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Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure

Broke : The Plan to Restore our Trust, Truth and Treasure - Glenn Beck, Kevin Balfe Why the heck am I reviewing Glenn Beck's book? Two reasons. First, because Beck is claiming to write history here. He dedicates the book "to all the historians who have refused to compromise the truth to be popular, rich, or tenured" (Thanks, Glenn!), and second, because the entire first section of the book is titled, "Past is Prologue." Somebody needs to respond to the claims he makes, about American history. I've been listening to the unabridged audiobook version of this, so my quotes may be off by a word here and there, but I think I captured the gist.In an eerie echo of Thomas Frank’s description of the “backlash,” Beck begins by saying, “We need to shift the debate from retirement ages and what to do with social security”—that is, the economic issues—“to questions like our inalienable rights and god’s role in our daily lives”—that is, cultural hot buttons that can never be resolved. The fact that these issues cannot be resolved with a unanimous decision one way or another can be viewed either as a source of strength in a multi-cultural society, or as a sign of the collapse of the one, right set of values that once made America great. Guess which one it's going to be? Beck quotes Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, saying that the “push for intellectual mediocrity” was part of the Romans’ problem. What? Where are you going with that train of thought, Glenn? Oh, I see: he’s connecting it to Tocqueville’s idea that “when all fortunes are middling, passions are restrained.” So the point becomes, don’t blame the rich, they make us great. Education, Beck says, becomes the privilege of the few. In Rome’s case, the priests. In our case, the Ivy League. “The tempered spirit” of democracy, Beck paraphrases Tocqueville, results in fewer risk takers, less entrepreneurial activity, less wealth, fewer jobs. All this comes back, again and again, to the “job creators” and the idea that we need to stay out of their way. Beck is channeling Atlas Shrugged.He’s talking about Romans and how excessive taxation of the few allowed more people to be drawing income from the state treasury than were paying into it. But then in the next paragraph, he’s saying that means that all the little guys just get used to paying their taxes and seeing nothing in return for it. Now, I think you can make a case for either of those points (and probably support them with different eras of Roman history)…but you can’t use them both at once! And then he quotes Gibbon saying that Augustus artfully contrived that people, in the enjoyment of plenty, would forget about their freedom. That may or may not be true, but it certainly isn’t a commentary on the fall of the empire, since Augustus was the first emperor and it lasted centuries after his death!But one of the things that’s well hidden by all this misuse of Roman history, is the assumption that small to medium sized business in present-day America is not being crowded out of markets by big players like Walmart. The decline of the small entrepreneur, in this story, is due to burdensome taxes, environmental regulations, consumer protection laws, OSHA, and other government measures that interfere with the business models that these small businesses need to practice in order to succeed. Really? Our innovative entrepreneurs can’t make it in business unless they’re free to endanger their workers, their customers, and the environment? If I was an entrepreneur, I’d be yelling, “get off my team, Glenn!” Oh, wait—I am an entrepreneur.There’s a chapter that begins with frugality, where Beck quotes Lao Tzu — and it’s a great quote. “Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.” This may actually be an example of a good, decent, and not politically over-freighted part of the old-school conservatism. Might be something I can get onboard with. Might be common ground we can use to open a dialog with conservatives…I should double-check where he takes it before I get too excited, though. Beck argues that debt makes us unfree. Can’t argue with that. But I’d extend it to include a critical look at consumerism and the way our economy is set up to encourage these things. Problem is, Beck jumps right off that pony, and onto the wealth pony. Somehow frugality involves an acceptance of wealth—and of the wealthy. That they got where they are by being good little Ben Franklins and saving their pennies. I can see why he wants to do this, but it seems to be tortured logic. Is it realistic to expect that a person who practices frugality and self-denial will turn a blind eye to the excessive behavior of others? Or, is the real point sneakier than that? Is it that people will say, “Yeah, I should be more frugal,” but then will fail to rein in their own habits. And it’s that combination of the unachieved ideal and the guilt that leads to the idea that criticizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous is off limits? Actually, Beck goes on to say that because Liberals have denigrated wealth, people have decided that they don’t want to be wealthy anymore. They stop saving and start spending. So, consumerism is the liberals' fault, because people have “turned away from wealth?” And then he goes to virtue: In order for a nation to work, most of its people have to be virtuous. But that requires morality, which of course requires religion—but even more subtly, it also seems to require a single, monolithic culture. What happened to a society built on laws that preserved the freedom of people to do what they want, as long as they don’t get in the way of others doing the same? Seems like the libertarians would have an issue with this culture argument, if anyone pushed on it hard enough.Beck says that the Judeo-Christian basis of America, which we’ve forgotten and fallen away from (??), included charity. This is the way it used to work, Beck says. Rich people took care of their less fortunate neighbors, so America didn’t need government welfare. This is the Reagan argument, and it requires the reader to be completely ignorant of the way history really played out. I'll have more to say about this, as I listen to the rest of the audiobook. Small doses seem the safest way to go...