Some Very Smart, Shrewd Geniuses Agree, Trump is "a very stable genius”
Donald Trump has never been accused of over-modesty. His recent Tweet that he’s a “very stable genius,” however, seems over-the-top — batshit crazy, even for him.
Strangely, and for once, he’s actually right. Some very smart, shrewd people — Nobel Prize-winners, certified geniuses — agree with him. Read on, and here’s why they may be right.
If the purpose behind Donald Trump is to destroy confidence in democratic government, Donald Trump may be the greatest genius ever to hold high elected office in America. That goes for majority of Washington politicians, in both parties, these days. And, that this has all come together at this very moment in history is not just an accident.
The Right learned a long time ago that there is a trick to effective rule by a tiny minority of wealthy people. Wealth accrues and the economy grows fastest when incomes are transferred upwards to the top. In a society that elects lawmakers this, of course, requires that the majority are persuaded to vote against their own economic interests and to defer government benefits.
The key to the “genius” and “stability” of American democracy, therefore, is deception of the majority. In the last decades, at least since the Reagan Administration and back to Nixon, that is the principal reason the relative wealth and power of the One Percent have grown.
Enormous amounts of money have been poured into the media, foundations, and endowed chairs as the favored means of public deception and confusion about complex issues. The science of deception is largely the product of the Chicago School of Economics that branched out into parallel schools of political theory, social science and even law.
The founding figure of the Chicago School is Frank L. Knight, who oversaw the doctoral training of three of the most influential conservative economists of the last four decades.
Frank L. Knight’s University of Chicago School of Economics taught a string of Nobel Prize winners, Milton Friedman, George Stigler and James M. Buchanan. The professional acclaim heaped on them helped to legitimize the doctrine that the majority must be deceived to abandon their economic self-interest, and turned that into prevailing political-economic doctrine of our time. To Knight, writing at the time of FDR’s New Deal and the buildup to World War Two, the political self-interest of the majority indeed seemed dangerous:
“‘Persuasion,’ in the distinctive and proper meaning of that term, the core of which is deception.” -Knight, “The Meaning of Democracy: Its Politico-economic Structure and Ideals” (1941), in idem, Freedom and Reform, 227.
Knight’s best known academic contribution is his idea that there are two types of uncertainty that affect economic choices. He separated knowable risks (that can be calculated) from unknowable uncertainty. The latter type has been termed “Knightian uncertainty,” the amount of uncertainty in choices separate from calculable risk. As we see clearly today, the degree of uncertainty in choices has simply outrun the ability of many voters to determine their own self-interest. This explains a great deal about American politics in the 21st Century.
National politics has increasingly become a circus of chaos and spectacular irrationality at a time that America’s position is rapidly declining and ownership of corporate assets is moving offshore. The craziness of Trump and contested elections with ambiguous outcomes helps to paralyze the electorate and mask growing public inequality, giving billionaires enough time to move their money abroad without panicking other investors and crashing the markets.
A lot of this purposeful madness, of course, goes back to previous Administrations. Donald Rumsfeld, served many roles to a string of Republican Presidents since he was appointed economic advisor to Richard Nixon. Later, Rumsfeld made unacknowledged homage to Knight and the Chicago School. As Bush’s Defense Secretary, he made a seemingly nonsensical remark at a news conference in response to a reporter’s question why WMD had not been found in Iraq in June 2002. He observed in a memorable phrase at that time about “Known knowns” versus “known unknowns”. His words were pure Knightian Uncertainty:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.
Among academic economists and in business, the Chicago School’s legacy is openly acknowledged and embraced. Politicians still shy away from an open embrace of Knight and his acolytes. Among Knight’s Nobel Prize winning doctoral students, Milton Freidman is best known. His views on Supply Side economics and authoritarian politics should require little introduction. Stigler and Buchanan may be less familiar.
George Stigler (Nobel Prize, Econ., ‘82) developed the theory of Regulatory Capture. That teaches how federal agencies are “captured” by the industries they are supposed to regulate. Key Members of Congress and Agency heads who actually write and administer federal rules are often drawn from the ranks of corporate executives and lawyers. That is also a familiar fact of life.
The least known of the three Laureate disciples of Knight and the Chicago School is perhaps the most interesting, and relevant here. James Buchanan, is the subject of a recent book, Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean. MacLean’s Democracy in Chains identifies James Buchanan as an intellectual leading light of “The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” The New York Times review observed: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/books/review/democracy-in-chains-nanc...
Buchanan, however, also had what MacLean calls a “stealth” agenda. He knew that the majority would never agree to being constrained. He therefore helped lead a push to undermine their trust in public institutions. The idea was to get voters to direct their ire at these institutions and divert their attention away from increasing income and wealth inequality.
. . .
Without saying as much, that is where Donald Trump shows his real genius, and long-term usefulness to Oligarchs and the Right. The book review continues:
American democracy was unprepared to defend itself against the agenda of Buchanan and conservative benefactors. Buchanan may not have been the only actor in this movement, and the role of conservative donors and economists has been documented elsewhere, but we are now living in a world he helped shepherd into reality. Public choice economists argue that those with the most to lose from change will pay the most attention, which has certainly been the case with Charles and David Koch. They and their friends have invested enormous sums in organizations that have changed the national debate about the proper role of government in the economy. Our politically polarized and increasingly paralyzed government institutions are the result.
With this book MacLean joins a growing chorus of scholars and journalists documenting the systematic, organized effort to undermine democracy and change the rules. In “Dark Money,” Jane Mayer tells the tale of the Koch brothers. In “Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal,” the historian Kim Phillips-Fein shows how a small group of businessmen initiated a decades-long effort to build popular support for free market economics. The political scientist Steven M. Teles writes about the chemicals magnate John M. Olin in “The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement.”
But, that really goes back to dawn of the idea of [a limited] Democracy, to the Platonic cave of shadows and illusion the modern-day spooks and dirty-tricksters have mastered and applied to actual rule by deception in our electronic media-poisoned society. Perhaps it’s also useful to remember the so-called Golden Age of Athens which produced geniuses such as Plato and his student, Aristotle, also lasted for less than a century.