From his eyrie in Palo Alto, CA, square in the middle of the Bay Area megalopolis, one of the key jewels of the urbanity and urbane civilization that is the Left Coast, Victor Davis Hanson writes... something that is, quite frankly, remarkable even for him.
Victor Davis Hanson sits in a plutocrat-funded coastal institution that for 54 years has been waging an intellectual war--with considerable success--to make America more unequal, with a smaller and less effective government. As Herbert Hoover said when he founded the place:
Both our social and economic systems are based on private enterprise from which springs initiative and ingenuity.... Ours is a system where the Federal Government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves.... The overall mission of this Institution is, from its records, to recall the voice of experience against the making of war, and by the study of these records and their publication, to recall man's endeavors to make and preserve peace, and to sustain for America the safeguards of the American way of life. This Institution is not, and must not be, a mere library. But with these purposes as its goal, the Institution itself must constantly and dynamically point the road to peace, to personal freedom, and to the safeguards of the American system...
For Hoover, you see, "to safeguard... the American way of life" = "roll back the New Deal". Thus I would argue that the Hoover Institution has been a powerful and mighty coastal ideological voice arguing--and brainwashing--Americans in a direction that leads not just to a more unequal, but to a less entrepreneurial America (dominance of existing capital, especially inherited capital, you know, crowds out the next generation of entrepreneurs), a less-productive America (you need a middle-class society in order for the young to feel like they can afford to spend the time getting their education and training), and a more slowly-growing America as well (people without a safety net are not willing to take as many risks and accept as much change). And it has been, to a remarkable degree, successful.
Yet Hanson claims, from his perch in Hoover Tower, to speak not for those among whom he works--but rather to speak for the voiceless, who are not doing so well, and are being oppressed by... well, by Victor Davis Hanson, and his peers on the Left and Right Coasts.
Hanson sneers at Stanford University--home of the Hoover Institution that pays Victor Davis Hanson a fairly handsome salary:
The road to riches and influence... lies in being branded with a degree from... Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or Berkeley. How well a Yale professor teaches an 18-year-old in a class on American history does not matter as much as the fact that the professor helps to stamp the student with the Ivy League logo...
Not so. It may not be the case that Stanford professors teach especially well, but boy do the students learn--and nobody has succeeded in getting students to learn as much, as reliably, outside an Ivy-class campus. And Hanson doesn't seem to get that neither Stanford nor Berkeley is an Ivy-League school. They did not "stamp" their students two generations ago with anything. The students, rather, stamped those two California universities by going out and changing the world, and so convincing the world that education had happened there. And potentially employers are now willing to extend credit to the next generation of students because it seems a good bet that education is still happening.
The people in what Hanson calls the "sparsely-settled flyover expanse" elect Senators and Representatives, vote for Presidents, and swing elections and policy quite out of proportion to their numbers. But still, somehow, Hanson laments that it is "Boston, New York, and Washington" that somehow "determine how our government works." And in his eyes is those three cities--not the taste and desires of the customers, that also "determine... what sort of news, books, art, and fashion we should consume." And it is not the hard work of inventors, entrepreneurs, and workers but rather "Boston, New York, and Washington" that determines whether savers' "money and investments are worth anything".
Talk to anybody who produces news, books, art, and fashion, and discover that they are desperate for validation from their customers--that they do not dictate but rather desperately hope to receive approval. Talk to any executives in Hollywood--any actors, any directors--and you learn that they are absolutely terrified: desperate to figure out what the moviegoers and cable-watchers of America will like, and eager to please them by spending money like water and energy like blood to satisfy what viewers enjoy. And yet Hanson sees viewers as absolutely powerless: it is "Hollywood" that "determines... whether America suffers through another zombie film or one more Lady Gaga video or Kanye West’s latest soft-porn rhyme" according not to the agency involved in popular taste but to "executives who live in the la-la land". Hollywood does not dictate tastes. It, rather, satisfies them--and works as hard as it can to be of service.
And the engine of high-tech entrepreneurship that is Silicon Valley comes in for Hanson's special scorn Silicon Valley is the best and highest example of innovative entrepreneurial capitalism the world has ever seen: the crown jewel of America's capitalist market economy. And nobody is oppressed or manipulated or brainwashed when they pay $4.99 for an iPhone app that they find useful, and makes more powerful the California-designed device in their pocket that has more cyberprocessing power than the entire Apollo Project.
But does Victor Davis Hanson like it? He laments that:
the next smart phone or search engine 5.0 will arise from the minds of tech geeks who pay $2,000 a month for studio apartments and drive BMWs in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, or Mountain View...
Facebook and Apple [to] relocate operations to North Dakota to expose their geeky entrepreneurs to those who drive trucks and plow snow. Who knows--they might be able to afford a house, get married before 35, and have three rather than zero kids...
Has Hanson been to Malden, NC; Reno, NV; or Prineville, OR? Does he really not know that Apple (and Google, and Facebook) are eager to shift as much of their operations as they can out of high-priced Silicon Valley to wherever they can get good-quality well-educated go-getter entrepreneurial workers for less?
And whence comes the crack that Apple's and Facebook's "geeky entrepreneurs" have zero kids? And whence comes the crack that they all delay marriage until after they are 35--and that they really ought to get married earlier, rather than feeling that they have enough options and agency to wait until they are sure?
So what does Hanson want to do? He wants to:
move Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Mo. That transfer would not only make the capital more accessible to the American people... expose an out-of-touch government to a reality outside its Beltway.
What do we think of this?
Well, a quarter of the country's population lives within an easy day's drive of Washington DC. Less than a tenth lives within a hard day's drive of Kansas City--and I know: I don't want to ever do the drive from Kansas City to Denver again. Moving the capital would take it out of a region in which it is in close contact with a very large chunk of the population that produces enormous value--that passes the market test with flying colors.
As somebody writing this post from The Roasterie--Brookside, 6223 Brookside Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64113, let me assure you that Hanson simply does not know what he is talking about when he asserts that the 30 million people who live within a hard day's drive of this place are in some sense more "authentic", or more worthwhile, than the 75 million people who live within an easy day's drive of Washington DC or, indeed, the 34 million who populate Greater Seattle-Portland-Sacramento-San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego.
And Hanson does not know what he is talking about when he claims that the people in the interior are profoundly different from and unknown to the people on the coasts.
All are Americans.
All have relatives who live elsewhere in the country.
Many have moved back and forth themselves.
People on the coasts are more likely to have parents or grandparents born abroad. But then it is a rare day anywhere in America that I meet somebody who, like me, traces all of their ancestral lines back to people who had crossed the Atlantic before the Declaration of Independence. People in the interior are more likely to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya; that there are substantial differences between ObamaCare in the U.S. and RomneyCare in Massachusetts; and that they are under some kind of dire yet vague threat from Charles Darwin, Mexicans, Women's Liberation, or what Nino Scalia calls "The Homosexual Agenda". But there are plenty of people on the coasts who believe that. And Victor Davis Hanson's Hoover Institution is very busy trying to make more such.
And all have agency: all live their lives as they see fit, given what they know and see and have been told and believe.
So I look back up the page while drinking my double espresso with a Christopher Elbow Chocolates pecan turtle on the side. I think about all of these people whom Hanson sneers at--those in Boston and New York who write and distribute "news, books, art, and fashion" that passes the market test and becomes popular and valued; those in New York who are savvy choosers of investments that will pay off in the market but whom Hanson characterizes as somehow, in some sinister fashion, determining "whether our money and investments are worth anything"; those in Los Angeles whose video and audio productions more than pass the market test; those in Silicon Valley whose hardware and software proves useful, valuable, and worth paying for to billions; and those in the universities whose students find their time spent in college well worth it.
It seems to me that Hanson thinks that all of these people on the coasts have one thing in common, besides being loathed by Hanson:
They are all winners.
They are all winners in the game of twenty-first century entrepreneurial capitalism: all people who have added great value and whose work has passed the market test. Their work is highly valued: people find the education, video, audio, software, hardware, financial services, news, books, art, and fashion they produce to be valuable and worth paying for.
That, in Hanson's eyes, seems to be their real sin.
And who dare the people on the coasts vote in proportion to their numbers!
Whether farms receive contracted irrigation water, whether a billion board feet of burned timber will be salvaged from the recent Sierra Nevada forest fires, whether a high-speed-rail project obliterates thousands of acres of ancestral farms, whether gas will be fracked, or whether granite should be mined to make tony kitchen counters is all determined largely by coastal elites who take these plentiful resources for granted...
feel deeply ambivalent about the grubbier people and culture that made them...
And that, too, is simply not so. To the extent that there is an attitude of the people on the coasts to the people in the interior, it has three parts:
- "Jeebus! How can so many of them believe what they see on Fox News?"
- We need to spend a not-inconsiderable chunk of our wealth making the lives of their (and our) poor less hard--more and better medical care, adequate nutrition programs, unemployment insurance, and so forth.
- They need to spend more on education, to become more open and cosmopolitan to others who look and think different, to spend less time deferring to authority figures who think gross inequality of opportunity is just dandy, and we need to figure out how to help them do so, for we all are (or will soon become) Americans.
Is that "ambivalence"? I really don't think that word means what Hanson think it means...