Populist, Progressive, Liberal - and when populist progressives succeeded

I was inspired by Michael Collins' wonderful article, Where are the Populists?  to make this contribution. I have been spending much time this winter peering through the kaleidoscope of American history at what happened in the early 1900s, when progressives were able to ride a rapidly rising wave of populism to political power, and institute some major reforms that still redound to our advantage today. These progressive populists were able to achieve a number of specific goals, such as direct primaries (to break the rule of state and city political bosses), direct popular election of U.S. Senators (to break the stranglehold large business and financial interests had acquired over the selection process in state legislatures), and some reforms within the U.S. Congress that curtailed the power of entrenched interests by curbing some of the administrative power of House Speaker Joseph Cannon.

The most dazzling success of these progressive populists came in the rural state of North Dakota, where the organizing genius of Arthur C. Townley created the Non-Partisan League in 1916. In an amazingly brief span of less than two years, the Non-Partisan League signed up nearly 40,000 members - in a state with a population of just 600,000 - and seized complete political control of the state from the railroad, grain trade, and financial interests centered in St. Paul, Chicago, and New York.

Once in power, legislators and state officers backed by the Non-Partisan League created a number of state-owned enterprises, such as grain terminals and elevators, designed to end the monopoly power of these out-of-state interests that had been looting North Dakota farmers of an estimated $55.9 million a year ($1.04 billion in today's dollars). One professor at the state university determined that these interests bought grain from North Dakota's farmers at $1.10 a bushel, and sold it back to the farmers as boxed cereal at over $25.00 a bushel.

Interestingly, one of these institutions, the Bank of North Dakota - the nation's only state-owned bank - was the subject of an excellent article on Huntington Post today. North Dakota is one of the few states not suffering a budget crisis; probably due to some extent because these state enterprises still shield the state's economy from the full weight of the usury, speculation, and rent-seeking behavior of Wall Street, the futures markets in Chicago, and the City of London.

The Non-Partisan League also achieved power in a number of surrounding states, most notably Minnesota, where Republican Congressman Charles A. Lindbergh Sr. (father of the famed aviator), ran for governor as a NPL candidate. Though he lost, Lindbergh's and the League's efforts in Minnesota created the geometry from which emerged the Farmer-Labor Party, which comes down to us as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party today.

It was Lindbergh who in 1912 forced Congress to conduct a special Investigation of Financial and Monetary Conditions in the United States Under House Resolutions Nos. 429 and 504 : 1912-1913. It became known as the Pujo Committee, after Chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee, Arsene P. Pujo.

Its purpose was to investigate the "money trust," a small group of Wall Street bankers that exerted powerful control over the nation's finances. The committee's majority report concluded that a group of financial leaders had abused the public trust to consolidate control over many industries.

Here is the one part of the study that focuses on the interlocking directorships through which J.P. Morgan, National City Bank, Chase National Bank, and a handful of other institutions controlled the "trusts" of railroads, industrial companies, insurance companies, and other financial institutions.  
Money Trust Investigation - cvr Interlocking Directorates

Here is Part 3 of a summary of the findings of the Pujo Committee by famed muck-raker Ida Tarbell, in American magazine: The Hunt for a Money Trust, III. The Clearing House. (So far as I can tell, the previous two Tarbell articles are not available online.)

To try and stop the creation of the Federal Reserve along the lines channeled by Wall Street through its puppets in Congress like Senators Nelson Aldrich and Carter Glass (yes, he of Glass-Steagal), Lindbergh in 1913 self-published Banking and Currency and the Money Trust (available entirely online and well worth at least a day or two poring over).

Lindbergh was a Republican, but his fight against the Aldrich plan for a Federal Reserve that would be entirely under control by Wall Street created a number of powerful enemies in his own party. Here's part of a speech Lindbergh gave on the House floor in July 1916,

During my service as a Member of this House I have been a close observer of events during three different presidential administrations. I have seen the progressive tendencies of legislation under a Roosevelt, inspired by the logic, eloquence, and candor of La Follette, strangled by the stand-pat proclivities of a Taft, and the power of a great party, which had controlled the country for 16 years, dwindle until it was able to carry only the electoral votes of two of the smallest States in the Union. I have seen another great party ride into power on the strength of roseate promises to the people, and I expect to see it go out of power, because it has been abundantly proved that those promises were merely statements to catch votes. The plain truth is that neither of these great parties, as at present led and manipulated by an invisible government, is fit to manage the destinies of a great people, and this fact is well understood by all who have had the time and have used it to investigate.

I just started reading Robert L. Morlan's 1955 book, Political Prairie Fire: The Nonpartisan League, 1915-1922, which was reprinted by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1985. The Introduction to the reprint notes that

Since the book was first published in 1955, many readers have come to it to learn about political insurgency and political organizing. By no accident the book is cited by contemporary "people’s organizations, such as the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN), as part of the American political tradition worth emulating.

Of course, the Establishment of the time was extremely anxious to stop the influence of the Non-Partisan League and its leaders. The New York Times and other major city newspapers began referring to Lindbergh as a "bolsheveki." When the Non-Partisan League refused to fully back U.S. entry into World War One, a major campaign began to label the NPL as seditious and unpatriotic, and a number of NPL leaders were actually imprisoned. Any of this sound familiar?


I will have more to share in the future. For now, I would like to offer these definitions of populist, progressive, liberal which I have found very useful. 

Populism is an appeal to the romantic rhetoric of the basic good of the people, and to the idea that government should reflect the will of the people. Populism is emotionalist in its terms, relies on focusing the public's attention on a single individual or case to produce sympathy and sentiment. The opposite of populism is oligarchy, and to a lesser extent, elitism.

Progressivism is fundamentally a belief in three quantities: that a free people, when organized into an effective, uncorrupted groups, can make their lives and the world better with sharp concerted action. Progressivism reflects populism. The difference between a pure populist, and a progressive populist is simple. A pure populist will see social evils, where they exist, as an by product of the local grassroots culture, and not to be tampered with. It was regressive populists that made that argument against civil rights, or that make the argument that discrimination based on sexual orientation is legitimate. The opposite of progressivism is traditionalism, or regressive forces that see the past as better than the present.

Liberalism is the most misunderstood of the three. Liberalism is the belief that we can comprehend the systematic nature of human activity, and shape it, not just by concerted action, but by shaping how people act. It is more subtle, and therefore easier to mischaracterize. But liberalism's fundamental idea is that society has a shape and a structure that is more complicated tha simple maxims. One can't govern out of the book of proverbs, or on autopilot, says the liberal. One has to face the world, as it is, and do what needs to be done, even if it sometimes goes against the grain.

Finally, I would be remiss not to note one very unpleasant possible answer to Michael Collins' queastion, Where are the Populists?  Right now, the teabaggers are riding a rising tide of populist anger. There is enormous damage being inflicted right now on communities and families - damage that most of the Washington / New York elites simply do not experience, undertstand, or even care about. The Atlantic editor Don Peck details the social, emotional, and physical damage laid on a population by economic hard times in an extremely important article, How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America. The Democratic Party, being the party in power, is going to get blamed, especially since it has signally failed to shield people from the pain. For example, the dismal failures to stop home foreclosures, credit card rate hikes, and health insurance rate hikes.

In this interview, Chris Hedges discusses the nature of inverted totalitarianism in a corporatist state, the end of the American empire, Obama as a brand, and the coming wrong-wing backlash.



gee wiz

all of these definitions. Well, I guess I want to redefine Populist to objectivity, focus on the actual statistics, results and policy prescriptions that are also based on sound theory and results, with the focus being on working America, or the middle class, i.e. Americans...and economy that's in the national interest, their best interests.

But to me, no one is going to get nowhere with just rage and outrage without understanding the economic details and how things really work ....

I would claim the tea party people are Populists by traditional terms but the problem is I don't think they understand the ramifications of so many policies being presented as solutions would in fact make things even worse.

They do not understand that unfettered capitalism will lead to a huge social divide between the haves and the masses who are have nots.

On the other hand we have policies that are seriously spun by various special interest groups that in fact will hurt further the U.S. middle class, working America and are not "smart spending"...

both sides I'd say are strongly infiltrated with corporate agendas, might be corporate lobbyists dress up their agendas as "left" flavors and "right flavors" depending on who they have bought off and who they are backing, who is in power.

Well, that's where I always got hung up

and why I offered the definitions. I always used to think that populists were always the good guys, but it ain't necessarily so. Populists are only good to the degree that they are also progressive. Which I understand might make you uncomfortable, what with the name you selected for this site, but, believe me, I'm just trying to help clarify matters and point to the danger from the wrong-wingers. So, yes, the bagheads are populists, but they are not progressives, and that makes them something more than a mere nuisance.

wait a second here

This site is an economics site. It's officially non-partisan and there is good reason for that.

So, to claim "Progressive is good" and "wrong-wingers are bad" is really getting off the focus of this site.

Truly, I see more people who do not understand, let's say CDSes or the WTO and the "free movement of capital" or why MNCs scout the globe, how it's encouraged for them to scout the globe due to differing tax jurisdictions and currency exchange rates, growth rates and this is one of the reasons money pours of the U.S. like a sieve.

Yet we see all of these political terms, but if you ask almost everyone, what is the difference between a VAT and a tariff, they will not know the answer or if they have heard of a VAT, just one example of thousands.

Now, if you try to classify a VAT as "Progressive" or "Conservative", well, you really cannot, instead you'll see some from across the political spectrum who think it's a good idea to help with trade.

Now add to that political spin which isn't based in objective economic fact, theory, stats and definitions.

It's really no wonder one cannot get anywhere because all of this political soup can labeling keeps people from doing the hard work to dig around and really understand an issue.

Point well taken

Though an interesting thing about the Non-Partisan League is that is also did not concern itself with whether someone was a Democrat or Republican. The NPL laid down a program of specific policy objectives it wanted to achieve. These policies were all designed to assist farmers in getting fair treatment and prices when dealing with banks, railroads, terminals, elevators, grain processors and traders. The NPL maintained it would support either a Dem or Rep, so long as the candidate agreed to support the Non-Partisan League's policy objectives.

I'm not sure of the exact history, but I do know that the Farmer-Labor parties were not originally allied with the Democratic Party, and merger came a number of years later. Lindbergh was a Republican, and one of the most visible faces of the NPL, but a decade or two later it was the Democratic Party that absorbed most of the NPL network.

I think that sounds like a great idea

to have very specific, analyzed policy prescriptions as agendas.

I'll bet if you ask 100 self identified conservatives what they mean by smaller government, you'll get 100 different answers and 80 of them vague.

I think if people focused on policy items they want and why they want them,understand how exactly they should work, it would be better.

I think the great partisan divide at this point is almost a corporate lobbyist creation. It helps keep bills and policies they do not want from getting passed.

It's like network news is almost diversionary noise.

NPL / Farmer-Labor Party

The Non-Partisan League was essentially a North Dakota phenomenon. By 1916, its successes had prompted copies in Minnesota. This budding movement was snuffed out by the reactionaries in coordinated raids following the entry of USA in WWII. Supposedly, the crime of Minnesota NPL types was that they were pro-German.

The Minnesota farm progressives staggered around but finally got their feet under them during the 1920s when they founded the Farmer-Labor Party. They finally elected a governor of Minnesota in 1932 by the name of Floyd B. Olson. The Farmer-Labor Party eventually lost its independent status when Hubert Humphrey arranged a merger between the FL and the Democratic Party. It is called the DFL until this day.

As for a basic primer into upper midwest Populism / Progressivism, I have tried to cover the main issues here:

it is usually one thing, or infighting that breaks a movement

which is yet another reason I think one needs to really make sure policy solutions will work and plain stay away from issues that are not "on topic".

I literally have to turn off the TV, for every time the trivial happens, which is daily, that is what they will harp on and another reason blogs have become so popular.

I'm not even going

to waste breath on such nonsense statement such as wrong winger.

I could also point out stats that can show how "progressives" of the past have gotten it wrong.

Common sense economics rides in the middle of the road. It can be said that all out capitalists (which I know none) would just let things run rough-shod over the people. It can be said that Progressives would like to have so many economic laws that economics would be used for social engineering.

Neither sides reflects the average American which is I believe, someone that is neither far left or far right.

Using a term like wrong-winger immediately puts you in the corner of far leftist and you would be out of step with the Average American. Or if you aren't one, what is your favorite pejorative term for someone on the far left?

Ah ....feel better now.

this is why political labels are a problem

Look at how many people read this site, read the data, the news bits and commentary...and agree with it...

yet if you try to label it as "Progressive" or "Populist" or "Conservative" or whatever per issue...

they get all upset thinking you're insulting their political identity and bent.

This is why this site is non-partisan because if you focus on the problems and detail out the facts, stats, theory...

the solutions become more self-evident and based on common sense instead of political philosophy.

I think this is important because frankly to get anything in this country, we need the public on board. Corporate lobbyists run D.C. obviously and the only prayer's chance for anything to really happen is from the people.

"Or if you aren't one, what is your favorite pejorative term"

I call them "Birkenstock liberals."

But, generally, I dislike conservatives much more. I refuse to call conservatism “right-wing” because nothing about conservatism is correct. In the American Revolution, the conservatives sided with the Crown. In the American Civil War, the conservatives sided with the slave-holders. In the Civil Rights movement, the conservatives sided with the segregationists. And now, in the fight between representative democracy and corporatist fascism, the conservatives are siding with the corporations. There is nothing “right” about conservatism; it is wrong through and through.

But worst of all, conservatives are basically satanic. The entire basis of conservative economic theory is based on selfishness – self-centeredness. John Milton, in his classic Paradise Lost, makes its quite clear that Lucifer fell because of self-centeredness. That so many closet homosexuals, pedophiles, wife abusers and philanderers have been harbored in conservative political circles may be shocking, but it should be no surprise to anyone willing to look through the ad bites to what conservatism is really all about.

The satanic self-centeredness of conservatism is of course carried through to economic policies. The duplicity of conservative theology is stupefying, since conservative policies inevitably work injury to the common good, yet conservatives are loud and bold in their claim to be protectors of Judeo-Christian morality. The economic laws of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and the New Testament message of social and economic justice, are not just completely ignored, but actively derided and ridiculed by conservatives.

The recent Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United v FEC is a perfect example of the essential satanic self-centeredness at the core of conservatism. A brief reading of Madison's Federalist Paper No. 10, on the subject of political factions, will show how completely radical and historically unmoored the (conservative) majority decision was. Madison argues that the largest force behind the creation of factions is economic interest, yet the Court has now elevated the most extreme creature of economic interest, the corporation, and endowed it with the same rights as human beings. Lost entirely is the idea of why human beings have "certain inalienable rights" - because they are made in the image of their Creator, and thus possess the Divine Spark of Reason, with which they are supposed to do Good in the world. Corporations, having no souls, are not made in the image of God, and thus cannot and should not have the same rights has human beings. Yet, today, you see American conservatives, supposedly the self-proclaimed defenders of Christian morality, celebrating the Supreme Court decision giving human rights to corporations.

But my detestation of the wrong-wing of the political spectrum does not necessarily mean, as you would like to assume, that I find a comfortable fit on the left. The key problem on the left is also a lack or moral rigor, that is manifested by an inability to recognize the unique value of human life within an interdependent global environment. Simply put, it is absurd to argue, as many environmentalists and other leftists have, the flora and fauna should have the same legal standing and basic protections as human beings.

This position of the left, of course, is futher manifested as a dislike of, and even hostility toward, industry. But to no small degree, I believe this fault results from ignorance of alternative schemas of political economy to the standard “right-left” spectrum.

Of course, what I am thinking of is Thorstein Veblen’s schema of Lesiure Class versus Working Class, which Jonathan Larson, in his 1997 book Elegant Technology: Economic Prosperity from an Environmental Blueprint, has refined as Predator Class versus Producer Class. Larson’s critique of Marx and Marxism is a delight to read, and it makes clear that the best way to understand the inevitable clash between groups with conflicting economic interests is along the working-producer / leisure-predator spectrum central to Veblen’s institutional economics.

Furthermore, Veblen’s economic analysis hews closer to real life as a result of Veblen incorporating religious and cultural beliefs as essential components of political economy. In his 1914 book The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts, Veblen writes,

In the course of cultural growth most of those civilisations or peoples that have had a long history have from time to time been brought up against an imperative call to revise their scheme of institutions in the light of their native instincts, on pain of collapse or decay; and they have chosen variously, and for the most part blindly, to live or not to live, according as their instinctive bias [25] has driven them. In the cases where it has happened that those instincts which make directly for the material welfare of the community, such as the parental bent and the sense of workmanship, have been present in such potent force, or where the institutional elements at variance with the continued life-interests of the community or the civilisation in question have been in a sufficiently infirm state, there the bonds of custom, prescription, principles, precedent, have been broken - or loosened or shifted so as to let the current of life and cultural growth go on, with or without substantial retardation. But history records more frequent and more spectacular instances of the triumph of imbecile institutions over life and culture than of peoples who have by force of instinctive insight saved themselves alive out of a desperately precarious institutional situation, such as now (1913) faces the peoples of Christendom. Chief among those instinctive dispositions that conduce directly to the material well-being of the race, and therefore to its biological success, is perhaps the instinctive bias here spoken of as the sense of workmanship. . . .

The instinct of workmanship, on the other hand, occupies the interest with practical expedients, ways and means, devices and contrivances of efficiency and economy, proficiency, creative work and technological mastery of facts. Much of the functional content of the instinct of workmanship is a proclivity for taking pains. The best or most finished outcome of this disposition is not had under stress of great excitement or under extreme urgency from any of the instinctive propensities with which its work is associated or whose ends it serves. It shows at its best, both in the individual workman's technological efficiency and in the growth of technological [34] proficiency and insight in the community at large, under circumstances of moderate exigence, where there is work in hand and more of it in sight, since it is initially a disposition to do the next thing and do it as well as may be; whereas when interest falls off unduly through failure of provocation from the instinctive dispositions that afford an end to which to work, the stimulus to workmanship is likely to fail, and the outcome is as likely to be an endless fabrication of meaningless details and much ado about nothing.

Veblen goes on to explain how, in societies that fall under the sway of predators (though of course Veblen does not use that word), the producers inevitably begin to lose their sense of workmanship, with increasingly deleterious effects accumulating for the physical capacity of the society to maintain itself. And the physical capacity of a society to maintain itself (contrary to the ideas of the absolute dreck that has passed for economic science for the past half-century) – is the sine qua non of economics. This is a devastating critique of the effects of banking and financial deregulation, financialization, and the way in which industrial firms have been decimated and looted the past three decades.

Here again, I find that the conservatives, through their incapacity or unwillingness to differentiate between speculation and enterprise (another moral judgment that has to be made), do more damage to a society’s well being than "Birkenstock liberals." Indeed, much of the ill effects of industrial capitalism that the "Birkenstock liberals" protest against, are actually driven, at base, by the demands of financial capitalism that arise from the failure to differentiate between speculation and enterprise.


Tony, that's just plain incorrect

Some of the founding fathers were conservatives and Barry Goldwater, probably the first "mainstream" modern conservative politician was Pro-choice and Pro equal rights.

Here is the wikipedia article on the history of conservatism in the U.S. and there is a long history, it switching parties and 7 different types of conservatism.

Now I also have to caution, once again we have people on EP from many different views and most interesting, different slants and perspectives on economics and finance.

But we're all here talking about the specifics on what economic policy does what, who is bought and paid for, what needs to happen to turn the U.S. around economically...what kind of real effect will x legislation have, what's missing and so on.

I just do not want this site to be a "divider" and so far I think it's been pretty good about staying on the topic of econ and allowing a place for civil discussion and no name calling for the most part.

Let's keep it that way.

Disagree on Goldwater

I disagree. Goldwater was pro-choice and pro-equal rights more for political expendiency, and those platforms sounded rather peculiar given many of his other farout and wacky stances.

If you ever come in contact with anyone who worked for General Goldwater, you might have a dramatic change of mind in this matter.

well, not an expert

but from what I've read and seen he got a lot of shit for it and grumbled intensely, hated the fact that whole Church group/anti-women/anti-gay people grabbed hold of the conservative movement. It's in his documentary Mr. Conservative as well as a host of other documentation.

What's my point? My point is I see every damn day things like "we must have limited government, government is the problem" and then I see "those teabaggers are wacko nut jobs" and "those Progressives are socialists" and on and on and on.

It's literally empty. Seriously, it reminds me of the Dr. Suess's The Sneetches.

and it's also beliefs, philosophies and it's all so stupid and black and white and derisive.

I think the point is to divide people frankly.

But most importantly, most important of all, is it is not focused on actual details per issue, per policy.

Let's take "Stimulus" as an example. Ok, now I'd say the "left" is pretty "Pro Keynes" and the right believes Keynes doesn't work...

but he's the deal. The Stimulus was NOT Keynes theory implemented! Then, Keynes is for domestic economies, there is no way Keynes works when one is offshore outsourcing U.S. taxpayer (public expenditures) overseas as direct spending.

So, we have talk shows and the usual fires arguing over something that is not even valid or understood.

I can point to free trade, free markets as another example...supposedly the cure all for self professed conservatives.

Well, U.S. trade policy is no way, shape or form is the actual theory of free trade, not even close. All one has to do is look at the preferred status of emerging economies and see they can set tariff schedules where other nations can't or just look at national VATs...to know this is simply not the theory at all.

Then, by the theory itself, it will show, depending on how implemented, it's not this huge "win-win" that is sold all of the time, in fact a 1st world economy can indeed lose!

So, what's my point? My point is this site is to focus on all of these topics, to get to the nitty gritty, to get people, regular people to start educating themselves and quit with these granfalloon self identity groupings and arguments....

because they have a tendency to vote into office (any party) bought and paid for's on the corporate dole, because people are not paying attention to the facts, details, learning about economics, economic policy specifics, cause and effects and so on and instead having a grand time arguing as if this is some sort of big huge football league and which team do you personally identify with?

This ain't no game and during all of these useless arguments, the nation is going down the tubes and the middle class is being wiped out....

People need to get off of these identity politics and labels and onto what works and the actual details of policy and legislation and demand.....what will work.

Drives me nuts. Why the site motto is "when in doubt, use a calculator".

True, but we can't always act to limit the arena of economics

True, but I think Tony made some very cogent economic-oriented remarks in his analysis, and used Veblen to do so.

As to those who peddle that "free market mantra" -- had there ever existed a free market in America, when Thomas Jefferson returned from his European travels, where he had met with, and observed, a futuristic-thinking French engineer, and began actively promoting the adoption of manufacturing replaceable, interlocking components utilizing an assembly line process, that phantom free market would have paid attention and jumped this country hundreds of years ahead of Henry Ford!

But, as history demonstrates, there was no free market in either America or France, nor does that creature exist today.

But, in a awesomely controlled society, whereby 50,000 foundations steer the popular consensus along with corporate-controlled media, extremist ideas are really the only way out; the only real solution.

Trust me, I've been contacting my congressional creatures for well over 35 years, and it doesn't work, least of all today.

My congressional creatures only answer to the money people.

extremist ideas are really the only way out

Firstly define "extremist" ideas and secondly, this site at least is not putting forth "extremist" ideas. It's got to be the most practical, common sense type of stuff going, unless "extremism" means enact policies and government in the national interest and out of the hands of various lobbyists and special interests and their short term, short sighted, corrupt and even stuck on stupid in their own best interests....agendas.

Seriously. How beige can one get than to have an economics/finance site for the lay person with a focus on the U.S. national interest and working America's interests?

The only question is how to get the corporations and lobbyists out of D.C. and get real representation that act in the national interest instead of their own financial and personal power grab agendas?

But from what I can see, this site at least is simply telling people to get educated and to demand policies via letter writing, FAXing, speaking out and voting for policy/legislative specifics...

Ya say ya want a revolution, well, well, ya know....

I don't have any answers beyond we need a real FDR reincarnated...but I do believe if the entire nation just really demanded this of their government it could happen...there are only so many rigged elections and rigged politicians one can run through.

But first, I would find it oh so nice if the general public even understand what they are fighting for, in detail.

I've seen policies promoted, all over the place, that from practice to the economy theory, will assuredly hurt the U.S. middle class and the national economy yet it's like people do not realize this, they don't really grasp what they are even arguing for...

I think getting a firm grasp on economic reality would help push forward political change frankly and that's not there.

Full agreement

I'm in complete agreement with your very concise and cogent analysis, and bringing one of the greatest, if the greatest, of economics thinkers (Veblen) into this analyses is brilliant in, and of, itself.

One cannot possibly bring forth any change as long as sociopathologies aren't recognized.

And, in my most humble of opinions, I believe the five greatest thinkers of the Western Hemisphere were/are:
1) Leonardo da Vinci
2) Thomas Jefferson
3) Thorstein Veblen
4) Martin Luther King
5) Michael Parenti

And I would go with your analysis of the American Revolution's conservatives. Of my three ancestors, who were brothers and immigrants, the conservative fled to Canada while the other two remained and fought in the Revolution.

Well, thank you

I find your list of five greatest thinkers fascinating. I would bring to your attention Gottfried Liebniz, and before him, Nicholas of Cusa. Cusa in particular has been written out of our history, though I have no idea why. I would venture to say that Leonardo's work builds on that of Cusa, especially the concept of divine geometry.

I guess I would have to expand the list to ten, because I'm just uncomfortable honoring Jefferson, and not also Franklin and Hamilton. Franklin in particular was crucial - try reading a biography of him AFTER reading something like Allen Dulles' The Craft of Intelligence. It becomes apparent that Franklin was a top-notch spymaster, especially while he was based in Paris. Someday, hopefully, somebody will find some documentation or something, and write a book on Franklin's intelligence operations against England. And the way Franklin "herded cats" at the Constitutional Convention - while he was ill and infirm! - is one of the great untold stories of American history. (The key to understanding that is to look carefully at Franklin's relationship with James Wilson when reading a biography of Franklin). 

All of which leads to making a point that I sadly have to make, regarding Mr. Oak. I greatly appreciate and admire the excellent work he does, but this thread demontrates that he does not have a good grasp of the key role played by intelligence services and operations in almost all of human history. I picked up a lot of history of intelligence services in college, because I majored in International Studies, with a focus on the Soviet military. This was in the early 1980s, when the Cold War was reaching a climax and racing toward its conclusion. So, you can imagine, I read a lot about the CIA and the KGB. In fact, I was hoping for a position with the CIA, but that didn't happen. At the time, I was a young hothead, making lots of trouble by questioning the status quo of mutually assured destruction. My senior paper was "New Technologies in Strategic Defense: The End of Offence Dominance in the Strategic Nuclear Balance." I sniffed around the Reagan campaign some, hoping I would be a good fit for what became the Strategic Defense Initiative, but, frankly, conservatives repel me personally. Probably because of my working class Chicago upbringing.

Anyway, the point is, I have always had what I guess is a rather unique perspective, of the role of intelligence operations, to bring to economic history. These days, though, there's no real excuse for not being aware of the influence of the clandestine services, after Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, and John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

I could go on with some of my conclusions along these lines regarding the conservative movement in the United States, but I think I've already caused a few blown fuses.



no not really

I just want the focus on econ and specifics, which is the point of the site, we're all econ 24/7, bunch of mottos in the FAQ and user guide, about.

Anywho, well, this is an interesting background and I would welcome if you want to tackle China's recent industrial espionage/economic espionage activity, esp w.r.t. advanced Academic and industrial research rip offs....

I find the U.S. stuck on stupid with all of it going on.

But I still say you're doing that DK lump category deal and the reason is you can tell, we have people in agreement alot on this site, except whe one gets into politics and then the weird and strange comments come out...

but ya know I don't care if you're a purple rattlesnake if you can add up a bunch a numbers and see that derivatives are risking global contagion and that's really not a good thing.

To the list of greatest thinkers, ...

....I would add Sir Isaac Newton, who developed differential calculus independently of Leibnitz (spelled "ei" not "ie" and with a "t" before the "z" by the way). Albert Einstein hailed differential calculus as perhaps the most significant step in the history of science. Newton's theory of universal gravitation allowed precise calculations of planetary orbits.

Ray Joiner


Wow, just loved all that you have written and taken the time to research. I would love to quote some of the passages because what you have to say is important for others to read.

Regarding progressive solutions

I wrote about the North Dakota Bank here and the Pujo Committee here.
It's good to see these historical examples being recycled and remembered.


Isn't it also interesting that N.D. is not suffering from this recession for the most part AND had one of the best Senators ever, Byron Dorgan? I mean, what is it, that the place is God forsaken in terms of weather or there aren't too many people there or because it's that common sense of farmers or what....

but I find it very interesting that the state is reasonably stable.

The Illusion Of Teaparty "Populism"

Tea Bag "populism" is very simply a varient of libertarianism, and that in turn, a kind of pseudo-religion embracing the peculiar notion that "the state" possesses moral agency when anyone in their right mind knows that only human beings can. To the libertarian, the workings and activities of "the state" are intrinsically evil and can only represent encroachments upon human "liberty", a principle which is accorded the status of an absolute and defined in largely sociopathic terms. War, for example, isn't opposed on moral grounds much as a Quaker or a Catholic might oppose it, but rather because it is "interventionist" and contravenes the rights of others. Economically, it is reactionary in the extreme, (1) extolling and enabling the very unregulated environments that have given birth to the abuses which have been realized in the present crisis, and (2) viserally opposing the deficits which would now seem so essential to basic human welfare and a de jure recovery. Tea Party populism is faux populism. What may have begun with noble instincts has allowed itself of late to be so identified with the worst sort of fascist, neo-con branding, that any distinction between it's and Republican Party interests is purely coincidental.