Fourth of July, 2020!

Happy 244th birthday to the United States, and happy 147th birthday to Calvin Coolidge!

As Independence Day drew near this year, I saw more mentions than usual of Frederick Douglass’s speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” This is unsurprising given the national mood, especially in the wake of Juneteenth receiving more attention than ever before. It is a masterpiece of righteous indignation, worth studying in its entirety.

The Better Douglas/s of that age gave this speech in 1852. It was… harsh. Here’s the short version: “The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie.”

He blasted those who favored slavery and those who weren’t doing enough to end it. He excoriated pro-slavers for ignoring the “all men are created equal” part of the Declaration. He called those who argued that the Constitution protected slavery “imposters.”* The preachers who defended slavery were so wretched that “I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines!” He goes on in this strident vein for about an hour, according to the timestamp on the online full reading.

And yet, he closes on a note of great hope in the moral progress of our nation and the world. He’ll explain it better than I can, so here’s Douglass in closing, followed by William Lloyd Garrison’s “The Triumph of Freedom.”

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work The downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated.—Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are, distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
⁠⁠The wide world o′er!
⁠When from their galling chains set free,
⁠Th′ oppress′d shall vilely bend the knee,
⁠And wear the yoke of tyranny
⁠⁠Like brutes no more.
⁠That year will come, and freedom′s reign,
⁠To man his plundered rights again
⁠⁠Restore.

⁠God speed the day when human blood
⁠⁠Shall cease to flow!
⁠In every clime be understood,
⁠The claims of human brotherhood,
⁠And each return for evil, good,
⁠⁠Not blow for blow;
⁠That day will come all feuds to end
⁠And change into a faithful friend
⁠⁠Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
⁠⁠When none on earth
⁠Shall exercise a lordly power,
⁠Nor in a tyrant's presence cower;
⁠But all to manhood′s stature tower,
⁠⁠By equal birth!
⁠That hour will come, to each, to all,
⁠And from his prison-house, the thrall
⁠⁠Go forth.

⁠Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
⁠With head, and heart, and hand I′ll strive,
⁠To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
⁠The spoiler of his prey deprive—
⁠⁠So witness Heaven!
⁠And never from my chosen post,
⁠Whate′er the peril or the cost,
⁠⁠Be driven.

We live in interesting (which is a generous way of saying difficult) times. But if such a man as Frederick Douglass– born a slave, hunted and targeted for much of his adult life, watching the house divide for exactly the reasons that made Jefferson tremble– could be optimistic about this country, then so should we.

*Douglass called the Constitution “a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT,” but acknowledged he was in the minority of abolitionist sentiment on that matter, and that “There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length.”

On Juneteenth.

There are a few days on the calendar which might serve as an optimal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. If we proceed chronologically through the events themselves rather than the calendar:

There’s September 22nd, which would mark the day in 1862 that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Emancipation went into effect on January 1st, 1863.

The Civil War essentially ended on April 9th, 1865 with Lee’s surrender, and officially ended exactly one month later when President Johnson declared the rebellion to be over.

June 19th, 1865 is of course Juneteenth, which marks the day that the Emancipation took effect in Texas due to the arrival of a northern occupation army that would announce it and could enforce it…

…and full abolition was achieved on December 6th, 1865, with ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

June 19th is the obvious candidate for a full-fledged federal holiday, given that it was celebrated in Texas as early as 1866 and has grown in national awareness. There’s bipartisan support for making it a federal holiday, and little doubt that it will be one by this time next year. It is altogether fitting and proper that it should be so.

But something quite relevant gets left out of most narratives I’ve seen of late regarding the Emancipation, and Juneteenth, and the Abolition. For something like a year, year-and-a-half after the war ended, emancipation was enforced only where there was a northern army nearby to enforce it. There are records of many slaves being freed by northern troops, only to be re-enslaved as the Yankees marched to another area. Silly old yarnspinner Bailey’s American Pageant refers to a North Carolinian man who was freed, re-enslaved, re-freed, and so on, a dozen times by his estimate. The lesson, I think, is that no matter what laws are written in the books, you have to be vigilant in guarding liberty– your own, and that of others who can’t guard it themselves.

In addition to going on the record in support of a federal Juneteenth holiday, I’d also like to register my irritation at seeing so many former students on social media lament that they were never taught about this, or never taught about that. I would like to tell my extremely diligent and conscientious former students that there’s an awful lot of stuff that you may not have learned, but you definitely were taught.

Happy 110th!

Today would have been my grandmother’s 110th birthday. Here she is with, presumably, my dad’s cat Waglio, which would mean this was taken in the late 60s, or maybe the 70s. No clue where it was taken.

It’s not the best picture of her out there. The composition is off a bit. You can see the photographer’s shadow at the bottom right. You can’t see her face and the cat looks to be in an awkward pose. Maybe he’s getting settled, who knows. But it occurs to me that I can’t think of many pictures of my grandmother (or grandfather for that matter) with pets, so it’s a bit of a novelty to me. In fact, I’m not sure they had any pets at all aside from this one. Either way, here it is: Gram either petting, or adjusting, or possibly advising Waglio.

Happy birthday!

Happy 120th!

Every year I post a digital birthday card for my grandfather. 2020 is a year, so here’s the card: Grampa with Gram and my dad on a beach. I believe the car is a Nash Statesman, but if it isn’t I’ll get corrected soon enough.

They’re not quite in their Sunday finest; for instance, my grandfather’s not wearing a tie in this shot. But the ancient broad outlines on a sedan big enough that I could probably park my own sedan inside, the woman in a shin-length dress, the man in slacks and a jacket on an otherwise empty beach, and nobody hamming or glamming it up for social media purposes, all speak to a very different time. That, and the photo’s in black and white.

The driver’s door being slightly ajar nags at me, though.

Grampa would’ve turned 120 today if he hadn’t died returning the three phantom centuries to our space-time continuum.

On pandemiconomics, part two.

Last time I left off with a promise that I’d resume my blathering on Thursday, which was pushed back to Friday in one of the comments. That clearly didn’t happen, so there goes my credibility. Anyhow, I don’t think the stimulus is actually going to stimulate, but I also don’t think it was a mistake. This is an odd position for me to be in, because my list of “economic stuff the government should do” is much shorter than most. (Proceeds to rattle off three things.)

I think that generally, the best things a government can do to help an economy out of recession are [A] to ease excessive tax or regulatory burdens on the economy, [B] keep inflation slow and low (given government control of the currency), and [C] nothing. [A]’s pretty straightforward and obvious; note the use of the word “excessive.” [B] will get me in trouble with my more hardcore libertarian/free-market readers, but I only have, like, three readers so we’re talking about one guy. [C]’s cool, but as I’ve said before, [C] loses elections unless you do the nothing early enough in your term that the nothing pays off and the economy recovers in time for the election. But if [A] and [B] are in place, then the government should do [C] so the market can work its wonders.

So why isn’t this “stimulus,” or as the letter from Presidente Donald J. Trump, printed in both English and Spanish, more appropriately calls it, this “Economic Impact Payment” necessarily a mistake?

Because in this case, the government– Trump, the feds, the governors, the states– forbade a lot of the economic activity that falls under the rubric of “the market working its wonders.” Those of you who took econ classes, you know how, like, supply and demand seek equilibrium when unfettered? How if butchers aren’t making money, then fewer butchers will butch and they’ll start looking for other work? Or if brewers are making lots of money, then more brewers will enter the industry to soak up the economic profits? Or if bakers are charging too much, then Q-sub-D will fall until– you know what, I’m not going to reteach the entire class here, you get the idea.

The invisible hand can’t work its magic if the butcher, the brewer, and the baker aren’t allowed to work.

The economic impact payment (EIP) isn’t going to stimulate the overall economy; I think production is going to drop too much for that to be possible. But what it might do, what it hopefully will do, is serve as a temporary bailout for those who aren’t allowed to work. (Warning: callousness ahead.) I don’t mean bail out everybody who’s out of work– because I guarantee that the invisible hand wants to shift many of those folks into different jobs. If I lose my job as a public school teacher because the marketplace falls in love with online teaching and I become redundant, then that’s on me to find or create new work, same as if times were normal. But if I’m not allowed to do my job,* then I think that’s a violation of my rights– perhaps a necessary one given the pandemic– and the government owes compensation.

Here’s the tricky, maybe weaselly** part: it’s tough to distinguish those who are out of work because of structural changes underway (i.e., the economy is transforming and demand for different types of jobs is shifting) from those who are out of work solely because the government says so (for good reason, granted). In some cases, someone may be out of work for a combination of the two reasons. So rather than sort the two groups out, and rather than determine how responsible the government is for your unemployment, the feds just sent checks to everybody because it was fast and simple. They said they’ll clean up the mess later (which means they won’t ever clean up the mess, but ignore that for now).

So: the EIPs aren’t going to stimulate, but they aren’t a mistake because the government needs to make up for putting people out of work. Yes, it was out of apparent necessity and an abundance of precaution, but the feds need to make up for it.

More analysis soon. Night night for now.

*I should specify: “my private sector job.” The public sector has the right to take away “my” public sector job.

**”Maybe weaselly” because I’ll concede the possibility that I have abandoned principle in the face of economic disaster. But I didn’t like stimulus checks in 2008, and I didn’t like them in 2001, and I have no reason to believe they would have helped in 1982, or 1973, or 1946, or 1929, and so on. This is a case of Uncle Sam saying “You’re not allowed to earn money for the next few weeks.” That didn’t happen in any other recession I can think of (though you could argue that conscription of labor and other resources in our major wars might be analogous). So if Trump tells me I have to close my store, and won’t allow me to make a go of it with social distancing and masks and proper hygiene and occupancy limits, he’d better cut me a check.

On pandemiconomics, part one.

Here’s a continuation of my response to “Just a former student.” JAFS wrote…

I wanted to hear […] your thoughts on how this COVID-19 pandemic will affect our economy. Do you think the government handing out coronavirus stimulus checks was a good idea? Or is increasing our national debt going to end up being a mistake?

The correct answers are, respectively, “I don’t know but I hope so” and “I don’t know but I hope not.” These are the correct answers because I only have intermittent access to the alternate universe where information and judgement are perfect. So allow me to ramble a bit and insult your intelligence by assuming you don’t already know this stuff.

Politically speaking, the government had to hand out stimulus checks. The government shut businesses down left and right, costing millions of people their incomes. Those people have mouths to feed, bills to pay, rent, mortgages, car notes, and so on. The government put them in this situation, or was forced to put them in this situation because of COVID-19, so the government had to make up for it by giving those people cash ASAP. “Do-nothingism,” whether right or wrong, causes politicians to lose their jobs.

Furthermore, by shutting businesses down without due process, I think government is constitutionally bound to compensate people for their losses based on the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Why? Well, there’s a pair of Due Process Clauses in there (I don’t remember hearings or trials before shutting everyone down), there’s the Equal Protection Clause (some folks were forced out of work, others weren’t), I think you could squeeze in that Eminent Domain Clause (“took” property for public purposes, thus must compensate), and there’s a badly underused Privileges and Immunities Clause that I think needs to be dusted off just to make sure it still works.

Economically speaking, it’s a tougher call. I think stimulus is less effective than most economists do, but that doesn’t mean it never works. The downside of stimulus is harder to see than the upside, because the downside takes longer to kick in, and by the time it does there are plenty of other factors to consider and actors to blame for these problems that seem to have come up out of nowhere.

Allow me to continue dodging your question by answering a different one. What are the downsides of stimulus? For starters, every dollar that Uncle Sam spends has to be paid for by taxes, inflation, or borrowing. Taxes make it harder to buy and sell stuff, inflation is a hidden tax because it weakens the dollars in your wallet or bank accounts, and borrowing drives up the national debt, which has to be repaid via taxation or inflation. None of those options are good, but of course they’re not good: this is about the downside, remember? If the taxes, borrowing, and inflation outweigh the good done by the stimulus, then it was a bad call. But that’s a tough judgement to make, costs and benefits take time to become apparent, and they do so unevenly.

Stimulus runs additional risks that I think I can boil down to two more statements:

  • Stimulus runs the risk of encouraging activities that aren’t that valuable anymore. Imagine giving a stimulus check to a buggy-whip manufacturer in the midst of the Model T Ford boom. Or, to work from current events a bit, imagine giving a stimulus check to the owner of a wet market right now. Whether or not wet markets were actually to blame for the outbreak, that wouldn’t make much economic sense, would it?
  • Stimulus also runs the risk of failing to encourage activities that are becoming more valuable. Imagine you get furloughed or fired due to the COVID-19 shutdown, and then Uncle Sam sends a stimulus check. Mightn’t that check make you a little more likely to try to ride out the tough times and resume your old job, and a little less likely to go looking for a job in a growth industry? Say in delivery, or in nursing, or working in an Amazon warehouse?

…so stimulus sometimes allows economic problems to continue, or discourages pursuit of new economic solutions.

I don’t think this stimulus is going to stimulate, but that doesn’t mean it was a mistake. And I will explain why on Thursday because my brain is fried and I need sleep.

On pandemucation.

“Just a former student” writes:

I hope you’re staying safe and healthy during these tumultuous times.

I wanted to hear how you’re coping with working from home and more importantly, your thoughts on how this COVID-19 pandemic will affect our economy. Do you think the government handing out coronavirus stimulus checks was a good idea? Or is increasing our national debt going to end up being a mistake?

Also, how is PSAS handling graduation?

Thanks!

I am safe and healthy aside from severe eye strain. Thank you for asking, and I hope you are well too, whoever you are.

Let me address the school stuff for now and the economic stuff in a later post, because there’s so much to be said. Teaching from home has generally been much tougher than teaching at school. Here’s a short list of my difficulties:

  • Learning how to use Microsoft Teams for tele-teaching, for conferring with colleagues, making announcements, etc.
  • Addressing student questions and concerns… though having a chat window where I can see their questions helps.
  • Maintaining test security. Test security in this environment doesn’t exist.
  • Monitoring student performance. Given the strain on the internet and the various degrees of internet access at home, the students can’t all turn their work in at the same time, so I can’t examine it all at the same time, and can’t give them feedback all at the same time.
  • Adjusting lessons/lectures based on student feedback. This is partly due to the same concern mentioned above, partly due to not being able to see looks of confusion or contemplation, partly due to not being able to interpret the tone of a question if it’s typed in a chat window. Note that this doesn’t mean I’d actually change anything; I give exactly the same lectures every single year.

But there’s been some upside:

  • Microsoft Teams makes it easier to get content to my students in case of absences– mine or theirs. And now I know how to use it.
  • The commute to work is much easier and less tiring, though I now avoid my office like the plague, no pun intended, during my “off hours.”
  • I’ve had time to think more carefully about what productive teaching entails. My conclusion is that I’ve been right all along and I’m going to keep talking at people. It works.

I think this whole mess could lead to some big structural changes in education. I’ll have more to add once I’m out of Internal Assessment Grading Mode, which should occur by Friday of this week. In the interest of helping us cope with the cancellation of the IB exams, IB decided to make my grading process 9.2 times harder this year by requiring commentary on 92 papers instead of a random sample of 10. So my brain is fried right now and is crying for sleep.

We don’t yet know how graduation is going to be handled, and I hesitate to share my own ideas for fear of getting blamed for a second wave of starting in late May or early June.

That’s it for now. More later.

EDIT: A quick Google search reveals a grand total of zero hits for “pandemucation.” I’m calling it now, and first.

Why I am sincerely more worried than ever before.

I don’t remember the last time the Bears had this many options for improving at quarterback via trade or free agency.

I like Mitch Trubisky. I think he loves Chicago and loves being a Bear. he’s got a lot of spirit and he seems like a very earnest kid. but the reality is that he can’t make reads, and he’s too inconsistent on easy throws. At best, he can read half the field at a time, which is why he’s so much better on rollouts or scrambles than he is in the pocket. And I will always maintain that no matter how good a QB is at rollouts or scrambling, he’s got to be able to throw from the pocket. Maybe he’ll be average or better one day, but I don’t want the Bears to take a chance that it’ll happen this year. We have better options now.

But the apparent pickings grow slimmer, with Bridgewater a Panther and Brady a Buc. So who’s left? Last I checked: Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, Cam Newton, Nick Foles, and Jameis Winston. Dalton is getting up in years and is the very definition of mediocre; look up the Dalton Line. I think Carr is tough to judge; his numbers look better than Trubisky’s at first glance except for his win-loss record. Cam Newton is likely available, but is a little banged up. Also I think he scrambled too much earlier in his career. Nick Foles is either an all-timer or somewhat sub-par. If he’s Eagles Foles, take him. If he’s Rams or Jaguars Foles, no thanks. Jameis Winston would be definitely the most exciting option, though that would be in a bad way roughly half the time. Maybe the LASIK helped. We’ll see.

Someone suggested building a time machine so the Bears could go back and draft Deshaun Watson instead of Trubisky. To my dying day, I will maintain that in 2018, the Bears with Watson (or that Mahomes kid, I guess) would have gone 15-1, if not unbeaten, in the regular season and gone to the Super Bowl.

We are left with just as dramatic and urgent a decision now. Which quarterback would actually be an improvement over Trubisky? And if we can identify him, can the Bears actually sign him? I would hate to see yet another window with such a good defense and such fair-to-middlin’ offensive skill players be wasted for lack of sufficient quarterbacking. This decision will make the difference between ongoing mediocrity and legitimate championship runs.