Confused by Shadows

POITOU, FRANCE – This week, we are talking about theperishable nature of gods. Yesterday, the city fathers of our hometown of Baltimore let it be known that it was time to toss out the old deities.

 

The Robert E. Lee and Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument in Baltimore, which the mayor inter alia wants to remove. Suddenly it has become fashionable to erase the memory of an important part of US history all over the country. By experience, this is typically done by authoritarian Marxists and fascists, as well as assorted radical Islamists. They are all famous for destroying monuments they don’t like or brushing people out of pictures when they are no longer considered to properly toe the line of the Fuehrer du jour. Democratic societies tend to remove the statues of former dictators and all around bad guys (such as e.g. Hitler, who has not been granted any monuments in Germany, which is understandable. The heroes of the Confederacy may be controversial, but removing all their statues seems quite the overkill – and obviously, it is mainly done to provoke a reaction. [PT]

Photo credit: Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun

 

Reports the Associated Press:

 

After violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend in response to the city’s plan to remove a Robert E. Lee statue from a park there, Mayor Catherine Pugh has renewed efforts to remove similar Confederate imagery from Baltimore. […] On Monday, Pugh released a statement saying that it is her intention to remove all of Baltimore’s Confederate-era monuments – Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women’s Monument on West University Parkway, the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernon Place, and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell.”

 

All across the country, the old gods become devils. New, gluten-free gods take their places. The statue of Taney (pronounced Tawney) will be particularly missed. Roger Taney, like your correspondent, comes from the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

Like your editor, he grew up among the tobacco leaves. Like your editor, his teachers advised his parents that he was someone whose future lay beyond the green fields. And like your editor, he left the rich farms and oyster beds, went to college, and studied law.

This is where the similarity ends. Taney had a brilliant career; he took the high road to the top of the nation’s highest court. We never even took the bar exam. The statue is less than a one-minute stroll from our office. Artfully done, it shows the Supreme Court jurist in his robes, bent forward in gloomy reflection.

 

Roger Taney monument in Baltimore. There is a second Taney statue in Baltimore that is presumably also under threat now. [PT]

Photo credit: WBFF

 

The poor man had a lot to think about. Upon his shoulders fell the weight of contradictions over slavery. America was supposed to be a free country. As chief justice of the Supreme Court, his main duty was to protect the freedom of its citizens against the power of the government. And yet a large part of the population was kept in chains, condoned and abetted by that very same government.

On a personal level, where he bent to his own bricks and tilled his own plants, he knew what to do. He freed his slaves and gave pensions to the older ones. Taney said of slavery that it was “a blot on our national character.” But the gods and myths misled him. In his chambers… wrestling with a complex legal issue by candlelight, the shadows confused him.

 

Surface Dirt

Before him was the plaintiff, Mr. Dred Scott, slave and lifelong resident of the United States of America, asking the highest court in the land to affirm that he had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, without being forced into a win-lose deal by his former slave master.

But instead of boring down to the bedrock of the issue, Taney let himself get distracted by the surface dirt. The rights of the black slave, he seemed to think, were bound up with his race and limited by them — not by the Constitution of the United States of America. This from his decision:

 

They [slaves] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…”

 

Apart from the iceberg, the voyage of the Titanic was a great success. And apart from Dred Scott, Roger Taney had nothing to be ashamed of. After he died, a few statues of him were put up. Now it is time to take them down, says Baltimore’s mayor.

 

Plaintiff Dred Scott, the plaintiff who wanted the Supreme Court to affirm his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – which left Justice Taney with am indelible blot on his résumé, as he failed to recognize that the constitution applies to all Americans equally – despite doing the right thing with his own slaves. [PT]

Painting by Louis Schultze

 

Age of Miracles

We live in an age of miracles, of course. Negative interest rates… money out of the air… the election of Donald J. Trump to the highest office in the land – things that we took for absurd a few years ago we now take for granted.

We take for granted, too, that our officials are miracle workers… and that we live among the gods themselves in an economy that never takes a breather… a stock market that only goes up… and something for nothing until Hell freezes over.

 

Behold our birthright – a stock market that goes up forever and ever… (until it doesn’t anymore). [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

President Trump seemed to wonder how we could be so ungrateful. He used the occasion of his condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville to remind Americans how lucky they are:

 

We are renegotiating trade deals and making them good for the American worker. And it’s about time. Our economy is now strong. The stock market continues to hit record highs, unemployment is at a 16-year low, and businesses are more optimistic than ever before. Companies are moving back to the United States and bringing many thousands of jobs with them. We have already created over 1 million jobs since I took office.”

 

Land of Gods

But America’s president is sui generis, practically a walking miracle. In the wake of Charlottesville, Ken Frazier, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck, resigned from the president’s American Manufacturing Council. Frazier said his decision is “a matter of personal conscience” and “a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

Another president might have responded to the issues – his own connections to the alt-right, for example. Or the allegations against him of racism. Not Mr. Trump. He understands better than his predecessors that in the land of myths and gods, logical argument is unnecessary. His response via Twitter:

 

Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

 

The world’s foremost Twitter troll, US president Donald Trump. [PT]

Photo credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty

 

Ya gotta love him. But taking credit for the economy and the stock market is a dangerous thing for the president to do. They are likely to blow up in his face. In June, we entered the ninth year of economic expansion. Next month brings us to 99 months without a recession.

Typically, since World War II, a boom ends before it has gone on for 59 months. Only twice have they lasted for longer than the present one. A recession cannot be far off. When it comes, the stock market will go down in sympathy. Then, Mr. Trump’s statue might be hauled off, too, before it is ever put up.

 

Chart by: StockCharts

 

Chart and image captions by PT

 

The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

 

 

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