Not so long ago, the lead theorists of America’s conservative revolution hymned it as a thing of unparalleled vitality and intellectual rigor. The Republicans ruled the policy world as “the party of ideas,” President George W. Bush famously pronounced, and all sorts of his erstwhile enthusiasts on the right, from tax-cutting think tank impresario Grover Norquist to Weekly Standard Warmonger-in-Chief William Kristol, lustily seconded the notion.
But then a funny thing happened: The conservative utopia of shrinking government, financial deregulation and upward income distribution became a hulking disaster. Major investment banks teetered on the brink of oblivion in the catastrophic Panic of 2008; pension funds spiraled into free-fall; the auto industry went on federal life support; and home foreclosure after home foreclosure has rendered many onetime boomtowns virtual diorama showcases for the wreckage bequeathed by alchemical works of market triumphalism, such as credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and the efficient market hypothesis.
And just like that, the idea-intoxicated American right vanished. As the federal government stirred out of its decades-long regulatory slumber and started to meet the financial calamity with urgently needed deficit spending, conservatives of the Gingrich vintage, who had long advertised their fealty to the high-tech, low-tax future, morphed seemingly overnight into the intellectual equivalent of historical re-enactors. Much as the Mormon faithful trek annually to the upstate New York festival in Palmyra to see their faith’s creation myth in a lavishly produced pageant, so have the conservative faithful repaired en masse back to the musty site of their modern genesis, the 1930s New Deal.
But this pageant of faith is a disorienting spectacle indeed. Instead of reckoning with a starkly transformed global economy, or the crucial ways in which their core precepts have been rudely upended, conservative thinkers are reviving 70-odd-year-old talking points from the Liberty League—the network of rock-ribbed Roosevelt haters who clustered in corporate boardrooms and Chamber of Commerce lobbies during the Thirties—thereby, one supposes, to finish the job their ancestors started: discrediting the New Deal and its legacy once and for all.
Why, the man has even resuscitated regular folksy press conferences—just like those faux-amiable, statist fireside chats!
To judge by the rhetorical choler alone, the Liberty League mantle is proving an awkward fit for the right-wing sachems of the Obama era. With a Democratic White House and Congress seeking, however erratically, to revive broader economic growth and install a regulatory scheme ensuring that markets don’t once again threaten to pitch the gross domestic product carelessly into the abyss, the conservative elite routinely rises up to decry it all as a thing of low 20th-century infamy and deviltry. “Socialism” is now the liberal thought crime du jour, supplanting the anemic Nineties scourges of “political correctness,” tree-hugging and the like.
Consider the case of Jim DeMint, a U.S. senator from South Carolina, who has denounced President Obama as “the world’s greatest salesman of socialism”—and in the promotional rounds for his jeremiad Saving Freedom (subtitled—yes—“We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism”), this free market solon also suggested that counter-cyclical deficit spending was putting America “about where Germany was before World War II when they became a social democracy.”
The liberals are spending again, and all sorts of nightmares of the thirties are assailing the truth tellers of the right. Now that a Democrat occupies the Oval Office—a Democrat who has, moreover, explicitly hailed the Roosevelt administration as a precedent for leaders “to try things and experiment in order to get people working again”—there is a real, despicable move afoot to legitimize statism. Why, the man has even resuscitated regular folksy press conferences—just like those faux-amiable, statist fireside chats!
And do not get them started on the market-killing horror of it all! Fox News Managing Editor Brit Hume, for example, has recalled the New Deal as “a jihad against free enterprise,” adding that “everyone, I think, agrees on both sides of the spectrum now, that the New Deal failed.” So commonplace has the “New Deal failed” mantra become in Republican circles that, at the height of the February 2009 stimulus debate in Congress, Ohio Representative Steve Austria went ahead and denounced FDR not just for failing to stanch the Depression but for traveling backward in time to start it as well. “He tried to borrow and spend, he tried to use the Keynesian approach, and our country ended up in a Great Depression,” the congressman told the Columbus Dispatch. “That’s just history.”
This, of course, is more than just chronological addlement. New Deal denialism, much like creationism, entails blotting out whole swaths of contradictory evidence—not merely the bulk of FDR’s contemporaneous record, but also the decades of growth and comparative stability that succeeded it. To get laissez-faire completely off the hook, however, the true New Deal denialist must go further, must strive to remake Roosevelt’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, into a mad, wage-inflating social planner.
No thesis this woolly can gain much of footing without a semi-respectable parentage, and most of the denialists’ big ideas come courtesy of Bloomberg columnist Amity Shlaes’ bestselling revisionist chronicle of the New Deal, The Forgotten Man. The 2007 book has launched an entire industry of New Deal denialism on the right—one market that’s clearly benefiting greatly from the Obama stimulus. Just this spring alone, Forbes assembled a special “Revisiting the 1930s” package of articles, keynoted by a lead piece from Shlaes on “Roosevelt’s glee in prosecuting the business heroes of the ’20s” and an essay by conservative UCLA economist Lee Ohanian insisting that the Depression was needlessly prolonged by Roosevelt’s meddling in labor markets. And should conservatives find such fare insufficiently stout, last May they could have attended a confab on the Depression sponsored by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The précis for the event affirmed that “Obama wants to be FDR, and he is, in the worst possible sense” and offered a special lunch dispensing—finally!—with the myth that capitalism is inherently unstable: “Mises Institute Fights Bubble and Bust.”
But Shlaes remains the center of the New Deal denialist movement, and The Forgotten Man, for all its overt intellectual folly, bears close investigation, in the same way that None Dare Call It Treason is essential reading for chroniclers of postwar paranoia.
In its main outline, The Forgotten Man tells a very old story, a litany of complaint unaltered since Roosevelt’s heyday. It begins with definitions: The New Deal is chiefly identified with command-style, cartel-friendly bodies such as the short-lived National Recovery Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which were in reality both ruled unconstitutional a few years after their launch. The book then proceeds to a simple verdict: The New Deal was an unmitigated failure. For all his widely touted Keynesian innovations, it is said, Roosevelt presided over sluggish gains in employment, a skittish stock market and, in 1937-38, a “depression within the Depression” that would have finally exposed him as the patrician fraud he was, had not World War II conveniently come along to turn him into a successful war president.
At the outset of The Forgotten Man, Shlaes poses as a disinterested chronicler. But she soon makes her affinities plain. Roosevelt’s experiments in social engineering were “often inspired by socialist and fascist models,” she asserts. And while she allows that “few New Dealers were spies or even communists,” they nonetheless cleaved to “Soviet-style or European-style collectivism”—something that other historians of the era have neglected to note for “fear of being labeled a red-baiter.”
Shlaes depicts the New Deal as a titanic exercise in interest-group politics, aimed solely to secure Roosevelt’s 1936 re-election by buying off “labor, senior citizens, farmers” and (redundantly) “union workers.” Before those dark days, Shlaes contends, “only individual citizens or isolated cranks had stood” for such interests, neatly writing off the nation’s entire reform tradition. In Shlaes’ telling, the only legitimate function of government, now and forever, is to shore up the interests of business. Anything other than that is Machiavellian subterfuge.
All this frantic rearranging of intellectual furniture takes place within the first 15 pages of The Forgotten Man. The dreary, yet somehow also overheated 380 or so ensuing pages only multiply the confusion. A central strain of Shlaes’ argument—borrowed from the Hayek school of delusionally classical economics—is that FDR’s occasional policy reversals, such as the waffling that preceded the end of the gold standard, created “regime uncertainty,” which “made Americans doubt themselves as investors.” There are at least two difficulties with this line of argument. One is that the business community itself—and bankers in particular—lobbied aggressively to retire the gold standard, since retaining it bred no small amount of uncertainty, amid rampant deflation and a credit freeze provoked in part by bank panics.
But more fundamentally, here and throughout The Forgotten Man, FDR’s character shifts depending on what narrative use Shlaes wants to make of it: He carries 46 of 48 states in his 1936 landside victory because of his sinister drive to draft policy to serve political ends—so much so, she writes, that “the country was splitting into those who were Roosevelt favorites and everyone else.” But when framing those devilish policies, Roosevelt is both capricious and feckless—Shlaes refers repeatedly, and without evidence, to FDR’s alleged view that taxing the wealthy was “amusing,” as though he were short-sheeting the beds in his Harvard dorm. It seems unlikely that such a distractible Bertie Wooster sort of chap could engineer four successive presidential victories,—but in the insular logic of Shlaes-land, Roosevelt’s successes at the ballot box can only attest to the supreme cunning of his interest-group-fueled agenda.
The “regime uncertainty” thesis becomes even more awkward when placed beside another cherished Shlaes-myth—that American business leaders are swashbuckling connoisseurs of risk. She dotes at uncomfortable length, for instance, on how banking titan Andrew Mellon—a longtime Republican Treasury secretary and a bitter foe of the New Deal—would grant starter loans to promising inventors against the advice of his own boards, and then increase his investment as the inventor’s project took off. Sure, he could have foreclosed once the project became profitable, but the wondrous fact of the matter, Shlaes coos, was that the “Mellons never did business that way.” This, after all, was the same towering adventurer who founded his eponymous free market institute in Pittsburgh “under the general Mellon rubric ‘self-improvement,’ though whether that ‘self’ was Mellon or his business or the U.S. economy generally even he left unclear.” Well, what difference was there, at the end of the day?
Ultimately, though, the greater object of The Forgotten Man—and of the armada of hastily assembled right-wing polemics coming in its wake—is to discredit the notion that countercyclical deficit spending can counteract economic downturns in the first place. It’s a case that can only be made selectively, and disingenuously, as Shlaes makes abundantly (if inadvertently) clear.
Take the Dow’s performance, which Shlaes mistakenly hails as “the most precise measure” of an administration’s political success in mastering the transition into power—one of many phony axioms of the commentariat readily disproven by the George W. Bush presidency. But Shlaes is so enamored of the Dow’s ability to judge this or that moment’s political initiative that she speculates that it staged a mini-rally in 1937 “perhaps inspired by the thought” of the excellent Andrew Mellon’s famous bequest to the National Gallery. But the bigger moral is that—surprise, surprise—unprecedented government spending didn’t thrill the investor class of the early 20th century, which believed even more firmly than today’s Wall Street crowd in the grand verities of classical economics. Shlaes drums this point home with running notations at the head of each new chapter, setting forth the Dow’s monthly performance through the first stage of the Roosevelt administration as though it were an instantaneous Olympics-style rating of the New Deal’s progress. Of course, and as the world learned soon after Shlaes’ book was published, the Dow tells us little about the underlying health of the economy. You’d think that the lesson of 1929 alone could bear testimony to that elementary point, but then that might suggest something other than a don’t-spook-the-investors approach to macroeconomic policy.
That’s also why you hear not one peep in any of the right’s studies of the 1930s about wealth and income inequality and its role in spurring and prolonging the Depression. Though the verdict is not yet fully in on our present-day calamity, the 1920s still holds the standing record for wealth inequality in these United States—with the top 0.5 percent of the American population owning 32.4 percent of all net wealth. Maldistribution of wealth and income “was only one among many roots of the Great Depression,” writes historian Robert McElvaine, “but it was the taproot. It led to both underconsumption and oversaying, and it helped fuel stock speculation.”
Letting the free market administer its mystic remedies—reallocating capital and labor in more efficient fashion—is the de facto position of all right-wing Thirties revisionists, from the impressionistic Shlaes to the various von Mises hardliners. But nothing like that outcome would ensue in a laissez-faire approach—then or now—for the simple reason that laissez-faire conditions are what eroded demand and pumped up speculation in the first place. It’s very much like trying to cure pneumonia by standing out in the rain.
Free market shibboleth remains serenely oblivious to such considerations, however. After all, Shlaes counsels, “the market had its own natural laws.” And it’s the law, evidently, that business interests should never be molested—for they, and they alone, dictate the course of the common good. Hence the 1937-38 recession—which most students of the era attribute to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau’s abrupt call to slash federal spending as demand still faltered—was actually caused, in Shlaes’ judgment, by artificially high wages, frightening investors (of course) and driving up unemployment. Which means the FDR-empowered labor movement was a principal culprit.
By this reasoning, the labor movement itself, like the socialist outlook it recklessly foments, is a thing of perversity, which did not, in the case of the more militant Congress of Industrial Organizations “necessarily, represent the average worker.” What’s more, as unions secured stronger footholds in American workplaces, their success “only seemed to make them more bellicose.” As for the Wagner Act, which legalized collective bargaining, thereby triggering these manifold disasters, it “was continuing to hurt profitability” at U.S. corporations. Even as General Motors, for instance, saw its sales rise in the wake of the historic 1937 sit-down strikes that marked the founding of the United Auto Workers, its earnings declined: “The new wages and the costs of the strikes had made the companies less valuable.” Never mind that by any honest reckoning of the Flint sit-down strikes, GM executives bore at least as much responsibility for their costs as the striking workers—especially since their basic strategy was to starve out the UAW organizers. Never mind, in addition, that those same “new wages” helped make generations of autoworkers—many of them recent African-American transplants from the Jim Crow South—relatively prosperous members of a middle class whose wages stoked broader consumer demand. No, if companies are made less valuable, then any social movement or incremental progress toward industrial democracy reflects perverse “belligerence” and must be judged a miserable failure.
Of course, as Shlaes has admitted elsewhere, blaming wage increases for chronic unemployment through the Depression requires a critical bit of number-fudging: She uses figures that count WPA and other work-relief employees as unemployed, since, you know, everything the government does is by definition illegitimate. This trick allows Shlaes to omit fully a third of American workers drawing government pay from her tallies—and contend that unemployment during the 1937-38 downturn “was again hitting a full two in ten.”
This is amazingly easy to debunk: According to the far less tendentious Historical Statistics of the United States, actual unemployment for the period was somewhere in the 14 percent range—still woeful, to be sure, but not the 20 percent level that Shlaes uses to suggest that the whole New Deal stimulus effort was basically a wasteful, politically driven wash. And again: The recession in question did not proceed from artificially high wages (the U.S. should have such troubles) but misguided budget slashing amid a fragile recovery—i.e., the very policy that Shlaes and her allies urge as the wisest response to the present downturn. So much, in other words, for the talking point that now commands such universal assent on the right: “The New Deal didn’t work.” And yet there it sits, a grand unexamined fallacy that the movement invokes as though, with just enough repetition, it could banish not just the possibility of emergency government intervention in a failing economy, but invalidate the entire seven decade legacy of the New Deal.
Then there is the massive contradiction behind the corollary talking point that seeks to deny the New Deal by insisting that only World War II brought the Depression to an end. After all, the Second World War was a mobilization of deficit-funded economic power that made the New Deal look like the work of pikers. One could go further and note that the uneven prosperity of the Reagan and George W. Bush eras were likewise textbook studies in deficit stimulus efforts—only without any pretense of finding adequate tax revenues to cover the spending costs. Weighed in the full balance of the historical record, Shlaes’ argument is not a brief about the eternally destructive character of government intervention in the economy; it is, rather, an unusually shrill insistence that government intervention is illegitimate when it serves liberal domestic policy interests.
This is a position that today’s conservatives endorse at considerable political peril. They are advocating, unwittingly, exactly the same formula that Shlaes’ hero Andrew Mellon proposed for handling the Depression: “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farms, liquidate real estate.”
But instead, the commercial success of Shlaes’ fanciful account of the Thirties has cleared the way for more full-throated demolition efforts such as Robert P. Murphy’s Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal. An acolyte of the “Austrian” school of purist libertarian economics, Murphy relentlessly sniffs out the evil that attends to every dollar disgorged from the federal treasury. Murphy’s Regnery-published polemic is a treatment of Keynesian economics that, in the persuasiveness of its polemic details, seems to owe more to Lewis Carroll than to Murphy’s hero Ludwig von Mises. But it’s been baptized a main selection of the Conservative Book Club—and rightly so, one senses, since it effectively codifies the denialist faith, while serving as a salutary reminder of where its logic tends, once consistently applied.
[Editors’ note: text missing in the original] so on. A laissez-faire outlook among the Allied powers, in other words, would almost certainly have resulted in a fascist triumph. (Even more inconveniently, the killing blow to Nazi imperialism was delivered by the most hatefully statist command economy of them all, Stalinist Russia.)
Think of all the miniature golf facilities, nylon stockings and radios senselessly sacrificed just for the liberal vanity project of defeating fascism!
If this is the sort of high-octane prevarication that Murphy employs in sizing up the aftermath of the New Deal, you can just imagine the rhetorical restraint he uses in describing the main event. Herbert Hoover’s early feints at state intervention in the initial troughs of the Depression, for example, rate this appraisal: “Hoover tried to fight the Depression with policies so destructive that, in retrospect, one almost wonders if he were a Soviet agent sent to undermine the American economy.” And as for Roosevelt, well, he was simply “a fascist”; a charge that Murphy concedes is “loaded and overused” but accords with the term’s “strict economic definition.” Murphy apparently has in mind the cartel of corporate leaders that formed under the aegis of the National Recovery Administration—an agency that, whatever its ideological coloration, was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1935. As to the broader economic definition of fascism, it actually hinges on the privatization of the state—the opposite of the state-orchestrated melding of enterprise the NRA undertook. And every fascist leader ever has made it a first order of economic policy to outlaw unions and strikes, which the New Deal pointedly expanded.
But of course, it gets better—and by “better,” I mean “more ludicrous.” Murphy seems to dismiss the notion (as any consistent free market purist must) that there was anything seriously awry in 1929—or at least not anything that a little Mellon-style liquidating couldn’t rectify in short order. There could be no crisis of overproduction, or demand, or credit, or unemployment, since the market—i.e., nature—has made these things; the crisis only comes when government gets involved. “The free market, by its very nature, is self-regulating,” Murphy patiently explains. “It is government interventions that inevitably distort it, often with unintended consequences.”
Of course, to make all market outcomes seem like undeviatingly intended consequences requires some acrobatic reasoning, on a whole other plane than mere editorialists like Shlaes can manage. So rather than reflecting longer-term income and wealth inequities from the Twenties boom, the Depression itself was entirely a government creation. After all, our Austrian evangelist confidently declares, “the boom-bust cycle is not a natural feature of capitalism, but rather is caused by the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of interest rates”—specifically in this instance a decision to loosen up credit in 1927 in order to counteract drawdowns in the gold supply from British investors. That original fiscal sin fatally set the stage, Murphy argues, for “the extraordinary meddling with wage rates by Hoover and then FDR” that “prevented workers from moving to more sensible niches in the economy.” How Murphy and his fellow Miseans account for the many panics and depressions that preceded the Fed’s founding in 1913 is a mystery left largely unplumbed.
Everything else involved in the disaster was likewise just a matter of temporary disequilibriums, Murphy explains. “It wasn’t that ‘business’ was producing too much, but rather that some sectors [Editors’ note: text missing in the original].
Not for Murphy, for example, the softheaded notion that the Second World War played any significant role in rescuing the Depression-battered American economy. True, Murphy concedes, “there were many non-pecuniary reasons for waging war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan,” which “may very well have justified the immense costs of our entry into the conflict.” Phew, well, that’s a relief.
But since the mobilization effort mandated such measures as price controls, the draft, and rationing of scarce materials such as rubber and steel for war production purposes, the whole thing was the foulest of economic abominations. “So the carefully constructed measures of ‘inflation-adjusted gross domestic output’ during the 1940s are about as meaningful as the economic statistics reported by the Soviet Union,” Murphy notes in disgust. “The government effectively made it illegal for market prices to signal how much inflation the Fed was pumping into the system.”
And so it is with all the economic measures of the grotesquely defiled Forties. Sure, the poor saps drafted into the Army or the female workers who thronged into war production factories might have thought things were turning around. But they were blind to how the pure model of laissez-faire was being molested! After all, Murphy explains, “there are other goods and services that those scarce resources could have produced, but which humans will now never enjoy because they were devoted to government projects.” Think of all the miniature golf facilities, nylon stockings and radios senselessly sacrificed just for the liberal vanity project of defeating fascism!
Likewise with the erstwhile layabouts now caught up by the draft—how could anyone count this as a legitimate form of employment? Suppose, for example, “that FDR announced in 1940 that in an effort to fight the Depression, all able-bodied unemployed men would be shipped to African jungles (where they faced lions and disease). That policy would have brought down the official unemployment rate,” Murphy sniffs, “yet it obviously would not have promoted actual economic recovery. Had FDR suggested something this monstrous as a ‘cure’ for mass unemployment, citizens would have rightfully recoiled in horror.”
Indeed, one can almost picture Murphy himself, after typing up such infamies, smiting his breast, slumping alongside his laptop, lifting his head heavenward only to convulsively shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” After all, had the market approved of the war, it could by itself have instructed wartime production facilities where to allocate resources, by the magic of the price mechanism. “Precisely because World War II was an unprecedented event, there were no ‘experts’ on transforming civilian production to military production on this scale. When it comes to motivating millions of people to brainstorm and quickly come up with better ways to make a mousetrap (or tank), nothing beats the profit-driven market economy.”
Back in consensual reality, however, the Second World War doesn’t actually reduce to a perverse safari outing. There was a Japanese attack on a U.S. naval base, and a massive German effort to conquer the West and spread racial genocide. Oh, and the “pecuniary” stakes were far from negligible, as well, with a war-driven Nazi command economy curiously indifferent to the domestic production needs of Poland, France, Belgium, the Balkan states, and were producing too much, while other sectors were producing too little, in light of the economy’s supplies of resources, the skills and desires of its workers, and the tastes of its consumers.” In fighting wage reductions in the Depression’s early phase, Hoover—like FDR after him—was defying the mighty truth that all markets dictate: “High wages do not cause prosperity, they are rather an indication of prosperity.” Sure, the worker forced to accept wage cuts in downturns would be unable to spark any surge in demand—but hey, his employer still could! Contrary to Hoover’s reckonings, “wage cuts give employers the means to increase their spending (either on personal consumption or to invest).”
Besides, why fret about workers in the first place? “The simple formula of paying the workers ‘enough to buy back the product’ overlooks the fact that there people other than employees who make up the economy.” Why, entrepreneurs just for starters! Don’t they—and God’s other anointed class, the shareholders—“own the businesses that employ ‘the workers’”? After all, “the workers at an automobile plant don’t crank out thousands of cars with their bare hands,” you know. So of course, when workers organize themselves under protections of the Wagner Act and the NLRB, the market deformities simply pile one on another: “artificially high prices, artificially high unemployment, and politically allocated—rather than market allocated—capital and labor.” As a result, the stunningly obtuse Murphy lectures, “not only did the New Deal keep workers on the sidelines, but it also ensured that many of those who did have jobs worked in the wrong sectors.” Because, really, what could be more artificial inducements to attract someone to a labor market than higher wages, job security, pension protections and collective bargaining rights? Workers should just shut up and be thankful they live in a free market—as they await whatever verdict the free market has in store for their livelihoods and their families. Surely it can only be a grotesque coincidence that the greatest period of mass prosperity in the modern consumer economy—the 1950s, when even Murphy has to concede that the American economy was firing on all cylinders—also coincided with the highest concentration of union membership in the U.S. working population.
For Murphy, anything other than “market allocated” capital is an illegitimate player on the economic stage—and this is especially true of efforts to produce higher wages for workers, which can only bespeak “politically allocated” mischief with the sacred market. But of course the last generation of right-wing tax-cutting, labor-soaking and income polarization tells a very different story: Capital is being allocated politically, all right—just not in the interest of anyone other than its owners. Even before the present recession, income inequality had sharpened to levels approaching the worst of the twenties. From 2002 to 2006, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez report, 75 percent of all income gains in the United States went to the top one percent of earners—those making more than $382,600. And the bulk of those gains, Piketty and Saez note, went to the top 0.01 percent of the population, which controlled 5.46 percent of the nation’s income. In 2005 alone, according to the Economic Policy Institute, all income gains went to the top 10 percent of earners, with the other 90 percent showing income declines—again, during conditions of overall economic growth. This was the first economic expansion since World War II, in fact, in which the vast majority of Americans lost economic ground.
Economists remain divided over whether the principal cause of this massive upward income transfer was the steep Reagan-era tax cuts or the wage erosion spurred by globalization—but both policies came straight out of the conservative economic playbook.
Such is the true shape of the present economic fiasco—as workers have realized steady gains in productivity over the past two decades, income and wealth have been deliberately channeled out of their hands. I guess it’s no surprise that, in the face of this dismal record, ideologues on the right prefer to talk of the mythical failures of the New Deal. The only real wonder is that at this late stage of their own intellectual bankruptcy anyone still bothers to listen.