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Meanderings on Why Asheville Has the Blues

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By Leslee Kulba- Pundits have declared the sweeping victory of Republicans across the state and the nation a mandate to “stop Obama.” But here, in Buncombe County, the majority voted against the trend. The short explanation is that the voters were not sufficiently knowledgeable in matters of current events, political science, or economics. This article is intended to satisfy those who yearn for a longer explanation.

First of all, the democratic process is a popularity contest. The beautiful ones are inclined to get more votes than the just or the intelligent ones. Take for example the race between Tim Moffitt and Brian Turner. Moffitt made it clear from the get-go that he was elected to represent the Republican interests that voted him into office.

He decorated his office with anti-Moffitt cartoons and even walked around what was essentially an anti-Moffitt rally downtown wearing a campaign sticker for his political archenemy Gordon Smith. In interviews, he copped an attitude that essentially told Democrats, “Go ahead. Make my day.”

Compare this to Turner, who got publicity for what appeared to be staged confrontations in which he was abused. Since political contests weigh emotion more than reason, Turner presented the public with a vulnerable, whiny persona, which evidently tugged the heartstrings of voters. Now that he will represent Buncombe County, may he continue to whine to the folks back home anytime a lobbyist, logroller, or special interest group offers him anything.

Also ugly in the public eye were Christina Kelly G. Merrill and Lisa Baldwin. Merrill ran again against Ellen Frost for a seat on the Buncombe County board of commissioners. Merrill exhausted goodwill during the last election cycle by continuing to contest a race Frost won, depending on the count, by only a handful of votes. Frost got the better of the situation by accusing Merrill of not respecting the voice of the people but instead seeking power for herself. Merrill could have said the same, but she didn’t.

Former Buncombe County school board member Lisa Baldwin was another public enemy. She was a Republican, and she asked questions. Her peers put a “kick me” sign on her back for failing to be a rubber-stamp girl. The local daily didn’t like her, either. When Baldwin questioned the appropriateness of a teacher using her school email account to campaign against her, the paper wrote an article with a headline alleging wrongdoing and a big picture of Baldwin. Readers had to go deep into the article to see Baldwin had been on the receiving end.

The most destructive element for Republicans was the education agitators who got teachers and the Mountain Moral Monday group to do their bidding. The word on the streets was that the state cut education spending by half a billion dollars. Whereas members of the public typically think of a budget cut as a reduction in year-to-year spending, the $500 million represents the difference between a wish-list and what was awarded.

In actual fact, the education budget sustained a $282 million, or 3-percent, increase for teacher compensation over last year’s budget. Furthermore, contrary to what the TV ads said, education spending increased by a few percent every year while Thom Tillis was Speaker of the House. During the two years prior, when Democrats were in control, education spending decreased.

Every single K-12 teacher received a pay raise this year. Consequently, average teacher pay in North Carolina increased from 46th to 32nd in the nation. The average increase was 7 percent, but the left complained that Republicans were misleading the public because some teachers would be receiving below the average. Remember, this is coming from people who are teaching your children English and math.

The idea of doing a man-on-the-street interview for this article was tossed about and even attempted. Back when I wrote for the Mountain Guardian, and was young and beautiful like Jesse Waters, I interviewed 0.5 percent of the voting population following a city council election. Although the survey was informal, care was taken to reduce respondent bias.

Judging from the results, with the exception of South Asheville, local voters were clueless. Some had to grab their cheat sheet to remember for whom they voted. A common response was that people were friends with Robin Cape. One guy said Carl Mumpower was an expletive, and others expressed similar statements more politely. The biggest issue was education, but the division of powers is such that the only oversight members of council have in public education is the appointment of school board members.

Many said they voted Democrat because they were and would always be Democrat, like their daddies and their daddies’ daddies before them. One woman had a long, contorted, presumably insider explanation. Her reasoning was good, but it relied on facts I could not verify. Either way, it most certainly was not what was in the mind of most voters.

This year, I quickly abandoned the idea. For one thing, I couldn’t engage members of the public. People shied away like I was a bag lady begging cash. It was just as well. Although I had graphs and numbers about teacher pay and told myself I could be educating future voters, part of me felt I was asking the good people of Asheville to self-identify as morons.

I’m not saying that Republicans are better informed, but for the MG article, which was entitled, “In Search of the Informed Electorate,” Republicans tended to know more about current events and city budgets and express an interest in sound economics and traditional values. Then again, in South Asheville, random interviewees included a high-ranking city employee, a reporter who covered the city council beat, and a former state legislator.

This year, I saw Republicans comparing notes for the election. People called their mavens, and mavens put out their cheat sheets. The Republicans even stooped to the Democrat trick of printing answer keys for voters. The fact of the matter is, people, especially normal people holding down a couple of jobs and trying to raise a family, don’t have time to be politically-engaged. For that reason, political parties make sense. But as any crutch, the quick fix tempts the user to take a softer path.

Fatal Conceit –

There is no reason to be shocked that people will vote along party lines and turn to their opinion leaders to tell them who the “conservatives” and “progressives” are in nonpartisan races. A better question is why local opinion leaders embrace what people across the state and nation consider to be destabilizing sides of the issues.

A common response is that many of our leaders don’t have business sense. Some have never gone into business enough to know what it’s like to be responsible for keeping up with customer needs, supporting R&D to diversify revenue streams, make payroll, and still have something left to reinvest in the company, pay taxes, satisfy regulators, and pay oneself. Progressive leaders act as if all may be promised, and the tax revenues will flow. The recent bubbles should have taught otherwise.

In one sense, it could be said there is a fatal conceit harbored by members of both parties: that government, which got us into the mess of trying to solve everything with more government, can and must be reformed with more government. There comes a time when the people have to self-actualize, exert, and try to figure some things out on their own.

Another fatal conceit, popularized among Chicago-Austrian economists, was addressed in a book by that title by F.A. Hayek. The subtitle was, “The Errors of Socialism.” Since promulgators of flawed and unpopular policies have a knack for changing the meanings of key words, it should be stated that Hayek used the word “socialism” to refer to centralized control; particularly of the means of production. In a local context, we could think of master plans, zoning, and programs for example.

“Socialist aims and programs are factually impossible to achieve or execute and also happen, into the bargain as it were, to be logically impossible,” wrote Hayek. His thesis was that cultures evolve by trial and error. Each person, on many levels, makes multiple decisions. Some work, and some don’t. The ones that don’t work, in a semi-Darwinian sense, get replaced or, worse, lead to the end of individuals, subcultures, or civilizations, depending on how widespread the adaptation.

With millions of little brains making realtime decisions about what is working and what is not, there is time to catch an error before it gets too much out of control. Socialism forces all to conform to certain ideas, and if they’re bad, well, we all go down together. But don’t worry. Bureaucrats at the societal nucleus will be processing whatever data, corrupt or only slightly tainted, isn’t lost in the shuffle.

Hayek argued that the data that went into making modern civilization what it was is largely unknown. People don’t always know why things that work, and sometimes there are hidden amenities. In the latter half of the 1900s, it was just plain absurd to believe that any single person or group could master all that knowledge better than the ears-to-the-ground guys with instant feedback and skin in the game.

Hayek was an agnostic, but his theory about the accumulation of working principles with underpinnings far surpassing human comprehension are reminiscent of the scripture where God tells Isaiah, “My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”

Human rules governing “property, honesty, contract, exchange, trade, competition, gain, and privacy” are passed on through “tradition, teachings, and imitation.” They are not rational constructs, but the list of “shalt nots” flourishing societies have imposed on drives for personal gratification have a way of netting more positives for the culture as a whole. Hayek wrote, “Disliking these [pro-social] constraints so much, we hardly can be said to have selected them; rather, these constraints selected us: They enabled us to survive.”

Hayek would not have been unfamiliar with the concept of supercomputers, but on the subject of puny man’s ability to run “just machines to make big decisions, programmed by men for compassion and vision,” one need only remember the amazing Obamacare enrollment rollout. Hayek argued man simply did not have the luxury of choosing another system as if it were a fashion accessory. History shows time and again that cultures that promote economic and political liberty enjoy the most peace and prosperity.

Hayek found it preposterous that a single person could presume to understand all that went into the instinct, traditions, and rational thought processes of every member of the system. But what was even crazier was the notion that human rationality, which rationalists argue evolved with the creature, had now somehow evolved Frankensteinlike into something bigger than the master. He asks, facetiously, and I paraphrase, “When did the mind enter the evolutionary process? When did reason begin and assume control of evolution?”

The point I am driving at, as Hayek noted, is that intelligent people are socialists because intelligent people tend to overrate intelligence. At first it sounds like a cry for stupidity, but Hayek was calling attention to the shortfalls of intelligence, comparing the intellect of one man to the entirety of knowledge and wisdom that are “out there.” Hayek borrows from Adam Kirsch the idea that, “Socialist philosophy assumes that man, so far as the distinction between good and bad has any significance for him at all, must and can, himself deliberately, draw the line between them.”

Although man’s knowledge is imperfect, the greater need for concern is selfish ambition and the notion that power corrupts. Rationalists “declare their experiments, such as they are, to be the results of reason, dress them up in pseudo-scientific methodology, and thus, whilst wooing influential recruits and subjecting invaluable traditional practices (the result of ages of evolutionary trial-and-error experiments) to unfounded attack, shelter their ‘experiments’ from scrutiny.”

Hayek admits our current situation, though good beyond our comprehension, is yet imperfect. For example, society has retained the “beastly characteristic” of “mass action.” But it beats the presumption, honestly or dishonestly, applied by socialists. For example, Hayek reads into uber-sociaist John Maynard Keynes’ famous quote about us all being dead in the long run, “It doesn’t matter what long-range damage we do. It is the present moment alone, the short run – consisting of public opinion, demands, votes, and all the stuff and bribes of demagoguery – which counts.”

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