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Morocco’s Road to Development

by Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Morocco: here is a North African economy working hard to promote domestic economic development by attracting foreign investments. What are the tools to achieve this strategic goal? Create and sustain a business friendly investment climate. According to the US State Department, 2021 Investment Climate Statements, here are the building blocks of this strategy:

“Morocco enjoys political stability, a geographically strategic location, and robust infrastructure, which have contributed to its emergence as a regional manufacturing and export base for international companies. Morocco actively encourages and facilitates foreign investment, particularly in export sectors like manufacturing, through positive macro-economic policies, trade liberalization, investment incentives, and structural reforms. Morocco’s overarching economic development plan seeks to transform the country into a regional business hub by leveraging its unique status as a multilingual, cosmopolitan nation situated at the tri-regional focal point of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The Government of Morocco implements strategies aimed at boosting employment, attracting foreign investment, and raising performance and output in key revenue-earning sectors, such as the automotive and aerospace industries. Morocco continues to make major investments in renewable energy, boasting a 4 GW current capacity, 5 GW under construction, and an additional 6 GW in the planning phase.

There you have it. The end game is to make Morocco into a “regional business hub” via the creation of a business climate that encourages foreign investors looking for favorable conditions. The country plans to leverage its “unique status as a multilingual, cosmopolitan nation” in order to attract more investments in state of the art “automotive and aerospace” sectors, among others.

Good score in “Doing Business”

Along similar lines, Morocco made an effort to gain a recognizable space among countries seeking the attention of foreign investors. In recent years, the country steadily climbed the critically important World Bank “Doing Business” Rankings, a tool updated every year whose purpose is to measure the easiness of doing business in every country. Morocco is now number 53 in the world when it comes to easiness to do business. If you consider that neighboring Algeria ranks 157th and Egypt is at number 114, while Mexico, a middle income country that enjoys a privileged partnership with the US via a free trade agreement, is at number 60, it is clear that Morocco made a real effort to identify and progressively eliminate legal, regulatory and administrative constraints, and other obstacles that discourage foreign investors. Furthermore, according to the Corruption Perception Index, compiled and constantly updated by the well respected NGO Transparency International, at 87 Morocco is on par with Colombia, and in a better place than Brazil or Turkey. In the same index, fellow North African country Egypt is number 117. Clearly there is still room for improvement for Morocco. Its corruption perception score is fair, but not excellent. However, this ranking places Morocco ahead of most of Africa, and other North African countries.

Modern infrastructure

Regarding key maritime infrastructure, the Port of Tangier-Med is ranked 23rd in the world, and first in the Mediterranean. It is also the logistics node for a vast and diversified Moroccan industrial area that includes aerospace components manufacturers and automotive parts companies.

And then there is high speed rail. In fact Morocco has the only high speed rail service in Africa, connecting Tangier and Casablanca since 2018, with plans for extensions linking many other key cities. Some criticized this large investment in high speed rail as an expensive vanity project that absorbed limited state funds (note that France and some Gulf countries funded most of the project) that could have been used to improve Moroccan schools or hospitals. Still, there is no question that the availability of first world, first class high speed rail services places Morocco in a higher category among emerging countries. Super fast rail connections will enhance Morocco’s image as a growing, modern economy whose main actors are capable of partnering with high tech industries across the world.

Invest in sub-Saharan Africa

Looking at the country from a different perspective, we should note the equally important trend of Morocco’s growing ties with its neighbors in sub-Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the same US State Department Investment Climate Statement cited above:

“The Government of Morocco prioritizes investment in Africa. The African Development Bank ranks Morocco as the second biggest African investor in Sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa, and the largest African investor in West Africa. According to the Department of Studies and Financial Forecasts, under the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Administration Reform, $640 million, or 47 percent of Morocco’s total outward FDI, was invested in the African continent in 2019.”

Along the same lines, according to Morocco World News: “Two Moroccan banks are on the list of the top 10 largest banks in Africa for 2021. The two banks in question are Attijariwafa Bank, with total assets of $40.026 billion, and Credit Populair du Maroc (BCP), with total assets of $27.662 billion”.

All this clearly indicates that while Morocco makes efforts to attract more Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, the country is also pursuing a strategy of investments in sub-Saharan Africa. If this trend progresses, Morocco may well be poised to become an important bridge, a valuable connecting point, between companies in developed countries and Africa.

Major exporter of fertilizer and agribusiness services

Last but not least, Morocco managed to transform its enormous phosphates mineral riches into a diversified conglomerate, OCP, that now, in addition to minerals and fertilizers, sells agribusiness related consulting services to many international clients, including several African countries. OCP Africa, a subsidiary of the main Morocco based company, has grown significantly in recent years. Its diversified offerings can assist many African countries that still rely on old-fashioned agriculture technologies, so that they can transform and modernize their agriculture sectors. Via the targeted introduction of the appropriate fertilizers, combined with additional services that include soil analysis and the introduction of new generations of seeds, many African countries will see increased yields and overall improved productivity. This will clearly benefit millions of people employed in agriculture and overall food security. OCP Africa now operates in 16 African countries. It has a major plant in Ethiopia.

Invest in education and gender equality

In all this, we should not forget the continuing efforts on the part of the government in higher education. A promotion video produced by the Moroccan Investment and Export Development Agency states that the country every year produces 152,000 graduates with industrial skills. This is what investors seek and need: employable human capital, a well educated workforce that can be easily trained to perform complex tasks according to the highest international standards.

Besides, there is no question that Moroccan women enjoy a degree of freedom that is rather unique in the Arab world and other Muslim countries. Moroccan women can study, work, live on their own and run for political office. While there is still a major cultural divide between the more liberal urban societies and more conservative habits in the rural areas, overall Morocco has made major improvements over the last twenty years when it comes to promoting gender equality.

In the final analysis, while major challenges such as illiteracy and poverty remain, the road chosen by Morocco seems to be very productive. The recipe is simple, yet robust. Create a favorable business environment by eliminating impediments and bottlenecks. Create win-win partnerships with companies based in liberal democracies committed to a rules based international investment and trading regime. Fight corruption. Ensure rule of law. Educate young people and give them the freedom to engage in productive activities.

A simple recipe

It is a simple recipe. Yet, in many countries in which small elites cling to unwarranted privileges based on the exploitation of rent positions, the formula of freedom and markets is a non starter. Morocco’s leaders embraced this vision. More broad based prosperity followed. Let’s hope that this strategy will continue to be pursued in the years ahead, to the benefit of all Moroccans and also of all the countries in the developed West and in Africa that engage in productive partnerships with Morocco.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Professor of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




When Describing Historic Events Clarity Is Essential

By Paolo von Schirach —

WASHINGTON — There is a memorial plaque at a major institution in Washington, DC. It was created and placed in a very visible place to honor members of the organization who were killed on September 11, 2001. Nothing strange about this. Except that the al Qaeda plotted and executed terror attack that resulted in the killing of thousands of Americans in New York, at the Pentagon, and in an airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania before reaching its target in Washington, DC, including some members of the organization, is not even mentioned.

The plaque says that the institution remembers those who perished in “the tragic events” of September 11, 2001. Of course we can all agree that the 9/11 attacks were tragic events. But what kind of tragedy? Why the deliberate vagueness, without any reference whatsoever as to what happened on that day? I am sure that many young people passing by this plaque and reading the text who were born after 9/11, or who were too young at the time to have an accurate memory of what happened would not have a clue as to what “the tragic events” might have been. What was it? A major accident? An earthquake? An airplane that crashed?

Again, why the deliberate vagueness? Why was it decided not to describe 9/11 accurately? We all know that this was a major terror attack on US soil plotted and executed by fanatic Islamists devoted to Osama bin Laden. The unwillingness to use straightforward language to describe what happened on September 11, 2001 may be motivated by a desire not to stoke strong emotions such as hatred against all Muslims or thoughts of revenge. To a degree, this is understandable.

However, a memorial plaque placed in a public space becomes part of the historic record. Acts of terror perpetrated by religious fanatics or other extremists who believe that indiscriminate violence is an appropriate tool to advance a cause were and are a reality. We should call a major terror attack by its real name. Calling it an undefined tragic event betrays an effort to obfuscate and avoid deeper reflections on the threats we are facing as a society. And this is not good.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




On January 6 The Unthinkable Was Done

By Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON— The efforts to precisely determine the intent of all who participated in the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 are understandable but unproductive, because by now it is clear that the attack was not planned and executed by a cohesive force that had a clear strategic objective. What we saw on January 6 was a mob, a violent mob. However all those who joined were not of one mind. By now we know that among them there were some genuine insurrectionists, (even if ill-prepared and ill-equipped). There were also many profoundly misguided people who really believed that they were there to protect and save the Constitution threatened by a “Stolen Election”. There were angry people who wanted to break everything. And then there were the curious and the thrill-seekers who thought that it would be cool to go along, to do some something truly unusual and risky they could brag about, after having taken the appropriate number of selfies to prove that “they were there“, right in the middle of the action.

An angry crowd

Rather than a well crafted, military style operation, this was an attack by a large, angry crowd. Hard to believe that these people assaulted the U.S. Capitol because this was part of a carefully constructed plan to overthrow the American Republic. Nothing that has emerged thus far, including what we learned from many court cases in which some of these rioters have been tried and convicted, indicates that these people were part of a well organized conspiracy.

And yet, and yet, what happened on January 6 was an absolutely terrible catastrophe. I repeat: a terrible catastrophe.

The riot and the assault on the Congress of the United States of America is a gigantic, historic disaster, simply because something that should never have happened, not even in the worst case hypothetical scenarios of national crises, just happened. For so many people –all of them Fellow Americans– to believe that the act of defiling the actual physical place in which American law makers deliberate was a necessary or just a cool thing to do, shows that what we all had assumed up that day to be unthinkable was actually done, without much agonizing on the part of the perpetrators.

And they did this, on January 6, in a desperate, deliberate effort to stop the peaceful transition of power from one president to another, after the national elections had been certified by all the relevant authorities –in all 50 states. This mob somehow assumed that in a single stroke they could stop the constitutional process. And they believed they could do this without any legal authority other than their own self-righteousness. Prisoners of a crazy hallucination, most of them really believed that attacking the Capitol and taking Vice President Mike Pence and other congressional leaders prisoners, would be enough to restore justice as they saw it, with Trump reconfirmed as President as the final outcome of their patriotic, heroic gesture.

Blaming Trump is not enough

Sure, we can and should blame Donald Trump, the malignant influencer who instigated the whole enterprise by inventing the “Stolen Elections” story. But deep down the problem cannot be just Trump. A deranged leader can and will say deranged things. The problem is the millions who believed him then, and still believe him –to this day. The real problem is the thousands who came to Washington on January 6, obeying Trump’s command. Most of those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on that day shared the crazy belief that the outgoing President who had just lost the elections should be reinstated by force, since all other efforts had failed.

The fact that such an attack on the U.S. Congress, America’s parliament, could be not just thought about but that it actually took place, provides the irrefutable evidence, the sad graphic illustration, that America is badly broken. Maybe it is not irreparably broken, But certainly the January 6 riots indicate that America’s civic culture, the invisible glue that binds this Nation, is severely damaged. The additional fact that most Republican leaders –including scores of Congressmen and Senators who did run for cover on January 6 while the Capitol was under attack– to this day refuse to clearly condemn this outrage, reinforces my pessimism.

A sacrilegious act

Let me clarify my thoughts on this. The U.S. Capitol was, is and should continue to be regarded by all Americans as an Icon, a National Treasure. The Capitol is not just another government building in Washington, DC. It is the most visible, the most recognizable structure in the Capital of the United States. It is the physical symbol of this Republic. It embodies our Constitution, founded on the principle of popular sovereignty exercised via representative government. The Capitol is where the law-makers meet and deliberate. It is the Republic. It is America.

Attacking it implies no longer recognizing the legitimacy of the US Government, its constitutional rules and procedures. Therefore, January 6 was not just a crazy and illegal political act; it was a sacrilegious act. Whatever the complex personal motives of the many individuals who participated, what they all share is that all of them did the unthinkable. They violently broke into the most revered building in America –and thought nothing of it. In so doing they demonstrated that they no longer believe in the values of this country.

And this is the real tragedy, because this Republic can have a future and thrive only if the citizens believe in it.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Forever Politicians Are Bad For America

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Beyond the numerous, fairly well documented allegations of sexual harassment against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the lengthy report ordered by Letitia James, New York State Attorney General, reveals a powerful public official –Governor Cuomo– who routinely behaves like a moody despot. Based on this report, we learn that Governor Cuomo created a climate of fear and intimidation in his office. He often shouted and mistreated his staff, while also exhibiting bizarre behavior, like asking some to learn songs by heart and sing them to him on command. These aspects of his personality and overall “management style” are not the main focus on an investigation focused primarily on sexual harassment allegations. Nonetheless, they reveal an imperious, capricious and somewhat unbalanced individual as the leading elected official in New York State. In an average private sector work environment a CEO consistently exhibiting this kind of behavior would not last very long.

Rules do not apply to special people

Yet apparently Cuomo did all this, routinely, for years. Did he have any doubts about the appropriateness of his behavior? I think not. My sense is that Cuomo truly believes that he belongs to a special caste of almost super human leaders who have the latitude to make their own rules, simply on account of their exalted status. By virtue of the high office he was elected and re-elected to Cuomo believes he must be special. Being special, by definition his behavior must be unobjectionable.

While Cuomo’s behavior may be somewhat egregious, I suspect that it is not such a unique aberration among perennial public officials. I suspect that in varying degrees other popular elected and re-elected public officials engage in unorthodox behavior, implicitly assuming that somehow the rules that apply to other common mortals do not apply to them. They enjoy high favorable ratings. They get re-elected. Therefore, they are special. In a sense, the high office they hold “belongs” to them. They “own” it. And with the job come certain unwritten perks, such as latitude in engaging in sexual harassment, along with intimidating underlings, or indulging in capricious behavior.

Professional politicians are a problem for a democracy

How did we get here? Very simple. As a society, we have come to accept as “normal” that some people look at running for public office again and again as their life time “career”. Of course, not all of those who try succeed. But some do. Indeed, if you are somewhat capable, look good on TV and are a bit lucky, soon enough you learn the ropes. You figure out how to organize effective re-election campaigns. Using to the fullest the advantages of incumbency, (rewarding supporters, bestowing favors, appointing friends, and more), you run again and again and you keep getting re-elected.

Soon enough, holding high public office has become your profession. You have become a professional politician. But over time something happens, at least in some cases. You cease to be a public servant. You treat the job as your power perch. You get a high by giving orders. You relish the flattery you receive from constituents and powerful business leaders who would like to obtain special favors from you. You like to see your face on the front page and like to watch the news when you are the lead story on TV. Overtime, you may begin to think that you are invincible, or at the very least a cut above all other people.

Some may argue that perhaps there is some value in having experienced individuals running public affairs. Indeed, government at every level has become bigger and bigger and ever more technical and complex. If at every election cycle every few years you have new people coming in, they will face a steep learning curve. Isn’t it better to let those who know the system by virtue of experience keep running it?

The answer is no. It is not good in a democratic republic to allow the creation of an elite club of perennial office holders. This invites collusion, shady deals and potentially corrupt practices. Beyond that, at least in some cases, unchallenged power clouds judgment and may allow the false belief that one can do certain otherwise questionable things without running any risks, or suffering consequences.

Public service is not a profession

If we go back to the origins of America, our Founders did not envisage a democratic republic run by a small number of individuals who would want to be in public office for ever. The generally accepted view was that public service would be something that dedicated, civic minded individuals willing to lend a hand in the effort of advancing the general welfare would do —for some time. George Washington could have been easily re-elected after his second term as President, but he chose to retire from public office, this way creating a space for others.

In the end, while Andrew Cuomo may be an extreme case in terms of abnormal behavior, having allowed the creation of a super class of semi-permanent elected public officials who come to treat their office as a private domain has corrupted the very foundations of this republic. At the root of good governance you must have civic minded, humble individuals willing to do their best by holding public office —for a while. Perennially re-elected politicians may become hubristic and vainglorious. While Cuomo is now in the news, it would be a mistake to believe that he is the odd exception.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




When Americans Stopped Believing In America

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Does anybody remember Lyndon LaRouche? He was a weird, if colorful, U.S. agitator who founded the National Caucus of Labor Committees through which he promoted a strange combination of crazy ideas mixed with a variety of outlandish conspiracy theories. LaRouche overtime built a national organization with significant international connections. He run for President many times as a candidate for his own US Labor Party. In 1976 he got a little more than 40,000 votes –nationwide. His campaign platform stated that unless his plans were implemented, the world would come to an end in about 15 years. Undeterred by this dismal 1976 showing, he kept going. At some point he was charged and convicted of tax fraud and ended up in jail. All this craziness notwithstanding, LaRouche for years enjoyed the support of a small, yet unwavering and loyal sliver of American voters.

Fringe candidates had modest appeal

LaRouche’s story tells us that there have been and probably there will always be strange or even mentally disturbed people who tried and will try to articulate their extreme or impossible ideas into workable political plans and movements. His story also proves that there used to be and there will be at least some Americans willing to be persuaded by these “ideas”.

Closer to our times, we may recall billionaire Ross Perot who mounted an impressive presidential national campaign as a populist independent presidential candidate in 1992. He failed; even though in a three candidates fight, with himself, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, he got a respectable, if insufficient 18.9% of the votes. After that national campaign Perot faded away.

Most Americans favored mainstream candidates

The main point here is that, while we have had fringe would-be leaders in the course of the American political history, in most cases at best they enjoyed very modest or at least limited popular support. For better or worse, the vast majority of Americans who cared to participate in the national political process have supported the two mainstream political parties and the candidates they fielded. While these parties, their leaders and platforms have proven at times to be mediocre, too extreme or misguided, (think of Barry Goldwater on the right in 1964, or George McGovern on the left in 1972, both of them overwhelmingly rejected by a large majority of voters), overall, most winning and losing national candidates have been insiders, people who emerged from within the two established political parties. Most of them did not promote very radical agendas, let alone conspiracy theories and crazy doomsday scenarios. And this is more or less how the US political system worked.

Trump’s improbable triumph

But then in 2015 Donald Trump, a man with no public office experience, came along as a newly minted candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination, even though he had no previous formal affiliation with the GOP. This sudden entry into presidential politics was not just unusual but unprecedented. Largely because of his lack of experience and therefore credibility, Trump was immediately dismissed by all analysts –liberals and conservatives– as a joke, a publicity-seeking reality TV star with zero substance when it came to public policy, let alone presidential skills.

But Trump surprised everybody. During the GOP primaries Trump in no time literally “destroyed” all the other supposedly reliable, experienced would-be Republican presidential nominees. All of them nurtured by the Republican Party Establishment. Several of them with long public office careers and distinguished resumes.

Amazingly, with zero hands on political experience and no record as a policy-maker, Trump became the GOP nominee. By itself, this was an incredible political achievement. But then Trump proceeded to win the national elections against Hilary Clinton, the steel-plated, quintessential Democratic Party establishment candidate, whose campaign had ample funding, an enormous staff and the open support of many party heavyweights. Sure enough, in 2016 Trump won by a very small margin of votes in the three swing states that gave him his victory in the electoral college, (a little less than 80,000). But he did win. And he did all this by spending almost no money and with the help of a rather poorly organized campaign managed by second rate operatives, (at least until Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Bannon became key advisers), and assorted amateurs.

Americans fed up with the corrupt establishment

The difference between Lyndon LaRouche improbable and always losing fringe political movement and Trump’s completely unexpected political triumph, first on the old leaders of the GOP and then everything else, rests in part on the almost magic Trump appeal.

But in larger measure his stunning political success illustrates the twin problems of the cultural and psychological decline of the American society and the vastly deteriorated quality of the political establishment against which Trump run –a discredited establishment now openly mistrusted by millions of voters who would roll the dice in 2016 with an inexperienced new person rather than reflexively vote once more for one of its shopworn members.

In 2016 millions of Americans, especially those hit hard by the heavy winds of globalization, felt left out. They were tired of mediocre, self-serving politicians, always making grandiose promises that sounded and were indeed false. Many wanted to see in Donald Trump, supposedly a successful businessman, a breath of fresh air, an untainted non politician who would come to Washington and finally clean up the mess and –yes– “Make America Great Again”.

Not the whole story

This narrative may provide a partial explanation for Trump’s meteoric rise. But it does not explain how Trump could get elected president of the United States despite his fantastic ignorance about the issues, despite his heavy personal baggage, his vulgar language and lack of a any experience whatsoever as an elected official.

And it gets worse. As President, Trump ruled in a chaotic fashion, misrepresenting issues, inventing data and stories on a daily basis, improvising policies, while reversing them sometimes within the same day. He caused consternation among his senior aids, many of whom were fired or left. This lack of continuity contributed to the overall confusion about policies and priorities within the Executive Branch. Furthermore, Trump picked major fights with practically all our Allies, even if at times he had ground for showing impatience with some of them. Think for instance of the routinely unmet pledges by most European members of NATO to increase their defense spending. And yet his national support, while never above 50%, stood firm at around 41-43%. Clearly, his vast army of faithful loyalists stood by him on principle, regardless of what he did or failed to do.

Trump almost won in 2020

In hindsight, it is quite clear that it was the colossal mishandling of the Covid pandemic, with over half a million of dead Americans, that ultimately caused Trump’s defeat in November 2020. Still, despite the Covid massive debacle, Trump lost by a very small, almost negligible, margin in the electoral college, in an election that showed how his bizarre behavior and chaotic messages continue to resonate positively with millions of Americans, including minorities who almost by definition would seem to be his natural political enemies.

And, as we know, Trump did not leave the White House graciously. He never admitted defeat. Now out of office, he continues to affirm publicly –without evidence– that he actually won the elections. His defeat, he claims, is all about massive voter fraud. He did not concede nor is he willing to concede at any time in the future to Joe Biden. This is another first in American politics. Losing presidential candidates always concede, this way providing additional legitimacy to our elections system.

Most Republicans believe Trump

But the real problem here is not about how Trump handled his time in office and political defeat. The issue is that most Republicans –that is millions of American voters– actually believe his story. Indeed, despite his lies about the elections and all his rules-breaking behavior, or may be precisely because of all this, Trump continues to be very popular among rank and file Republicans, this way exerting enormous influence on the Republican Party.

All GOP national leaders, whatever they may actually believe about who won the elections, will not publicly contradict Trump, this way allowing a colossal lie to become “truth”, at least in the eyes of millions of American voters. As all polls indicate, to this day, a majority of rank and file Republicans believe that Trump indeed won the 2020 elections and would definitely vote for him again, should he be a GOP candidate in 2024.

The problem is us

These are some of the key facts –amazing but real. But focusing on what Trump said or did before, during, and after his presidency and how totally outrageous all this is, is not very helpful. The true and difficult issue here is not Trump.

The true issue is how a populist, protectionist, xenophobic would-be leader who routinely misrepresents facts and is at times borderline incoherent can be so immensely popular in a country composed (we thought) of reasonably well educated people, supposedly guided by a good amount of pragmatic common sense.

As indicated above, Lyndon LaRouche was also an unorthodox politicians who said bizarre things and advocated strange stuff. However, LaRouche never moved beyond a loyal but insignificant band of followers. Ross Perot did much better in 1992. But he failed to transform his remarkable popular appeal into a credible national political force. Trump instead became President in 2017, and he almost got re-elected in 2020. To this day, almost half the country is still firmly behind him.

Sadly, I see only one simple, if disheartening, explanation for all this. The values that supposedly underpin America and supposedly inspire the aspiring political leaders who should carry them on are no longer understood or believed by millions of our fellow citizens. Maybe with cause, I should add.

A partisan cacophony

Indeed, the American national political process long time ago, way before Trump even thought about running, had degenerated into a partisan cacophony dominated mostly by ideologues engaged in weird culture wars and self-serving, cynical pros who do not believe in anything and are at best capable of supporting the powerful economic interests of those who lavishly funded their campaigns. No statesmen here, only posturing crusaders and wily, opportunistic operatives.

The easiness with which Trump destroyed the old edifice of American politics shows that the building was already condemned. With a mighty Trump kick the whole thing crumbled –literally. Because of Trump, now we know that this Great American Architecture of strong institutions supported by great values genuinely embraced by honest and competent elected leaders, voted into office by thoughtful Americans –an Architecture that we used to extoll as almost perfect and therefore everlasting– has not been cared for. As a result of decades of neglect, it is now both aged and corrupted. As a result of this long decay, when millions of despondent Americans saw an opportunity to dismantle it via their support for a total outsider, they did so –with enthusiasm.

In so doing however millions of Americans demonstrated that they had given up their common sense. Nothing wrong with a desire for change, trying something new. But “this” change? In choosing Trump as their unquestioned champion, millions of American have turned politics into quasi-religious fanaticism, eventually morphing their support for a candidate into a bizarre cult whose leader, a reality TV entertainer dressed up as a would-be (improbable) statesman, can do no wrong.

So, here we are. The Trump phenomenon, whether confined to the four years of his presidency or not, is not the cause of our national problems. It is the uncomfortable illustration of how deep they run.

A fragile edifice

The fact is that the American edifice we inherited from the Founders of this Republic was and is very fragile. It needed and still needs constant care and repair. It is not self-fixing. We should recall the reply given by Benjamin Franklin to a lady who asked him what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had come up with. “A republic, if you can keep it”, was the answer. With this simple assessment, Franklin pointed out that the success of this newly minted creation rested in the continuing wisdom of its citizens. “We the People”, that is the education institutions, the culture we produce and embrace, the ethics and morals we display, accept or condemn, along with the respect, decency, and benevolence we genuinely feel and manifest towards one another ultimately determine who we are as “keepers” of this Republic. The sum total of all these diverse factors got us here. Obviously something –something Really Big– went wrong along the way.

In another America, an inexperienced and untutored populist lacing his message with nativism, xenophobia and protectionism would have been at best a footnote in the history of our political process. Whereas in 2016 Donald Trump, against all odds –and all by himself– competed against everybody and won, fair and square; along the way mocking, humiliating and shredding to pieces a large field of supposedly seasoned opponents, often exposing in a wickedly clever way their all too real weaknesses, to the delight of his cheering followers who wanted to see the death of “The Establishment”.

Unhappy Americans

Trump won because millions of disenchanted Americans were fed up with what they perceived as morally weak entitled politicians. They wanted radical change and believed Trump could bring it about.

In fairness, as president, Trump changed many things. He cut taxes and deregulated the economy. By accident or as a consequence of his policies, he presided over an uninterrupted cycle of sustained economic growth, (not exceptional but sustained), and historically low unemployment. These are no trivial accomplishments.

But he did not transform the US economy, as he had pledged to do. The 4 to 5% GDP growth rates he promised during the campaign never materialized. He did not “drain” the Washington swamp. He did not build the wall at the border with Mexico. He did not bring coal back, this way saving the jobs of thousands of coal miners. He attacked illegal immigration, but also vitally important legal immigration. Yet, despite all this, and despite the way he still refuses to accept his defeat, he is revered as a prophet among his core GOP supporters.

The Founders believed that Government’s primary mission was to preserve freedom. To accomplish this important task “We The People” (at least most of the time) would elect sensible, moral individuals who would carry out their duties with genuine dedication, in an impartial way. America was not supposed to be about prophets and visionaries to be blindly followed by enthusiastic masses. But this is where we are now.

Can we fix this?

This pernicious regression into extreme populism articulated through emotionally charged but ultimately empty slogans did not happen all of a sudden. The corrosion of our fundamentals which brought about lack of confidence in the would-be leaders who supposedly embody our traditional values on the part of millions of Americans took a long time.

With the Trump phenomenon we had a rude awakening. We had to come to terms with the fact that millions of Americans simply do not believe anymore in the textbook Good America we supposedly learn about in school. The Big Question is: “Now that we know all this, now that we know that we have to repair or maybe reconstruct the foundations upon which our successful but fragile society was built, are we up to the task”?

I really hope so.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Irrational America Will Fail

By Paolo von Schirach —

WASHINGTON – Americans love biographies. A classic sub-category of this popular genre is books about the lives and deeds of past US Presidents. It is surprising to see how so many different authors keep coming up with new angles and new material on Presidents Washington, Lincoln or Johnson.

A skewed perspective

Still, one can see a big problem emerging from the enduring popularity of so many books about the lives of Great Men. Regardless of the perspectives and sometimes fresh material offered by the authors, the subtext in most of these books about very consequential presidents is that America must have Great Presidents in order to meet the Great Challenges, so that it can move up to the next level of Greatness.

It is of course obvious that it would be really nice if here in America we could always or at least often elect men or women of superior intellect, high ethical standards and superb leadership and political skills. But manifestly we do not. Very often we come short.

This being the case, the biographies of Great Presidents at least indirectly become opportunities to compare past giants to past and recent dwarfs, and then lament our current and possibly future national misfortune on account of lack of high caliber presidential talent. This narrative often leads many to the logical conclusion that, lacking exceptional individuals at the helm, America will probably stagnate or decay.

This perspective and the conclusions it leads to are wrong, really wrong. And this is because the implicit conceptual premise –we must have Great President otherwise America is doomed– is wrong. This Republic was not founded on the explicit or implicit assumption that for America to thrive, or even survive, only Great Men should be elected to high office.

A flawed premise at the root

This Republic was founded instead on a different, but unfortunately equally flawed, premise implicitly agreed upon by the Founders. The premise was that most Americans —“We the People”, the ordinary citizens– are and will be mostly decent and reasonably wise people who will then select decent people among the fellow citizens running for elected office, including president. If not always, at least most of the time we shall elect rational and wise people to high office.

Unfortunately, this implicit assumption that we must have and will have wise citizens in this republic, although different from the notion that we must have Great Presidents in order to thrive, is also a fantasy. Where is the evidence about the prevalence, at the time of the founding of America, now and in the future, of the prevalence of these qualities of reason and tolerance within the American society? This assumption was wishful thinking on a gigantic scale on the part of our Founders. It is simply not true that most people –the building block of our American polity– are and will be reasonable and rational, if not always, at least most of the time.

This wishful thinking, this superimposing of an aspiration (“it would be nice if we could have a New Republic made up of wise people”) on the reality of flawed and not nearly perfect people allowed the Founders to go ahead with their extremely ambitious self-government project whose success, in their own words, was based on the prevalence of wise and moral citizens, notwithstanding the empirically observable absence of such a strict prerequisite.

We managed to survive

In all this, what is truly extraordinary is that, despite this flawed premise, America managed to survive and even thrive for such a long time. The problem is that it seems that now we are running out of luck. Millions of Americans plainly show that they are not wise when it comes to choosing their leaders and their programs. On the contrary, alarmingly large numbers of our Fellow Citizens are avid consumers, believers and propagandists of crazy fantasies, weird conspiracy theories and crackpot ideologies.

And here he have a serious problem. Even if we accept that our society will be somewhat flawed due to the immaturity and imperfections of some of its members, we should agree with the Founders that a well functioning Republic can exist only if most of “The People” genuinely share basic values and beliefs and exercise their cherished freedom wisely, with moderation and tolerance towards others. Absent that, we can still have a democracy –but in name only. In truth what we have instead is a dysfunctional, chaotic polity that may somehow survive, but certainly not a thriving, cohesive society.

Optimistic Founders assumed rationality

The Founders were wildly optimistic. They believed that self-government was possible and would succeed in America because they truly believed that all individuals by nature are and will be mostly rational. Being reasonable and pragmatic human beings, the citizens would be naturally drawn to come up with rational, balanced solutions for the country’s problems, after engaging in mature debates and discussions, on the merits of the issues before them.

If these fantasyland assumptions genuinely believed and embraced by the Founders had been true, then we could rest assured then and now that, no matter who would compete for and win this or that election, most of the time the country would be in reasonably safe hands. Maybe we would not have Great Presidents. But most of the time we would be able to elect solid, competent and capable individuals from within our midst who would be able to handle public affairs in a reasonably enlightened and productive way.

Irrationality would be the exception

The Founders did concede that every now and then there would be some who would act in the public arena under the spell of unreasonable and may be foolish passions. Occasionally there would be rabble rousers and other unethical persons motivated solely by self-centered interests and personal ambitions. But these would be the rare exceptions, the unfortunate aberrations.

Most of the time, most of the people –the citizens and the leaders they would choose– would be wise. Being wise, the citizens would retain the ability to sift through the ideas and their advocates and then discard the dubious products and their proponents; and then choose the best from a reasonably good and occasionally exceptional menu.

This faith in a common sense driven America was articulated by Abraham Lincoln as a candidate for an Illinois Senate seat. In one of his 1858 celebrated debates with his opponent, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln reportedly said, “Judge Douglas cannot fool the people: you may fool people for a time; you can fool a part of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

Back then, that was a clever debate line, articulated by Lincoln during a widely followed political campaign. But was what Lincoln said true? Most importantly, is it true today? Is it really true that “you can’t fool all the people all the time?”

Irrationality has reached dangerous levels

Given the worrisome developments of the last decade or so, can we envisage instead America as a political battlefield dominated by irrational ideologies spearheaded by national leaders and would be leaders intent on advancing extreme and crackpot plans, with some of them engaged indeed in an effort to fool all of the people of all the time? Can we see the triumph of extreme ideologies and populism at the expense of reasonable plans? Well, if the last ten years can provide any guidance, the answer is yes.

And we did not get to this dangerous place because we lack a deep bench of Great Men and Women ready to jump in and save us. In this toxic atmosphere, the wise are simply not listened to. And this is because our society is no longer –if it ever was– the society of mostly reasonable people the Founding Fathers believed they lived in and assumed would be able to self-perpetuate itself, generation after generation.

It is not that somehow, due to historic accident, these days we have the bad luck of being stuck with wicked or incompetent candidates for high office who end becoming our leaders. Our problems do not stem from the lack of great or at least acceptable candidates who will make great or at least decent Presidents.

The real problem is us.

The truth is that as a society we are not wise enough. If we ever really had it, we seem to have lost the ability to calmly analyze and sift through ideas and candidates, and then simply push aside the crackpot plans and egomaniacal would-be leaders who from time to time may and do appear on the American political scene.

The sustaining myth is gone

What the Founders got really wrong is that, contrary to their (strong but unfounded) beliefs inspired by the thinkers of the Enlightenment, the dominant political philosophy of their era, human beings are not —repeat, are not— naturally predisposed to choose and then nurture reason within themselves, and tolerance with one another. Men and women born in this Republic, or elsewhere in the world for that matter, are not naturally truth-seeking creatures born with the propensity to pursue real knowledge and public policies inspired by their natural wisdom. Some certainly are. And this is good. But not all, and certainly not a majority.

And here is our dilemma. Our old political-cultural references and values are essentially based on beautiful dreams elaborated by thinkers of the late XVIII century that we held on to for a surprisingly long time. Strong belief in the truthfulness of these dreams somehow (and surprisingly, I should add) acted as the gravity-defying invisible bond holding together our fragile polity. I argue that this myth-based bonding agent based on the completely unproven belief that “most of us Americans are and will be Good and Wise Citizens” managed to prevent our American edifice from falling apart, simply because enough people believed that it was true.

But today that beautiful dream that magically kept this republic going has withered. It is no longer strongly believed. At best it is now a faint echo from a distant past. It does not stir many people. Most young Americans today have only a vague understanding of –let alone faith in– the unshakeable beliefs about the fundamental goodness and rationality of most people that inspired and sustained our Founders. This being the case, the new generations are not really interested in studying them, let alone embracing them. This is a serious problem.

Humankind has been pursuing wisdom for millennia. In the West some tried to describe it, embrace it and then teach it to others, so that all of us would have at least a chance to become wise. (Although pursued through other means, in the East the search for wisdom is equally important.)

And yet, any empirical observation indicates that we come short, way short. Nowadays, our political debates are dominated or at the very least strongly influenced by wild ideologies often based on insane fantasies and dangerous conspiracy theories.

Troubling evidence

As we all know, in November 2020 we had a national election following tried and tested accepted procedures. And yet millions of Americans to this day strongly believe that the official winner, Joe Biden, did not win; because they have been repeatedly told by Donald Trump, the losing candidate, that this “victory” is the result of massive fraud on an unprecedented national scale. Trump produced no credible evidence to supports his fantastic claims. And yet millions believe him anyway.

By the same token, thousands of Americans, inspired and egged on by Donald Trump, the losing candidate, apparently believed that it would be an act of genuine patriotism to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in a crazy and completely illegal attempt to prevent the final certification of the November 2020 vote.

Let us be serious. These are not small glitches in our system, bumps in the road. These are dreadful illustrations of a society well on its way to becoming unhinged. There is no precedent of an angry mob violently storming the US Capitol, America’s parliament, in order to stop and reverse the final validation of a perfectly legitimate presidential election. Likewise, there is no precedent of a large majority of the lawmakers of one party casting a vote aimed at challenging the validity of a certified national election.

This is a crisis

Unless we want to fool ourselves, this state of affairs amounts to a crisis, with profoundly negative implications for the future viability of this Republic. America was founded by overly optimistic self-taught men who believed that it was possible to create a state founded on self-government because “The People” are essentially good. Had they been convinced that “The People” were and would be immature and prone to fall for unhinged fantasies, would they have pursued their daunting effort to establish a Republic whose eventual success was and is premised on the enduring wisdom of its citizens?

Can education help?

According to the Founders, if some of the people do not have enough wisdom, there is a great remedy: education. Education comes in to assist in the effort to awaken and then nurture our innate rationality. The cobwebs of ignorance, superstition and foolish ideas will be dissolved in a healthy clean bath of unbiased scientific knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge and truth, in turn, will make people wise. And this essential human quality –wisdom– would make this Republic possible.

There is of course some truth in all this. Education is an extremely important tool. Still, as a minimum, the Founders should have created, or at least made clear provisions to guarantee uninterrupted support to institutions that would be tasked with the critical responsibility of molding wise citizens.

Who will take care of teaching our values?

Indeed, as the foundations of this American polity were and are based on intangible and fragile beliefs, who should be taking care of their upkeep? Looking at our current predicaments, whatever has ben done in terms of making wisdom prevalent rather that rare in America is as a minimum inadequate. I am sure that we can do better, even though the challenge is immense, since we are talking about restoring the very foundations on which our Republic rests.

Be that as it may, for sure, this critical objective of nurturing wisdom in our midst is not going to magically manifest itself. Someone has to do something –and quickly. Remember: widespread wisdom is the precondition for making the self-perpetuation of our democracy possible. Failure to act means that the bad moment we are experiencing now will probably become the new normal.

Teaching wisdom

Teaching young people how to become wise is a daunting task. In the course of western history, eminent philosophers pursued wisdom and tried to teach it –with very modest results. Can we do better, going forward?

I have no idea. But I do know that if this trend is not reversed our outlook looks bleak. Indeed, if these new lows in our public discourse and behavior will be followed by even lower ones, we shall soon slip into systemic dysfunction. And when dysfunction will dominate, the fragile edifice we call America, lovingly built by Founders who had embraced this beautiful dream of a democracy that would endure because of the inherent rationality of its citizens will collapse.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




No Easy Way To Silence Bad Speech

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – In our United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution establishing the protection of freedom of speech is the cornerstone of an institutional edifice proclaiming that this Republic was created to protect individual liberties. Without the full enjoyment of freedom of speech there is no real Liberty, and therefore no real Democracy. In America every citizen should feel absolutely free to publicly state, proclaim, broadcast pretty much whatever they want, without any fear of retribution. Others may agree or disagree with what I say. They may like or dislike it. But nobody has the power of censoring me or punishing me for what I said.

Limits to free speech?

But now here in the United States, after all what happened in the last few years, culminating with the presidential campaign of 2020 , we have started a dangerous debate on what should be and should not be allowable free speech. At the root of this debate there is a legitimate concern. Is really all speech protected by the First Amendment? No exceptions? At what point –some wonder– do outright lies, outlandish conspiracy theories, combined with manipulation of facts and news become an assault on society, thus requiring censorship?

The simple answer is: never. And I mean never.

“But, wait a minute. What do you mean by never? Even the craziest things should be allowed? Even the patently lunatic theories?” The answer is yes, and yes, even though this means allowing the circulation and recirculation of pure poison. And the reason for this stand is very simple.

No logical limits to censorship

Once we start legalizing any kind of censorship whatsoever, (even if we call it something else), the dam has been broken and the trickle inevitably will turn into a flood. Think about it. We may start with perfectly good intentions, making every effort in creating narrow and precise definitions of what is so egregiously false that deserves censorship.

But this effort, we shall soon discover, cannot be contained. Once we have established that “some” really bad ideas must be censored, down the line someone else will want to add to this list some more categories of “bad things” that should be prohibited. And then, what? Do we really want to start a never ending debate regarding what is constitutionally protected free speech and what is poisonous talk, and therefore unprotected speech? Do we really want to go down that route? You can see where this goes. Not to a good place.

How do we protect ourselves?

And so, if we cannot and should not prohibit the circulation of crazy and false ideas, how do we protect ourselves from the harm they will inevitably cause to our society? Good question for which there is a very simple answer that requires however a monumental education effort as the only appropriate remedy.

The People who are ultimately the targets of all the ideas introduced in public debates need to have or gain the wisdom to know the difference between legitimate and crackpot ideas and crazy fantasies. If they do not have them now, the People need to acquire the intellectual and common sense tools of discernment that will allow them to know the difference and therefore separate legitimate free speech one can agree or disagree with from crackpot stuff to be discarded and junked.

This is at the same time a very simple operation for those who can tell the difference and difficult for those who lack the tools to do so. We know that many lack the ability to know which is which and this is why they embrace crackpot ideas that have no factual basis or –even worse– are based on foundations that deny key principles on which this Republic was founded.

Educated citizens are at the foundation of a viable democracy

And here is where we come to the real point. If millions of citizens (many or even most of them in good faith) believe in ideas that are both false and/or unconstitutional, we are facing a gigantic problem that we ignore at our peril.

As our Founding Fathers stipulated a long time ago, a viable Democracy assumes reasonably competent, fair minded citizens who share basic values and understand that along with the precious freedom of expression we all enjoy, we also must subscribe to unwritten rules of respect for facts and truth, decency, honor, tolerance, and a lot more. These “things”, these guiding principles and values cannot be legislated and ordered into place. These are things we should be able to acquire as we become functioning adults. All this should be the outcome of a good education and socialization process.

A viable republic requires educated citizens

The Founding Fathers recognized that passions and factionalism which would include the deliberate spreading of distortions and falsehood would exist in this Republic. This being the case, the best defense against them would be our constitutional system of checks and balances and reasonably well educated citizens who would be able, at least in most cases, to spot and therefore toss away dangerous and silly ideas, whatever their provenance.

In a word, it is clear that our Republic cannot really function without good citizens, and a good education is the means through which we create good citizens.

If most people look at some ideas, listen to them and quickly conclude: “This is garbage. Let’s move to on more substantive ideas and issues”, then we would have no real problem, and no need to think creatively about ways to introduce any kind of censorship. Indeed, the garbage is dangerous only to the extent that it is believed and embraced by some or many. Education creates a precious immunity against the garbage that some will inevitably spread around.

And please note that bad ideas are dangerous not because these days there are thousands of ways to spread them around. Social media and other information delivery tools are about volume levels. The bad ideas are not dangerous because now they find many powerful outlets. They are dangerous because they find a willing audience that can and will be be persuaded.

With all that, censorship, however appealing it may seem, is a bad solution to the problem. Simply because once you go down that route there is no logical or natural end to it.

Education is the only answer

The only solution, difficult as it is, is in giving the People the tools of discernment, judgment and common sense to examine and sift through ideas, theories and proposals and then simply discard the bad stuff. And please note that the bad stuff should not be the subject of public outrage and debates. The best thing that could be done about bad stuff is to toss it out and ignore it. Ignored by all, the bad stuff would simply die and its purveyors would disappear from the public scene.

I realize that all this sound simplistic or at least very unrealistic, given the magnitude of the problem we are facing. We do know that unfortunately millions of citizens, Fellow Americans, fall for the garbage. They do. They believe it and embrace it, often enthusiastically. As we have seen, at times this garbage may provide the motivation and moral justification for engaging in dangerous and illegal activities. We know all that.

The threat of censorship

However, it is even more dangerous to engage in censorship, even if we would be driven to this extreme remedy by the noble goal of protecting innocent people from garbage. As noted at the beginning, once we start creating a list of items that should fall under the category of unprotected speech, for good or bad reasons inevitably more items will be added to this list. And pretty soon free speech as we know it will be gone.

And there is more. For sure, the growing concerns that certain ideas may be suspect will cause people to start exercising a degree of self-censorship. Knowing about censorship, some people simply will not dare expressing certain unorthodox ideas for fear of negative repercussions. You see how once we enter this new dimension of limits to free speech there is no good way of getting out of it.

Help the education effort

Right now we are in a very imperfect democracy. Many people who have every right to participate in the political process lack the education and common sense to make the necessary distinctions and separations between ideas and crackpot conspiracy theories.

But banning “bad ideas” is not a good way to protect the people. As simplistic as this may sound, offering good education opportunities so that The People will have the tools to make up their own minds on the basis of reason and common sense is the only way out of this predicament. For sure, it will take years, maybe decades to improve this worrisome situation. But there is no other way.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




America Should Be An Opportunity Society

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Come January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will be unable to effectively govern America without at least a modicum amount of bipartisan cooperation in Congress. While we will not know until the Georgia January 5th vote which party will be in control of the Senate, for Biden the very best congressional balance scenario is that the Democrats will keep their very thin House majority, while they will gain control of the Senate with a one vote majority, thanks to the tie breaker vote that will be cast by Vice President Harris. This not so rosy scenario is based on the rather optimistic assumption that the two Democratic candidates will win both Georgia Senate seats on January 5th, a possible but rather improbable outcome.

The outlook is not promising

So, if it all goes splendidly well, President Biden will be able to rely on an extremely small and fragile Democratic majority in Congress. If things do not turn out well in Georgia, we shall have divided government, at least for the next two years, until the 2022 midterm elections. If the Democrats fail to win both Georgia Senate seats, President Biden will have to deal with an unfriendly, if not positively hostile, Senate Republican majority that will do its best to block anything remotely ambitious Biden wants to push.

How will Biden be able to govern?

Given the narrow margins allowed by this political alignment in Congress, let’s look at what is possible for America. We have Joe Biden, a mostly centrist Democratic President, who will have to navigate between a restless and noisy left within his own diminished party and a strong Republican congressional opposition still hostage of a defeated Trump who to this day claims –crazy but true– that he, not Biden, won the presidential elections. Will these Congressmen and Senators feel free to negotiate with an open mind with an “illegitimate” Biden administration? Hard to believe it.

Sadly, these are the extraordinary challenges facing the new administration. Given these constraints, can Biden do the virtually impossible and bring at least sections of both parties together in order to advance a constructive bipartisan national agenda? I believe that Biden has both the inclination and the experience to attempt to do this. But it is going to be extremely complicated.

Promote an Opportunity Society Agenda

That said, assuming that there is a possible opening in the road ahead, here is my idea of a broad national agenda that may get the support of at least the centrists in both parties, and may be other factions.

I am talking about Biden articulating and then promoting an “Opportunity Society Agenda”.

The worn out but (surprisingly) still accepted national myth is that America actually “is” an Opportunity Society. Indeed, many would still claim today that America is “the” Opportunity Society. Supposedly, we all live in the America where “everything is possible”.

The old myth

This is the America of rags-to-riches stories well described in so many popular books by Horatio Alger Jr. more than a century ago. According to this fantasyland narrative, America is the country in which all individuals have a chance because they are free. Being free, they can use their freedom to achieve anything they want. No matter a person’s birth and unfavorable individual circumstances, there are no legal or social barriers to personal and economic advancement. All Americans are free to become whatever they want to be. In America, hard work, persistence and law-abiding behavior will get you anywhere you want to be.

Well, this is a nice representation. But it is mostly fiction. Not because most Americans do not have self-advancement desires –most of them do. But because many are held back by strong impediments they cannot overcome on their own.

Remove the impediments

I believe that most Democrats and Republicans would agree that removing all or most of the impediments that prevent millions of Americans to formulate and then pursue their own dreams of academic, economic and social advancement, this way gaining their rightful seat at the proverbial table, is an eminently worthwhile goal.

In a genuine “Opportunity Society” literally everybody wins. Those who cannot get ahead because they lack access to quality public education will get it. Those who are engaged in business but feel the daily constraints created by a skewed playing field that favors some while pushing other back, at the same time burdening most with unnecessary, heavy regulations, will be freed from them. Those who have carved out special rent positions for their economic sectors will have to compete fairly, according to the rules that apply to all.

Assuming that it is possible to forge a bipartisan consensus on the broad contours of this vision of America as Opportunity Society, then it may be possible for President Biden to articulate a broad reform agenda that will identify the blockages and welcome diverse contributions from both Democrats and Republicans aimed at designing concrete tools to remove them.

Education is priority one

I would think that access to quality public education for all American children should be at the top of any list. Now more than ever before, given the hyper competitive global economy in which we all live, it is almost impossible to think that any American child or young person can have a decent shot at a good job or career as an adult without the benefit of a good or superior education. And we also know that if young Americans do not get a good education while they are in school, getting it later on, as adults, will be much, much more complicated.

Fix the schools

However, the grim reality is that many if not most American children in low income families lack access to a good education. Sadly, while public education reform has been debated for decades in America, we do not seem to be able to go beyond rigid partisan views as to the models that should be followed to improve its quality.

We know that the Democrats overall favor the strengthening of the public education system as it exists today, notwithstanding ample evidence of too many systemic failures. Reformers and conservatives propose more experimentation made possible by the charter schools formula, among other alternatives.

Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that many charter schools operating in low income neighborhoods have succeeded beyond all expectations in delivering high quality education to mostly disadvantaged children. Think of Success Academy Charter Schools, originally Harlem Success Academy, founded in New York City by Eva Moskowitz. These are schools where poor children get an excellent education, therefore gaining skills that will translate into opportunities after they graduate.

May be there is a chance to bridge this ideological divide, so that all children –supposedly the beneficiaries of all education efforts– get the best education they can get, and therefore the tools enabling them to make real progress in life. Can President Biden inspire bipartisan cooperation, so that we can improve access to quality public education for all American children?

Massive welfare programs did not deliver

If education reform is absolutely essential, we also have to look at other impediments that make it difficult for those who do not have a seat at the table to get one. Unfortunately, well-meaning public policy initiatives aimed at helping the poor designed long ago have failed, in most cases miserably. The “War on Poverty” programs rolled out with great hope in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson failed –in a spectacular manner. After 50 years and 21 trillion spent (in today’s dollars) poverty levels have not changed in America.

May be this is about having chosen and pursued the wrong approach. The main shortcoming is that a host of public assistance programs at best managed to make poverty tolerable, as opposed to offering a meaningful path out of poverty. Various forms of subsidies and public assistance help poor people to survive. But they have failed to change the fundamentals, so that more confident and better skilled individuals will have both the tools and the self-confidence to engage and move up in the world.

Skills more valuable thank checks

Changing the structure and the goals of public assistance will be very complicated. But it is an immensely important goal. If we want everybody to have a fair chance in America , then we should do our best to create the enabling environment that will make this possible for millions who are or feel like outsiders, with no chance to join the mainstream.

In order to have a chance, poor people need tools that will help them get out of poverty. First and foremost they need marketable skills, along with some income security and health care services. Monthly checks alone, while useful, will not do the trick. Guaranteeing subsistence is better than condemning the poor to starvation. But it does not help them move up in the world. It will simply make them perpetual dependents on public welfare.

With Joe Biden in the lead, can our national leaders overcome partisan prejudice and work together so that our society will be able to benefit from the contributions of millions of people who are currently marginalized, simply because they are trapped in an endless, multigenerational cycle of poverty and dependence on ill-conceived welfare programs?

If at least some Democrats and Republicans could agree that removing impediments to access is an essential precondition for the creation of a truly inclusive Opportunity Society, then the next step is to improve the ecosystem in which all individuals and corporations operate.

The level playing field does not exist

The old myth still accepted by some is that all Americans, by virtue of being free citizens, are free to do pretty much whatever they want in the economic realm, within the limits of the law. Not so. If this were ever true, certainly it is not true today.

As noted above, lack of access to quality public education for millions of children created a de facto two tier society. The well educated in tier one have a chance to engage and succeed. All the others in tier two, without the benefit of the skills gained via good or at least decent education, struggle for the low paying jobs accessible to the uneducated. If they ever did, the Horatio Alger stories do not apply anymore.

Lobbies created privileged sectors

That said, even within the boundaries of the tier one well functioning economy, equal access to opportunity, a level playing field where all compete and the best succeed, is a myth. Constantly pressed by the lobbies of way too many special interest groups, politicians and policy-makers through carefully crafted laws, set asides, tax exemptions and regulations have created privileged economic categories who do better than they should thanks to the privileged status created by political protection secured by highly paid lobbyists.

Too much regulation

To make matters even worse, policy-makers and bureaucrats over many decades have also created an almost impenetrable regulatory thicket that makes it extremely hard for many would-be entrepreneurs to launch a new venture or run an established one. The combined effect of all this is both unfair and very wasteful. Picking winners and losers based on arbitrary choices leads to the misallocation of finite resources. Unnecessary bureaucratic complexity adds confusion to lack of fairness. All in all, these are not the ingredients for building a vibrant, innovation driven US economy.

Ideally, all lawful economic activities should enjoy the same level of access and legal protection. No more special treatment for anybody. Of course, some regulations are necessary. But they should be sensible, not punitive. They should be about safeguarding public health and preserving the environment according to acceptable, common sense, scientifically supported modern standards. For example, environmental impact reports for new infrastructure should not require years and years of studies and revisions, this way obstructing the implementation of new projects.

The way forward

Well, you get the picture. On account of basic inequality when it comes to access to education, and unfairness created by legislated privileges and exclusions, combined with the obstacles created by a regulatory jungle, America is no longer the Opportunity Society that attracted throngs of immigrants for such a long time.

Can President Joe Biden rally bipartisan support around an agenda aimed at removing barriers and privileges, so that all Americans will have a seat at the table and therefore the opportunity and the will to engage and thrive? I really hope so.

Doing nothing or just nibbling at the edges of these massive problems will deepen already sharp class divisions and widespread feelings of alienation, while preventing America as a whole from growing as much as it could. This is a tall order, I recognize it. But this is a worthwhile endeavor for President Joe Biden.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




The Arrogant: “Rules Do Not Apply To Me”

By Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON– A commentator who apparently knows Steve Bannon quite well, (Bannon is a conservative politics strategist who advised Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign), expressed surprise when the news broke that Bannon and others had been arrested and charged with the crime of defrauding donors who had given money to a symbolic project about building a piece of the “famous” US-Mexico border that Donald Trump campaigned on. (The Trump administration has no part in this project). Well, if the charges can be proven, it appears that Bannon and other associates misappropriated part of the money donated and illegally diverted it to other pursuits, this way betraying the donors and breaking the law.

How could this happen?

The commentator could not understand how this could have happened. How is it possible that a very rich man like Bannon would do such a thing? After all the charges are about the illegal misappropriation of a few hundreds of thousands, pocket change if you are worth millions. Why would Bannon take such a big chance, breaking the law for so little money, asks the commentator in disbelief?

Jerry Falwell Jr. advertised his bad behavior

And what about Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. openly advertising his rules-breaking behavior? He really did not know that posting on line suggestive pictures of himself holding a glass with an alcoholic beverage, with his pants partially unzipped, while hugging a woman who is not his wife who also displayed partially unzipped pants would not look good? After all he was the President of a well known Christian University that strongly promotes chastity and proper behavior. Talk about unforced error!

And what about a few movie stars and athletes caught shoplifting? They most certainly do not lack the money to buy the merchandise they intended to steal.

Hubris

Well, what do we make of these examples of seemingly irrational, nonsensical behavior? I have a simple answer: “hubris”. For the ancient Greeks who coined this word, in a religious context hubris was open transgression against God. In a civil context it meant sexual assault, and also theft of public or sacred property. In other words, hubristic behavior was about acting in open disregard for established social norms and laws.

You get the picture. The hubristic person is in fact an unhinged individual who created a childish, amoral fantasy in which he lives. In this fantasy, he/she truly believes to be superior to all others. Therefore rules and laws that should be followed by other human beings do not apply to them.

Rules are for the others

Assuming that Bannon can be proven guilty, he probably believed that he could freely use money received for one purpose for other goals, as he saw fit. Being smart, super intelligent and clever beyond belief, of course he could do this.

Likewise, with his repeated instances of rules-breaking behavior (the example cited here is just the most recent one), Falwell Jr. reveals that as President of Liberty University he had great fun running an ostensibly Christian higher education institution, while he did not believe that any of the precepts taught to thousands of students applied to him. In others words, it is alright for common folks to follow and respect strong moral principles. But superior, super smart people like Falwell are exempted. They can do whatever they want, with total impunity.

Same thing for the celebrities who engage in law-breaking behavior, apparently for the fun of it.

Humility

All the great religions and the moral philosophers teach humility, and warn us against pride and arrogance. Being human, we sometimes fail. We make mistakes. Hopefully we have the wisdom to recognize our errors and try to do better.

But there are some who probably learn nothing from their mistakes, even when they are caught, embarrassed and sometimes jailed. They continue arguing that what they did was not really that bad. Their downfall was caused by sinister plots. Remember: they are special. Rules do not apply to them.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




When Education Is Valued

by Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON – Discussing Joe Biden’s pick for Vice President, it has been noted that Senator Kamala Harris’ mother came from the top placed Brahmin caste in Tamil, a state in south eastern India. While we know that the Indian caste system created hereditary privileges for those lucky enough to be born in the Brahmin caste, slated to become priests and academics, it is important to stress that the Tamil Brahmins, (colloquially known as Tambrams), were not just an entitled social class with hereditary power and prestige. They strongly cultivated education, for themselves and their offspring, as an extremely important value and key priority.

The importance of learning

Which is to say that children born into these Tamil Brahmin families are taught from a very young age that it is their noble duty to learn and do their very best to excel in all academic subjects, while also learning to appreciate literature, music, and the arts. In a sense, learning for the young Tamil Brahmins was and is a devotional activity. Becoming well educated was and is considered an indispensable precondition for those who aspire to fill important leadership positions within their societies.

It appears that the Tamil Brahmins who left India and emigrated to other countries brought this core principle with them. So, it is no surprise that Harris’s mother, a precocious young scientist who came to the US at age 19 with the goal of becoming a cancer researcher, taught her two daughters the value of education.

And the lesson was well received. Young Kamala Harris received every possible incentive to do well in school and then pursue a higher education. Eventually she became a lawyer, and then a prosecutor and finally California’s Attorney General. Compared to millions of children who do not receive this strong incentive to learn, it is quite clear that Harris, a first generation kid, daughter of minority immigrants, (her father was a Black Jamaican economist), was lucky to have a mother who explained to her how vital a good education would be for her. She grew up in an environment that valued and revered academic accomplishment and the acquisition of new knowledge. Pursuing it became second nature for her.

Ben Carson’s mother

Jumping to a completely different scenario, there is the story of Dr. Ben Carson. He grew up in a household of modest means. He was a Black kid raised by a mother who worked as a housekeeper. This was not the ideal environment for developing extraordinary academic interests and abilities. And yet this is exactly what happened. But not by accident. It happened because Carson’s mother, having observed how the children of the White families she worked for spent hours reading while doing their homework, insisted that her sons would also engage in a rigorous reading routine.

Thanks to the strong and loving encouragement of an uneducated mother who however grasped the critical importance of learning, Ben Carson did well in his studies, and later on became a famous pediatric neurosurgeon. Again, this was not a fluke, nor a miracle. It was mostly about the positive influence of a loving mother who wanted her kids to escape the limitations of their environment by acquiring the intellectual tools that would allow them to become well educated adults, and therefore able to climb up the socioeconomic ladder.

Good Charter Schools

Add to this list very successful charter schools like the Success Academy schools founded by pioneer educator Eva Moskowitz in New York City. Mostly minority children, many coming from truly disadvantaged families, come into these charter school on the basis of a lottery system. In other words, there is no prescreening, or preselection of the best and brightest. By definition, these children come to the Success Academy schools with no built-in socio-economic advantages. Probably there are few if any books at home. And in most cases they have parents who may not exercise the positive influence of Carson’s mother, pushing them to read.

And yet, what look like miracles do happen in these charter schools. Children who are truly disadvantaged do well. In fact, extremely well. According to Moskowitz, in her Success Academy schools kids perform well because while in school they develop love of learning.

Love of learning

I think this is the key issue; for without love of learning school is at best an obligation. Quite often, lacking a real desire or incentive to pursue higher degrees, a chore to be ended as soon as possible. And when the quality of teaching is low, (this is often the case in many American public schools), if you combine lack of interest on the part of the children and poor teaching, the end result of this “education” is bad to horrible.

So, what do we make of all this? The lesson I see is that education, especially for the underprivileged, cannot be just a routine service, something that is dished out just because it is mandatory service; but without any enthusiasm, and far too often by under qualified and unmotivated instructors.

Help underprivileged kids

Someone –parent, guardian, big brother, big sister, teacher, mentor, priest– must instill in the young person a love of learning. And this is especially important for the children who, due to no fault of their own, are raised in a household with a low level of literacy, and therefore almost no intellectual stimulation. Compared to their peers who grow up as children of well educated parents, with lots of books at home and dinner conversations that focus on literature, science, the arts, technology, and more, these kids have enormous obstacles in front of them.

This is why it is so important to encourage the creation of more high quality charter schools where children hopefully will find a nurturing environment that will stimulate in them the love of learning –the essential propellent leading to higher achievement.

Adults as mentors

For all the others kids, it is absolutely crucial that some adults, it doesn’t really matter who, will mentor them, show real interest in them, and help them appreciate learning, and help them understand how through learning they will be able to broaden their minds, understand new subjects, establish connections and distinctions.

Kamala Harris benefited from the revered Tamil Brahmin tradition. Ben Carson had a loving mother who intuitively understood the value of education. Success Academy pupils receive precious incentives while in school.

But millions of kids are not so lucky. They need help. Ideally, great teachers will generate love of learning. But we do not seem to have enough of them in our uneven public schools systems. This being the case, someone else has to fill this void. Otherwise, too many children will be lost. Their talents will not be developed. This would be a great pity, for them and for our society.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.