Tuesday

September 26th, 2017

Insight

The worst ideas

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published June 28, 2016

The competition for a place on the dishonor roll of bad ideas, past and present, is fierce. But here goes:

1. Eugenics, the theory and awful practice of improving humanity the way experts in animal husbandry might produce a new breed of cattle or kind of chicken. Yet eugenics was championed by such distinguished figures in American history as Margaret Sanger, who set out to make the world safe for the white race, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. ("Three generations of imbeciles are enough!") His was a simple enough rule: Three failures to produce healthy offspring and you're out. But instead of being sent to the showers, you're sterilized by an all-knowing state. For why protect what the Germans called life unworthy of life? The enthusiasm for abortion and assisted suicide in our own time -- all in the name of women's rights, of course -- is but a contemporary version of this older delusion and abomination.

2. Food as fuel. Using corn to run our engines is a waste of perfectly good food. And a perfect example of misplaced priorities. But it's another way for the government to subsidize farmers. And for politicians to appeal to the farm vote. And extend government's long reach into still another industry, this time agriculture.

3. Obamacare, a tax disguised as a social-welfare program. Space limitations do not allow a detailed look at its various mantraps, many of which have yet to be noticed. But they will be -- as sure as the annual increase in your health-insurance premiums will come to your attention when it's time to pay the bills. So let's give Obamacare the blue ribbon for false advertising. It's certainly earned it. Stay well, friend. It's the best kind of health insurance.

4. Diversity -- the whole industry, racket and fraud. Complete with racial, sexual and class quotas. Plus its deans of diversity who draw down big salaries at our more prestigious colleges and universities doing anything and everything except teach students the arts and sciences. How quaint that would be! At best, all these supernumeraries aren't needed, and at worst they represent a clear and present danger to education, the real thing and not the inflated fraud that may go under its name.

5. Educanto. Which seems to have replaced classical education on college campus after college campus. As surely as Latin and Greek have become "dead" languages, educanto is alive and well. Indeed, mastering its gobbledygook has become something of a requirement for promotion in academe. Departments of classical languages may still be kept around for ornamental purposes. Otherwise, they're taken about as seriously as this administration does the Constitution of the United States -- something to look through for anything that might come in handy in a political fight. Ideologues who call themselves educators, educantists hide in the deep thickets of a pseudo-language they themselves have invented. Call it protective coloration. For if you can't understand what they're saying, how disagree with it?

Yet more dishonorable ideas:

Inflation. An oldie but a baddie. Whenever governments find themselves in trouble, they tend to take refuge in two time-tested and time-failed policies: Inflate the currency, and then declare war. See the history of Germany between the two world wars to observe this all too familiar pattern. In the end, neither approach works, and all that's left is ruination. Policies that were supposed to rally the country only ruined it.

Crony capitalism. Solyndra is just one example of how a government with the power to choose the winners and losers in the economy chooses the losers. In a free market, the people make that choice every day in just about every way, from picking a can of beans off the shelf at a grocery store to an offering on the stock market. Their sheer numbers make them better at it.

Isolationism. The belief that this country can safely retreat from the world. Or as John Quincy Adams put it with his usual eloquence, the United States is a friend of freedom everywhere, but doesn't go looking around the world for monsters to slay. What he didn't say is what we're supposed to do when the monsters come looking for us -- whether on Sept. 11, 2001, or just the other night at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. It won't do to stick our heads in the sand like some purblind ostrich and pretend the danger has gone away.

Trusts. Where is an old trust-buster like Teddy Roosevelt when you need him? Instead the country gets concentrations of power in every field from pharmaceuticals to banking. What's needed is a return to the principles of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated ordinary commercial banks from the kind that speculate with their depositors' money. But always call it investment banking. Result: The country gets a monstrosity and mystery like Dodd-Frank, which remains a (bad) work in progress.

False gods. As in a-whoring after. Worshipping false gods is an ancient practice. It dates back at least to Baal and Ashtoroth, who were going to assure their worshippers of success in exchange for just a few human sacrifices. The appeal of that bitch goddess Success never seems to wane. Whatever she's called, her cult remains just as much a swindle and profanation.

Stay tuned. It's going to be, uh, interesting.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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