Friday, February 18, 2011

Broke: a critical analysis (Chapter 2)

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"I have no idea what I'm doing with the economy...."
~~Glenn Beck
Glenn Beck Show, 11/26/10

This is part II of XXI of a detailed analysis of Glenn Beck's newest book, Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure, written with the help of Kevin Balfe. Keep in mind that it was published on 10/16/11, one month before Beck admitted complete ignorance "with the economy." Chapter 2, "Frugal: A Four-Letter Word," is loaded with false assertions and a touch of hypocrisy, but mostly it is an assault upon Keynesian, demand-side economics and the notion that the government should stimulate the economy during recessions. Beck's ignorant "solutions" may well lead to the collapse he fears in Chapter 1.

Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure
Glenn Beck as the United States

Beck begins chapter 2 by asserting that people who "prize frugality are considered old-fashioned, crusty enemies of progress." Nothing in his citations refers to this claim, so like much of what Beck asserts in Broke, it is a baseless claim. To show how frugality used to be prized "over time," Beck quotes philosophers and pols discussing frugality including a couple of lines from ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu: "I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize...the third is humility." In the review of Chapter 1, it was pointed out that Beck lacks logical consistency, and this quote suggests that he also lacks any consistency in his principles, if he actually has any, as well. After he uses his image as a substitute for the United States treasury on the front cover, he quotes a philosopher about humility! There is nothing unusual about Beck being a hypocrite, this is the first time this reviewer has noticed that he's demonstrated hypocrisy about humility.

Beck later asserts that progressives "make wealth synonymous with greed and profits synonymous with corruption."  There is no note in the Citations at the end of the book that is associated with this claim, so Beck is--as is his wont--making things up about what progressives think and claim. Beck then falsely claims that "people start to think to themselves: Maybe I don't want to be rich after all."(2) Really? Who the hell does Beck hear this nonsense from? There is no answer to that question, again, in the Citations.

Another bit of Beckonian propaganda comes on the next page when Beck asserts from his reactionary POV that "morality requires adherence to a religion that embraces charity as a pillar of its theology and recognizes a higher power than the government."(3) Ergo, anyone who doesn't not follow a religion can't be moral people. Beck can assert this until he's blue in the face, but a whole secular tradition of ethical philosophy shows the utter absurdity of this bogus claim. Morality requires adherence to a set of ethics. Period. On the same page, Beck makes a claim that he's been making on the air since before this Review published its first post: "...if individuals were still willing and able to engage in private, willful charity and philanthropy (as used to be the tradition), we wouldn't need government to do it." If Beck truly understood the rise of the social safety net (history) in the U.S., he'd know that private charity was insufficient to meet the needs of the millions and millions who don't or can't succeed in the economic system of capitalism. Government took over that function precisely because the unorganized, often race-based ad-hoc system of helping people was not enough to curb the electoral desire for socialist candidates. This idea of his, that the United States can somehow get away with offering no social safety net for its citizens is the reason that Beck is no conservative, not someone interested in maintaining the status quo, but he is a reactionary, someone who wants to turn back the clock on protecting the victims of corporate capitalism.

On the same page Beck writes: "The government's incessant march toward removing all traces of religion and faith, along with its reluctance to help faith-based charity groups is no accident."(4) It's also not a fact. Bush, of course, pushed a faith-based programs pouring billions of dollars of public money into faith-based charities. President Obama has renamed this executive office program and continued with these efforts. These programs are opposed by the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Beck writes his books much the way he hosts his shows on Fox: lots of nonsense and fiction, short on reality, other than the fictional narrative that millions of uninformed viewers accept as real.

Not everything in Broke is utter nonsense. Beck later asserts that "there's absolutely no doubt that 'trickle-down charity' is the most effective kind."(5) Well, duh! If poor people had money to give to the rich, "trickle-up charity," they wouldn't be poor! Probably Beck was trying to assert that private charity is more effective than government organized and supported safety nets, but that does not hold up to close scrutiny of history. In what 19th Century country were the elderly taken care of as well under charity programs as they are under the modern welfare state? (Answer: none.) Beck points out on the next page that government social programs means "More power for the government, more money flowing through their coffers, and plenty of people still struggling." If "more power for the government" is really an issue for Mr. Beck, how come there is not a word about the actual power of the empire-state that really does curtail civil rights? Social programs don't make the government "more" powerful; it makes it more effective at promoting the general welfare of the country. That is why the general welfare clause is included in the Constitution's Taxing and Spending Clause.

Beck argues that the government needs to be frugal, and attacks "one of the main instigators of fiscal propaganda" (besides Glenn Beck), economist John Maynard Keynes. Beck claims that Keynes' "Paradox of Thrift" meant that "thrift is not a virtue...because it undermined prosperity."(6) Beck's interpretation of Keynes' Paradox of Thrift does not convey any paradox, so clearly there is more to it than what Beck choose to convey about it. The paradox is that although thrift (saving money in a bank) is good for the individual and supplies money for investment elsewhere, during a recession the paradox of collective thrift is that it curtails demand for goods and is thus bad for the economy. That is as true today as it was during the Great Depression. Companies have huge amounts of capital on hand, but they are not hiring many people because there is not demand for what they would build. Thrift doesn't undermine prosperity, as Beck claimed Keynes to have "said;" saving on a broad scale undermines economic recovery. Once again, Beck distorts policies that he doesn't agree with or doesn't understand.

There is a lot that Beck doesn't understand. In a sidebar of chapter 3, Beck quotes Adam Smith: "What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scare by folly in that of the great kingdom."(7) This sentence is another version of the Paradox of Thrift and Keynes himself cited this sentence from Smith as such.(8)

Further demonstrating that Beck is writing a propaganda text and not a serious critique of demand-side economics, Beck asserts that once Keynesian views on saving and thrift became prevalent, "it attached itself like an economic cancer to our way of life...a disease that needs to be eradicated from our system."(9) Serious scholars don't refer to ineffective policies as "cancer" or a "disease." This subtle kind of name-calling is a technique employed by propagandists, not economists, pundits or even partisan commentators.

So Beck argues that "the way forward" involves going backward to pre-Keynesian economics to the policies of 1776. Actually, that's the way backward. Where in chapter 1 Beck frets over the American "empire" being on the cusp of collapse, here he points out that the views of yesteryear "took our Tree of Liberty from sapling to superpower in record time."(10) On April 15th of last year, Beck remarkably argued(11) on his Fox show that the government could cut the military budget down to half of the $700 billion that it is budgeted for; but in chapter 2 on frugality, no mention was made of the bloated Pentagon that is also draining the U.S. Treasury. 

Beck never uses the word "reactionary" to describe himself, but there is no other label for someone who wants to "go back to the beginning." Beck signals the end of chapter 2 with "Welcome to the 1700s...." He is clearly not pointing to a "way forward." We may be broke, but frugality is not a path toward economic recovery from a recession. It is the road to a double-dip recession. Even more alarming, if the reactionary, tea party members of Congress manage to block extending the debt ceiling in March, they will be building the superhighway toward another depression, a collapse of our "empire," our superpower status in the world.  In fact, on January 4th Beck is actually discouraging Republicans from extending the debt ceiling on Fox's Freedom Watch with his friend Judge Napolitano. "If we do raise the debt ceiling, have we learned any lesson at all?"(12)  That is the blatant contradiction of Beck's frugal economics: what he fears in chapter 1, his tea party supporters in Congress could well bring about by adopting the strong anti-debt measure and not extending the debt ceiling. 

Before more people start buying Beck's fictional propaganda, 
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1) Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure, Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe, Mercury Radio Arts, New York, 2010, p. 15.
2) ibid, p. 16.
3) ibid, p. 17.
4) ibid.
5) ibid, p. 18.
6) ibid. p. 20
7) ibid, p. 26
9) ibid, p. 20
10) idid, p. 21

1 comment:

Di said...

Thanks for taking the time to do this thoughtful analysis.