Two Tribes

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Mon, Aug 5, 2013 - 8:32pm

An experience I had about six months ago left a profound impression on me, so much so that I find myself mentally referencing it whenever discussions arise regarding government spending and debt, or the end of the Keynsian experiment. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this experience shocked me in some ways, not because it invalidated opinions I previously held but because it made clear to me how much I had underestimated certain elemental forces at work and the cultural attitudes behind them. This essay is about the implications of that experience. I have no doubt that some will be offended by what I write here, and for that I am genuinely sorry as offending you is certainly not my goal. I can only state that what you are about to read is as completely accurate a description of the events as I can possibly relate- and I promise you that what I say happened actually happened.

In my work, I brushed up against a situation where two completely opposing worldviews were clashing. Their cultural assumptions and opinions could not possibly have been farther apart, and the animosity I witnessed was both deep-seated and raw. These groups were, in essence, two completely different tribes and I had an inside view of this clash because two people directly precipitating it thought – erroneously as it turned out – that I was a member of their tribe and treated me accordingly, giving me an insider’s tour of the conflict and situation with no holds barred.

The situation I was called in to consult on was as follows: There was an interesting property located in a rural township. The owner wanted to sell this property to the township with the idea that they would develop it for community use, and given its location this was an intriguing idea. However, because the site contained certain features that are given protection under law, two Government workers with expertise in these features became interested in the property and began working on obtaining funding so the township could acquire the tract. After discussing the possibility of purchasing and developing the property for community use with a few interested members of the Township Board of Supervisors, the Government employees did what they do in their professional arena. They went out and successfully obtained a sizeable grant from the state. With a chunk of free money in hand, they returned to the township believing that nothing stood in the way of the project moving forward as they envisioned… except for one tiny detail.

The full township board had not been notified that this money was coming in, and had not been consulted- nor had any official vote taken place. This presented a problem because the majority of the board, being elected in a rural area on a platform of fiscal responsibility, had not approved the plan. Indeed, there was no actual plan, no estimate of total costs, nothing. These supervisors pointed out that 1. The “free” money, while a considerable sum, was not enough to pay for the entire project and thus the township would be obligated to come up with the remainder, 2. There had been no accounting of future costs associated with the maintenance, staffing, equipment, etc that would be needed to maintain and operate the facility, so they had no idea what these costs would add to the budget in the future, and 3. The Township budget was balanced at the moment and thus the services they currently provided were sustainable at present levels indefinitely, but this meant that the budget was therefore already maxed-out absent new revenue. These people had been elected on a platform of no new taxes, thus when these elected representatives actually had a chance to vote on the project, they voted no. At this point, I was brought in by the Government men to consult on certain aspects of it, to see if I wanted to get involved in doing a study on the property.

All this is boring stuff, so far… but the tour I was given that day was truly remarkable. The Government men assumed that I was one of them- a “member of their tribe” because of my profession and current position. Because of this assumption, they spent all day telling me what they really thought. It was an education.

The Government men were in equal turns angry and astounded that their generosity in obtaining all of that ‘free’ state money for the township was so unappreciated. I was informed that it was only the pathetic ignorance and small-mindedness of the rural culture that had kept the project from going forward. In terms of the project, I was told again and again how these people lacked vision and were basically too stupid to accept the big pile of free cash that had been laid at their feet, a rank example of witlessness that the Government men found deeply offensive. The money was there, thanks to their efforts, and the stupid locals were too dumb to simply reach down and pick it up.

The government men referred all day long to the Township Supervisors as “hillbillies”, “hicks”, and on one occasion “Tea-party racists”, despite the fact that they were rural farm owners (in an area where the average farm is worth 1-2 million) and local businessmen/women, and despite the absence of any actual racial incidents of any kind. Though these people lived far from the isolated ‘hollers’ of Appalachia, and were successful business and farm owners in their community, I must have heard the term “hillbilly” forty or fifty times, interspersed with jokes about marrying cousins and inbreeding. One local supervisor was in favor of the project, and I was therefore told that “she was OK- must be the only one who has all her teeth, heh heh!”, as if all the rest of these community representatives were stump-toothed inbreds straight from “Deliverance”. Though it is entirely possible I have led a sheltered life, it was nonetheless the most blatantly bigoted conversation I have ever heard in person, leading me to wonder on the drive home if this was what it was like to talk to unapologetic bigots back during the 30’s or 40’s, merely substituting “Hillbilly” and “Inbred” for what would in a previous era have been “Darkie” or “Jew”.

It was crystal clear that these men were very comfortable speaking this way and that, indeed, this was likely how they and their co-workers in government usually talked, so easily did these slurs and aspersions flow during otherwise normal, professional conversation. In their tribe, it was apparently perfectly acceptable to characterize the other tribe in these terms. I was truly amazed at the depth of sheer disgust expressed.

At one point during the proceedings I was talking shop with one of them and he informed me that the new Governor’s budget cuts had necessitated a drastic change in how he oversaw certain state contracts which he supervises. According to state law, a specific type of survey was required prior to certain public projects, and after this survey was completed a report had to be submitted to the state. Previously, he sent these out on a contract basis to big companies to the tune of 50k per project, but with the new budget cuts, he informed me sadly that he was now farming the work out to a local state college, which could handle them at a cost of around 5 thousand per job. “How is the quality” I asked? He assured me that it was great, just as good as the big boys. Now I happen to know that around 20 of these surveys are done annually in my part of the state alone, and that this represents less than 1/4th of the total done statewide per year. I sat there (pretending to pay attention while doing the math) and trying to wrap my head around the fact that this guy basically just told me that he used to pay 4 million per year in state money to do these things, but when push came to shove he could do the exact same thing for just 500k. Given that this guy has worked in his current job for over a decade, I would guess conservatively that his casual little lunch admission means that on this type of project alone he personally has spent at least 40 million taxpayer dollars for projects he could have completed for 5 million over the last decade. He then went back to telling me how ignorant the local tea party was, and never missed a beat. It was a clarifying experience.

* * *

When I read of IRS employees targeting groups advocating for small government, using the extraordinary power of the government’s ability to tax in order to purposefully harass and target these groups in a direct effort to hamper their political activity and speech, I am not surprised in the least. They do not view these groups as ‘fellow citizens deserving of constitutionally protected rights", they view them as members of a different and profoundly inferior tribe, a tribe so debased and low that it is only right to treat them with disdain and to use whatever force is available to thwart their goals. When I read of the wailing and the dire predictions of disaster that would be caused by the small, virtually inconsequential sequester cuts made in the face of exponentially mounting Federal deficits, I am not surprised in the least. Those dollars are largely fictional to the tribe that spends them ‘on behalf of others’; the money is merely an abstraction representing to them departmental power or career advancement more than any actual value that must be earned through productive endeavor.

And you want to know the greatest irony, or perhaps tragedy, of the entire story? The government men who so unapologetically mocked the culture, the reasoning, and even the genetics of the small-government advocates from the township? When we left our meeting that day, those men returned to their offices in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- the first state capital city to have been so profligate in its spending that it could not pay even the interest on its enormous debts and had declared bankruptcy just months earlier. These men were utterly oblivious to the fact that this rural community they so freely mocked was being run in a way that ensured fiscal survival and continuance, while they returned to taxpayer-funded offices at taxpayer-funded jobs in the first failed capital city in America, a basket-case polity so ill-managed that it can no longer pay for even the basic services required to remain a functioning city. This fact did not stop them from believing themselves to be utterly and completely superior to their small town/small government counterparts in public service. It did not for one second give them pause, or spur them to reason through the consequences of their assumptions of public works and spending in relation to the assumptions of governance they found so provincial and uninformed in the people of the township. The people of the township were, government men believed, members of an ignorant and benighted tribe and thus were entirely deserving of their contempt.

Two tribes. And I have no doubt that one of those tribes will feed without question or remorse upon the carcass of what was once a thriving economy, right up until the last scrap of flesh is devoured and there is nothing left to consume. To even question doing so would be to affirm a critique originating from the other tribe… and that would be unthinkable.

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Strongsidejedi
Aug 7, 2013 - 12:11pm

30 year old COMEX documentary

COMEX video documentary from 30+ years ago.

The video is from a program called Evening Magazine.

It is shot at the COMEX on the day of the assassination of Anwar Sadat (6 October 1981).

It's like looking back in a mirror and seeing a different time and a different market.

It's also particularly poignant given the current Egyptian unrest and instability.

COMEX TRADING FLOOR
Gramp
Aug 7, 2013 - 8:49am

Dept. HoMeLanD S ecuRity

Just seems odd... that in this small town Marina where I work, where crime is VERY low, the DepT. Of Hom E LanD Se cUriTy has been frequently present.

This town has a great local Police force, and one never sees county or state police, as with other nearby communities they frequent. It is a Playground for the Wealthy.

Since last season I have observed the DOHS cute little white patrol cars (with blue lights atop) and very dark tinted windows, drive into the marina, and just sit and watch. At times, the officer is taking photographs. This is ALL private yachts, none of which are huge boats. There is no international activity at all, the harbor consisting of private vessels.

I just find it odd behavior. I have felt like walking up to the guy and asking him what his purpose being in this small town was. Stand there, blank faced, interacting with no one, like they are standing in the fucking matrix or something.

Why are they taking photos of private boats and a few small commercial fishing vessels?

part of another tribe...

Motley Fool
Aug 7, 2013 - 3:01am

Jy

Well, it has to be considered in context, as with everything.

These were one of the final few remarks made by FOA before leaving usagold,because of having had much bile spewn their way. In that context a certain amount of bitterness is understandable.

"FOA neglects to ponder the question of what society might look like when 9X% of its population is deprived of most if not all of their accumulated wealth."

He hasn't, though it is not discussed here.

"As far as I can tell, the few voices who publicly say any such things are firmly in the camp of physical ownership and direct custody of the stuff. The scene he describes therefore comes off as a somewhat juvenile revenge fantasy."

This to me implies you may perhaps not be understanding what he is talking about here, which is understandable as you do not have the context.

" we want our leaders to recognize gold again"!

What he is talking about here is the various groups that want gold recognized as money again, aka institution of a gold standard, whether it be 20,40 or 100% reserved standards, or some other variation such as Real Bills.

Aug 6, 2013 - 6:22pm

No, FOA is not wrong in his basic premise

...that physical gold represents true (perhaps unparalleled) value, and paper receipts will be destroyed.

I am merely voicing my opinion that the last paragraph was completely unnecessary to illustrate his point, and strikes me as a negative mark on FOA's character:

"Today they chant; " we want our leaders to recognize gold again"! OH, it will all right and the impact such a recognition will have on these various paper gold plays will leave these gold tribes dancing around a midnight fire! (smile) If nothing else, the entertainment of watching them spew brime on each other will be quite an act to follow. If nothing else it will educate future investors as to where to look for reason. Indeed, the law of ages never changes as ones conduct in social interaction still identifies oratory as being worthy or no. People that relish rash interaction always find themselves surrounded by fools. Eventually broke fools! (smile)"

Gloating on, ridiculing and laughing at the folly and suffering of others. Establishing oneself as being on a superior moral and intellectual ground by declaration. Smug elitism is not, to me, a hallmark that deserves respect or admiration. Even if the statement is, indeed, factually true. Also, in his mirth, FOA neglects to ponder the question of what society might look like when 9X% of its population is deprived of most if not all of their accumulated wealth. Schadenfreude will perhaps be an item low on his list of priorities.

The tribes aspect is sort of interesting, though I see the divide as being between those who believe in the fiat system (or rather, cannot conceive a world without it) and those who recognize its fallibility and put their trust in real assets. Gold traders may be in either camp. Also, I do not really see any groundswell movement on the part of GLD shareholders, COMEX metal futures contract owners to lobby governments to 'recognize gold'. As far as I can tell, the few voices who publicly say any such things are firmly in the camp of physical ownership and direct custody of the stuff. The scene he describes therefore comes off as a somewhat juvenile revenge fantasy.

Motley Fool
Aug 6, 2013 - 5:56pm

jy

I suppose, assuming you think they are wrong.

Anyhow, the relevant interesting sentence is this :

"I never thought they[the various gold advocates - MF] would segregate into so many vocal tribes, each trying to advance their own minor position in the gold world and willing to step all over themselves and anyone else in the process."

As regards the post, I do not think the distinction of tribes is made strongly enough. It seems to be government vs the people, whereas I think it to be easy money vs hard money crowd (debtors versus savers) and many of the populace fall in the former group, even those that seem to be rich.

Bollocks
Aug 6, 2013 - 4:48pm

Ooops!

Forgot to say, blooming excellent post Pining!

Like some others, your experience doesn't surprise me. I was involved in providing online services to a gov't department, the NHS, in the UK a few years ago.

The NHS is always in financial difficulty, yet some of the things that I was asked to do - off the record - staggered me. I can't go into detail about this, but it was basically "spend as much as you can". It was the complete opposite of what the campaign I was involved in, a fundraiser for a hospital that was going to be closed, was about. I didn't play ball so was dropped.

All the while, those involved (local politicians and senior NHS execs - this was on the MSM all over the UK at the time) were in the press smiling away next to children and parents as they were handed cheques for fundraising activities they (the parents and children) had personally launched to try and help the hospital from closing.

The people in management are TOTAL crooks.

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Aug 6, 2013 - 12:19pm

JML- appreciate your thoughtful comments

And to be clear, I certainly wasn't suggesting that government employees are the only group with negative or 'tribal' attitudes about others, that is certainly not the case. But this was the instance I actually did observe, and thus cannot speak to other examples from personal experience.

I will say that when I worked in a similar situation as yours (in a different state) many years ago, I was left aghast at the way governmental departments behaved when it came to budgets. The entire game, it seemed, was to 1. make the most dire case possible in order to get the most money, then 2. spend every cent of it whether you needed it or not- because if you didn't spend it, someone might not give it to you next year.

So as a 22 year old graduate student, I was told to perform a series of helicopter surveys- places in the backcountry that needed to be surveyed where, instead of having me hike in and camp as usual, getting a bit of overtime in the process, they flew me in daily at a cost of 1000k per hour for the helicopter rental. My supervisor was literally trying to burn money before year end, so they wouldn't cut his budget the next year. So what should have cost a few hundred bucks in overtime instead cost 30 grand over a week... mission accomplished. It is hard to imagine a more perverse set of incentives, but it is easy to see how 40 years of this process leaves the nation as a whole with a deficit of 1.5 trillion per year and a gargantuan governmental apparatus that fights tooth and nail against reform.

JML-2012
Aug 6, 2013 - 11:36am

Thanks benque

Appreciate your compliment.

Just to add one thing on the issue raised by Pining of the attitude of the government employees that the state grants were "free money". This is something I am not personally involved in as a scientific/technical staff member, but I have seen and heard quite a bit on the topic second hand and from other areas of the Department. I can't tell you how many projects that I have to review that have already received money from the state to build, its pathetic. Big corporate money like PPL Energy and they're getting taxpayer money to fund their projects! It's just crazy.

I have to agree with Pining here that the attitude generally is that state grants are "free money" to be handed out as gifts with little regard to how its funded. Personally, I do not agree with this at all. I think there should be very little if any taxpayer money given out in the form of subsidies and grants. And that goes for everything- agriculture, oil and gas, energy- everything. In this I think an even playing field is the only fair way for the government to act - no taxpayer money to any private industry, period.

Aug 6, 2013 - 11:19am

Speaking of Pennsylvania

I really hope this wasn't the Township in the story...

"It's a surreal nightmare for the township, 75 miles north of Philadelphia. Ross Township is so quiet that it never garnered big headlines before.
"They are never in the newspaper," Monroe County Commissioner Suzanne McCool said. "They are the only township in Monroe County that hasn't had a tax increase in many, many years." -CNN

No tax increase in YEARS? Can't have that, no sirree.

____________________________________________________________________________

The problem with the gov't officials in the story is merely that they weren't thinking BIG enough. State grant to purchase and develop a property for town use? Pshaw! It's all about SCALE. Here's how to do it:

"In the south of Italy, where most of the wind farm development has taken place, it is thought that mafia clans had a stake in many of the companies involved.
Then, by infiltrating the public agencies that award wind farm contacts and distribute subsidies, they have been able to ensure they win the business.
Experts say the gangs strong-arm landowners into accepting wind farms, which destroy swathes of countryside, and threaten any construction firms that refused to pay extortion fees.
" -- Daily Mail

_________________________________________________________________________________

@MF -- while the segment you quote DOES mention tribes, it also represents the least appealing aspects of A's derivatives -- the condescending, gloating, verbose preening of vain and insecure men desperate to declare and prove their superiority. He (and you) could have stuck with talking about the admirable efforts of teaching an as-yet unready populace about novel ideas through Socratic dialogue.

benqueJML-2012
Aug 6, 2013 - 11:00am

JML-2012

I very much like your post, and the views you expressed. I think you've hit one of the problem nails right square on the head.

Thanks!

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