you're interested:


740 Park


There are many wealthy neighborhoods New York City. In recent decades, neighborhoods once unknown and untraveled by the monied classes, neighborhoods like Tribeca and Nolita, were now the province of internet barons and oligarchs alike. Even Brooklyn, its vast neighborhoods once home to New York’s aspiring immigrant classes, was now beyond the financial reach of the vast majority of Americans. 

But still, for a certain sort, the Upper East Side of Manhattan was still the ne plus ultra of discerning domicilia. No, not those soulless canyons of young professionals near the river, but rather stately neighborhoods adjacent to Central Park, the ones home to pre-war cooperatives, their scalloped awnings having protected generations of wealthy from the elements while alighting from their cabs.

The East Side was home to more “dilatory domiciles” than any other—this, of course, being the phrase long used by the Social Register to describe the homes of the “right sort” within its pages.

Fifth Avenue was stunning, certainly, with its views over the park, the apartments of West Side strivers visible in the distance. But nothing quite had the resonance of “Park Avenue,” did it? It was, and is, synonymous with genteel wealth.

It wasn’t always. Prior to the 1870s, the avenue was a filthy place, with the soot-spewing cars of the New York and Harlem Railroad traveling up and down its length. In a stroke of genius, Cornelius Vanderbilt proposed lowing the tracks into a cut, which would then be covered by a park and pedestrian traffic. This new development was an immediate draw for Gilded Age money, which lined the avenue with mansions. Later, room was made for a new invention, the automobile, and a narrower, be-flowered median remained up the center. 

In the Roaring Twenties, the elevator changed urban living, and mansions yielded to apartment buildings. Park Avenue became lined with classical-style apartments, virtually all fifteen stories tall. Period fire codes limited all residential buildings to 150 feet, owning to the difficulty of fighting an elevated blaze. Thus every building was exactly 150 feet, or fifteen stories. 

In 1927, the Municipal Dwelling Act allowed new structures to exceed 150 feet, but only if the higher stories were set back. A few new apartments, designed with graceful setbacks, were built to take advantage of the new law. 

One of these was 740, which, of all the apartment dwellings on Park, surely had the grandest reputation. 740 lay on the avenues west side, stretching from 71st to 72nd streets. One of its first residents was John D. Rockefeller Jr., who lived in a duplex there until his death in 1960. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, nee Bouvier, lived there as a child. More recently, billionaires like David Koch, Woody Johnson, and Ron Perelman have called 740 home. 

None of this history was known to the Sandersons, and nor did they live in 740. They lived at 580, a few blocks south, in a “classic six.” It was more entry-level Park Avenue, something they bought when William first made junior partner. A well-respected building, to be sure, but they’d been pondering an upgrade for several years, and now, with the news of Williams promotion, it seemed all but obligatory. Despite William’s prodigious earnings, 740 was not in reach, even if something had been available. They had an accepted bid on a four bedroom at 895, an excellent address. At $12 million, it was a serious upgrade.  

As an added bonus, 895 was much closer to the Lenox Hill School, the kids’ sixty-thousand dollar a year school. Close enough that the kids could walk.

The Sandersons took a cab. It was only eight blocks, but it was slightly humid out and it wouldn’t do to arrive sweaty. They announced themselves to the doorman who discreetly checked a list and then pointed them to an elevator, one of the last in Manhattan that had its own elevator man. 

The apartment that they were heading up to, one where the elevator opened right up into the foyer because it it was the only one on the floor, belonged to Casper Stein, the founder and CEO of Bedrock Capital, the largest money manger in the world. The Sandersons were the guests of honor, because William had just been appointed head of Sustainable Investing, Bedrock’s fastest growing division. Could a spot on the Executive Committee and Board be far behind?

The money at this level was breathtaking. William’s base was now $1.2 million, but that was an afterthought, really. Bonuses and profit sharing would typically be in low the tens of millions in a good year, plus there were options that might be worth a fortune in a few years. Bedrock’s stock price had been on a one-way trajectory for years.

Just before the elevator opened, Edie elbowed William in the ribs. “Yabba dabba do!” she whispered, giggling. She liked to kid William about the name of his firm, particularly when he got too self-serious.

“Not now,” he said, under his breath, just as the elevator door opened.

It was the Sandersons first time in the Stein apartment, a vast duplex. They knew better than to to gape at the exquisite furnishings, the art, and, more than anything, at 13,000 square feet, the sheer scale. An understated compliment or two would be all that was expected.

“Here they are!” cried Missy Stein in a sing song voice. She glided down the staircase from the second floor and gave both Sandersons three kisses, alternating cheeks in the European style. “So good of you to come,” she cooed, as if the Sandersons might have done anything else. 

Casper Stein followed his wife and settled for one cheek and then shook William’s hand. Stein had the imposing presence of that anyone seemed to have who was worth $8 billion. Tonight he wore a double-breasted blazer over a Paul Stewart shirt, open at the neck. William always had to force himself not to stare at Casper’s hair, which stood, immovable, on top of his head like a shrub. He knew the junior people at Bedrock would joke about what it might take to move Casper Stein’s hair. An earthquake? A tropical storm? It also had a perfectly uniform color, clearly the result of outside agents. Auburn? No, not quite. Burnt umber, perhaps. It was not, all agreed, a good look, but Missy Stein was the only person on the planet who could conceivably tell him that, and if she had, it hadn’t worked. 

“So good to see you both,” he said. “Come in and meet everybody.”

Casper Stein suggested they all go see their latest art acquisition, a Basquiat. “Bring your drinks,” he said.

“Oh, Casper, I’m sure people don’t care!”

“Well, I’d love to see it,” said Edie.

“You know,” continued Missy, “Casper jokes he’s made more money on his collection than on Wall Street!”

“It just might be true,” said Casper, laughing.

Following the Steins, the group walked through the living room and into a study. It was a darker, masculine room with textured chocolate brown lacquered paint that looked like it had been applied with sponges rather than brushes, a technique, William knew, was time consuming and expensive. The fireplace was stoked and burning, despite the relatively warm fall weather outside. Its flames danced and the wood snapped pleasingly. The bookshelves, stretching high enough to require a ladder, were lined with biographies and historical non-fiction. William removed a random volume and pretended to study it. It was “Understanding the British Empire,” by Ronald Hyam. It looked unread. 

Over the mantle was the Basquiat. It was a face, or perhaps an African mask, rendered abstractly in vivid colors.

“Missy thought the reds and browns picked up the walls of the study, so she said we had to have it,” said Casper.

William knew enough about art to know the painting probably cost in the many tens of millions, but he had to admit, it was striking, if a bit angry looking. Perhaps that was the point.

“You know,” continued Casper, “Basquiat sold his first painting to Deborah Harry—Blondie, remember? Two hundred dollars. If she still has it it’s worth a hundred times whatever she made selling records. They say artists of color are the best investment right now, but I just buy what I like. If it goes down in value, I can still enjoy it on my wall.”

William wondered if Casper Stein had ever bought anything that had gone down in value.

The group moved closer to the prized Basquiat, leaning in and squinting their eyes ever-so-slightly, making sure that the Steins knew their new acquisition was properly appreciated. Casper took the opportunity to touch William by the elbow. “Might I have a quick word in the other room?”


They repaired to an empty bedroom, which William thought was exceedingly odd, and put him on edge. Casper took out two cigars and offered one to William.

“No thanks, Edie would kill me.”

“This is the only room in which Missy allows me to indulge,” said Casper, putting one cigar back in his blazer and and then lighting his own. He puffed a few times to draw the match’s flame, clearly enjoying the ritual. 

“This is a spectacular apartment, Casper,” William said, looking to fill the silence. “And what a building. You must be very happy here.”

“Yes, well, it’s been a good home, but none of the new money wants to live in a co-op anymore. Too many restrictions, no one wants the hassle of going through a board. It’s all LLCs now.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Believe it. The layouts don’t work for people, either. The sequestered kitchens and maids quarters—it’s just not how people live anymore. They want lofts downtown somewhere, ones with private gums and Pilates trainers.”

The conversation paused as Casper took another long draw on his cigar. William wished he had something to occupy his hands, having left his cocktail glass back in study. He thought about asking for that cigar after all, but finally Casper broke the silence.

“You’re close with Cy Birdwell, aren’t you?” he asked. 

Birdwell was one of Bedrock’s outside board members.

“Yes, very. We went to school together.”

“Yale.”

“And boarding school,” William added.

“Ah, I didn’t realize. Good good. But you’re close”

“Yes, Cy’s a great guy. What’s this about, Casper?”

“Well, it’s a bit awkward, and I thought, given your long relationship, you might be able to help with something, something that happens to be very relevant to you.”

“Of course,” replied William, now burning with curiosity.

“As you know,” continued Casper, “we like to think of ourselves as a firm which embraces the right values. That’s why we call them Bedrock Values. We don’t shy away from doing the right thing—ever. Happily for us, doing the right thing also happens to be quite profitable.”

“I came to Bedrock for those values, Casper. I had a lot of options.”

“I know you did, William. You’ve always been one to stand up for what’s right, which is why I need a favor.”

“Of course. Name it.”

“We just got an RFP.” Casper let it hang there.

“We get those all the time.”

 “This one’s from CalPERS. It will be on your desk Monday.”

CalPERS stood for the California Public Employee Retirement System. They managed the retirement money for 1.5 million state employees. With half a trillion in assets, they represented one of the biggest pots of of money in the world. An RFP was a “Request for Proposal,” meaning Bedrock was being invited to compete for some portion of that half trillion.

“It’s a $5 billion ESG mandate,” added Casper.

ESG stood for “Environmental, Social, and Governance.” It was type of investing that weighed societal factors like the climate crisis when making investment decisions. It was something Bedrock fully embraced and fell under William’s new area of responsibility, Sustainable Investing. The mandate would be a huge coup for both the firm and himself.

“As you know,” continued Casper, “CalPERS is one of the few big pension funds that has eluded our grasp. Our institutions are both progressively-minded, so I believe our values are aligned, but we’ve never quite crossed the finish line. I want this.”

“What does this have to do with Cy?” asked William.

“So here’s the thing…the RFP. There are diversity questions.”

“That should be good for us!” said William.

“Yes, normally, one would think,” said Casper.

Indeed, Bedrock had the first Wall Street firm to have a full-time Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion director and had aggressively hired African-Americans and women for years. Their board had four women members, two of whom were black, and one other black male member as well. One of the women came to board meetings in a Kente cloth. They even had a Muslim, who flew in from Qatar once a quarter.

“But this one asks specifically about LGBTQ board members,” said Casper.

It was dawning on William why they were having this clandestine conversation. “This is why you wanted to talk about Cy…” he said.

“Yes. Cy is gay, is he not? I mean, we all just assumed…”

Cy Birdwell was the founder and CEO of Birdwell Apparel, a multi-billion dollar clothing company, and it was widely understood that he was gay. But Cy never talked about it. If he had relationships with other men, it wasn’t public. Nor, thought William, did Cy “act” gay, a thought for which he immediately admonished himself. Of course there was no one way for a gay man to act! Although, he did dress awfully well…

“Honestly,” replied William, “I’m the same as you. I’ve known Cy since sophomore year at Andover, and I’ve never known him to date a woman, but I can’t say I’ve seen him with a man, either. Wonderful guy, though.”

“The best!” agreed Casper. “And a valued member of the board.” Casper drained the last bit of his drink. “So, you see there’s a box we need to check if we’re going to win this mandate.”

“You need to confirm that Cy is gay,” said William.

“Yes, or at least one of those letters. I believe the RFP says LGBTQ plus, so there’s a lot of room in there. Maybe he’s just asexual. That falls under ‘plus,’ doesn’t it?”

“I confess I’m a little hazy on the ‘plus’ part,” said William. “Maybe we could Google it.”

 “Yes, but regardless, since this RFP falls to your group, and since you have a long history with Cy…”

William swallowed. “I need to confirm Cy is gay. Or…plus.”

“Precisely.”

William paused, considering the implications. “But what if Cy is staying in the closet for a reason? I think some people still do that, don't they?”

Casper took another draw of his cigar. Exhaling, the air filled with purple smoke. “We think you’re Executive Committee material, as you know. After all, you’re now running our fastest growing department.”

Careful not to let his expression change, William let the words flow through him like manna. By we, William knew Casper meant I. Casper was king of all he surveyed at Bedrock. For a brief moment, he allowed himself to wonder what units in 740 might become available in a few years time. To hell with Pilates.

But there had to be some other way to get this done. He was about to say as much when Casper pointed his cigar at William at took a decidedly firmer tone. “But people at that level, they get things done, William. I want that business, and I won’t let some goddamn box we have to check on some goddamn form screw things up. If they want to know who we’re fucking, we’re going to tell them who we’re fucking. Is that understood?”

William was taken aback, and maybe a little upset, but made sure to not let it show. “Yes, of course.”

“Get it done,” said Casper Stein.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Insanity at the Trinity School

 


Note: In this piece, I mistakenly reported the Cos Cob Elementary School in Greenwich as the Greenwich Country Day School. This has been corrected.


A year ago, having obtained some internal communications, I wrote about Trinity's full embrace of CRT and "anti-racism" (which is nothing more than reverse racism). The school had recently created an anti-racism task force with, get this, 188 members and 11 working groups.

Is anyone now surprised at what has transpired over the last few days?

Just in case you weren't paying attention, the folks at Project Veritas, who work under cover, exposed the rampant biases of an administrator at Trinity named Jennifer Norris.

Sporting a nose ring, Norris openly bragged about promoting a left-wing agenda to her elementary-level students, vowed to never let Republican speakers on campus, and railed against all those "horrible" white boys.

My favorite part was where she fantasized about a "Dexter-like" character coming along and dealing with those wretched white boys once and for all.

Dexter is a serial killer on a television show.


Dexter

All this comes on the heals of the revelations about the Cos Cob Elementary School in Greenwich, where an administrator crowed about never hiring "Republicans or Catholics."

If you're interested, Trinity sent out a letter to its community, which is reprinted at the bottom. They seem more upset about how the revelations came about more than the revelations themselves.

Here's the thing: none of this is a surprise

Have you ever looked at Libs of Tik Tok on Twitter? They all seem to be teachers. The kind of rampant bias and hatred of conservatives displayed at Trinity and Cos Cob are everywhere in our schools, private and public. 

Progressives have always been disproportionately drawn to education, perhaps because education represents the opportunity for maximum cultural leverage. Brainwashing countless kids advances the revolution faster than, say, being an accountant at Price Waterhouse.

On an unfortunate note, the Naked Dollar can also reveal that Trinity has received an anonymous threat from someone to show up and "shoot any teacher they may find." This is highly disturbing, and nothing justifies even a threat of violence.

I hope the threat is a hoax and they find the person behind it.


Dear Members of the Trinity School Community,

Regrettably, Trinity School and Upper School Director of Student Activities Ginn Norris have become the focus of media attention as the result of video recordings of Ms. Norris that were made without her knowledge or permission by someone who misrepresented himself. While the circumstances surrounding the recordings are deeply disturbing, and we are profoundly troubled by the reprehensible way Ms. Norris and our school community were targeted, we are treating this matter with the utmost seriousness. Importantly, the sentiments expressed in the video do not reflect the mission or values of Trinity School.

Accordingly, the School is retaining outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation. Ms. Norris will be placed on paid leave while this investigation is underway. As part of this process, in conjunction with the work of our outside advisors, we will also review school protocols and practices that are in place to ensure that we are living up to our determination to build a more inclusive community.

This is a profoundly difficult moment, but we remain determined to model our conduct on our inspiring mission and the ideals of respect, belonging, and open inquiry that are embedded in it. Most recently, a letter sent to families just this Wednesday offered fresh language to express our core values: We care for one another. We listen and learn. We seek and speak the truth. We serve the common good. Every member of the Trinity School community knows these words speak straight to the heart of our daily efforts and aspirations, and it is important to remind ourselves, over and over again, that our community stands for and strives to live up to higher ideals — love, respect, and inclusion.

When the investigation is completed, we will communicate further with our community. We appreciate your patience and support while this work is underway.

Sincerely,

John Allman, Head of School
David Perez, President of the Board of Trustees

Monday, August 22, 2022

Why Donald Trump Should Not Be Our Nominee


Note: This piece originally ran in the Daily Caller on Sunday,, August 22nd.

Let’s get this part out of the way: former President Donald Trump’s policies were effective. He had this country in great shape on any level you can measure, at least until COVID-19 came along, something that can’t be blamed on him.

I personally defended him and actively promoted his re-election — but he absolutely cannot be the Republican nominee again. Here are the reasons:

  1. Trump would turn 80 during his term. While he does not currently appear to be in cognitive decline, who knows about a few years from now? And he’s not exactly in great physical shape, either.
  2. He will be a lame duck on day one. The 22nd Amendment will prohibit his re-election. Realistically, he will have only a year or so to get anything done. Is this seriously the scenario Republicans want? An octogenarian lame duck? We have one of those now, effectively.
  3. Given the circus-like, perpetually chaotic atmosphere that Trump seems almost to promote, what senior people would be willing to serve in his administration? Add to that the fear of almost immediately attracting the attention of our weaponized justice system, and you have a recipe for a cabinet full of third-string draft choices and attention-seekers.
  4. He has no political discipline and makes too many unforced errors. It’s tough enough for any Republican when the media and the entire Washington establishment are aligned against you. Why give them grist for their mill? I fully appreciate that Trump’s bumptious and combative nature sometimes served him well when doing battle with the press room, but engaging with Rosie O’Donnell? C’mon.
  5. Trump’s lack of discipline extends to his personal life. While most of the attacks on him were blatant fabrications, he’s just not what one would call a paragon of character, either. I and many others were willing to grin and bear these flaws for the sake of outstanding policy, but America deserves a president who brings both policy and character to the job.
  6. I fully believe Trump ran the first two times to be of service to his country, particularly the working class. Ego played a large role, but his commitment to country was sincere. This time, I’m not so sure. He seems more motivated to avenge what he believes happened in the last election than anything else. And yes, a lot of bad stuff went down, but that’s not what I want motivating my party’s candidate. Time to look forward, not back.
  7. We might lose. Yes, Trump brought a lot of new voters to the polls, particularly working class whites. But he also motivates the other side like no one in history. Right now, Democrats are dispirited and functionally leaderless. That changes overnight if Trump is the nominee.
  8. We have other great candidates! Unlike the Democrats, the GOP has a deep bench. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the obvious choice. He has all of Trump’s good qualities — the policies, the combativeness — but he also has both personal and political discipline. And there are others: Sens. Tom Cotton, Tim Scott and Josh Hawley all come to mind. These are all serious people with conviction, experience and character.

There’s risk, of course. A bloody primary may hurt the GOP’s chances in the general. But this is a chance we must take. It’s time to thank Trump for his service and move on.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Birth of a New Demographic - the Boiling Frog Liberal

Remember the old story about a frog in a pot of gradually warming water that never quite figures out it's getting dangerously hot? Many on today's traditional left are those frogs, except in this metaphor, culture is the warming water. For years scores of reliable Democrats have accepted the gradual cultural radicalization of what it means to be liberal. 


Except someone just threw them a thermometer. 


For as long as I can remember, there have been just two political dimensions through which Americans viewed their politics: economic and social. Conservatives focused more on economics, favoring low taxes and fiscal probity. Liberals were animated by social issues such as abortion and gay rights. Our two parties neatly reflected this divide (although there were always some who self-described as "economically conservative and socially liberal" ).


But there's a third, rapidly growing, dimension: culture. And it's this new dimension that has unmoored an enormous block of voters. These are the socially liberal and culturally conservative. We'll call them Boiling Frog Liberals, or "BoFros" for short. 

BoFros tend to be older, and tend to favor traditional liberal values such as free speech, equal treatment under the law, etc. They are very pro abortion and gay rights. But there are new cultural winds that have left BoFros in an unbalanced state, their political identities in doubt. Really, it's more of a hurricane.

How are cultural issues different from social issues? This is something the average sociologist could bore you to tears about, and, to be sure, there's overlap between the two concepts. But keeping to a political context, social issues have traditionally meant specific hot buttons like abortion rights and gay marriage. Hot buttons that our legislators vote on and our courts adjudicate.

Cultural issues, on the other hand, emanate outward from our institutions, most notably our universities, media, entertainment and tech. They inform how we relate to each other and treat each other on a broad level. Our culture changes when the collective output of these institutions changes. 

The most powerful cultural movement in America right now—a religion, really—is wokeism, and it is rewriting the rules at a torrid pace. Even the woke minions of Silicon Valley can't keep up. Facebook reached 71 gender options ("Objectum-sexuals," anyone?) before they threw up their hands and offered a simple "custom" button. 

Have at it, invent your own. Lots of people do.

In case you're catching up, movement scolds demand that we view everything and everyone through the lens of race, gender, and class. These are your defining characteristics, to the exclusion of everything else. Which specific race or gender you possess, and which class you inhabit, are the sole determinants of how you are treated. 

Woke deconstructionists also insist objective truth does not exist, truth merely being a construct of whoever holds the power. And yes, offending speech is considered violence, as a Berkeley professor chided Josh Hawley last week.

Needless to say, much of this should be antithetical to traditional liberals, and actually is antithetical to those of a certain age. As one dyed-in-the-wool liberal friend of mine put it, "Sometimes I wake up and think, gee, is that what we're supposed to believe today?"


Think of poor J.K. Rowling, a vocal lefty, now enemy #1 in the trans-woke community for daring, in the name of feminism, to cling to the wrongthink notion that there are biological differences between the sexes. (She and other liberals like Martina Navratilova have spoken up publicly against the idea that men can simply decide they are women and then compete in women's sports.)



Or consider the "scandal" surrounding the 2020 novel "American Dirt," the story of a Mexican single mother trying to make her way across the border to save herself from the murderous cartels who killed her journalist husband. A good liberal theme, no? Perhaps, except that the author, Jeanine Cummins, is a white American. It's not her story to tell!

Particularly interesting was the internecine struggle at Macmillan, the publisher. (Full disclosure: they are also the publisher of my own novel, Campusland.) Reportedly, virtually everyone under the age of 35 (or so) opposed publication. The older folks, thankfully still in charge, said, "Without cultural appropriation we wouldn't have fusion cuisine or the Rolling Stones!"

The publishing industry is famously liberal, so the episode perfectly captures this sudden cultural rupture on the left. It is a largely generational one. And yes, the older folks may still be in charge, but they find it increasingly difficult to resist the pressure of their younger, perpetually offended colleagues. 

Joe Biden may be the perfect distillation of this, although in his case, one of capitulation. As he and his party become the servant of the woke with embassies flying BLM flags and executive orders for "gender affirming healthcare," the BoFros find themselves politically homeless. 

Older BoFros, in particular, cut their teeth marching for free speech at Berkeley and Columbia. Now they're told speech is violence. They idolized MLK, but now they're told race is all that matters, and MLK is growing suspect. Character is but a construct of white supremacy. Keep up!

The cognitive dissonance must be overwhelming. And while voting Republican cuts against the very fiber of a BoFro's being—the GOP is anti-Roe!—it's starting to happen. In blue Virginia, scores of moms in the DC suburbs who voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden a mere twelve months earlier, were aghast at woke initiatives pursued after the Summer of George. The embrace of CRT, equality of results, trans mania—it was poisoning their kids. After years of ignoring the warming water, someone tossed them a thermometer. So, they did something unthinkable just a year before: they elected a Republican, Glenn Youngkin, whose entire campaign was premised on pushing back. How difficult pulling that lever must have been. It will be much easier the next time.

Minorities are also joining the ranks of the BoFros, as they discover their values don't align with gender studies professors at Yale. Asian-Americans, traditionally very Democratic, ousted several woke school board members in San Francisco who were more interested in renaming schools than educating kids. Hispanics are now equally divided between the parties, according to a recent New York Times poll. In the 2018 midterms, Hispanics favored Democrats by 48 points. Let that sink in.

So this is where we are, a fast-growing political class is both socially liberal and culturally conservative. Is it too early to call this a realignment? I don't think so, and the reality of it hasn't sunk in with the panjandrums in the Democrat elite. For the moment, this gives the Republicans the upper hand because the BoFros come entirely from the other party, driven into GOP hands by the orgiastic excesses of woke culture. No equivalent rift exists on the Republican side. How deep an inroad the GOP can make depends mostly on how long the AOCs and faculty lounge utopians can hold the Democrats' reins.

Right now, it looks to be a long time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

What Is the Left's Endgame?


There's a thought experiment I like to play with liberal friends, which I call King for a Day. The idea is, you are the king, you control everything. Now go ahead: what does your America look like? 

What new laws will you make (or abolish)? 

What will tax rates look like? 

Will we bother with a Constitution or a Supreme Court?

Would you abolish "hate speech?" The Electoral College?

Please, be specific.

It's a pleasing yet confounding game for leftists. Pleasing because they get to play out their progressive fantasies; confounding, because they discover they don't know where to stop. You see, that's the thing: progressivism has no philosophical limits. It always wants more. More government, higher taxes, more regulations...more.

When an objective is achieved, the the goalposts are immediately moved, because they always need a cause, beliefs to cherish, a reason to march in the streets. 


This is Inconvenient

This is why the left bristles at the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court because both are about limits, specifically limits on government, and government is always the vessel of the left's dreams of centralized control.

This is quite in contrast to conservatism, which by its very definition is about limits and de-centralization.

There's a concept called "subsidiarity" which started with the Calvinists and then became a pillar of Catholic social teachings. It says that problems are best solved at the most local level possible. Have a problem? Look to your family. That doesn't get it done? What about turning to your neighbors or town? And so on. Only the very biggest problems are assigned to the state.

The idea is that problems are most efficiently solved by people or entities that are the closest to them. 

This is how I think about conservatism. 

Contrast this to liberalism, ever voracious, yearning for centralized, top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions to complex problems. Think Obamacare.

Which brings me back to our little thought experiment, which fast-forwards the process, asking our leftist friends to consider their endgame.

But, what might that be? Is it Denmark? Cuba? Something else? At what point does the left say, "we won" and go home? This is one of the interesting questions of our time, and we will attempt to answer it. 

The short answer is: never.

Let's consider the evidence we have about the current state of affairs. The left...

  • Seems to want anarchy. They have funded radical DAs who won't prosecute crime. They want open borders. They all but celebrated the 2020 summer of looting and rioting.
  • Wants to indoctrinate your children. This now happens from kindergarten all the way through college. We now have gender and race struggle sessions for third graders that would make Mao smile. As part of this, they actively drive a wedge between children and their parents. Families are treated with deep suspicion at best, the enemy at worst.
  • Advocates economic policies that anyone with common sense could tell you are self-destructive. This includes gutting traditional energy and printing money with abandon.  
  • Has co-opted the leadership of most every large corporation, NGO, and university, bending them to their agenda. When Disney supports teaching trans ideology to second graders and Princeton declares itself systemically racist, you know the Long March is nearing completion.
  • Wants to regulate speech they don't like, recasting it as "violence." 
  • Views organized religion with hostility.
  • Wants to make gun ownership by private citizens illegal, leaving only the state with arms.


What would Mao do?

All these are precisely the avenues a Lenin or a Mao would pursue if presented with the following assignment: turn modern America into a Marxist state.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. You have liberal friends, and they're not Marxists, for God's sake. And c'mon, man, Joe Biden isn't Pol Pot, so just shut up with your juvenile, everyone's-a-commie hyperbole.

All these things are true, but here's where we consider an apparent contradiction. 

It is true that Joe Biden, for instance, is not a Marxist, not consciously. He doesn't want to turn America into Cuba. And yet, he is very much on the side of every policy and cultural experiment that would lead us there, because there is no way they lead anywhere else

The British philosopher Roger Scruton described totalitarianism as the "absence of any constraint on central authority." What's the best way get that power?

Chaos.

Scruton also observed that revolutions don't happen from below, by the people, but rather from above, in the name of the people, by an "aspiring elite."

Any of this sound familiar? It has always been this way, starting with the Russian Revolution, because those pesky workers never seemed to revolt when they're supposed to. And now, here in America, our most radical ideas are being actively promoted by universities, corporations, and even our own government.

Communists have always embraced societal chaos, including open criminality, as a means to an end, as a way to tear down traditional, competing, institutions. People will ultimately turn to the state to be their savior. Same thing with economic chaos: the people will demand help and the state will provide it in the form of a larger state. Families and churches will be undermined at every turn because they are alternate belief systems. The state can be your only family and your only church.


Useful Idiot

The answer to the contradiction is that Biden and most others on the left are what Stalin called "useful idiots" The agenda is being driven by a relatively small number of true believers, and the Bidens of the world don't even begin to understand how they're being played. They drift along with wherever the center of power is, and right now that's on the hard left.

Starting with the election of Obama, then the ascendence of Bernie Sanders, AOC, Elizabeth Warren and others, plus the chaos of George Floyd and the money of George Soros, the Democrat Party has been subsumed to the will of these true believers. Joe Biden is their ultimate dancing bear, the most useful idiot of all.


True Believers

And yes, these people, these relatively few, are Marxists. Denmark is not the goal here. 

Of course, few actually call themselves Marxists, they dress themselves in more digestible language like "democratic socialist." Don't want to scare off the useful idiots, after all. But it wouldn't take more than a couple of Stoli shots to get them to admit they'd like to send people like us to re-education camps.

These are the people calling the shots now. The Lovely People smile and go along, terrified of being cancelled or just too dumb to know how they're being used.

So the goal is, and always has been, centralized power. On the left, this always manifests as Marxism, and by Marxism's very nature, the struggle is never over. 

The end game is that there isn't one at all beyond a never-ending pursuit of power.


"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We don't pass it to our children in our bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on to them to do the same."       -Ronald Reagan


Thursday, April 14, 2022

ESG: The Invisible Fist

Welcome Naked Dollar readers. This week we have a special guest blogger: Marlo Oaks, Treasurer of the State of Utah. Pay attention, because Marlo has something very important to say, and he is a brave man to say it. -SCJ



DEI, CRT, SEL… It can be hard to keep up with the acronyms, but there’s a relatively new one you need to know: ESG. 

 

It’s safe to say most Americans haven’t yet heard of ESG. It stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. I’m here to tell you what it is, and why it’s a huge problem. 


Pushing back against ESG should be a bipartisan effort important to all Americans because it will fundamentally alter our American system. If you take away nothing else, know this: ESG uses economic force to drive a political agenda through corporate America. As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the largest investment manager in the world, so succinctly stated, “You have to force behaviors, and at BlackRock, we're forcing behaviors.” 

 

BlackRock manages $10 trillion of other people’s money. Other investment managers have trillions more. Unelected by anyone, they are using the might of other people’s capital to drive a far-left agenda. Arguably, no one outside the Federal Government has more power, and few people outside the industry know what’s going on.

 

As a state treasurer, I operate at the intersection of politics and capital markets, squarely where ESG resides. Many are afraid to speak out about it, but people need to understand the threat that it poses to our American system, one based on free-market capitalism and constitutional principles.


There’s a small tech company in my state of Utah that employs fewer than 75 people. A Silicon Valley tech titan was a client. Call it Twoogle. Last year, Twoogle explained to the company that if they wanted to continue to do business with Twoogle, they would need to implement a whole range of policies. 


For example, the Utah company would have to provide six months of full pay and benefits for maternity and paternity leave. The company responded that Utah’s fertility rates are higher than other states, and offering the benefit to all employees would imperil the company financially. Since fewer than five employees served the Twoogle account, they asked if they could implement the policy for just those employees. 

 

Twoogle said no, they must implement the benefit regardless of the financial impact. 

 

That every employee knew what benefits the company offered before they agreed to work there was beside the point. The tech company was forced to drop Twoogle as a client, a serious blow.


And what about Twoogle? Presumably, they engaged the company because they had the best product at the best price. They, too, will pay a price for their policies when they move to the next-best provider. How is this good for Twoogle's shareholders 

 

This is just one small example of how ESG plays out across our economy. Multiply it by a million.

 

ESG is a political scoring system for investors, with companies like S&P Global issuing ESG scores on corporations. It sounds great, right? In reality, ESG is dictatorship in capitalist clothing. Our banks, investment managers and corporations are all promoting ESG, cleverly lending ESG the veneer of free-market capitalism. But it is not capitalism.


Capitalism is freedom in an economic context. ESG is a system of force. ESG substitutes our pluralistic institutions for conformity to centralized power, one that makes up the rules as it goes. If you don’t believe me, think about the indeterminate nature of ESG. There are two layers of subjectivity: the determination of the ESG factors themselves and the answers to those factors. If you ask people what the factors should be, you will get different answers depending on their shade of leftist politics. 

 

Even if people agree on the factors, the answers as to what constitutes a “good” or a “bad” score for a particular factor also depends on whom you ask. Is British Petroleum “bad” because it sells oil or “good" because of its focus on developing alternatives?


This is an inherently political exercise, and ESG cedes power to the entities determining those two central questions. Government bureaucrats appear to be colluding with investment behemoths like BlackRock to make the agenda, and they use the threat of regulation and the power of our investment money to bully corporate America into carrying it out.

 

What would prevent new factors from being used as a weapon against the other side? For example, what if the government under different party control suddenly decided to use capital to favor donations to pro-life groups? I would oppose this on the same grounds. We need to keep our capital markets and businesses politically neutral. Corporations and investors are free to engage in the political process but should not be bypassing that process to drive their political agendas.

 

Pension allocators, most of whom are government employees, are also in on the game. As one insider put it, they are “effectively creating law and enforcing it without voter input, debate, or even knowledge. Given their size, their standards flow downstream, changing everything.”


Why, you may ask, is any of this a problem for the average person?


Well, why do you think gas prices are so high? 


In the past, capital would have flowed to traditional energy companies to fund profitable projects. With oil prices so high, there are plenty of projects to choose from. But these projects find themselves on the wrong side of this administration's regulators and the ESG mob, so they don’t get funded. The result is less supply and higher prices.


The misallocation of capital leads to vital industries dying on the vine. This is not merely inflationary, but also a national security threat. We see this playing out in Europe right now, their own early version of ESG having largely banished much-needed fossil fuels. When Russia invaded Ukraine, their moral assessment of fossil fuels and firearms flipped. There's no consistency with ESG. 


When power is centralized, society suffers. Pluralistic institutions like free capital markets protect us from the tyranny of elite power.


On the other side of the ledger, ESG leads to asset bubbles in favored industries. The resulting bursts harm us all, as we saw in 2008 when the federal government forced banks to provide mortgages to high-risk borrowers in the name of social justice. The resulting defaults nearly brought down our economy.


ESG also leads to just plain bad investing, where high ESG scores trump mundane concerns like balance sheets and income statements. Solyndra, anyone?


If you’re in a large pension plan, these mistakes are being made right now in your portfolio. You will see it in the form of lower returns, which we are witnessing in ESG funds this year. When entire industries—fossil fuels, tobacco, defense, etc.—are excluded from your portfolio, returns will naturally suffer.

 

Ultimately, ESG consolidates power into the hands of elites who like to decide what’s best for us. It bypasses our legislative process and undermines our constitutional republic. Proponents of ESG are socialists pretending to be capitalists. Many of them have enriched themselves through the very system they now seek to undermine. Larry Fink is a billionaire.


One more anecdote.


Just this week, I learned a large insurance company informed one of our local utility companies that they could no longer bid for the company’s automobile insurance because some of the power they provide as a utility is coal-based. Is this insurance company going to stop insuring motorists if they drive gasoline-powered cars? What about the electricity used to recharge an EV vehicle? If it comes from a coal plant, will this company decline coverage for that vehicle? Where does this end? 


When corporate America starts down this path, it is hard to stop. Just ask Disney. It is not just childish; it is dangerous and destructive.


If I could wave a magic wand, I would get American business back to doing actual business and out of politics. Capitalism has served us well. It is the greatest generator of wealth and innovation the world has ever known. ESG is a stealth cancer threatening the economic fabric of our country, and those who know better must join me in speaking out. Do what our little company here in Utah did and say “no” to the intolerance, hate and tyranny. 


Say no to ESG.