Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Wish I Lived in 1880!!!!

Eric at Edge of the West points us to this piece of primordial idiocy. James Hornberger argues that America's golden year was 1880 (!)

I don’t think so. I believe that it is impossible to overstate the significance of what our American ancestors accomplished in terms of a free society.

Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.

As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.

Fantastic. I mean, when I think of 1880, I'm thinking of things like children dying from malnutrition, anti-Chinese riots, the rise of Jim Crow and the violent suppression of black rights, widespread anti-Semitism, a suffrage restricted (by law or by custom) to white males, the inability of women to own their own property, .....

Oh hell, why bother. And what do I know? I'm only a late 19th century U.S. historian after all.

I always tell my students that anyone who thinks the past was better than the present has no idea what they are talking about. 1880 was a terrible place.  You know what the best and most accurate representation of this period we have in American popular culture--Deadwood. The TV show. It's not drop dead accurate and certainly the language was different. But the filth, the violence, the drug use, the callous disregard for human life, the treatment of Native Americans, African-Americans, the Chinese, and other ethnic groups, rampant prostitution, etc.

1880 as a paradise. The closest we can get to that now is Somalia. And I wish Hornberger would move there.